- Mike Shipman
UNLOCKING THE GREAT COMMISSION (Part 2)
THE ‘E’ KEYS
The “E” keys are the practical ways to open the “I” Locks, allowing for immediate indigeneity. The primary “E” keys are exemplify and equip. Apostolic field workers, led by the Spirit, must successfully accomplish two objectives: Exemplify and Equip. These two objectives can only be accomplished by spiritual leadership as workers abide in Christ (live in the Spirit) and implement the divine Great Commission plan.
Indigenous church planting is accomplished as field workers exemplify two realities and equip new believers to do the same two things. Field workers exemplify the Great Commission, while living the Christ-life. This becomes the basis for equipping them to obey the Great Commission, while abiding in Christ, resulting in the formation of local churches among the various segments of each ethnic group or place. As churches, the believers mature as disciples as they obey the Great Commission and live the Christ-life together.
Exemplify the Christ-Life and the Great Commission
“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil. 3:17). Field workers must always be an example for those they intend to disciple. First, they must exemplify how to live the Christ-life. Also, they must exemplify how to obey the Great Commission. Likewise, their goal is to equip new believers to obey the Great Commission to become the church, where believers live the Christ-life together in community.
Essentially, we are continually modeling two realities: the Christ-life and the Great Commission. Living the Christ life expresses genuine faith in Christ and demonstrates for new believers how they should live as His followers. Obeying the Great Commission shows new believers how they also should do it.
Exemplify the Christ-Life
Jesus didn’t leave any doubt about what would be necessary to accomplish the Great Commission. The Upper Room Discourse (Jn. 13-17) is the preparation manual for those who desire to see the Great Commission fulfilled. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed that the disciples would abide in Him (be one), so that the Great Commission would be fulfilled (Jn. 17:20). Abiding in Christ means abiding in Him in prayer, the word, and the works (Jn. 14:12-14; 15:1-14).
The first essential component of the apostles’ church planting ministry is that they lived the Christian life by the Spirit according to the word. The genuineness of their faith and practice became the standard for those whom they led to faith and the church they would plant in each new area among new people segments. They set an example of how believers should live, an example worth following. And then they could equip and expect them to live such a life together as the local church.
For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each of one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thes. 2:5-12).
The lifestyle of the apostles and their teams became the example for new believers. It was the baseline for how they were expected to live together as the church. Paul therefore exhorted Timothy, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself as an example of those who believe” (1 Tm. 4:11). The godly example of church planters serves as an example, primarily to believers but also to unbelievers. Likewise, Titus was commanded, “In all things, show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (2 Tm. 2:7-8).
Exemplify the Great Commission
The apostles and their teams modeled obedience to the Great Commission. Living in the Spirit, they went and proclaimed the gospel, baptized the first new believers in each area (segment) and then taught them how to obey the Great Commission, resulting in biblical churches. Paul’s ministry in Corinth illustrates how Paul exemplified the Great Commission for the Corinthians. In his 1 ½ year ministry there, Paul gladly only baptized three parties (1 Cor. 1:14-17) although many Corinthians believed and were baptized, presumably by the local believers themselves (Acts 18:8). After baptizing the first believers he led to faith in each place, Paul immediately equipped them to obey the Great Commission, as will be discussed in a later section.
As the church, new believers in the early church began immediately obeying all the commands of Scripture, living the Christ-life together. The apostles lived out the Great Commission as an example for them to immediately follow. And, like the new believers in Thessalonica, they did obey the Great Commission, resulting in churches in their provinces and others as well.
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and will full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything (1 Thes. 1:6-10).
Notice from the above passage that Paul became an example for the Thessalonians. Next, the Thessalonians became an example for the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
Equip Them for Gospel-ing and Gathering (Churching)
The outcome of equipping is related to the example of the apostolic team. Field workers must exemplify the Great Commission, while immediately equipping new believers to obey it.
Based on the field worker’s example, the goal is to equip new believers to obey the Great Commission, becoming (and being) the church. In becoming the church, they are discipled to live the Christ-life together.
To the Corinthian church, Paul also affirmed that they were following his example he set for the church there. He wrote, “Become imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:1-2). He exemplified how they must live the Christ-life together as the church.
