Simple Discipleship Movement Guide – part 23

“Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 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 the pulpit of 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 therefore cannot agree. To keep their followers separate they build big buildings that 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, complete with its own laws, politics, and worldly leadership.

That building has become so important to men that it has led to heresy. It is taught that one such man, the pope, is 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 today are called Catholicism. What’s so contradictory is that Peter died and never resurrected. Jesus is the messiah who died and resurrected from the dead and lives still and yet we didn’t build a country around his grave. Possibly God himself has not permitted us to build a massive building around the sites where Jesus ministered. 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 building and think, “Is this what Jesus intended?”

I recently heard that there are 45,000 evangelical denominations worldwide

Other movements were named after the men who started them or after their practices and teachings: Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist are among a few of them. As these major divisions splintered, they were forced to create new names for those divided entities. Here are just a few examples: Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church‎, Cumberland Presbyterian Church‎, ECO, A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians‎, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Orthodox Presbyterian Church‎, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)‎, Presbyterian Church in America‎, American Presbyterian Church, Bible Presbyterian Church, Christian Presbyterian Church, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in America, Evangelical Reformed Presbyterian Church, Free Presbyterian Church of North America, Free Presbyterian Church Synod of the United States, Korean American Presbyterian Church, Korean Presbyterian Church in America, Presbyterian Reformed Church (North America), United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, United Presbyterian Church of North America and Westminster Presbyterian Church in the United States. — African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church‎, African Methodist Episcopal Church‎, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Free Methodist Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, United Methodist Church‎, Association of Independent Methodists, Bethel Methodist Church (denomination), Bible Methodist Connection of Tennessee, British Methodist Episcopal Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, First Congregational Methodist Church, Congregational Methodist Church, Evangelical Methodist Church, Fundamental Methodist Conference, Inc., National Association of Wesleyan Evangelicals, The People’s Methodist Church, Pillar of Fire International, Primitive Methodism, Methodist Protestant Church, Southern Congregational Methodist Church, Southern Methodist Church, Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, Wesleyan Church, Wesleyan Methodist Church (Allegheny Conference), Wesleyan Methodist Church (United States). — 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.

“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. 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 or followers a name. He purposefully did not name the movement and we need to trust that he completely knew what he was doing.

“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 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)

In Acts and in the rest of the New Testament, the apostles could refer to Church as a local gathering of Christians because they were not divided yet. They were separated mostly by distance. We can no longer refer to Church as a local gathering or a city-wide body of Christians. We are too divided now to do so. In the time of the first Church, buildings were not built. They met in houses. Jesus used the buildings that others built to have his meetings or met outside.

“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)

It would be more Biblical that you start discipleship movements but you would have to be extremely careful to not let people name the movement.

Simple Discipleship Movement Guide:

  1. Don’t plant churches; make disciples. The Gospel will spread naturally and extend. You will not be about to count the growth, nor should you.
  2. Don’t name your movement.
  3. Don’t build buildings.
  4. Counter division with the teaching of Jesus.
  5. Do not gather people around you as their leader and do not let the disciples make leaders. The Holy Spirit will assign roles.

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. For it is written,” I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 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? 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. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.  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.  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; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”.

(NRSV, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

When God chooses low things and uses them, it reduces to nothing the things that the world considers high and important. Paul had to go on and on, teaching people not to build up men or take pride in one man over another during the beginning years of the first church body (1 Corinthians 4:6). 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 will need to keep moving out into other places that have not heard. The difficulty of this extension and the intensity of the spiritual warfare will keep you so busy that you, and your would-be leaders, will not have the time or energy to be leading anyone.

“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.  Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you”.

(NIV, Romans 15:20-22)

A missionary taught me that I should never pastor more people than I could remember their names. I remember that the few small bodies of believers that we began 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. You shouldn’t use rules of thumb or formulas. Just make disciples of Jesus and teach them to make other disciples of Jesus. You will 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 isn’t any 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 extend without you. It will extend outwardly if you do not make or assign leaders.

