Teaching Disciples to Obey

This week we are continuing to look at the global revival across the Muslim world.
Check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already.

Sometimes, in cross-cultural pioneering ministry, challenging situations may arise. There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, and even mature Christians who are seasoned practitioners may have different perspectives.

One example comes from east Asia, as recounted in the Waha Disciple Making Course: a cross-cultural church planting team was training a group of church leaders. These leaders were among the first in their people group to follow Jesus. They were new in their faith and were beginning their journey as disciples.

The team taught from Ephesians 5 and covered exhortations for husbands and wives to love each other and to submit to each other. At the end of the study, one older man from the group, reflecting on what he had learned from the Scriptures, asked a question: does this mean that Christian husbands should stop beating their wives? The other men in the group looked at the instructors intently – this question had been on top of their minds as well.

How should the team respond? This is arguably a more complex scenario than the guitar on the mission field scenario discussed in a previous post. Some may argue that 1) the team should provide the answer directly, “no, husbands should not beat their wives” and provide a theological and Biblical argument as to why; while others may argue that 2) the team should allow the local believers to arrive at their own conclusions, without external input.

Experienced practitioners disagree on the best approach here, and The Tide does not prescribe one to always be better than the other.

In this real-world example, the team decided to refrain from providing the obvious answer, “no,” to the group, and instead instructed them to discuss amongst themselves and come up with what the correct answer should be. It took twenty minutes of discussion – as time dragged on, the team began to get nervous – but eventually, the local leaders decided that, after studying the Scriptures, they will stop beating their wives.

A few days later, one of the leaders pulled a team member aside and explained that their culture had a saying, “to be a real man, we must hit our wives every day.” It had taken the leaders some time to wrestle with the important question of whether they could follow Jesus and still be real men in their culture.

In retrospect, this seems to have been the best approach for this scenario. The leaders experienced a watershed moment of submitting to the Holy Spirit. As they had arrived upon the conclusion themselves, this was something they could take ownership of. They also set a precedent of looking to the Scriptures as ultimate authority.

This is not to suggest that such an approach is the best one for all scenarios. It could make sense in other contexts to be more involved in guiding new believers along the path of reading and interpreting Scriptures, especially when conclusions to be drawn may not be as evident. When pursuing cross-cultural pioneering ministry, more nuanced scenarios like the one illustrated here are not uncommon.

But while approaches may vary, the goal is the same: disciples who are obedient to the Word, who are doers and not just hearers (James 1:22). Obedience is one of the key foundations to any multiplying movement of disciples around the world, and without it, growth fizzles to a halt.

Indeed, this was one of the findings of the Fruitful Practice Research team, a multi-agency team of researchers who have interviewed hundreds of workers in the Muslim world. From these interviews, they collected numerous data points and identified common practices which are characteristic of growing fellowships of Jesus followers in a Muslim context. One of the key things shared by such fellowships are “fruitful workers provide intentional guidance, encouragement, and exhortation so that disciples will grow in maturity and obedience.”

For media broadcast ministries, this means that proclamation should be paired with follow-up and discipleship, helping impart the DNA of obedience to listeners so that listening to the Word is not merely a mental exercise. The Tide partners with on-the-ground teams who do precisely this as they strive to win many to Christ and to a lifetime of fruitful ministry.

In our next installment we will discuss the foundational work of prayer!