A Mission Agency Discovers the Fruitful Practices of Movements – Part 1
– By Doug Lucas –
Our mission organization launched in 1978 with a noble goal: Send lots of missionaries to work among the unreached. In the 1990’s, thanks to careful thinkers like Dr. Ralph Winter, we sharpened our focus toward unreached people groups. Our goals no longer counted workers alone, but in addition, the number of unreached people groups engaged. We carefully trained all our workers in language learning and identification with local people. We emphasized church planting. We hoped and prayed that, once each team of workers was engaged with the people, those workers would only need a year or so to plant each new congregation. We fully expected that it would take longer, of course, to train up a nucleus of new leaders.
Sometime after the year 2000, thanks to researchers like Dr. David Garrison, we began setting goals for church-planting movements (CPMs). In this “third version” of our organization, we noticed that our “beachhead churches” sometimes stayed beachheads. By contrast, in the book of Acts, the disciples did more than establish a single new church in each region or country. God “added to their numbers.” Accordingly, we began urging our workers to plant churches that would plant churches. Our goal-setting process began measuring not only churches planted, but also churches planting new churches.
By 2010, we were engaged in a bit of a revolution. I’m not even sure what to call it but, for lack of a better term, we’ll call it disciple-making movement (DMM) thinking. The difference might seem subtle at first. In fact, it was very fuzzy to me at first as well. But once understood, the outcome was quite profound.
The Fruitful Practices
Regardless of your opinion of DMM practices, the electricity and sheer energy generated by DMM thinking is hard to miss. While earlier trainings focused on tactics and strategy, DMM was, at first, too simple for my mind to grasp. One of the central tenets, as articulated by DMM trainer Curtis Sergeant, is simply to “be a disciple worth multiplying” (BADWM). (Isn’t it just like Jesus to bless a system of practices that focuses on changing from the inside out?) David Garrison had identified extraordinary prayer as being the first of several critical factors in launching church-planting movements. But for some reason, it took us a decade or more to understand that this extraordinary prayer had to begin inside of us as workers rather than in some infrastructure or campaign. In other words, to change the world, we had to change ourselves.
Our early efforts at launching movements had been heavily influenced by American business practices such as strategic planning. Now, it almost seemed too simple to tell a new worker that he or she needs to acquire a “passion for telling God’s story.” I guess we all want our jobs to be tactical and strategic. Maybe somehow we must think it makes us look more intelligent. Training workers to do prayer walking and facilitate “three-thirds groups” seemed too… easy. (The group’s time together consists of three simple elements: 1. Look back – to evaluate and celebrate obedience to God, and recalling the vision. 2. Look up – to see what God has for them in that week’s discovery Bible study. 3. Look ahead – to determine how to obey God and pass on what they have learned through practicing it and setting goals in prayer.)
Another practice first described by Garrison in his landmark book, Church Planting Movements, was even harder to grasp. Our temptation when new believers begin encountering persecution was to remove them from the context. Some have referred to this practice as extraction. No matter what it’s called, it’s the first response of the human heart. The trouble is — once we remove a practicing believer from his or her context, the momentum stops. Not only can this new believer no longer reach his or her household (oikos), but in addition, the fire and energy are gone. Somehow, in ways we don’t understand, God seems to bless those who are persecuted. And the outcome is amazing.
It seems odd to highlight obedience and accountability as core practices of launching movements. Haven’t we believed in obedience all along? Yes, but somehow we had begun to equate obedience with (mostly) learning about Jesus… instead of focusing on doing what he told us to do. It’s good to measure church attendance. But it’s even better to figure out how to measure whether or not those attenders actually do anything about their faith. Again, pointing back to a core teaching of Curtis Sergeant, “It is a blessing to follow Jesus. It is a great blessing to bring others into a relationship with Jesus. It is a greater blessing to start a new spiritual community. But the greatest blessing is to equip others to start new spiritual communities.” For a couple of decades, our organization focused on bringing others into a relationship with Jesus, then we focused on teaching them the concepts of the Bible, almost equating spirituality with knowing concepts. But Jesus didn’t want people who merely knew things. He told them that if they loved him, they would do His commands.
One of the toughest practices to grasp is discovery-based learning. Perhaps it’s so difficult because it’s so easy. Critics are quick to accuse DMM practitioners of dumbing down the gospel. After all, shouldn’t new believers receive in-depth training before we entrust them with the job of telling the Jesus story? But the truth has been staring us right in the face for centuries. How long had Jesus known the man possessed by an impure spirit (Mark 5:1-20) before he sent him back to his household (oikos) to tell them how much the Lord had done for him? Maybe a half-day at the most. Whoa. We’ve been seriously overthinking this. And this man in Mark 5 was about to change history for his home region of Decapolis.
Those are essentially the core elements. BADWM, passion for telling God’s story, praying for those in persecution (but not extracting them), obedience, and discovery-based learning. The truth is it now can take as little as 20 hours or so to train a disciple to start multiplying. 20 hours.
In part 2 we will share our transition process and the fruit God brought through it.
In 1978, God called Doug Lucas, a student in Bible college, to bring together a prayer meeting in a dorm room — and that prayer meeting became the genesis of Team Expansion. Since that time, Doug has served as both missionary (in Uruguay and later in the USSR/Ukraine) and Founder/President of this global organization (learn more at www.TeamExpansion.org). Based in Louisville, KY, Doug has a BA in Bible, an MA in Missions, an MBA, and a doctoral degree in Business Administration. In 1995, he created a weekly email/web newsletter www.Brigada.org to provide resources, motivation, and trends in global missions. He’s passionate about multiplying disciples. Toward that end, he and a colleague have launched training websites at www.MoreDisciples.com and www.MissionsU.com.
Edited from the article “Discovering the Fruitful Practices of Movements,” originally published in the November-December 2017 issue of Mission Frontiers, www.missionfrontiers.org, pages 6-11, and published on pages 287-291 of the book 24:14 – A Testimony to All Peoples, available from 24:14 or Amazon.