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    slide06.jpgLet us begin with a very important fact. The goal of the site is not to criticize traditional or institutional churches. Yes, some of the articles make comparisons and some of the writers do strongly question traditional practices. However, those of us who have created this site did so for several reasons:

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    bestartikle.jWe have over one hundred articles available on our site, so if you are a new visitor, you may be overwhelmed. Where should you start? Here you will find some of our best articles that we have posted since the s...

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    slide05.jpgYou are church before you do church. This is one of the fueling insights of the missional church movement. This isn't a new idea...but it is pretty provocative, especially when one considers its implications. If we take Jesus at his word when he says (as recorded in John 20:21) "as the Father has sent me, I am sending you," then we realize that our being sent is the basis of our "doing" church. In oth...

  • What is an Organic Church?

    slide04.jpg Organic Church. I've been using this term for around fifteen years now. Today it's become somewhat of a clay word, being molded and shaped to mean a variety of different things by a variety of different people.

    T. Austin-Sparks is the man who deserves credit for this term. Here's his definition:

Insights from the Organic Church by Neil Cole (growing faith where life happens) PDF Print Write e-mail
Friday, 20 April 2007 00:38

Organic Church and its author have their roots in a healthy dissatisfaction with the church as it is today.  Neil, like many others, dreams of a church which vibrantly lives out its faith where people live, work and play.  A church which can escape the four walls of its building.  Neil Cole is a practitioner, who has planted both traditional churches and organic churches.  I believe that we can learn from Neil Cole in Ukraine as an example of what an incarnational, organic church looks like.

Quotes from Organic Church

Christianity has been buried inside the walls of churches and secured with the shackles of dogmatism.  Let it be liberated to come into the midst of us and teach us freedom, equally and love.
Minna Cante

For many years now I have taken to going to church less and less because I find so little there of what I hunger for.  It is a sense of the presence of God that I hunger for.
Frederick Buechner

The gospel says, “Go”, but our church buildings say “stay”.  The gospel says, “Seek the lost” but our churches say, “Let the lost seek the church.”
Howard Snyder

Christendom has done away with Christianity without quite being aware of it.
Soren Kierkegaard

If Jesus were on earth you’d find him in a gay bar in San Francisco.  He’d be with people suffering from AIDS.  These are the new lepers.  If you want to find out where Jesus would be hanging out, it’ll always be with the lepers.

A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are made for.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you did not do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore, Dream, Discover.
Mark Twain

Part One:  Roots of the Organic Church – A Foundation for Understanding the Church

We must start and end with Jesus.  Who He is?  What He came to do?  What He calls us to be and do?

We often speak more about “models”, “styles”, “types”, and even the Bible than we do about Christ.

Five truths about the church according to Jesus:

1. Jesus and only Jesus builds His church – not any man nor method.

2. Jesus owns the church (Acts 20:28) – if Jesus is building the church; it is strong and healthy, if it is not healthy it is because we have taken over the task.

3. The church is meant to grow – not necessarily bigger and bigger, but a reproducing growth.

4. The growing church will face opposition.

5. The church that Jesus builds is unstoppable if it is an authentic expression of Jesus’ love and truth and if Jesus is leading it.

Out of a sense of failure and frustration with standard church planting, Neil began the plant small churches called Awakening Chapels.  In the first year ten were started, the second year 18 were started, and the third year 52 were added.

These churches were small and simple and were able to be started and maintained by ordinary people.

They purposed to lower the expectation of how church is done and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

They are informal, relational, and mobile without heavy financial costs; therefore, they are very reproducible.  This reproduction is spontaneous and uncontrollable.

Six  Myths -  Debunking Truths about the Church

  • The Church is a Living Organism Not a Static Institution.

Just as God breathed life into mankind in the beginning of time (Gen. 2:7), He also breathed life into His Church in the beginning of a new age (John 21:21-23; Acts 2).  The Church is alive, she is organic.  God’s very first command given to humans had nothing to do with the fruit on a tree or tending to a garden.  It was more basic and has been repeated and never repealed.  In fact, even the wickedest of sinners has obeyed this command.  God said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28; 9:1, 7).  He has given this same command to the Church (Acts 1:8).

Most of the metaphors and explanations of the Kingdom of God and the Church in the New Testament use natural concepts for identification and description:  the body, the bride, the branches, the field of what, the mustard seed, the family, the flock, leaven, salt, and light.  When the New Testament uses a building as a metaphor of the Church, it is quick to add that it is made up of living stones (1 Pet. 2:5).

We would do much better as leaders in the Church to learn at the feet of the farmer rather than study with the CEO of a corporation.  It is time we see that the Church starts in the fields, not in the barns (Prov. 24:27).  We spend so much time building nice barns with padded pews, air-conditioned halls, and state-of-the art sound systems, yet we have neglected the fields.  We are as foolish as the farmer who builds a barn and then stands in the doorway calling all the crops to come in and make themselves at home.  It is time for the Church to get her hands dirty in the soil of lost people’s lives.

  • The Church is So Much More Than a Building.
  • The Church Is Not to be Bound to a Single Location.
  • The Church is Much More than a Worship Service Held in a Church Building.
  • The Kingdom of God is Meant to be Decentralized, But People Tend to Centralize.
    Decentralizing and sending and going are the ways of Jesus.
  • We are Each God’s Temple and Together we are also His Temple.
    Why then do we work so hard to raise up professional priests, centralized buildings, and institutionalized sacraments?

Our definition of church without the centrality of Jesus is a key to our problem of believing it is quite all right to have the church be attractional, institutional, stationary, and non-reproducing.  Most common definitions of the church do little to even mention Christ.

