THOUGHT LEADER: Rethink the Principles, Paradigms, Practices of DiscipleMaking Evangelism
Phil Miglioratti Interviewed Ministry Coach Gary Jennings
for The Reimagine.Network
PHIL >>> Gary, your mission statement captured my attention:
CityLife is a faith-based, non-profit organization committed to joining God in transforming apartment properties into flourishing and healthy communities by serving with purpose.
What was the process of rethinking ministry that led you to this vision?
GARY >>> First of all, thank you very much for this opportunity to share about CityLife. Your friendship and partnership in the ministry for almost 30 years has been an incredible blessing to me personally.
This is a great question. I’ve been on local church staff and on 3 different denominational ministry staff positions in 40+ years. I’ve always been driven by the Great Commission and my love for lost people to get into the Kingdom. However, I could not reconcile the obvious separation of discipleship and evangelism. The Great Commission is clear that we are to make disciples, not converts. The separation of discipleship and evangelism actually gives the opportunity to choose one or the other. I finally got the answer that I was looking for.
I had been working with LifeWay for almost eight years when I was a part of a downsizing. In other words, I was let go. The first person that I called after telling my wife that indeed I had been let go was Claude King, the co-author of Experiencing God. After several months of meeting with him and praying about my future, I was introduced to Discovery Bible Study and Disciple Making Movement principles. This was the first time in my ministry that I saw zero separation between discipleship and evangelism. I was challenged to understand that we are not to make converts but disciples who make disciples who make disciples.
I was challenged and blessed to go see a Disciple Making Movement (DMM) church in Bo, Sierra Leone where I was blown away that 75% of their members were praying and fasting, serving with purpose, finding persons of peace, starting Discovery Bible Studies and starting simple churches. This church in 10 years has planted 7,000 small, simple churches. Obviously, I was even more curious and started down the road to embrace the Disciple Making Movement strategy that has been incredibly effective in reaching families as well as whole villages and communities.
I had been praying about how I could impact my world with DMM by being a practitioner, not just a catalyst. Actually, I was not a great catalyst because I didn’t have my own stories of implementing the DMM strategy. I was more of a promoter and advocate for DMM.
There had been several signs in the past few years that I look back on that made me sit up and think that God was moving in apartments. I know now that God was leading me to join Him in what He was already doing. The final piece of information that caused me to dive in was an apartment management company out of Austin,, TX was soliciting potential resident support team members from my home church, Long Hollow Baptist Church, to move into their apartments in Middle TN to do ministry. One of our mission leaders who is a close friend of mine contacted me to see if I would be interested in following up with the email that he had received from this management company. Long story short, I eventually became a part time chaplain for them. Although, I no longer serve as a chaplain, I still partner with them. CityLife was started just two years ago to practice DMM by using the same strategy I mentioned above. Our goal is to make and multiply disciplemakers in and through apartment communities. To be clear, we serve with purpose to find Luke 10 persons of peace so we can start Discovery Bible Studies and multiply disciplemakers.
There are many other things that I’ve learned about DMM and Discovery Bible Study that I can share at another time perhaps but if there is one thing that I’ve learned is that the Church has to become desperate to change their paradigms and methodologies. I was open to paradigm shifts and counterintuitive thinking because what the Church in the West is doing is not able to fulfill the Great Commission. What we are doing right now takes too much time, costs too much in resources and doesn’t really look like the Book of Acts. I love the Church and will never turn my back on the local church but we have to make changes in how we carry out the Great Commission to the lost.
PHIL >>> How have your previous ministry roles prepared you for this new way of bringing the Gospel to the community?
GARY >>> I believe my role as a student pastor was pivotal. The churches that I served gave me a lot of opportunities to take risks in trying innovative approaches to equip students to be on mission for Him. My time with Illinois Baptist State Association, North American Mission Board and LifeWay was a proving ground as well to be on teams that were Great Commission focused. I was exposed to great tools, people and resources that were very helpful to churches in reaching and discipling others. Although, the results were more of an addition-model, each church and denomination environment was critical in preparing me for the final mission in my life and that is to prove that the Great Commission is attainable in the next few years if we will get on God’s agenda.
I have to say that being in these wonderful places of service exposed me to three major shifts in thinking. One is find where God is working and join Him in His Work (Experiencing God.) Secondly, I learned how to lead a group to discover specific solutions to issues that churches deal with all the time. Finally, missions is where you are.
PHIL >>> How can a CityLife perspective help leaders reimagine how to think about:
- Church -
- Discipleship -
- Prayer -
- Evangelism -
- Social action -
GARY >>> All of these you’ve listed have to be reimagined for the Church to be effective in the advancement of the Kingdom. The Church is God’s choice and plan to get the Word out to the lost and found but to reimagine the Church means to commit to the making and multiplying disciplemakers. We don’t necessarily need more pastors. It will be disciples making disciples who make disciples who will be the world changers. The Church has to think and do multiplication, not addition. To do that means the whole Church has to be challenged and equipped with simple tools that replicate.
