Onward Church was born out of a burden that the Lord had been placing on my heart for some time. I started my ministry as a pastor in 1990 in the usual way of “attractional” church. The traditional idea of “doing church” was to develop a program on Sundays that would draw those who were far from God to hear the Gospel and connect with the Lord and His people. But after more than 20 years doing it this way, something seemed very ineffective to me with this approach.
I’ve said for a long time, “I’m way too old to play church!“
About that time I was introduced to the story of a missionary by the name of Ying Kai. In 2001 Ying Kai had been assigned as a missionary to an unreached people group of 20 million people in a country in the Far East. For the five years prior to this new assignment, he had been effective in planting one new church per year, and personally discipling about 60 people per year. He was receiving accolades for his effectiveness as a missionary.
Ying & Grace Kai
But as he considered the overwhelming responsibility of trying to have an impact on 20 million people, he realized that if he kept doing what he had been doing he would never make a dent in reaching these unreached people. As he turned to the Lord in prayer and meditated on the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), the Lord’s instructions for pursuing his new assignment were there. The Great Commission instructs that we are to go, not invite them to come to us; that everyone is to be engaged in attempting to reach everyone, everywhere; and we are to make disciples, not church members or converts.
With these new marching orders, Ying Kai began by teaching a group of 30 Christians how to make disciples who would know how to make disciples. During the next 10 years, he was used of God to begin a movement that planted more than 158,000 churches and baptized 1.7 million people.
This story was overwhelming to me. For the ten years prior to starting Onward, I had served in a church plant that was 10 years old and was among the top 1% most successful church plants in America. In its 10-year history (2001 to 2011) it had baptized 1000 people—covering the same 10 years as Ying Kai’s work in the Far East…1000 compared to 1,700,000.
I came to the realization that in my 22 years as a pastor I had encouraged, challenged, rebuked, motivated, inspired and even scolded Christians toward disciple-making, but I had never taught them how to make a disciple. As a matter of fact, it had never occurred to me that my first responsibility as a pastor in “equipping the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-13) was to teach them how to make disciples who were able to make disciples (2 Timothy 2:2). I asked the Lord for forgiveness and determined to train everyone in disciple-making.
At the same time, it seems to me that Christians in America have completely abdicated their responsibility to make disciples. Christians have found ways to rationalize their habitual disobedience to the Great Commission. But in their defense, few Christians have any idea how to make disciples—they have never been taught.
So this is our purpose and our mission: to teach how to make disciples…And not just to make disciples, but to make disciples who know how to make disciples. Ying Kai called these people “trainers.” The idea is to train trainers who can train trainers. It is in the built-in multiplication process that we see the explosion of the work of God by sending many workers into His harvest (Matthew 9:37-38). Therefore we are training all of our people to be able to make disciples using the principles that Ying Kai developed in T4T.
What can God do through us in the months and years ahead if we can learn to be effective in making disciple who can make disciples?
Keeping It Simple
It seemed to me that the modern, “relevant” church growth movement in America had become so focused on making the Sunday morning programming the center of their purpose. This often leads to complicated, over-rehearsed programs that require an enormous drain on resources—both human and financial. It just seemed too complicated to me. We felt that the Lord was asking us to keep it simpler. So our hope is that our worship on Sunday is genuine, simple and organic.
It seems that modern church discipleship has been very focused on teaching people what Jesus commanded, but that is not what He instructed us to do. He told us to teach “them to obey everything I have commanded” (Matthew 28:20a, NIV). Knowledge-based discipleship teaches information. Obedience-based discipleship teaches obedience. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1b, NIV). Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15, NIV).
Our focus is in training Christians to obey Jesus—especially in as it relates to disciple-making.
Teaching the Word
Job said, “I have desired your word more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). From walking with the Lord for many years I know the power of His word. I want people to know my Jesus through the incredible truth of the Bible. The simple teaching of God’s word, verse-by-verse, leads people into a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
Some of my seminary professors didn’t believe the whole Bible. They did their best to persuade the students that the Bible is filled with mythology. But, you see, I had “walked through the valley of the shadow of death,” and I knew that God’s word was true and sure! As the Psalmist declared, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7, NIV84).
God had proved Himself and His word to me through the most difficult struggle of my life. Anyone trying to tell me His word was not reliable or completely trustworthy was wasting his time! I agree with the Apostle Paul when he said, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12, NKJV).
Many churches often spend 40% or more of their offerings on church buildings and facilities—when you add the cost of construction to the cost of upkeep. Yet they use their buildings only a few hours per week. Our philosophy is to rent a meeting place whenever and wherever we need and not purchase, rent or build a permanent building. Plus with just a little planning, many of our meetings can be held in homes. Our current cost for facilities averages less than 8% of our offerings. This leaves substantial resources to fund missions and outreach, and puts us in a strong financial position.