Consider this definition:
The presence of Jesus Christ among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this earth.

There is a beauty to behold when one sees a family of God’s people loving Jesus by word and deed and being led ever outward toward Christ’s mission by the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit – a living, breathing organism uncontrollable.
There is a sadness to behold when one sees an institution of God’s people doing work for Jesus depending on their own power, resources, and organization without dependence on the Holy Spirit – a plodding organization controlled and centralized.

Organic Nature of The Kingdom of God

The Parable of How It All Grows

In the children’s book Frog and Toad Together, “The Garden” tells the story of Toad’s adventure of planting sees to grow a garden.  Things begin when Toad appreciates his friend Frog’s fine garden.  “Well, yes,” replies Frog, “but it was hard work.”  “I wish I had a garden,” responds Toad.  So Frog gives Toad a package of seeds and tells him that if he plants the seeds soon he too can grow a beautiful garden.  Toad asks, “How soon?”  “quite soon” is the reply.

Toad plants the seeds and then tells them to start growing, while he stands there waiting for them to appear.  When he sees no response, he tells the seeds to start growing, a little louder.  Then he shouts at the seeds, commanding them to start growing.  Hearing the loud noise, Frog looks over the fence and asks what all the commotion is about.  Toad replies, “My seeds won’t grow.”

Frog says, “My seeds are afraid to grow?”

“Leave them alone for a few days,” answers Frog.  “Let the sun shine on them.  Let the rain fall on them.  Soon your seeds will start to grow.”

Later that night, Toad looks out over his garden and sees that nothing has changed.  “Drat, my seeds haven’t started to grow.  They must be afraid of the dark.  I will read the seeds a story, and then they won’t be afraid.”

Over the next couple of days, we see Toad reading the seeds stories, singing songs to them, dancing in the rain for them, and playing tunes for them on the violin, all in fruitless efforts to coax the seeds to grow on his timetable.  One night, in a fit of exhaustion, Toad remarks, “Oh, what shall I do?   These seeds must be the most frightened seeds in the whole world.”  He collapses in sleep from the fatigue of trying to entertain the seeds nonstop for several days.

He is awakened the next day by a jubilant Frog saying, “Toad, Toad, wake up!  Look at your garden.”

“Oh, lat last my seeds have stopped being afraid to grow.”

“And now,” replies Frog, “:you’ll have a nice garden, too.”
“Yes, but you were right, Frog,” remarks Toad, wiping the sweat from his brow.  “It was very hard work.”

Many of us are like Toad.  We are spending our lives singing, dancing, and telling stories to dirt, trying to make the seeds grow.  In the end, we conclude that making seeds grow is hard work.

But is it?

In Mark 4:26-29, Jesus tells us:  “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows – how, he does not know.  The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.  But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Jesus described the work as casting out seed, going to bed at night, and rising in the day.  The soil produces the growth “all by itself.”  The word translated “all by itself” is automate.  It is obviously, the root word from which we get our word automatic.  The man who sows the seed doesn’t even know how it happens.

As I read this parable, I recognize two things that need to be addressed.  First, we are all qualified to do the work, and the work is not really so hard.  Second, we frequently expend our energy and resources in the wrong phase of ministry life.

In this parable, the man who sows the seed goes to sleep at night, wakes up in the day, and does not know how the work grows.  I feel qualified for that role: clueless and sleeping on the job.  Too many of us experts think we know all about how the work of our ministry is supposed to grow.  The consequence is that the mysterious and miraculous element of the Kingdom is replace with strategic plans, demographic studies, and brightly colored flow charts.  We sacrifice pure, organic power for hard work and little results.   Professing to be wise, we have become fools.

We also make the mistake of investing great resources in the wrong phase of Kingdom life.  Innumerable churches in the West spend most of their effort and money on the growing phase of life.  Little is spent on breaking up spoil, planting seeds, or harvesting crops. Simply browsing a local Christian bookstore demonstrates this fact.  Rows of shelves are dedicated to materials on growing – children, families, churches, and schools.

There are very few resources in the Kingdom invested in sowing seeds.  There are virtually no resources that are all about harvesting.  Because we are not seeing any harvest, there isn’t any demand for such resources – not that we don’t want it.  There probably is a legitimate need for resources in this area.  However, until we actually face a harvest, we will not know what works and what doesn’t.  As Jesus said, “when the crop permits” we reap a harvest.  We cannot have a harvest unless the crop allows it.  You can have the combines ready, the silos prepared, and the trucks ready to roll, but if the crop is not ripe there will not be any harvest.

Many of our Christian leaders are like Toad.  We can jump and shout, sing songs, and read stories, but it will not cause any greater growth.  The Bible tells us throughout that only God can cause growth.  Trying to cause growth is not possible for us and only confuses people.  Worse than that, when we try to cause growth we take upon our shoulders God’s work, which can be blasphemous, human-centered, and prideful.  This also sets many people up for disappointment when we promise them growth and we do not deliver.

Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow” (I Cor. 3:6, 7).

It may be obvious by now, but if you skip the important step of planting seeds and spend all your time expecting things to grow you will have few results to show in the end.  Pouring more money and time into growing strategies does not create any more growth.

I am confident that if churches invested more time, energy, and money in planting seeds, they would not have to work hard at growing, and the harvest would be much more abundant.

All of us who are invested in the Kingdom of God long deeply to be a part of a spontaneously growing and multiplying movement where God is doing the work.  We read the book of Acts, and our spirits scream to be a part of something like that.  When we hear reports of the Kingdom expanding and lives changing overseas in China or India, our souls are touched in a deep place that we seldom feel, and it reminds us that our own experience is so empty.  It is unfortunate that we sacrifice our heart’s desire for lesser things.  The reality is that as long as we invest in human-driven efforts, we will never see what we all really want to see.

