- Mike Shipman
UNLOCKING THE GREAT COMMISSION (Part 1)
THE “I” LOCKS
The “I” Locks correlate to the indigenous result that I, the field worker want to accomplish. These locks must be opened to achieve healthy indigenous churches and indigenous leadership development. Actually, the “I” Locks are much less of an issue when the “E” keys are applied properly from the start. However, understanding the “I” Locks is essential for knowing why the “E” keys, the practical church-planting keys, fit.
Divine Ownership, Apostolic Foundation, and Local Stewardship
Church planting in Acts was immediately indigenous. Equipped by the apostolic team, local believers immediately were taught to obey the Great Commission and all the commands of Scripture together. In other words, they became the local church.
They were immediately indigenous, although they were not immediately independent of the assistance of the apostolic team. Healthy interdependence developed as the team equipped and the locals implemented. The apostolic team wholeheartedly loved and emotionally supported the new churches to whom they were related, however, they did so in a way that emphasized indigeneity and autonomy. This concept is discussed thoroughly in Chapter Ten.
An obvious, but often overlooked, feature of Acts church-planting is complete local ownership (stewardship). From day one local believers were equipped to take full responsibility for obeying the Great Commission and becoming the church. Among the many examples of this was the Philippian church, who participated in the gospel from the first day (Phil. 1:5) resulting in the planting of autonomous local church in Philippi.
Of course, Christ owns the church and is the Head of it (Col. 1:18). However, who are the local stewards? Local believers formed the local church in each area. They had the privilege and full responsibility of becoming the local body of Christ.
Outside of Jerusalem, there no indications that the apostles ever pastored the local churches they were planting through new believers. Neither did the apostolic team members. Apostolic team members were the outsiders who guided the church planting process. Pastors immerged from the local churches themselves.
They were the servants, who were enabling local believers to obey the Great Commission and plant local churches. “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1).
Paul paid careful attention to never be considered the local owner of the ministry his team started. “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one” (1 Cor. 3:5). “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9).
Notice in the following passage that the church didn’t belong to the apostles. Rather, the apostles belonged to the church in the sense that their job was to equip believers to be the church. “So then let no one boast in men, for all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
Passing the Great Commission Baton
The primary determining factor for immediate indigeneity is when and how the baton is passed from the outside worker to the new believer(s). “Passing the baton” is an athletic metaphor describing the transfer of stewardship in a relay race. The baton is passed, signifying that a new runner has now taken full responsibility for his leg of the race. In church planting, this has traditionally described the hand-off of an established church to local church and denomination leaders.
The baton of church planting isn’t the established church; it is the Great Commission. If new believers obey it and succeed in its implementation, they gather new local churches in their various segments and in other areas. Immediately after baptism, they are being taught to obey all of Christ’s commands, beginning with the Great Commission itself. Immediately, the new believers are already running with the baton.
This way, the apostolic team never owned the local ministry, so they never had to give it away. The baton is passed immediately signifying that local believers, not the apostolic workers, are the local church with the responsibility to go with the baton and hand it off to the ends of the earth, while growing to complete maturity in Christ.
Three “I” Locks
The work in each new area is immediately indigenous. However, it is not immediately independent. The tendency when one hears the phrase immediately indigenous is assuming that the field worker is perhaps leaving too quickly. Actually, the focus isn’t on leaving, but rather on healthy assisting and watching (evaluating).
Even when forced to depart, the apostle or members of the apostolic team worked to get back to the area where the new church was planted to equip them for tasks pertaining to the stage of the work. The church was immediately indigenous, but it wasn’t immediately independent of equipping from field workers.
Immediately Indigenous Great Commission
The first lock relates to new believers obeying the Great Commission. In the NT, new believers were trained to immediately obey the Great Commission, resulting in the formation of new churches. Their obedience to the Great Commission naturally resulted in gathering the indigenous church.
New believers in Acts were expected to obey the whole Great Commission. Those who succeeded in leading others to faith, baptized them and taught them to be the church together. Immediately being recognized as 100% priests, they could obey the Great Commission themselves, even when the field worker wasn’t present.
Obedience to the Great Commission requires believers to go, baptize, and teach others to obey. If they aren’t prepared to do all three tasks, then when the outside worker isn’t there, they can’t obey the Great Commission in other areas. Therefore, the local church won’t plant the local church in neighboring and more distant areas.
Immediately Indigenous Churches
The second lock is indigenous church development. Guiding groups of believers to become churches is essential. The Great Commission plans for churches, not merely groups.
