Thinking and Acting Like a Church Planter

Thinking and Acting Like a Church Planter

A friend of mine, John King, compiled the following from my training sessions, blog posts, and other writings from my team.  I thought it might be of interest to you.
David Watson
Irving, TX
Thinking and Acting Like a Church Planter

Your Audience

Church Planters must think of subsequent generations. Their charge must be, “Do not focus on your audience; focus on their audience.” Church Planters must realize that their disciples adopt the focus of their discipler. Consequently, Church Planters must always focus on the next generation to establish a habit that leads to church planting and church planting movements.
Let’s look at an example. If you disciple people who are print communicators using print communication techniques and send them out to work with oral communicators, they will have a lot of trouble communicating to the next generation of disciples. If you disciple print communicators using oral communicator techniques and send them out among oral communicators, they won’t have as great of difficulty.

Make Disciples, Not Converts

A disciple is one who embraces and obeys all the teachings of Christ and endeavors by word and deed to make more disciples. A convert is one who practices a religion to which he or she was not born, and may or may not encourage others to convert. Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a NIV). Jesus also condemned the making of converts. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15 NIV) 
There is a third group – Those who were born in a Christian family and may profess Christ, but pick and choose which of His teachings they will follow. Personally, I treat this last category as if they were lost.1 John 3:4-6 says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (NIV) Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. ‘If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV)
Making disciples is about a relationship with Christ that results in a lifestyle of obedience to the commands of Christ, which requires disciples to make more disciples. Making converts is about adhering to the doctrine of a particular faction, church, denomination, sect or religion. One can convert without becoming a disciple of Christ. Subsequent generation Christians are more like converts than disciples if they were not made disciples during their childhood and youth by consistently obedient parents and/or other significant adults.
It is my experience that those who make disciples focus on helping people come into a dynamic and growing relationship with Christ through prayer, Bible study, worship, evangelism, fellowship, and ministry. Disciple-makers teach people the Word of God so that they will know what to obey. They train people in the skill sets necessary to be an obedient follower of Christ so that they will know how to obey. They equip people to their full capacity to serve God and others so that they demonstrate a life of consistent obedience and make more disciples.
Often, those of us responsible for making disciples stop short in our disciple making. We teach and/or train, but go no further. Demonstration of the knowledge and/or the skill sets is all we seem to value. Equipping requires us to be in relationship with those we equip. In equipping we engage more than just the classroom or teaching/training time. The equipper and the equipped become a part of one another’s lives. Part of the reason we don’t see more of the equipping discipleship model that Jesus demonstrated with His life is that we have to be absolutely consistent in public and private for an equipping discipleship model to work. The ones we are discipling should be able to drop in on us at any time and find us faithful and obedient to all the teachings of Christ – Consistent. Many of us do not want to be under this kind of scrutiny or accountability, so we avoid making disciples, and instead make students or trainees. We are committed to teaching classes or holding training events where we only have to look good for a relatively brief period of time.
It needs to be noted that it requires no faith to learn something. It requires no faith to teach or to train someone else. But discipleship requires faith – the faith to be a believer in and a follower of Christ, and the faith to do what Christ commands. The faith to say to others, “If you want to be a disciple of Christ, copy my life.” (See 1 Corinthians 4:16; Philippians 4:9; 1Timothy 4:12) Learning does not require faith, just intellect. Obedience requires faith. A faith that when acted out says to others, “I will obey all the commands of Christ regardless of the circumstances in which I find myself or the consequences of any actions I must take or the consequences of any words I must say in order to be obedient to Christ in all matters, public and private.”
The primary characteristic of a disciple is change demonstrated by a growth in character that requires increasing knowledge, appropriate attitudes, right thoughts, improving relationships, and obedient action. Christ does not change. He is perfect. The responsibility of a disciple is to become like Christ. Change happens as a disciple strives to be like his Master. A disciple constantly struggles for perfection. When a disciple misses or falls short of the mark (‘amartia [hamartia] – Greek for sin, root meaning is to fall short of or miss the target), he or she repents and aims for and moves towards the target again. The target is to be like Christ in all things, including knowledge, attitudes, thoughts, relationships and actions. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 NIV)
Perfection appears to be an impossible goal, but it must be our goal nonetheless. Even though Christ is our righteousness through faith, we must make every effort to be like Him in every way. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:23-25 NIV)

