Confession: Why, if it is so good for the soul, is it so hard?

It is hard to admit to God, to ourselves, and especially to another person the exact nature of our wrongs, but why?

James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

Christ has made it possible for us to go directly to God for forgiveness, but confessing our sins to each other still has an important place in the life of the church:

(1) If we have sinned against an individual, we must ask him or her to forgive us. Our unforgiveness actually hinders our prayers and God’s forgiving of our own sins!

(2) If we need loving support as we struggle with a sin, we should confess that sin to those who are able to provide that support. Two are stronger than one and a cord of three is not easily broken.

(3) If we doubt God’s forgiveness, after confessing a sin to Him, we may wish to confess that sin to a fellow believer for assurance of God’s pardon. Guilt and shame run deep with sin and often the last phase of the healing process is helping someone else walk through a similar trial, season, and/or circumstance.

In Christ’s Kingdom, every believer is a priest to other believers and the Christian’s most powerful resource is communion with God through prayer. While many see prayer as a last resort, only to be tried when all else fails, this approach is completely backwards. Prayer should come first because God’s power is infinitely greater than ours, so it only makes sense to rely on it—especially because God encourages and tells us to do so.

We are as sick as our secrets and keeping our shortcomings, resentments, and sins from God is foolish because for starters, He already knows everything we have done and will do, and secondly because He has already declared us not guilty nor condemned, as soon as we turn to Him in repentance and cast our cares and burdens upon the Lord.

I believe the real issue arises when we are told to confess our sins to each other. Most of us know and still feel the sting of betrayal and constantly see people jockeying for position and capitalizing on the acquisition of information. With broken legs we chase perfection and it becomes a sick and twisted game of, “Do you know what so and so struggles with or did?” People then become defined by their mistakes and as a result, most people show up for church with their Sunday masks on and continue portraying a mere façade of truth and what is actually going on.

When we are able to confess our sins, we will discover the grace and mercy of God. God’s grace is receiving something we do not deserve: salvation & forgiveness, and His mercy is not getting what we do deserve: condemnation & judgment.

Romans 3:23-24 explains, “All have sinned… yet now God declares us not guilty… if we trust in Jesus Christ, who… freely takes away our sins.”

When we can arrive at a place where we have no more guilt and shame from our past wrongs, we are ready to face the truth, and to allow God to ease the pain. While pain is a cruel and effective teacher, our misery in the process is optional, because God replaces our pain with ease for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

The last step in finding peace through confession comes by stopping the blame game and instead choosing to trust God. We have gotten very good at rationalizing and justifying certain areas of sin, to the point where we can say, “This ______ sin is for their own or the greater good.” While this may sound crazy at first glance, I promise you the progression from thought to action and from action to stronghold does not take long and it is a depraved and warped process one can easily get themselves wrapped up in.

Our secrets isolate us and leave us vulnerable to attack. This is exactly where the enemy wants us and like a predator seeking to steal, kill, and destroy the weakest of the herd, he lies in wait for the exact opportunity to inflict the most harm, in an effort to take us out.

The key to rejoining the community and fellowship with God is humility and transparency. While we are created in the image of God, we live in a fallen world, one in which we are called to be salt and light. Only when we are comfortable in our own skin, by discussing the hurts, habits, and hang-ups of our past, will we have the opportunity to come alongside those walking through similar situations. Only by offering them love, acceptance, and forgiveness will we be in a place to then comfort those in need and point them to Christ, the perfecter of our faith and the Holy Spirit, our comforter and counselor.

Lastly, only once we take the plank out of our own eye will we be able to see the world through the lens of the cross and only by maintaining our communion with God will our hearts break for what breaks His. To confess and be forgiven is so freeing, while harboring unforgiveness makes us a prisoner to those we choose not to forgive, much like resentment leads one to drink poison, all the while expecting the other person to die. Instead, we must give it all to God, because His Word promises He will use ALL things for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose and He swears by His own name because there is no name higher!


Why Churches Need Small Groups


Developing small group ministry in the church is important to both growth and discipleship, on the part of the believer, and the church as a whole. According to Rod Dempsey, “Leaders are grown in small groups, most successful churches have an emphasis on small groups, and small groups are a true representation of the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23).”[1] Dempsey explains, “The church has a head; the head of the church is Jesus. The church has members that need to be connected to the head and connected to each other. And finally the church’s members need to serve one another and serve the community at large. Churches that are not functioning in this manner run the risk of becoming inward in their focus”[2] and inward-focused groups die. Dempsey then demonstrates the necessity of spending time with one another because there is a huge commitment needed to growing and sacrificing as a disciple of Christ. Jesus, Himself said, “Take up your cross,”(Matthew 16:24) illustrating the necessity of commitment and doing life together in small groups. Additionally, the relational aspect of following Christ means followers should join together as brothers and sisters in an attitude of love for one another. This was the identifying mark Jesus said would reveal His true disciples; by the love he or she showed the world (Matthew 22:36-40). Dempsey also points out, “The process must be intentional, individual, and missional in focus, as small groups have the potential to provide and create a perfect environment and context to develop people for God’s kingdom and for God’s glory.”[3]

One’s primary reason for wanting to develop small group ministry must be rooted in love and a desire to fulfill the commandments of the Lord. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is a wonderful representation of what God calls every believer to do as followers of Christ. Earley and Dempsey further explain the importance of, “Loving God, loving one another, and loving our neighbor [because these] are universal principles. They will work anywhere, at any time, and in any political situation. The key to your success is to begin practicing the principles behind the commands Jesus gave us. Live your life purposefully for God and lead by example.”[4] Another important reason for developing small groups is found in the principle of multiplication. Earley and Dempsey illustrate the strongest churches in the world have tens of thousands of members in thousands of small groups. As humans, and with finite minds, it can oftentimes be hard to fathom the omnipotence of God and His marvelous plan of salvation and redemption. As a result, when most churches are planning areas of ministry, the addition of believers is used as the primary litmus test for success; however, God, as Earley and Dempsey convey, “Has given us an exponential plan to reach the world. The question is… are you following an addition or a multiplication plan? Why should you lead a group? That is easy: to follow His command to make disciples of all the nations.”[5] A final reason for forming small groups lies in the desire for community. As Jeffrey Arnold expounds, “Jesus Christ is our first and greatest model for how small groups can stimulate faith and growth in others… [Ultimately,] disciples are made intentionally, disciples are made to be like Christ, and disciples are made in relationships”[6] and there is no better place for these to occur than in a community made up of small groups.


Arnold, Jeffrey. The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Comiskey, Joel. Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church: New Testament Insights for the 21st Century Church. Moreno Valley, CA: CCS Publishing, 2016.

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups. Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016.

Dempsey, Rod. “Why Lead a Group.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. (accessed May 15, 2017).

House, Brad. Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2011.

[1] Rod Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. (accessed May 15, 2017).

[2] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016), 2.

[3] Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group.”

[4] Earley and Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 10.

[5] Ibid., 10.

[6] Jeffrey Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 18, 23-24.


Purpose of Apologetics


Why do we engage in apologetics?

            Rich Holland clarifies, “apologetics should be used to break down the rational or intellectual barriers one may have, so [he or she] can be more receptive to the gospel [and that is why apologetics] is often referred to as pre-evangelism, because it helps explain and remove barriers, so people become more open to the gospel message.”[1] Holland closes the presentation summing up apologetics as what believers do when they love God and others. This profound truth explains why followers of Christ should be compelled to engage people in apologetics, by defending the faith and evangelizing the lost. Douglas Groothuis adds, “apologetics is offered not only in response to the doubts and denials of non-Christians; it also fortifies believers in their faith, whether they are wrestling with doubts and questions or simply seeking a deeper grounding for their biblical belief.”[2]

What is the audience of apologetics?

Holland further demonstrates, “the love of Christ should compel believers to become ambassadors of God and engage in apologetics. [However,] apologetics is not evangelism because it cannot lead someone to Christ, but apologetics should be directed towards the lost, those who do not follow Christ, atheists, or followers of other religions.”[3] Apologetics and evangelism do share a common goal in pointing people towards Jesus Christ, but it should not come, as a surprise the majority of people may not immediately be open to the message of the gospel. Thus, every believer should be prepared to offer a good defense and reason for God’s plan of redemption, since people are naturally going to have questions and objections.

A basic definition of apologetics:

            James Beilby defines apologetics as, “the attempt to defend a particular belief or system of beliefs against objections… The term derives from the Greek word apologia and was originally used in a legal context.”[4] The apologia was then used in the defense of a plaintiff, in an attempt to show an accusation was untruthful, or to prove innocence.

The biblical basis for apologetics:

            The clearest picture for the biblical basis of apologetics is found in Peter’s first epistle,   “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”[5]  Peter Davids illustrates how, “Both ‘make a defense’[6] and ‘question[7] indicate formal legal or judicial settings, but were also used for informal and personal situations.[8] Rather than fear the unbelievers around them, Christians, out of reverence to Christ, should be prepared to respond fully to their often-hostile questions about the faith.”[9] Beilby demonstrates, “Christian apologetics is the task of defending and commending the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a Christ-like, context-sensitive and audience-specific manner.”[10]

Internal and external apologetics:

Beilby defines, “Internal apologetics taking place with those inside of or internal to Christianity, [while] external apologetics engages skeptics, agnostics, or those outside of or external to Christianity in an apologetic conversation.”[11] Beilby adds, “Christian apologetics involves an action (defending), a focus of the action (the Christian faith itself), a goal (upholding Christianity as true, and a context (the circumstances in which apologetics occurs.”[12] The clear distinction between the two involves internal apologetics focusing on reinforcing faith, removing intellectual barriers, and helping to clarify issues, while external apologetics focuses on changing the mind of skeptics, atheists, and agnostics.


Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Davids, Peter H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Holland, Rich. Liberty University. APOL 500, Week One Presentation “Introduction to Apologetics–What Is Apologetics?” (Video), 2015, 9:47, (accessed August 30, 2016).

[1] Rich Holland, Liberty University, APOL 500, Week One Presentation “Introduction to Apologetics–What Is Apologetics?” (Video), 2015, 9:47, (accessed August 30, 2016).

[2] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 25.

[3] Holland, Liberty University, APOL 500, Week One Presentation “Introduction to Apologetics.”

[4] James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 11.

[5] 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)

[6] Acts 25:16, 26:2; 2 Timothy 4:16

[7] Romans 4:12; 1Peter 4:5

[8] Plato, Pol. 285e and 1 Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 7:7 respectively

[9] Peter H. Davids, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 131.

[10] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 30.

[11] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 27.

[12] Ibid., 13.

Muslims in Evangelical Churches


       James Hood, in his article Muslims in Evangelical Churches poses the question whether loving your neighbor means opening the church doors to false worship? Hood highlights two churches, which opened their doors for Muslims to use the church buildings as mosques. At Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, pastor Steve Stone came to the decision to allow Muslims to worship on church property by asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” At Aldersgate Methodist church in Alexandria, Virginia, pastor Jason Micheli appealed to evangelical and exclusivist reasoning stating, “When we say that Jesus is the only way to the Father, we do not just mean our belief in Jesus is the only way to the Father. We also mean Jesus’ way of live is the only way we manifest the Father’s love.”

       There are multiple theological issues at play in these scenarios and throughout Scripture the Great Commandment[1] and the Great Commission[2] are among the top appeals Christ calls His followers to perform and embody. In the Old Testament, the Shema[3] calls followers to love the Lord their God above all others, so the issue of allowing idol worship to happen in the church is a highly debatable topic. While the church is not confined to the traditional four walls, there is precedence with the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Shema, which cannot be ignored. Peter C. Craigie illustrates:

The Shema ultimately means: ‘Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is ‘One.’ These words, which have been called the fundamental monotheistic dogma of the Old Testament, have both practical and theological implications. The Israelites had already discovered the practical implications when they… discovered the uniqueness of their God… [and it] was because they had experienced the living presence of their God in history that the Israelites could call the Lord our God. The theological implications and the context of this verse indicate its source as a direct revelation from God. The word expresses not only the uniqueness but also the unity of God.[4]

       Growing up in a military community, the base chapel was shared by a multiplicity of denominations, some Christian and some far from it and it was the job of the chaplain to relate to multiple denominations of faith. This model and upbringing makes the Muslims’ use of Christian churches seem less about theology and more about embodying the love and compassion of Christ. At the same time, one cannot ignore when Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”[5]
If the churches in this article had opened up their doors as shelters due to a state of emergency, this writer wonders if it would have been an issue at all. Ultimately it comes down to stewardship. What churches do with what God has entrusted to them is the fundamental question. This writer believes by opening the doors and allowing the Muslims to use the facility acts as an olive branch of peace, which over time will hopefully develop into relationships, and is where the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will have the ability to be applied. Jesus came to seek the lost, the sick, and the hurting people. Christians must realize, “the church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners,” and by opening the doors to Muslims they have increased their mission field exponentially.


Craigie, Peter C. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Hood, James B. 2011. “Muslims in Evangelical Churches.” Christianity Today, January 3, 2011.   (accessed August 18, 2016).

