The Missional Basis for the Bible

For many years I thought that the God’s purpose to be known, worshipped and obeyed by all nations and all people everywhere was initiated by Jesus after his resurrection from the dead…. And indeed Jesus did send his followers out to proclaim the good news and make disciples of all the nations, as the Gospel writers testify.

Matt 28:19,20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Mark 16:15,20 “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation…. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.

Luke 24:46-49 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. “You are witnesses of these things. “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

John 20:21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace {be} with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Acts 1:8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

These mandates, taken together, are commonly referred to as the Great Commission and emphasize the all nations theme.

… However later I discovered that God’s purpose to be known, worshipped and obeyed by all peoples everywhere is a major theme or thread that runs from Genesis to Revelation.  Indeed it is a theme that ties the entire message of the Bible together. This might be called the “backstory” or “metanarrative” that runs throughout the Bible.

It took me a long time to understand and appreciate this. When I was just catching the mission vision I heard David Bryant share that he once read through the Bible with a highlighter in hand, marking all the passages that mentioned God’s plan for the nations. He was surprised by the number of passages he highlighted. About 25 years later, as I too read through the Bible with a highlighter in hand, looking for those all-peoples passages, I was astounded by the number I found. A friend of mine did a similar thing, though he made a scroll with all the verses he found – and the scroll is at least 25 feet long!

It is impractical to give an entire list of these verses. But I do want to trace the “all-peoples” theme from Genesis to Revelation.

Color coding the missional themes of the Bible

I’ve chosen the following colors and font accents to highlight the different missional threads in the Bible.

All peoples, men nations Know Worship Obey Salvation Reign Messianic

Bold identifies commands

Flying under the Radar

The “flying under the radar” is an analogy that is useful in tracing the “all nations” theme in scripture.  Like an airplane “flying under the radar”, moving ever closer to accomplishing its mission, though not detected, so is God’s purpose to be known, worshiped and obeyed by all nations. We shall see that there are periods of time (some lasting 400 years) when we don’t see any evidence of this theme. Then the  theme surfaces – like a “blip” on the radar screen – followed by another period of silence.

Genesis 1-11

Genesis chapters one and two are creation accounts. Genesis chapters 3-11 then chronicles mankind’s failure to obey God. Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and ate from the tree. Cain killed Abel. Noah’s generation was so corrupt that all but six people were swept away by the flood. At the tower of Babel, because the people did not want to spread out over the earth, God confused their language, separating people into 70 nations or peoples. This sets the stage for a new chapter in God’s program to bless all the nations.

Before moving on, we must also recognize that amid this chronicle of humanity’s failure to trust, worship and obey the Lord, there is a brief foreshadowing of hope.

 Gen 3:14,15 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.

 Genesis 12-50

The post-Babel narrative focuses on Abraham and his descendants. We will see that three times God promises to bless all nations associated with Abraham; then this promise is repeated to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob.

Abraham

Gen  12:1-3 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Gen 18:18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.

Gen 22:15-18 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Isaac

Gen 26:4-5 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”

Jacob 

Gen 28:14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.

Genesis draws to a conclusion with Jacob blessing his sons. Of particular interest is Judah’s blessing.

Gen 49: 10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.

All this blessing will be channeled through Judah’s descendants. Here we see that not only would blessing come to all peoples through Abraham’s descendants, but also one of Abraham’s descendants would reign over the nations. Thus here in the closing pages of Genesis the important theme of God’s reign over the nations is introduced into the biblical narrative.  (See Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17-19; Psalm 60:7; 108:8; 110:2, though Psa. 110 is relevant as well as Psalm 2.)

Genesis Summary: God’s stated his intention to bless all peoples on earth through Abraham three times. This covenant promise was repeated to Isaac and Jacob. The Blessing to all peoples will come through Abraham’s descendants. This is narrowed to Isaac’s descendants (Ishmael and Abraham’s other descendants are eliminated), then Jacob’s descendants (Esau is eliminated) and finally Judah (his eleven brothers are eliminated.)