Simple Discovery Bible Study

The study of the Word of God is essential to church planting. The church planter must be a student of the Word, and must be able to teach others how to be students of the Word. 2 Timothy 2:2 is often misrepresented when developing leaders. We focus on teaching or “reliable men able to teach” instead of what was to be entrusted to the men who are able to teach. Timothy was to entrust what Paul taught to the men who were able to teach. Notice that Timothy was to entrust the content to them, not teach them the content. The principle is to entrust the Word of God to reliable people who are able to teach. Teach what? I think we entrust the content, which is the Word of God, and we teach people how to understand and entrust the content to others.
Where there is rapid multiplication of churches and leadership, it is important to recognize that the essential element is the ability to understand the Word of God and teach others how to understand the Word of God. We cannot wait on academic training in Bible scholarship before we place leadership in exponential growth situations. Also, we may in fact keep exponential growth from happening if we insist on formal Bible training.
John 6:44-45 (NIV) says: 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.”
A person’s coming to Christ is an act of God. God draws them. God teaches them. Those who listen to the teaching and learn from God come to Christ. These are Christ’s words. We must understand and act on the words.
The only way I know of for a person to listen to God and learn from God is if that person is directly engaging the Word of God without outside interference. When we are a long way from a cell tower there is often interference and misunderstanding what people are saying. When we are near the tower the signal is clean and clear. When we interject a teacher between God and the learner, we force the learner to be further from God and we cause the interference. We must help people to get as close to God as possible. This happens when people are directly engaging the Word of God for themselves.
I struggled many years to understand how I could get people directly engaged in the Word. Much of my ministry I taught the Word but saw little fruit. It was only when I began to teach people to study the Word for themselves and hold them accountable for the Word that I began to see replication.
The Discovery Bible Study is a group approach that helps anyone to better engage and understand the Word of God. It can be done by oral communicators or print communicators. The process is the same, but how it is done is a bit different.
The first step is to listen to the passage until one can understand it and say it in one’s own words. In the print communicator’s situation the learner can write the verse out and in the process of copying the passage read it several times.
The second step is to say and/or write the passage in one’s own words. It is only when understanding comes that a person can say or write the passage in his or her own words and accurately include the essential information in the passage.
The third step is to say/write in one’s own words how one will obey the passage. In the case of those who are not yet Believers, this step is modified to ask what was learned about God or man from this passage. The learner then formulates a series of “I will…” statements that are shared with the group. This establishes accountability to obey the passage.
I often ask husbands to turn to their wives and commit to obey the passage. Then I ask wives to turn to their husbands and commit to obey the passage. Then I ask the parents to call their children and commit to the children that the family will obey the passage. Then I call on the children to commit to obey the passage and their parents in leading the family to obey the passage.
This has revolutionary impact on the family and on the church. It puts the commands of the Bible in front of all and asks for public commitments to obey the passage to our highest ability.
This kind of Simple Discovery Bible Study revolutionizes the church planting process. Families come to Christ more quickly when they see the impact the Word has on families and their lives in the community. Churches replicate more quickly as families lead transformed lives and commit to obeying all the commands of Christ. God is listened to, and people are drawn to Christ. Result = more disciples and more leaders and more churches.
I challenge you to try the Discovery Bible Study process on your own. Do it with your family and/or close friends. You will no longer be reading the Word and then a few minutes later wonder what your devotion was that day. You will engage the Word, and find yourself convicted by how little we so-called Christians really obey our Lord.

