by Galen Burkholder
Listening to the dreams and aspirations of African, Asian, and Latin American church leaders from 1984 to 1996 changed my perspective on how to best fulfill the mission Jesus entrusted to us.
Listening to the dreams and aspirations of African, Asian, and Latin American church leaders from 1984 to 1996 changed my perspective on how to best fulfill the mission Jesus entrusted to us. As I sat in their homes during my visits, conversation often turned to their hopes and longings. Repeatedly, they talked of their dreams in three areas:
• Multiplying disciples by equipping young leaders to go and make disciples
• Mobilizing workers from their churches to go as ambassadors of Christ into unreached areas
• Developing leaders in their own settings, rather than sending them abroad for education
Hearing these themes emerge over and over again created in me a desire to see these brothers and sisters released to fulfill their calling in global mission.
In 1996, Global Disciples was born with a focus on inviting God to purify our hearts so that we can serve shoulder to shoulder (Zeph. 3:9) with Majority World churches. Our first international meeting in January 1997 was a watershed experience. God broke us and the Holy Spirit knitted us together. Both senders and receivers repented of attitudes toward one another. Ethnic, national, and denominational pride and prejudices were confessed. Forgiveness flowed freely as we were united in Christ around a common vision.
One young national leader approached me after a devotional on John 17:20-23 and said, “I would die for you,” a tear slipping down his cheek. My response matched his words and emotion. We meant it. We still do.
As global disciples, we see our calling as washing the feet of Majority World church leaders being raised up by God to lead mission efforts to the two billion unevangelized people. Most of the leaders we serve are poor and uneducated by U.S. standards. But they are our heroes, co-workers, and friends.
Near Culture Mission
Our priority is to work with clusters of Majority World churches in close proximity geographically, culturally, linguistically, socio-economically, and educationally to people groups still unengaged with the good news. Workers from these churches are sent out with minimal cost after short-term, intensive preparation, using models we assisted them in developing.
These workers are supported by their congregations. Many have been trained, coached, and assisted in developing their own small business to support their families and provide access into difficult or previously resistant areas. The business gives a natural context for relationship building and provides a clear identity in the settings to which they are sent.
Global Disciples provides seed funds for the initial training and sending through contextualized discipleship/mission trainings that we assist in developing. We provide a cluster of churches with up to forty-nine percent of the cost for training and sending in their first year. The second year we provide thirty percent in seed funds. In the third year we provide fifteen percent of their training and sending cost. The length of these discipleship/mission trainings can be up to eighteen months, with at least two-thirds of that time spent in field experience.
More than 92% of 270 discipleship/mission training ministries we have helped to launch in the last 15 years are still functioning as locally sustainable ministries—or are in their first three years of development and on their way to local sustainability.
Serving Shoulder to Shoulder
Today, Global Disciples facilitates an alliance of 252 discipleship/mission ministries in 36 countries relating with 170 different groups or denominations. We helped launch the Global DISCIPLE Training (GDT) Alliance fifteen years ago when five discipleship/mission training leaders from three countries committed to:
• Take a day each month to fast and pray for each other
• Share freely any training materials they developed with others in the Alliance
• Give two percent or more of their discipleship/mission budget as seed funds to launch similar trainings
• Attend one of our Annual GDT Alliance Equipping Meetings each year
• Be mentored for three years, then mentor new directors
These same commitments are maintained as the number of discipleship/mission ministries we serve multiplies.
Global Disciples’ staff who serve the GDT Alliance are known as facilitators and live in their countries of origin. Most previously served as directors of discipleship/mission ministries which we helped develop. Facilitators generally serve between fifteen to forty clusters of churches and train the directors chosen by the cluster of churches, offer coaching, arrange mentoring, plan annual equipping events, and encourage directors with occasional visits.
Not only is the number of discipleship/mission ministries we serve multiplying, but so are the outcomes from their activity. In the last four years, the church planters and disciplemakers trained and sent have planted 2,492 new fellowships in least reached areas, in which 51,886 new followers of Jesus Christ now worship and are being discipled.
Training in the Way of Jesus
Our approach in training is shaped by values demonstrated by Jesus. It’s all about disciples knowing, obeying, and becoming like Jesus. When requests come for assistance, we ask, “Can you tell us about the method Jesus used to train his disciples?”
We see three basic aspects of Jesus’ ministry and training of his disciples: he taught, he did ministry, and he reflected with his disciples on what he/they had done. We use a very simple circle of praxis: teach—apply—reflect. It all revolves around the Living Word, made known in the Bible and by the work of the Holy Spirit, in the context of the body (with other disciples) through ministry. Prayer permeates every aspect of the training.
For too long we have assumed that discipleship happens when we fill people’s minds with biblical truth and knowledge. Training in the way of Jesus leads us to the realization that action and participation with the Holy Spirit in ministry will transform how people think and live. Jesus reminds us, “It is enough for the student to be like his teacher and the servant like his master” (Matt 10:25a).
Mission in the Way of Paul
With thousands of disciplemakers and church planters being equipped through locally sustainable trainings, we cannot ignore the question, “How will they be funded as they are sent out?” Again, we turn to the biblical text. Acts and the letters of the Apostle Paul serve as an excellent cross-cultural mission manual. Paul served in cross-cultural mission with a small, portable business. Sometimes he supported himself and his team (see Acts 20:32-35); other times he received offerings for their support.
Love offerings from sending congregations always encourage those who are sent and remind the sending group to pray. In the future, however, the primary income for many indigenous mission workers going to unreached areas will be from their small businesses.
Small businesses reflect a biblical perspective of work and give the church planter a viable, understandable identity among those to whom he or she goes, especially in areas historically hostile or resistant to the gospel.
As many Majority World leaders have reminded us, what has been modeled for them in the modern mission movement is simply not possible in much of the world. It is essential that the sacred-secular dichotomy sometimes reinforced by mission patterns of recent generations be dismantled so that the mission movement God is raising up can realize its full potential. It is time to pay attention to both the model and the words of the Apostle Paul.
In the last five years we have trained and helped 674 indigenous church planters launch their own small businesses. More than forty percent have succeeded in church planting in a least reached area and in supporting their families through their small business.
We begin with the very basic biblical question, “What do you have in your hand?” It was God’s question to Moses. It was the question Jesus had for his disciples as they stood before the hungry crowds. Jesus is always ready to begin with what he’s placed in our hands.
Global Disciples is committed to helping Majority World churches develop their leaders. Many church planters have demonstrated the potential to be leaders God uses to bring transformation to whole communities.
Our leadership development approach provides a part-time training alternative for developing leaders in the areas of character/integrity, leadership skills, and knowledge. We facilitate an alliance of 68 locally sustainable, reproducing leader development programs in 13 countries in which 1,741 people are being equipped as more Christ-like leaders.
As we continue to listen and learn, we have the privilege of seeing the dreams and aspirations of thousands of Majority World churches fulfilled—doing their part, so the world will know Jesus.
Galen Burkholder is international director of Global Disciples. Previously, he worked as discipleship ministries director with Eastern Mennonite Missions for twelve years. He has a MA in evangelism and church planting.
October 6: Discipleship and Mission Training in the Majority World: A Locally Sustainable and Multiplying Approach, Galen Burkholder, executive director (with Tefera Bekere)/international facilitator, Global Disciples
November 10: Conversion Research: The Future of Church Growth Research, Marten Visser, regional leader for Northeast Thailand, OMF International
Sandra Bunn-Livingstone, executive director, Jus Cogens
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