[1] Matthew 22:36-40

[2] Matthew 28:16-20

[3] Deuteronomy 6:4-9

[4] Peter C. Craigie, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 168-169.

[5] Matthew 21:12-13 (ESV)

The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement: Book Review


        The American Evangelical Story examines the role American evangelicalism played in the scope of evangelical history and demonstrates how evangelicals have continued to change the world. Douglas A. Sweeney, professor of church history and chair of the department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School[1] offers this work as an introduction to evangelicalism for Christians interested in the historical roots of evangelicalism’s recent, massive growth. Sweeney first, “provides a summary of recent debates concerning the scope of evangelicalism, he then tells the story of its birth in the transatlantic Great Awakening, and its development in the United States through many cultural changes and challenges. [Lastly, he] accounts for the broad range of individuals, institutions, issues, and doctrines that have made us who we are.”[2]

Brief Summary

       Sweeney sets the tone for the reader, by offering a prayer to demonstrate his underlining purpose: “I pray that the burden of this book – to refresh our shared, historical memory – may help us to regain our spiritual bearings. And I trust that a fresh appropriation of our common heritage, though surely limited by our own historical blinders, can be used by God to bless the church for many years to come.”[3] Sweeney begins by explaining evangelicals are gospel people, but quickly demonstrates the difficulty in defining evangelicalism, claiming there is no clear consensus among scholars. Sweeney then shows, “at the center of the movement lies a firm commitment to the good news (euangelion) that ‘a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law’[4] [demonstrating] evangelicals’ doctrine clung to the gospel message as spelled out in the Bible (sola Scriptura).”[5] Other defining convictions include: the majesty of Jesus Christ, the lordship of the Holy Spirit, the need for personal conversion, the priority of evangelism, and the importance of the Christian community for spiritual nourishment, fellowship, and growth.[6] Sweeney also connects the emergence of evangelicalism to the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, crediting missions and evangelism as the catalysts. Sweeney concludes: “Evangelicals comprise a movement that is rooted in classical Christian orthodoxy, shaped by a largely Protestant understanding of the gospel, and distinguished from other such movements by an eighteenth century twist – the impact of the Great Awakening.”[7] This renewal movement forever changed the course of history of Protestantism in North America and the rest of the world.

Critical Interaction

       It is obvious Sweeney comes from an evangelical heritage he is proud of.[8] His narrative style, his attention to chronological detail, and his personal insights provide the reader with an unbiased view of history. Leading up to the Great Awakening, Sweeney correctly shows the conflict, which existed between Catholics, and Protestants and how the Reformation led to the Transatlantic Great Awakening pioneered by John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement, George Whitfield, who actually convinced John Wesley to take up field preaching,[9] and Jonathan Edwards, who helped Calvinists come to terms on predestination and election. This era marked the first time Protestants worked together to spread the gospel internationally. Sweeney makes it clear the goals of this movement were made with the best intentions, but he also demonstrates when human nature is involved; there will always be division. “No sooner did the Great Awakening hit America’s shores than it led to some major realignments and rivals.”[10]

       Sweeney explains, “Despite the gains of the Great Awakening, by the end of the eighteenth century, many evangelical leaders had grown concerned about the spiritual life on the new United States,”[11] giving rise to the Second Great Awakening. This era shows immense diversity as some revivals split and new ones were formed. Sweeney illustrates, “the first major theater was New England, where Edwardsian evangelists prevailed, and the second stretched along the Erie Canal in Upstate New York, dominated by Presbyterians and Congregationalists, and the third was Cumberland River Valley, led by the Armenian Methodists.”[12] Sweeney highlights, “the best known event in this third theater was the Cane Ridge Revival (1801), often called ‘America’s Pentecost’ for the amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit there.”[13] Charles Finney is portrayed as the most important leader of the revivals in New York as he had immense influence teaching, “religion is the work of man and that revival is not a miracle, but the result of the right use of appropriate means. As a supernaturalist, he acknowledged that neither revival nor conversion ever occurs without the help of the Holy Spirit, but as an experienced revivalist, he claimed these things do not occur without human effort either.”[14] The second Great Awakening seemed to be more about man than about God, as it emphasized the role of a sinner needing to choose to repent. Regardless, it still led to more conversions, and it also formed more institutions, which helped the spread of the gospel. Overall, Sweeney accomplishes a comprehensive overview of evangelical missions, by detailing even the racial prejudice, which was rampant, and the birth of the Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement. Racism remains a sore spot in the history of the church and “while evangelicals did not invent the sins of racism… millions of white evangelicals have participated in or sanctioned one or more of these things, leading to four million slaves in America by 1860… and evangelicals are still untangling themselves from this sordid legacy.”[15] A. Derwin illustrates, “less than five percent of evangelical churches are multi-ethnic… [making the] evangelical church one of the most segregated people in America on Sunday morning. The gross smell of racism still lingers in our churches like a bad odor that will not dissipate.”[16]  Sweeney rightly emphasizes, “the importance of never forgetting the utter enormity of this evil or the extent to which evangelicals condoned it.”[17] The lines of color must be crossed and perhaps one of the best examples is the Azusa Street Revival. This Pentecostalism was interracial and as Frank Bartleman noted, “The ‘color line’ was washed away in the blood.”[18] Paige Patterson best sums up the viewpoint of evangelicals, “If God has spoken, then one must heed what He says. For evangelical believers, the authority of the Bible must remain unassailable and un-debatable. We must applaud those who make other kinds of telling arguments against racism and join the chorus in at least a thirty-fold “Amen.” But, the time has come for evangelicals to bring the mother load, if you will forgive the pun. If we believe the Book, let us appeal to its lucid position on race and say to all of the tribes of the earth, “Eve is the mother of all living.” That, in effect, settles the issue!”[19]


       Sweeney makes a strong case, “the church needs evangelicals, evangelicalism functions as a renewal movement within the larger, universal church, and evangelicalism is not enough.”[20] Sweeney provides a well-balanced and clear history of American evangelicalism, while also demonstrating the major shift, which is currently taking place. No more is America or Europe the front-runners in evangelicalism; instead the shift is in Africa and Asia. While America and Europe used to be the nations sending missionaries to these countries, now those countries are sending missionaries to America and Europe. The future of evangelicalism rests on solely on whether denominations and ministry leaders can set aside minor differences and unify one another by embracing the Great Commission[21] and the Great Commandment.[22] The church is made up of many parts, and when those parts are working together, God will do mighty things as the world will come to know the love of Christ.

The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement. By Douglas A. Sweeney. Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2005, 208 pp. $22.00 (Paperback).


Baker Publishing Group Website, (accessed August 11, 2016).

Bartleman, Frank. How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles: As It Was in the Beginning, in Witness to Pentecost: The Life of Frank Bartleman. Ed. Donald W. Dayton. New York, NY: Garland, 1985.

Derwin, A. “The Emergence Of The Emerging Church,” Christian Apologetics Journal 07, no. 1 (Spring), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 35.

Patterson, Paige. “The SBJT Forum: Racism, Scripture, and History.” – Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 08, no. 2 (Summer), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 82.

Sweeney, Douglas A. The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2005.

[1] Baker Publishing Group Website, (accessed August 11, 2016).

[2] Douglas A. Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2005), 10.

[3]  Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 185.

[4] Romans 3:28

[5] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 25.

[6] Ibid., 18.

[7] Ibid., 23-24.

[8] Ibid., 5.

[9] Ibid., 41.

[10] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 55.

[11] Ibid., 66.

[12] Ibid., 66-69.

[13] Ibid., 70.

[14] Ibid., 68.

[15] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 108.

[16] A. Derwin, “The Emergence Of The Emerging Church,” Christian Apologetics Journal 07, no. 1 (Spring), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 35.

[17] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 108.

[18] Frank Bartleman, How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles: As It Was in the Beginning, in Witness to Pentecost: The Life of Frank Bartleman, ed. Donald W. Dayton, (New York, NY: Garland, 1985), 54.

[19] Paige Patterson, “The SBJT Forum: Racism, Scripture, and History,” – Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 08, no. 2 (Summer), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 82.

[20] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 184.

[21] Matthew 28:16-20

[22] Matthew 22:36-40

Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth Book Review

Move_1000 Churches

            Greg L. Hawkins is executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. For twenty years, he has assisted senior pastor Bill Hybels in providing strategic leadership and his prior management experience came as a consultant for McKinsey & Company. Hawkins received his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M University and an MBA from Stanford University. In 2011 he became co-author of Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, which combines sound research with practical application on ways to improve the spiritual growth in churches. Cally Parkinson, the other co-author of Move… serves as the brand manager for REVEAL, an initiative within Willow Creek Association who utilizes research tools and discoveries to help churches better understand spiritual growth in the multiplicity of congregations. Following a twenty-five-year career with Allstate Insurance, she has also served as the director of communications at Willow Creek Community Church. Her diverse background and skills were formulated at DePauw University, where she received her bachelor’s degree and the American Graduate School of International Management, where she earned her master’s degree.[1]

            Facts on their own can be overwhelming, so what Hawkins and Parkinson set out to do was provide a model for any church, no matter the size, denomination, or location to become effective in producing spiritual growth within the congregation. After surveying one-thousand churches, Hawkins and Parkinson found that no matter the size, denomination, budget, or geography, the churches that were highly effective excelled in the following four best practices: (1) Getting people moving; (2) Embedding the Bible; (3) Creating ownership; and (4) Pastoring the community. This discovery was profound because for centuries, church leaders have known the primary goal of disciples is to produce more disciples, but the how has alluded many who have tried. Hawkins and Parkinson illustrate, “Jesus wants us to love God and love others, and it is pretty straightforward, making the what the easy part of church leadership… However, each new generation of Christian leaders has struggled to get a handle on the how: How do we foster the transformation of our people into disciples of Christ and how do we extend His love to others?”[2] Every church has a limited amount of resources, so it only makes sense to use those commodities in areas that provide the best return on investment. Move… provides the answers to these questions by utilizing thorough research, time-tested-principles, and by then providing sound practices to move people along the path to being more Christ-centered. There should be a deep desire in every believer to become more Christ-like and this book provides twenty-five high impact catalysts, which promote spiritual growth in the believer. In addition to the catalysts, there are numerous strategies, insights, models, and patterns to help any church become effective in producing spiritual growth within the body. The book is nicely divided into three parts focusing on: (1) The Spiritual Continuum: moving people from exploring Christ, to growing in Christ; (2) Spiritual Movement: identifying the spiritual catalysts, needed in the evolution of becoming Christ-centered, while also illustrating potential barriers to spiritual growth; and (3) Spiritual Leadership: defining best practices, analyzing spiritual vitality, and preparing leaders to get the body of Christ moving and doing what God has called them to do.


            Reading this work was very similar to reading something by George Barna, but Hawkins and Parkinson go a few steps further, by providing real-life-application and strategies to employ in order to bring about spiritual growth in any church. These premises are bold, but the statistics presented are frightening for any western church. To think, “The longer someone attends church, the less likely they are to become Christ-followers”[3] is terrifying. Hawkin’s and Parkinson’s research actually found, “people who have attended church for more than five years are far more likely to become spiritually stalled or content with their spiritual growth.”[4] This only shows the importance of engaging people in ministry as soon as possible because the longer an individual is classified in the getting to know Christ stage, the less likely he or she will feel compelled to serve in ministry. This is enlightening, especially since believers find so much about themselves and God through serving in some form of ministry or outreach. Hawkins and Parkinson have termed a church, which is only exploring Christ as being stalled in the rust belt. This is because the majority of the congregation is stuck on the spiritual fringe, investigating, but undecided about the claims of Christianity, attending, but not involved in church, and possibly a long-tenured churchgoer.[5] This is spot on and evident in all generations of church attenders, as the Abrahams feel any dues have already paid: monetarily or service oriented, the Isaacs are too busy with life to commit any more time to the church, and the Jacobs have a sense of entitlement, where everything should just be provided. All of these warped perceptions are wrong and indicate just how many churches are still stuck in the first stage of exploring Christ. Once someone truly begins to know Christ, the next logical step is to grow in Christ, which represents the largest segment of people surveyed at thirty-eight percent.[6] Hawkins and Parkinson provide valuable information as to exactly what this largest segment is looking for from the church: (1) Help in developing a personal relationship with Christ, (2) Help in understanding the Bible in greater depth, (3) Church leaders who model and consistently reinforce how to grow spiritually, (4) Compelling worship experiences, and (5) Challenge to grow and take next steps.[7] A problem many churches make is babying new believers, instead of issuing challenges and showing them how to find God and answers to life’s questions in Scripture. It is also crucial for church-attenders to see the leadership embodying Christ-like character in word and deed. Those considered to be growing in Christ are: on board with core beliefs, are comfortable with spiritual practices, and are poised for great spiritual advances and impact.[8] As the largest segment, Hawkins and Parkinson do a good job illustrating how to move this group closer to Christ, by teaching them how to love God and others.[9] Hawkins and Parkinson explain this is so crucial because those who are close to Christ engage in a deeper level of personal spiritual practices.[10] The next stage of evolution involves the, “Christ-centered believer emerging from a battle between two sets of values: the secular values that define personal identity, happiness, security, and success for much of the world, and the spiritual values of selfless love and dedication to others that characterize a life centered on Jesus.”[11]


