Posted by: whereintheworldismike | June 22, 2013

Counter culture Christianity

Just heard that American adults average 23 hours a week TV watching. I think biblical Christians need to take 7 of those hours (1 hour/day, e.g., The Hour that Changes the World by Dick Eastman) and pray conversationally with God. I am struggling to do just that–though I do my best to pray without ceasing as the writer of the first book to the Church at Thessalonica (5:17) exhorts us. The daily hour set aside for God alone is a difficult habit to develop, but it is a habit with eternal benefits and a powerful effect on the state of the world in this age we find ourselves in where the greatest revival in the history of the world is taking place–albeit not in the USA…yet.

Speaking of prayer….The focus of this post is small groups that really transform participants, and expand the reign of Jesus Christ in any context–Christendom, Post-Christian, Persecution. Reservoir The scripture tells us that as believers we should have “rivers of living water flowing from our innermost being” (John 7:8). However, most of us find that many days we are not much different than everyone we see around us.  Often we might feel like this parched dry reservoir in very dry California that I passed today. I believe going deeper with God in a small community group is the best answer to get the living water flowing once again or more consistently in each of our lives.

There are many great small group resources in English in this country (e.g. Missional Small Groups by Scott Boren, or Cultivating a Heart for God by Neil Cole). However, it can really be quite simple. An easy to remember model that has been greatly used by God in USA, Japan, Singapore, and many other cultures is simply called “4 W’s.” Done correctly (because I have seen it done incorrectly on a number of occasions), this way of doing small groups keeps the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-38, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27-28) and Great Commission (Jonah 4:11, Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-18, Luke 24:46-49, John 20:21-23, Acts 1:8) the main thing. This can happen because genuine participation in one of these groups results in personal transformation as we experience God together–not just talk about Him.

During part of our residential ministry in Japan, we spent 7 years in Tokyo developing a new church. As many have, I noticed the inordinate number of women in the church without their men. I began to target unchurched men married to women who attended church. I’ve heard it said that if you reach a man he will bring his family with him. This may or may not be true. It points to a biblical strategy (i.e. person of peace) but all too often the man is not the most influential member of his family. Rather, this strategy would probably work best in a traditional patriarchal culturally where the man is dominant. I will speak more about “person of peace” later in the blog.

Back to Tokyo. The Lord helped me develop a question to ask unchurched married men when I had the opportunity. For example, the lady Japanese language instructor who helped me polish my sermons in Japanese when I was going to preach at her church had told me her husband had been told by his doctor recently to take up tennis once again after many years for his health. When I finally had an opportunity to meet Toru, we engaged in light, friendly conversation. At some point I asked him what his hobby was. He lit up and said he likes tennis. He added that his doctor had told him recently to take it up again for his health (by the way, this story and the next is reported in more detail in chapter four of The Facilitator Era: Beyond Pioneer Church Multiplication, edited by Tom Steffen, published by Wipf & Stock: an excellent resource for those training church planters/multipliers). After playing tennis on Saturday mornings for about a year and becoming quite good friends, I told Toru I was going to form a men’s small group for the express purpose of encouraging us to grow as men, husbands, fathers, employees, and sons. I held up my bilingual Bible and said, “We will use this because it is the Maker’s Operating Manual.” Toru said the equivalent of “I can’t wait!”Sakoh Baptism 12_97_2Toru eventually came to Christ and got baptized as he experienced real Christian community that transparently shared life together and compassionately came to the aid of a handicapped member and others outside the group. This group used the framework of the 4 W’s: welcome, worship, Word, work.

Another man I invited to the group I was forming was a first time visitor to church. Hero was a newspaper reporter with above average people skills who came to church because he loves his wife and she had been praying for him for years. Not only is he in the picture above praying for the just-baptized Toru, but he was baptized about the same time and has had a very fruitful life as a follower of Christ.Miyoshi san tachi

As a newspaper reporter for a large newspaper, he was transferred about every two years. This dynamic couple reached so many people working together and individually that they planted four churches in about 10 years while working in a very demanding career!  Hero’s people skills were used to train the members of his cell at one church in relational evangelism so that the cell multiplied through evangelism three times!