This important parable speaks to our heart’s desire.  Jesus tells us that the Kingdom is to grow spontaneously (“all by itself”).  Experientially, we are far from this truth.  I have been to church services where everything is scripted to the last second.  How can we ever hope to see a spontaneous church multiplication movement if we don’t have any space for spontaneity?

There is a risk involved in seeking a spontaneous movement.  We must trust God to do His part.  We must be willing to place ourselves in a position where, if He does not show up, we will be seen as complete fools.  Most have not been willing to take that risk.  We are often afraid that God’s reputation will be tarnished.  This fear is not from heaven but hell.  We will never see the dramatic power of God if we are too afraid to be placed in a position that requires His deliverance.  We will never witness the sea part if we don’t take the road that dead-ends at the beach while the enemy’s forces are breathing down our necks.  In a sense, this is a simple explanation as to why there is so little real evidence of the miraculous in our world.  Because we are not in dangerous places, there is no reason for Almighty God to show up and deliver us.  There is no reason for God to step in and deliver us from arguments about the color of carpet in our safe sanctuary behind stained glass windows.

Many times I am asked what it is that I do in ministry.  Bob Buford (businessman, author, and founder of Leadership Network) is also a man pursuing the Lord’s call in his life and is willing to lay everything on the line for Him.  He recently asked me a great question:  “What is it that you intentionally do not do that fuels your success?”  We should all ask ourselves this question.  Our tem has thrown out more quality resources than anyone can imagine because of the things we do not want to do.  Binders of programs and curricula that we have developed stay shelved collecting dust because they fostered dependency upon professional leaders.

To keep church simple and able to reproduce, we have resisted all sorts of dependency upon money, programs, and paid professionals.  I once declined a large grant for Awakening Chapel, saying, “No, that money would only ruin what we have.  We wouldn’t know what to do with it.  We would find something to do with the money and soon our ministry would cost too much to reproduce.”  Fortunately we were able to find other avenues in our movement for the investment without compromising our spontaneous growth and multiplication.  We refuse to control the work.  We cannot have a spontaneous multiplication movement, such as this parable portrays, by controlling it.  We must be willing to release control.

Ralph Moore understands this.  He started the Hope Chapel movement, which has grown to well over two hundred churches.  He sums up the key to the movement he leads in his own autobiographical work, which he calls Let Go of the Ring.  The title is a reference to Frodo Baggins, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, who had to let go of the ring of power and drop it into the flames of Mt. Doom in Mordor in order to be free.

We need to be willing to let go of the ring of power and control if we want to be free and see God work.  Greater power is found walking in faith and freedom, not in control.  Human control and spontaneous reproduction not compatible.

I often ask church leaders, “Who was in control in the book of Acts?”  It wasn’t Peter.  He had no desire to bring the Gospel to Gentiles, but the Spirit of the Lord did (Acts 10-11).  It was not Paul who was in control.  He wanted to go to Asia, and the Spirit said no.  Then Paul started heading out to Bithynia, and again the Spirit said no (Acts 16).  It was the Holy Spirit that was in control in Acts.  We have misnamed the book by calling it the Acts of the Apostles.  The Holy Spirit is referred to at least fifty-seven times in twenty-eight chapters.  If we want to experience the book of acts today, we must yield control to the Holy Spirit.  I believe that if we unite the Spirit of God with the Word of God in our hearts, we will see a spontaneous movement that will astonish the world.

In his classic works Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? And Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes That Hinder It, Roland Allen sets a high bar for a spontaneous multiplication movement.  We should not be content with less.  A true spontaneous multiplication movement is unstoppable.  In the latter book, Allen writes:  “By spontaneous expansion I mean something which we cannot control…  The great things of God are beyond our control.  Therein lies a vast hope.  Spontaneous expansion could fill the continents with the knowledge of Christ: our control cannot reach as far as that.  We constantly bewail our limitations: open doors unentered; doors closed to us as foreign missionaries; fields white to the harvest, which we cannot reap.  Spontaneous expansion could enter open doors, force closed ones, and reap those white fields.  Our control cannot: it can only appeal pitifully for more men to maintain control.”

Spontaneous expansion is true power.  This is what we all want deep in our hearts.  This is also what our Lord wants.  Let’s have the faith in the Lord of the harvest and in the seed of His word rather than in our methods and strategies.

Let us find a way to believe once gain, like a child, in magic seeds and miraculous trees.

We need a new form of church that can be fruitful and multiply.  Many of our churches they do not even want to multiply.

We must depart from the mentality that bigger is better.  More members, more dollars are not a true measurement.

Both Natural Church Development by Christian Schwaz and the experience of American Southern Baptists shows that small churches are healthier than mega churches.  The evangelists’ effectiveness of mini-churches is 1600% more effective than mega churches.

The Parable of Starting Small and Growing Large

The third organic parable Jesus presents in the fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel is the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32).  Jesus said:  “How shall we picture the Kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it?  It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is small than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.”

The growth of the Kingdom of God must start at the smallest of levels.  Jesus is instructing us that the Kingdom of God must start small and grow via multiplication to have great and expansive influence.

There is much discussion these days about church multiplication.  This is my passion and life.  But no matter how committed we are, we will never see church multiplication if it is all we speak of.  Trying to multiply churches is starting at the wrong lace.  A church is a complex entity with multiple cells.  We must go further down microscopically, to the smallest unit of Kingdom life if we want to start the multiplication process.