            Hawkins and Parkinson do a wonderful job explaining the “what and how” behind ministry, by pointing out the importance of each member taking ownership. This principle is true in many business models, as those who are involved during the inception of something, or feel a sense of being needed will have a much stronger commitment to see it succeed. It also follows the 80/20 principle, where twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the work. Sadly, this is also the case with giving in the church. For these reasons, this is an area this writer will be focusing on. If twenty percent of the people are doing all the work, this eventually leads to burnout. Hawkins and Parkinson suggest three ways to create ownership are: (1) To empower people to be the church, (2) To equip people to succeed, and (3) To hold people accountable.[12]

            Another area of importance is evangelism outside the four walls of the church. Terry Inman once made the comment, “I do not pastor a church; I pastor a community.” Hawkins and Parkinson use this illustration to explain the flocks pastors are called to shepherd over are actually all the people in the local community. For many churches, this is a huge paradigm shift, but for this writer’s church, this is an area that has already been targeted. Hawkins and Parkinson found, “best practice churches pastor their local communities by bringing the same inspirational energy… to outreach strategies and initiatives that they bring to designing and executing weekend services.” Hawkins and Parkinson break this strategy down into three strategies: (1) Set a high bar for serving the church and the community. Often the senior pastor will set the tone for this model; (2) Build a bridge into your local community. This will develop strong and long-term relationships, which will also help address any immediate community needs; and (3) Make serving a platform for the gospel. Hawkin’s and Parkinson’s research shows there is a natural affinity between evangelizing and serving those who are struggling and broken.[13] Love and compassion are the best motivators for evangelism and by meeting the most basic needs of the community; the outreach initiative will poise the church to not only gain new people, but also advance the gospel at the same time. This book is a great resource for any church or individual looking to grow spiritually. In life, if something is not living, then it is dying and for many churches, they have essentially become stagnant cesspools, but by applying these principles and models, churches will experience real growth, as the result of the development of the congregations’ spiritual formation and desire to be more Christ-like.


Hawkins, Greg L. and Cally Parkinson. Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.


[1] Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 6.

[2] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 12.

[3] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 37.

[4] Ibid., 38.

[5] Ibid., 44.

[6] Ibid., 50.

[7] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 55.

[8] Ibid., 61.

[9] Ibid., 75-77.

[10] Ibid., 75.

[11] Ibid., 84.

[12] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 231.

[13] Ibid., 239-240.

Hawkins, Greg L. and Cally Parkinson. Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, 286 pp. $21.99 (Hardcover).

Unreached People Group Project: The Soninke of Mali

Soninke People

In order to fulfill the Great Commission in today’s world, one must first understand the command Jesus gives to His disciples, “to make disciples of all the nations,” flows from the very heart of God. Throughout the Old and the New Testament, God is seen moving toward the lost and broken-hearted. As part of His redemptive plan, God sent Jesus to restore the communion that was corrupted between man and God, and Jesus gave His life, so that all who would call upon His name would be saved. Jesus tells His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[1] This means anyone, any nation, and any people group can be redeemed, forgiven, and receive salvation.

Over time, the word “nations” has become synonymous with people groups or cultural groups and according to the Joshua Project; the world is currently made up of 16,464 people groups. Of those groups, forty percent or 6,659 are considered as being unreached, meaning the evangelical population is less than two percent and they lack the ability to evangelize their own people.[2] The 1982 Lausanne Committee defines people groups as, “The largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planning movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”[3]

This project will focus on a region within the 10/40 window of the world because as A. Scott Moreau et al. illustrate, “this [region represents the] vast bulk of people who have yet to hear a clear communicated invitation to repent, return to Christ, and worship God…”[4] While Christianity ranks as the number one religion in the world, Islam follows closely behind it. Within the 10/40 window, this paper will specifically target the people group called the Soninke who are located primarily in Mali. In order to do this, this project will first endeavor to give a brief background of their history, language, culture, economy, religion(s), and family structure and values. Secondly, a brief overview of past and present mission efforts will be detailed, demonstrating the current state of the church, number of known believers, challenges, and any successful strategies. Lastly, a proposed strategy will be presented detailing how best to evangelize and reach the Soninke people. Given this writer’s role as a church pastor, a plan will be designed centered on taking the gospel to the unreached people of Soninke, in the form of church laborers to work among them, with the end-goal ultimately being the establishment of a mission’s outpost/church and the digging of a water well.

Background Information

Status of the World

In a world with 7.3 billion people, where every second that passes two people die and four babies are born,[5] there has never been a greater need for evangelism and missions. John Piper believes, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more.”[6]  Daily, between 150,000 – 175,000 people perish and 325,000 – 350,000 births occur.[7] The good news is everyone has everlasting life; the bad news is not everyone will spend it in heaven. These are unsettling statistics because out of the world’s population, only 1.9 billion people profess to be Christians, and of that number, only two percent regularly share their faith with others, and only five percent have ever led someone to Christ.[8] To make matters worse, the Barna Group recently found that seventy-five percent of Americans who said they were “born again” could not even define what the Great Commission[9] was.[10]  This is the fundamental problem facing Christianity today, as George Barna explains, “The gap between the churched and the churchless is growing, and it appears that Christian communities of faith will struggle more than ever to engage church outsiders…”[11]

History of Soninke People

The Soninke people primarily live along the Senegal River where it enters the western border of Mali in the Kayes, Yelimane, Nioro, and Nara regions. According to the Joshua Project, other small tribes settled along the borders of Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso and due to influence by a large nomadic tribe known as the Fulani, the Soninke have become farmers and herdsmen.[12] One of the earliest Soninke settlements was established in Ghana around A.D. 750 and because of persecution by the Berbers, the Soninke dispersed into small groups within the neighboring regions. The three main sub-groups of the Soninke are the Marka, the Nono, and the Azer. Often, these three tribes are further broken into even smaller clans that specialize in various crafts. Four of the most important Soninke tribes are the Sisse, the Drame, the Sylla, and the Kante. Some of these groups eventually intermixed with the local Wolof, Serer, and Malinke tribes.[13] Today, there are roughly 800,000 Soninke in Mali, making up seven percent of the country’s total population.

Map of Soninke in Mali

Soninke in Mali


Language, Culture, and Economy

The Soninke are believed to have descended from the ancient central Saharan people and archeologists believe they used to make and trade woven textiles through a process called strip weaving. It was from this region that led to the Songhai Empire expanding across West Africa and some of the earliest evidence of the Soninke people can be traced near the Tichit-Walata and Tagant cliffs dating back to 2500 BC to 2000 BC. There is also evidence, which supports the Soninke were early producers of stone settlements. Some these establishments still have traces of the massive defensive walls that once stood. Mali’s most famous Emperor was Kan Kan Mussa, also known as the Lion of Mali. Under his rule, this became an extremely rich area and during his pilgrimage to Mecca, he brought over one hundred and eighty tons of gold with him. As Global Prayer Digest illustrates,

Looking at the poor farmers working their fields in Ghana, one would never guess that the ancestors of these Soninke people once ruled a powerful empire along the banks of the Niger River. Gold flowed like water from the mines of the Ghana Empire. This people group also once traded in salt, copper and slaves. Then in the 13th century Berber invaders from Morocco drove the Soninkes from their homeland along the Niger River scattering this people group across West Africa and pillaging them as they had once pillaged others. Greed had come full circle.[15]

The social structure and organization of the Soninke are typical of the Mande-related people groups, who speak many of the Mande languages of the region of West Africa. They are now mostly farmers who raise rice, peanuts, and millet. They also raise large numbers of livestock including: goats, sheep, horses, chickens, and cattle. Because little to no fishing and hunting is done, trade among their neighbors is extremely important. While the Soninke trade in the local markets, it is also common for them to travel to markets in other regions to trade their goods. Interestingly, while in the past, the Soninke men worked the land and cultivated the crops and the women worked in the gardens, today things are much different. Part of this may be attributed to their high migration rate, but the primary factor is directly related to roughly half of the men leaving anywhere from two to five years doing migrant work. This is common practice, so the men can send money back to dig wells and provide for their villages and families in ways not possible if they were back home. As a result, the Soninke people have taken on more of a matriarchal society, where the women hold prominent positions of power and authority over the older men and children who are left behind. Recently, two hundred thousand Soninke people up and moved to Paris, making them the largest West African group in France. This has led to many problems in France, partly because of the unsanitary condition they live in and because they brought their religious customs with them (i.e. polygamy, high birth rates, and female genital mutilation).[16]

Religion(s) and Family Values/Beliefs

The poor Soninke live in small villages, with homes made out of brick and thatched roofs, while the wealthier people have brick homes, flat terraced roofs, and an interior court. Houses will typically line both sides of the main road, and a mosque will be positioned in the village square. Much like other cultures, the town square was where the market was located as well as where the religious influences were made known. According to Islamic law, the men are allowed to have four wives and while a dowry is customary in their culture, the payment goes to the bride instead of to her parents, which is vastly different from other cultures. Pre-marital sexual relations are strictly forbidden, so they do possess moral integrity, but there inheritance laws only give daughters half shares, while sons get equal shares, and the widow only gets a one-eighth share.

The Soninke were forcibly converted to Islam beginning around the 11th century and currently Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the Soninke in Mali at seventy percent of the population. Just less than thirty percent of the population is made up of ethnic/syncretistic religions, which are more animistic in nature. As with most Muslims, they follow the teachings of Mohammad, who they believe to be the Islamic prophet. Their holy book is known as the Koran, and they believe it was given to Mohammad by the angel Gabriel. The Muslim faith is centered on the five pillars or duties of Islam. They are extremely devout followers who believe there is no god but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet. They pray five times a day while facing Mecca, they observe religious holidays, and if possible they make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca.

According to Global Prayer Digest, “This Soninke for centuries looked to the north for inspiration, adopting Islam, brought to them by Berber traders from North Africa. Despite their conversion to Islam, some still practice Animism, the worship of nature spirits.”[17] Ernst Dammann illustrates, “Though Islam has gained a footing in these parts of Africa in the thirteenth century already, and though since the middle of the nineteenth century there has taken place an intensive Islamization here as well as elsewhere in West Africa, the tribal religions are far from being extinguished.”[18]

 Paolo Gaibazzi details the influence the outside world has had on the Soninke people stating: “The end of internal slavery in West Africa is generally associated with an increase in labor mobility. However, in Sabi, a Soninke village in Upper River Gambia, economic migration intensified and globalized from the 1950s onward. Although they have since been free to move, the descendants of slaves have migrated less than those of the freeborn.”[19] Gaibazzi argues, “the persistence of social liabilities linked to slave descent after emancipation has partially prevented slave descendants from accumulating the resources needed to out-migrate.” He then demonstrates while emancipation from slavery and migration are usually seen as closely related events, which lead to a free and mobile labor market that is not the case in people groups like the Soninke.

Survey of Missions Work

History of Missions Among the Soninke People

Missions can be dated back to the early church, which shows God desires that everyone come to faith in Him through Christ, but that not all will. Romans 10:13-14 demonstrates the significance of Christian evangelism when it comes to reaching those who have never heard: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” A great example is Cornelius who knew about God, but not about Christ; however, because of his sincere desire to know God, Cornelius came in direct contact with the Apostle Peter who told Cornelius about Jesus.[20]

The first Christian missionary translators began working among the Soninke in the 1980s. While there are only a few books of the Bible that have been translated into their language, they do have access to the Jesus film[21] and global recordings.[22] [23] After consulting with several missionaries based in Mali, it became abundantly clear Christianity came at a great cost. The missionaries consulted for the purposes of this report were very cautious about giving any information, they did not want their names mentioned anywhere, and they all insisted only exchanging information if it happened using FaceTime, so they could see whom they were talking to. All of the missionaries have had multiple death threats on themselves and their families from followers of both Islam and from the people who still follow the animalistic ethnic religions.

One missionary couple had been down there for two years working to finish a complete Bible in Soninke’s native language. They have just come back to the states to raise additional funds so they can go back and hopefully finish what they had started, and they said raising money is one of the hardest parts of missions’ work. While they have many people who sponsor them, the effects on the economy in the United States has had worldly impacts and all the missionaries consulted said raising money has become harder each year. The missionaries who are working to finish a complete Bible said part of the difficulty was there are five different dialects for the Soninke language in Mali alone: Touba, Serecole, Azer, Kinbakka, and Xenqenna. They cannot wait to go back and finish what they started and they expressed gratitude to the instructor who encouraged this project of his graduate students. Some of their work on can be found at and at They have played a huge role in presenting the gospel to a people group who had not previously heard of Christ and the sacrifice He made for anyone who would respond. Despite their amazing work and contributions to the Soninke people, they wanted it to be known there are still over 1,800 languages that are still waiting for complete Bible translations, so while Wycliffe just celebrated twenty-three new languages receiving access to scripture, they stressed, there is still much work to be done.[24]

Current Status of the Church

            Seek first the kingdom of God are lofty words, but without action behind them, the result is a lukewarm Christianity. Bruner illustrates, “The church exists by mission… [And] when a church is no longer on mission, it is no longer a church.” The question that is highly debated is whether the church should meet the physical needs or the spiritual needs first. This writer is of the opinion that both must be reached, and through meeting both needs, a bonding relationship will form. In the past, Islam has been the religion observed by the majority and as a result, much of their infrastructure and supplies are from fellow Muslim believers. If Christianity wants to take root among the Soninke people, there are many physical needs that must be considered. While these needs provide great opportunities for God to produce wonderful miracles of blessings and new ways for converts to grow their faith, they cannot be ignored when attempting to evangelize, convert, baptize, and teach the Soninke people.

