Updated: Sep 3, 2020
Photo Credit to Edgar Catrejon
I'm a mom of teenagers. One of my favourite and ridiculous pastimes is experimenting with their "hip" lingo within earshot.
As I try these new words, I’m consistently entertained by my teenagers’ responses. You should see the looks on their faces and hear the tone of their voices.
With sheer delight, I apply the words completely out of context, and in turn receive eye rolling and head shaking as frustration mixes with compassion and pity for their out of touch mother. While I get an A for effort, I make no sense.
In the area of disciple making, there is a frequently used term, which I’ve discovered has a specific definition and use. While it seems like a general explanation, the term Disciple Making Movement (DMM) is quite specific. I know when I first started using this term, I was relatively out of touch with its meaning. I’m left wondering how many people I’ve frustrated or confused with its incorrect usage.
According to the National Study on Disciple Making in USA Churches*, there is a lack of commonly understood definitions around disciple making. Consequently, we encounter confusion in the field. While no one person or group hold the official definition of DMM, there are several agreed upon characteristics within the Disciple Making/Church Planting community.
Before listing these characteristics, here’s an overview of the term’s origins.
DMM is a term birthed out of the Church Planting Movement (CPM). Many Church planting Ministries around the world, have made a common discovery. Planting churches doesn’t guarantee making disciples. Making disciples who make disciples, however, consistently leads to planting churches.
Jesus didn’t ask us or command us to plant churches. Matthew 16:18 is regularly quoted within the DMM community as a reminder that Jesus assumes the responsibility of building the church:
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (NIV)
On the other hand, we are commanded to embrace the work of making disciples who make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
As a result, many CPMs now identify with the more accurate term of DMM.
While there are many opinions on what a true DMM must include, here are the characteristics consistently mentioned.
1) Obediently following Jesus
As already discussed in my article on Obedience Based Disciple Making, DMMs see obedience to Christ in all things, as priority. Correspondingly, the focus on obedience is greater than the attempt to gain knowledge.
Instead of adding new members to existing groups, DMMs grow by encouraging, the training and release of individuals to start new groups with friends and family. This creates room for growth, as well as opportunities for individuals to learn leadership and disciple making in small increments. To be classified as a “Movement”, the network, must consist of at least four generations. Until we see the third generation actively making disciples, the DMM community will not classify it as such. All movements must start somewhere. The early work is necessary and important. However, until the fourth generation begins, we don’t see the fruit of a movement. Where does this four generations understanding come from? Anecdotally, we observe a shift within multiple movements at the "birth" of the fourth generation. But, it shouldn’t surprise us that Scripture also alludes to four generations. In 2 Tim 1:5, Paul refers to three generations. Timothy’s grandmother Lois, his mother Eunice and Timothy. Later, in 2 Tim 2:2 Paul refers to the fourth generation when he urges Timothy to teach others.
Regardless of whether this is a group on western soil, or a land across the seas, DMMs are groups that are led by locals. The power of Ephesians 4:11-12 is being witnessed in DMMs, as those further along in the journey, equip and release the local laity within a community. We see momentous impact when all believers are equipped to engage in the ministry of making disciples who make disciples.
4) Growing Rapidly - after a season of patient perseverance
While the initial years (in some cases as many as six years) of a DMM require significant perseverance and willingness to “fail” quickly, eventually they experience rapid multiplication. Don’t be deceived. This isn’t a quick fix method that leads to immediate results. However, one of the marks of a DMM is rapid growth.
5) Reaching those who don’t identify with Jesus
While many discipling ministries in North America focus on the maturity of people who already identify as followers of Jesus, DMMs disciple people both towards regeneration, and a life of maturity. The methods used to lead someone to Jesus, are the same ones applied to transform someone to become more like Jesus. Disciples don’t have to change language or gain a whole new set of knowledge before they can disciple. During a disciple’s journey towards faith, they are formed in the culture of disciple making. Therefore, it isn’t long before they too are discipling others. This results in a flexible, agile, and easily transferable movement.
DMMs are part of a powerful move of God’s Kingdom around the world. Jesus is bringing hundreds of thousands of people into His family through the faithful obedience of everyday believers. I’m humbled and excited by the lessons we are learning from faith filled followers as they make disciples.
Obviously, my personal effectiveness in making disciples is not contingent on whether I use a term correctly. In fact, I could have a “perfect” definition and never make a single disciple. However, as I learn more about DMMs, I’m excited to innovate and experiment with this newfound understanding. Like my clumsy conversations with my teenagers, I still get mixed up from time to time. And that’s okay. I’m grateful for God’s grace! I won’t let the risk of looking awkward, clumsy, or misinformed stop me from experimenting - with disciple making, or proficiency in the latest teenage vernacular (sorry kids)!
* A study on the effectiveness of the American Church in making disciples, created through the partnership of Exponential, Discipleship.org and Grey Matter.