Why we should reduce qualification requirements to build a quality movement
“Discipleship and church planting movements, the real ones, are in countries where qualifications to lead are few. #missional.” I saw this post on Twitter a few days ago.
Why is this the case? Why is it that we see movements in places like Africa and Asia – but not so many in places like America or Europe?
While there are many reasons, it’s true that one factor is “where qualifications to lead are few.” And the reason is time.
Just about anyone can post an entry on social media, or create a blog and write in it. Not everyone can become a Microsoft Certified Windows Engineer. One power has been amateurized – that is, anyone puts in a minimal amount of time can learn the basic skills to do it – and the other is professionalized – you have to pay for and take a long course, and pass a test.
When the church puts qualifications on people before they can lead (e.g. you have to be a member, you have to have gone through a class, you have to have gone to Bible college or seminary, etc), the time and costs it takes to meet those qualifications both determines who will actually apply, and how long they will take before they are qualified – and before they can use their skills to raise up other applicants.
This is why movements based on group Bible study models like Discovery Bible Study (DBS), or on sharing testimonies like T4T, can replicate and explode so quickly – because they require very little time. With a very simple model, anyone can host and facilitate a DBS. (In fact, in some of our DBS models, non-Christians are sharing the stories and in some senses leading DBS seeker groups before they are believers.)
We may shiver at this idea – that a non-believer is “leading” a Bible study. But that’s because our experience in the West of “leading a Bible study” means the teacher stands up and teaches it, taking you through it point by point, telling you what it means. This is not what happens in a DBS.
DBS models vary, slightly, but essentially in a meeting: (1) the Scripture is read, at least twice, by two different people; (2) the Scripture is retold; (3) each person in the group says what this Scripture tells them about God; (4) each person shares what it tells them about people; (5) each person shares what they see in this Scripture that they should do; and (6) each person shares who they might share this same story with next week.
DBS is essentially, at its core, about gathering people together, who together read the text, and let the Scriptures speak into their lives and shape their behavior. There is not an “honored” or “expert” teacher – it is people gathering to discover what God’s Word is saying to them.
The trick is to have the right model, where within the group there is no single “authority on what Scripture means” – to let the Spirit speak through each person, about how the Scripture applies in their own setting – and let the Spirit in the rest of the group likewise speak to that person. This group dynamic is very powerful and can be done by anyone willing to do it honestly and with integrity. (And in this dynamic, heresy is far less likely. Here’s why.)
You don’t need to be able to executive-pastor a church to do this. You don’t need to be able to take up an offering or file legal paperwork to form a 501(c)(3) or organize a worship band or create a website or anything. All you need to do is have someone invite someone else into their home, at a certain time, and sit down and read a Bible story, and talk about what it means. Talk about what you did last week. Talk about the challenges and good things that happen. Pray with each other. Pray for each other. Pray for people in each other’s lives. This is not rocket science. It does not require huge qualifications to teach people to obey Jesus on a daily basis. Fishermen and tax collectors and guerrillas could do it.
Now, as networks of these Bible studies get bigger, you will have to have some more trained and equipped leaders. When Bible studies move out of believers and into inviting non-believers, there are things that would be helpful to know. Church planting movement thinking does not deny the need for equipped leaders, trained people, networks, meetings, conferences, consultations and the like. But the people inviting people to individual Bible studies do not need the same kind of training as the people who are training leaders of leaders of leaders of Bible studies. And should not be held to the same qualifications.
By reducing qualifications we fear we sacrifice quality for quantity in a movement. I suggest that by “over-emphasizing qualifications” we may in fact be sacrificing quantity for “qualities” that don’t matter. You can have a few leaders who understand Greek and Hebrew and how to exegete a verse and how to write a budget. Or you can have many more leaders who know how to read “Take up your cross and follow me” and figure out how to do that in daily life. You need some who know Greek and Hebrew, sure–but you need a lot more who know how to obey, and teach others to obey.