Kingdom Kernels: The Engine That Sustains Movements

Kingdom Kernels: The Engine That Sustains Movements

by Steve Smith

Imagine that you are responsible to insure the training and personal development of a growing number of new pastors each year. This year it is 500, added to 300 from the previous year and 200 from the year before. However, these leaders must remain on the job, not leaving their locations for any extended period of time, since they are in charge of their flocks. Finally, circumstances dictate that they cannot connect consistently to online education due to the lack of connectivity and lack of resources. What will you do?

This is the primary question that faces Church Planting Movements (CPMs) and discipleship multiplication movements. From time to time we see promising church planting that has grown from zero to a couple of hundred churches based on principles we’ve looked at in previous articles:

  1. Finding God-prepared people
  2. Reproducing evangelism
  3. Reproducing short-term and long-term discipleship
  4. Reproducing churches

Yet failure from the beginning to develop a system to train the dozens, then hundreds, of emerging leaders has hamstrung a number of these budding movements. They plateau generally at the capacity of the missionary and initial leaders. Leadership overload, in which these leaders pastor several small churches each without raising up new leaders, stifles the expansion. At this point the missionary and key national leaders work frantically to address the need for more leaders, but it’s often too little too late. The expansion grinds to a halt with the majority of the population unreached with the gospel.

To fulfill God’s vision of His kingdom coming to every neighborhood, town and village, CPM practitioners must focus on a fifth principle prior to the beginning of the first church: reproducing leadership development. Leadership development is the engine the Spirit uses to sustain movements. In fact, sustained Church Planting Movements are by default leadership multiplication movements.

Paul’s Movements as a Precedent for Leadership Development

The church planting and discipleship movements in the six Roman provinces of Paul’s journeys illustrate the importance of developing and multiplying leaders from the beginning and throughout the life of a movement.

  • About one third of Paul’s epistles are addressed to leaders he was mentoring (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon). These were men who grew into leadership out of the harvest of his work. While Paul exhorted churches, he mentored leaders.


  • The majority of the individuals Paul names in his letters were leaders who grew out of his harvesting work with over thirty individuals who partnered with Paul in his apostolic team ministry in addition to the leaders of churches. From the beginning, Paul held a value of raising up leaders out of the harvest to guide the movements when he moved on.


  • Acts 20:4 illustrates the diversity of this group of leaders: Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. (Acts 20:4 ESV)

This group accompanied Paul with his gift for the church in Jerusalem. They are an amazing cross-section of the new leaders he developed over his 8-10 years of ministry in three journeys:  Gaius and Timothy the harvest of Journey #1 (8-10 years earlier); Sopater, Aristarchus and Secundus the harvest of Journey #2 (6-8 years earlier); Tychicus and Trophimus the harvest of Journey #3 (3-5 years earlier). In even a few years’ time, Paul was able to point to men who could guide the movements apart from his constant oversight.

  • When pressed to spend time with either leaders or an entire church, Paul chose the former. Four to six years after the movement began in Ephesus and spread throughout the entire Roman province of Asia (Acts 19:10), and Paul had time to return for only a short visit, he chose to meet only with the leaders (Acts 20:16ff). Conscious of his time constraints, he chose to develop them as leaders who would guide the movement in Asia. When pressed, Paul chose to develop leaders who could minister and equip rather than personally engage in the work they could do themselves.


  • These illustrations provide an expanded perspective on 2 Timothy 2:2. While this verse certainly applies to discipleship, it clearly illustrates Paul’s value to not only develop leaders but to do so in a way that can multiply endlessly. Paul chose to develop an ever-expanding system of leadership development rather than to center the training around his personal finite mentoring capacity.

Principles for Developing Leaders in an Ever-Expanding System

We must have a plan for leadership multiplication before our first discipleship groups and churches ever start. It must be a system that allows leaders to mature quickly in the midst of ministry and brings training to new tiers of leaders with no limits upon how far it can expand.

Movements grow no further than the bounds of their leadership development systems. If your system has a capacity to train 100 pastors, that is the extent to which it will grow. A number of sustained CPMs around the world implement principles to foster continued expansion and maturation of leaders.

  • On-the-job training – Recognizing that it will kill the movement to pull leaders of churches and CPM networks out of their contexts for months or years at a time, CPM facilitators devise a system to bring training to locales where the leaders can easily travel. This requires more work on our part to decentralize the locations of trainings. It means we live on their schedule and in their worlds rather than ours. This is a sort of Theological Education by Extension on steroids as training reaches further and further into the expanding edges of the movement.