Teaching (equipping) them to obey all of Christ’s commands (Mt. 28:20) is the objective from the time new believers are baptized. Recognizing the 100% priesthood of every new believer and equipping them to do their priestly duties begins immediately after their baptism.
Training partner priests, rather than mere students, is the dynamic that actualizes generational church movements. The outside worker is their priest until the new believers are baptized, but at the point of baptism the new believers are partner priests the Spirit is empowering to reach and teach their people. After baptism, the field workers’ task is to equip believers as priests.
“And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12).
Apostles equip the saints, and so do the prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. People who succeed in experiencing first century type church planting stop being the priest and start equipping the priests.
Because of the indwelling Christ, new believers have everything the person who reached them has, except knowledge and experience. Equipping and entrusting new believers to the Lord unlocks the believers’ potential to become able ministers of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:5-6).
Equipping Them to Obey the Great Commission
The apostles set Great Commission DNA among new believers in each new area. They exemplified the Great Commission while equipping new believers to obey the three tasks of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20). Immediately they equipped the new believers to obey the Great Commission and all of Christ’s other commands. For the field worker, obedience to the Great Commission includes the equipping task of teaching them to obey all of Christ’s commands, beginning with the Great Commission.
Believers must be sent to immediately obey the Great Commission. Even though new believers may have not yet completely mastered all facets of the plan, it is glorious when they are immediately sharing the gospel, even when other aspects of their development are still in process.
In the province of Achaia, Paul baptized the first new believers in three areas, and then equipped them to immediately obey the Great Commission. Paul baptized the first believers of the province, the household of Stephanus. They apparently gathered and developed the church in their area (1 Cor. 16:15-16). Paul baptized Crispus, the first believer of a certain segment in the mother city, Corinth (Acts 18:8). Many other Corinthians believed and were baptized as the church as gathered and developed. Paul also baptized the first believer in another area of the province, Gaius (Rom. 16:23). Signs from this verse are that Gaius likely gathered and developed the church in his area. Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanus followed Paul’s example and obeyed the Great Commission!
Don’t hinder the free flow of the gospel, even where the discipleship package might be delayed in getting to the new believers. Be the gas pedal, not the brakes. This way new believers can reach and gather their family members, friends, and others to become disciples together.
It is imperative for new believers to immediately reach others, so they will begin to form the local church apart from outside workers. Notice the immediacy of obeying the Great Commission for the Thessalonians. Paul immediately obeyed the Great Commission in their presence, staying three Sabbaths (Acts 17:2). Following Paul’s example, they were immediately equipped to obey the Great Commission. “Finally brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you” (1 Thes. 3:1).
Early on the Great Commission isn’t the only thing the field worker is studying with new believers. Life on life discipleship is happening regularly. However, discipleship isn’t detached from Great Commission obedience, but happening while obeying the Great Commission. Simultaneously when urging them put off the deeds of the flesh, they urged them to participate in the deeds of the Spirit. The apostolic team baptizes and mobilizes all new believers, while setting a pattern for discipleship and church.
Equipping Them to Become the Church (Live the Christ-Life Together)
The apostolic team sets patterns of behavior and doctrine, equipping the local believers to imitate them. “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:1-2).
Prepare Them to Immediately Function without You Present
Obedience to the Great Commission results in the formation of the local church. Having obeyed the Great Commission, now new believers can be discipled in community—living the Christ-life together. The Great Commission, when obeyed fully, results in local churches, not just groups.
Believers must be able to become the local church immediately. And then they would grow in grace coming to full maturity in Christ together. Therefore, it was imperative for new believers to have a worship pattern and functioning pattern of being the church that they themselves would do.
In Acts this didn’t mean that the outsider never attended the church in their house. Paul often went to the homes of new believers, once they had heard the gospel, usually from a member of their family (i.e. Acts 16:14-15; 31-34). But even so, Paul’s attendance from time to time didn’t affect their ability to be the church without him. After all, he might only be in that place for a short time, making dependence impossible. More importantly, Paul refused to set a pattern that they wouldn’t or couldn’t do when he wasn’t there. Paul’s calling was apostolic, not pastoral. Therefore, he demanded for the church in each area to be the local church, while he was overseeing the apostolic church planting and development work.