The Exodus

God’s purpose to be known, worshiped and obeyed by all peoples seems to drop off the radar for quite some time. Abraham’s descendants are in Egypt for 400 years.  Though during the Exodus, there is a blip on the radar.

I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth.  But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. Exodus 9:14-16

Indeed God’s great deeds against Egypt did result in his fame being proclaimed to the surrounding nations.

This theme surfaces again when the people are in the wilderness, when the people rebelled in response to the report of the ten “faithless” spies regarding the Promised Land (Numbers 13-14:9).

“Then the glory of the Lord appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel. The Lord said to Moses, How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Number s 14:10b-12)

This was the last straw. God had had it with this people. He was ready to wipe them out because of their disbelief and start the nation-building process over with Moses.

Moses, though, began to plead with the Lord, and this is where we see the “all nations” theme emerge.

But Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell {it} to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. “Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, ‘Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ (Numbers 14:13-16)

Moses’ case before the Lord appeals God’s reputation among the nations. First, if God wipes out the people, Moses says “The Egyptians will hear of it…” and conclude that the LORD was not able to bring the people into the promised land.  The Egyptians will then tell it to the nations, who heard of God’s mighty deeds in Egypt. So Moses’ case is built on the premise that God’s reputation will suffer internationally if he wipes out the people. Moses then appeals to God’s character (14:18), repeating the Lord’s own words from (Exodus 34:6-7, cf. Exodus 20:6).

Moses’ appeal was successful.  The Lord said, “I have pardoned them according to your word.” Then follows this great “all nations” affirmation: “Indeed as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord“ (Num. 14:21).  This affirmation is picked up by the psalmists (Ps 72:19 – And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen) and the prophets (Hab 2:14 “For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea.” Cf. Isaiah 11:9).

God assures Moses, not only would his reputation be upheld, but his fame would spread through all the earth.

Again, the “all nations” theme “flies under the radar” for 400 years during the days of Joshua the time of the Judges –  the emphasis here being  upon the possession of the Promised Land.

David

It is not until the time of David that we see once again accent placed on God’s desire to be known, worshiped and obeyed by all peoples. This theme is evident in the Psalms attributed to David.

Ps 9:11 Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion; Declare among the peoples His deeds.

Ps 22:27,28 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations will worship before You.  For the kingdom is the LORD’S And He rules over the nations.

Ps 86:9 All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name.

1 Chronicles 16 is set within the occasion of David bringing the tabernacle into Jerusalem. The worship liturgy for this great event draws heavily upon Psalms 105, 96 and 106 and highlights the “all nations“ theme:

1 Chr 16:8 Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples.

1 Chr 16:23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.

1 Chr 16:24 Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.

1 Chr 16:28 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

1 Chr 16:30 Tremble before Him, all the earth;

1 Chr 16:31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; And let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.”

1 Chr 16:33 He is coming to judge the earth.

Solomon – The Dedication of the Temple

At the dedication of the temple, Solomon recognized God’s purpose to be known and worshiped by the nations.

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name–for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched armwhen he comes and prays toward this temple,  then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.” (1Kings 8:41-43)

Other Psalms

A number of Psalms, not attributed to David, show that the people of Israel understood God’s desire to be known, loved, worshiped and obeyed by all nations.

Ps 67:1-2 God be gracious to us and bless us, And} cause His face to shine upon us That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations.

Ps 67:3 Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You.

Ps 67:4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For You will judge the peoples with uprightness and guide the nations on the earth

Ps 96:2 Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.

Ps 96:3 Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.

Ps 96:7 ¶ Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Ps 96:8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name; Bring an offering and come into His courts.

Ps 96:9 Worship the LORD in holy attire; Tremble before Him, all the earth.

Ps 96:10 Say among the nations,The LORD reigns; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity.”

Ps 105:1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples.