  • Just-in-time training – CPM facilitators bring training to leaders as they need it in the context of ministry rather than mandate that leaders only be trained in one extended period of months or years. CPMs reveal that retention and application is much more effective when leaders receive training more frequently for shorter durations. They are able to apply it to their ministries immediately and receive frequent trouble-shooting help along the way.


  • Numerous applications abound of the two previous principles. In one CPM in which the churches are all within a one to four hour ride away from a training site, leadership training occurs monthly on Friday night and Saturday. In another geographically widespread CPM, fruitful leaders gather for 4-10 days two, three or four times a year in many different cities. Farmers can sometimes gather for ten days whereas city-dwellers sometimes gather for four-day weekends or on holidays. In a third context, a largely rural CPM, in addition to monthly meetings, conducts rainy-season training conferences in which hundreds of leaders descend upon a location central to their area for three to four weeks.


  •  Retain the DNA of a movement – CPM practitioners spend a large amount of every training discussing the vision God has given the movement for His kingdom to come to every locale. Many encourage the leaders to develop generational maps to keep track of the expansion of the movement and identify areas that need to be reached or display weaknesses. The CPM leaders are careful to guard the movement from extra-biblical teaching that might dampen the movement.


  • Failure to do this can stall a CPM. A missionary couple were delighted when a movement suddenly erupted through a woman they were discipling. She took the gospel to her home village and that village began evangelizing other villages. The couple was careful to begin training the emerging leaders and encourage the continued expansion. However, when the couple left their country for a couple of months, a traveling teacher got wind of this budding movement. He visited the new churches and chided them for practicing the ordinances of baptism and communion without “properly credentialed” leaders from outside. These young believers naively accepted this and the CPM ground to a halt.


  •  Focus on fruitful leaders – In CPMs, the leaders that need the most attention are those responsible for multiple churches and multiple generations of churches. These fruitful leaders have much larger oversight. Without giving them the encouragement, counsel and equipping they need at each new stage, they will burn out. Effective CPM practitioners structure their training (“mid-level training”) for these leaders that have greater responsibility. Failure to do so means reducing the depth of training and failing to meet their needs.


  • In one CPM, the missionary conducted mid-level trainings with such leaders on a monthly basis. His training was quite extensive in personal, pastoral and theological development. Before long, members of churches who did not have the same level of evangelistic fruit or pastoral oversight began to attend, eager for more training. The result was the need to keep going over basic discipleship ideas rather than deeper concepts and the continued expansion of the movement (e.g. 1 Cor. 3:2). The movement began to slow down. When the missionary recognized this situation, he limited this training to only fruitful mid-level trainers while ensuring that basic discipleship was carried to the rest of the church members. The engine was restarted and the movement began to expand again.


  • Develop a system in which new layers of leadership development can expand without limitations – Effective CPM practitioners have developed systems whereby their top national leaders who have gifts to oversee a whole stream of the movement can reproduce the mid-level training in their stream. CPM practitioners focus on week-by-week mentoring of these top leaders giving special attention to enabling them to become effective mid-level trainers. In time, these top overseers raise up other apostolic leaders with gifts to do the same. The result is a system whereby mid-level trainings can expand endlessly as the movement expands. In one large CPM with over a million believers, over thirty apostolic leaders oversee large streams of the movement. These men empower mid-level trainings in their streams to the extent that there are dozens of mid-level trainings occurring every month in various places in the region. The movement has no limits on how far it can expand.


  •  Deal with the whole person—In our zeal to see more people come to Christ, it is easy for us to position mid-level trainings mainly as evangelism and church planting training events and often do so in a sterile classroom environment. When this happens, mid-level leaders burn out. Effective mid-level training addresses the whole. They give time to worship, rest, personal counseling of each participant, feeding them from the Word, interpersonal interactions and generally enabling mid-level leaders to encounter God in a powerful way. They address similar issues to those Paul addressed in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus – the whole counsel of God for all of life. The result is leaders who mature in all areas and are able to continue as Christ-like disciples.


  • Give deep spiritual truths in bite-sized pieces—One of my early mistakes in mid-level training was to squeeze my entire seminary education into a four week training. After days of confused stares, I saw the error of my ways and opted to give a few deep truths in a way that could be understood. Proverbs 15:2 became a principle of my life: “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable.” (NASB) A fruitful CPM trainer, Kevin Greeson, prescribes the Straw Principle of Training: “You can provide all the pastoral training you want as long as you divide it into small pieces that can fit through a straw. By giving it in digestible pieces, leaders can grow consistently.”