These two men inspired me to research and publish a dissertation entitled Japanese Christian Multiplication: A Phenomenological Study (Biola University). What I found was that in the forming of a Christian multiplier, there are always three factors: the Word, relational connection (usually human, but can be directly divine), and the catalytic effect of a crisis. I’ve blogged about this

Let me unpack the small group 4 W’s some:

Welcome = Small groups have a lifecycle. In the early phase there is a good chance everyone does not know everyone else.
If non-Christians have been invited, this is even more so. Forethought of a good discussion/conversation starter question and provision of light refreshments are essential. It is helpful to read the daily paper to begin conversations about “hot” topics that are not too threatening. Most non-churched folks find icebreaker games pretty lame and feel quite strange if they are in attendance. Most folks are honestly interested in genuine community fun and excitement.

Worship = Most people immediately think this is a song. That’s fine. However there is an important principle that for people to worship deeply it is important for everything in the attempt at worship to not be predictable. This is exactly what happens when the Holy Spirit is evident. Henry Blackaby of Experiencing God writes “Revival is when the Holy Spirit has absolute freedom to do what He wants in the Church.” In our own ministry in Japan and other places, we have had some really worshipful times going around a circle or just randomly alliterating the names or descriptions of God: A = Almighty, Awesome, or Absolute Truth, etc.;  B = Beautiful, Blood shed for me, etc.; C = Christ, Compassionate God, etc.; D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X (sometimes for this one we use the sound rather than the spelling, e.g., eXellent One, eXtender of Amazing Grace, etc.), Z (The first and the LAST). The idea is to introduce newcomers to worship in a thoughtful, meaningful way or to usher “old hands” into worship creatively so their guard is down and God can surprise them with His grace.

Word = This is commonly called “Bible Study.” It can be very simple, “Jesus seems to tell us to ‘love one another’ more than anything else. Why do you think this is? And how are some practical ways we can do this at home? at work? in our neighborhood? while recreating?” Or the study segment can be more involved. However, in this culture especially, we must be careful to avoid turning the meeting into a “let’s impress each other with our insights into the scriptures,” especially if there are newcomers who might not know Jesus yet. Nothing will make them feel like uncomfortable outsiders faster–and they will never return. This is a great time to employ to discussion questions that stimulate reflection in the members with opportunities for anyone who wants to can share what they have discovered in their reflection with the group. There is intrinsic motivation to apply what we have discovered for ourselves–we “own it.” Here’s a great resource for this type of study with the questions already thought out and tested in many contexts

Work =  There are two components to this “Work” segment of the group meeting. First, during this segment we engage in equipping ourselves to represent Christ effectively in our individual contexts.


1. Listing our friends and acquaintances we meet regularly who need Christ in their lives. In listing them include how you commonly contact them, how often, interests, and prayer needs you are aware of–then PRAY together.

2. Pray for each other to effectively represent Christ in our workplaces, homes, neighborhoods, etc.

3. Pray for each other bearing one another’s burdens, especially when a member reveals an emotional struggle or other strong feeling. The link below leads to a very helpful resource in this regard that has been used in many cultural contexts and has even been used to help unsaved, unchurched devastated survivors of the March 11, 2011 tsunami in Tohoku, Japan.


Pray and ask God to reveal to you the needs around you that he wants you to address in His name. He wants us to declare His excellencies through word as well as deed to those struggling in darkness.

Choose a ministry service project once a month or whatever frequency works for your group–be sure to include service to poor and handicapped people close to you. This is transformational to the people in the small group community as well as to those you serve.

Finally, and this post is already too long so I will be very brief. Christ often ate with his disciples and those who needed to be his disciples. When we did the ALPHA Course in Okinawa, we stumbled and struggled as almost everyone does at first. But God helped us and every time we ran the course the number of those who attended increased: 3 the first time, 12 the second time, 29 the third time! At the end we baptized 12. Food and genuine fellowship is incredibly powerful to people struggling in the dog-eat-dog most of them live in. Here’s a picture of our third ALPHA Course, by the way, the ALPHA training is so good they strongly recommend you review it after every Course run through.Alpha3Party


  1. Nice job, Mike… I wonder if you would be able to create a grouping of these in 1-2 paragraph bite sized pieced to get the message out further…


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