114. Does DMM suffer from NA pragmatic arrogance?

DMM principles and practices rely on the concept of “fruitful practices.” Is it biblically and theologically appropriate to assume that there are certain practices that will lead to spiritual fruit in the form of people coming to faith in Jesus? After all, Jesus said that he would build his church (Mt 16:18), not us. The only thing that counts in missions is the one thing we cannot do – change people’s hearts. That is the role of the Holy Spirit. So how can we presume to think that we can engage in practices that lead to an expansion of the kingdom of God, when all growth is of God? Is it legitimate to think in terms of fruitful practices or is this arrogance?

I suggest there are fruitful practices we can adopt that are an expression of how we are joining Jesus in his mission, even as there are unfruitful practices that can hamper the mission. When John the Baptist was called to prepare a path for the Messiah (Mk 1:2,3), there were certain practices he engaged in to fulfill that task. This, and other models and exhortations in the NT[i], move us to action and practices that lead to fruitful results.

It seems fitting to consider our labors as a contribution to the harvest (Mt 9:37) which, as followers of Jesus, we identify as the work of Holy Spirit. Like a farmer, we are privileged to have a part to play, but the growth and the fruit is solely God’s. Although a farmer cannot make a grape, what the farmer does do by creating an environment for grapes to flourish is important. A lazy, careless or ignorant farmer will likely have a lesser crop than a diligent, careful and understanding one. This analogy is appropriate in the realm of cross-cultural disciple making when we pay attention to what Jesus called the disciples to do, as well as when we consider the practices of the disciples after the coming of the Holy Spirit. The observation is that there are orientations and practices that lead to spiritual fruit, as well as those that hamper the growth of the kingdom.

If a diligent farmer has hard, stony and weedy soil (cf. Mk 4), the crop may be far less than that of a lazy or careless farmer who is blessed to work with good soil. This does not discount the value of fruitful practices, but it does caution us not to use fruit as the sole criterion to determine success, and to use care when identifying a fruitful practice. In fact, there are times and seasons when a fruitful practice when done in the spring would be an unfruitful practice in the fall. This analogy has biblical parallels and resonates with the reality of ministry. While there are different approaches to ministry, there are ways to do things well (i.e. fruitfully) and ways to undermine the message and push people away (as well as practices between these two extremes). As people called to serve God by making disciples, it is our responsibility to adopt and become competent in practices that best advance God’s kingdom according to our calling and realm of influence.

North American missionaries have a tendency to be pragmatic, looking for the right methodology or a key that can be discovered and applied with success. However, ministry is not about finding an algorithm, universal principle, or system that we can follow like a manual in order to produce the right kind of fruit. Nonetheless, there are practices that reflect what Jesus intends for disciple making and it is those that I believe we should learn and employ.  

Another concern with DMMs is the desire for and attempt to generate “movements.” As missionaries, we may imagine that God will hold us responsible for this outcome and feel guilty if we fail. However, we are not responsible for the salvation of one soul, let alone for a movement. If God does not bless our efforts we should not be discouraged any more than we have a right to be proud when God gives blessing in our ministry. God’s kingdom vision is not derailed by our limitations and failures.

At the same time, our vision based on Jesus’ vision of the harvest guides us towards fruitful practices that best create a path for those kind of results. Jesus’ kingdom vision encompasses the world and is built on the multiplying effect of disciple makers making disciple makers. No matter our ministry and the limited role we play (and all of us play small roles), I believe that we can best play/design our part when we adopt Jesus’ kingdom vision as our own. Considering again the farming analogy: planting a small vegetable garden by the side of a house requires a different vision and different practices than creating an environment where acres of wheat grow to harvest.

How can we adopt Jesus’ vision for the world so that we too have a multiplication and obedience-based focus, without the arrogance of thinking that we are the ones making it happen?  How can we ask WIGTake (what’s it going to take)[ii] without putting the responsibility for results on our efforts and ingenuity? Some thoughts:

We are called to be dissatisfied with the status quo – Jesus’ vision of the kingdom drives us to be engaged in praying for God’s kingdom to come in the setting we live.

We are called to join Jesus and do “greater things” than he did (Jn 14:12), according to a vision that is not ours, but his. These are not “other things” than Jesus did, but more expansive works because of the multiplying factor of seeing more and more people enter the kingdom.

We are called to action in disciple making with a view to seeing that vision fulfilled (Mt 28:18-20).

We choose actions that are fitting for such a vision and that demonstrate the greatest dependence on the Holy Spirit to act.

We call people to obedience to Jesus, conformity to what is good, right and true as revealed in Jesus

We challenge people to the same light we have seen is Jesus and which we also seek to reflect.

For Fellowship International, DMM begins with a humble dissatisfaction with what we have done that has not advanced the kingdom in ways that reflect Jesus’ multiplying vision. Our goal in DMM is to focus on “God’s kingdom come” (Mt 6:10) along with a commitment to obedience and “whatever it is going to take” for us to be involved in fruitful practices that result in disciple-making disciples. We also strive to do this with humility, recognizing that we cannot do the only thing that counts – change people’s hearts.

[i] For example, Paul and Barnabas “sent” into missions (Acts 13), Philip joining the Ethiopian eunuch to explain a passage of Scripture (Acts 8), Peter following his vision to baptize Cornelius and his family (Acts 10), Paul’s exhortation that people cannot believe unless someone brings the gospel message (Rom 10).

[ii] Galanos, Chris. From Megachurch to Multiplication: A church’s Journey towards Movement,  Experience life 2018. Chp 1.

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Author: Mark Naylor DTh (missiology)

I have been with Fellowship International since 1984. Karen and I served in Pakistan for 14 years and returned to Canada in 1999. I have continued to be involved in Bible translation traveling twice a year to Pakistan. My current role with Fellowship International and Northwest Baptist Seminary is as Coordinator of International Leadership Development