If we cannot multiply churches, we will never see a movement.  If we cannot multiply leaders we will never multiply churches.  If we cannot multiply disciples, we will never multiply leaders.  The way to see a true church multiplication movement is to multiply healthy disciples, then leaders, then churches, and finally movements – in that order.

As passionate as I am about church planting, I found it perplexing that the Bible never instructs us to start churches.  There is not a single command in all of the Bible to initiate churches.  The reason is quite clear: we are not to start churches, but instead to make disciples who make disciples.  That is actually the way churches are started, at least in the New Testament.  Jesus gave us instruction that is on the molecular level of Kingdom life, for a very good reason: it works.  Trying to multiply large, highly complex organisms without multiplying on the micro level is impossible.

Ladies, imagine if you had to give birth to full-grown adults.  We should be grateful that we reproduce on a simpler level.  But even a newborn infant is complex, and a painful delivery.  Life did not begin at birth; it began as a zygote.  The moment that conception occurred, all the DNA necessary for the formation, growth, and development of a mature person was intact.  The DNA never changes; it just leads the multiplication process within every tiny cell into forming the complete body.

The basic unit of Kingdom life as a follower of Christ in relationship with another follower of Christ.  The micro form of church life is a unit of two or three believers in relationship.  This is where we must begin to see multiplication occur.  Let’s face it: if we can’t multiply a group of two or three, then we should forget about multiplying a group of fifteen to twenty.  By focusing on the simple, we actually can see dramatic results in the complex.  A virus is a small microscopic entity, but it can dramatically affect an entire continent in a single generation.  At the time of this writing, AIDS is the fourth leading cause of death globally and the first major cause of death in most of Africa today.  At the end of 2004, nearly forty million people were infected with the HIV virus; twenty-three million have died of AIDS since 1981.  The start of every epidemic is molecular, and the solution for every epidemic will be molecular.

The Basic Unit of Church Life

In a worthy attempt to expand the church via multiplication, many have taken the plunge into cell churches or house churches.  This move toward relational community is a step in the right direction, but to see multiplication we must go even smaller, to the most basic unit of church life.  If we can infuse that church unit with the DNA of healthy church life and reproduction, then the influence will spread throughout the entire Kingdom.

The Bible often elevates a group of two or three to significance.  Both the Old and New Testaments mention the phrase “two or three.”  It is interesting that at least ten times “two or three” is suggested as an ideal size at which to conduct ministry.  It is not ever “two” or “three” alone but always “two or three.”  The Bible also does not say “two or more” or “two to five,” but “two or three.”  Perhaps it is good to have flexibility with not too many options.  When looking for witnesses in a criminal trial, we are to have two or three witnesses, not more and not less.  This is not to be a mob trial, nor is a single witness – one person’s word against the other’s – enough.

Here are a few reasons I believe two or three is the ideal size for effective fellowship and ministry that will penetrate the rest of the church and ultimately the Kingdom.

First, community is stronger with two or three (Eccles. 4:9-12).  Solomon writes, “Two are better than one…  and a strand of three cords is not easily broken” (Eccles. 4:9-12).  There is a sense in which a group of two or three is indeed stronger for community than any other size.  Why?  Not only do they share effort (or as Solomon says, “they have a good return for their labor”) but also they can encourage one another well.  Solomon writes, “If either of them falls the one will lift up his companion.”  It is possible for one to all in a crowd and not be noticed.  But in a group of two or three, everyone is noticed and a single absence cannot be ignored.

It may seem obvious, but it is easier to meet one another’s needs when the group size is only two or three.  It is also easier to resist the enemy as two or three.  As Solomon wrote:  “If two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?  And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him” (Eccles. 4:9-12).  All of us need this kind of community strength as we take on the devil and his cohorts.

Second, accountability is stronger with two or three (1 Tim. 5:19).  According to Levitical law, no one could bring a case to trail without two or three witnesses.  Moses explains why this is important in Deuteronomy (19:15): “on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.”  Paul carries on the idea of strict accountability when dealing with sin in 1Timothy 5.  He is addressing accusations brought against church leaders as he says, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.”  In other words, our information is held more accountable with two or three people than with only one.  This size of a group is better for holding one another more accountable.  In a group of five, it is easier for a person to hide and not speak up, but in a group of two or three all are forced to participate.

Third, confidentiality is stronger with two or three (Matt. 18:15-17).  Jesus instructs us that if a brother sins we should reprove him in private.  If he listens to us, we have won him back, but if not we are to take two or three others with us.  This is further application of the idea of accountability in a group of two or three.  Jesus goes on to say, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”  It appears that Jesus is showing us the balance between having accountability and maintaining confidentiality.  The bridge between these important concepts is made of two or three others.  A group of two or three is indeed the best context to blend and balance confidentiality and accountability.

It is far easier to give account of our hidden thoughts and foolish mistakes with two other people than to a larger group.  This is especially true if all in the group are sharing equally, and all wrestle with their own honest issues.

Fourth, flexibility is stronger with two or three (Matt. 18:20).  Jesus went on to say (in the passage previously examined on discipline for an errant brother) these famous words:  “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”  Many believe that these words are the most basic description of church found in the Bible.

Coordinating the calendars for a small group of ten to fifteen busy people is a really challenge.  It is far easier to coordinate two or three discrete calendars.  The larger the group, the fewer the options for meeting times and places.  Finding a place where fifteen people can meet comfortably is certainly easier than for a larger church of a hundred or a thousand people.  The options for a group of two or three are vast, almost limitless.  A group of two or three can meet at a coffeehouse, in the marketplace, or beside a water cooler in the workplace.  I have heard of two or three women meeting at a local park while their small children play together on the jungle gym.  I have also heard of two or three men meeting together at the grown-up gym while they left weights together.