Known Believers

The Soninke people group is represented in eight different countries around the world: Cote d’Ivoire, France, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, and the United States, with a total population of 2,390,700. Currently, the Soninke in Mali have a population of 1,440,000 and Islam represents 94.99% of the population, with only .01% being Christian and .00% being evangelical. Of the .01% of known believers, 85% are Roman Catholic and the remaining 15% are Protestant. Among the Soninke in Mali, there are very few known Christians and those who convert to Christianity are severely persecuted by the Muslims. This has made evangelizing efforts extremely difficult.

The second missionary interviewed for this report said, “For most Soninke, they have still not yet heard a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” When asked the question whether it was harder to evangelize someone who believed in Islam or someone who held no religious beliefs at all, he responded saying, “It was easier evangelizing someone who already believed there was a God versus someone who did not believe in any god, held to ethnic religions, or had no religious values.” He also said, “the main obstacle was building trust with the locals and making provisions for those who are open to the gospel.” After asking what role the Holy Spirit played in their mission, he replied: “The Holy Spirit was relied upon heavily and that he had seen the Spirit at work on a constant basis, both in converts and in those who were open to hearing what he had to say.” This writer holds to the belief that the Holy Spirit has the power to undo what happened at Babel, but for missionaries in this region, the language barrier still seems to be the biggest stumbling block to bonding and forming lasting relationships. Peter Wagner illustrates, “An estimated 48% of the world’s non-Christians find themselves in unreached people groups. That means over two billion individuals for whom Christ died will not hear of His love unless someone follows the call of God and leaves their own culture.”[25] A research team from Link Up Africa (LUA) reported, “We know of only one born-again believer among the Senegal Soninke and five to ten Soninke Christians in Mali. This believer in Jesus is like a flickering candle that the Holy Spirit can use to ignite a spiritual awakening to bring deliverance from sin, deception and the bondage of evil spirits.”[26] Darkness, by definition, is the absence of light, and all it takes is one spark to lead to a wildfire revival, with the power of the Holy Spirit. This is currently happening in other regions of Africa and LUA’s prayer is that the Lord would raise up messengers to carry the good news of the gospel across the Soninke territory, so they will no longer be isolated from the knowledge of the truth.[27] From this report and the information gathered from the missionaries consulted, there are now approximately twenty professing Christians among the Soninke people. This is a good start, but there is still much that needs to be done, especially as it relates to forming an indigenous church and teaching them how to evangelize their own people.


Currently there is still no complete Bible in the Soninke’s native language, which all the missionaries cite is one of the primary obstacles in spreading the complete gospel and evangelizing the unreached. Wycliffe research shows, “When people finally get the Bible in their own language, lives often change in amazing ways. People are transformed as they are led to Jesus Christ and a right relationship with God.”[28] Both missionaries said it was important to also know the culture and traditions, which meant it was often necessary to go with the flow, almost like what the apostle Paul was referring to when he said: “Do whatever it takes.”[29] The only exception to this notion would be anything that would violate the inherent and infallible Word of God.

While each new day has presented different obstacles, it has also allowed opportunities for God to show up and meet a need. According to Claude Hickman et al., “When it comes to God’s will, many of us want the GPS version of God’s plan, [but] the Bible does not lay out a map, it gives us a compass.”[30] The missionaries said there are still many obstacles that stand in the way of evangelizing the Soninke people. Some of the biggest they have faced were: lack of understanding, language barriers/dialects, or cultural variations. When a complete Bible is available, the missionaries will be able to show how much of their Koran is found in the Bible, and how the chosen people of God came from the descendants of Isaac, not Ishmael. It will also rightly portray Jesus as the Son of God and not just a prominent prophet.

For the second missionary team consulted, they said their end-goal was for the indigenous people to begin evangelizing within their own communities. This model will cause churches/communities of faith to be self-sufficient and become multipliers of people of faith. In some cases, this process can be lengthy, since new languages must be learned, the translated Bible may not yet be available, or the people group may be resistant to Christian missions. This however was an area the two missionaries consulted differed on. One thought the notion of an indigenous church was great and the other had mixed emotions about it. This was something William Smalley believed was extremely misunderstood by many missionaries asserting, “An indigenous church is one in which the changes taking place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, meets the needs, and fulfills the meanings of that society and not of any outside group.”[31] As Americans, it can very easy to try and duplicate and impose one’s own ideas and values in the people group trying to be reached. This is also an area that must be watched very carefully because syncretism has a tendency to blend a new believer’s previous customs and traditions with any newfound faith.

A great resource in helping to fulfill the Great Commission is the Joshua Project, which is a research initiative focused on taking the gospel to all unreached people groups. They use Revelation 5:9 and 7:9-10 to show that there will be some from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people before the Throne of God. Their goal, through the collaborative efforts of missionaries, is to help define the unfinished task of the Great Commission by highlighting unreached people groups. Their data and information is extremely helpful to: mission agencies, different denominations, churches, and missionaries to accelerate the Gospel’s advance into each of the least-reached people groups.[32] For the Soninke people, they are specifically praying for, “the Lord to send forth laborers into Mali to share Christ with the indigenous people, that Christian broadcasts will soon be made available in their region, that God will give the small number of Soninke believers’ boldness to share Christ with their own people, and that God would rise up people who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Mali through worship and intercession.”[33]

Global Connections is another great resource that believes missions are at the heart of the church and the church is at the heart of missions. They illustrate some additional challenges that they have personally faced in country: “Soninke live in difficult areas with a hard climate, their living conditions are primitive, there is little to no technology, they are subject to tropical diseases, and witnessing to them is very hampered by the mobility of the population.” Interestingly, over the last few years, through their continued commitment to the Soninke people, they have been leading a small number of people to the Lord and some have even expressed an interest in obtaining more Christian literature. Global Connections also found the Soninke people preferred reading in Arabic rather than Roman script.”[34]

Proposed Strategy

For the Great Commission to be truly fulfilled the gospel must be taken to every tribe, tongue, and nation, otherwise this commandment becomes nothing more than the “Great Suggestion.” R. T. France further illustrates,

The phrase panta ta ethne, “all the nations,” has occurred already in Matthew 24:9, 14; 25:32, to denote the area of the disciples’ future activity, the scope of the proclamation of the “good news of the kingdom,” and the extent of the jurisdiction of the enthroned Son of Man. In each case we have seen that the emphasis falls positively on the universal scope of Jesus’ mission rather than negatively on “Gentiles” as opposed to Jews.[35]

Survey of Past and Present Mission Work

Missions and evangelism are being done with great success in the “Global South” and according to Todd Johnson, places like “Africa have seen the most vigorous growth, exploding from 10 million Christians in A.D. 1900 to 360 million in A.D. 2000.”[36] This is in sharp contrast to what is happening in America as Johnson demonstrates, “After A.D. 1980, Christians from the southern hemisphere outnumbered Northern Christians for the first time since the 10th century.”[37] Considering in A.D. 1500, ninety-two percent of all Christians were European, the future of Christianity in the south is exciting, while the future in the north is in trouble. For a nation, which was founded on biblical principles, America has hardened their hearts and turned their backs on God. While North American missionaries, over the last few centuries, played a huge role in the outpouring of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, it is now the sending nation of America that needs an awakening and spiritual rebirth.

Larry Stockstill recently said that missiologists tell us that over one million souls are being saved every week around the world and that over 180,000 new churches are being planted every year and even among Muslims; there is a huge influx of Christianity. It is interesting to note, when looking back over the history of Christianity, the times when it thrives were and still are during times of the church’s greatest persecution and turmoil. For example, before ISIS, there were one million Christian believers in Egypt and now there are 4 million.[38]

As Luke Keefer illustrates, “We live and minister in a world that is changing quickly and much. But God has given the church a genetic code, a particular DNA, which gives us an identity in a world that is losing its face, and a mission in a world that is losing its way. That genetic code is the gospel, which has endured from the first to the twenty-first century.”[39] At, their goal is to fulfill the Great Commission by informing the body of Christ about the people groups around the world: who they are, where they are located, and the progress of spreading the Gospel among them. Their vision is to see a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ.[40]

Phase One: Going There to Work Among the Soninke People

C. Peter Wagner illustrates, “The teeming multitudes of all colors, languages, smells, and cultures are not just a quaint sideline in our nation; they are America. And it is America that God has called to evangelize, [but] the first step in reaching [people] for Christ is to want to do it. Motivation is key.”[41]

For the purposes of this report, this author has decided to team up with Operation World, an organization dedicated to evangelizing the world. Their key strategy is prayer and Patrick Johnstone believes, “When man works, man works; when man prays, God works, [demonstrating] the ministry of the children of God is not just doing but praying, not just strategizing, but prostrate before God seeking His will, not just clever strategies for manipulating people and events but trusting in God who moves in the hearts of even His most implacable enemies.”[42] They believe firmly that prayer changes people, situations, and even the course of history. Only after prayerfully considering the mission that waits and counting the cost will a team be sent. Given the relationships formed with several missionaries in country and other organizations through the research of this project, it became clear there were many physical needs that needed to be addressed, in addition to the spiritual needs. As a result, the initial team going down will consist of people trained in the medical field, to heal the sick; contractors, to help build key infrastructure and begin work on the multipurpose mission outpost/church; and also laborers to help both in the treatment of the sick and in various construction roles. Another initiative will be the drilling of a well in a key location. Upon visiting the people and discovering where the greatest needs are, the goal will be drill a well very close to where the mission outpost will be. This will act as a central point where people will travel, not only to receive water for human consumption, but also to receive water from the river of life, that will cause one to thirst no more.[43]

After addressing their most basic human needs, the focus will then turn to meeting their spiritual needs. Fulfilling the Great Commission always leads to planting churches and involves three parts: going, baptizing, and teaching them to obey. Beram Kumar, when talking about the Western and non-Western church demonstrates, “We need one another. We need to be careful to guard that relationship. Of equal importance, however, is the need for the Church in the West to move out of the ‘they are emerging’ mentality and recognize that non-Western missions movements are equal and able partners.”[44] When looking at unreached people groups, what separates them from other groups is they lack an indigenous community of believing Christians who are able to engage with the group and have a church planting strategy, consistent with evangelical faith and practice. Emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s guidance is key, as Ed Stetzer illustrates, “Without the Holy Spirit’s work, we are not planting churches; we are starting religious clubs.” The end-goal must be the gathering of believers and planting churches to establish an effective and multiplying presence among the people group.[45] This will be the vision and strategy for this project. Training and equipping the people to do the work is fundamental to the health of the church. The same is true for any church, as it is the job of the church pastors to teach the laity of the church how to do the work of the church. This model has gotten lost, been forgotten, or blatantly been ignored out of a desire to control and do everything themselves, but in doing so, they are essentially robbing the people out of the blessings they would have received in doing the work they were called to do. The body is made up of many parts for a reason and each one contributes something specific according to the giftings God has given them.[46]

For some of the Soninke, it is harder to become a Christian because they already believe in a god, while for others it is hard because they do not believe in any god. However, the majority of the Soninke people believe in some form of god, so a strategy must be developed to illustrate how the Koran is really accounts from the Bible twisted to show it was the offspring of Ishmael that were God’s chosen people. Once the complete Bible is available, this will be a huge benefit to present the entire gospel meta-narrative. Next, a strategy must also be implemented to deal with the animalistic witchcraft currently being practiced. By showing God created all the animals on the earth in the Genesis account would be a good starting point to showing God’s supremacy over animals and man’s dominion over them, once that part of the Bible is completely translated.

One of the biggest obstacles faced in evangelism is explaining how a loving God can send people to hell. In their book, Faith Comes by Hearing, Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson write, “How could it be fair and just for those who have never even had a chance to hear the gospel, which is necessary for salvation, to be condemned to hell? The question sounds powerful, but behind it lies faulty assumptions.”[47]  Morgan and Peterson demonstrate the first mistaken assumption is that, “our condemnation is based on a rejection of the gospel.” They then show Scripture teaches that our condemnation is based on the fact that we are sinners, not because at some point in time we rejected the gospel. Morgan and Peterson then show, “God’s wrath is revealed against everyone who suppresses His truth revealed through creation … [And] strictly speaking, the Bible denies that there are persons who have never heard of God.”[48] Another faulty assumption that will have to be addressed pertains to “a confusion of justice and mercy.”[49] God is gracious and merciful in that He has provided a way of salvation through faith in Christ for those who will accept Him, but God also cannot let un-repentance go unnoticed. Ultimately, God will deal fairly with those who have not received a direct presentation of the gospel, just as He will deal fairly with those who have. God’s way is wide enough for everyone willing to accept it and receive Christ. The most important question any of us can answer is the one Jesus asked his own disciples, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”[50] This will be the question every Soninke will eventually have to answer.