The Group Process

An essential skill set for church planters is the ability to form, develop, and equip groups. It is through groups that churches are established, maintained, and replicated. Engaging, understanding, and obeying Scripture is best done through a group process. Groups, when established properly, are self-correcting, and minimize syncretism or heresy. It is understood that all new groups have problems, but we are confident that the Holy Spirit will work to correct these problems if we have established a context in which He can speak. It is believed this context is a group who studies the Word of God together and holds each other accountable for obeying the Word of God.
Groups need to be trained in the group process. It is my experience that many leaders in church planting do not understand the group process and cannot train a group in the process. It must be understood that the only materials a group will engage in this process is the Bible. If other materials are used in the initial stages of becoming and developing a church, then the group will rely on outside leadership and will not become self-correcting or self-replicating. The rationale for this comes from John 6:44-45 (NIV).
44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God. ‘Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.”
Groups must listen to and learn from God, not outside leaders. When they do listen to and learn from God, they come to Christ. The only way I know to learn from God is to study and apply His Word, the Holy Bible. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Bible is understood and obeyed. This process is best when done in groups.
Groups that will become self-correcting and self-replicating must be led by inside leaders. If the outsider leads the group in person or through books or materials other than the Word of God, then the group will look to the outsider for explanation and verification of all lessons learned. And the group will effectively learn that it requires an outsider to understand the Word of God, lead new groups, and start more groups. Teaching methodologies, instead of discovery methodologies, often lead to dependence on outside leaders.
The moment a group is established the outside leader must begin the process of equipping the group to lead itself. The outside leader becomes the coach for the inside leaders. This happens the first week. Non-Believers can lead groups if they are facilitating a group discovery process rather than teaching lessons from the Bible. I would never want a lost person to teach the Bible, but a lost person can lead a group in discovering what the Bible says. The outside leader can coach the group to ask the right questions in a Discovery Bible Study discovery process. The outside leader monitors the process until it is functioning properly. The outside leader also maintains an on-going mentoring relationship with the leaders who emerge from the group.
In the group process the inside leaders are trained to deal only with the text at hand. The first year or so, this text is selected for its clarity and simplicity. What does the Scripture simply tell us about God, man, sin, redemption, grace, fellowship, good works and etc.? How do we simply obey what has been discovered in our Bible study? How can we tell our family, friends, and neighbors about what we have learned about God?
From the first day of a group the members of the group are encouraged to discuss the stories or passages studied from the Word of God. In security sensitive areas this process uses the chronological storytelling approach. In other circumstances an oral Bible or audio Bible may be used. But, the point is to get the group to process the material together and develop a group understanding of the meaning, and then share what they have learned with their community.
Again, in security sensitive areas, form and methodology matter. I do not believe secrecy should be a part of the process.
Teach and encourage the inside leaders to talk about what they have learned about God. Help them to share in appropriate ways the lessons they are learning with the community. Secrecy builds distrust and suspicion. Openness about what one is learning creates dialogue and trust.  Again, how one shares with the community is important.
We train our friends and inside leaders to simply state, “I learned something interesting about God, today.” Then they wait until they are asked about what they have learned. This gives them permission to share. In the Discovery Bible Study process they have been trained to put the Word of God into their own words for sharing to others outside the group. They practice their own words within the group to make sure they have not changed the meaning. This makes the sharing more natural, and insures that the one doing the sharing understands what is being shared.
I cannot stress enough how important the group process is to church planting that self-replicates. Personal Evangelism Models rely on individuals winning, teaching and training individuals. This requires a teaching methodology because none of us want to see lost people teaching the Bible. Personal Evangelism Models cannot lead to self-replication. When is a person qualified to teach the Bible?
Small Group Discovery Models can replicate because they do not depend on a teacher, but on mentors who equip the group to discover for themselves the simple truths of the Word of God and implement (obey) these truths in their own lives, and share these truths with their communities. Training a group to ask the right questions is not difficult, and it is easily replicated. Depending on the Holy Spirit to do His work, however, is an act of faith many find difficult to practice. We must ask ourselves if we really trust the Holy Spirit and then quit trying to do His job, and let the Spirit lead the groups!
Church Planting is a God thing. Our job is to introduce Him to others and allow Him to do His thing. The best way I know to do this is to get groups to study selected passages of the Bible and to discover for themselves what God wants them to know, and listen to God for themselves. When they do this they are drawn to Christ and churches are established.
If you want to see lots of churches started, learn how to do self-led groups who discover the Word of God, discuss what it means, and endeavor to obey what is learned. You may select the passages of Scripture they learn from in the beginning, but soon they will be ranging far and wide through the Word of God, and struggling on their own to obey it. This produces church.