“The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 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 CPMs. The problem with many of these CPMs is that they leave the Church body a mile wide and an inch deep, Or, in other words, they leave the body of believers immature, weak, and susceptible to sickness and dying out. They are usually built on the worldly authority structure (a box with a main leader and sub-leaders) and quickly the desire to have a building comes in. This was a well-known saying about the Christian movement in Africa for many years: “The Church in Africa was 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 time-consuming discipleship. Jesus did not say, “Go into all the world and start CPM’s or build buildings.” One-on-one discipleship is correct because the body grows slowly and solidly. There are many roles mentioned in the New Testament for jobs in the body of Christ, but to call them leadership roles would distort their true function and purpose. Most Christians today cannot use the word leadership in their extension of the kingdom. They do not understand true spiritual leadership. I will not go into detail about apostles, pastors, and other roles in this book. The Holy Spirit will teach you all of this. The roles (ministerial gifts) are to do what their name says, not much more. The New Testament is your handbook. Read it and don’t add anything 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. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 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. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet”.

(NRSV, Acts 4:32-37)

This simple concept made the first Church extend outwardly. Read these verses very carefully. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own. This is truly seeing yourself in one connected body with many members. They also took care of one another. Also notice in the verses above that, when they brought money in, the apostles distributed it for all to see. They did not use it to build buildings or pay themselves wages. When people are not divided over leaders, money, buildings, and organizational pride, then the body gets taken care of. I remember that when my missionary friends 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 or building construction. Discipleship and church planting are two opposing forces. Church planting has division inherent in its model.

Making disciples is like raising children. You have to put the spoon in the baby’s mouth. You have to clean up the food around the lips and feed it back to the child. Read the word of God to them. Let them see the words on the page. You have to feed your baby in his spiritual atmosphere so that the spiritual battle is broken in their room of their home. Taking him to a building to get fed allows him to break free from his spiritual battle inside that building. But once he is outside he is weak again. You must feed the disciple in his own room. One day when your child is able to feed himself by himself in his own room, he will feed himself when you are not there. This is the first stage when your baby can feed himself when you are NOT there and when he is not in the building. If you invite them to a place of peace to read the scriptures, they feel peace. But when they return home, to their room, the spiritual war wages against them, and they have no strength to feed themselves. The spiritual battle must be broken over your baby in his home. This is why you cannot do discipleship in church buildings. If you disciple him in the church building, your baby will be ten years old and not know how to dress himself or walk. They will not have made another disciple after many years. If you think you can make disciples in your church building, ask yourself if your disciples are making other disciples. If not, they cannot walk. If they do not read their Bibles on their own, they cannot dress themselves. You need to feed your new baby every day, or he will starve. You cannot feed babies only on Sundays. Discipleship is hard work and requires much time and energy. Discipleship is slow and time-consuming. It is like raising children. If you only have time for one disciple, do your job right and spend time every day, or as much as you can with them in their rooms of their houses reading and teaching the Gospels to them. Prayer is important, and your baby should know the basic prayers, but your child needs to learn to feed himself with the Gospels so that he can pray according to them. Taking your baby (disciple) to the church building is for your convenience and the convenience of the number one leader. It requires less work from everyone.  

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”.

(NIV, John 15:8)

Once you have a disciple, he is your child. He is your responsibility, not the pastor’s responsibility. If you win people to Christ and do not make disciples of them, you are having spiritual abortions. Disciples that cannot feed and dress themselves will soon die, even if they continue to go to church meetings. They will be worse off if they are dead in the church meetings, having the appearance of being Christians. Most people pass their spiritual newborn babies on to babysitters inside church buildings. They hope that their newborns will get what they need on Wednesdays and Sundays. On the mission field, missionaries commonly pass their newborns off to toddlers who can barely walk. This will not do. You will have rapid exponential weak church-planting movements if you are passing your newborn babies off to other children that are one or two years old in Christ. That newborn child is yours, and you must help them walk and talk and finally learn to reproduce themselves in others. Slow time-consuming discipleship takes several years. Jesus spent three years every day being God. Had every Christian made one solid disciple and emphatically taught them to make one more, Christ would have returned long ago.