How the Weak Win Wars

About a hundred years ago, while I was in high school, I memorized the entire Gospel of Matthew for a 1960s style “Bible Quiz.” I got a scholarship out of the deal along with a fierce understanding of Jesus as the leader of a revolution. In fact, all great revolutionaries from Jefferson to Gandhi seem to have taken ques from Jesus’ playbook.

However, as much as I get Jesus as a revolutionary leader, warring against legalistic religion, I’ve always struggled with those seven statements he made in Matthew 5. I now see them as having implications for disciplemaking and microchurch planting. Here are three of the five that gave me heartburn

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

I kind of “got” the meek part by comparing it to Moses, a powerful leader with emotions mostly under control. But the word also means to lead quietly. I struggled with that part. After all, General Patton wasn’t quiet, nor did he have emotions under control. Jesus words reek with weakness, however a quote from T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) helped me unlock these scriptures in a way no Bible commentary ever did.

Learning Something from Lawrence of Arabia

Leading a ragtag group of Arabs against the well-equipped and well-trained army of the Ottoman Empire promised certain defeat. Yet Lawrence and his guerilla army whipped their much more powerful enemy, conquering what is now Saudi Arabia, Syria and parts of Israel and Lebanon. His logic when outnumbered, out gunned and out trained was,

…suppose we were (as we might be) an influence, an idea, a thing intangible, invulnerable, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. We might be a vapour, blowing where listed. Our kingdoms lay in each man’s mind; and as we wanted nothing material to live on, so we might offer nothing material to the killing. It seemed a regular soldier might be helpless without a target, owning only what he sat on, and subjugating only what, by order, he could point his rifle at.

In other words, Lawrence turned weakness into strength. I found the quote in a book called, “Why the Weak Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict.” The book details how strong armies always win in head-to-head conflict, but often lose when head-on is met with the tactics of poorly equipped armies who behave like ghosts driven by ideals. These weaker forces are hard to kill because they are hard to see.

So what’s this got to do with disciplemaking and freelance microchurch planters? Quite a lot if you look at Jesus’ statements I referenced earlier.

Poor and Poor in Spirit

Today’s church is poor in spirit and growing poorer financially. Most churches are small. Donations come largely from older people who are retiring and eventually dying. We mourn the loss of Christian influence in our culture. We come under fire from the big guns of our A) universities B) mainstream media C) leading political voices. We cannot go head-to-head against the forces of secularization—yet we’ve tried. Head-to-head is what the megachurch is all about. We tried for four decades to compete with the secular world on its terms and we’re finding that we’ve lost numbers and influence during that time. We need to change strategy.

It’s easy to talk of guerilla tactics in spiritual warfare during times of persecution. After all it’s how a ragtag, spread out group of Christ-followers overtook ancient Rome. It worked in Ireland and through the Protestant Reformation. Recent history manifests a similar victory in China under Mao. But we don’t live under persecution—yet.

Lessons from Europe

Let’s take a look at the church in today’s Europe. After decades of all-around shrinkage, the church is growing in almost every European nation. However, that growth is mostly underground. A church poor in spirit, mourning its lack of cultural penetration and definitely meek is growing in the face of overwhelming odds.

Europeans have discovered the value of face-to-face relationships, even in the citadels of secular education, government circles and among the poorest immigrants. They’re making disciples because nothing else has worked for seven decades. Fruitful disciplemaking leads to small gatherings, sometimes small to avoid attention—sometimes because the only place to meet is a home of coffee shop because real estate prices preclude anything else.

However you cut it, a church once beaten down is beginning to prevail against a secular socialist monolithic culture because it’s adopted the simple strategies presented in the gospels and Acts. Make disciples, organize them into small bands, appoint leaders from among them, own little, remain invisible and reproduce. I guess all those seven pesky pronouncements in Matthew make sense when you read them in light of these recent victories. I only hope the U.S. church can learn from them.