  • Maintain contact with multiple levels of leaders – It is not unusual in the harsh environments of persecution and spiritual assault for the top national leader(s) of a movement to be taken out (prison, flight to another context, death, job move, moral failure). CPM practitioners whose only contact with the leaders of a movement is through one top leader (often because of a noble desire to encourage indigenous leaders not to rely on a foreign teacher) will find it difficult to continue leadership development when he is removed from the leadership chain. It is critical from the beginning to maintain contact with multiple generations of leaders knowing that at any time any leader may leave the movement. It is also critical to encourage mid-level leaders to network together so that they create multiple opportunities for interpersonal development. If these things happen, then leadership development continues without significant interruptions.

These are principles and applications that must be thought through before churches begin. If you begin with an expanding leadership system in mind (which will morph along the way!), you will likely equip the movement to grow for decades to come by the power of the Spirit. 

About the Author: Steve Smith planted a church in Los Angeles and then helped initiate a church planting movement (CPM) among an unreached people group in East Asia. He trained believers in CPM and worked with the International Mission Board (SBC) in reaching Southeast Asian Peoples. Steve graduated to heaven in March 2019.

This article was first published in 4×4 Movements, March/April 2014  page 31-34. It was used here with permission.

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Kingdom Kernels: Minutes and Hours

Kingdom Kernels: Minutes and Hours

by Steve Smith

In a previous article, I discussed the concept of finding God-prepared people. Because they are so out of the norm from what we normally encounter, I sometimes call them abnormal people: they are prepared by God to respond abnormally quickly and fervently as well as to have abnormal impact in their communities. Much of Church-Planting Movement (CPM) focused ministry is spent in bearing witness to many people in order to find these force-multipliers. They might be one out of ten or one out of a hundred in your culture. Because their responses are so out of the norm from the majority of our witnessing encounters, we often miss them. The differences I see in ministries that experience multiplication often and those that do not is how the evangelist disciples the abnormal person in the first few minutes or hours. Those that adapt their follow-up discipleship to expect abnormal results in the first few hours rather than waiting days or weeks often experience kernels of kingdom explosion.

  • The person of peace wins a whole family or web of relationships to Christ within hours or days. 
  • These disciples repent of sinful lifestyles, often with miraculous deliverance from strongholds.
  • They walk through the waters of baptism with radical abandonment to Jesus.
  • They bear witness to their community, stand firm under trial and become a beautiful example of an Acts 2-like church – all within days and weeks. 

The first few minutes and hours determine the difference.

This process is not without backward steps and failures. The enemy is at work to quench the flame of the Spirit unleashed in them. Some of these new disciples fall back into old patterns before emerging into long-term victory. Some fall away completely. Uncomfortable situations co-exist for a while (e.g., the man and woman that live together come to faith and begin planning their Christian wedding). Yet with all the warts, this norm-defying group of people in love with Jesus and each other, through zealous obedience to the Word, grow by leaps and bounds, transforming their community. Their faith reminds us of our first love.

My colleague, Jeff Sundell, calls the initial group of people who come to faith a “house of peace,” much like the New Testament calls the abnormal person a “person of peace” (Luke 10:6). This is a community of people peaceful toward the kingdom who respond in abnormal ways. How does a whole group of people come to faith together so radically?

Houses of Peace

When Jesus sent out the Twelve on their first mission (Matthew 10, Luke 9) and sent out the Seventy on their mission (Luke 10), what did he expect them to find—an individual alone or a community that would respond to the kingdom of God?

Whatever house [or household] you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’  And if a son [man] of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.  (Luke 10:5-7 ESV)

Understanding the person of peace concept is a critical first step in following the leading of the Spirit to enter new communities for the kingdom. They are the pathways the Spirit has set up for the kingdom to flow through. However, the person of peace (abnormal person) is just the gateway into a web of relationships. It is easy to miss the web of relationships out of the sheer excitement of seeing the initial person respond.

In the passage above, Jesus made it clear that the goal was to escort a whole household (not just one person) into the kingdom of God. In the Gospels and Acts, numerous examples emerge of whole networks of relationships coming to faith. Often our value of individualism blinds us to this kingdom potential. We fail to move from discipling an individual to winning and discipling a group. For kingdom movements, we must re-introduce biblical patterns into the first few minutes and hours after the salvation of a person of peace.

How did Jesus and the early disciples transition the kingdom from a person of peace to a house of peace? Read these examples and ponder how the whole group came to faith:

  1. Levi and his friends: Luke 5:27-32, Mark 2:14-17
  2. The Samaritan woman and the town of Sychar: John 4:7-42
  3. Zaccheus and his friends: Luke 19:1-10
  4. The Gadarene (Gerasene) demoniac and the Ten Cities (Decapolis): Mark 5:1-20; 7:31; (Matt. 15:29-31 explains what happened when Jesus returned to the Decapolis in Mark 7:31)
  5. Lazarus, his household and community: John 11:1-46, 12:9-11
  6. Cornelius and his household: Acts 10:1-11:18
  7. Lydia and her household: Acts 16:14-15, 40
  8. The Philippian jailer and his household: Acts 16:23-34
  9. The first believers and leaders in Corinth: Acts 18:4-11; 1 Cor. 1:14-17, 16:15-18

Who initiated the salvation of the household, town, or group of friends?