The Church has to be much more than the attractional model that is portrayed to their community. The Church family has to be equipped to take ownership of their community by serving and demonstrating the love of Jesus away from the church building. It is obvious that the lost will not be attending a church because they don’t know that it exists. Yes, some will come when invited by a friend or family member but it makes more sense to go to where the lost live, work and play to develop authentic relationships.
Where does discipleship start? We believe that the Bible teaches to disciple towards conversion, not just from conversion. We’ve been doing that for decades with our children and youth in Sunday School and small group ministries. However, the discipleship the church usually offers is curriculum and knowledge-based. We need to offer something different that is simple and easily reproducible to make and multiply disciplemaker based on obedience, not knowledge.
Prayer is the central and most foundational thing for me personally as well as CityLife.. We believe that God is already working around us and around the world. Our desire is to join Him. We don’t go to do His work. Instead, we purposefully seek Him believing He will lead us to where He has already prepared the way. Prayer and fasting help align us with His purpose and help lead us in that journey.
As we diligently pray, we believe that God: Helps us to discover means of access in engaging lostness. Leads us to persons of peace who open new people groups and subcultures to an experience with Jesus and causes us to see His miraculous intervention to see the Kingdom advance in some of the hardest places.
Understanding the Great Commission really helps me understand that evangelism and discipleship are inseparable. They are not two sides of the same coin but seamless. I don’t know when or how it occurred but the Church separated evangelism and discipleship many years ago. That made the church somewhat focused on making converts, but not making disciples who make disciples.
CityLife is mostly focused on reaching the lost in some of the hardest places by practicing Luke 10 to find persons of peace. We serve and find these real live persons of peace as we have spiritual conversations with them. They open their doors to their networks of family and friends for the sake of the Gospel. We don’t go into those open doors to do evangelism, however. We go through those doors to build authentic relationships to start Discovery Bible Studies. The Gospel is proclaimed through an 8 question inductive Bible study that is easily reproducible among the lost. In other words, we make and multiply disciplemakers by putting lost people into small groups to discover the God of the Bible. Yes, we have spiritual conversations all the time in our apartment ministry but that’s how we find persons of peace who are sensitive and open to the Gospel. Persons of peace are key for us to multiply the Gospel to those who are lost and unchurched. Many times these Discovery Groups become healthy, vibrant, simple churches.
To be clear, we are focused on making and multiplying disciplemakers as the new DNA of a small group that will result in several generations of new believers.
Social Action is our opportunity at CityLife to serve with purpose. We serve apartment managers and staff to create opportunities to serve their residents but we don’t just serve. We serve to have spiritual conversations to find persons of peace so we can start Discovery Groups where small groups of lost people can discover that they need to fall in love with Jesus. We serve in many ways by working directly with apartment management staff because they know the needs of their people more than we do. We have done many things that give us the opportunity to pray and serve the residents including picking up trash and praying, Easter Egg Hunts, after school program, children’s reading program, kids camp, Vacation Bible School, sports camps, etc. We are committed to making life better in apartment communities across North America. That compels us to intentionally serve apartment owners and management companies to create flourishing, healthy apartment communities. Our social action is focused on the employees and residents which results in making each apartment community we work with to be a great place to live, work, play, grow and serve.
PHIL >>> Agree-or-Disagree: "The Gospel never changes but our methods and modes, perspectives and programs, systems and strategies must."
GARY >>> I totally agree that the Gospel never changes but we have to use creative means to fulfill the Great Commission including how we do church. The pandemic amplified this for churches who embrace the attractional model. Many churches were very challenged when people couldn’t come to church. For some churches, ministry slowed down to a crawl.
Therefore, we must go to the Father first and ask Him how we are to do ministry. The Church and the Lost World is His work. He is already working and moving so our “job” is to find out where He is working and join Him in His plan. He knows how He wants His church to live out the Gospel therefore He knows what is best for His church to engage a lost world. The Bible has so much to say about how to do ministry and it doesn’t look programmatic. It looks relational. His Word is true, sharper than a two-edged sword and He is the same today, yesterday and forever. We must go to His Word and obey. Not to be trite, but pray and obey; read His Word and obey. There is never a silver bullet or quick fix so the Church has to get back to the basics of making and multiplying disciplemakers who are equipped to obey and take God’s Word as the final authority.
My final thought is to “walk by faith, not by sight.” The Church always has the opportunity to trust the Impossibility Specialist for all things including how we do church. His Word, His life, His ways are…His. Can we trust Him for our church? Can we truly believe that He knows what’s best for how to reach the lost? Are we willing to walk by faith according to His Word? Trust Him! Trust His Word!
