Archives For Missional

I have been listening (via Audible) and reading again through Robert Coleman’s classic book, The Master Plan of Evangelism. It has been over a decade since I last read it, and I am finding more and more jewels than before (hopefully a sign of discernment). This morning, I came across a profound observation from the ministry and method of Jesus in shaping and forming his disciples. In his chapter on “Supervision,” Coleman writes:

Here is on-the-job training at its best. Jesus would let his followers have some experience or make some observation of their own, and then he would use this as a starting point to teach a lesson on discipleship. The fact that they tried to do his work, even though they have failed at it, gave them greater awareness of their deficiencies, and hence they were more disposed to the Master’s correction. Moreover, their encounter with life situations enabled Jesus to pinpoint his teachings on specific needs and to spell it out in the concrete terms of practical experience. We always appreciate an education more after we have had the opportunity to apply what we have learned (96).

Jesus’ method of instruction and training was intensely practical. He employed his disciples in the work, and quite often they failed in it or did not understand the life Jesus was calling them to embrace. Having been confronted with repeated failure and disappointment, the disciples learned humility and greater dependence upon their Master. Being conformed into the image of Jesus meant a constant chipping away at their lives so their thoughts, desires, and actions were brought into complete submission to the way and will of their Master.

I find this method of Jesus rather foreign to current methods of training and discipleship today.

For example, when someone trained for leadership in the local church is told they should go to Bible college or seminary, they are brought into an environment of the classroom where they gain a considerable amount of knowledge. But where is the intensely practical training? Where is the opportunity to fail? Where is the molding and shaping of everyday life where they model their teacher? When these are absent, what we find is disciples to correcting others rather than being corrected by their Master. Because they know more, the “practical application” is exercising that knowledge to make a point, win an argument, or demonstrate their superior intellect – all manifestations of spiritual pride.

One of the reasons we do not have a movement of disciple-making in America is because we have bought into methods of training different from our Master. We are setting ourselves up for failure, and when we wonder why evangelism and disciple-making are waning, we ask those in the classroom to hold a conference or present a lecture on evangelism and disciple-making.

What we need are a bunch of failures who have stubbornly continued in deeper and deeper levels of humility to follow Jesus in his ways of loving people and sharing the gospel in everyday life. We need practitioners who view the front yard as their classroom, the neighbors as their disciples, and their community as their mission field. We need people who have felt the cuts and bruises of daily conformity to the ways of Jesus as their pursue the kingdom of God and pray it down in their hearts.

Where are these people today?

We need them.

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“Clearly Jesus did not leave the work of evangelism subject to human impression or convenience. To his disciples it was a definite command, perceived by impulse at the beginning of their discipleship, but progressively clarified in their thinking as they followed him, and finally spelled out in no uncertain terms. No one who followed Jesus very far could escape this conclusion. It was so then; it is so today. Christian disciples are sent men and women—sent out in the same work of world evangelism to which the Lord was sent, and for which he gave his life. Evangelism is not an optional accessory to our life. It is the heartbeat of all that we are called to be and do. It is the commission of the church that gives meaning to all else that is undertaken in the name of Christ.” – Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism

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Evangelism is not an optional accessory to our life.

“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the Word.” – Acts 8:4
“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch…” – Acts 11:19

Those who read the book of Acts will notice the influence of two major churches: the church in Jerusalem and the church in Antioch. Jerusalem was the city where the New Testament church started through the preaching of Peter at Pentecost, and Antioch became the missionary sending center for Paul and Barnabas throughout the Gentile world. But there is an amazing connection between these two churches that can get easily overlooked while reading about Stephen’s martyrdom, Paul’s conversion, and Peter’s dreams. It’s the ordinary life on mission from the no-named army of disciples who preached Jesus everywhere they went.

In Acts 8, the church scattered from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria due to persecution from the hand of Saul and his accomplices. They were identified as “those who were scattered.” The persecution that sent them did not stop them or silence them. Providence pushed them toward proclaiming Jesus, and they “went about” their lives doing just that. How did the gospel get from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria? It happened as Spirit-empowered disciples bore witness to Jesus and His resurrection and preached the Word as they stepped out on mission.

Fast forward a couple of chapters and you see that same gospel seed spreading from Judea and Samaria to the Gentile world, completing the promise of Acts 1:8. But how did it get there? More specifically, who took it to the Gentile world? Did God use Phillip, Peter and Paul? Absolutely. But notice the language of Acts 11:19.

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arise over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch…”.

The gospel went from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria because of no-named disciples on mission to make much of Jesus. And the gospel went from Judea and Samaria to the Gentile world because of no-named disciples on mission to make much of Jesus. Is it any wonder, then, that the church in Antioch would be the sending center for the early church in the book of Acts? It was comprised of disciples whose spiritual lineage descended from disciples who made disciples who preached Jesus in the power of the Spirit. They had the missional DNA from the beginning because the gospel seed was so generously and faithfully scattered by ordinary disciples “going about” their ordinary lives on mission to preach the Word and tell others about Jesus.

We will never know the stories and the sacrifices of “those who were scattered” in the early church, but they have a legacy that continues generation after generation among people from all lands and languages of people who have no name or recognition other than the everlasting fruit they leave in the wake of their life on mission.

May that be true about our generation and our cities today. The way God will reach our world may be through a Peter or Paul. But it also may be through “those who were scattered” that went about their lives making much of Jesus and sowing that gospel seed day in and day out.