Psalms 2 and 72, two messianic Psalms, also deserve mention because they emphasize God’s rule over the nations through his regent.

The Prophets

God’s desire to be known, loved, worshiped and obeyed by all peoples is a reoccurring theme in the prophets. Here are several examples.

Isaiah

Isa 2:2  In the last days the mountain of the LORD’S temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.

Isa 42:6-7 “I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.

Isa 45:22-24 “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.’” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.

Isa 49:6 he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

Isa 52:10 The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.

Isa 52:14-15 Just as there were many who were appalled at him–his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness– so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Is 56:6-7  “Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath And holds fast My covenant; these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Daniel

The prophet Daniel is interesting in that through his testimony, God came to be known and praised by the rulers of Babylon and the Media-Persian Empires. It is interesting that chapters 2 through 7 of Daniel are written in Aramaic, the “language of circulation” in the Babylonian Empire, so that God’s deeds could be known by the peoples in the empire. In particular, there are two messianic passages in chapter 7 that explicitly evidence God’s purpose to be known, worshiped and obeyed by all peoples.

Dan 7:13-14  “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Dan 7:27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

The Minor Prophets

The entire book of Jonah highlights God’s desire to be known, worshiped and obeyed by the Assyrians in a poignant way.

This theme is evident in the other Minor Prophets as well. For example:

Micah 5:2-5a “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.

Hab 2:14 “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea.

The post-exilic prophet Zechariah highlights the future reign of God and the fact that this will be a time when all nations come to Jerusalem to worship.

Zech 2:11 “Many nations will join themselves to the LORD in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.

Zech 8:20-23  “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘{It will} yet {be} that peoples will come, even the inhabitants of many cities. ‘The inhabitants of one will go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts; I will also go.” ‘So many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.’ “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

Zech 14:9  And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be {the only} one, and His name {the only} one.

Zech 14:16  Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.

The final prophet, Malachi, also draws attention to God’s desire to be known, worshiped and obeyed by all peoples.

Mal 1:11 My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.

Following Malachi there are “400 years of silence” until the birth of Christ. But God’s missional purpose is being worked out, especially in the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecies related to the Persian, Greek and Roman empires.  Much that happened in this period of time prepared the world to receive the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

In the next posting, I will look at how the missional theme runs through the New Testament.

To be continued…

Advertisements

Lessons from One of the World’s Fastest Growing Churches: The Deeper Life Movement in Nigeria

s-PASTOR-WILLIAM-KUMUYI_medPastor William F. Kumuyi from Lagos, Nigeria is the pastor of one of the world’s largest and fastest growing churches. Pastor Kumuyi is the founder and General Secretary of the Deeper Life Bible Churches. His church in Lagos has 120,000 members, making it one of the five largest churches in the world.  In less than 25 years the Deeper Life movement has grown dramatically to include 5,000 other churches throughout Nigeria, and 3,000 churches outside of Nigeria.  The membership of the Deeper Life churches in Nigeria is estimated to be 1,000,000.  Deeper Life also has started churches in 40 African nations, Europe and North America. In April 2013, Kumuyi was listed as one of the “500 most powerful people on the planet” and Deeper Christian Life Ministry was considered “the world’s largest megachurch” by the Foreign Policy Magazine.

Pastor Kumuyi was in Romania in 2005 for a series of evangelistic meetings and pastors’ seminars, which provided me an opportunity to discover some of the factors that contributed to the growth of the Deeper Life movement. In the pastors’ seminar, Kumuyi emphasized that there are biblical principles of church growth that apply to every culture, every church.  However the practical application of these biblical principles varies from country to country.  So not all the practices of the Deeper Life church in Nigeria may be appropriate for your context.  But we wish to discover the biblical principles that apply to church growth.  So we must ask, what biblical principles lay behind this phenomenal growth that can be applied universally?