Discovery Bible Study: Step-by-Step

In the last 15 years, over 40,000 churches sprang up in an area in North India known as the ‘graveyard of missions and missionaries.’ Some of these churches are tenth generation church plants and studies show that the tenth generation is as mature and Biblically sound as the first. While persecution in this area is high, so is the faith of the church. They walk and talk with God. They see miracles everyday. They share their faith. They plant more churches. They pray for the sick. They take care of the widows and orphans. Although many are illiterate, they study the Bible inductively. They believe we have a choice – we read or listen to God’s Word, believe, and obey Him or we don’t. There is no middle ground.
People ask, “Why don’t we see church planting movements in the United States?” It is because we read God’s Word, but are not obedient. We amass knowledge about God, but we don’t do anything with our knowledge. We say we read God’s Word inductively but we usually stop before we get to the hard part: obedience. Until we read God’s Word and obey it, we will not see church planting movements in the United States.
Read, obey, and share – that is the discovery process in a nutshell. We read God’s word out loud (if we are in a group) or write it word for word (if we are studying on our own.) Next, we put God’s Words into our own words – just to make sure we really understand what His Word says and to make sure we can share it in informal situations. Finally, we commit to two things: to change our life to obey God’s Word and share what God taught us with at least one other person. Obedience and sharing must happen within the next 24 to 48 hours. If too much time passes between reading God’s Word and obeying it, people disobey God and establish a habit of negligent disobedience in their lives.
According to Scripture, if we read God’s Word and disobey it we either don’t love God (John 14:15-21) or we are a fool (James 1:22-25, Proverbs 10:8, 14:9, 14:16). If we don’t share God’s Word, we don’t love others. (John 14, Matthew 22, 1 John 3:13) If we know what to do, but choose not to do it, we are disobedient. (James 4:17) But we often follow a religious system that does not require obedience (which makes the religion disobedient.) We judge spiritual maturity by what someone knows rather than if they obey what they know. If we judge spiritual maturity by obedience to God’s Word, there are new Christians in North India who are more spiritually mature than many people who chose to follow Christ years ago. If we want to grow spiritually, we need to adopt a system that encourages behaviors that lead to spiritual growth. Discovery Bible Study is one process that encourages those behaviors.
Let’s take a look at how Discovery Bible Study works for personal study and group study as well as oral and literate cultures.

Personal Discovery Bible Study

Turn a piece of paper on its side, or landscape. Then divide the paper into three columns. Label the first ‘Scripture.’ Label the second ‘My Words’ and the third ‘I Will.’


The length of the passage you choose affects how much time the study takes. Longer passages take longer to study. This isn’t a bad thing, but you need to keep it in mind. Generally, try to keep your passages between 10 and 15 verses. In the ‘Scripture’ column, write the passage: word-for-word. This takes time but you control how much time by choosing smaller chunks of Scripture. Break larger passages into several sections, spread out over several days. What is most important, however, is this – when you copy a passage word-for-word you actually read it through several (about five to seven) times. It is a form a forced meditation for those of us who can’t sit and think about a passage without losing focus. This process also keeps us from skimming familiar passages. When you write it out you have to think about every word.

My Own Words

When you finish copying the passage, use the second column to write the passage in your own words. Write it out like you’re telling a friend about it over a cup of coffee. Don’t move on until you can write the passage in your own words. You see, you don’t really understand it until you can tell it to someone else in your own words. And you can’t obey Scripture unless you understand it. It’s that simple. Sometimes, you might have to stop on a passage for a couple of days and talk it out with the Holy Spirit before you can finish putting it into your own words. When you start this process, you will probably find there are several familiar passages that you can’t write in your own words. Sometimes we ‘know’ more than we truly understand.

I Will

In the third column we transition from knowing God’s Word to obeying God’s Word. Look at each part of the passage. Ask God to reveal things you need to add to your life, take away from your life, or change in your life to obey this passage. Be specific. The passage may say that God created the Earth, but you have to decide what that means in your life. How does your life change because you believe God created the Earth? What do you need to do differently? What can you do in the next 24 hours to obey this passage? Every time we open God’s Word, He invites us into relationship. We call His invitation ‘grace,’ because we can’t do anything to deserve it. Obedience is how we accept His invitation. God lives with those who obey His Word.
(John 14:23-24) When we study God’s Word we have a choice: we choose to obey Him or we choose to disobey Him. It is really that simple. This third column is your response to God’s invitation.


When you finish this study, you have two responsibilities. First, you need to meet with other followers of Christ and discuss what you learned. Tell them your ‘I Will’ statements. They can hold you accountable and figure out ways to help you obey God’s Word. Second, look for opportunities to share what God said. Work the phrase, “God taught me something today.” Or something similar, into conversations and wait for a response. This creates discussion opportunities. If people care, they ask for more information. If it isn’t the right time for them, they will ignore you. Don’t continue to share. Please share your faith with those who are ready and interested, not those who are not ready.


