Missionaries Make Disciples, Not Church Plants – part 28

1 Corinthians 12:22-25 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (NIV)

Note the words: so that there should be no division in the body. The church is one body worldwide. The church in one city is the entire body of Christians in that city. It is not the building you go to when you attend church services. Church is not the service you attend each Sunday that has a pastor in the pulpit. These concepts do not come from God nor are they conducive to the natural spread of Christianity. Our incorrect concept of church is one more reason why the Gospel has not spread to all the remote unreached peoples in the world. Simply put, our concept of church is not Biblical. Our concept usually means a building or a church service or a denomination. We have structured church into systems and have our meetings and other activities in a building on a certain day and hour. This creates competition, which leads to division. I follow Cephas, because he preaches better than Apollos does.

We have made systems for doing church, systems for the order of a church service, systems to collect the tithes and offerings, and systems of discipleship of new members. This pattern of systems has increased, and now we have systems for evangelism and missions. All these systems have names and now can be bought in packages or kits on church growth. Church growth principles refer to how you (the pastor or leader) can fill up your building in order to build a bigger building until you become a movement or network of churches. The definition of mega-church is a building where services are upwards of 2,000 people in attendance in one or two services.

When most people meet another Christian they ask them, “What church do you go to?” This is not in accordance with New Testament teaching; in fact, it is against it. We are specifically told by the apostle Paul that this is prohibited and that division is the result of this behavior. The purpose of division is to keep us from fulfilling the great commission. So, what do you do? If you are going to remote unreached peoples, the last thing you want to do is cause division, and this you will do as soon as you gather people around you as a leader of your denomination, movement, or sending agency. Once you start representing your denomination or whatever doctrine instead of Jesus Christ, you are on a downward spiral toward division. If you do start to represent your denomination, it is then customary to build buildings with names on them. The minute you build buildings or put names on your movement, you have wrecked the pure, natural spread of the Gospel. It will end in division and turn your mission work into a sick and festering group of divided Christians. If you start a new movement with a new name, you have further splintered Christianity, and it will end the same.

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the Gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

(NRSV 1 Corinthians – 1:10-17)

If you are following the eloquent preaching of wisdom from the man with a name, and you are propagating that name, you are emptying the cross of Christ of its power. The enemy has a right to divide you once you start to promote men instead of the Messiah. Propagating doctrines of men instead of the simple teaching of Christ disqualifies you from taking the Gospel to remote unreached peoples. If you can bring yourself to change, now is the time. It is hard to believe that all the denominations and their church buildings are wrong. It is harder to believe that they are one of the principle reasons that we have not finished the great commission, but they are. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church. Notice how I wrote that phrase? I did not say I grew up in the body of Christ in Amarillo, Texas. I mentioned my childhood denomination. I went to Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2525 Wimberly Road. I did not know why we were Presbyterians; I just knew that we were superior to all the other denominations. We did all our functions, camps, activities, and church services with other Presbyterians. I distinctly remember that, when a friend at Westminster Presbyterian Church started to go to a different Presbyterian church in the same city, we all thought he was a rebel and lost. Where did I get that idea? I must have heard it from someone at our church building. I was only fourteen years old.

It is human nature to think that what our parents do is the correct thing to do. Think of the millions of children growing up Buddhist or Muslim. They will think their religions are correct and superior to yours. They will also think that their particular sect of their religion is better than all the other sects of that same religion. It is interesting that Satan has divided the other religions against themselves. His purpose is different, though; it is to make it harder for the Christian missionary to get into all the people groups because they are distracted by their own division. My wife and I hold a Bible translator-training program. We have had hours of conversations on how we are going to send new missionaries. We both grew up in the Presbyterian denomination and later changed to another with the manifestations of the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. But our personal beliefs and what we think to be correct are irrelevant. All of the current mission models around us are irrelevant as well. Our methods have to be Biblical if we really want the Gospel to spread. If we cannot follow the New Testament teaching, we will be a hindrance to the great commission and will do more damage than good on the mission field. We must teach and send our missionaries without agency names, logos, icons, denominations, or institutionalized systems. All new missionaries are to be sent as followers of Christ and Christ’s teachings alone. The Gospel of Christ spreads naturally because it is a living organism; rather, he (Jesus) is a living person. He is not a doctrine to be taught, and he is not a religion to be adhered to.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

(NIV 2 Corinthians 5:20)

If you begin to make disciples in a remote unreached people group, you will be naturally spreading the Gospel, and there will be no need to gather people under a logo or a name or put up walls in order to hold church services. Your disciples must emphatically know that they are to make other disciples, and when the house fills up, it spills over into the next house. Better yet, when disciples start to testify, you should move farther out, extending the Gospel into other areas where there is no light.