Factors contributing to the growth of the deeper life movement

1. Relevant preaching for personal holiness

In 1973 William Kumuyi, who was a mathematics professor at the University of Lagos, began a Bible study group in his apartment with 15 students. Kumuyi’s Bible teaching emphasized practical Christian living and personal holiness.  The Bible study grew, and by 1975 loudspeakers were set up outside for the 500 people who gathered each Monday at Kumuyi’s apartment.  The movement continued to grow. Thus the number of students involved in Bible studies grew to 5,000 in less than a decade.  At first students attended the Bible study groups in addition to their regular activities in their own churches.  Then in 1982 Kumuyi was encouraged to start a church because participants in the Deeper Life student groups were not finding spiritual nurture in their churches. Moreover, some of the existing churches opposed the student’s efforts to revive the church.

British journalist Alan Isaacson, reporting on the development of Deeper Life, says, “The history of Deeper Life is very much the personal story of W.F. Kumuyi. He is a gifted man, clear thinking and humble. He is a dedicated Christian and deserves the title ‘the man of God,’ which his followers have given him. Since he was a young man, Kumuyi has devoted his time to reading and studying the Bible. He knows the Scriptures inside out, and has struggled to understand and apply them. As he shares that struggle and his love for the word of God, so people have been drawn to him for advice, or simply to listen. When he preaches, his message is clear, simple, and profound. Poor street traders who can barely read sit next to university professors, all equally captivated by the way Scripture becomes suddenly relevant to them.”

The practical teaching of God’s word results in the transformed lives of the members of Deeper Life.  Kumuyi calls Deeper Life members to live holy lives in public and in private.  An example would be the impact of application of the biblical teaching on restitution.  Corruption and stealing are prevalent practices in Nigeria.  So when church members, practicing the biblical teaching on restitution, return stolen items to their employers or pay for stolen goods, this captures the employers’ attention.  Now companies send their job open descriptions to the church because they want to hire honest people.  They know that Deeper Life members are people of integrity, trustworthy, not given to corruption.  Thus we see how relevant, clear Bible teaching and application leads to life transformation.

2. Evangelism and church growth: if you go, you will grow!

Evangelism and church growth are essential parts of Deeper Life Bible Church.  From the beginning of the University work, Kumuyi stressed that you come to Christ in order to go for Christ. You come so you can go.  You receive so that you can give to another. “We taught evangelism to everyone” relates Kumuyi.  “Many came to the Lord. We evangelized everywhere.”

Kumuyi spoke to pastors in Bucharest on Matthew 28:18-19, “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have taught you.”  This passage talks about what the church should be doing at this time. These commands here are valid for every church in every age. Go! Make disciples! Baptize! Teach!  A command is different from a suggestion or an opinion.  Jesus did not say we are to obey these commandments if our economy permits, or if the climate is good, or it fits the program of our denomination. The Lord has not given us a choice. The reason we exist is to obey the Lord. In this way the Lord gave the whole gospel to the whole church to go to the whole world.

Kumuyi places great emphasis on the command “go.” The word “go”, says Kumuyi, is a verb, a word of action.  Obeying the command “go” involves a purposeful action. Many people are very active, but have no purpose.  We must be clear about our purpose in going. “Go” also implies a well-planned action. If you are going somewhere, you must plan.  If you are going to evangelize the peoples of the earth, you need to know how many there are, where they are, what language they speak and how to communicate effectively the biblical message. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  “Go” is also a productive action. Jesus expected results that the disciples would baptize converts and make disciples.  Jesus expects us to be productive in our activity.  Finally, “go” is a prepared action. “Coming to church is great,” comments Kumuyi. “Seminary is great.  But both are preparation to go.”

Kumuyi related how the command to “go” took on different meanings during the growth of Deeper Life movement.  At first, they went to individuals.  Then the Lord directed them, “Now you need to go to other cities.” In the mid 1970’s members began moving moved to other cities and found employment.  They began to evangelize and teach and started Deeper Life fellowships. They targeted regional capitals, then district capitals, towns and at last villages. Thus churches were started all over Nigeria.  Then the Lord directed them: “Go to other nations.”  Again members relocated in other nations and began the work of evangelism and church planting in other African and European nations. Kumuyi himself led the way by going to other cities and countries on the weekends while he was still a mathematics professor.