So what? Am I whacked out or does what I wrote make sense? If it does, what are the implications for you and your team? Please comment below…

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21 thoughts on “How the Weak Win Wars”

  1. Thanks for the article, I agree, we need to reconnect with Jesus’ style, early church, small and mobile, face to face… “go low”, less noticeable and noisy…. but on a mission … follow examples of awakenings heroes, Lawrence of Arabia, etc… I’m glad to hear about Europe … here in Tucson, AZ… we are finishing a 40 day time of praying through scripture, specifically gospels/Acts … to catch the Jesus style… meeting once a week face to face… random folks from built relationships from several local churches … and we see opps for more simple gatherings, face to face, to connect others, and … our big prayer…. provide a “local net” to catch people and be the family of God across our city… (Ephesus, Corinth, Tucson…. city churches… but organic) .. we sense the hunger from the younger crowd, who are open to something real and relational … (we are about to offer a Journey of Discovery 6 week group about life in general… and there is much interest among 16-30 yr olds) and we are seeing fresh testimonies and stories of Jesus as He leads us, for such a time as this. Press on!

  2. interesting… but I think that measuring disciplemaking by the size of a church or its gatherings could be missing the boat. God causes growth – and sometime the lack of or the blessing of is not humanly explainable. As the church was birthed in Acts, it started with 120… but soon 3000 were added (Acts 2)! in vs. 42-47 we see that they gathered as a large group and house to house. But then 5000 more were added (Acts 4)! What a movement! I think that counts for mega church! The questions we should ask: Are we multiplying disciples? Are we multiplying disciple-making communities? if the answer is yes, then God will help to determine size. I don’t think smaller is better. And I don’t think larger is better. I think making disciples who make disciples and reproducing disciple-making churches is better! And if you do that in a micro church – AWESOME! And if you do it in a mega church – AWESOME! JMHO.

    1. It costs too much to multiply megachurches but you can do what eLife, a megachurch in Lubbock TX, is doing. At 10 years old they had been on the fastest growing list 5 times. However, when they turned 10, after a couple of years of preparation, they switched to a DMM (disciple multiplication movement) model, sending out 54 (micro) church planters they had trained. Google “Chris Galanos” to see what they are now doing. Especially view their 11th anniversary video for some amazing stories.

  3. Brilliant. Just met a pastor from Northland here in New Zealand who is taking this to heart. Home Bible studies with immediate discipling and sending. Families baptizing family members and friends and then continuing the same Bible studies with those they disciple. No invites to “the church” as the structure and bias would likely drive them away. Really exciting opportunities to reach those who are still lost and on the fringes of society. “Church” is becoming too focused on programs and bright lights to attract observers without making disciples. Guiding others to capture the vision, the why, the heart of Jesus, is the best way to create disciples who will truly follow Christ in their lives.

  4. Here’s a crazy thing – as a member of a traditional denomination in the UK, it is American folk like you who have educated me into at least being aware of micro-church, viral gospel ways of working. These things are so below the radar that many traditional churches are totally unaware (and Americans are better at blogging!)

  5. Thanks Ralph for these thoughts. The same issues confront us here in Australia. Secularization is deeply embedded with ‘everything’ being redefined with little reference to Bible. Even being a ‘christian’ has been redefined by secular paradigms. The increase of ‘the nones’ (indicated ‘no religion’ on census) is staggering, numbering 30%. We have never seen so many mega churches of 2000+ members in Australia yet church attendance is poor and our influence is being dwarfed. We need to return to the basics – making disciples in every sphere of society and gathering wherever He leads.

  6. I’ve been preaching on the beatitudes for several weeks and this hits home. You’re not whacked out. It should be this simple.

  7. Maybe I’m crazy but I read these statements in an opposite direction. Jesus is NOT telling us to BE poor in spirit but those that are shall Reign some day with Him. Those who mourn now will be blessed in the Kingdom will be comforted. Gentle shall be inheritors, the hungry for righteousness will get filled in the Kingdom. They wil be blessed in the Kingdom.

