What does that mean? It means that disciples were made who made disciples who made other disciples who in turn made others and that all generations continue to make disciples. How did we pull it off? We didn’t, Jesus did. But I will tell you how it happened.
There are scores of methods including one of my own for sharing the gospel with people and most are cursory introductions to the person of Christ at best. I will not say that any in particular are incorrect, but I will say that most are incomplete. If we assume that evangelism is not a method to win souls but a manner in which to communicate the good news of the person of Jesus to the world and we further assume that evangelism ( proclaiming good news) is a necessary part of making disciples, then for better or worse, you can begin to understand how this amazing thing happened.
Let me provide a little background. My wife and I, after having left our careers, home, and family in the United States, answered a call to go to Ecuador and serve as missionaries. We work in a region of Ecuador where there have been no other missionaries for many years. It is not the city and the population no where nears the populations of the cities in Ecuador. On any given day, there are hundreds of missionaries, short and long term visiting the cities and doing Kingdom work. In our region, the Cloud Forest, harvest workers are few and far between. We are often challenged in ways which most would find intolerable. Many times we have been trapped by mud slides, without electric, phone, water and a myriad of other and sometimes life threatening situations. We have been attacked from without and within by people and spiritually. Nothing here works out the way we want it to and if it does, it usually takes twice as long than expected.
In spite of the renewed interest in being missional and reaching our native communities, which we think is absolutely encouraging, we were called by God to serve in a foreign mission field and become part of another community in a different part of the world. We do believe that Making Disciples is an integral part of every believers life regardless of where you are called or where you find yourself. In that light we have moved from what would be considered more traditional methods to what we believe are God inspired processes. In fact, I would call them “7 God-Directed Deviations in Disciple Making.”
From Follow up to Follow in - Following up with a person or a community usually entails a consistent pattern of entering people’s day to day lives for a time and then leaving again for others to do more follow-up. We have chosen to follow people into their lives and live amongst them, work amongst them, suffer and cry with them, grow with, encourage and be encouraged by them. Following in and staying in, to us at least, seems more like the biblical pattern of Jesus.
From Outreach to Inreach - Closely related to the first, it remains somewhat different. In outreach, when you have to leave where you are, where you live or where you have been called to, to reach others “outside” of where you would normally live, there always comes a time when you have to return to where you came from. That place is often contextually different from the place you reach out to. Reaching inward, within your sphere of influence is naturally more productive because your context is already defined. You should not have to seek how to be culturally relevant, you should already be culturally relevant.
From Fly Paper to Flying like Eagles - The desire to attract and trap is replaced by equipping and setting free. We have to trust God in that when our time of influence over a community or a person is done, that He will propel them into the next phase of their lives.
From Dependency to Development. - We do not want to be pushers of the gospel offering all sorts of addictive attachments so that we can report large numbers of “salvations,” but are more focused on developing those that God has appointed us for and to. Though it may seem to us to be too few at times and hurt our prideful effectiveness, we know that focusing on a few at a time in equipping and development have much greater long term impacts. We focus less on being leaders and more in the development of leaders.
From Verbal to Tactile - In the abundance of words there is foolishness. (Proverbs 10) We don’t minimize the eternal power of the scriptures nor the use of those very same scriptures to bring people to salvation. At the same time we are convicted that there has been, in most cases, entirely too much talking and not enough action. A woman whom we recently visited in a remote town said “They come to preach sometimes, but never has one come to visit the poor, pray for the sick, or help those in need." This was the answer she gave when asked if any Christians have visited. Our desire is to never be one of the “they.” My wife and I make sure we physically touch in every single person in appropriate circumstances. A hug, a kiss on the cheek, the laying on of hands, or even a simple pat on the back. Then we evaluate how we can touch their lives in most effective way with our current ability and capability.
From Regimental to Relational - Routine is good for some actions, but a routine implies that there is little or no change in the execution of a task. Discipleship is more of a process and like a relationship, there is give and take and constant adaptation. We have a relationship with Jesus and yet we hopefully become more Christ-like all the time. In any relationship, there is continual shifting, giving, and receiving. Methods may change, manners may be different, but the message of the gospel remains steadfast.
From because “They say so,” to because “He says so.” We could easily employ the latest and greatest ideas in how to disciple others, how to win souls, and how to effectively grow the church, but we are more interested in what God says to us and for His people that we have been called to work with. There are many times when certain pragmatic approaches will not work in different contexts, so we do our best to go where the Father says to go, say what He says to say, and do what He says to do. For the record, I love analyzing trends in disciple making and seeing how our iron can be sharpened by others who are also making disciples.
These 7 God-Directed Deviations from the status quo discipleship that has prevailed for years has produced remarkable fruit in our region of Ecuador.
Not all traditional methods are invalid - “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.” (Proverbs 22:28) To be fair, we have used many traditional methods at times which seemed appropriate in the moment and context. We have practiced door to door evangelism, used gadgets, gizmos, and gifts as ice breakers to reach the lost. We have used tracts and dramas, street preaching, medical incentives, and clean water projects to effect positive changes within the communities in our region. We have hosted mission teams from the United States for the benefit of all involved, those ministering and those being ministered to. We have had a discipleship group meeting at our house every week for the last year covering a wide range of topics in a sometimes formal and sometimes informal teaching mode. All of these traditional methods have been brought under the guiding principles of the 7 God Directed Deviations listed above and they may not look exactly like what people are used to, but it has produced multi-generational disciples and disciple-makers.
The subject matter of our weekly gatherings has not been so traditional. With each week we encourage discussion amongst new believers and we have practical homework. For example, we in the States are used to finding bargains like “buy 2 get 1 free.” We decided as a group on several occasions to “buy 2 give 1 free.” We instructed in this manner: In the course of your daily lives this next week, whatever you need to buy, and if possible, buy 2, milk bread etc. Then find a person to give the second item to, someone in need. If they ask why you are doing this, explain the love of Christ to them. In this manner entire communities were affected.
All of our subject matter has also come under the guiding principles above. We have had a Discipleship Conference that was very successful at motivating others to make disciples in their communities. As a capstone to these practices, we have also instituted small discipleship groups of no more than 4 people (a variation of “Life Transformation Groups”*) and entire communities are involved in these as well. We can’t say that we have figured out the secret to making multi and trans-generational disciples, nor would we want to, but many have asked how we have gotten where we are. I hope this helps to answer some questions and I would be happy to give further details to those who would like them. You may also leave your comments below.
In and For Him,