Kumuyi observed that some churches think only about the growth of their local church.  They do not think about going out to start new churches in other areas.  Obedience to our Lord’s command demands that we go out and start new churches in unchurched regions and among unreached peoples.

In speaking to a group of Pastors under his leadership, Kumuyi said: “Our emphasis should be on the practical side of going out. If the Lord comes, let him meet us working for him. Now every time I preach I try to mention evangelism. I have told all the Lagos District Coordinators and Zonal Leaders to spend half their time on evangelism and only half their time on their members. There will always be problems in the church: don’t let them take up all your time.”

Church growth begins with obeying the command “go”.  “If you go, you will grow,” concludes Kumuyi.  God will see to it. Going will bring growth in the church.  We cannot grow unless we go. This is the secret of church growth in Nigeria.”

3. Leadership training: you are born to reproduce!

 Ike Nwaobasi, a missionary planting Deeper Life churches in Austria, observes: “Deeper life has succeeded because Pastor Kumuyi has succeeded in reproducing himself in others.” In Bucharest, Pastor Kumuyi spoke about leadership training that results in reproduction.  “You were born to reproduce.  What the disciples received, they were to give to others. So we build up converts to become leaders. Baby boys become fathers.  Little girls become mothers. The purpose of the training is reproduction.”

Because reproduction is important to the Deeper Life movement, every person is trained to reproduce from the beginning.  Every person is trained to do the work of evangelism.  After three months new converts begin training to become leaders.  All cell group leaders receive weekly training.  There is also specialized training for top leadership.  Books, cassettes and video supplement face-to-face teaching.  “Every church that wants to grow,” says Nwoabasi, “must take leadership training seriously.”

Training for reproduction involves much more than the transfer of head-knowledge. Deeper Life involves people in a practical training process that not only transfers to them head knowledge, but also helps them develop and master practical ministry skills.  Jesus used such a process in training the disciples. This process begins with conversionInstruction immediately follows. Next a demonstration of the skill is given. Jesus did not just give the disciples theory about out to preach the gospel, to heal the sick and cast out demons; he showed them how.  Instruction provides the theory of why something works.  Demonstration provides a living example of the practical outworking of the theory. In training people today, instruction is important; but demonstration is essential.  Next trainees must be given opportunities to practice what they have learned and have seen.  Kumuyi observes that anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly — at first.  When we first start to do anything we make mistakes.  This is true with walking, talking, reading, writing, evangelizing or preaching.  No one who does something important does it perfectly the first time. Some say, “I’m afraid I will make a mistake” “If you don’t make mistakes,” responds Kumuyi, “you will never do anything.  Start practicing and perfection will come.”  For people to have opportunities to practice, leaders must delegate tasks to people. This process of training also involves supervision and correction as needed until the skill is mastered.  The training process is complete when the person trained is reproduces his or herself in others. Thus the training process involves conversion, instruction, demonstration, practice, delegation, supervision, and correction resulting in reproduction.

The purpose of training is reproduction.  Jesus commands us to make disciples who, in turn, will make more disciples. The leader must say to his followers, “The work I do, you will do.”  Then he must involve his followers in a training process that will lead to reproductive. “Do not let this process die,” Kumuyi challenges. “Go take the Gospel to every creature.”

