Sunday, September 16

Nine issues concerning CPM methodology (#1 of 9)

Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary's, Journal of Evangelism and Missions, features "Church Planting Movements" (commonly referred to as CPM) in its Spring 2007 issue. Therein is a balanced selection of articles praising, explaining, and questioning CPM.

The first article is probably the most controversial with an IMB missionary, Jeff Brawner, making 9 tough observations about the IMB's CPM methodology. You will either find yourself saying AMEN to what he writes or watch your blood pressure rise in disagreement!

In AN EXAMINATION OF NINE KEY ISSUES CONCERNING CPM, Brawner's first observation is...

1. The movement often pushes missionaries to plant churches and disciple leaders more quickly than the biblical pattern. Sitting at the IMB International Learning Center a few years ago during my first furlough, a CPM trainer explained to me how to approach discipleship on the field. He used the illustration of a mother duck and her ducklings. The mother duck leads (representing the missionary), and she guides the first duckling. Each successive duckling follows their sibling in front of them rather than the mother duck. Each duck stays a few steps ahead of the other. As missionaries, we should teach our disciples sound principles, and each disciple should begin to pass those principles to others as quickly as possible. In this form of discipleship, each disciple stays one step ahead of the next generation of disciples. I questioned the speaker on the biblical pattern of discipleship. After all, if Christ invested three years in his disciples, doesn’t that mean we should spend a great deal of time with our disciples? In my view, a young disciple is not ready to lead others immediately...Christ was preparing leaders that would go out and start multiple churches around the world. Is that not exactly what missionaries are supposed to do today? can we, in good conscience, not thoroughly pattern our ministries after Christ’s example?...Should we take three years with our disciples? Scripture does not mandate that we spend that length of time; however, one can see from the Gospels that it takes time to mold solid, godly men. From experience, one can see that Scripture holds true-new believers are extremely susceptible to temptation, backsliding, and heresy. Is it not obvious that Paul understood this as he gave us guidelines of who to promote to leadership levels in 1 Timothy 3?
We would fall somewhere in the middle on agreeing with this first of nine critiques. What is the biblical pattern for discipleship? When is a disciple ready to plant a church and/or disciple leaders? From our experience it has little to do with the amount of time one is a believer. We have had new believers who have been Christians only a few months begin new works. Likewise we have seen believers with years in the faith start new churches. To us the key is more about how much the believer obeys and puts into practice that which they know. It doesn't take a lot of knowledge to "go, make disciples, baptize, and teach..." What it does take is obedience. Those who put into practice the little (or much) that they know, will bear fruit.

The idea that CPM "pushes" otherwise unready believers into the harvest fields has not been our experience. What HAS been our experience is that we can't expect ALL believers (new or old) to realistically go out and start new works. It would seem some believers are "wired" to do this kind of work, and others are not. Our task is to find, motivate, equip, and send out those chosen few. To find those few "wired" individuals, we have to train and deal with a lot of people. While not anywhere near exact, it would seem that about one out of every ten believers we train (whether new or old) turn out to be effective church planters/workers/laborers/disciplers, etc. What that means is that if we want to see ten new churches started this year, we are looking at having to spend the time and train around 100 potential willing-to-be-trained workers.

Any comments or observations about #1 above from your own perspective and experience?


Anonymous said...

My experience with any kind of teaching is that teaching is best when you go and do together. I think this is what CPM is more about. The point is that you learn a lesson, then you go and do it, then you learn another lesson, and go and do it. Jesus had his disciples with him, and they were constantly doing things together. He didn't give them 3 years of teaching and then start doing things with them.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for this post. I have struggled with this since I was first trained at MLC by Curtis Sargent.

I guess my beef with the fear about new believers training other believers lies in the inherent attitude that creeps into that kind of thinking that there has to be a "professional" clergy who are "properly trained" in order for discipleship to adequately occur.

I really see no problem with quick discipleship. Isn't it true that all of us practice that kind of behavior in life anyway. When I learn something, I share that with others. It doesn't matter whether I'm talking about how to fish, play bastketball or keep from getting the flu. When I learn information, I want to share it with others. It seems to me that the "discipleship chain" philosophy simply mimics our natural behavior.

What do you think?

J. Guy Muse said...


You are right in saying Jesus did things together with his disciples. They were constantly with him as they did on-field training. Today, we stick people into classrooms for years to supposedly "learn" and then send them out into a world they are totally unprepared to face. The best way to train is "on-the-job" training.


Thanks for stopping by. Hope your wife Tracy is doing better these days. We have prayed for her. "Quick discipleship" where a new believer disciples another believer (the duck analogy) is not our problem. We have lived and experienced this for years. What we do have trouble with is when these new disciples are expected to plant new churches with their "ducklings" who are following behind. In theory it should work, but we have had a lot of trouble making it happen in our own context. This is not to say we don't try. We do continue to encourage new believers to disciple their own new converts and to begin meeting with them, but it has been hard. That is why I say in my post we come down somewhere in the middle on this first critique of Jeff Brawner.

Tim Patterson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. Guy Muse said...

NOTE: For those desiring more reading on this article, I strongly urge you to visit Ken Sorrell's blog to read his own response to “An Examination of Nine Key Issues Concerning CPM.”

Strider said...

This critique is all to common. The issue I believe is called by some High Trust/Low Trust. Traditionally we have had low trust. We train and train and train and the new disciples never are good enough. They can never stand on their own. They always need us. High Trust takes them out of the classroom and puts them to work right away. Yes, they will make mistakes but we believe in them- and more importantly we believe in the Holy Spirit in them. Jesus did not wait three years to begin using the disciples in ministry. John 4 the disciples baptized and not Jesus. Then of course, the sending of the 12 and of the 70, not to mention the many who came to the disciples to get healing. No, we will get no where without High Trust- the same trust that our gracious Lord shows us in allowing us to join Him in His work.
For me personally, it is not a matter of one method over another, it is a matter of being Christlike or stealing Christ' place. That's harsh, but I have seen enough. We must give High Trust even as our Lord does. Low Trust puts us in control and that will never build up His Kingdom.

J. Guy Muse said...


"...stealing Christ's place..." is descriptive of what we do when we try to take on Christ's role in the life of new believers. The quicker they learn to rely and trust on the Lord the better off they will be long-term. Having agreed with you, I still think there is a role for us in training, mentoring, disicipling these new believer leaders. I guess what I am trying to say is that there is such a thing as expecting too much from them too soon. That is what I mean in my post comments about coming down more in the middle of the issue, rather than siding with the author or with CPM. Both are true, both are needed.