by C. Anderson

Part One: Goals excite type A personalities. The setting, achieving and working toward them can be very motivating. After reaching an important goal, however, many feel a sense of emptiness and loss.

Long-distance runners often experience this after completing a marathon. They’ve trained for months to compete in a race. Driving toward that goal gave training a clear purpose. When the race is over, there is an emotional downswing. The big challenging goal is completed. So, why am I going to the gym today? Those who train runners warn against low-level depression in the days following a big race.

In a reverse scenario, we can experience intense disillusionment when an important goal seems elusive. Perhaps the goal of catalyzing a rapidly multiplying Disciple Making Movement feels that way. We may need a change in our focus.

Goals vs. Systems
New York Times bestselling author, James Clear, writes about this in his popular book Atomic Habits. On page 23, Clear writes, “Forget about goals, focus on systems instead.” He describes the difference in this way. “Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.”

While this book has a humanistic, self-help slant, as I listened to the Audible version on a long car ride, a series of lightbulbs exploded in my head. “There is so much in this book to apply to disciple- making and the pursuit of movements!” I mused, taking copious notes.

If you haven’t had the chance to read Clear’s book, I recommend it. There are many takeaways for life in general as well as disciple-making. After listening to it, I decided to buy the actual book and re-read it in light of disciple-making habits. This article shares some of the insights gained and what I am experimenting with.

While I’m not ready to let go of the God-sized goal of a DMM, I see the book’s point about systems. It’s not having a DMM goal that will get us to movement. If that were the case, we would have many thousands more movements than we do already.

What will catalyze and sustain a DMM are disciple- making habits we put in place in our lives, in the lives of those we train and in those our disciples train. Normalizing a few key habits and simple  systems in our movement efforts sets the trajectory for multiplication. This leads to something far beyond the superficial goal of reaching 4th generation growth and a certain number of groups or streams.  If you are not familiar with the definition of a DMM, please see https://www.dmmsfrontiermissions.com/ disciple-making-movement-what-defined/. While this definition has merit and is helpful, it is not the end goal. Nor does it come directly from Scripture. The real aim is to see disciples that multiply rapidly and continue to do so as we see in the New Testament. So again, just aiming for 4G and multiplication isn’t enough. We need habits, systems and practices that get us there.

With that established, let me first illustrate some of the Atomic Habits concepts in a personal and practical way. From there, we’ll then turn attention to the applications for disciple-making.

Habit Stacking vs. Despairing Over a Challenging Goal
My husband and I currently live in Thailand. We have been here for about six years. Before this, we lived for many years in Nepal and India. When in those nations, I learned to speak Nepalese and Bengali. It is a personal value to understand the culture and worldview of those around me. I want to find bridges and ways to share the good news of Jesus with my neighbors. This is true even though I now travel a great deal and my ministry is more global than local.

Learning Thai has been hard. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m now over 50, or maybe because it’s a tonal language, or it could be because I travel in and out and have a full ministry schedule. I’m not exactly sure why, but I’ve found it exceedingly difficult to gain even market fluency in Thai.

At times I feel determined to learn. At other times, I’m deeply frustrated and want to give up. In all honesty, I’m ashamed to have lived here so long and to speak so poorly. My heart aches to be at a place of fluency where I can share the message of my wonderful Savior freely. Many, many Thais around me don’t speak English and have never heard the gospel in a way they could understand.

As I read Atomic Habits, I realized I should change  my focus. Instead of the goal of being fluent in Thai,  it may be more helpful to concentrate on developing   a consistent daily study habit. Now, each day after my quiet time and writing hour, I study Thai for 30 minutes. That consistent habit is already making a difference! It has set me on a trajectory where I definitely will reach my goal of speaking Thai one day. I’m no longer feeling discouraged but can trust the system to get me there. I’ve habit stacked Thai study (a concept he talks about in the book) on top of two other habits I already have in place in my life and enjoy.

Another helpful concept from this book is what James Clear calls the Law of Least Effort. It’s followed by the Two-Minute rule (Chapters 12 and 13). They come under the habit law he describes as, “Make it easy.” The basic premise is that a new habit should be so simple you can’t talk yourself out of doing it. If you can do it in two minutes, you don’t need much willpower to put that habit into place. Thus, it is far more likely to become a sustained practice. After a simple habit is established, it is far easier to increase it.

Again, allow me to demonstrate how I’m applying this personally. I find motivation for strength-building difficult, though I know it’s important at my age. I’ve recently started doing just five pushups and five sit-ups every day. This takes two minutes and is so easy that I can’t talk myself out of it. From there, I can increase to seven, then 10, and in six months I’ll be doing 50 a day.

This article was first published in Mission Frontiers and used here with permission. 

About the Author: C. Anderson is an experienced field practitioner and leader. The past 27 years, she served in Asia with YWAM Frontier Missions. Anderson trains and coaches both international and indigenous church planters toward the launching of Disciple Making Movements. She blogs weekly about DMM related issues at dmmsfrontiermissions.com