October 5, 2010

Lessons Learned: How to be a missionary

Since I began Bible storying, my strategy in missions and ministry has transformed a great deal. Here are some of the lessons I have learned from both success and failure. (I am going to do this over several posts)

  • Don’t spend your time trying to create groups. In 2004 and 2005, I spent a lot of time trying to coax five families into meeting together for a Bible study. I got three of them to finally do it. As soon as we started to make progress, as I defined it, Satan broke up the group. He caused confusion and mistrust to separate the families in a brutal way. I spent 3 years trying to corral families together for Bible studies and was unsuccessful engaging many willing families, because I could not form the groups I wanted.

  • Disciple groups that already exist. The families on the hill is one of the biggest success stories of this blog. A major reason for the success was that they are a family with already existing ties and relationships. There is a bond there that is not easily broken (though Satan did try again). Existing groups will generally either accept or reject the gospel as a group, rather than splinter and disband. When they do decide to follow Jesus, discipleship is natural and often faster than expected.

  • Give preference to oral communication. I had tried several times to start a Bible study with the families on the hill. At one point, I was going weekly for a long period of time, but making no headway in evangelism or discipleship. The day I suggested we put away our pens and notebooks, and began telling the scripture was the day they started “hearing” the message. This happened in a lot of places, even among the highly literate.

  • Don’t be a Bible scholar. When I first arrived in Brazil, I loved to talk theology and apologetics. This was expected in many pastoral circles in America. Inadvertently, I began to create a dependency on me as the expert and not the Bible. People would not trust themselves to understand the Bible or apply it correctly. (Incidentally, this is an extreme problem in Brazil, even in evangelical churches. It creates a passive and shallow form of Christianity.) I had to change from teaching to asking questions, and guiding discovery. Huge difference. -

  • Be consistent and proactive. People who know me know that I have a tendency to get distracted and start a new project before finishing the one I am on. The pastor of our local traditional church has the same tendency, but amplified ten times. Both of us have had opportunities fall into our laps, recognized the hand of God in them, and still distracted ourselves away from success. There are several sub-items under this.

    • Go two by two. This Biblical command and example creates greater consistency by nature. This is why we have workout partners, study partners, accountability partners, golfing buddies, etc. When I have a partner for a particular ministry, evangelism project or home Bible study, it usually thrives. When I don’t it is 50-50.

    • Don’t create obstacles. It doesn’t really matter how sincere you are, if you are discipling a family that lives 2 hours away and it costs you $20 and half of your day every time you meet with them, you aren’t going to do it for long and you aren’t going to do it consistently. (edit: $20 is a lot of money in my context.) Either move closer to them, disciple closer to home, or plan on training a local leader very quickly.

    • Create an accountability network. Even when we were not successful forming groups and planting churches, we were successful winning individuals and families for Jesus, because we asked people to pray for certain individuals and hold us accountable for sharing the gospel.

  • Don’t celebrate decisions and move on. Discipleship is a process. This, I learned the hard way. I’ve led people to Christ and let them die of alcohol addictions. I’ve led people to Christ and watched them divorce. I’ve led people to Christ and left them in their pornography addictions. I’ve led people to Christ and left them to figure out the Christian life all on their own. Yes, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell every new believer, but the great commission commands us to make disciples obedient to Jesus’ commands, not just win converts. Winning converts and leaving it at that is something that is done with Satan’s approval. He knows it will never spawn a real movement.


  1. I found this post via Alan Knox. It is EXCELLENT. These are the same exact lessons God has taught us in Phoenix AZ who are endeavoring the same things you are. Even the point about oral communication is 100% true here.

    I guess the only point that has been a little different here is that we have not ever intentionally celebrated a persons choice to follow Jesus and moved on. However the vast majority of people that we have brought to Jesus have come to Him with a life that is given to Satan in every category. They are addicted to many things, their "family" is destroyed, their understanding of right and wrong is upside down and backwards, and all the influences in their life outside of those who have brought them to the King are evil. It has broken our hearts that in spite of our best efforts, prayer, fasting and everything we can think of to help them follow Jesus sooner or later most choose to go back to Egypt. I continue to hope that one day my phone will ring and one of them will want to return to life with the King and us. If feels like a situation where we are doing work that perhaps a generation later will come to be seen. For now we press on knowing that what we are doing is so needed and God is in control.

    Thanks for sharing what God has taught you. May He use it to help expand His Kingdom exponentially!

  2. Thanks Arnold.

    Darrell, I have never intentionally celebrated someone's receiving Christ and moved on, but in essence I have done it. I listed this though, because there are some who do ministry in a way that their job is "over" when someone "prays the prayer" or gets baptized.

    I plan to post another set of lessons learned later this week.

  3. Here is a facebook discussion of the post I will carry over to here.

    Stan Meador I'll echo everything he's written here in my Brazilian context too! I've found all of this to be reality in South Brazil too!
    13 hours ago

    J. Guy Muse Interesting things Stephen brings out in his post.
    13 hours ago

    Miguel Labrador We have had somewhat different results within our context here in the Cloud Forest of Ecuador. Our attempt to form groups has been very successful in producing vibrant faith communities.

    I will comment on the blog itself and explain.
    13 hours ago

    J. Guy Muse While I understand Stephen's frustration with group formation (we too have had our share of ups and downs with this), we continue to teach that church planting is a two-step process: 1) gather people, 2) make disciples. There are techniques/tools/materials for each of the two steps, but that is basically our focus in training church planters.
    13 hours ago

    Stan Meador In South Brazil you just are not going to have much success grouping desconhecidos - people who are unknown to each other. However, you will be able to form groups within the persons circle of friends. It is not unlike the Greek oikos - household - idea. Basically what we see with Cornelius in Acts - he invited everyone he could to come hear the message, but they were probably all known to him.
    12 hours ago

    J. Guy Muse Yes, groupings have to be natural ones where the people already know one another. It is a disaster to try to get people together who are not already part of a natural grouping.
    12 hours ago

    Steve King Family units are a great place to start. We actually encourage intentional working along family lines. Relationships....
    12 hours ago

    Stan Meador In Brazil there is another dynamic that we have to be aware of. People can freely invites family, friends and colleagues. Where we have seen difficulty is when a business owner or boss (patron) invites his employees (peons). The patron-peon r...elationship is not conducive for a house church reality. The peon pretty much does whatever the patron expects or asks so it is complicated, especially when God wants one thing and the patron wants another. If the peon thinks the patron wants him to "pray a prayer" he'll most likely pray it to appease the patron - it may have nothing to do with understanding or faith. Or, if the patron teaches something erroneous the peon does not have the cultural role of correcting. We just have not found that type of grouping to work as a church.
    about an hour ago

    Stephen M Young II
    I maybe should have written. Learn how appropriate groups form. Sometimes they do need coaxing from us, but as Stan said. Rallying unknowns together rarely works. I wrote a related post on Jesus and the 12 in my other blog.

    Miguel, I'd like... to read what you wrote, did you mean you would post a comment in my blog or Mblog?
    2 minutes ago


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