Fifth, communication is stronger with two or three (1 Cor. 14:26-33).  It is certainly easier to communicate with fewer people.  The more voices you add to the equation, the more confusion results and breakdowns occur.  Paul counsels the Corinthian church that they should limit the number of people speaking to two or three at a time, with clear interpretation.

Our attention span is not that great.  We have technological gadgets that do much of our thinking for us today.  I have to look down at my wrist now to know what day of the week or month it is.  With a short attention span, it is hard for us to receive more than two or three messages at one time.  IN a context that was challenged by lock of order, Paul recommended that we limit our intake to two or three messages at a time.

Sixth, direction is stronger with two or three (2 Cor. 13:1).  Paul wrote at least three letters to the Corinthian church because of its problems; we have two of these letters recorded in the New Testament.  He used the Old Testament principle of two or three witnesses to verify the direction he was giving to the church and to affirm the authority by which it came.

In trying to find God’s direction, it is useful to wait for two or three witnesses to confirm the direction.  This is not a Biblical command, by any means (frankly, God should have to say things only once).  But, if you are uncertain and torn between a number of paths, the counsel of two or three may help.

Seventh, leadership is stronger with two or three (1Cor. 14:29).  Paul suggests that only two or three prophetic voices should provide leadership to a spiritual community at any one time.  The others are to pass judgment on the messages.  There is wisdom in a plurality of leaders.  But too many leaders can also be a problem.  If the children of Israel had been led by a committee, they’d still be in Egypt.  A team of leaders, two or three working together, is a powerful enterprise, safer than a solo leader yet more powerful than a committee.

In a group of two or three, leaders are accountable to one another, community is stronger among them, and there are four to six ears listening to God’s voice.

It seems that God has ordained two or three to be a perfect group size for life.  Marriage is between two.  God Himself exists in a community of three.

If one can reduce the church to its smallest, most irreducible minimum, it would have to be two or three.  If we can instill a healthy DNA here in each group of two or three, the entire church body will have health throughout.

Reproduction is also easier at this level.  If you have a group of three and want to multiply groups of two or three, to multiply all you need is to find one other person.  By reducing multiplication to this simplest level, reproduction can be part of the genetic fabric of the entire body of Christ.

The DNA of Christ’s Body

The Kingdom of God was always meant to spread spontaneously.  It is viral in its organic approach to infecting and transforming the nations.  In several parables, Jesus used reproduction seeds as an analogy of how the Kingdom is to grow spontaneously.  Truth is meant to be contagious.  Proper use of God’s Word should be infectious and result in spontaneous expansion.

According to Jesus, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened” (Matt. 13:31-33).  IN the New Testament, the Gospel spread like a chain reaction, bouncing form one changed life to another until the whole known world as reached.  This can and will happen gain in our lifetime if we recapture the intrinsic, and organic, nature of the Kingdom of God.

In his work Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Roland Allen demonstrates how the Gospel spread through four people groups (Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia) under the influence of one man in just ten years.  The man was the apostle Paul.  In today’s experience, a missionary’s work would be remarkable if it reached just a single nation in the same time frame.  God used Paul to reach four such groups.  How could he come to a place, leave in a short time, and know that the whole nation was reached with the Word?
Thom Wolf suggests that Paul had a strategy: a universal pattern for following Christ that he would introduce in every place churches were planted (1Cor. 14:16-17).  I call this the New Testament Discipleship Pattern (NTDP).

Studying Paul’s methods, Allen captured many principles that are necessary for spontaneous and indigenous expansion of the church.  The word methods, however, is perhaps a poor choice, as Lesslie Newbigin points out in his foreword to Allen’s book.  Later the author refers to the pattern as “the way of Christ and His apostles.”  This demonstrates that Allen’s understanding of the pattern extends beyond Paul’s works and includes the other disciples.  It also reveals that the pattern begins with Christ.  Wolf has taken Allen’s ideas and gone further in delineating what the pattern looks like.  It corresponds to what we consider to be the DNA of the church (discussed later in this chapter).

The NTDP is an established pattern that is easily passed on by both example and teaching.  The pattern must meet three criteria to spread epidemically.  We use these same criteria to evaluate every ministry resource or method that we deploy, to ensure that it is able to reproduce and spread.

The pattern must be:

1. Received personally.  It has a profound implication: it must be internalized and must transform the soul of the follower.

2. Repeated easily.  It has a simple application: it must be able to be passed on after only a brief encounter.

3. Reproduced strategically.  It has universal communication: it must pass on globally by being translated into a variety of cultural contexts and languages.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell says any epidemic type of spread (such as Allen describes) requires a “stickiness factor”.  In other words, the pattern must stick with people in such a way that it is unforgettable and easily passed on to others.

Allen assumed that the NTDP was an oral tradition passed on to others by Paul.  In his earlier letters, Paul referred to it many times but did not actually begin to put it down in writing until he found himself in prison in Rome, where he wrote the letters of Ephesians and Colossians.  Then the pattern seems to emerge.  A delay in publication of powerful, sticky messages is often the case.
My own experience is that the most reproductive messages should gain impact first by being passed along orally before they are produced in published form.  If a message does not spread on its own orally, without management, then it isn’t worth writing down.  If you find that it does spread without help, then you have found something worthy of publication.  Producing it at that point helps accelerate the epidemic.  We found this was true when we first developed Life Transformation Groups.  We actually resisted writing anything down because we found that the simple oral tradition was powerful, and we didn’t want to mess with it.  Wolf has said in conversation that any substantive truth worth passing on should be reproducible on a napkin while one sits down at a lunch appointment.  He calls this “napkin theology.”  In other words, if you can’t pass it on by writing it down on a napkin at a restaurant, then it isn’t worth writing down at all.

