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An Agency Transition: From Church Planting to Disciple Making Movements – Part 1

An Agency Transition: From Church Planting to Disciple Making Movements – Part 1

By Aila Tasse –

In August 1989 I began ministering among some Muslim groups in Northern Kenya, and in 1992 I started doing outreach into a wider area. In 1994-98 I started researching unreached people groups (UPGs), and LifeWay Mission became organized as an indigenous mission agency in 1996. 

Around that time our group grew significantly. We had people joining who could speak the local languages of a large number of the tribes we wanted to reach. We also had members of unreached people groups reaching out and serving as part of our ministry. So I established a small mission school, and started teaching them. I was going to seminary so I made my own training for them out of what I was learning. We trained the young people and sent them back to their areas. They were the ones on the front lines, reaching out to people and leading the churches. 

A big turning point came in 1998, when I started implementing my larger vision. I gave assignments to the local people I was training. I said, “The best thing will be if we find people from the local community.” So they would go out for a month, start reaching out to people, and find key leaders within that month. When they came back they brought those leaders to our training center. We trained those key leaders for two months then sent them as would-be leaders for the strategy. The workers who had originally connected with them remained as coaches. I didn’t exactly learn these things; I was making things up as we went along. We were seeing things happen, but didn’t have material to learn from. So most of our ministry and programs came out of needs I saw in the field. I was teaching a lot of what later turned into CPM.

Considering a New Paradigm

Between 2002 and 2005 I started hearing about Church Planting Movements. But at that point I hadn’t come into contact with training involving other African CPM leaders. Our mission had touched all the unreached people groups in our focus region, but we didn’t have anything like a movement. I had written a dissertation on church planting and read all kinds of books on the subject, including David Garrison’s book Church Planting Movements. But a big challenge to my thinking came in 2005. 

I met a West African brother who was starting a training, and the main trainer was David Watson. That was when I started to really grapple with the idea of a movement. But I had a difficult time with what David Watson was saying.  He was telling me, “You need to do this and that,” based on what worked in India among Hindus. 

I said, “You’ve never been a Muslim. I am a Muslim background believer and I already have experience and fruit working among African Muslims. Things may not happen the same way in this context.” My big obstacle was that I wanted to defend my own work. I felt successful in planting churches among Muslims. So I pushed back. 

But the most important thing for me was, “How will I finish the task among these people groups if not through something like a CPM?” God had told me “Multiply yourself into the lives of many people.” And he expanded my vision from just the tribes in my home area, to a vision for reaching all of East Africa. I didn’t know what that would look like, but I knew God had spoken to me about it. That began my serious journey into movements. I felt the task was more important than the method. I wanted whatever would help do the task in shortest time, in a biblical way that glorified God. I felt ready for something radical – like the man who sold everything to buy the field containing hidden treasure. At all cost, I wanted to do the best thing for God’s glory among the unreached.

Around 2005 I started speaking about CPM and organizing for reaching UPGs. I had a passion for frontier mission, and I wanted to plant more churches. I had already been doing a lot of things that could be called the DNA of CPM, and the 2005 training gave me more tools and connections.

At the beginning, I wasn’t focused. But over the next few years I started implementing CPM principles and doing trainings with Dave Hunt. He played a big role by coaching me and answering my questions. He gave me a lot of encouragement in my journey. Without knowing much, I invested my energy in applying CPM principles instead of arguing about it, and it began bearing fruit. I found most of the CPM principles in the Bible. We began experiencing CPM and training and sending people. As I continued learning about movements, the strategy became very clear to me. And the movement start taking off at the beginning of 2007.

One major shift happened when I started looking at church differently, asking: “What is a church?” I had previously wanted church to be just a certain way, which was not very reproducible. Now I became serious about applying a simpler pattern of church, which was much more reproducible.

Two other key factors revolutionized my thinking:

  1. helping people discover truth (instead of someone telling it to them) and 
  2. obedience as a normal pattern of discipleship.

I saw the radical difference these could make toward ministry that would rapidly multiply. 

Paradigm Shift in LifeWay Mission

As this shift happened in my own mind, I didn’t push anyone in LifeWay to move toward CPM. I focused on one big question: “How can we finish the remaining task? We’ve seen some churches started, but will our current methods reach our goal? Has God called us to a certain method or to finish our task – the Great Commission?” I believe God can use any method he wants. We need to pay attention and see what method(s) he is using to seriously move us toward the goal. Jesus commanded us: “Make disciples, and teach them to obey.” That’s the heart of the Great Commission. It’s what makes the Great Commission Great. Unless we really make disciples, we can’t call the Great Commission Great. So whatever method we use, it has to be very effective at making disciples who obey. 

I started casting vision to my coworkers. I started leading from the front, demonstrating things and changing things slowly. I started showing them practices and principles, rather than forcing them. I wanted them to buy into vision rather than my putting pressure on them. I gave them my example by starting groups that multiplied. I opened the Scriptures and started showing them the biblical principles. As obedience became our lifestyle, that helped my people understand. It became clear to us that this was the way to go. I didn’t apply organizational pressure or exercise authority to bring the change. It wasn’t a top-down process. Some of our workers learned very early and started applying CPM principles; others were slower. For those moving more slowly, we said “Let’s move graciously and gradually.”

That process started in 2005 and continued for a couple of years. In October 2007 we made a complete change as an organization. We clarified that our goal was not just reaching the unreached, but catalyzing Kingdom movements. Lifeway Mission had started with a vision of Kingdom growth in Northern Kenya. The key thing was engaging unreached groups and reaching them with the gospel. 

Now it became clear that our work was not just engaging the UPGs with the gospel, but facilitating and catalyzing Kingdom movements among them. Our focus is still reaching UPGs, but now we’re doing that through DMM (Disciple Making Movements – the term we now use most commonly, to stress that our focus is making disciples). October 2007 was a turning point for all our teams. We changed our mission statement, our details of partnership, our networking and collaborations. 

We now explicitly aim to make disciples who multiply and become churches that multiply. A Disciple Making Movement helps us finish the task Jesus has given us. We don’t focus on a method. But if DMM helps us reach our goal, we don’t need to argue. We’re aiming for Kingdom movements among UPGs, to finish our portion of the Great Commission in the region God has entrusted to us. In 2007 we used the term “CPM.” And the key to CPM is making disciples. So since that time we have emphasized making disciples – bringing the Muslim peoples of East Africa to become obedient disciples of Jesus.

In part 2 we will share some challenges in the transition, fruit since the transition, and keys that have sustained us and brought fruit.

Dr. Aila Tasse is the founder and director of Lifeway Mission International (www.lifewaymi.org), a ministry that has worked among the unreached for more than 25 years. Aila trains and coaches DMM in Africa and around the world. He is part of the East Africa CPM Network and New Generations Regional Coordinator for East Africa.

This was originally published in 24:14 – A Testimony to All Peoples, available from 24:14 or Amazon, pages 278-283.

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