Paul inspires me. He makes me think. He encourages me. He gives me hope. His practical approach is built on a depth of spiritual wisdom that has matured through hours and hours of time with and learning from Jesus.
He fully comprehends organic church and organic movements. He is truly a missional thinker. But more than that, he’s found joy in living a missional life.
I am so thrilled that Paul wrote the foreword to my book Six-Word Lessons to Discover Missional Living. I’m including it here for two reasons: 1) He had so much to say that it didn’t all fit in the book, and 2) More people need to read this and think about what he says than just those who read my book. His insights will challenge you. Read this slowly…
This Forward Is More Than Six Words
Dave DeVries’ book is full – overflowing – with gospel wisdom. Its lessons – and the contemplative space surrounding around each one – are inspired skills for living and leading with missional intention. The ideas here are not techniques, at least not in their final manifestation. In fact, they won’t work if they aren’t organic, authentic, life-embedded. In other words, these lessons are for people who choose to do them – will do them – even if they don’t “work.” They are spiritual convictions, not ways to automatically grow a ministry destined for the speaking circuit.
I had the opportunity to work closely with Neil Cole in the early developments of what many have come to know as the organic church. As Neil and I were sorting out the agrarian metaphor that – along with the Scriptures – was informing our thought, we learned a lot about good farming and good farmers. One such person is Michael Ableman who for many years was the director of Fairview Gardens in Goleta, CA. He wrote about his experiences in the book On Good Land: The Autobiography of an Urban Farm (1998). Of his entreé into farming, Ableman explains:
I came to farming without training, academic credentials, books, or expectations. My grandparents had farmed but not my parents. I thought technique was important. I thought I should become masterful. Over time I discovered it was more important to learn how to see . By trial and error I learned and relearned until the technique I aspired to was internalized and forgotten, as technique should be (p. 32)
As you read Dave’s lessons (and as you submit to the white spaces, wandering them prayerfully), as you come to understand and practice them (“trial and error / learn and relearn”) your intention is not to become masterful. Rather, we must be present to moments – with God and people – not just bursting with “vision.” You must internalize them as missional disciplines and then forget them The goal is to become like the apostle Jesus (Hebrews 3:1), lovingly obedient to the one who sends us.
In 1998 I left professional ministry after 14 years. The adjustment was a significant one for me, although not for my wife. Institutional Christian life – aligned with its own expectations and myths – was oppressive to her faith, deeper and more authentic, than mine. I had become masterful at Christian activities and especially Christian leadership. All along, she knew she saw something I couldn’t and didn’t see till after my transition. Once I began detoxing from a faith that had been rooted in performance, effectiveness, and success (I don’t know if I’m ever going to be fully cleansed) my ministry really got real. There was joy in living a missional life, whether I could count the results or not! I could engage my family, my neighbors, my land, and my community to see “his kingdom come, his will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”
What Dave sets out to teach us here is essential for leaders. Not so they can produce fruit. That’s God’s job. The job of leaders, and all disciples, is to bear fruit, to be a gallery for Jesus the Vine displaying the fruits of His life-surging energy. In fact, there will be some who put these ideas to work establishing churches and launching movements and others (just across town, perhaps) who come to the end and can’t point to anything quite so tangible.
But herein is the mystery of the gospel and the gospel life. For one disciplemaker, gospel seeds will produce seedlings, which disrupt the soil, mature, and produce a harvest of organized faith communities. (A harvest, by the way, is a field full of thriving, fruitful plants. A farmer wouldn’t call just one plant a “harvest.” Neither should church planters!)
For another disciplemaker, more like salt and light, the result is seen in the discipleship of nations wherein the way of King Jesus permeates the culture, is diffused into the fabric of social life, and produces a fundamental transformation of values, heart, behavior, and social well-being.
We have to remember this: Jesus didn’t say to plant churches. Neither did Paul, nor any of the other disciples. What Jesus said, and what his followers did, was disciple peoples. They went into the ethne (nations) and discipled them. How did they do this? They made disciples of peoples by making disciples of persons. Of course their work was not without flaw. (Although we know that “he who began a good work will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”) We also know they didn’t finish. (Yet the work goes on “to the end of the age.”) What Dave hopes to teach us – what he hopes we will internalize – is that discipling nations starts with disciples who make disciples, that those disciples understand their identity as disciplemakers, and that leaders see their main work as making disciples, disciplemakers, and more disciplemaking leaders.
That last statement should quell any question of whether I share Dave’s passion for church planting. I do. Jesus may not have said to plant churches, but that is just what he equipped and sent his disciples to do. In Luke 9 and 10, for example, I can’t imagine any logical conclusion to the mission of the 12 and the 70 than new churches! Acts 1-28 and the 2000 years of Acts 29 tell the same story.
But the questions: (1) “what is a church?” and (2) “who can plant a church?” become important considerations.
I believe we must release our need to complicate our understanding of church. The more complicated the structure, the less we will be able to respect its inherent complexity. If a group of 3 people exists as a church then already you’ve got multiple relational-spiritual dynamics that exist between these people, their friends, and Holy God. To be sensitive stewards of all the dynamics that exist between a small group of Christ-followers doesn’t need the further complication of schedules, budgets, boards, visions, events, carpet cleaning, sound systems, hiring, firing, punch and cookies.