Christ also passed on simple and reproducible traditions.  The ordinances of baptism and communion are simple exercises to proclaim in physical action the truths of the Good News.  Perhaps Christ intended every believer to practice these symbolic exercises as a means to proclaim the Gospel to their lost friends, neighbors, and associates.  The Church has taken and “sanctified” them to the extent that only the ordained can conduct them, and they are performed only in the sanctity of church halls behind stained-glass windows.  We even instruct unbelievers not to participate in the communion (which is a restriction not actually found in the Bible).  IN like manner, we have taken baptism out of the context for which it was originally intended such that now only ordained ministries can do it in a church building.  This takes the powerful practice out of the hands of the normal Christian and away from the public eye where it was meant to be.

Jesus also laid out a simple pattern for prayer to guide His disciples: the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13).  This is such an ideal tool for passing on potent spiritual truth that today thousands of people can recite it, even many among those who do not attend any church or profess any faith in the One who commanded it.

It is most important to understand that the pattern must be lived out as an example, not just a spoken message.  It is better caught than taught.  Here are some Biblical descriptions of Paul’s pattern:

  • It was incarnational.  Paul lived it as a model for others to follow.  He instructed the Philippian church “…join in following my example and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil. 3:17).
  • It was viral.  The pattern could easily be passed on to others.  In 2 Timothy 1:13 Paul wrote, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.”  He went on to say, “the things which you heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will teach others also” (1 Tim. 2:2).
  • It was transformational.  Paul was not the only one spreading the contagion.  Because of its simplicity and radical life-changing properties, it spread easily.  Every new soul transformed became a change agent, a carrier of the virus.  In writing to the Roman church, which he had not yet visited, Paul reminded them that “though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.” (Rom. 6:17).
  • It was universal.  The New Testament Discipleship Pattern can be applied to every culture and with every people group.  He exhorted the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:16-17) to “be imitators of me.  For this reason I have sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.”

Although Paul mentioned a pattern in other writings, the pattern we’ve identified has emerged with heavy reliance upon Colossians and Ephesians, plus the epistles of James and 1 Peter.  These epistles were meant to be circulated broadly, without a specific congregation in mind.  For this reason they are less about addressing specific problems and more about passing on universal principles that apply in all contexts.  This is why the pattern is more readily seen in them.  The following table demonstrates examples of the pattern emerging in these four epistles.

George Patterson, an experienced missionary and father to current thinking about spontaneous multiplication movements, suggests that what he calls obedience-oriented education is necessary to see spontaneous reproduction.  Patterson lists seven New Testament commands that all disciples must obey as the starting point of following Christ.  One can easily see how these commands fit within the NTDP and church multiplication DNA.

The DNA of Christ’s Body

In the organic world, whether crickets or churches, DNA is the internal code that maintains the integrity of each multiplied cell.  In every organism, DNA is what encodes each cell with its proper process and place in the body.  In the expansion of the Kingdom of God, DNA maintains the strength, vitality, and reproductivity of every cell in Christ’s body.

Just as the DNA is exactly the same in almost every cell of a body, the DNA is the same throughout the Body of Christ, for all its members and in every cell.  The DNA is the pattern of Kingdom life, from the smallest unit (the disciple in relationship to Jesus and others) to the largest unit.  The pattern is the same and its expression remains constant.

After some research and thinking, Paul Kaak and I have come to understand the DNA of the church to be simplified to three things.  They are needed in every part of the church, from its smallest unit to its largest.

  • Divine truth.  Trust comes from God.  It is the revelation of God to humankind.  It is best seen in the person of Jesus and the Scriptures.  In both cases, there is a mysterious connection of the Divine and human.  Jesus is both God and human.  God authored the Scripture, but at the same time there were more than forty human authors as well.  Nevertheless, Jesus and the Scriptures are both without blemish.  The indwelling Spirit of God is also Divine Truth.  He brings the revelation of God and the frailty of humanity together.  All of the Spirit’s leading is infallible, though we must note that our own understanding and application of His leadings is often full of errors, just as our understanding and application of the Scripture is not always correct.
  • Nurturing relationships.  Humans were never created to be alone.  We are social creatures and have an intrinsic need for relationships.  Our relational orientation is a reflection of the image of God in us.  God Himself is relational and exists in a community – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God is love because God is relational.
  • Apostolic mission.  Apostolic means sent as a representative with a message.  We are here for a purpose.  We have been given a prime directive to fulfill: to make disciples of all the nations.  This part of us also comes form who our God is.  Jesus is an apostle.  He is the Chief Cornerstone of the apostolic foundation.  Before He left this planet, He said to His disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you” (John 20:21).

There is an innate and ever-expanding momentum found in the purity of DNA.  A life changed by the power of divine truth lays aside the old corrupt things of the flesh and puts on the new ways of Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  This then affects the personal relationships of the Christian as love begins to flow out of a changed heart.  Empowered by truth and love, the Christian is unable to contain this energy and follows the Lord’s command to take the Gospel to others on apostolic mission in hope of changing this world.

The DNA, however, does not function in a strictly linear fashion.  The connection with each of the parts makes a powerful combination.  Divine truth is the impetus for apostolic mission (Acts 1:8).  Apostolic mission is also fueled by nurturing relationships (John 13:35).  Being on mission pulls together unified and loving relationships (Phil. 1:27).  But one constant remains: divine truth in the heart is the start of everything.  A transformed life, and consequently loving relationships and a life on mission, is the fruit of divine truth flooding the heart of a regenerate soul.  It is the heart set free by the powerful atoning work of Jesus that is the starting place for all else.  Attempting to start from any other place is not only futile but results in fleshly exercises that yield a life of bondage.