It is a well-known fact today that house church movements have more success that church building movements. Houses provide a more personal atmosphere and cannot be easily seized by the government or shut down by persecutors. Normally, the government throws the people into jail who are gathering in homes. They don’t normally seize a building, because it’s someone’s home. If they seize the church building, all of that time, construction, and money is wasted. When I was a new missionary, we were starting a new gathering in a very resistant area, and the neighbors burned the house in which we met. We just moved the meeting to another house. The people only burned one house. I guess they figured out we were not going to give up. Jesus and the apostles borrowed the buildings they used. Neither Jesus nor the apostles built buildings. Let’s follow their example: if you need a building, borrow one. Don’t build buildings; they will cause division as soon as another building goes up nearby. The leader also has to stay put, because there is a building to keep up, and then the movement becomes stagnant. It starts to grow inward.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

(NIV Matthew 4:23)

And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

(NIV Luke 4:44 )

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret.”

(NIV John 18:19-20)

At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

(NIV Acts 9:20)

When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

(NIV Acts 13:5)

Every good missionary training center has a church-planting course, and, almost always, they teach you two important lessons. The first lesson is that you do not take your denominational preferences or doctrinal baggage to the mission field. The second lesson is that you should not build buildings. Most people don’t listen to the first lesson, so it usually ends up that they have to build a building. In modern missionary models, starting churches usually means constructing buildings. Once some other group comes into the same area and raises a building, they will have to put a name on it to distinguish it from your building. This creates division among Christians. I keep saying that, if you go into unreached peoples and find another church, you haven’t gone far enough. Keep going until you don’t find any other churches or Christians. I will take it one step further: when you get to the place that has no Christians or churches, go even further, hoping and praying other groups don’t arrive soon.

It is a pity when these other groups arrive in your area and don’t keep going. If they stay, you now have a problem. One advantage of going to a remote people group where they don’t speak a national language is that other missionaries won’t be arriving anytime soon, or, if they do, they probably won’t be language learners; they will be trying to disciple in the national language. You have a few years to get the New Testament into audio and to pray that division doesn’t start to render your discipleship movement ineffective. Just go so far that no one will be coming behind you.

I was part of a church-planting ministry for several years. Notice that I did not say “discipleship movement.” That ministry built static church buildings; it was part of their missiology. We had a meeting every week with about twenty-five pastors to talk about their problems. Almost all those pastors had their own building. There were a few who did not, and they were looked down upon for it. I learned a lot about division in the three years I had to listen to all the problems of those pastors. I remember hearing every kind of contention, jealousy, fighting, bickering, and other problems, mostly over their buildings. One building was even robbed by another pastor in the same movement.

I currently live in an area surrounded by remote unreached people groups. Not many hours from my house are ethnic people groups speaking distinct languages that have no churches. Some of these groups do have churches. I have been in many of these people groups, and, when we do find churches, they tend to have the same common problems. Two different churches or denominations are in the same town, and there is always division. It was designed this way by the devil to keep us from finishing the work. Burger King put up a store across the street from McDonald’s; now you have two choices. Which one is better? The difference between the hamburger industry and the Christian church is that Burger King never tells their customers to not go to McDonald’s. That would be unethical. Our own carnality, combined with a little help from our enemy, Satan, has twisted what Jesus taught us about the great commission. In the area where my wife and I work, it is very common to see two tiny little churches in the remote people groups. Once one comes in, another follows soon after.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

(NRSV Mark 10:35-45 ) See also (Matthew 20:20).

Over the centuries, we Christians have made Church what we want it to be. We have distorted it so that we can exalt ourselves, so that we can be in control, so that we can be served, and so that we can get from Jesus (and the congregations) whatever we ask. Not so with you! You be different and get all your missionary models from Jesus.

Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’

(NIV Matthew 23:5-7)

This is a striking picture of the modern church building with a pastor in his or her pulpit in a traditional denomination or a mega-church. A phylactery is a small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at Morning Prayer as a reminder to keep the law. It set them apart from the unlearned common people. Jesus brought the teaching about God to the unlearned common people and was criticized for it. Sects of Christianity have formed because Christians want to follow men, and men want to be followed. They want to do “church,” differently and cannot agree. They build big buildings to intimidate all the other men preaching other things. I would imagine at one time that the basilica was a much smaller structure over Peter’s tomb. He was such an important man that now there is an entire country surrounding his grave, with its own laws, politics, and leadership, which have led to heresy, such as the pope being the embodiment of Christ in the world. Following that one man, as the apostle Paul told us not to do, has led to twenty-three major divisions and a myriad of smaller sects and belief structures that are today called Catholicism. The Gospel is not about following men and men’s teachings; it is about following the person of Jesus Christ. I look at the elaborate Protestant and Catholic systems and think, “Is this what Jesus intended?”

Other movements were named after the men who started them or after their practices and teachings: Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian are among them. As they became more divided, they were called after their particular doctrinal issue that divided them. Here is one example: Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Association, Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America, Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Baptist Bible Fellowship International, Baptist General Conference, Christian Unity Baptist Association, Conservative Baptist Association of America, Continental Baptist Churches, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Enterprise Association of Regular Baptists, Free Will Baptist, Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Association, General Association of Baptists, General Six-Principle Baptists, Anabaptists, ‎German Baptist, Old Brethren German Baptist, Old Order German Baptist Brethren, and so on, and so on. All the other mainline denominations have splintered into many divided factions as well. If you want to spend time studying the history of division over men, you can, or you could study about Jesus in your New Testament.

