Our Modus Operandi: Full-Circle Discipleship
Acts 14:21-23 (ESV)
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,
22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
But I’m telling the end of the story before its beginning. It begins in Acts 13:1.
The church in Antioch became part of a pivotal moment in early church history. They were pioneers… the Holy Spirit directed them in this unprecedented, organized evangelistic endeavor. It became known as the first of Paul’s three missionary journeys.
It’s a church planter’s manual… a living example of evangelism, discipleship and leadership training integrated into one seamless package, lived out in flesh and blood, in real-world, living color. It opens with a gathering of believers—i.e., the church at Antioch— “ministering to the Lord” (there’s a sermon title). It closes with local assemblies of believers pressing on with the same passion and vision Paul and company had left them with.
I’ve called it full-circle discipleship… going from zero to autonomous. You arrive in a new place with nothing except Jesus and his message in your heart… you leave behind a church—probably small by American standards today—but comprised of people who love Jesus and who risk their all to share his message with others.
Just as it’s supposed to be… just as they had seen in their own mentor, the Apostle Paul.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8, ESV)
Without this vision and activity, kingdom work will stagnate and whither from within. Without new pioneers, there will be no new churches. Without leading by example and challenging the next generation to live for the kingdom of God, the dearth of new pioneers will persist.
I can’t think of any place, near or far, that would not benefit from a new, fresh start popping up in their neighborhood… a Bible study and prayer group with a twist—a commonly held dream and conviction… “We want to grow up to be a church.” That one little twist radically alters the dynamic.
We ended up in Cancun by a circuitous route. That’s a story of its own. Cancun was a sleepy tourist town of 70,000 people on the Mexican Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula… a 1,500 mile drive from the US border town of McAllen, TX. It’s called the “turquoise coast” today. If you’ve ever seen it, you understand. It’s beautiful.
We’ve long since grown tired of jokes like, “Wow, if you live in Cancun, where do you go for a vacation?” My answer would usually be, “somewhere where I can see snow and stop sweating for a few minutes.”
Like most places, it was a tale of two cities. Our daughter was about 9 yrs old when she observed one day, “It’s organized. The poor people live on one side and the rich people on the other.” Sadly, it was easy to see how she came to that conclusion.
Interacting with people felt a little like living in a port where sailors and shipping crews came through. It was an environment of “anything goes.” I met people on their own, families left back home… we knew people on the run from the law in other parts of the country… we knew a few who were growing dope a couple of hours south of town. There is nothing idyllic about any place full of people without Jesus in their lives.
We also knew lots of honorable, hard working people trying make a way for themselves and their families. In other words, it was like most anywhere else in the world.
Our first attempt at starting a church was done in what I would call a traditional manner… at least in our American way of thinking. We rented a 15 x 15 ft. space on a street corner… $100.00 US per month. We discovered that our street was used on Sunday mornings by people walking or biking up to the open market a few blocks east of us.
The four of us showed up on Sunday mornings in our Chevy pickup with a camper shell. We rolled up the metal curtain on each side of our new meeting place and set up some rustic benches—if you know me, you understand “rustic” was already stretching my abilities for such things. Linda would start playing some hymns on her accordion and our two kids would hand out a flyer or a tract to people passing by.
We never had a Sunday with just the four of us. Sometimes a neighborhood kid or two… sometimes a curious adult stopping in on their way to or from the market. On the Sundays we had people and rain, Linda and the kids would pile into the back of the pickup—more rustic benches there too—for their Bible class.
I won’t try to whitewash how hard it was… that zero to automous thing took 12 years to happen. But when it did… what a victory! The downtown Cancun church was our first. It’s still pastored by the man who stepped in as pastor behind me. Let me tell you how much I love him and his wife and precious daughter.
I wouldn’t trade being a full-circle kind of kingdom worker for anything in the world.
Thank you for sharing the realities of missions, the grind and the grand. I look forward to reading more of your life experiences. What a joy to serve our Master, wherever He calls! Matthew 6:19-21