Updated: Mar 23, 2019
by Dave Miller
I was an avid reader of all things missional, missional church, missional ministry, missional business, missional life, missional God, missional . . . I always seemed to be stuck in theory and theology. My heart caught fire with the ideas of the mission of God. I wanted more than anything to be a disciple maker since my theology had moved all my focus to the importance of Great-Commission disciple making. But even with all my theory and theology I really didn’t know what to do on Monday morning. I was like a fish flopping as we tried to figure out disciple making through trial and error. I attempted to turn theory into practice, but the theories quickly began to contradict one another and my practice was complicated and clunky, just ask the two guys who jumped in to learn with me six years ago.
I still very much consider myself missional, but three things were always missing in the books, videos, conferences, and blogs: an emphasis on speaking the gospel, actual simple tools for disciple making, and a person of peace who accepts the messenger, message, and mission. I was caught in the 30,000 ft missional fog.
I was blessed by a conversation with an old friend, Jacob, who had moved to a Caribbean island to be a missionary. (I use that term traditionally of course because God saved everyone with someone else in mind). God is pouring out His Spirit among a group of locals who want to plant churches. Evangelism is happening, boldness is increasing, and churches are multiplying. In his word then, “Something pretty amazing is happening here. Small house churches are springing up everywhere living as Good News people in their rural communities. I’m just trying to keep up. God is good.”
So he started reading up on movements and all things missional in order to be helpful to the emerging movement on his island. His response to me, “'I've been incredibly challenged, but not real practical when I’m on the ground level thinking ‘Ok, now what?’ At this point I’m reinventing a lot of wheels. I’ve got a big meeting with our core team to plan and pray for 2016. My heart is full but my brain is a mess.” I resonated with his situation. Even though I am not yet experiencing a local emerging movement, I was reinventing a lot of wheels and missing practical tools to get the job done.
Speak the Gospel
During the process of learning to make disciples I found a crucial misstep for our team, we were not speaking the gospel. We were sharing the gospel. Unlike our Christian friends we now had more “lost” friends than “saved” friends. Our lives reflected the love and compassion of Jesus. We intentionally found places in the community to serve and show the love of Jesus. We built relationships with people who weren’t going to church. They included couples and partners, 20 something singles, internationals, T-ball families, ESL students, coworkers, university students, and the list went on. Our list of new friends was steadily growing, and our kindness meters where registering off the charts, but no one was trusting Jesus. Even the ones who were meeting with us in Bible study weekly seemed to enjoy just hanging out.
About 9 months into our church planting efforts in Oklahoma City I was asked a question while in South Florida by a guy named Troy Cooper, “What is your gospeling tool?” he asked. I proceeded to tell him the glorious, theologically rich, Genesis to Revelation gospel conversations I was teaching our team to have. His eyebrow raised, and a puzzled look ensued. He then asked, “Are they doing it?”
A big fat no we weren’t, but we had a lot of lost acquaintances that were considering reading the bible or were reading the bible with us. Jesus was a part of our conversation, but kindness was our focus. In the words of David Platt, former IMB President, at a local church conference, “Christian kindness is a given, speak the gospel! Tell them about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Their life and eternity is in the balance.”
If we are image-bearing ambassadors then we have both a mission and a message. In fact, without the message the ministry is vanity. Speak the gospel. We will never know where the Spirit is at work drawing people to Jesus if we do not speak the gospel. Rather then spending months or even years building the relational capital to talk about Jesus, speak the gospel to find those who are ready to build a relationship around Jesus. Use the gospel as the filter to find those who are prepared by the Spirit to follow Jesus.
A seasoned missions veteran from South Asia taught me principles from Jesus ministry he referred to as precision harvesting. As Jesus taught and ministered he was looking for disciples: those who had ears to hear, those who would hear his words and do them, and those who would produce a harvest, 30, 60, and 100 fold. Do you remember the story of Jesus using Simon-Peter’s fishing boat from Luke 5? In the same way we can learn from Peter’s response to Jesus, we can learn the pattern of how Jesus looked for his disciples.