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.

(NIV Romans 16:17-18)

Read the New Testament for yourself, and you will find no mention of the movement being named anything but Christians, and you will find that is what the pagans called them. “Christian,” is only mentioned a hand full of times in the New Testament. Jesus and the apostles did not give their movement a name. He purposefully did not name the movement; he completely knew what he was doing.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

(NIV Acts 11:25-26)

Buildings were not built. They met in houses. Jesus used the buildings that others built for his meetings or met outside or in homes.

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

(NIV Acts 5:42)

Simple Discipleship Movement Guide:

  1. Don’t plant churches; make disciples. The Gospel will spread naturally and extend.
  2. Don’t name your movement.
  3. Don’t build buildings.
  4. Combat division with the teaching of the New Testament.

Do not gather people around you as their leader and do not let them make leaders. The Holy Spirit will assign roles. See the Christian Leadership for Missions section on this blog

Read 1st Corinthians. It won’t take you very long. You will see that men began to boast about who was better in order to get more followers; they made it a business and then sin crept in (See 1st Corinthians 5) and that the sin was not dealt with. In the end, division came in.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,” I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

(NRSV 1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

(NRSV 1 Corinthians 3:1-7)

Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.

(NIV 1 Corinthians 4:6)

Paul had to go on and on, teaching people not to build up men or boast about men in the first years of the new church. We should learn from this. This is what happens: your discipleship starts to form groups, and they start to grow. Then someone wants to be the leader. Here is the key: if you extend the Kingdom of God instead of gathering it into bigger and bigger meetings in static places (now needing a building and a leader), you won’t have as much problem with division among the leadership. You need to keep moving out into other places that have not heard.

It has always been my ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. 21 Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” 22 This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.

(NIV Romans 15:20-22)

My missionary pastor taught me that I should never pastor more people than I could remember their names. I remember that the few small churches we planted were mostly small gatherings of discipleship in the houses of people. I also found what he said to be true. When your group gets to be about 100, you can no longer fit around one house, and you can no longer remember all their names.

Don’t use rules of thumb or formulas. Just make disciples of Jesus and teach them to make disciples of Jesus. You know that you are doing your job when your disciples’ disciples are making disciples. Then the movement will not die out when you die. It is not more complicated than this. Think about this for a minute. When your disciples’ disciples are making other disciples, you can move on knowing that the Gospel will spread without you.

The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.

(NIV John 4:1-2)

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

(NIV Luke 10:1)

There is a fad called church planting movements, or CPM’s. The problem with many of these CPM’s is that they leave the church a mile wide and an inch deep or, in other words, immature, weak, and susceptible to sickness and dying out. This was a well-known saying about the Christian movement in Africa for many years. The church in Africa was considered a mile wide and an inch deep. We should be very careful not to track numbers and count decision cards and just extend the Kingdom of God through simple, one-on-one, slow, time-consuming discipleship. Jesus did not say, “Go into all the world and start CPM’s.” One-on-one discipleship is better, because the Gospel grows slowly and solidly. If you combat division, you should end up with the church or body in “some,” city.

We see examples such as the church at Corinth, the church at Antioch, the church at Ephesus, and the church at Jerusalem. People met in houses to fellowship, pray and then moved out living their lives and discipling others. There are roles in the New Testament for other jobs in the body of Christ, but to call them leadership roles would distort their true purpose. This is because most Christians do not understand leadership. Look for my book entitled “Leadership 365 – A 21st Century Look at the New Testament Model.” I will not go into detail about apostles, pastors, and the like here. The Holy Spirit will teach you all of this. It is not complicated. The New Testament is your missionary handbook. Read it and don’t add to it.

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37 He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

(NRSV Acts 4:32-37)

Here is another interesting thing that made the new church spread. Read these verses very carefully: no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own. They took care of one another. If you follow after men, they are going to want your money. Then they will tell you that you need to build a bigger building, a bigger auditorium, and a bigger movement with their name on it. They will not like that you are helping your brother from another movement. They want you to first give to their church structure and let them take care of how your money is distributed behind the scenes. Sadly, much of the funding that is intended for world missions never makes it to the mission field. But notice in the verses above that, when they brought money in, the apostles distributed it for all to see.

When people are not divided over leaders, money, buildings, and organizational pride, then the flock gets taken care of. I remember that when my missionary pastors began their ministry over fifty years ago, they asked very poor people to bring whatever they could to help out. The people brought a handful of beans, rice or buttons from clothing as their offering. Then my pastors shared them with those who had none. It is important that you take as much time as you need and look into the scriptures for yourself on the subject of discipleship as opposed to church planting.