  • At times the evangelist witnessed to the whole group at once (rather than one individual) and led them to faith (e.g., Cornelius).
  • At times the evangelist trained the newly-saved person of peace to go home to win his household to faith (e.g., the Gadarene demoniac).
  • Sometimes the evangelist accompanied the person of peace to win the household together (e.g., the Philippian jailer). 

Consistent in the thoughts of the evangelist was the winning of a whole network of family and friends through the initial responder. The salvation of this group of people occurred concurrently with or within minutes, hours, or days of the salvation of the person of peace.

When were they baptized?

Remarkably quickly, often together! The evangelists sought to secure their initial devotion and commitment to Christ with immediate baptism (e.g., Peter commanding Cornelius’ group to be baptized immediately – Acts 10:47-48). In the case of the Philippian jailer and his family, this appears to have been in the wee hours of the morning (Acts 16:33 “at once”), so urgent was this step. In fact, other than Saul of Tarsus fasting and waiting three days after his conversion for his baptism (Acts 9:9ff), we are hard-pressed to find any examples in Acts where new converts were not baptized on the day of their salvation. That was because baptism was a sign that these disciples were sure, not that they were mature in following the King.

So effective were these patterns set that these houses of peace often became the leaders of the churches and ministries established through them (e.g., Stephanas’ household 1 Cor. 16:15).

Coaching Abnormal People Toward a Movement

Within minutes or hours, when critical patterns and expectations were set, the evangelists began to set the DNA for a movement. In various ways, they accepted, encouraged, or coached the person of peace to reach his web of relationships. 

Beyond encouraging their firm commitment to Christ, what were the frequent elements of this coaching?

  • Help them look outward and be responsible for their household: In many of the examples, the evangelist implicitly or explicitly encouraged the abnormal person to gain a vision for reaching his family, friends, and community. Rather than the evangelist taking responsibility for their salvation, he put the onus on the new disciple to be the fisher of men. Even the angel who came to Cornelius prior to his salvation gave him a vision to gather his whole household for the message they would receive (Acts 11:14).
  • Coach them on what to do: The evangelists did not assume the new believer would know how to bear witness but rather coached them on what to do and say. Sometimes they accompanied the new believer and shared the gospel themselves. Sometimes they sent the new believer back to bear witness. Sometimes both. A clear example is the account of the Gadarene demoniac:

“And [Jesus]…said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” (Mark 5:19-20)

Jesus gave him a clear target and a clear way to begin to bear witness – one that was simple enough for this hours-old disciple.

Lessons of Minutes and Hours: Follow and Fish

If we will emulate the expectations of the New Testament movements, we must look at our watches rather than our calendars when a person shows interest in the gospel or gives his life to Christ. Within minutes or hours, we should disciple in the twin expectations that Jesus gave his first disciples – follow and fish (Mark 1:17). CPMs around the world are injecting this discipleship DNA in various ways but follow a similar pattern:

  • FOLLOW: Baptize and prepare them for persecution (counting the cost). Like the evangelists above, we must begin by encouraging their white-hot devotion to Christ. This comes through helping them count the cost rather than avoiding the hard discussions. New disciples of Jesus can grasp the persecution that may come, but out of love for him, will joyfully accept it. We must help them see that the King is worth it. The New Testament avenue of helping them become a fervent follower is to do this through immediate baptism. How long do new believers in your context wait before they can demonstrate this sign that they are sure about following Jesus?
  • FISH: Encourage the new believer to bear witness or the interested person to gather his family and friends to hear the gospel. Coaching to witness should incorporate three simple elements:

WHY – Give them a vision to look outward (“you and household”)

WHOM – Help them identify family and friends who need to hear this message. 

HOW – Give them a simple way to start in the first few minutes – their story of what God just did for them (testimony). Like the Gadarene demoniac, encourage them just to tell the story, and as the days go by, you can help them develop a more comprehensive gospel presentation.

Below is a case study in which the missionary has implemented these principles with explosive results. “G” People Case Study by Nathan Shank

For the last twelve years, my growing team and I have been targeting the 25 to 30 million “G” people groups who are spread out across 2000 kilometers. In my family, I am a first-generation Christian. Though I work cross-culturally, I am fluent in the trade language of the people groups. I’ve worked hard to research the local culture and religions and have led out in contextualization but with much criticism for my approaches. This won’t stop me because I long for the Lord’s return and want to equip every new believer to join us as ministers of reconciliation.

