Disciple Making Movements Part 3: Recent concerns
Posted on: 30th September 2022
David Williams is the CMS Director of Training and Development at St Andrew’s Hall. In this third article in a five-part series exploring ‘Disciple Making Movements’ or DMM, David notes that DMM has received a number of criticisms, and he examines them here. Part one is here. Part two is here. Part four is here. Part five is here.
This is the third article in a series exploring the world of ‘Disciple Making Movements’ or DMMs. In this article we will engage with two recent analyses of DMMs in missiological writing.
Before we begin it is worth reflecting on how missiology ’works’ as a discipline.
How missiology works
Missiology is typically a practitioner discipline. This makes it very different to Old or New Testament studies. The vast majority of Bible commentaries are written by academics based in theological institutions. However, a great deal of missiological thinking is generated not from academic seminaries but from mission locations around the world. Gospel workers try things out and, if they work, the word spreads. Occasionally, spreading the word happens through academic writing. More often it happens through informal conversations, at practitioner conferences or in practitioner journals like International Journal of Frontier Missions or Mission Frontiers.
One consequence of the practitioner-driven nature of missiology is that it is easy for books and journal articles to reflect how things were when the author was writing, but not how things are today. In other words, missiological writing can get out of date quickly. This is particularly the case when lots of practitioners are trying things out and refining their methodologies. With these comments in mind, let’s explore two recent publications that engage with DMMs, both written by church planting practitioners who have served long-term in unreached people group contexts.
’You can’t argue with results’—can you?
Mission Affirmed by Elliot Clark engages with DMM methodology indirectly. The central focus of the book is to explore our motivation for engaging in mission. Clark asks if there are other motivations apart from a desire to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth in our lifetime. Evangelicals have been strategising about completing the task of mission in our generation since Edinburgh 1910. Clark suggests that we have been motivated by a desire to see ‘mission accomplished’, to the exclusion of other motivations. He argues that a key motivation for the apostle Paul’s mission was to bring glory to God and to hear God say, ‘well done good and faithful servant’—hence ‘mission affirmed.’ In critiquing the ‘mission accomplished’ model Clark says:
One of the strangest axioms I’ve heard from missionaries over the years is, “You can’t argue with results.” If something works, don’t question it. When a ministry or a methodology is bringing people to Jesus and bearing fruit, then it’s clearly good and from God. Consequently, growth and reproduction aren’t simply understood as the ultimate goal of missions; they’re now the standard by which ministries are evaluated and new strategies are developed.
Clark argues that Paul evaluates his ministry by discerning the often invisible work of God’s Spirit. So Clark encourages us to engage in mission by emphasising character and obedience to Scripture.
Matt Rhodes’ six concerns
No Shortcut to Success by Matt Rhodes critiques DMM methodology head-on. He articulates six main concerns.
First, DMM and CPM methodologies over-emphasise the rate of growth, relegating other concerns behind the focus on speed.
Second, these methodologies strip away hindrances to rapid growth, but in doing so risk removing ministry that builds depth and maturity.
Third, the almost exclusive use of Discovery Bible Study removes the need for the Bible to be taught by a mature leader.
Fourth, Jesus’s mention of a person of peace in Luke 10 does not bear the weight that DMMs place on our Lord’s words.
Fifth, obedience-based discipleship looks for obedience before faith, inverting the biblical pattern.
Sixth, new believers and not-yet-believers are given leadership in ministry roles. Rhodes argues that all these issues are problematic and concerning.
Reading criticisms with discernment
These are significant criticisms. I’d encourage CMS gospel workers who are engaged with DMMs to read what Rhodes has to say. I am sympathetic to a number of these criticisms. However, I would also encourage careful discernment. Rhodes particularly references Garrison, Watson and Shipman. As I pointed out in the introduction, missiology is a very dynamic discipline. DMM praxis in 2022 may not reflect the praxis described in books that have been in print for at least 8 years. I have spoken to one or two people currently involved in DMMs who have said to me “we’ve moved on and are now compensating for earlier weaknesses.”
Healthy missiological praxis will always aim to reflect, learn, refine and grow. It will always submit itself to the authority of God’s Word. So we should be encouraged to hear that in such a dynamic field, there is ongoing growth and reflection.
However, this reality also means that we should be concerned if we hear that questioning the model is not permitted or that we are not allowed to change or adapt ministry tools for a local context. Missiology thrives when practitioners are set free to engage in gospel ministry in biblically faithful and locally appropriate ways.
Clark, Elliot. Mission Affirmed: Recovering the Missionary Motivation of Paul. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022.
Garrison, David. Church Planting Movements: How God Is Redeeming a Lost World. Monument, CO: WIGtake Resources, 2004.
Rhodes, Matt. No Shortcut to Success: A Manifesto for Modern Missions. Crossway, 2022
Shipman, Mike. Any 3: Anyone, Anywhere, Any Time: Lead Muslims to Christ Now. Monument, CO: Wigtake Resources, 2013.
Watson, David L., and Paul D. Watson. Contagious Disciple-Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2014.
 Elliot Clark, Mission Affirmed: Recovering the Missionary Motivation of Paul (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022).
 Clark, Mission Affirmed: Recovering the Missionary Motivation of Paul, 126.
 David Garrison, Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World (Monument, CO: WIGtake Resources, 2004); Mike Shipman, Any 3: Anyone, Anywhere, Any Time: Lead Muslims To Christ Now (Monument, CO: Wigtake Resources, 2013); David L. Watson and Paul D. Watson, Contagious Disciple-Making: Leading others on a Journey of Discovery (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2014).