New local churches must be trained to obey all commands of Scripture by themselves, outside the outsiders. If not, then they can’t baptize new believers (and perhaps can’t observe the Lord’s Supper) in the absence of the outside field worker. Essentially, the field worker has decided, “You can only be group, not churches, unless I’m here.”
Further, new believers can’t obey Christ’s command to be baptized unless the one who “goes” obeys the second part of the Great Commission and baptizes them as in Acts. Unbaptized believers and those who delay baptism rarely become dynamic disciples of Christ. Obeying the whole Great Commission at every generation gives new believers a foundation for becoming disciples by obeying the expectation to be baptized.
After the “gospel-ing” phase, the apostolic team assisted new believers to develop churches. The apostles expected local believers to immediately obey all the commands of Christ and do all the tasks of ministry in their local context. The apostles and their teams equipped and empowered them to do so. This resulted in indigenous, biblical, reproducing churches as the apostolic workers assist them to go farther and grow deeper.
Being taught to immediately obey all of Christ’s commands (Mt. 28:20) meant they would baptize new believers, take the Lord’s Supper together and obey all of the other commands of Scripture. Therefore, even in the absence of the field worker, local believers could be the church, not a group.
After assisting the initial gathering and discipling of new believers, they were assisted to implement church development. Their field worker’s job was to strengthen and encourage the church (Acts 11:22-23; 14:22-23). When the apostolic team was on-site after baptizing the first new believers in the area, they were discipling and developing churches and their leaders. For instance, Paul taught for a year, along with Barnabas in Antioch. He was present in Ephesus for three years. During this time, he taught the church and their elders publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20).
Even when the apostle himself left quickly, members of the apostolic team often remained or were sent back to develop the church. Once again, they weren’t the appointed leaders of the local churches. They did however help in the appointment of leaders (1 Tm. 3: 1-13; Ti. 1:5-9). They also guided the church in the pattern of sound doctrine.
The apostles didn’t disciple the entire first-century world. They reached and equipped the local believers who would take responsibility for becoming disciples, while discipling their own people. The apostles did, however, set DNA for healthy discipleship in each place they ministered. And then they transitioned to another place to repeat the process.
Becoming Autonomous LOCAL Churches
The locals, not the outsiders, were the church in that place with all its glory and imperfections. Moreover, local churches immediately became the church upon their baptism. Baptized believers, with identity as the local body of Christ, committed to obeying the commands of Scripture together were instantly the church in each local area. With time the church would mature and appoint elders (Acts 14:23) but they were already the local church.
Immediately Indigenous Church and Leadership Development
The third lock is indigenous leadership development. Like in the previous two locks, Immediately Indigenous Church and Leadership Development isn’t immediately independent from the apostolic team. However, it is immediately indigenous in that the goal is to immediately begin training locals as the implementers, with the outside workers equipping them for this task. Outside field workers take their role of equipping the equippers, rather than as the primary and continual teachers of churches and church leaders.
As soon as there were churches, their potential teachers were taught to teach truth to others. As they proved faithful, then they were recognized as teachers. Finding men who would become teachers is the primary context of 2 Timothy 2:2. “And the things you’ve heard from me among many witnesses, commit to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Their teaching ability didn’t need to be eloquent or polished, but it had to be true. Also, these teachers must be able to teach the word simply in their own context even though they might not be able to communicate the Word well to broader contexts.
In addition to leading by example, their primary purpose was to equip the saints for the works of ministry (Eph. 4:11-16). Therefore, their ability to interpret and teach the word was imperative. They must be hold to the authority of Scripture and be able to refute those who depart from it or threaten the flock with false doctrine (Ti. 1:9). As they mature, they must also be able to teach the whole counsel of God, as they are equipped to do so (1 Tm. 3:2; Acts 20:20).
The apostolic team had an ongoing relationship with churches through their leaders. Sometimes personally and often by letters Paul equipped churches and their leaders. The apostolic team gave an assist when needed but recognized the autonomy of the local church.
Either on site or from a distance, field workers train teachers and leaders who will be able to teach churches and the leaders within the churches. As field workers strengthen and encourage the indigenous churches (Acts 11:22-26; 14:22-23; 15:32, 41) they identify potential leaders, whom they train to teach the churches and their leaders.
Local leadership training allows leaders to be trained in or near their ministry contexts. Leaders were trained in the context of the local church from which they were appointed. Much of the training the leaders received applied to the whole church. Much of the advice for leaders is included in letters to the whole church. This made the leaders accountable to their congregations and vice versa.
Leadership Development Connected to Healthy Discipleship
Leadership development is an extension of healthy discipleship. When discipleship is done well, some obedient disciples immerge as leaders. Among these, some are appointed as overseers (elders) while others lead in various capacities within the churches. They were appointed, not because of their potential, but because of their good character and faithful service. And then they were further trained on the job.