Our multi-cultural polytheistic people groups have never heard of Jesus, and our team is the first to engage most of these fields. A strong economy has led to broad trade, exposure to various philosophies, and secular motives in densely-populated urban areas.  Financial incentives mean that religious traditions are fiercely guarded.

Persecution has followed kingdom breakthroughs as new disciples abandon temples. We’ve also been persecuted by members of our home religious culture as we have departed from Christian traditions we deemed unbiblical.  

Most of our ministry partners have been new believers inside the culture who have become fruitful laborers.  Other than a few core teammates, we have not spent time mobilizing outside resources.  Explosive sustained growth has come through on-the-job training for new local leaders raised up from the harvest. 


We’ve employed a very simple strategy based on Jesus’ instructions:

  1. Find and win believers through the Holy Spirit’s direction.
  2. Disciple converts to immediately reach their family and friends.
  3. Immediately baptize them as a foundation of obedience.
  4. Gather churches in homes.
  5. Instruct and hold leaders accountable before persecution forces us to move on. 
  6. Entrust the believers to the Holy Spirit and the Word. Return when possible, correspond often, and watch for obedience.

Amazingly, miracles are frequent.  Encounters with pagan deities have led to breakthroughs in which several religious and political leaders have come to Christ. Normally households are our target.  This aids church formation as families believe and are baptized. New leaders often emerge naturally within family structures.  Because persecution limits how long we can stay in one locale, we have developed a common discipleship pattern implemented in all churches. This has streamlined reproduction by new believers who can pass on this discipleship anywhere.


Six provincial movements of reproducing churches have resulted in a broad evangelization of local populations.  Personal ministry responsibility among the thousands of new believers and our refusal to hold authority over churches has been a key for rapid maturity.  The strong leadership base of trainers in each region means that engagement in these fields is sustainable.


  1. False teaching has infiltrated some networks of churches. We have chosen to confront these traditions directly with truth from Scripture, often expelling false teachers.  
  2. Frankly, some churches have major problems.  False gospels, unscriptural eschatology, and abuse of spiritual gifts have affected multiple churches. We’ve also discovered legalism, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, immorality, and factions among leadership.
  3. The New Testament is not yet available, resulting in dependence on oral methods for teaching about Christ. Literacy is estimated below 25%.
  4. Long-term discipleship by our team is difficult due to distances. Though we revisit some churches, most of the second- and third-generation churches do not fit into our calendar. Therefore we write churches frequently on various topics: our basic discipleship package, God’s power, biblical theology, holy lifestyle, and love for God’s word.  We also instruct believers concerning non-negotiables: salvation by faith, the deity of Jesus, etc.


Despite these shortcomings, the six kingdom movements move forward in an exponential manner. Everything needed for sustained growth and health is present.  After twelve years of service in these fields, I feel the Lord saying there is no room left for my pioneering work and that it is time for me to move on.Your First Minutes and Hours

As you read this case study, what were your initial responses, both positive and negative? Did the missionary seem reckless or on the right path? Could this missionary have been Paul the Apostle working among the “G”entile people groups? Read it again.

A fresh read of New Testament patterns may shake us into a new awareness of kingdom ways.

If the lifestyle of new believers were set on course by the DNA you help them establish in the first few minutes or hours, what would their lives look like? Could a movement result? In your initial discipleship, is a new believer empowered to act in minutes and hours or encouraged to wait weeks, months, or years to follow radically and gather his community to do the same? Are you willing to take the risk, along with its messiness, of unleashing the Spirit of God in the life of this abnormally-prepared person and community? 

About the Author: Steve Smith planted a church in Los Angeles and then helped initiate a church planting movement (CPM) among an unreached people group in East Asia. He trained believers in CPM and worked with the International Mission Board (SBC) in reaching Southeast Asian Peoples. Steve graduated to heaven in March 2019.

This article was first published in Unleashing the Gospel Through Storytelling, Nov/Dec 2013, page 28-31. It was used here with permission.

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Want to Learn More About Movements? Watch our Six Simple Shifts Video

Rakhsha Bandhan

Rakhsha Bandhan

Rakhsha Bandhan is an annual Hindu festival celebrating the special bond between brothers and sisters or unrelated persons with a similar familial bond. “Rakhsha Bandhan” is a Sanskrit phrase translated as “the bond of protection, obligation, or care.”  In the main event of this festival, sisters tie a “rakhi” (amulet) around the wrist of their brother for his protection and then feed him a sweet treat. Brothers then give a gift and a sweet in return. 