The DNA Pattern starts with Christ

This DNA pattern of the Body of Christ must find its beginning in the Gospels.  If this is truly the DNA of the Body of Christ and is of vital importance, then you know that Jesus would emphasize it.  DNA must begin with Christ Himself.

Jesus Embodies the DNA

Jesus is the divine truth.  Jesus said, “I am the… truth” (John 14:6).  He is called the “Word” and God Himself (John 1:1).  In the past God spoke through prophets, but in these days He speaks through Jesus (Heb. 1:1-2).

Jesus embodies nurturing relationships.  God is love (1 John 4:8).  Jesus showed us what love truly is, saying, “Love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay his life down for his friends.  You are my friends” (John 15:12-14).  John wrote, “We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Jesus models apostolic mission.  “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).  He was sent from the Father (John 1:14; 1 John 4:9-11) and said, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you” (John 20:21).  Jesus is called the Apostle of our confession (Heb. 3:1).

Epidemic Expansion

In the book Dedication and Leadership, Douglas Hyde describes how he used to train good, committed communists.  When new coverts to communism were found, the leaders wouldn’t try to protect them but rather send them out on a street corner to pass out tracts and paraphernalia to support communism, despite the fact that they knew next to nothing.  People would question them and even attack their new beliefs, but instead of weakening their resolve it forced them to learn faster and better what they needed to know.  It also resulted in their being even more committed to the cause.  It is amazing how persecution solidifies commitment in a follower.

Mormons employ a similar strategy.  Perhaps the best reason for sending young people on a yearlong, door-knocking mission is less about making more Mormons than it is about making better ones.  Facing the onslaught of questions, challenges, and debates, these young Mormons solidify their commitment – on the frontline with bullets flying overhead.  The internal commitment made in this highly impressionable year sticks with them for the rest of their lives.

I think we are guilty of protecting new believers from depending on God.  If we were to follow Christ’s example and deploy new believers immediately in ministry, we would see how quickly they are forced to pray, trust in God, listen to the Holy Spirit, and find answers.  This would solidify their commitment on a much deeper level.  They would have an unbreakable bond to the Head of the body; Jesus Christ.  They also would learn to suffer for Christ’s sake, which is part of the important pattern that Jesus and Paul set for us (Phil. 1:27-29).

Perhaps this is why baptism was done so quickly in the New Testament.  It was a chance for a brand-new believer to make a stand publicly for his or her new Lord, driving a stake in the ground to declare allegiance to the Triune God.  I fear that once again we have wandered too far form the plain truth of the Scripture, with dire results.  Simple obedience to the plain pattern of the New Testament would serve us well in all areas of church practice.  IN our movement we baptize as quickly as we can and as publicly as we can.  It is not uncommon to have people accept Jesus right there at someone else’s baptism and get baptized themselves.

We also want the person who did the evangelizing to do the baptizing.  A saying we often repeat is, “The Bible doesn’t really command us to be baptized, but to be baptizers!”  Here is another example of how conventional church takes the empowerment given to the believer, even the newest believer, and keeps it in the hands of the professionals, thus encouraging dependency upon humans rather than God.  There is a reason the Bible comes out and states clearly that Jesus did not actually baptize, but His disciples did it for Him (John 4:1-3).

I feel comfortable releasing control of disciples, leaders, churches, and movements as long as I know that each unit is connected to the Master.  This is as it should be.  The question we must answer is, Do we trust ourselves with the care of new believers more than we trust God?

The Converts are the Workers

Each new convert is a new worker. We sin when we expect the covert to wait a while, any time at all, to become a worker.  Each new convert is a worker – immediately.

We are not to wait for a while, as though the new converts are lacking anything.  What are they missing?  They are sealed in the Holy Spirit.  They gain immediate and constant access to Almighty God.  They have the power of the Scriptures available.  They inherit all that comes with being children of God.  They are washed clean of all sins and blights against heaven.  Why do we think they need something more from us?  What arrogance it is for us to attempt to add our training to all that God has already given them.  What blasphemy it is for us to tell people they are not ready to be a worker until they have been through our curriculum!

The only difference spiritually between a day-old believer and one who has walked with God for decades is maturity.  The spiritual empowerment is the same.  Maturity does make a big difference, but remember that maturity is gained through experience, not by learning in a vacuum void of hard decisions and pressing temptations.  Start the new believer in the process of gaining maturity sooner rather than later.  Do no delay the journey to maturity because the person lacks maturity.

For most of us, the rest of our lives are spent learning what it is we already have been given the moment we began the salvation process.  How much more quickly we can set new believers on this journey if we also assume they have received all they need to live a godly life in Christ Jesus (2 Pet. 1:3; Eph. 1:3).

The Holy Spirit is a better teacher than we are.  The Spirit of God is a better strengthener (or comforter) than we are.  The Holy Spirit is a better evangelist and trainer in evangelism than we are.  Best of all, the Holy Spirit is a constant presence, which we cannot be.

When we allow, or even demand, that new converts wait and receive instruction and training before they can become workers, we are effectively granting them permission to be passive, inactive, selfish, and stagnant.  This is exactly where many of our churches are.  We have taught people to be consumers rather than workers.  We have separated the workers from the harvest.

