Reproducibility of ministry in the field

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    Step one: Move to the country you want to influence for the gospel. Don’t try to dip in and out. Go there and stay there.

    Step two: Learn the language. Not well enough to buy groceries. Well enough to teach theology and privately counsel budding leaders. Learn the culture. Not just how people dress and cook and deal with the weather but why their solutions are satisfactory to them in their context. Go primarily as a student not a teacher. Be a learner first and foremost. Go without power, go with humility as a child. Be prepared to grow up all over again, learning how to buy bus tickets, how to make your tongue make impossible sounds, how to be a polite person by local standards and so endlessly on.

    Step three (better make that, Step Zero): Bring something with you that’s worth passing on. That’s head knowledge backed up by/extrapolated into life knowledge. Knowing a bunch is really important (otherwise, why make the trip?) but being a person who has a solid spiritual grounding in a life walk with the Holy Spirit is critical. That way my anger issues/lusts/what have you don’t contradict all those cool things I want to say.

    Okay, the real Step three: Don’t give in to the temptation to teach publicly overseas (at least not regularly), primarily do it privately, one on one with your disciple(s). Do it conversationally, huddling over the scriptures together, asking/answering questions, finding your way together through a given topic/passage. Ask how this idea might play out in this context. Explore implications together. Sort out the confusion, grope around as a team, looking for what God has to say to this context, helping your disciple settle into mastering the ideas. Eventually, your disciple will come to a place of trying it out himself (going to ask forgiveness or praying about all things or whatever) and will become someone who builds a life conviction. Then he’s ready to go before his peers and describe what he has learned and how it works out in real life. It’s really important to not do things that publicly overshadow the people you’re trying to help. People fade back in the presence of superiority–money, knowledge, expertise. We work against our own goals by being seen as the final authority on things.

    As an aside, microphone people tend to really hate this approach because it takes a lot longer and denies them their natural gifting. People who can fill a room with their presence, holding forth before large auditoriums of eager note takers don’t always do extremely well one on one with a disciple. The object here is not to overshadow or intimidate the other person but to be so encouraging, so mild and understated that the disciple is coaxed into the light and takes leadership in the relationship and beyond. Those who make the best microphone people usually have a very hard time dialing themselves down to the level of a national, much less serve from below. It’s those unimpressive, unintimidating missionaries who have a terrible time raising support back home because they’re just not all that amazing in public who make nationals feel most at ease. Somebody who can be quiet and has an amazing spiritual walk and solid scriptural grounding with an aptitude toward discipling others–now there’s your candidate! Surprisingly, the Apostle Paul described himself as “unimpressive” in person, not an intimidating guy but his depth was transformational.

    In my own experience, as it happens, I happen to dial down fairly well. I’m not likely to be chosen as a plenary speaker at the next global conference but I can be described in most of the terms I’ve used above. While living overseas (Siberia), I found that by meeting with my disciple for several hours each week we were able to explore plenty of theological and real life real estate. We talked about his marriage, his parenting, his temptations, how I talk to God, the principles I follow for interpreting scripture, forgiveness, what Jesus accomplished for us all and so on, month after month, back and forth, both sharing, both learning, for a very long time. Things we had talked about began to surface in his preaching and if something wasn’t quite right, we had a ready forum in which to make correction privately later on that week. In other words, by my doing the hard work of learning the language well enough to detach the translator tether, we gradually got past the surface stuff and built a relationship. My disciple said things in church that were spot on to his people group, way better than the typical foreign preacher and translator combo can do. It cost me years of living in country to earn the right to speak but a nice part of being the new guy is that the disciple is in the superior position right from the start. There’s no “turning over” of ministry. There’s just friendship that’s enriched by talking through my language and culture learning issues as he explains his world to me. I can talk about problems I see people having and it’s not a big jump for him to talk about his own struggles. We bring those issues to scripture and figure out God’s opinions in his context. Over time, he becomes seen as a mature believer who has an increasingly successful marriage example worth following and so on.

    Encouraging the disciple to have several men he is discipling leads to my helping him lead them better and the model of collaborative scripture study is reproducible.

    I know that we all really want to see this global task of discipling done in our lifetime so we tend to zoom around trying to gather masses of people and do the Western thing. Deeply pouring yourself privately into a few promising local leaders is the organic way and actually takes things a lot farther over time, it’s just not as impressive. I think part of our task is to hold in honor an approach rarely heard celebrated from the microphone but that yields real results. It’s a quiet work that is well worth including in our pallet of approaches to ministry, performed by some of our most effective agents of change. Servant leadership in one on one discipleship is and perhaps will always be among the very best ways to reproduce spiritual maturity in others.

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