Phase Two: Setting Up a Mission Outpost/Church and Well

The American Missionary Fellowship has developed a four-tier goal/system of planting churches where there is presently no clear gospel witness to reach the un-churched by: influencing future generations by reaching their children and young people; establishing ministry centers in the areas of trade and commerce, where there are desperate spiritual needs; and by multiplying leaders who can then take the gospel even further, and by developing ministries to target peoples of other diverse cultures. David Schenk and Ervin Stutzman affirm, “Church planting is thus the most urgent business of mankind. It is through the creation or planting of churches that God’s kingdom is extended into communities, which have not been touched by the precious surprise of the presence of the kingdom of God.”[51] Planting churches matters because people matter.

Eugene Scott explains, “One of the biggest mistakes pastors of white evangelical churches can make is not addressing policies that affect the poor. Coming to urban environments and endorsing policies that only benefit new transplants and businesses directs attention away from issues that have affected neighborhoods for generations.”[52] If someone is starving, you should first offer him or her bread for their body and then talk to them of the bread of life for their eternal soul. Efrem Smith says church planting has to be about serving the undeserved, not just following the latest trends: “We don’t simply need more churches… We need church planting and leadership development movements. These movements should specifically center on the empowerment of the poor. This will call church planting movements to connect evangelism, discipleship, and a liberating witness to the marginalized and outcast.”[53] These are whom Jesus sought out in His ministry and Wagner believes new church planting is the single most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven,[54] but as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. popularly said, “Sunday is also the most segregated hour of Christianity in America.”

David Mechanic and Jennifer Tanner illustrate a fundamental issue facing any outreach effort is: “The behavior that the public views as personally controllable is fundamental to whether they see people as sinners or victims. Governments provide assistance to those who are not seen as responsible for their vulnerability. When people are seen as responsible for their life circumstances, there is less public compassion and often stigma.”[55] Making disciples and multiplying churches must be the unified goal. At the first Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, the Foreign Mission Board (FMB) was founded as part of “one sacred effort, for the propagation of the Gospel.” Southern Baptist churches believed that by working cooperatively, they could accomplish more for God’s kingdom. Today this organization is know as the International Missions Board whose focus has shifted from geographic countries to people groups, with a concerted effort to start church-planting movements among unreached peoples.[56]

With this team-focused approach, the goal will be to identify a key location to setup a mission outpost/church, and also dig a well within a close proximity. For the water well, World Vision will be consulted, as they have just dug their 1,000th successful borehole drilled in Mali since 2003 marking a substantial breakthrough in the effort to provide as many as 120,000 Malians a year with access to clean water and improved sanitation and hygiene.[57] Having access to clean water is of the utmost importance, as nearly one thousand children die everyday as the result of unsanitary water conditions. Depending on the location of the well will determine how deep it needs to be dug. The deeper the well, the more expensive it is to have access to clean water. For shallow wells, a hand pump is sufficient and only cost between five to ten thousand dollars. For deeper wells, where a diesel motor is required to bring the water up, the cost can be as high as thirty thousand dollars. However, with the deeper and larger well, the pump can tend to the consumption needs of several thousand people.[58]

The overall goal with the mission outpost/church will be to have versatility with the space, so it can be used for medical needs, teaching, church, and even a place where the local people can come together under one roof. Most of the villages all have mosques, so presenting this location, as a church may be problematic. In addition, Africa requires numerous permits for both building and drilling, and this process varies greatly at every location. The assistance of locals and organizations familiar with the process will be relied upon heavily. Before phase two can be implemented, a significant fundraising effort must be started back home, in addition to soliciting any support from the local Soninke people.

The Stone-Campbell Movement in Mali is a great example of sustaining a long-lasting partnership with the Soninke people. The missionary couple began their ministry in the late 1980s and made the commitment early on that they were going to stay for at least fifteen years to establish a local church that would be indigenous and self-sufficient apart from missionaries and the mission. Their plan was, “instead of focusing on a quick growth in numbers in the church, they concentrated on laying a firm foundation for the church.”[59] This meant a great deal of time and resources were spent on teaching new believers, building cement block structures, establishing irrigation and agriculture projects, and raising up natives to function in leadership roles within the church. This team also used their medical training to help better the lives of those they came to serve. One of the things, previously stated, that must be avoided is offending the Muslims; this regrettably was a reality this missionary team eventually faced:

Unfortunately, as time went by, the work had become more of a “church,” and except for programs on the radio station, their outreach was greatly diminished. When it was still at its beginning and the assorted buildings in the villages were seen as multi-purpose buildings, most Muslims did not object to participating, but when the local Christians insisted on setting up a large sign with a church name and hours for the service, the Muslims quit coming. Muslims do not want to be seen going to “church”. Church traditions are prevailing over the need to reach out to the un-reached.[60]

This is what will prevent growth from beginning and it will stop it even quicker. The mindset of the mission team must be focused on meeting the needs of all, both physical and spiritual, and not segregating those who are not Christians. This is what has happened in America, and as a result, the world knows more what the church is against than anything it is for. Love must be the motivation behind all actions, as reflecting the image of Christ is the ultimate goal and the only way the Great Commission will truly be fulfilled.


This project has given a brief background of the Soninke’s history, language, culture, economy, religion(s), and family structures/values. By understanding the people, their past, and their culture/religious views, an action plan was presented to reach the Soninke people. A detailed presentation of past and present mission efforts was then presented demonstrating the current state of the church, number of known believers, challenges, and successful strategies. Lastly, a proposed strategy was then presented on how best to evangelize and reach the Soninke people. Given this writer’s role as a church pastor, a plan was be designed, which was centered on taking the gospel to the unreached people of Soninke, in the form of church laborers to work among them, with the end-goal ultimately being the establishment of a multipurpose mission’s outpost/church and a water well to provide clean water for consumption. The location picked will be the Antioch of Mali, as this project will be the epicenter of missions to the Soninke people. By meeting the physical needs of the Soninke people, bonding will be developed and relationships will be formed. Over time, this will open the door to meeting their spiritual needs and fulfilling the mission Jesus passed onto the church after He ascended to heaven. By being imitators of Christ and showing love to the Soninke people, the mission effort will have the best possible chance of making an eternal impact.


Barna Group Website. (accessed April 19, 2016).

Bright, Bill. The Coming Revival. Orlando, FL: New Life Publications, 1995.

CIA Website.  (accessed April 19, 2016).

Dammann, Ernst. Review of La Societé Soninke (dyahunu Mali). Journal of Religion in Africa 6 (2). 1974. Brill: 153–54. doi:10.2307/1594893. (accessed May 10, 2016).

Earley, Dave and David Wheeler. Evangelism Is… How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2010.

Focus on the Family Website. (accessed April 21, 2016).

France, R. T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Gaibazzi, Paolo. “The Rank Effect: Post-Emancipation Immobility in a Soninke Village.” Journal of African History 53, no. 2 (07, 2012): 215-34, (accessed May 8, 2016).

Global Connections Website. (accessed May 10, 2016).

Hickman, Claude, Steven C. Hawthorne, and Todd Ahrend. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: Life on Purpose, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

Joshua Project Website. (accessed April 19, 2016).

Johnson, Todd and Sandra S. K. Lee. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: From Western Christendom to Global Christianity, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

Keefer, Luke. “The Changeless Gospel,” – Ashland Theological Journal 32, no. 0 (NA), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 20.

Kumar, Beram. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: No Longer Emerging, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

Link Up Africa Website.         (accessed May 10, 2016).

Mechanic, David and Jennifer Tanner. “Vulnerable People, Groups, and Populations: Societal View.” Health Affairs 26, no. 5 (Sep, 2007): 1220-30, (accessed April 21, 2016).

Moreau, A. Scott, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2015.

Morgan, Christopher W. and Robert A. Peterson, Editors. Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008.

Operation World Website. (accessed April 21, 2016).

People Groups Website. (accessed April 19, 2016).

S. J. Global Prayer Digest. “Soninke People.”            (accessed May 7, 2016).

S. J. Global Prayer Digest. “Soninke People in Paris.” (accessed May 7, 2016).

Schenk, David W. and Ervin R. Stutzman, Liberty University GLST 500, Week 7 Course Content. Fulfilling the Great Commission through Church Planting. (accessed May 6, 2016).

Scott, Eugene. “Evangelizing in the inner City: the role of white evangelical churches in urban renewal.” Kennedy School Review 15 (2015): 23+. Academic OneFile.|A414840773&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&userGroup=vic_liberty&authCount=1# (accessed April 21, 2016).

Stockstill, Larry. Why I Give a Flip About Missions,  (accessed May 2, 2016)

Smalley, William A. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: Cultural Implications of an Indigenous Church, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

Smith, Efrem. “Church Planting Among the Urban Poor,” Christianity Today, 15 May 2014.

The Water Project Website. (accessed May 10, 2016).

Wagner, C. Peter. “A Vision for Evangelizing the Real America.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 10, no. 2 (Apr 01, 1986): 59, (accessed April 21, 2016).

Wagner, C. Peter. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: On the Cutting Edge of Mission Strategy, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

World Convention Website.    (accessed May 10, 2016).

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Wycliffe Bible Translator Website. (accessed May 9, 2016).

[1] John 14:6 (ESV)

[2] Joshua Project Website, (accessed April 19, 2016).

[3] Joshua Project Website, (accessed April 19, 2016).

[4] A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 281.

[6] Moreau et al., Introducing World Missions, 75.

[8] Bill Bright, The Coming Revival, (Orlando, FL: New Life Publications, 1995), 65.

[9] Matthew 28:18-20

[10] Dave Earley and David Wheeler, Evangelism Is… How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2010), 35.

[15] J.S. Global Prayer Digest, “Soninke People,” (accessed May 7, 2016).

[16] J.S., Global Prayer Digest, “Soninke People in Paris, (accessed May 7, 2016).

[17] J.S. Global Prayer Digest, “Soninke People,” (accessed May 7, 2016).

[18] Ernst Dammann, Review of La Societé Soninke (dyahunu Mali). Journal of Religion in Africa 6 (2). 1974. Brill: 153–54. doi:10.2307/1594893. (accessed May 10, 2016).

[19] Paolo Gaibazzi, “THE RANK EFFECT: POST-EMANCIPATION IMMOBILITY IN A SONINKE VILLAGE.” Journal of African History 53, no. 2 (07, 2012): 215-216, (accessed May 8, 2016).

[24] (accessed May 9, 2016).

[25] C. Peter Wagner, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: On the Cutting Edge of Mission Strategy, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 577.

[27] Ibid.

[28] (accessed May 9, 2016).

[29] I Corinthians 9:19-23

[30] Claude Hickman, Steven C. Hawthorne, and Todd Ahrend, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: Life on Purpose, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 725-726.

[31] William A. Smalley, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: Cultural Implications of an Indigenous Church, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 499.

[33] Joshua Project Website, (accessed April 27, 2016).

[35] R. T. France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1114.

[36] Todd Johnson and Sandra S. K. Lee, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: From Western Christendom to Global Christianity, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 387.

[37] Johnson and Lee, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 388.

[38] Larry Stockstill, Why I Give a Flip About Missions, (accessed May 2, 2016)

[39] Luke Keefer, “The Changeless Gospel,” – Ashland Theological Journal 32, no. 0 (NA), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 20.

[40] People Groups Website, (accessed April 19, 2016).

[41] C. Peter Wagner, “A Vision for Evangelizing the Real America.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 10, no. 2 (Apr 01, 1986): 59 & 63, (accessed April 21, 2016).

[42] Operation World Website, (accessed April 21, 2016).

[43] John 4:14

[44] Beram Kumar, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: No Longer Emerging, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 369.

[45] People Groups Website, (accessed April 20, 2016).

[46] I Corinthians 12:12-27

[47] Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, editors, Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008), 241.

[48] Morgan and Peterson, Faith Comes by Hearing, 241.

[49] Morgan and Peterson, Faith Comes by Hearing, 242.

[50] Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20

[51] David W. Schenk and Ervin R. Stutzman, Liberty University GLST 500, Week 7 Course Content, Fulfilling the Great Commission through Church Planting, (accessed May 6, 2016).

[52] Eugene Scott, “Evangelizing in the inner City: the role of white evangelical churches in urban renewal.” Kennedy School Review 15 (2015): 23. Academic OneFile.|A414840773&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&userGroup=vic_liberty&authCount=1# (accessed April 21, 2016).