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Did you know there are ways you can “get to know” your neighbors before you “get to know” them? While you may not get all the specific information you can in a personal conversation, doing your research can help you understand the metanarrative of your neighborhood and community. There are a couple of ways I have gone about gathering research:

(1) Internet Research

Google is really an amazing thing. You can learn the history of your city, gain a better understanding of the annual rhythms of major events and/or celebrations, and gain insight into aspects that make the city attractive to others. More specifically, you can review census data from various sites such as and demographic data for your very own city block (census tracks, census block groups and census blocks).

(2) Paid Research

A popular company for gathering research in a community in Percept Group. For example, their Ministry Area Profile gives you roughly 20 pages of demographics and data nicely compiled with charts and graphs to analyze.

When you gather your research, you can compare the data with the details and stories of people you meet and gain a holistic picture and profile of the needs, challenges, and opportunities to your neighborhood.

/// Previous Neighboring 101 Posts:

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“Everyone is busy, and we all have different stories and struggle with different issues that compete for our attention and time. We all should be concerned about how much we cram into our schedules. If we truly want to be great neighbors, we are going to have to make some adjustments. And that may mean God will call you to say no to some good things so you can focus on the things that are really important.”
– Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring

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Great Neighbors Make Adjustments

“We can’t do our work of pointing sinners to the Savior unless we spend time with them. The first thing Levi does after following Jesus is to throw a party.”
– Tim Chester, A Meal With Jesus

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Throw a Party

Post-Christendom Missional AttractionalSo far in this series, I have touched on Posture and Perspectives in Post-Christendom. At the close of the “Perspectives” post, I argued, “I believe there has been a considerable shift over the past decade (or two) toward paganism where the majority of non-Christians today are ignorant, indifferent, and militant.” In this post, I want to elaborate on the two paradigms for engaging non-Christians in Post-Christendom.

The Attractional Paradigm

During the times of Christendom and its decline, the attractional paradigm enjoyed much success. It was a time when the majority of non-Christians in culture found Christianity relevant and were quite conversant from a cultural standpoint. Christianity was looked upon favorably by the many, and churches seemed to engage the “unchurched Harry and Mary“. The attractional paradigm saw the rise of the seeker-sensitive movement, where a large focus of the church’s mission was to get non-Christians to “come and see” through the church event what Christianity was about. Missiologists call this a “centripetal” movement where the draw is toward the center, namely the Sunday morning event/experience.

The attractional paradigm found ways to reach the non-Christians through a focus on relevance and pragmatism. The event focused on “the experience” wherein the message would have relevance to the most pressing issues of the day (sex, happiness, relationships, overcoming fear, etc.). Outside the event, the attractional model produced goods and services that the non-Christian consumer would find practical and beneficial. Relevance and pragmatism became a winning combination for burgeoning megachurches who could exceed consumer expectations on what they could offer them and the experience they could find.

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Part 1: Relief and Development
Part 2: Incarnational Mission | Word and Deed | Responsibility and Sovereignty

In this final part of my reflections of integral mission from the life of Jesus, I want to turn once more to Luke 9:1-17 for some further observations related to the church. We see from the feeding of the multitude that Jesus had a plan and a people. He had provision and power to do all that was needed to see that the people were cared for and utterly satisfied.


When Jesus went about feeding the multitude, it is interesting that before He performed the miracle, He instructed His disciples to have the people to sit down in groups of 50. Seems like an unnecessary detail Luke included, no? Well, actually I find it really beneficial for integral mission. Jesus could have feed 20,000 in an unhelpful sea of chaos and confusion, but instead He chose a method that would best serve the people and make the greatest impact. I don’t want to read too much into this observation, but I believe it is accurate to say that this represents a strategic plan. Following this strategy came the supernatural work of God.

There are some who might think that strategic thinking and planning is unspiritual. Some may argue that it leads to pragmatism or doing work without God. While that is possible, simply because it has led some to pragmatism does not necessarily mean that it causes it. In fact, those working in difficult situations must have a strategic plan in place or the work will fall apart on its own. Having said that, we should pray and believe God to do what only He can do. He puts us in desperate situations where, if He does not come through, we are sunk. If you are not in a place where you are desperate and dependent on the sovereign, supernatural work of God, then you are in the wrong place.

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Where Jesus Lived on Mission

Tim Brister —  December 3, 2013 — 3 Comments

Jesus came to save His people from their sin (Matt. 1:21). From heaven, His mission was declared before He was born. The accomplishment of that mission came through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. If that was all that we knew, could He had just come to the earth, die, and be raised from the dead? Granted, there is a big emphasis here in the Gospel accounts, especially in Mark where the last week of Jesus’ life seemed to be in slow motion in a book that repeatedly says “and immediately…”.

Having said that, I believe there is much to be studied from the life of Jesus. Jesus did not only accomplish His mission, but He entrusted the mission to His disciples and sent them out to live as He lived–as those who have been sent. The fact that we have four Gospel narratives about Jesus lives tells us that there is much to be studied and learned about Jesus. Indeed, His life and message is inexhaustible in nature!

In recent years, there is a section in the gospel accounts that have impacted me significantly, both as a disciple of Jesus and as a disciple-maker. This portion Scripture has the bookends of His temptation in the wilderness (the beginning) and the commissioning of His disciples (the end). In the book of Matthew, it is Matthew 4:17-9:38. In the book of Luke, it is Luke 4:14-8:56. I believe this passage is worthy of serious and sustained reflection and meditation as a disciple of Jesus because it reveals the life of Jesus on mission from the inauguration of His ministry to the commissioning of His disciples. I am convinced that every step was intentional, every story was purposeful, every aspect providential for the purpose of not only accomplishing His mission but also modeling and training His apprentices to become like Him in every way.

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