If the outsider sets the model for church worship in the home of the new believer, as Paul’s team often did, he must intentionally set a pattern of worship that they themselves immediately do, so that when the outsider soon departs, they continue the pattern in his absence.
When the outsider sets the model for church in someone’s home, it often hinders the development of a healthy church and usually, that church doesn’t multiply. Two undesirable things usually happen. First, this raises the visibility of new believers with the outside worker. In many places this will result in increased scrutiny and persecution of new believers. Even in places where security isn’t a concern, having the outsider lead the group causes dependency and stunts the growth of new believers. Instead of becoming priests, they are being served by you, the priest.
It’s too bad, but the outsider almost always sets a pattern that is too ‘good’. Because of advanced education and experience, the outside worker sets a pattern that they can’t emulate. Therefore, even when they try to meet in your absence, it never feels as good as it did when you led it; therefore, finally they don’t meet unless you’re there.
Equip new believers to meet at their homes without you present. Most field workers who are seeing generational churches find that it is better to train new believers to reach others and begin worshipping together apart from us, even if the early forms are not polished, than if we were to go to their place weekly to bring a Bible study for them. Church meetings don’t have to be aesthetically good, just true. Field workers must exhibit the humility necessary to equip even the simplest of believers to be the church.
Set DNA for Sound Doctrine and Practice
The apostolic team directed the discipleship process, first locally and then from a distance, working immediately through local believers. After the initial visit, the discipleship directing process was continued in follow-up visits by the apostle, or by those sent by from the apostolic team. “For this reason I have sent to 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” (1 Cor. 4:17). The apostle also often sent letters to developing churches.
The apostolic team set the DNA for sound doctrine. New believers weren’t left to self-theologize. Rather, the apostles set a pattern of doctrine that serves as a firm foundation for forming churches. The apostles directed new believers to believe and obey the essential tenants of the faith. They set a pattern which would in their absence allow for all believers to become obedient to the faith in word and deed (Rom. (15:18). Develop a simple process and plan to guide groups to become churches. This means for them to be baptized, covenant to become the local church, and obey all of Scripture together.
Sound doctrine begins with the gospel and continues by obedience to Scripture, much of which was penned by the apostles. The apostles entrusted peripheral tasks to faithful persons, so they themselves could focus on the priority tasks of prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). The ministry of the word included proclamation of the gospel and teaching believers to obey the Scripture together as churches.
The church-planting plan we implement (Greater Works Guide) guides the first 20 lessons baptized believers study together. This gives them the doctrinal and practical foundation they need to become strong churches. These lessons begin with the Lord’s Supper and cover essential doctrines and disciplines they will need to grow in grace and truth.
After these initial lessons, they understand the process of meeting and studying the Word together. Therefore, they themselves can study the Bible in context together, and be discipled together as the body of Christ.
One of the urgent tasks for effective equipping is to immediately go into assist mode. Our role is to evangelize, baptize, and to immediately begin training them to reach and disciple their people. Therefore, we immediately begin assisting them, so they do all works of ministry, instead of doing the works of ministry for or to them. Most potential movements stall because the outside worker doesn’t move immediately from model to assist.
Appropriate assisting is the essential for effective equipping. Apostolic workers don’t do for local believers what God is calling them to do. Rather, they assist them, through teaching and training, to obey the commission and be the church. Local believers are up to the task because they have assistants, the Holy Spirit (Helper, Jn. 14:16-17) and the apostolic team.
While initiating a generational church movement, my national ministry partner and I realized an important principle—we are the servants (assistants). Therefore, our task was to do whatever was necessary to equip and enable the new believers to plant biblical churches in each village of our people group.
Appropriate assistance decreases but never stops. After the essential, intensive assistance needed in the beginning, the believers are assisted only to the degree where assistance is needed. Appropriate assistance takes the form of intervening when necessary. Writing letters, occasional visits, and various other forms of interaction are enough to assist and empower the believers to stay on track in the Great Commission and their Christ-life together.