4. The role of prayer and miracles in church growth

Kumuyi emphasizes the importance of prayer in the growth of the Deeper Life Bible Church. God is the one who gives growth to the church.  Therefore prayer to God on behalf of the growth of the church is vital. The early church was a praying, believing church.  A survey of the Book of Acts shows how prayer permeated the life of the church.  The church was born in prayer. This brought the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective witnesses. The church was devoted to prayer and so God added daily to the number being saved (2:42, 47). Great power was given to the apostles to proclaim the word of God with boldness. The promised signs, wonders and miracles manifest. With these God confirmed the Word the apostles preached (chapter 4).  Our God has not changed. God has given us many promises about prayer. What God promises, he does. When we come together as a believing church we will not be disappointed. Prayer is the key. Prayer is the solution for every problem: marriage, family, financial, spiritual, physical or national. Prayer gives us power to go and preach.  Prayer can open any door.  We must give ourselves to prayer because if we do, we will actually be able to resemble the early church. A praying church is awesome in the hand of God. God still answers prayers today, and He works with believing churches as He worked with the early church. Prayer unleashes the power of God that grows the church.

Pastor Kumuyi’s humbly adds that “The miraculous has given us a great opening.”  “God, in the growth of Deeper Life Bible Church, has strategically and prudently used miracles to ‘make all men come to Him.”

As an example of how healings and miracles have opened doors, Kumuyi tells about a village that was resistant to the preaching of the gospel because people were unwilling to renounce the idols they worshipped.  The villagers would not allow evangelists to enter the city.  Several people from this village traveled to the city church and took with them a paralyzed woman.  She was prayed for but not healed.  She, along with others from the village, returned home in the back of a truck.  Back in the village, after everyone else had gotten down from the truck, this woman felt that her hands and her feet were well.  She rose up and began to walk. No one needed to help her get down from this truck.  Everyone in the village was awe struck at this miracle. In fact, the entire village celebrated this miracle for two days.  Following this the villagers called for the evangelists to come. This woman’s healing opened the door for the work in this village.

5. Meeting in the temple and from house to house: functional structures for pastoral care

Following the pattern of the early church, members of Deeper Life receive teaching in both large group meetings and cell groups that meet in people’s homes (Acts 2:46). The Deeper Life church in Lagos has over 8,000 (?) cell groups that meet in people’s homes.

Deeper Life Bible Church uses a leadership structure patterned after Exodus 18 to coordinate supervise the cell group ministry. In Exodus 18, Moses was encouraged by his father in law Jethro to appoint leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.  Lagos is a city of 13 million people, and Deeper Life has members are all over the city.  Therefore the city is divided into districts and further subdivided into zones. Each district has a coordinator who supervises the work in the zones. Every zone has a coordinator who supervises work of the cell groups and their leaders in that area.

Large group meetings are held on Sunday mornings.  The central church building seats 12,500 people plus there is a separate church for children.  Because seating is limited in the central church, each district takes turns coming to the central church once a month.  Other Sundays the coordinating pastor teaches members in their district or zone.  Because not everyone who attends the central church understands English, the sermon is simultaneously translated into several different languages.  Each language group sits in a separate section so that they can hear the message in their own language.

Sunday evenings, Deeper Life members meet in cell groups in homes.  Each cell consists of 12 to 15 people.  There are groups for children, youth and adults. Outlines are prepared for groups so that everyone receives consistent Bible teaching. There is much pastoral care given through the cell system. Issues that cannot be resolved by the cell group leader can be referred to the zonal or district leader.  Kumuyi comments, “Although we are large, cell leaders keep track of who comes and who is absent.” The cell leader has many responsibilities.  He or she cares for those in the group, prays for them, counsels them, visits them, discovers their talents, and helps the group evangelize.  Many new converts enter the life of the church through the outreach of the cell groups.

One zonal leader in Lagos tells how he was assigned a zone in which there was not a single member of Deeper Life.  He prayed and visited people.  He sent a letter to every home offering to begin a Bible study fellowship in people’s homes.  Initially only three families opened their homes to begin a fellowship. This was in 1993.  These families invited family, neighbors and friends to the home Bible studies.  In a short while these Bible studies had enough participants to begin meeting on Sunday mornings for worship and teaching as a large group. By 1996 the number of Deeper Life members in this zone grew to 250 people and continues to grow.

