Manifesto, Meta-narrative & Memes

If it’s true that “if you make disciples you always get the church” what should happen next?

Now that it’s been almost 4 years since the decentralization of 3DM it’s been fascinating to see how the movement has developed and grown under the capable leadership team I delegated to that vital work. During this time, I have been focusing on deepening my understanding of how communication – particularly preaching – helps to develop the right kind of spiritual ecosystem in which discipleship and mission can naturally emerge. I’ve used my Ph.D. work to help me dig deep and I have huddled and trained something like 300 missional leaders in my new content. A book is sure to follow next year (provisionally called ‘Speak Out’) but for now, armed with the insight and experience I’ve garnered I’m ready to train and disciple leaders in a series of ‘intensive huddles’.

Looking back I think perhaps the most important contribution we have made has been to highlight the importance of imitation and imitable patterns in the process of making disciples. Of course the development of a contemporary vehicle for discipleship, which, in the movement of Missional Discipleship, we call huddles has also, I think, been significant. I found myself smiling recently when I realized that 14 years ago no huddles existed outside of Sheffield England – everything was done face-to-face at the same time and place. Now countless huddles via phone, Skype, FaceTime, Google Plus and more latterly Zoom, are proliferating all around the world. I think it’s true to say that we are now unable to count how many people are being intentionally discipled using 3DM tools in discipleship huddles.

The other significant contribution, of course, has been to help develop and define the missional vehicle of Missional Communities, which we currently teach using the language of Family on Mission. I don’t think anyone could have predicted how many Mission Shaped Communities, Fresh Expressions, Clusters and Missional Communities of all sizes would emerge in the Western church when we first began to experiment with the idea that the New Testament church was built around the household (or more technically, the Greco-Roman Oikos), in the little church we led in Brixton, London in the late 1980s. The strapline for that little inner-city church – All Saints Brixton Hill – said it all; ‘The Household Church’. The work there formed the basis of our pioneering partnership with the congregation of St. Thomas’ Sheffield from the mid-1990s onwards. It’s been a challenging but always marvelous ride!

Now that a discipling culture and a missional mindset have been thoroughly established in many churches around the world, I would love to see all of those churches become centers of movemental transformation – churches that change the world!

What do I mean? I mean every church having a similar or greater effect on the world as St. Thomas Sheffield.

Speaking to many of you I know that this is a longing in your heart. You have carried your cross and paid the price of building a discipling culture and you have inspired me by your sacrifice to spend many long months in the desert of reflection asking God for insight. I think I have an answer.

For the kind of impact for which we long through our missionary minded discipling churches, I think that three vital elements need to be brought together to form a kind of ‘critical mass’. They are:

1) A significant and predictable corporate encounter with the presence of God in worship. God’s presence is of course always with us but encountering his presence makes a significant difference in our lives. I have noticed that it is often in this ‘divine encounter’ that paradigms shift, faith grows and lives are miraculously touched and transformed. Of course, it is in this context that preaching most often occurs and it is the preached word that so often frames the experience of the worshiper. When we come to understand the nature of proclamation as seen in the New Testament church it challenges our understanding of how the preached word functions within the church. It’s been amazing to watch churches come alive in new ways as their leaders have engaged with this new content that I’ve taught them.

2) A common story crafted and shaped by the ‘People of God’ (in other places I have called this a connecting story) that tells us who we are and how we relate and connect to our context is absolutely vital. This ‘metanarrative’, tells us how God has worked among us and is enormously important for a sense of common identity and collective hope but sadly it is often missing in many local church communities. Understanding how this connecting story is communicated in a contextually effective fashion is one of the keys to powerful preaching and will be spending a great deal of time understanding and practicing this skill.

3) A development of what I call ‘Selfless Memes’ – little packets of information and revelation – that carry the DNA of what God is doing among you. Of the three essential elements, this third one is the most complex and yet perhaps the most important.

Let me explain; memes are vital to the way in which a movement grows and self-propagates – it’s similar to what Malcolm Gladwell calls ‘sticky language’ in his brilliant book ‘Tipping Point’. The meme of being ‘Born Again’ was vital to the growth and spread of evangelicalism – especially through the work of Dr. Billy Graham – in the mid-20th century. The meme of ‘Amazing Grace’ was central to the work of the Great Awakening. The meme of ‘Doing the Stuff’ was pivotal in the spread of the healing ministry through the work of the Vineyard and John Wimber. And in their own way, the ‘Person of Peace’ – the strategy which I first taught, described and published in the late 1980s – and ‘Up, In, Out’ are examples of the same mimetic process.

Learning how to most effectively communicate these memes is a task that can challenge the best of us. But it has been gratifying to see how the preachers and communicators that I’ve worked with have begun to really understand the spiritual dynamics involved in preaching and by that have been able to make significant breakthroughs in their own communities

To augment the work that, I have been doing in huddles I have taken on the task of recording daily devotionals and have completed daily devotionals on every chapter of the New Testament and now I’m in the middle of recording devotionals on many of the ‘Heroes’ of the old and New Testament. Taken together with the hovels these new resources of beginning to show signs of real effectiveness for which I am enormously grateful to God.  I’m always struck by the fact that it is – in the words of Paul – ‘the foolishness of preaching’ that God uses to most effectively communicate his message to the world and it is those who embrace being a ‘fool for Christ’ you get to do this amazing work. Come and join me in my new intensive huddles let’s learn how to be ‘fools’ together.

Mike Breen