Jesus comes to Simon-Peter after fishing all night and catching nothing. Jesus asks for his boat. This doesn’t seem like much but he has been fishing all night. Simon-Peter obeys. After teaching, Jesus tells Simon-Peter to put his nets out again. After fishing all night and catching nothing the request make little sense, but Simon-Peter obeys once again. After the catch Peter responds with repentance; he does not ask for another miracle. Jesus then calls him to fish for men.
Pay attention to the progression in a short amount of time. Jesus goes from asking a small but inconvenient favor to commanding Simon-Peter to go fishing again after all night with no catch. Two small steps of obedience to Jesus and the Savior does the miraculous and watches for a response. When repentance shows the Spirit is working Jesus tells Simon-Peter, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:11). The men left everything and followed him. Take a moment to read Luke 5-11, Matthew 4-16, Mark 1-8. Notice the ways Jesus separates the curious crowds from the disciples who will follow him. What methods did Jesus use?
Jesus used parables, hard sayings, and Lordship. Do you see them? Luke 5 is an example of Lordship. Does Peter obey and how does he respond to the miracle? Yes he obeys, Lordship. His response to the miracle is repentance and worship, Lordship. The parables found those who had ears to hear, the hard sayings found those who would hear and do, lordship found those who would produce a harvest because they followed Jesus. The key component in each was their response to Jesus’ command to follow. Everyone one of these responses turns the Genisis Fall on its head. Instead of doubt, each response moves to faith in the authority of God’s Word. Kindness, compassion, and miracles drew the crowds but parables, hard sayings, and lordship separated the followers.
Take the story of the rich young ruler above. Which did Jesus use? Jesus used a hard saying, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). The ruler walked away sad because he was very wealthy. Jesus did not chase him; he let him walk away… Another veteran from South Asia said it this way, “Jesus only entrusted himself to those who entrusted themselves to him.” The gospel is our filter. Who is willing to believe in Jesus and obey His commands?
I can already here the objections!
What about love, compassion, the value of every individual? I agree. Show everyone love, compassion, and care. Christians are supposed to be kind, that is a given. But do not substitute “speaking the gospel” with “kindness because you believe the gospel.” They are not the same thing. Focus your primary relationship building on those who are ready to follow Jesus.
Actual Simple Tools
As I confessed earlier, knowledge of all things theology and Bible were of great importance to me. So naturally I passed those loves on to those I discipled. I had made the theological jump to obedience-based discipleship, at least a rudimentary version, but in practice we were nowhere close. Six years of theological education including a doctorate had sealed the fate of my complex and completely irreproducible model of disciple making.
The complexity was a product of our missional fog, the ideas were there but we didn’t have actual simple tools. We had a simple process for anyone who had 10-20 years of Bible study under his or her belt. It wasn’t exactly conducive to making new disciples. We needed help.
Carter Cox, my co-author, was a student taking a couple seminary classes with me every Monday morning at Panera Bread. He taught me much about actual simple tools, while I conveyed to him the ideas, theology, and failures that had led me to need them. He passed on his training from guys in the #NoPlaceLeft movement who had seen reproducing disciple making through field-tested simple tools. They were like water in a dry land. Obedience, not just ideas. Commands, not just knowledge. Straight forward simple directions to follow Jesus straight from the mouth of Jesus. Stories to help them remember and share.
I had developed a version of what is now “10 Ways to Follow Jesus Together,” for my dissertation. Little did I know the pieces for simple tools were there, but the method relied on what I had seen done more than Jesus’ ways. For example, when the disciples first saw Jesus praying, they wanted to pray like he did. So they said, “Lord teach us to pray.”
I would have given them a systematic theology book, a 10-week study on prayers from the Bible, and an optional course on the doctrine of prayer. Jesus simply said:
When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation (Luke 11:2-4).
Jesus used highly directive concrete actions to start. He then followed up with explanations often times with a story like he did in Luke 11:5:
Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
What father among you, if his son asks fora fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:5-13).