This interchange also symbolizes the responsibility a brother has in protecting and caring for his sister throughout her lifetime. In rural areas where women marry outside of their villages, they are allowed to return home for this ceremony, and their brothers will sometimes escort them as they travel. It is common for brothers to be the official intermediary between their parents and their sisters’ married homes. In 2023, this festival falls on Wednesday, August 30th.

Let’s pray for Hindu peoples around the world:

  • Pray Hindus would accept the call to live in freedom through Christ Jesus and that siblings would model themselves after Jesus: “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” 1 John 3:16,18
  • Pray that brothers’ and sisters’ love for one another would reflect Romans 12: 9-10.Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”
  • Pray for siblings to embrace Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.



… bright, powdered pigments that are a trademark of this festival… LEARN MORE

…the night when Mohammed is thought to have begun receiving the Quran … LEARN MORE

A celebration of light triumphing over darkness … LEARN MORE

Part Two: Are You Like Your Name?

Part Two: Are You Like Your Name?

Part Two:

Last week we shared about a Holy Spirit-led conversation between a small group of disciples and Putra*. Read Part One if you missed it!

About a month after their initial visit, Charlie*, Sarah*, and some fellow disciples of Jesus went back to visit Putra. 

When they arrived, Putra was restless and distracted; he and his friend Anis* had just returned from their local Friday mosque service. Putra invited the disciples to talk with them both because Anis wanted to be an imam and was more knowledgeable about religious matters. 

After talking for a while, Anis showed interest in reading the Scriptures with other disciples. Before leaving, Sarah gave Putra a comic book telling the life of Jesus, Anis took great interest in the booklet.

A few days later, Anis called Charlie and Sarah multiple times, urgently wanting to talk. When Charlie and Sarah answered, he said he had read the comic book and saw that Jesus could redeem sins. He wants to know more about Jesus and search the Bible to see for himself.

Additionally, the lady they prayed for who had coughed up blood for several weeks has not done so again! Oh, how Jesus loves and heals!

Since this meeting, a local teammate has met up with Anis. He believes in Jesus as Savior but not as God. Pray that he reads the Holy Book further and discovers Jesus as God too! Pray for Putra to want to read the Scriptures with his friend. 



Charlie*, Sarah*, and four friends were resting at a gazebo after a hike when they met Putra* and his family. As they all exchanged names, read more …

Though they had already left their jobs and were making preparations, the move was halted when their destination country read more …

On the way, they visited a spiritual landmark commemorating the arrival of Islam exactly 400 years prior. They also learned about a strange phenomenon  read more …

Kingdom Kernels: Finding God-Prepared People

Kingdom Kernels: Finding God-Prepared People

by Steve Smith

After sharing with a group of missionaries about God’s vision of a Church-Planting Movement (CPM) in their contexts, I paused to ask them how their work was going. I was blind-sided by their responses:

  • “In our culture, it normally takes four years for the average Buddhist to believe after first hearing the gospel.”

  • “In our country, it normally takes 15-20 hearings of the good news before someone will make a firm commitment to Christ.”

  • “Normally in our context people won’t believe if we don’t have the perfect worldview bridge.”

  • “Normally in our city it takes two years just to get into a spiritual conversation with a person.”

  • (My favorite came a few months later in Europe) “Normally the gospel is no longer good news for Europeans.”

With each statement I grew more discouraged. That evening I prayed for discernment, searching the Word for answers. 

The Abnormal Woman at the Well

The Lord took me to John 4. What struck me was that nothing was normal about the Samaritan woman at the well. Everything about Jesus’ encounter with that woman was abnormal:

  • Culture: A Jew talking with a Samaritan
  • Norms: A man talking with a strange woman
  • Time to Transition into a Spiritual Conversation: Jesus’ second statement was the beginning of a spiritual conversation (4:10)
  • Worldview: Jesus went straight to the heart despite religious worldview differences (4:20ff)
  • Social Mores: Jesus skipped small talk and discussed deep, personal issues immediately—call your “husband” (4:16)
  • Time to Believe: Within the course of one conversation, with a person from a “hard” people group, the woman believed (4:28-29)
  • How Far and Quickly the Gospel Spread: Within two days, an entire town (Sychar) was reached with the gospel (4:39-42)

This woman was prepared by God to defy the norms of Samaritans. She believed in one hearing and was the key to a whole town’s response.

Finding Abnormal People

The next day I told my colleagues, “Everything you shared yesterday is true. You serve in tough places. Normally it is just like you described it. But we’re not looking for NORMAL people. We’re looking for ABNORMAL people!”

Abnormal is defined as: “deviating from the normal, average or expected; extremely or excessively large.”1 That’s what the responses of the Samaritan woman and those in Sychar were like.

