British-born ministry 3DM invited various Church leaders in the New England area to join them on a quest to re-imagine discipleship and church culture in America last week.
The group, whose headquarters are now based in Pawley's Island, South Carolina held a Discipleship and Mission Workshop at the Church of Emmanuel in Foxboro, Mass. from Feb. 4-6 that attracted church leaders from all over the northeast region of the U.S.
"We're not getting discipled, we're [learning how to use 3DM's tools]," said Vincent Gressi from Oasis Christian Center in New York City in regards to his experience with the material. "I've been discipled, now I should be discipling someone else. [3DM created tools], not a system [to make this possible]."
For Gressi, this workshop will influence his decision to continue the process laid out by 3DM, or to leave it behind.
The event began on Tuesday with host Tom Flanders addressing the New England area, where church attendance has hit an all-time low. 3DM Central member Matt Tebbe started with a bold proclamation.
"Our vision is to change the world by changing the churches in America," he says. To 3DM, Jesus Christ aimed to replicate himself in others in scripture. "It's an effort to do discipleship in a way that multiplies."
3DM believes the current model of discipleship is no longer effective in a post-Christian culture.
One video discussed failing church attendance and a drop off of Generation Y engaging with the church. A solution proposed by a small church in the U.K. lead to 500 church plants in the last 5 years in the European Union. 3DM represents this movement for those in the U.S.
"God always has his heart set on the world and always chooses the few to get to the many," 3DM Central member Eric Pfeiffer said, assuming the ones who were scattered in Acts 8 were sent for this very reason.
In Matthew 28, Jesus tells his followers to make disciples. To Pfeiffer, this is no different than God telling Adam to be fruitful and multiply in Genesis. "God said to multiply to represent him, Jesus came to return and restore us to an old thing," he said, claiming that this is what discipleship is all about.
The group delved next into a brief swan exercise labeled "Social Space," which is actually a sample of 3DM's learning community. Tebbe returned and said that every church should be asking two questions: "Do we have a plan for making disciples and is it working?"
The leaders returned to the main sanctuary after the exercise concluded to hear Pfeiffer begin to lay out 3DM's proposed plan.
"We refuse the label of being experts in anything," Pfeiffer said. "We're committed practitioners."
He described 3DM as practitioners in a system developed by founder Mike Breen that involves the fusion of simple shapes such as triangles, circles and squares with principles for discipleship laid out in scripture. The shapes allows one disciple to easily teach and pass off information to another. Pfeiffer uses triangles to illustrate God's Covenant and Kingdom.
Breen developed this shape system while reading through the Bible. Suffering from dyslexia, he was able to remember various principles in scripture by applying them to shapes. This created a new language for Christians that makes discipleship easily accessible. This language is the main tool used by 3DM to teach.
The night concluded with a short dinner at a local residents home where a mock version of what 3DM calls a "Missional Community," was held. This one focused on a meal in a home. They can include brief spiritual activities such as prayer or worship, but mostly function as social gatherings that could appeal to non-believers, according to Pfeiffer.
Mike Breen then compared the current church to the European feudalist society of old with one leader or lord holding all the power over the land.
"Even though America has been constructed on a different social contract and sees the world from a different perspective from European feudalism, the church still functions in an un-American way," said Breen. "There are feudal lords [in the church] who are given power and are expected to provide."
Breen feels that Jesus encouraged a different model for his body based on scripture that urges the church to function as a 1st-century family would. Jesus distributed power and responsibilities to all in his household.
"If we maintain the feudal model, we never release people from being serfs," he said. "If you never do this, you never give them the opportunity to be producers. If you are always dependent upon a provider, you will naturally become a consumer, and Jesus said this, all of you are supposed to be producers, all of you are supposed to multiply yourselves, all of you are supposed to make disciples. The principle obstacle for [the church] to make disciples [today] is that we think it's someone else's job."
Pfeiffer concluded this first segment by discussing 3DM's concept of "Invite and Challenge" and stated that believers are responsible for handing down the keys to the kingdom to others.
"We want to empower our children to drive, not drive them around for the rest of their lives," he said.
In order to make this possible, the church must raise up leaders in an effective manner. 3DM employs a tool known as a "Huddle," which are small groups of 4-8 leaders, where each member maintains high accountability with one another and is trained to pass on what they learned.
The Huddle focused on something called a Life Circle, and all of us were asked to recall one thing God may have communicated to us recently. The goal of this exercise was to teach leaders how to hear from God and interpret what he is saying. The Huddle is an essential tool, Mueller illustrated.