This same balanced approach between large meetings for worship and teaching, and small meetings in homes are used in the other churches that are part of the Deeper Life movement.

What can we learn from the Deeper Life Church? 

We see that the Deeper Life movement strives to discover and apply the biblical principles that lead to church growth.  They do not use complicated, expensive programs. These brothers and sisters have a simple faith in God, accept the Bible as the authoritative word of God, and follow Christ in obedience.  God has blessed the Deeper Life movement because they have taken God’s word seriously and have put it into practice. They are a people God can use to accomplish his purposes on the earth.

There is nothing that they are doing in Nigeria that cannot be done elsewhere. Many in the world are much wealthier than the average Nigerian (GDP in 2102 was $2800, 180th in the world), so finances are not an excuse.  The Deeper Life Movement began very modestly and simply; many churches around the world have far more resources than Pastor Kumuyi had when he started.  Let us pray that God would bless us and build his church elsewhere as dramatically as He has done in Africa!

Points to ponder:

The following questions are designed to help you think through how to apply the above mentioned principles to your church and your ministry.

  1. Does the Bible teaching in your church promote practical Christian living and personal holiness?
  2. How much time do leaders in your church spend “going out”? How much time on caring for the church members?
  3. Is every person in your church involved in actively sharing the Gospel? What would need to happen for this to be true?
  4. Is your church intentionally obeying the command to go, evangelizing and planting churches in church-less locations and unreached people groups?
  5. Does your church plan and prepare people to obey the commands of God?
  6. Does your church take leadership development seriously?  Is a process in place for training new leaders?
  7. How important is prayer to the ministry of your church? What signs are visible in your church that God answers prayer? How would the ministry of your church change if God did not answer prayer?
  8. What would do you consider would be the advantages of doing evangelism and providing pastoral care though small groups?
  9. Do you believe God can use your church to accomplish his purposes on the earth?
  10. What other biblical principles for church growth can you identify?  How can these be applied in your church?

Our Abundant Resources to do God’s Work: Funding the Great Commission (4)

As our team began to develop our mission work in Romania, we often heard this excuse from Christian workers “Nu avem, de aceea nu putem.” There is a lot packed into this phrase, so let me provide a dynamic equivalent translation.  “Because we don’t have the stuff we think we need to do God’s work, we are excused from the responsibility to participate in God’s mission.”  I’ve since discovered that this kind of thinking shared by many other believers in Jesus Christ. And to be honest, I sometimes  find myself in that group more often than I would like to admit.

After hearing this excuse all too many times, a colleague of mine began teaching about the abundant resources that we have to do God’s work in order to challenge this “poverty mentality”. Since it is never hurts to remind ourselves of the unfathomable riches we have in Christ, here are the primary resources God has given us to do Great Commission work.

Our first and greatest resource is God. What seems impossible with us is possible with God Almighty (Mark 10:27). He is Jehovah Jirah, our provider (Gen 22:14), able to supply all of our needs (Phil 4:19).  Jesus, who is at the right hand of God, intercedes for us (Rom. 8:34), gives the Spirit without measure (John 3:34), and he builds his Church (Matt. 16:18). The Holy Spirit gifts and empowers us for service (Acts 1:8) and guides us into all truth (John 16:13).

A second resource is the Word of God.  God has given many wonderful promises to make us adequate for the work. (2 Peter 1:4-8; 2 Cor. 1:20; Psalm 34:10) A promise that I committed to memory early in my discipleship journey reminds me of this fact: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant” (2 Cor. 3:5-6). Another great promise is Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

A third resource is prayer.  In answer to believing prayer (Mark 11:24) doors are opened (Col. 4:3) – quite literally in the case of Peter (Acts 12:5f) and Paul (Acts 16:25,26) – workers are sent forth (Matt. 9:38), the Gospel spreads rapidly (2 Thes. 3:1) and needed resources are provided (Matt. 6:33 ). Because of this, not only do we devote ourselves to prayer, but we invite others to faithfully pray for God’s work. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

A fourth resource represents our front line co-workers.  God has gifted each believer with spiritual gifts to God good works (Eph. 2:10). Our diverse abilities and giftings work together for God’s glory  (1 Cor. 12; 1 Peter 4:10,11). Combining our diverse experiences, gifting and abilities, we have a greater return for our labor (Eccl. 4:9). Godly and effective workers automatically emerge from the baptismal waters. They have to be equipped for doing good works (Ephesians 4:11-12; Timothy 3:16,17).