This was the beginning of a paradigm shift for many of our missionaries. We were honest to acknowledge that some fields are tougher than others, but none are unharvestable. Perhaps the normal response we find is a lack of interest or faith. But we are looking for abnormal responses – the people prepared ahead of time by the Spirit of God. Now, rather than just spending all our time trying to convince the normal ones, we spend a lot more time looking for the abnormal ones.

The search for norm-breakers was a biblical pattern in the Gospels and Acts. I believe that the Gospels and Acts are like a sports highlights recap. When you watch the highlights, what do you see? The dribbles? The huddles? No! You see the abnormal ten percent of the game – the goals, the touchdowns, the remarkable catches, and the slam-dunks. In the Bible, we most often see the abnormal people, not the 80-90% that may not have responded. Jesus was constantly looking for such people. It’s a biblical pattern for today in which… 

  • Often normal people take years, but God-prepared people take only days or weeks to believe. 
  • Often normal people need to hear the good news 15-20 times, but God-prepared people only need to hear it once or twice.

We are surprised to find norm-breakers because the normal response to our evangelism or discipleship is the opposite. And that normalcy tempts us to label our community, country, or people group as difficult, and we stop expecting miraculous responses. We get dulled by the normal into no longer expecting the abnormal.

The Keys to a Society: God Prepared People
Until you find the abnormal people, CPMs will not start. In the last issue of Mission Frontiers, I explained the essentials for a CPM on a napkin. Finding God-prepared people is one of the first steps (field one). Many people declare their communities hard or unreachable with a CPM when the reality is they have not found the key person(s) for unlocking their community. Jesus called them persons of peace, and they were the entry points He instructed His seventy disciples to find (Luke 10:2-12). When we, as strangers, witness to a “normal” person, he may not respond. But winning the person of peace may result in this “normal” person’s salvation because he trusts the person of peace.

Jesus declared the nation of Israel in His day as a “plentiful harvest” (Luke 10:2), while Paul described them as a “hardened” nation (Rom. 11:25). Both characteristics were true. Hard nations contain harvestable individuals. And harvestable individuals are the key to harvesting nations. There is no context in which God cannot begin a movement because His Spirit prepares people in each of them. In some places, one out of ten persons might be a God-prepared person. In other places, one out of a hundred or a thousand. You just have to work harder to find them.

No CPM method will bear fruit until you find the right people. Conversely, sometimes it seems you stumble through your gospel presentation, and yet the God-prepared person gets radically saved. The Spirit’s just working in them in abnormal ways. 

At the same time, we may miss the full potential of a harvest if we don’t follow up effectively with the abnormal person. Expecting the normal, we follow up in our normal ways and miss the plentiful harvest. Again, we get dulled by the normal into no longer expecting the abnormal.

Finding Abnormal People—3 F’s

In all likelihood, as the disciples took the road into Sychar, this woman passed them on the way to the well. Twelve missed her, but One found her. Why? Perhaps they were so accustomed to the normal rejection of Samaritans that they expected nothing out of the ordinary.

But Jesus’ lifestyle was one of constantly sifting through society to find where the Father was preparing people (John 5:17, 19). Though tired, He found the abnormal response that day. Why did He find her, but the twelve missed her?

Full of the Spirit

One major difference between Jesus and the Twelve was that He was full of the Spirit (Luke 4:1), and they had not yet been filled with the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). As the incarnate Son of God, Jesus limited His divine abilities so that He lived in faith by the Spirit, just as we must. Through the Spirit, He had the discernment to see opportunities before Him and to expect results that broke the norm.

The day was coming for the apostles, however. They may have missed the abnormal person in Sychar, but Peter and John didn’t miss the one at the beautiful gate. Full of the Spirit after Pentecost, they finally “saw” a man they had probably passed many times – the lame man. This time they called for an abnormal response: “Rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6) What resulted was the beginning of a fresh movement in Jerusalem.

Application: Unless you cultivate being filled with and walking in the Spirit continually, you will likely miss the people who will break the norms. Will you surrender yourself daily to the Spirit of Jesus so that you have the eyes of faith He had?

Fish for Abnormal People—Going for Broke

After sharing this with some national church planters in the Philippines, our missionary leader pulled me aside. “Steve, that’s our problem! We are fishing for normal people not for abnormal ones.”

Jesus fished for abnormal people, not normal ones. In one conversation, He went to the heart of the issue with the Samaritan woman, and she responded in faith. He looked for people willing to break the norms and called them to respond abnormally. He told the rich young ruler to sell everything, most likely disappointed that he didn’t (Mark 10:21ff). An abnormal invitation but a normal response. But two other rich men, Levi and Zacchaeus, responded abnormally, giving up their possessions. Jesus fished for norm-breakers.