I am noting that a large number of Christians in America feel inadequate about their preparedness to serve God.  Why is that?  They feel they don’t know enough, when they already know much more than young teenage girls in rural China who are starting hundreds of churches.  What is really lacking?  Knowledge is not lacking; obedience is.  Christians in America are already educated beyond their obedience, and more education is not the solution.

I’m reminded of the very first “international missionary” sent by God to another nation.  We don’t even know his name; all we know is his occupation and nationality.  He was the Ethiopian eunuch whom God sent Phillip to evangelize in Acts 8.  Phillip arrived on the scene, answered the eunuch’s questions, led him to Jesus, and baptized him.  The next thing we know is that Phillip dematerialized and was beamed to another place.  The eunuch went on to Ethiopia with nothing more than some Old Testament Scripture in his hand and the Holy Spirit in his heart.  I must ask:  Is that enough?  He didn’t go through the newcomer5’s class or the new discipleship curriculum.  He hadn’t read the Bible yet or learned basic hermeneutics (the art of Bible interpretation).  Was God being irresponsible?  I don’t think any of us would claim that He was.  Perhaps we need to increase our faith in the Holy Spirit and His word, and what they can mean in a new life.  I believe one reason the Lord took Phillip away so dramatically was to establish for all of us that the Lord can use a new convert as a worker immediately.  In this story, we are prevented from blaming Phillip for being irresponsible because all responsibility lands on God’s shoulders.

Let’s be careful not to take the place of the Holy Spirit in the formation of new souls.  For one thing, to do so is treading on sacred ground where we ought not to tread.  Also, we are far inferior to His ability to teach and transform, and the results are quite telling.  We have developed an entire generation of dependent consumers waiting for their leaders to spoon-feed them the Bible verse of the week, rather than an army of Kingdom agents ready to transform our culture with the power of the Gospel.  The world sees no difference between the Christian and the non-Christian because we are demonstrating little or no difference in how we live our lives.  If we actually think that having our good teaching curriculum will make the difference, we are more deceived than we realize.

You might assume that the implication of this thinking is that we leave new babes in Christ alone without any human assistance.  That is misinterpreting my words and my intent.  We should be a part of “teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded” (Matt. 28:20), but the key term is “to observe.”  We need to get them involved in obeying immediately.

The How-To of Spreading the Epidemic

Jesus’ Plan to Spread the Kingdom

In these highly practical messages from Jesus, found in both Matthew 10 and Luke 10, we can uncover five principles that help us start churches that will reproduce.

Practice of Prayer

In both sermons, Jesus begins with familiar words:  “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.  Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest” (Luke 10:2; Matt. 10:38).

Make a daily practice of begging God for souls and for workers for the harvest, from the harvest.  The Lord of the harvest will not disappoint you.

Pockets of People

Jesus instructed His disciples not to go the way of the Gentiles or the Samaritans but specifically the way of the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 10:5).  He sent the disciples out in pairs to various cities and villages looking for a pocket of people, a community of lost souls who were receptive to the message of peace (Luke 10:1).  He taught the disciples to spot a receptive oikos.

When looking for a pocket of people remember the saying that bad people make good soil – there’s a lot of fertilizer in their lives.

In our experience, coffeehouses have proven to be fertile soil for the gospel.  Now, however, we have expanded our vision to other arenas as well.  We have churches that reach out to twelve-step recovery groups, neighborhood gangs, homosexuals, occult groups, high schools, college and university campuses, the homeless, and local bars.  The key is not in the building but in bringing the Kingdom of God to the people He is calling out.  In searching for a fertile pocket of people, look for a strong sense of community and social cohesiveness.

Jesus’ plan is for us to identify a pocket of people who do not have a vital Kingdom witness.  Then we enter into relationship with those people.  We inject the Kingdom virus right into the darkness, and a church is born there from the changed lives.

Power of Presence

Jesus told the disciples as He sent them out that they had authority to do the works of God.  He said: “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:7-8).

They were to announce that the Kingdom of God has come near, whether they were received or not (Luke 10:10-12).

We have another saying in our churches:  “Where you go, the King does, and where the King does, people bow.”  In the Great Commission, Jesus said these words: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18).  That’s a lot of authority.  In fact, it is all authority.  There is no door that Jesus cannot unlock and open.  He is the one who “opens the door and no one can shut it” (Rev. 3:7).

Someone once asked Tim what the secret was to seeing so many people come to Christ. His answer was simple:  “Two words: show up.”  Non-Christians aren’t fretting, trying to figure out ways to get into church.  Church is not something they feel they need or want, or are even curious about.  So often we erect a difficult barrier to evangelism by expecting people to come to our churches to find Christ.  Many non-Christians have more problems with church than with Christ, so we make their salvation that much more difficult.

Jesus also noted that the disciples were not to import resources into the harvest but to find all the resources they needed in the harvest itself.  He instructed the disciples: “Do not take a purse or bay or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.   When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.  Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.  Do not move around from house to house”
(Luke 10:4-7).

When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.  His instructions were to not bring any extra clothes, food, or money to sustain the ministry.  This is crucial.  Too often we set up impossible standards for church life by importing resources that the indigenous church could never meet on its own.  We create a codependent relationship, which is unhealthy and nonreproductive.

Person of Peace

This simple concept has led to many churches being born around the world.  Jesus said to look for and even inquire about someone who would be receptive to our message of peace.  When we find such a person, we are to stay there and reach his or her entire household (oikos).  We are to eat what he or she eats and stay where he or she stays
(Luke 10:6-7).

Persons of peace are characterized by three things:

1. They are people of receptivity.  They are open to the message of the person and the peace of Christ.

2. They are people of relational connections.  They know lots of people and are an important part of the community, for better or worse.




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