[53] Efrem Smith, “Church Planting Among the Urban Poor,” Christianity Today, 15 May 2014.

[54] Wagner, “A Vision for Evangelizing the Real America.” 63.

[55] David Mechanic and Jennifer Tanner, “Vulnerable People, Groups, and Populations: Societal View.” Health Affairs 26, no. 5 (Sep, 2007): 1221-1222, (accessed April 21, 2016).

[56] International Mission Board Website, (accessed April 21, 2016).

Theology of Missions

missionary 101

          Before one can begin to understand the scope of missions, they must first realize the very notion of missions flows from the very heart and character of God.  This theology of missions paper will investigate scripture to illuminate that the Bible is essentially a missionary book. Throughout the Old and the New Testament God is seen moving toward the lost and broken-hearted. This paper will also explore how the nature of God relates to missions, as well as how it compares to other aspects of theology. Lastly, this paper will demonstrate how mission theology relates to missionaries, church leaders, and laity who are not involved in full-time ministry.

Old and New Testament Examples

         Mission is the driving theme of scripture and the mission of God is at the very core by offering redemption and salvation to all who respond.  A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee demonstrate, “Mission in the Old Testament is best encountered by exploring it as a divine drama in four acts: (1) the creation and the fall, (2) God’s calling and setting apart a people for Himself, (3) God’s work in rescuing His people, and (4) God’s work in sending His people into exile.”[1]

         One of the first examples of a missionary God is found in Genesis 3:9-15. Shortly after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin, the first person on the scene was God, to begin the process of restoration for them and for all of humanity who would follow after. As Victor Hamilton illustrates, “The Lord addresses a question rather than a command to the secluded man, for God ‘must draw rather than drive him out of hiding.’ He is the good shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. Such a context calls for a display of tenderness rather than toughness.”[2]  As scripture unfolds, God is continually moving towards the lost, as evidenced by Him sending the prophets, the judges, His Son, and then the church to proclaim the gospel, to redeem humanity, and to ultimately restore their relationship and fellowship with God. As Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God’s clear instructions unfolds, it becomes immediately apparent there was now suffering, isolation, and consequences, as a result of their actions. It is in this account; the reader is also presented with a foreshadowing of Jesus and the promise of a future battle between Eve’s offspring and those of the Satan.

          As Moreau et al. illustrate, “With the fall came banishment from the Garden and from intimate contact with the creator… The curtain closes on this act with a world of people scattered and unable to communicate with one another. With people broken, separated from the creator, and successfully lured by a clever enemy, the stage is set for the story of redemption…”[3] In the second act of this divine drama, God calls Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 as the second representation of God being a missionary God, as Moreau et al. demonstrate:

God gives three promises all with the same purpose in mind. First, God will make Abraham into a great nation, a promise tied to the land. Second, God will give Abraham a great name. The purpose of both blessings is that Abraham be a blessing to others. The third blessing and purpose clarify that although Abraham is the means he is not the goal. It is through him that others will be blessed by blessing, but the purpose goes beyond Abraham to all the peoples on the earth.[4]

          It is interesting the shift that has taken place in this account. God’s universal intent is to now be manifested through Abraham and all of his descendants. Abraham would be God’s chosen heir of the world and it is in this act that Moreau et al. show, “God’s love and concern is clearly seen… [And] that God’s goal is not limited to any person or people… In Abraham, God manifests His reign… [And] Abraham is blessed not only for his sake but also for ours.”[5] God was calling a people through Abraham and as Walter Kaiser points out, “The fact remains that the goal of the Old Testament was to see both Jews and Gentiles come to a saving knowledge of the Messiah who was to come. Anything less than this goal was a misunderstanding of the plan of God. God’s eternal plan was to provide salvation for all people…”[6] It is through Abraham answering God’s call that the kingdom revealed to Adam and Eve in the creation account is once again restored. It is during this time where God’s love and missionary heart is clearly seen as He restores communion with His children. His missionary heart will always expect more, care more, love more, and risk more. His love for His children drives His every motive.

          In the New Testament, Paul refers to the Abrahamic covenant still being in effect in Galatians 3:14 and in Romans 4:13 Paul refers to Abraham as the heir of the world, as Douglas J. Moo illustrates:

Paul makes his case for the exclusion of the law from God’s dealings with Abraham on the basis of simple chronology—the law, given four hundred and thirty years after the promise, cannot annul or substantially alter this previous agreement between God and Abraham… Rom. 4 does not focus on the Christological implications of “seed” that Paul brings out in Gal. 3. The word here is purely collective, the reference being to all who are numbered among the “descendants” of Abraham… This language… summarizes the three key provisions of the promise as it unfolds in Genesis: that Abraham would have an immense number of descendants, embracing “many nations”[7] that he would possess “the land,”[8] and that he would be the medium of blessing to “all the peoples of the earth.”[9] Particularly noteworthy is the promise in Gen. 22:17b that Abraham’s seed would “possess the gate of their enemies.”[10] 

          This covenant blessing with Abraham and the promise it represented to all future generations is yet another clear example of God’s missionary heart. This writer is continually amazed at the wondrous nature of God and the lengths He goes to in order for His children to restore their fellowship and communion with Him. No better representation could be made to prove God’s love for His creation and the missionary heart He possesses.

          For Paul to be effective in his evangelistic efforts, Arthur F. Glasser believes that the first step began with making the people conscious of their personal needs, which would illuminate the Lord was willing and sufficient to meet every need.[11] Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus would be an unforgettable lesson in how he was to spread the gospel to a nation blinded by their own sin. Acts 26:18 is a beautiful representation of Paul’s mission, “I send you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”[12] This is a wonderful portrayal of what lengths God will go to, in order for His children to open their eyes. His word tells its readers, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”[13]God desires no one to experience eternal separation from Him and that is why He is so passionate about missions.

          While Paul is a pillar of the New Testament, he would be nothing without the foundational sacrifice Jesus Christ made. It was through this selfless act: God sends His Son to fulfill the promise of the One prophesied in the Old Testament. All of the Gospel accounts reveal the love and compassion of Jesus and His sincere desire to save humanity, despite the cost. Just as Jesus was sent, He then passes on the mission to His followers in the Great Commission[14] while stressing the importance of the Great Commandment.[15]

How Nature of God Relates to Missions

            As Moreau et al. explain, “Mission is God’s project, and He graciously allows Christians to take part in it… [And] the conflict between God and Satan is not a dualistic battle. Satan’s defeat was provided for even in God’s judgment against Adam and Eve.[16] This initial promise of salvation is the assurance that Jesus will come for all people.”[17]

            Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’ Brien expound on this further:

There was no ‘mission’ in the Garden of Eden and there will be no ‘mission’ in the new heavens and the new earth. From the first glimmer of the gospel in Genesis 3:15 to the end of this age, however, mission is necessitated by humanity’s fall into sin and need for a Savior, and is made possible only by the saving initiative of God in Christ.[18]

            God has chosen to use mankind who are created in His image to fulfill the work of the calling and to bring glory to Him. The nature of God is then most reflected in missions by His deep desire to restore the intimacy and fellowship that was violated during the fall. God cares deeply about everyone and everything He has created and He wants nothing more than for humanity to find their purpose in living, which is to bring glory to God.

Mission Theology Compared to Other Theology

            Mission is best defined as the sending of someone to complete a specific task. However, as Moreau et al. demonstrate, “When it comes to defining the particular mission of the church, contradictory and competing agendas make the picture less than clear.”[19] Missions is commonly referred to the practice of fulfilling the Great Commission while mission is used to refer to everything the church does to advance the kingdom of God.

           In systematic theology, one studies Christology, which is the study of Christ. It teaches that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who was one hundred percent man and God and analyzes His teaching, His miracles, and His death, burial, and resurrection. Mission theology involves cross-cultural ministry, which comes from a posture of humility and not nobility. In many instances, Christ actually allows His children to suffer for the sake of the gospel, to grow their testimony and faith.

            Missiology is the academic study of mission(s) and as Moreau et al. illustrate is made up of three central concerns: (1) the identity or nature of mission, (2) the goal of mission, and (3) the means or method of mission.[20] There is an undeniable connection between the Bible and missions as Christopher Wright beautifully portrays, “Mission is what the Bible is all about; we could as meaningfully talk of the missional basis of the Bible as of the biblical basis of mission.”[21] In terms of concentric circles, missions would be on the inside and comprised of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. In the next circle would be mission, which is what the church does for God in the world. In the last sphere is Missio Dei, and this circle encompasses all the others and comprises of all that God does to build the kingdom.[22]

            David Bosch believes, “Mission became the ‘mother of theology,’” while other scholars believe mission lies within the core of theology. Under this assumption, Moreau et al. make a bold statement, saying, “Then mission is at the heart of who Christians are and what the church is to be and do.”[23] John Piper goes even further saying, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church, [but that] worship is. Missions exists because worship does not. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man… Missions is a temporary necessity, but worship abides forever.”[24] The biggest difference between mission theology and other fields can be traced back to the original initiator: God. If it was not for the missionary heart of God, mission theology would not exist and any other field would be inconsequential. Piper is correct in his assertion why missions exists, and until the church understands their corporate and individual purpose, mission(s) will always be needed until the return of Christ.

Key Themes of Mission Theology

            When people think of missions, they typically view its representations as only being practical. However, biblical missions, on multiple levels, keeps all its forms from simply becoming another humanitarian effort or initiative like the Red Cross, by the motivation behind them. Justo Gonzalez once said, “The history of the church is the history of missions,” so if one is truly going to study the theology of missions, they must look to the early church and how the gospel and Christianity were spread. It was God who chose humanity to take the message of the gospel of salvation and redemption across borders and cultures, to the four corners of the earth.

            Interestingly, it was not until the mid-1900s that there was any distinction made between mission and missions. Moreau et al. establish, “Mission was not limited to what the church was doing, since God has always been active in the world… Essentially, missions has been relegated to the specific work of the church and agencies in the task of reaching people for Christ by crossing cultural boundaries. By contrast, mission is broader, referring to everything the church is doing that points toward the kingdom of God.”[25] In the early church, there was no issue of trying to identify their mission or what they were supposed to do. They saw a need and they met it, as is evidenced by their assigning men of proven character to care for the widows.[26] However, today there are multiple viewpoints as to the purpose of the church and despite any good intentions, in most cases, Christians are working against each other, instead of working together to bring glory to God.

            The evangelistic model of missions cannot be ignored as it plays a huge role in fulfilling the Great Commission. Moreau et al. split the core themes into three concentric elements:

(1) Calling those who do not know Christ through the activities of evangelism and church planting, (2) growing in the capacity to live God-glorifying lives through the processes of discipleship and church growth, and (3) reflecting God’s glory to a needy world through living lives of salt and light.[27]

            It is from these three concentric elements Moreau et al. develop the six motifs that are the guiding theme of mission theology: First is the kingdom of God, which is in this world, but not of it. Second is Jesus, who the entire Christian faith is centered on and Whom Christians should turn to in trying to understand their role in mission(s). Third is the Holy Spirit, which is a member of the Godhead that empowers Christians for the work of the church. Moreau et al. describe the Holy Spirit being the agent who reversed Babel at Pentecost. In a form of parallelism, just as the Father sent Christ, Jesus also sends the Holy Spirit when He ascended back to the right hand of God. Christ sends the Holy Spirit to act as a comforter, counselor, and to empower Christians with the same power that raised Christ from the dead. Fourth is the church, which is defined as both an organism and an organization, whose ultimate purpose is to submit to Christ. In relation to the world, the church is to call the people of the world to repentance by proclaiming the gospel. Fifth is Shalom, which expresses not only a sense of personal peace, but also a sense of community peace and wholeness. Sixth is the return of Christ, which is a vision of the future that determines the responsibilities in the present.[28]

            Moreau et al. then show how eschatology relates to each of three levels at the core of mission: “First, evangelism is God’s response to the fact that people apart from Christ are destined to spend eternity separated from God. Second, the certainty of Christ’s return provides Christians with hope, enabling them to persevere in their own growth as followers of Christ. Third, the coming of Christ motivates Christians to be preservers in a lost world.”[29]

How Mission Theology Relates to Missionaries, Church Leaders, and Laity

            According to Ada Lum, “A missionary is a prepared disciple whom God sends into the world with His resources to make disciples for the kingdom.”[30] Every Christian should be a missionary at some level and as Moreau et al. point out, “Mission that does not include evangelism is missing the core.”[31] Mission is so much more than just evangelism and the ultimate purpose of mission(s) for church leaders is to be used by God. The church must then witness to people about the reconciliation available to them through the sacrifice of Jesus. They must also foster an environment where people are welcome to come and worship and submit their lives to Christ. They must continually train and equip the laity of the church for the work of the church by teaching them how to obey all that Christ commanded. These lessons are better observed than taught as each leader’s life is a reflection and testimony of their relationship with God.

