By Mike Schrage
Since we often hear the bad news in the world, I think we’re all entitled to a bit of good news, don’t you agree? Jesus Christ didn’t just bring good news—he is good news! I have the privilege of leading an organization that my father-in-law, Ziden Nutt, founded 40 years ago called Good News Productions, International. Fitting name. We work with international Christian leaders and missionaries by training them to produce the media they need in order to accelerate global evangelism. GNPI’s passion is to move people from seekers to disciples with the help of culturally relevant media. The combination of disciple making and technology can make a difference in our world today.
Did you know that Jesus summed up his entire vision, message, and purpose in 61 words? Look at what he said as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20. There were 272 words in President Lincoln’s phenomenal Gettysburg Address, which many scholars cite as a remarkable discourse considering the historic moment he addressed; yet Jesus summed up his global and eternal purpose statement in just 61 words.
Messy—But Everyone Is Qualified
As a missionary in Kenya for almost 20 years, beginning in 1984, I was passionate about evangelism. Later my colleagues and I focused our emphasis on church planting, which then matured into leadership training. However, during my final years in Kenya, I was excited about helping Christian leaders in their marriages. Why? Because baptizing people does not guarantee they stick in the kingdom. Starting churches doesn’t necessarily mobilize members to participate in evangelism. Helping leaders mature doesn’t ensure that the churches they lead are going to multiply. There are some potential gaps to address. Yet true followers with strong marriages have a great foundation and develop into effective disciples of Jesus; they are naturally evangelistic and they make disciples who start churches as they mature in Christ.
As a result, there are two principles I learned in Kenya. First, disciple making is messy because there is life before birth. Choirs may include kids who are wearing charms blessed by a local witch doctor. Drunks who have hit rock bottom may be very genuine about seeking God, while also being very disruptive at a worship service. Preachers proudly wear beer company shirts because it is the only good button-down shirt they own. Polygamists might be our best disciple makers, yet they will not qualify as church elders. Making disciples is messy!
The second principle I learned is that the best and most qualified disciple maker is most often a common person, instead of someone with an education or a religious title. Jesus himself chose fishermen, people with anger issues, and even a cheating accountant to be his apostles. Once they understood Jesus would suffer and die for us all, they did the heavy lifting of disciple making and risked everything. It is the same today. Normal people who are only one step ahead are qualified to mentor other disciples. No one has arrived spiritually, and everyone is qualified in the vision statement of Jesus.
Investing in a Few
The theme of ICOM 2016 this week is Mobilize: Disciples Making Disciples. Practitioners from around the world will tell us stories about what God is doing through ordinary people. I like what Dann Spader, author of books on discipleship, said in a recent seminar: “The mission of Jesus was not to reach the world; it was about making disciples who could reach the world.”
Jesus had the power to reach everyone, but limiting himself as a man during his time on earth, he did not reach those who would be born after the cross, like you and me. Instead, he chose to invest in a few, which was the genius of his plan, and those few would win others. This brought into play what I call the exponential capacity of disciple making as well as the generational elasticity of disciple making. The process Jesus instituted offers growth, like compounding interest, and permeates every new generation!
The disciple making process of Jesus works. For example, our team in Kenya had the opportunity to pour into the lives of Kennedy Obura and David Bikokwa. Kennedy was a Kenyan farmer turned Christian elder. He obeyed the call for missionaries in South Sudan, and now, after 11 years, Kennedy leads mission work in that difficult area. David was a young Bible college student who preached and later joined Kennedy in South Sudan. Today David is one of two administrators of an orphanage. These two men are doing God’s work in two different countries. Both are reaching and discipling people decades after my interactions with them in Kenya.
Technology + Workers
Technology combined with disciple making is having an impact today. The Internet is the Roman Road and Gutenberg printing press of our day. Just as roads provided access for the gospel to spread through more rapid travel, and books transported ideas through the printed page, now the Internet sends it digitally. Today we can share a message instantaneously, cost effectively, and globally with clicks, shares, and comments.
Global Media Outreach has almost 9,000 online missionaries. YouVersion’s Bible App at just eight years old has 225 million downloads and now holds more data about Christians scattered around the world than any other group on the planet! Meanwhile, the Jesus film is an influential piece of media used worldwide.
Few countries or dictators can stop every form of digital information from permeating their country. China blocked Facebook, but something similar called WeChat has taken China by storm. (WeChat has 700 million subscribers compared to Facebook’s 1.6 billion users.)
With technology we can deliver New Testaments free of charge to Muslims in closed countries during Ramadan, chat about the caste system in real time with Hindus living in fundamentally dangerous areas, and send relevant video links to Buddhists in Laos—all from the sanctuary of our home or office. Technology is a game changer in disciple making, but it is still a process that requires a relationship. The purpose of media is to find the convertible—not to convert. As a Christian worker and friend in a closed country recently said, “Media helps us to identify the people God is already working on spiritually right now.” Technology increases safety and may offer higher returns, but it is only effective when implemented in conjunction with a worker. After using media as a filter, the seeker who meets with a worker is more likely to be sincere and closer to making a decision.
Believe in the Plan
While we worry about displacement, violence, and persecution around the world, “Muslim authorities in Indonesia are warning that two million Muslims in their country convert to Christianity every year. At this rate, the world’s largest Muslim nation will be mostly Christian by 2035. Over six million Muslims in Africa convert to Christianity every year. More Muslims around the world have become Christians in the last 15 years than in the previous 15 centuries,” reported writer Jim Denison. How did this happen? It was through disciple making movements, and that is good news!
The goal is not size. The goal is Jesus. However, when the goal is Jesus, the size is big! As one preacher put it, “It is direction, not intention, that leads to destination.” So what is our direction? Will we take the 61-word vision statement of Jesus personally? Are we convinced that “greater is he who lives in me than he who is in the world?” Do we believe the plan God has for our lives is to become like Jesus and invite others to do the same? David Garrison, former missionary and author, said, “We are all part of something we can’t do!” He’s right because it is God who works through us.
Dr. Martin Luther King said, “It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people . . . but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, ‘Wait on time.’” Let’s not sit in pews while the world waits for a friend. Let’s not ask what we can do when God has given us technology to use at our fingertips. Let’s not say we cannot go when God has brought the world to our own doorstep. Let’s make disciples who make disciples.
Mike Schrage is the executive director of GNPI (gnpi.org), a global ministry accelerating evangelism through media and technology. He is also the president of ICOM 2016.