5 Things That Destroy Discipleship Movements

Death Factors

Some months ago I wrote about 6 Factors That Get Your Movement Moving.  It’s always good to look at positive things we can do to see greater fruit and growth!

It is also important to be aware of what kinds of things kill a Disciple Making Movement(DMM).  Sometimes we call these “Death Factors.” These are things to be extremely careful about.  While seemingly normal or innocent, if your goal is a multiplying movement, they will definitely “sink your ship.” When these things start to happen, you can be sure that the movement will stop growing.  If you are just getting started, the movement can die before it every really starts.  There are other “death factors” to consider, but here are five of the most common.

1. Bringing Outside Funding Into The Movement

In Acts 20:34-35 Paul says,  You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.  In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”  Paul went the extra mile to model tent making. He gave an example of locally generated funds. We need to train local believers that it is more blessed to give than receive.  We must protect the movements we start from the huge dangers of foreign funding.

death factors

Bringing in outside funding, even in small and seemingly insignificant ways, can wreak havoc on the local people’s motivation to give.  It often radically affects their willingness to share the gospel without financial or material compensation.  This basically stops (or dramatically slows) the spread of gospel witness.  Greed, a spirit of competition, jealousy and many other difficult issues arise when outside money is received by some and not others.  Ownership of the movement comes into question, and the vision and responsibility for carrying the movement forward shifts from local indigenous believers to outsiders.  Author Jean Johnson writes about this in her excellent book, We Are Not The Hero.

Huge Temptations

There are so many temptations in this area!  In our desire to help, we often cripple the local people rather than empowering them to stand on their own feet.  We use outside money to build buildings, pay pastors or evangelists and purchase motorcycles. It is all done with good intentions but unknowingly causes the movement to become sick, rather than healthy.  All this leads to less, not more growth, in the long run.  Money can both help and hurt.  When the money is from outside the movement, most often it hurts!

2. Sending Key Emerging Leaders Away For Training

This is another common mistake and death factor for a movement.  Rather than training  indigenous leaders locally in “just in time” ways, we decide to send them for outside training. Did you notice that in Ephesus, Corinth, or other places he started new work, Paul never sent the emerging house church leaders to Jerusalem to be trained?  No, he trained them himself locally.  After he left, he continued to mentor them through letters and follow-up visits.  What would have happened to these early churches had he sent them off to the “Bible School” or “DTS/SBS” (YWAM’s equivalent trainings for example) in Jerusalem to learn under those from another culture, language and context?

What might have happened then (but thankfully didn’t) is exactly what so often happens today.  People go for outside training and come back with Bible knowledge, personal growth in their lives and other positive things, but they don’t know how to live it out in their own community and context.  They naturally bring back with them external styles of worship and ways of encountering God that are often not a good fit for the local people.

Depending on the length of the training, they sometimes come back so changed that they don’t fit in their own place anymore.

Frequently, they don’t even like the local village or indigenous context anymore.  They then often decide to go back for more training or to live in the big city where things are more modern.  Or, because they have left their prior jobs and way of earning a living, they now want to have financial support raised for them. So often, instead of continuing to serve the growing movement as a bi-vocational leader, they end up joining the organization that ran the training.  This is a huge loss to the movement’s momentum and growth.

Even for shorter trainings of only a few months, we must be very cautious about sending emerging movement leaders away to be trained.  It is often counterproductive in the long run!

3. Fear Of Persecution (Or Losing Your Visa)

Persecution causes the church to grow and spread.  In the book of Acts we see that when persecution increased and the believers scattered, everywhere they went they shared the good news.  The fear of persecution, however, can definitely be a death factor.  Fear of persecution is very contagious.  Sadly, fear is often a major issue in the lives of cross cultural missionaries trying to initiate movements.  Missionaries are told they need to be careful to not do anything that would cause them to lose their visas to stay in a country. Consequently, cautious missionaries impart the same DNA to those they disciple.

In Ephesians 6:19-20 Paul writes, “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (NIV)

Paul was not afraid of what might happen if he shared the gospel.  He did however ask for prayer that he would be fearless in declaring it. He believed this was what he should do.  The fact that he asked for prayer, indicates it was at times a struggle, even for him.

We may feel fearful for very valid reasons.  The risks are real but we can not let fear control us.  We must model bold witness.  This will raise up indigenous disciples who courageously take risks to share their faith in spite of the possible consequences.  Don’t give in to fear.  Like Paul, let’s pray for God’s grace to overcome it!

4. Lack of Focus and Distractions

The distraction of “good things” have caused more movements to stall than any other factor I see in Asia.  Busyness is a major enemy we must fight against!  It is so easy to lose our focus.  We fail to move forward in the important work of evangelism, discipleship and developing leaders.  We spend our time running to various meetings, teaching in this or that school, entertaining guests who come through town, etc.  At the end of the day (or month) we have devoted very little time to doing the real work we are called to do.

In order to say “yes” to relationships with lost people, you must say “no” to many other good Christian activities.   You may need to say “no” to exciting invitations to travel abroad and represent your nation, sharing about your work.  You may need to say “no” even to people you love and respect.

I spoke with a church planter today.  We talked about ways he could help the believers in his fellowship begin to share their testimony with others.  We talked about options for training and vision casting.  At the end of our talk, I asked him what his plans were.  He said he was very busy.  It wouldn’t be possible for him to do any of the things we spoke about.  He had a leadership gathering to attend, then he was teaching in a training in another city.  After our talk concluded, I felt sad.  Without dramatic change, the death factor of a lack of focus will destroy any chance of him seeing a multiplying movement.

5. Church Traditions Are Valued More Than The Instructions Of Jesus

Those who want to see disciple making movements must be willing to “go against the flow” in their ways of working.  What the traditional church has become comfortable with is frequently not very biblical.  It is often not what is needed for greater fruit to result.  That is why many traditional churches have half empty buildings.  Even for those traditional churches that are growing, many times it is what we call “transfer” growth- people who are already Christians moving to a new area or changing churches.

Obedience to the instructions of Jesus is critical to seeing a disciple making movement.  Jesus’ commands are not options!  Jesus commanded his disciples to go and share the good news with everyone.  When we make evangelism something that “qualified” or ordained people do, we are not following his instructions or his model.

Jesus Versus Traditional Approaches

Here is another example of a radically different approach Jesus took as compared to today’s church traditions. Jesus sent his disciples without an extra bag, extra pair of sandals, and without health insurance!  Can you believe that?!!  The sent ones (Luke 10) were dependent upon local men of peace to provide for their needs.  Yet our church traditions tell us that much preparation and finances is needed for new pioneering work to start.  There are many approaches in church planting where we automatically look to traditional models rather than to Jesus or Paul to know what to do.

Another is baptism and who can baptize.  When we follow the traditions of men, we will get the same results we always have.  When we follow Jesus’ model much faster growth results.

You can not make everyone happy.  But that is not your goal is it?  Our priority is pleasing God and reaching the lost, not pleasing the traditional church.  We do our best, as it says in Romans 12:18, to live at peace with everyone.  But we always put a higher priority on pleasing God, not men.

Be aware of these death factors and don’t fall into them unintentionally.  Sometimes you will feel like you are “swimming upstream.”  The end result of this effort will be seeing thousands of lost people come into the kingdom.  It’s certainly worth the fight!

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