            Mission theology, when properly understood, should be at the heart of every believer, leader, missionary, and church. Once this principle is implemented and all decisions are filtered through this verifier to determine if what you are doing is a reflection of mission(s) being at the heart of who Christians are and what the church is to be and do, one will truly be in acting according to God’s perfect and complete will.[32]


            This paper has illustrated that mission(s) flows from the very heart and character of God.  By examining scripture, it has been shown that the Bible is essentially a missionary book and throughout the Old and the New Testament, God is seen continually moving toward the lost and broken-hearted. This paper has also revealed how the nature of God relates to missions, as well as how it compares to other aspects of theology, like Christology. While Christology is centered on the person of Christ, mission theology has a much larger impact on the role God’s children play in continuing the mission for which Christ was originally sent. Lastly, this paper has demonstrated how mission theology relates to missionaries, church leaders, and laity who are not involved in full-time ministry, by showing each party has a role to play, and until all parties involved are working towards a common goal, as Piper said, “Missions will always be needed!”


Daniel, Robin. Mission Strategies: Then and Now. Chester, England: Tamarisk, 2012.

Glasser, Arthur. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: The Apostle Paul and the Missionary Task, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

Hamilton, Victor P. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Kaiser, Walter. Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

Köstenberger, Andreas and Peter O’ Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001.

Lum, Ada. A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Missions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Moreau, A. Scott, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2015.

Piper, John. Let the Nation Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993.

Wright, Christopher. Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, edited by A. Scott Moreau, s.v. “Old Testament Theology of Mission.” Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 2000.

[1] A. Scott Moreau, A., Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 29.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 192.

[3] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 32.

[4] Ibid.

[5] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 33.

[6] Walter Kaiser, Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 10.

[7] Gen. 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 17:4-6, 16-20; 22:17

[8] Gen. 13:15-17; 15:12-21; 17:8

[9] Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18

[10] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 273-274.

[11] Arthur Glasser, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: The Apostle Paul and the Missionary Task, 4th Edition, Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 149.

[12] Acts 26:18 (ESV)

[13] II Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

[14] Matthew 28:16-20

[15] Matthew 22:35-40

[16] Genesis 3:15

[17] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 30-31.

[18] Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’ Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 251.

[19] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 69.

[20] Ibid., 16.

[21] Christopher Wright, Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, edited by A. Scott Moreau, s.v. “Old Testament Theology of Mission.” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 2000), 29.

[22] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, Diagram 5.2, 71.

[23] Ibid., 72-73.

[24] John Piper, Let the Nation Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 11.

[25] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 15.

[26] Acts 6:1-7

[27] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 76.

[28] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 76-81.

[29] Ibid., 81-82.

[30] Ada Lum, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Missions, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984), 21.

[31] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 83.

[32] Ibid., 73.

Marriage & the Policy of Mutual Appeal


Take a position on Harley’s statement, “Engage in only those recreational activities that both you and your spouse can enjoy together.”

This writer agrees with the above statement, given the parameters Willard Harley places on this radical assignment, which is, “They can eventually participate in activities apart from each other, but until they become each other’s favorite recreational companion, they must spend all of their leisure time together.”[1] Harley openly admits this and continues his explanation by stating, “…Once you think it through, you have to agree with me, at least on principle.” In the end, Harley asserts, “Eventually, [he or she] will come to enjoy mutually appealing activities even more than those [he or she] could not [or would not] share with their spouse.”[2] While engaging in recreational activities is a great way to spend more time with your spouse, there are a vast majority of couples that like vastly different things, so finding a common interest may take some time. This writer agrees with Harley that it is important to find those common interests, but developing clear communication channels, healthy boundaries, and accountability should be the foundation of beginning or fixing a marriage.

Is he correct? Why or why not?

In theory, Harley is correct. The danger, specifically for men is, “spending recreational time with his wife is ranked second only to sex for the typical husband.”[3] This statistic only validates why men go looking outside the marriage to meet this fundamental need. Harley cites this, “common pattern at its worst can lead to an affair and divorce, [so] the wise couple will avoid this trend in their marriage or correct it as soon as it begins.”[4] Harley demonstrates, in his Fourth Law of Marriage, “The couple that plays together stays together.”[5] Essentially, all Harley is asking his couples to do is exactly what they most likely did when they first fell in love. Prior to marriage, Harley illustrates, “Most men and women combine all four needs into a romantic experience, but after marriage, spouses get lazy. Women are too tired for sexual fulfillment… and men cannot fit affection or intimate conversation into their busy schedules.”[6] The longer a couple suffers under these conditions, the less likely they fill find enjoyment and fulfillment in life or from each other.

Do husbands and wives need to do everything together?

This writer does not believe husbands and wives must do everything together. Instead, what Harley is trying to point out to couples is, “If you were to find recreational activities that both you and your spouse could enjoy together, just as much as you enjoy your favorite activities now, it would definitely improve your feelings for each other.”[7] Harley demonstrates the importance of doing things together because, “It reflects the care both spouses should have for each other, as activities found to be mutually enjoyable will very likely be done again, and it ensures deposits in each other’s love-bank.”[8] When Harley suggests all activities must be enjoyed together, he is trying to increase the likelihood of at least some activities being enjoyed as a couple. The end-goal is to find mutual interactions, which are making more deposits into each other’s love-banks, which only happens by overcoming their individual desires and natural tendencies to pursue more mutually desired activities.

Is it good to do some things separately?

Yes. As long as they know what one values most in life is what they will make time for, it is all right to do things separately. If God were not the first thing on that list, one would be living an adulterous life. People, places, and things constantly compete for time and that is why Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffmann demonstrate the importance of establishing boundaries. Wilson and Hoffmann demonstrate, “Boundaries help us prioritize the more important of two legitimate callings such as family needs versus ministry needs. They also protect that which matters most to us according to our values.”[9] It is amazing how one can make time to watch television, workout in the gym, or pour all their free time into work, just to avoid being at home with their spouse or family. Ministers sacrifice so much on the altar of ministry, but these hobbies, recreational activities, and excuses are instead sacrificed on the altar of one’s selfish and fallen nature. Complacency leads to just wanting to have fun or wasting time. Instead, Wilson and Hoffman suggest a radical approach of re-creation. They believe, “Re-creation is supposed to be a purposeful activity to restore and regenerate us so that we can better pursue our calling and intimate relationships. To neglect re-creation is to potentially resign ourselves to a foreshortened tenure in ministry [and or marriage.]”[10]

It has been said, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it,” making history a valuable teacher. However, Richard Swenson maintains, “The lessons of history will only be marginally successful in framing our questions and suggesting our remedies. [When one navigates off the map,] they do not know what is around the next bend. Furthermore, they cannot depend on the lessons of history to tell them, for history, too, has never been here before.”[11] Therefore, the best roadmap one can have in life is making sure their values are in their rightful place. In all things, God must be first, then your spouse, then your children, then your job, and then your interests and hobbies. What is at the top of one’s list is an idol if it is not God and if anything is elevated above what it is should be, the entire system will breakdown. The damage may not be evident early on as the early offenses are often minor, but over time, as foundational pieces are removed, the entire structure will come crashing down. The statistics in failed marriages and ministry only serves to prove this point. Satan knows the quickest way to scatter the flock is to attack the shepherd, so pastors, more than anyone, must maintain this balance and maintain this order as much as possible. Yes, there will be extenuating circumstances like unexpected deaths and catastrophes that cause you to elevate your ministry above family, but those circumstances should never be the norm. If God is truly first in one’s life, it is only natural to make your wife second and any children third in priority.
Love for God should be the stimulus that causes His followers to love others. In fact, that is how He told the disciples the world would know they were His followers. The love you show others is an investment in their life and if more spouses were cognizant of this principle, Harley and this writer believes there would be more healthy relationships and less marriages starving and failing. Marriage takes work and raising a family takes even more. One does not truly find out how selfish they are until they have children. The number of times this writer has counseled people who thought getting married or having children would solve their problems has exponentially grown every year, so where they are being taught this lie is very disconcerting. This writer looks forward to applying some of the methods from this assignment in future counseling sessions. Overall, this writer likes Harley’s approach and while it is radical, it demonstrates what you are truly willing to sacrifice to save your marriage and it illuminates what is truly a priority in your life. By realigning one’s priorities and finding mutually enjoyable activities, this writer believes Harley’s method is a great start to fixing marital issues.


Harley, Willard F. Jr. His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, Revised and Expanded Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2011.
Swenson, Richard A. Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004.
Wilson, Michael Todd and Brad Hoffmann, Preventing Ministry Failure: A Shepherd Care Guide for Pastors, Ministers, and Other Caregivers. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007.

[1] Willard F. Harley Jr., His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, Revised and Expanded Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2011), 94.
[2] Ibid., 96.
[3] Ibid., 89-90.
[4] Willard F. Harley Jr., His Needs, Her Needs, 91.
[5] Ibid., 99.
[6] Ibid., 98.
[7] Ibid., 95.
[8] Ibid., 95-96.
[9] Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffmann, Preventing Ministry Failure, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 28.
[10] Ibid., 28-29.
[11] Richard Swenson, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), 39

Philosophy of Small Groups


It takes personal relationships to earn the right to speak into someone’s life, it takes time to develop these personal relationships, and they are impossible to form within the four walls of the church during weekly services, so an approach must be found to use in the church’s endeavor to turn disciples into disciple makers.

For many churches, the answer has been found in small groups. Since every church is different, there will be diverse models, which correlate to the DNA of each church, but the premise behind all the models is you are either going to be a church “with” small groups, a church “of” small groups, or a church that “is” small groups.

As a new disciple is produced, they carry with them, in essence, genetic markers specific to their conversion experience, so making sure they are involved in proper discipleship and a small group is crucial in reproducing healthy disciples who will continue to share the same saving knowledge, love, and support they received. Too many believers think coming to faith is the finish line, but it is merely the beginning of the race to save humanity through faith in Christ.

With that understanding, this paper will explain this writer’s philosophy of small groups in general and in the context of Generations United’s ministry as well as the importance of relational groups in authentic disciple making. Because relationships are essential in the disciple making process, this paper will also show how missional groups can help the body of Christ move out into the community fulfilling the Great Commission. Lastly, this paper will demonstrate how to live within a community with other believers, while also maintaining a missional mindset inside that community.


As Rick Warren said, “A church must grow larger and smaller at the same time. Larger through worship and smaller through small groups [And] when Jesus started His ministry, the very first thing He did was form a small group.” As Harley Atkinson demonstrates:

As the apostles proceeded to carry out the Great Commission, they utilized a two-fold approach of meeting in the temple courts for large-group meetings and in the homes for more intimate small-group encounters. Very quickly, the house church became the definitive expression of church in the early Christian movement. In the wake of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys, numerous churches sprang up and virtually all of the New Testament churches mentioned in the letters of Paul were in private homes. The house church remained the most significant context for early church worship, fellowship, and Christian education up to the early part of the fourth century, when Constantine legitimized Christianity.

Between the three small group options, a church “with” small groups is not a model that bears much fruit because the group acts detached from the vision and mission of the church, with no oversight from any staff member. Over time, these groups also tend to crystalize, preventing new people from joining and they also become more relational instead of being missional during their existence. Despite good intentions, even if they were started about the Father’s business, they end up just satisfying individual needs.

A church “of” small groups is intentional about getting people plugged into a group ministry as soon as possible. This group strategy has proven effective because they are connected to the church through a pastor and they carry the vision and the mission of the church as their ethos. The challenge in finding the right philosophy has to do with balance as Larry Osbourne proposes, “A group needs to be small enough that everyone has a chance to contribute, but large enough that no one feels forced to speak up or share more than they want to.” In addition, as Carl George suggests, “A healthy small group consists of people at various spiritual levels and must be led by a leadership nucleus.” As a result, this writer contends this system “of” small groups is the best system for most churches to strive for.

The final system is a church that “is” small groups and this is a complex system of groups that generally meets in their member’s homes, but is still connected to a senior pastor or point person in the organization. Perhaps the best example of this model is Larry Stockstill’s Bethany Church in Baton Rouge, LA who believes small groups are, “A group of people who have laid down their personal agendas to work together as a team and that as the relational “cauldron” heats up in a cell, the “scum” rises to the top [And is able to] be removed. It may not sound pretty, but it sure is healthy.” At one point in time, as Dave Earley discovered during his investigation of “cell groups,” “[Bethany had] more than six hundred cell groups and was growing like wild fire.”

As Joshua Knabb suggests, “Within the contemporary Christian church, community is heavily emphasized and encouraged. Drawing from the Acts of the Apostles, Christians are to, among other things, fellowship with one another, disciple one another, minister to those in need, evangelize, and worship together.” At Generations United, we have developed a small group system centered on care. The vision and mission of this church is rooted out of love, acceptance, and forgiveness to ensure that no one has to fight alone. With this mindset, we set out to place a leader over four to six families so when a need arose, that family or individual had someone to reach out to putting a cord of three not being easily broken to the test. The program has been in existence for just over a year now and we are already seeing the benefits. More people are becoming members so they can be involved in this ministry, we are finding out about more needs allowing the church to meet them, and we are putting action behind our vision and mission. As Knabb’s research showed, “Groups that scored higher on Care, i.e., loving one another and treating each other like a family, were more likely to add members to the group; whereas those who scored lower on Care had a smaller growth rate” and we are seeing the same results.