    1. Gary, when I listen to Jesus talk about kingdom of God, I hear him talking about the present. The Master presently orders us to spread the kingdom of God by making disciples.
      Megachurches, while not inherently bad, aren’t getting the job done. Megachurch DNA says “gather.” Disciple-maker DNA says “send.” Only the latter will make it to the ends of the earth.

  8. It’s making more sense to me the longer I follow Jesus and serve as one of His many royal priests. For years, I missed the reason behind Jesus’s invitation for those who are weary and heavy burden to come to him. The reason he gave was because he was meek and lowly in spirit. I believe Jesus was telling us exactly what you’re saying. He operates in the low places of the world. And so to find where He is working, we have to go low as well. As Garth Brooke sang, “I’ve got friends in low places.” The surprising part for us, I think, is the power we discover in a low state of being. Jesus is power and so to discover where He is working is to find strength, courage and an effectiveness far beyond the world’s understanding. It’s why I pray like never before to have the discernment to see where Jesus is working in the midst of my circumstances so I can be with Him. It’s really the only thing that matters.

  9. Look at what eLife church in Lubbock TX? (http://wigtakedmm.com/) is now doing In their first 10 years as a church they were on the 100 fastest growing list 5 times (13,000+ “Decisions for Christ” and 6000+ Baptisms . After about 2 years of preparation, at their 10th anniversary in 2017, they switched from attractional to a DMM (Disciple Multiplication Moment) focus. Their goal is a million new disciples (not just converts) by 2027 multiplied to 200 million by 2037. Scroll down their resources page and you can see their 10th anniversary celebration and announcement about the switch and sending out 54, trained in house, church planters. They knew they would lose people and money but knew the Kingdom would gain. You can hear some amazing stories of what happen in just the first year at their 11th anniversary celebration (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wr7QFRZKiDA). It has taken making radical changes in what they do, including more recently beginning to use DBS in place of a sermon (see their blog).

    What would America be like in 2030 if we had 100 churches like eLife around the country.

  10. Wisconsin Aloha, Ralph. Some of us are doing all of our ministry outside the gathering of what I call “church christians” – there on Sunday but do little during the week. I’ve been focused on Prison Ministry since 1985, continuing on here in Milwaukee at our Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility. Many of the inmates are open to our Bible studies. The only visits they receive are through video; the visitors are not allowed face to face visits. So we are the best game within prison. Some just want to hang out with us cuz we are the only “civilians” allowed to enter. We can tell the sincere ones from those who just want a free hour, or to just mock us. Our prison ministry is a Matthews 25:40+ where these guys hear a strong Gospel message. This is my ministry till God calls me upward. Blessings in Jesus to you and yours, Ralph. This sure is NOT Hawaii, but I’m doing what I should be doing. Much Aloha. mike, 31Aug2019Sat.

  11. What if, indeed, local churches were actually the group in someone’s home and the Sunday Event was simply a gathering of all the various mini-churches? Every home a light-house, every street one place where the porch light is on. Let your light so shine before men….

  12. I think that in disciple making, networks are key. Regardless of your views on the small church/megachurch debate, one thing that the megachurches have as an advantage is financial resources. They can afford to sponsor large scale projects.

    But the challenge is this: there aren’t enough megachurches to totally fulfill the great commission but there are enough Christians overall. So then the question shifts to how do Christians outside of the megachurches do large scale projects? Simply put, they have to network.

    They stay engaged in the small church but they begin to form groups based on commonalities such as they want to reach Botswana or feed the hungry or engage in youth outreach.

    Networking brings economies of scale yet the differences between this new paradigm and the megachurch could be two big things.

    First, a micro church network may not have all the bureaucratic hoops to jump through as in a megachurch. Second, the concept of risk is accepted and it is even okay to fail. Failing risks everything for the megachurch but often only leads to innovation in the microchurch.

  13. Ralph
    Loved what you had to say. Thank you for always pointing us to the tried and true ways which work. They’re Bible-based as well as Spirit-based. But what I most enjoy regarding your writings and insights has to do with the fact that they are practical, fruitful and cross language, ethnic and cultural boundaries.

    Jim Tolle
    El Camino Churches
    Los Angeles

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