Jesus could have fished for normal people, not daring to challenge them to radical commitment to the King. But to do that, He would have missed the abnormal people that God uses to launch movements. Instead, He went for broke so much of the time: sell everything, come follow Me, don’t say goodbye to your parents, don’t sin anymore, go tell your family the great things God has done for you.

Do we expect people to be normal or abnormal when we share Jesus with them? Too often, we expect them to be normal and therefore stop short of abnormally inviting them to wholeheartedly follow Jesus and boldly fish for men. We use methods that require them to wait weeks, months, or years before we call them to respond, and then we call them to such shallow responses. Such an approach means we’ll miss the norm-breakers in all likelihood. We have a saying in our region: “People are responsive until they prove themselves otherwise.”

This transforms our expectations.

Application: If you tend to fish for normal people, try fishing for abnormal people also. This does not mean you have to give up the many normal relationships you have, some of which will require years for the salvation of a friend. But in addition, begin finding ways to share the gospel lovingly, relationally, and frequently, calling people to wholehearted faith and witness. Why miss the abnormal by only fishing for the normal? There will be times you are disappointed that persons only respond normally (rejection). But in due time, you’ll have the joy of finding the abnormal response. If only one in a hundred in your community is a God-prepared person, how many people do you need to share the gospel with to find that one?

Follow-up for Abnormal People—Expecting an Extraordinary Lifestyle

It wasn’t just that Jesus fished for abnormal people. He also followed up (discipled), expecting them to respond with an abnormal lifestyle. He wasn’t satisfied with an initial amazing response. Many of us would have been thrilled just to have a man with a legion of demons delivered and wholeheartedly trusting Jesus. But not the Savior! He continued to follow up with the Gerasene demoniac, instructing him to return home to the Ten Cities and proclaim the great things God had done for him. As he did so, people throughout the Ten Cities marveled (Mark 5:1-20). When you find an abnormal person, if you follow up abnormally, a movement may result. This was a biblical pattern.

Would we have done such a thing? Or would we have told him, “Listen, you have a lot of emotional, relational and spiritual baggage. Stay here and let me disciple you for a while. When you’re ready, we’ll let you take baby steps in responsibility.” Would you have trusted him to start on a ten-city tour the next day proclaiming his testimony?

Once again, we get dulled by the normal into no longer expecting the abnormal. We’ve seen so many normal discipleship responses that we no longer expect people to make radical commitments to Christ, to follow through with baptism immediately, and to bear witness to their whole circle of influence within days. Instead, we must give God-prepared people a vision for how the Spirit will use them to reach a whole community. Rather than say “sit and stay,” we must, like Jesus, say, “get up and run”! We will be disappointed at times, but the alternative of never trying is unacceptable.

Application: Is your discipleship approach for new believers one in which you expect them to get up and run with wholehearted surrender and bold witness to family and friends?

All CPMs began in an intensive and ongoing search for God-prepared people. As in the parable of the four soils, there are no labels on their foreheads identifying them as “good soil.” They look the same as everyone else. The only way we find the good soil is through dozens and hundreds of relational gospel conversations with a challenge to biblical commitment. In the process of finding many normal responses, not too different from the first three soils (hard, rocky, thorny), we will find abnormal responses that bear fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundred times. We must sift through large numbers of people in our locales to find the norm-breakers through which God will start Church-Planting Movements.

A few years ago, a missionary colleague of mine adapted his approach and began fishing widely for abnormal people. One day, while hiking with a group of volunteers, he met a man who inquired where they were going. When my friend said, “Up to that village over there,” the man responded, “No you’re not! You’ve come to see me!” My friend recognized this as an abnormal response and set aside his agenda in order to go to the stranger’s house.

In that house, he immediately went for broke and shared a simple Creation to Christ gospel presentation. That day the man believed. Immediately the man called his family and friends to his house and shared the same gospel presentation with them. As my friend discipled him in abnormal ways, this man led his family to believe. A month later, after surviving a death threat from a witch doctor, eighty people in his village believed. Shortly after that, the next village invited him to share the gospel. Sixty people there believed.

The kingdom of God has continued to spread from valley to valley because a missionary found an abnormally-prepared man and discipled him in abnormal ways.

Will you and your team or church fish repeatedly to find the people God has prepared and then follow up expecting abnormal responses? Full of the Spirit, you can be an abnormal fisher of men.

About the Author: Steve Smith planted a church in Los Angeles and then helped initiate a church planting movement (CPM) among an unreached people group in East Asia. He trained believers in CPM and worked with the International Mission Board (SBC) in reaching Southeast Asian Peoples. Steve graduated to heaven in March 2019.

This article was first published in Water + Gospel = Transformation, Sept/Oct 2013,  pages 27-30. It was used here with permission.

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