Leaders emerge from churches with healthy discipleship DNA, based on pure priesthood of believers. It is impossible to know who the overseers will be until they have proven themselves as disciples. By implementing a healthy discipleship pattern as church, the leaders will naturally emerge. At that point, it is imperative to implement an indigenous pattern of leadership development.
Without indigenous leadership training, local churches and leaders unhealthily depend on outside leadership. Only a relative few leaders receive deeper training, limiting the number of fully functioning churches that can be planted and the quality of their indigenous discipleship. Leadership development from the outside in invariably centralizes training and limits the priesthood of the believers in the churches. Leadership development, when done well, assures that healthy discipleship will continue to be implemented; however, wherever indigenous leadership development stops, healthy discipleship stops.
Training Faithful Men to Become Teachers
Paul assisted Timothy to train faithful men who would become teachers. These teachers would teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2 in its primary context is a way of training indigenous teachers in movements. Not only were locals taught to reach their people, they were taught to teach their churches and leaders.
As a result, teachers immerged and multiplied. Early in the Antioch church, there were five prophets and teachers (Acts 13:5). Many if not all of them were outsiders. After the first missionary journey there were many teachers besides Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:35). From the beginning their goal was not simply to teach, but to train faithful men to teach.
In the beginning stage teaching focuses on basic knowledge (truth) and skills. Workers teach believers foundational truths of the faith. They also train them to proclaim the gospel, baptize, and group believers who are becoming churches. However, as the leadership development process continues all important elements needed for becoming complete in Christ are taught.
Finding and Training Teachers
Implement a plan for finding and training potential teachers from among the functional and appointed overseers, to teach simple truths throughout developing churches in the larger network of churches. Implement lessons with accountability for both going farther and growing deeper.
When groups begin forming, work with network leaders to find potential teachers. We give them teaching assignments and if they perform the task well, we continue to train them and send them out to teach within their networks. We look for faithful people with the following characteristics: They have good character, they believe the Word and can communicate it, when they teach, people listen; and they have a good relationship with those who lead within the church network.
Generation Zero (“I”)
Every person, along with the partners they train, who set out to initiate the Great Commission in new places or people segments, are “Generation Zero” workers. The persons led to faith are first-generation believers from that worker. And should the new believers lead others to faith, who obey the commands of Scripture, becoming a church, they are a first-generation church. Should they lead others to faith who become a church, becoming a second-generation church and so on. “Generation Zero” doesn’t have a negative connotation, but rather shows that we are obeying the Great Commission with the intent of leading the first generation of believers to Christ in our new ministry effort.
Our Role is Key
Pure implementation of the Great Commission begins with the outside, Generation Zero, worker and partners (both near and far culture). How the field worker (I) and partners approach the task will in large part determine whether healthy multiplication can happen. In other words, it begins with how I approach the Great Commission. Using the best keys at generation zero is crucial and will affect whether further generations occur and what they do thereafter. It is important that “I” understand what the Great Commission goal.
Setting an appropriate pattern from the start and training each successive generation that way, generational churches can flow indefinitely. And when generational growth is immediately combined with effective indigenous discipleship and leadership training, then the DNA is set for biblical, generational churches.
The locks are what prevent the Great Commission, the church and leadership development from being indigenous. Achieving the goal of Immediately Indigenous depends on how missionaries approach the work in each new area. Opening the “I” Locks depends on effective execution of the “E” keys in the following section.
Early in our ministry, we viewed church planting as though we would start a church, pastor it for a while, and then hand it off to local leadership. We did plant one church this way, but it wasn’t particularly healthy and never multiplied.
The idea is that we would lead people to faith, lead them in the tasks of ministry for several months or years, and then hand off the ministry to them is ineffective. When we tried to give it to them, it was too late. We were the owners. Praise the Lord, a church was planted. However, pure obedience to the Great Commission would have made generational churches possible.
This view changed when we engaged an unreached people group with pure Great Commission strategy. Through experience we’ve learned, don’t start a church that you will lead. The goal is to train new believers and send them to start churches among their respective segments in their places.
Thankfully, we had a chance to start again. We engaged an unreached people group with an immediately indigenous strategy. Better understanding the “I” key has enabled us to facilitate a generational church movement with numerous churches, regularly multiplying multi-generationally.
Once while leading a church planting training event I explained how we approached an unreached people group with pure Great Commission methodology. One trainee responded, “You never owned it”. That observation captured the intent of indigenous church-planting, immediately equipping new believers to obey the Great Commission to reach and church their people.