‘Modeling’ Is Not a Phase
Model, Assist, Watch and Leave became the early blueprint for Church Planting Movements. This pattern has given a framework from which to understand the CPM process. However, understanding the dynamics of how MAWL works is essential to overcome the barriers that hinder indigenous generational church movements. Seeing modeling of a phase of the church planting process often leads to delayed leadership transfer as previously discussed. After baptism, become the equipper!
Although modeling isn’t a phase of the Church planting process. It is nonetheless happening to rain tasks in every phase of the process. However, when modeling is considered the first stage of the church planting process, the worker invariable models too long, causing dependence from the new believers and negatively affecting multiplication and discipleship.
Indeed, in teaching specific tasks, the worker must model the tasks for new believers. But when training tasks don’t model too long! Model a task once or perhaps twice, and then assist them to do it. Modeling too long is perhaps the greatest mechanical hindrance to indigeneity.
Hold them accountable to do it and celebrate whatever they do right when you weren’t there with them. Avoid the temptation to immediately intervene for the sake of doing it better. A member of the apostolic team must intervene if new believers are proving unfit for the task; however, early on only intervene when doctrinal, spiritual, or moral correction is necessary.
Don’t expect perfection, or even good skills from the beginning. Even so, send them out and celebrate the true thing or things they did well. If they are faithful, they will progress and with time become outstanding servants of the Lord if you equip and send rather than do it for them.
‘Leaving’ is not ‘Goodbye’
Just as “model” is not a phase of church planting. Neither is “leave”. The reality of immediate assisting, and then assisting thereafter in healthy ways with decreasing frequency make the location of the field worker in large part irrelevant.
Immediately indigenous church planting has little to do with the location of the workers. It has everything to do with whether the workers are functioning as the assistants or as the owners. That is why Paul could implement the same strategy regardless of whether he was there for a short time (as in Philippi and Thessalonica) or longer time (as in Corinth and Ephesus). Actually, leaving is not the primary part of the equation, if the objectives of indigenous church planting are achieved through healthy assisting, built upon the apostolic team’s example.
Apostolic teams were well aware that they might be forced to leave immediately. So, church planting in Acts was based on strategy, not time. Even when they stayed a long time (1 ½ yrs. in Corinth and 3 yrs. in Ephesus) they trained and backed off (distanced themselves) to better equip and send new believers. Sometimes the apostolic team relocated to another place, and at other times they distanced themselves” in the sense that they forced local believers to become immediately indigenous, realizing that they must be fully functioning, even in the absence of the outside field worker. Don’t underestimate the importance of your example and teaching. However, don’t overestimate the importance of your role in new believers’ discipleship. The Spirit sanctifies them by the word, even in and sometimes especially in our absence.
Instilling dependence on Christ and avoiding unhealthy dependence on us makes our location largely irrelevant. The issue is not where the apostolic leader lives after the early stages of the establishment of the church. Equipped, fully functioning local missional churches pursuing Christlikeness is the end goal, not leaving.
Leaving is not an appropriate gauge of accomplishing the end goal. The “leave” concept implies absolute separation, but the better goal is the state of the work’s indigeneity and autonomy. Outside assisting must empower believers to immediately obey the Great Commission and become the church. A good gauge of whether assistance is appropriate is, “Are they doing it?” and, “Are they doing it biblically?” and “Are they getting better at doing it?”
Equipping Imperatives: Empower, Encourage, and Exhort
Three apostolic leadership imperatives allow apostolic workers to achieve their objectives of equipping new believers to obey the Great Commission, become the church and develop their leaders. Empower! Encourage! Exhort! These sub-keys are the recurring actions of the apostolic teams of Acts. Encourage believers to be the church, empower them to do it, and exhort them to continue obeying all the commands of Scripture.
Re-Turning the “E” keys of exemplify and equip are vital for accomplishing goal of indigeneity. Applying the “E” keys allows the field worker to achieve the goals of the immediately indigenous Great Commission, immediately indigenous church, and immediately indigenous leadership development.
Evangelism, Church planting and discipleship resulting in leadership development are Great Commission emphases where the “E” keys are applied. These are the emphases in the remaining parts of the book.