PHIL >>> Do we also need to rethink how we introduce people to the Gospel?
GARY >>> Yes we do, Phil. I realized early on in my ministry that there is a difference between sharing the Gospel and inviting people to church. I would hear people say that they talked to their lost friends and family members about coming to church to hear their pastor. I appreciate their love for their pastor but geez, there is a better way to introduce them to Jesus.
The temptation at this point is to make a list of different and creative ways to introduce the lost to Jesus. I’m much less programmatic these days but here are 5 basic principles that I will almost guarantee the lost will get to know the God of the Bible.
(1) Pray and fast to hear from the Father, (2) live out the Gospel with your circles of influence, (3) serve people and have spiritual conversations so you can find persons of peace, (4) go make disciples by starting a Discovery Bible Study with those who the person of peace led you to, and (5) multiply disciplemakers by equipping others in Discovery Bible Study and to practice Disciple Making Movement principles.
Quick story. There is a picture that used to hang in the office of Claude King that made me shake my head in amazement and wonder. It was a picture of seventy Imams from the Muslim faith who were in line to be baptized. How in the world did these Muslim men accept Christ as their Savior? All of them at one time or another had been invited to be in a Discovery Bible Study. The scripture sets were focused on a journey of the Creation to Christ. These men, as they went through this inductive Bible study, came to the realization that they were serving the wrong god. They came to faith by being introduced to the God of the Bible.
Just make sure those who want to do Discovery Bible Study or learn about DMM will seek a DMM Coach to help them stay focused on the mission of Disciple Making. We will get bogged down in a lot of stuff if we don’t watch out. Satan will make sure of that. The coach will help us reach the lost through biblical Disciple Making.
PHIL >>> How do you apply this admonition from Romans 12:2 that we are not to be conformed to the mind-set of the world because we are to be transformed by the renewing of your mind?
GARY >>> Wow, Phil. This is a great question. First of all, I can’t answer that without sharing the context of Romans 12: 1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” These two verses are significant and key to knowing and doing the will of God. The personal application of these two verses is for me to recognize that God is God and His will, His ways, His Word are paramount; the final authority. I am nothing without Him. My ways are not His ways so the reality is that I have to abide in Him every moment. I spend time every day in His word for one purpose…to hear from Him. What is in my life that needs attention so I can think and act like Jesus? Is there something I need to repent, change, do, obey? I always include a time of worship and praise. I’m going to be transparent to say that transformation for me is not daily. It is moment by moment. I don’t want to miss out on what the Father wants for me to be and do. I practice the seven realities of Experiencing God that Dr. Blackaby and Claude King taught us. One of my greatest fears is that I might miss being what He wants me to be or failing to do His will. Have I failed? Yes!!! Thank God for His grace and mercy!!! “In view of God’s mercy…” I am His and He is mine.
PHIL >>> Help us think through the process of building a coalition of leaders who come together to make a disproportionate impact in a community.
GARY >>> Phil, I have been to Sierra Leone in West Africa where Disciple Making Movements (DMM) are changing a nation, not just a family or village, but a whole nation. DMM is a unique strategy led by ordinary people walking by faith and trusting Him for everything including making disciples and planting churches. This church in Bo, Sierra Leone, is pastored by Shodonkeh Johnson. They were a traditional, attractional church that planted a few churches. They were exposed to the principles of DMM and in ten years planted seven thousand small, simple churches. Pastors, missionaries, church planters and ordinary people are practicing the following principles and seeing a miraculous Kingdom movement. I’ve seen it and I have not been the same since that trip.
I know when I list these principles that leaders will assume they can just go out and do them. Please don’t. Get a DMM Coach. We can help with that. Let’s build a cohort around these Biblical principles and trust God for the results. Pray as you read and ask the Father to show you what He wants you to see. Trust Him. You can’t afford to trust your abilities to fulfill Jesus’ final command. This below is what a thousand plus Disciple Making Movements are experiencing around the world. Our prayer is that DMMs will be started in and through apartments here in the US.
- Disciple Making focuses on making obedient disciples. It is not focused on winning converts. It is a strategy to launch Disciple Making Movements.
- Disciple Making occurs naturally and spontaneously when the right principles are applied. It is ongoing, unstoppable and out of control. It is not hierarchical, systematic, or highly structured and managed. Coaching and accountability is extremely necessaryv however.
- We go slow, to go fast. We focus on the few to win the many. Then, Disciple Making becomes a rapid multiplication of groups and churches.
- Disciple Making is simply about churches rapidly planting new churches. It is not primarily about expansion of denominations, or growth of organizations.
- Disciple Making thrives in an environment of persecution and chaos. It is messy. Disciple Making does not do well in a peaceful environment of significant controls, policies, and procedures.