Neil and I have said that church is “the presence of Christ, among his people called out as a spiritual family, to pursue his mission on this planet” (Organic Church, p. 53). When looked at with a missional microscope, there is much complexity in this simplicity. It turns out to have Hobbit-like qualities amidst the battles here in postmodern middle earth.
Please understand that I’m not saying you shouldn’t have carpets, calendars, and cookies. It’s not my preference, but if that’s what the Spirit of God leads you to do, do it. Dave’s lessons will give you both warnings and freedom in regard to the work of church planting. The warnings challenge us to avoid anything that will hinder momentum in the main work. The freedom comes in recognition that God works in unique and special ways in cultures, communities, and historic seasons.
And so by now, the answer to the 2nd question should be clear. Anyone – new Christian, old Christian, even non-Christian seekers – can gather people together in the name of Jesus. (“ Peter and John were unschooled, ordinary men these men had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13) The global church is coming to understand that the ordinary are just as truly ordained (those given marching orders) as anyone with formal education, pre-name titles, or post-name credentials.
But then comes the important work of leaders. Leaders show the way by “going first.” They are leaders because they are the most
Leaders show the way by “going first.”
practiced and committed to following Jesus. They go where he went in the Gospels (to prostitutes, those carrying disease and demons, and governmental officials) and they go wherever he calls them on the globe today. They say, as Paul, “follow me as I follow Christ” and usually, that’s a call into the darkness, where light is most needed. If church planting leaders have “vision” its still dim. They enter places – literal, relational, social, economic, institutional – that are scary, but receptive. They go into abandoned, forgotten, sad, and scandalous places and they talk to people in honest, hopeful, and loving ways. That’s what leaders do. And that’s what Christian leaders, missional leaders, church planters, ALWAYS do. They don’t stop doing this – and inviting others to join them – once the church is established and they have to start “running the business”! Although mission takes different forms in different seasons, missional engagement – for the leader whose hope is for a vital missional community – is ongoing. Carrying the cross is the work that we leaders do, for the joy set before us, although we despise the shame, until we sit down for the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Let me close my comments with a final thought. Lately I’ve been reading The Jesus Way (2007) by Eugene Peterson. In that book, Peterson provides some significant challenges for the modern church and all those who make disciples. (Forgive the long quote. Its worthy, however, of reading twice.)
I am interested in ways Jesus leads because they are necessarily the ways by which I follow. I cannot follow Jesus any which way I like. My following must be consonant with his leading. The way Jesus leads and the way that I follow Jesus are symbiotic. And this symbiosis is not treated with sufficient seriousness and depth in the Christian community of North America .
Those of us who understand ourselves as followers of Jesus seem to be particularly at risk of discarding Jesus’ ways and adopting the world’s ways when we are given a job to do or mission to accomplish, when we are supposed to get something done “in Jesus’ name.” Getting things done is something that the world is very good at doing. We hardly notice that these ways and means have been worked out by men and women whose ambitions and values and strategies for getting things done in this world routinely fail the “in Jesus’ name” test. Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ ways, it doesn’t take long to realize that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else .
My concern is with the responsibility of Christians, every Christian, to develop awareness and facility in the ways of Jesus as we go about our daily lives following Jesus in home and workplace, neighborhood and congregation, so that our following is consonant with his leading. I want to develop discernments that say an unapologetic “no” to ways that violate the gospel of Jesus Christ. (pp. 8-10)
As you work through Dave’s lessons, give them each a 3-part “in Jesus’ name” test: Ask yourself:
1. “Did Jesus do this in his life and ministry?”
- If the answer is “yes,” then move to part three of the test.
2. Ask yourself, “Can I reasonably imagine that Jesus probably would have practiced the discipline embedded in this lesson? Is this lesson consistent with his way and his mission and his intention as the First Ambassador of the Father-King?”
- If you answered questions #1 or #2 “no” then abandon that lesson. If you answered either one “yes,” then ask:
3. “Is the Spirit of Jesus directing me to apply this lesson to the work I am doing today?”
- In asking these questions, Dave’s suggestions won’t be understood as “techniques,” or formulas for a ministry whose goal is financial self-sustainability. Rather, they will be gospel-wisdom, seeds planted in your heart as a disciplemaker, and which God – who causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6) – will germinate at the proper time.
Perhaps, as I finish my not-so-short lesson, you are now realizing something that my friend Thom Wolf understood when he served as pastor of The Church on Brady in East Los Angeles. Missionary training – which, at its heart, is what Dave offers us – is not just for those who fly away to work in another language group. Missionary training (and its ensuing results of missionary-living and missionary-leading) is for all believers. Jesus knew this (Mark 3:13-18) the people at churches like Church on Brady discovered this, and now you will too.
Finally, I haven’t mentioned that Dave DeVries and I have been friends, co-seekers/students of God and his truth, and colleagues in ministry for more than 30 years. The history of our relationship is another reason why I think Dave’s book is worthy of your attention and application.
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