As Jim Putnam illustrates, “The relational group forms the backbone for discipleship [And] the key is that the small group’s purpose is defined as encouraging discipleship – not primarily fellowship or counseling or even outreach.” From the beginning, the nature of the small group must be defined because if this is not established it opens the door for the group to constantly be in transition and lacking purpose. Granted, each group starts at the relational level, but must strive to evolve into fulfilling some part of the vision and mission of the church they are attached too, unless they are using some version of the church “is” model. Over the last decade, there has been considerable literature geared towards small group ministry and as Knabb illustrates, “Several themes permeate this growing literature base for lay audiences, including a biblical emphasis both on deepening relationships within small groups and on utilizing small groups to further the Kingdom of God and become more like Christ. Thus, small groups play a central role in relational development within the contemporary Body of Christ.”

Putnam identifies the leader of the group as a shepherd with the primary goal of, “Creating an environment in which people shepherd one another [And] in the end, he [or she] seeks to teach the group’s members to become shepherds themselves in their families and in future groups they may lead.” Being relational is all about doing life together and that means helping strengthening the weak, caring and praying for the sick, and sharing one another’s burdens much like Jesus did during His ministry. Members of a small group are in essence a spiritual family where teaching takes place and where authenticity and accountability run deep. These traits make it possible for people to feel safe in the group setting while also allowing one another to speak truth and life into individuals without our natural human defenses going up. John Baergen adds that:

When stripped of their masks (and we of ours), there is invariably an underlying longing for connection. Loneliness stalks Christians and non-Christians alike. Belonging to a church provides no guarantee against this deep sense of aloneness. In reality, this does not occur in the Sunday worship service nor does it automatically transpire in smaller settings such as Sunday school or small group Bible studies. Small groups don’t simply happen; they require careful, intentional planning. Healthy small groups will share a similar profile of characteristics as they focus on questions and needs that are real to the participants.

Whether your church uses the “of” model, or the “is” model, Dr. Rod Dempsey offers great advice pertaining to building and maintaining healthy small groups and he stresses the importance of the why and who more than the what and where when dealing with relational small group discipleship. To be successful and relational, Dempsey offers the acronym “SMALL GROUPS” to highlight each trait or characteristic, which are imperative:

Secure God’s vision in fulfilling the Great Commission by enacting the Great Commandment while also engaging the entire body of Christ in the vision.

Make sure the senior pastor is in the lead position casting the vision and the group is part of the team working towards the same common goal. Without the support and backing of leadership, small group ministry is doomed to fail.

Adopt the model that fits who you are and where you are. This means you must understand the history of your church, location, and context, while also discovering and recognizing the DNA of the organization.

Leader training is essential as well as learning to recruit, empower, and deploy. Jerry Falwell said it best, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Critical to the success of every small group are the qualifications of the leader because it is up to the leaders of the church to find capable people who, with a little help, can discover their giftings and put them to use. The training process should be a fun positive experience if done correctly, because you are not imposing or forcing someone outside their comfort zone; you are simply helping them develop the gifts God has already given them through the indwelling of the Spirit.

Launch the groups with the ultimate goal being groups forming new groups, as members become leaders through the discipleship process. This is a sink or swim moment, so making sure you set the ministry up for success is critical. Public relations, marketing, and recruiting are essential is this process and must be ongoing to ensure the survivability of the ministry.

Grow the groups in quality as well as quantity and make sure the group is lead by a strong leader or is overseen by a mentor who can act as a coach. Quantity and quality are not an either or; they are a both and status quo, so you must not sacrifice one for the sake of the other. Initially quantity is what everyone gauges success on and while quantitative growth is important, so is the qualitative aspect.

Reward the right behavior and continually retrain the leaders, while also understanding you cannot bring correction without first bringing instruction. By focusing on the good rather than the bad, you are encouraging future good behavior. Stressing the importance of having regular meeting times is also critical, so people can get used to meeting regularly every week or at the least twice a month.

Over-communicate the vision of the church to the small group so the end result is believers who know Christ, grow in Christ, and then go forth in Christ’s name proclaiming the good news. This process begins by opening God’s word, spending time in prayer, and meditating on what God is truly calling you to do. It is a pleasure to be involved in something especially when you know what is going on and even more so if you were involved from the inception. Lack of communication has destroyed everything from fortune 500 companies all the way down to small groups, so it is imperative to stay in constant contact with your leaders and members so they can continually feel the pulse of your vision and mission.

Utilize and develop coaches while also being united in serving is fundamental to showing members their role in the group and also by embodying how Jesus came to serve and not be served. As a general rule in life, you should always have someone in your circle who is less mature in faith who you can personally help grow and you should also have someone in your life who is more mature in faith who can help you grow by serving as a mentor. Tom Landry said it best, “Coaches make you do what you do not want to do, so that you can achieve what you have always wanted to achieve.”

Pray for one another, pray together, and use your interaction as a catalyst to fuel the mission God has called you to fulfill. Also, pray for the lost, the members in your church, your leaders, and for opportunities to share the Gospel and what God has done in your life personally. God answers prayers, so prayer must be vital in your small group ministry.

See God’s blessing in recognizing as you fulfill the Great Commission, God promises He will be with us as we make disciples.

These goals and initiatives form the umbrella of a healthy group and while the list is not exhaustive, it is a great starting point for those wanting to transform their small group ministry. Baergen also demonstrates:

Healthy churches know the fundamental difference of viewing small groups as one of many ministries of the church or as the basic building blocks of the church. When small groups are viewed only as a ministry, it becomes obvious the church does not understand that life-change occurs in small groups. Natural Church Development states, “The essence of true church is worked out in small groups.” When small groups are fully valued, pastors of healthy churches agree it is actually “more important … for people to be involved in a small group than to attend church.” That places small groups in proper perspective.


This writer agrees with Steve Sjorgren that, “Every small group or church needs to have some form of evangelism going on in order to maintain health.” However, as Joel Comiskey highlights, “Small-group ministry constantly faces a dilemma: maintaining the intimacy of a small group while fulfilling Christ’s command to evangelize [with] the ultimate goal of each cell [being] to multiply itself as the group grows through evangelism and then conversions.” Ultimately, using missional groups in the community must first start with prayer and sound spiritual disciplines. Praying about what God is calling you and your group to do must be the priority because as Donald Whitney illustrates, “To abandon prayer is to fight the battle with our own resources at best, and to lose interest in the battle at worst.” As believers, we must continue steadfastly in prayer and pray without ceasing so that the line of communication with God is never broken. Dave Earley demonstrates, “After 25 years of leading small groups and coaching small group leaders, I have come to one clear conviction: prayer is the most important activity of the small group leader.”

Perhaps the best example in scripture of being mission minded in the community comes from the parable of the Good Samaritan. Just prior to this story, we are presented with an expert scholar attempting to perplex Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor.” Instead of answering the man’s question directly with a response to who his neighbor was, Jesus told the man what a neighbor was, He responded with what the neighbor needs, He told him what a neighbor looks like, and then He said, “Go and be a neighbor.” This story is so powerful because at the time the Jews hated and despised the Samaritans calling them half-breeds and would intentionally go out of their way to avoid traveling through Samaria. The art of community and God’s radical design to love your neighbor flows directly from His nature and it is from the heart of God that the Great and New Commandment resonate. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap. The lowly He sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise, says the Lord and I will protect them from those who malign them. He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; He will crush the oppressor. Though the Lord is on high, He looks upon the lowly, but the proud He knows from afar. God has a heart for the needy and He will always arise to protect them.
A great modern example of loving your neighbor is a paradigm shift that is taking place in South Africa where Jurgens Hendriks demonstrates how:

Congregations in South Africa empower [their members] to become involved in development work as a way of serving their neighbor. It also opens the possibility of working interdisciplinary without compromising theological and faith values… The new paradigm is a missional one, taking the focus on God as its point of departure and describing the identity and purpose of the church by looking at God’s identity and plan or mission with creation and humankind. Social development is seen, as being in line with God’s mission and as such the church should not have difficulty in working with those who pursue the same goals.

Part of understanding your community and how to be intentional in your missional focus comes from understanding who the needy are and how you can meet their needs. God hears the cries of the needy, even if they remain silent, so we must continually be looking for: orphans, widows, the poor, the sick, the unpopular, the outcasts, the neglected, and those who are left out because you can destroy someone’s’ life when you treat them like an outcast and the heart of God weeps for them. Christianity has already changed the world and it still has the power to continue doing so, but not until believers become active in evangelizing their communities. C.S. Lewis demonstrates how, “There are no ordinary people [and] you have never talked to a mere mortal…[because everyone is either an immortal horror or an everlasting splendor.]” Regardless of whether people believe it or not, they are going to have everlasting life; where they spend it rests solely on whether they have a relationship with God, so it is imperative in our mission to be Christ-like in order to love others to the same saving knowledge we have attained. Lewis believed, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”


Jeffrey Arnold believes, “A small group is intent on participating with Christ in building his ever-expanding kingdom in the hearts of individuals, in the life of the group and, through believers, into the world.” The sad reality is the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few and the only way this dilemma will change is when missional groups become focused on making an impact in their local communities. Week after week, we go to church waiting for people just to wake up and decide today is the day they are finally going to go to church. This mindset is nothing more than a façade! For our communities to change, we as the body of Christ need to be active in showing the love, grace, and mercy of Christ to those in our own backyards. This only happens when as believers, we are intentional in making sure all we do and all we say is centered on bringing glory to God. The people in our lives should see Christ in us, but unfortunately because evangelism has barely made the radar in discipleship, the world knows more what the church is against than what we are for.

Seeing Christ in us is a mystery that Dietrich Bonhoeffer brilliantly explains as, “Our human eyes see Jesus the human being; faith knows Him as the Son of God. Our human eyes see the body of Jesus; faith knows him as the body of God incarnate. Our human eyes see Jesus in the flesh; faith knows him as bearing our flesh.” Understanding this depiction, Martin Luther would say, “To this human being you shall point and say, ‘Here is God’” If those in our life do not see something in our lives that they want, in most cases, then we are not living a life which reflects the image of Christ. Bonhoeffer further explains, “The body of the exalted Lord is likewise a visible body, taking form [in] the church-community… [And] a body lacking differentiation is in the process of decomposition.” As a result, our spirit, our reactions, our wants, and desires should represent the salt and light in this dark world. The definition of darkness is the absence of light, so the only way darkness can overtake people, communities, and nations is either when we as the body of Christ hide the light, or when Jesus ultimately removes the lampstand.

As Christopher Beard suggests, “The missional church movement has emerged as a voice calling for a return to the church’s inherent missionary nature and identity. As a part of that call, “discipleship” has been identified as the key to success of the movement as well as the success of the Western church as a whole.” One of the key components missing in most discipleship models is teaching believers how to make an impact in their neighborhoods, at their workplace, and in their daily interactions. Every day there are countless opportunities to speak truth and life into the people’s lives around us, but until we are intentional in how we conduct our lives, we will never earn the right to. We have to be willing to pay the price to earn the right to enter into a conversation about how Jesus loves us and how Jesus loves them. Beard suggests, “Missional discipleship is the experiential process of identity formation which results in a disciple who exhibits tangible evidence of mission, community, and obedience in his or her life.” This is the heart of what life in a community with a missional purpose is all about and Ralph Neighbour illustrates why the early church was so successful using homes as their base for ministry:

There is a very important reason for the early church to be shaped in homes. It is in this location that values are shared. It may be possible to transmit information in a neutral building, but few values are implanted there. Value systems are ingrained through living together in a household. Something stirs deep within when life is shared between the young and old, the strong and the weak, the wise and the foolish. In the house groups, all participated and all were impacted by the values of the others as Christ lived within them.


Small groups are all about relationships and it takes personal relationships to earn the right to speak into someone’s life and it also takes time to develop these personal relationships. Because these relationships are impossible to form within the four walls on the church during weekly services, small groups have become the ministry most churches are turning to. Since every church is different, this paper has detailed you are either going to be a church “with” small groups, a church “of” small groups, or a church that “is” small groups. As a new disciple, proper discipleship and being involved in a small group is crucial in reproducing healthy disciples. As demonstrated, everyone is our neighbor; this means the people we like, the people we dislike, and even the people who hate us. Jesus died on the cross for all of humanity, He gave his life even for the people who spat on Him, beat Him, and crucified Him. If He can forgive and love us, the least we can do is love and forgive our neighbors as ourselves. Lastly, maintaining a missional mindset in everything we do will keep us focused on fulfilling our purpose and destiny and it is through this process where we will find true joy, peace, and happiness. Baergen reminds us, “Where aloneness, disconnection and fragmentation define life, small groups offer the opportunity for a life-changing connection. Acts 2:46-47 sums this up: ‘They broke bread from house to house and ate together with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people’” and now as Banks stresses, “The challenge to the early Christians was to redeem a network of existing relationships; our challenge is… to create community where little has existed before.”


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Putnam, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

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