- Disciple Making focuses on replication. It is not about growing large highly programmatic organizations but rapidly multiplying small groups
- Disciple Making has a core value of discovering where God is at work by finding a person of peace. It is not about starting church services, and inviting people to come.
- Disciple Making is about the church emerging from within the culture of the people. It is not about calling the people out of their culture to form a new organization.
- Disciple Making is locally led. While often started by outsiders, it is not led by outsiders who intend someday to turn over the ministry to the people of the community.
- Disciple Making is family-based. It does not seek to extract individual respondents from their families and communities, re-culturating them and then sending them as semi-outsiders back to their communities.
- Disciple Making is powered by ordinary people; unschooled and non-credentialed. It is not driven by highly trained and credentialed professionals. The Book of Acts never would have happened if the movement was led by professional clergy.
- Disciple Making is counter-intuitive. It does not fit management theory or organizational development.
- Disciple Making is about developing independent leaders. It is not about building a mass of followers.
- Disciple Making is about transformation of individuals, families, and communities by making disciples. It is not about religious conversions.
- Disciple Making is simple. It is about simple men and women with the simple gospel for simple people. It is not sophisticated and complex.
- Disciple Making is inexpensive. Once begun, Disciple Making expands without outside resources at all.
- Disciple Making focuses on making disciple-makers of every member. It is not about the few reaching the multitudes.
- Disciple Making does not make buildings a priority. The church meets within the community of the people.
- Disciple Making places a high level of commitment on the health and welfare of the people; people caring for one another. It is not a strategy of hiring professionals to care for the needs of the people.
- Disciple Making churches never emerge without a heavy commitment to prayer. Disciple Making cannot be driven by a human programmatic system.
- Disciple Making Movements churches are self-supporting from day one. They are never dependent on outside resources.
PHIL >>> What additional coaching can you give pastors, church leaders, who want to reexamine the basis of their ministry programs?
GARY >>> Phil, I am one of thousands and thousands of ministers who have been to training conferences only to bring back the binder to put it on the shelf. I can honestly say that training will not bring a movement of God. A clergy-driven church where the pastor and his staff do all the ministry work is not scriptural but we see it all the time. Church is hard work; a burden itching for burnout and fallout. Whatever we’re doing is not working as we would like for it to work. Here is how it worked out in my own life and ministry.
I’ve been in ministry for 40+ years working on staff in churches, one state Baptist convention and two national SBC organizations, NAMB and LifeWay. I’ve also been an interim Director of Missions. I’m more excited about what God is doing in and through Disciple Making Movements than in all my previous years of ministry. The past has been great but greater days are ahead. There is one reason for that.
I often say that I’m a recovering strategy addict. I know God blessed me with a creative heart and an out of the box mindset. However, for many of those previous years, I’ve used the abilities He has given me to come up with a plan or strategy to fulfill the Great Commission. Then, I would ask God to bless my efforts. Although I had pure motives in doing His work, I seldom checked in with the Father to see what His thoughts and ideas were. I repented and for the past 7 years I have depended on the Holy Spirit for every detail of my life including CityLife. I’m still a strategy addict and I constantly fight the urge to help God out on the plans. I’m indebted to Claude King, co-author of Experiencing God who told a coworker of mine “don’t try to out strategize the Holy Spirit.” Great wisdom. I was guilty of that for most of my ministry. I do all in my power and mind to read His word, pray and fast and respond to Him with my obedience. My first and only response is “yes, Lord!”
I would ask every pastor, if I could, “What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?” Then, I would ask if they are obeying what the Father has told them what to do and how to do it.
PHIL >>> Gary, write a prayer that helps us begin a journey to catch a fresh vision from the Holy Spirit.
GARY >>> This is a prayer based on Isaiah 40: 28-31
“Do you not know? Yes, God, I do know. I have seen you work in my life and others. I’ve seen so many miracles and answers to prayers but my eyes deceive me. My heart is willing but my flesh is weak. Forgive me, Lord.
Have you not heard? Yes, Lord, I’ve heard the unbelievable stories in your Word of how you parted the Red Sea, provided manna from heaven, kept the guys from being burned up in the fire, demonstrated your love on the cross, calmed the sea, saved those who I thought were unreachable. I have certainly heard how You, O God, have moved mountains and heaven to love me, my family, my friends, my enemies. Therefore, I know You are Lord , the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. I have heard and I believe that You will not grow tired or weary, and Your understanding no one can fathom. You give me strength to help my weariness and You increase the power in my weakness. Even the youth grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but I will believe and hope in the Lord to renew my strength. I will soar on Your wings like eagles; I will run and not grow weary, I will walk and not be faint.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
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This article is one segment of "Mini-Course" 101: ReimagineDISCIPLESHIP...