What is a disciple? How do we make one? What is the ultimate goal in making disciples? These were just a few of the many questions we explored during the DMM (Disciple Making Movements) conference in Lomé last week. This conference was put on by several American and African disciple makers working in Rwanda, the DRC (Congo), and Benin who desire to see Togolese Christians equipped and encouraged to make disciples of Jesus. There were around 60 people from all over Togo, southern Benin, and even Nigeria who came to take part in this process of discovering what Jesus has to tell us about walking in obedience to his word and about making disciples.
The format of the whole conference was Cephas (a disciple maker from Congo) facilitating Discovery Bible Studies in groups, in which the truths of Scripture are inductively discovered rather than a speaker merely telling us what the passage says. I wish I could explain everything that was discovered, shared, and meditated on from the many passages we studied, but it would easily take me all day to write it and you all day to read it! But to summarize, we discovered that:
- Jesus invites us to be his disciples.
- A disciple is one who abides in and obeys the words of Jesus.
- Jesus showed us a model of how to make disciples.
- Jesus passed on that model to his disciples.
- Jesus commands that his disciples make more obedient disciples who make more obedient disciples, etc.
- Prayer is the greatest work in the process of making disciples.
- The job description of every church leader is to equip other believers to do the work of the ministry (which would include making disciples).
Sometimes in order to learn a new truth, or to put that truth into practice, we must also unlearn things that are hindering us. Believe it or not, some of the greatest hindrances to disciple making are often the very structures and practices we put in place in our churches. Cephas spent a bit of time dealing with this in a straightforward, but uncritical way. We saw how Jesus and the early church followed the pattern of finding a “person of peace” (Luke 10), gathering their “oikos” (close friends, family, neighbors), then discipling the group to faith in Christ while allowing the person of peace to continue to play a major role in the group’s functioning. These groups are often the birth of new churches which have a built-in DNA of reproduction, leading to the birth of more groups and churches. However, our modern practice of merely inviting people to attend church services usually inhibits this growth and multiplication. It’s an example of something good (addition) being an obstacle to what is best (multiplication). It also pulls individuals out of their oikos, leading to unnecessary rejection and sometimes persecution from the very people that the person of peace is best equipped to reach. We also saw how a participatory, group, inductive study approach like a Discovery Bible Study can be a powerful tool to disciple people rather than simply expecting people to automatically grow into being obedient disciples by listening to sermons.
In many places around the world, putting these truths and principles into practice has led to what some call a “Disciple Making Movement,” in which multiple generations of disciples are made and new churches are formed within a very short period of time. In some places—such as India, East Africa, China, and California—groups of disciple makers have seen tens of thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands, of people come to faith in Christ, become obedient disciples, and form hundreds or thousands of new, simple churches.
To be quite honest, though, I was a bit leery of inviting some of my friends and coworkers to this conference because of the way that I have heard this kind of disciple making presented in the past. Sometimes it is packaged and presented as a quick way to get lots of results by copying what others have done, which in my opinion is incredibly dangerous. Jesus builds His church and only the Lord of the harvest can create a movement (however we define a movement), and any attempt to force that movement to happen, or any dependence on anything but the Holy Spirit and prayer will lead to man-made results: fruit which will not remain. Cephas, however, was extremely careful to avoid this kind of approach, but rather focused on simple obedience to the word of God, a dependence on prayer, and leaving the results up to the Lord.
Something that Andrew and I have been discussing for quite some time now is creating a nationwide network of those who are involved in this type of disciple making. The main goal in doing this would be to provide encouragement, accountability, and continued training for those involved, while also providing some credibility for those who are rejected by traditional churches because they don’t “fit within the box.” This conference seemed to be the perfect context in which to launch this network, so during the last session I told everyone about my vision to create a nationwide network that would function weekly in small, local groups; quarterly in region-wide meetings; and yearly in nation-wide meetings of the leaders of local networks.
Since everyone at the conference was on board with the idea, I’ll be working in the coming weeks and months to get this network up and running. It appears that the Lord is bringing people together at just the right time and giving them a common vision to form an army of disciple makers who will take Jesus at his word, take great risks for the kingdom of God, and take the gospel of Jesus to every corner of Togo and beyond.