Finally, our supporters are a fifth, valued resource. These godly men and women faithfully uphold the work in prayer (1 Thes. 5:25) and give financially (Luke 8:3; Phil. 1:3-5; 4:15-18; 2 Cor. 11:8).  Christian workers cannot go make disciples if they are not sent. (Rom. 10:15).  So those who send are a vital part of Great Commission work. In fact, those who send are as much co workers for the truth as those on the front line (3 John 8).

All these resources, promised and freely given to us by God, should be adequate to “disciple all nations.”

Why then has the Great Commission task not been completed, if the resources are adequate? 

Perhaps the answer lies in our failure to properly utilize the resources God has given us.

Perhaps we’ve come to believe that material “stuff” is essential to do God’s work – stuff that the Apostles did not have  – Peter did say” silver and gold have I none” (Acts 3:6)– and that the “stuff” that the Apostles considered essential to do God’s work, we don’t have- for example it was said of Stephen (Acts 6:5) and Barnabas (11:24) that they were “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.”

Or perhaps we ourselves have become lukewarm, thinking that we are rich but in reality spiritually poor, lax in prayer, doubtful of God’s promises, or have majored on minors while neglecting to make disciples who are passionate about realizing God’s purpose in the world – thus leaving us without the co-workers, prayer and financial means necessary to complete the work. But this need not be.

Not all Christian workers in Romania share the poverty mentality I mentioned in the first paragraph. I’ve heard numerous stories of how Romanians in the interbellic period (between WWI and WWII) and in the Communist era and up to the present have followed God’s command to preach the Gospel —  even though they had little. They traveled from village to village by bicycle, by horse and wagon or on foot to share the good news.  As a result, today there are more evangelicals in Romania than the rest of the countries in Eastern Europe combined.  Their example should inspire us. They may have lacked much of what we consider essential today –salaries, automobiles, cell phones, cameras, computers , church buildings– but what they did have, zeal for the Lord, made up for any lack.

Their example – and the example of those from around the world who are “full of faith and the Holy Spirit”– challenges my own poverty mentality and also challenges me to fully use all the resources God has provided for Great Commission work.

Your Turn

What’s your “take” on why the Great Commission task has not been completed, if the resources are adequate? More importantly, how well are you putting to work the resources God has promised and provide for you?

The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, November 3

This Sunday, November 3, is the. International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Persecution in the headlines

In recent weeks the persecution – and martyrdom – of Christians in Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Kenya, Syria — to name a few countries – has made the headlines. For every case that makes the news, there are tens that do not.  Even in the USA there seems to be a growing incidence of cases where the ability for Christians to freely practice their faith is meeting with opposition from both the government and secular groups. Almost 75% of the world’s population lives in countries with sever religious restrictions, according to the Pew Foundation.

Whether or not your church chooses to “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Heb 13:3), you can make the persecuted the focus of your personal prayers, not only on November 3, but at all times. www.Persecution.com and www.worldwatchlist.us/ are two excellent sites with information about the international scene.

The 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted

Persection

Biblical basis to pray for those who persecute and the persecuted. 

Jesus directs us to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Paul enjoins us to pray “or kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

It seems fitting to also pray that those who suffer because they are Christians will respond to perpetrators in Jesus’ way: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27,28). Indeed may believers – including us – use these occasion to boldly witness to our faith in Jesus Christ, as did the early Church and ever since.

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always {being} ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. 1 Peter 3:14-17