To summarize the process:
• Write the passage word-for-word in column 1.
• Write the passage in your own words in column 2.
• List the actions you must take to obey this passage in column 3.
• Share what you learned with other believers for accountability.
• Create discussion opportunities with not-yet-believers. Share with people who are

Group Discovery Bible Study



When you meet with groups for Discovery Bible Study, go around the room and have everyone share one thing they are thankful for and one thing that is stressing them out. Eventually, point out to the group that prayer in its simplest form is telling God the things we are thankful for and talking with Him about what stresses them out. Transition this interaction from a group share time to an open, interactive prayer time. This form of prayers is very interactive and gets the quietest person involved in group prayer.

The Holy Spirit

Right after you pray, ask the group to share what God said to them in their personal time with Him since your last meeting. Asking this question at the beginning of every meeting encourages group members to have a personal time with God. It also reiterates every member’s ability to hear God’s voice. Giving them an opportunity to share allows room for the Holy Spirit to take the group study in a completely different direction than you planned. Be sensitive to the group and make sure they have this time.


After everyone has a chance to share, have someone read Scripture out loud while everyone follows along in their Bible. When they are done, have someone else read the same passage out loud again. This time have everyone listen to the reading. When they are done, ask for a volunteer to retell the passage in their own words. When they finish, ask the group to fill in any points they feel were left out.
Reading, listening, and retelling Scripture is more important than you might think. This pattern allows different learning styles to engage Scripture. Everyone has time to think about the passage and ask the Holy Spirit to speak through God’s Word. Retelling the passage allows them to think through sharing this passage with someone outside the group. Allowing the group to add to the retelling encourages everyone to think about the main points in the passage. Even though going through the passage multiple times seems repetitive and time consuming, the process helps develop reproducing disciples.

Discovery Study

After your group retells the Scripture, you can study the passage. Your discussion must be question-driven. Questions facilitate the discovery process. Questions allow your group to wrestle with Scripture and grow spiritually. Below are some sample questions to encourage interaction with Scripture:
• Did anything in this passage capture your attention?
• What did you like about this passage?
• What does this passage tell us about God?
• What does this passage tell us about Man?
• What does this passage tell us about living to please God?
Keep the discussion focused on Scripture. If you or someone else in your group is well-read, it will be hard to avoid introducing outside materials into the study. You, as the facilitator, need to work hard to limit the discussion of extra-Biblical or other Biblical materials. These materials are not bad, but they don’t facilitate interaction with Scripture. In most cases extra-Biblical materials underscore the intelligence of the one introducing the materials rather than keeping Scripture at center stage. Sometimes this is not the case, but those moments are rare. Do your best to keep discussion focused on the Scripture that is the focus of the study.


Knowledge of God’s Word must translate into obedience or it is wasted. This next step begins with a statement and a question: “Since we believe God’s Word is true, what must we change in our lives to obey God?” Everyone in the group must answer this question before they leave. If they already obey this Scripture, have them share how they obey it. Ask them if there is anything else they need to do to increase their obedience to God’s Word in this area of their life.
Keep this part of your time focused on specifics. For example, realizing that there is only one God is awesome, but that realization needs to become action. In this case you might encourage them with a follow up question: “Now that you believe there is one God, what do you need to change in your life? What will you do differently?” Encourage your group to identify specific things to do to obey the passage.
After everyone shares how they are going to obey Scripture, have them identify someone who needs to hear what God said to the group. Encourage them to share what they learned with that person.
Before you wrap up, ask the group to identify people they know who are in need. Ask the group to identify ways to meet those needs in the next week.
Finally, close in prayer.



To summarize the group Discovery Bible Study:
• Share one thing you are thankful for and one thing that is stressing you out in a group prayer process.
• Ask the group to share what God told them through His Word since the last meeting.
• Ask them to share how they were obedient to the previous week’s Scripture.
• Read Scripture out loud while people follow along in their Bibles.
• Have someone else read the same passage out loud while the group listens.
• Have someone in the group retell the passage in their own words. Allow the group to add to the retelling, if necessary.
• Use discovery questions to encourage the group to engage the passage.
• Challenge the group to obey God’s Word. Have each person share what they are going to do to obey the passage over the next week.
• Have the group identify people they will share the passage with during the next week.
• Have the group identify people in need and commit to meeting those needs.
• Close in prayer.

Discovery Bible Study in Oral Cultures

In oral cultures the discovery process is similar to the group process outlined above. Since they can’t read, you need to use an audio Bible like those provided by Faith Comes by Hearing ( or you need to have someone who can read actually read the passage through for the group. Allowing the group to retell the passage is even more important in oral settings because repetition helps them remember the passage.

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