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…