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VIRTUEONLINE obtained an exclusive interview with the Rev. Alan Argo. He and his wife Aimee are doing pioneer clandestine missionary work among mostly Muslims in the Middle East, Europe, and in several African nations. Because of the sensitivity of their work their names must remain anonymous.

By David W. Virtue, DD
August 30, 2023

VOL: OBEDIENCE BASED DISCIPLESHIP. You focus a lot on obedience-based discipleship as opposed to information/head-based discipleship. It's not what you know, it's what you obey. Jesus says "If you love me, keep my commandments...it is he who loves me." Explain.

ARGO: Obedience is Jesus' love language. He didn't say study my word, know my word, memorize my word. He said OBEY my word. In the West we have all kinds of information about Jesus, endless Bible studies, sermons, resources, etc., and very little obedience. How's that working?

Jesus said make disciples teaching them to obey. His words, not mine. Why does this matter? Because the word for Kingdom in the NT doesn't mean a place. It's not "The King of Texas" (we're Texans).

That word actually means the King is King wherever He is obeyed. So where Jesus is obeyed, His Kingdom is there. And that's the goal of the whole enterprise. The Kingdom. Making obedient disciples is how we achieve Jesus' goal and vision.

People sitting around knowing about Jesus and going to Bible studies and listening to sermons and building up their head knowledge doesn't bring the Kingdom. What we don't need is more Biblical exegesis. It's our obedience that brings the Kingdom. And this is done from a place of love.

VOL: I know places in the US where wealthy people still pour millions of dollars into building new churches? Is this a waste of money in your estimation?

ARGO: 100% off track. That's just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It's what we know and therefore our default. We go to our defaults especially when times are tough. Which they are at present. You see a lot of digging in. We're largely stuck in the 1980s. So, what we're trying to accomplish is totally irrelevant.

The landscape is radically and rapidly changing. That's the biggest mark of today's culture. Rapid change. It's hard to keep up! Covid accelerated massive cultural change that was already coming. What was (not) working in 2020 is not going to work at all in 2023.

It's a brave new world. You have to adjust to the landscape. You don't adjust the Word or the Truth! God forbid! But you must adjust and change tactics. And you don't have to like the new normal. You just have to work with it.

I'll use the example that in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina (we led the second largest, longest-running relief op for all of Katrina), 60% of the churches never returned. It wasn't the storm that got them. Their buildings were okay. It's that they couldn't adjust to the new landscape. The churches that got wet and tried to put things back the way they were before Katrina all died. All. They couldn't make sense of the new landscape. You have to make sense of the landscape. That was Tim Keller's genius in New York City. He figured out the cultural landscape.

Let me give you a great illustration of failure. Jesus said to go and make disciples of all people groups, baptizing them and teaching them to obey. So, this is our mandate.

Question: How much does it cost for one adult baptism in the West? If you add up all the church budgets and divide it by the number of adult baptisms, what's the cost? Answer: The average cost of an adult baptism in the U.S. is $1.5 million. Is that sustainable? If you were the CEO of a company with that kind of ROI, the board would fire you.

One key element of making multiplying disciples is ruthless evaluation. I mean ruthless. If it's not making disciples, shoot that dog. You have to shoot your dogs. Ruthlessly evaluate your work. Don't stick your head in the sand or justify. And don't accept, explain away or minimize failure. Don't attack me for just pointing out the obvious. Fix it. Stop doing things that don't achieve the goal.

A lot of our leadership training is helping local leaders to continuously evaluate and diagnose their work. They need to be able to spot problems for themselves and then come up with local solutions. When they can do this without us, they're on their way. We teach them to rely heavily on the Holy Spirit.

Another reality is that Baby Boomers provide 80% of all church money. They'll be gone in 10 -15 years. That's not too far away. So, the current model for church will soon become unsustainable. We won't have the cash to keep things going as they are. Reality check. The Boomers won't be around to keep it going as is. And there aren't enough Gen Xs and Millennials to pick up the slack.

If you look at the Barna data, two-thirds of all existing churches will be gone in that same time frame, 10-15 years. What we've been calling church for the past several hundred years is coming to an end.

All seasons end. This has been a nice, long season; it is ending. Now the institutionalists will scream and become threatened by this. They'll throw rocks at us for pointing it out. But it's just a fact. There's no data to indicate otherwise. The only thing that can save us is a move of God. That move of God is here. It's here! Some just don't like how God is doing it.

A better posture, instead of reacting, denying, circling the wagons and shooting the messenger, is to look for what God is doing and JOIN HIM. He's always moving. He's always redeeming. God is doing something new. Not "new truth' (no such thing) but new ways. It will look very different. But we think it will be better and much healthier. This new way is actually a very old way, it's 1st century Christianity where they met in houses.

If you're seeing multiplication doing it your way, that's great. I have nothing to offer you but kudos. But if you're not seeing multiplication, you're doing something wrong. I always ask critics, "Okay, tell me how many multiplying churches have you planted? How many generations of disciples have you made?" Dead silence.

VOL: It seems to me what you are saying is that we in the West are putting the church planting horse before the discipleship cart? Is that a fair assumption?

ARGO: We've already touched on this. It's all about deep discipleship. This is a love affair with Jesus, which means obeying Jesus, building His Kingdom, growing in faith and holiness and finding joy.

I'm much more concerned with going deep than broad. If we go deep and are healthy, we will multiply health. It's really important to get Generation One right. Their DNA is what will be passed on.

You won't make disciples just having people come to church on Sundays. Church on Sunday and sermons don't make disciples. That's what we do in the West. How's that working? Be honest, evaluate. Church is absolutely essential, I love church, I plant churches, but it's just a part of what disciples do. How's the sermon-centric, entertainment experience, Six Flags over Jesus church in the U.S. doing? Incredibly, incredibly shallow, non-disciple making and non-multiplying.

Discipleship happens at the small group level every week. And walking with people in their daily lives. Much of discipleship is caught not taught. It's about modelling. Paul says that: "Follow me following Jesus." We have to model it.

Our goal is to get new Believers in a weekly discipleship group, gathered around the Word, and obeying Jesus for the rest of their lives. In small groups, there can be loving accountability. There's no accountability on Sunday mornings. I can't shout from the pulpit, "Hey Joe, did you forgive your wife this week?"

Loving accountability is absolutely essential for disciple-making. We say SEEK accountability. Every week we ask two accountability questions: "How did you obey Jesus from the story last week?" We have the obedience points written down. And we ask with whom did you share last week? We are hyper-intentional about obeying the King and sharing His Good News. If the disciple didn't obey or share there is no shame and no condemnation. We teach them to simply say, "Had a bad week. Pass."

That doesn't happen on Sunday mornings and there is no disciple-making without loving accountability to Jesus and His Word. If you want to see Jesus' goal realized, His Kingdom, His Lordship over all people and places, you have to make disciples. And to make disciples there absolutely has to be loving accountability. Emphasis on loving. Grace! This is not a cult and you are not obeying me. We are all holding each other accountable to Jesus.

Also, we have an entirely wrong approach. We plant a church here and then we plant a church there. We move incrementally starting at the beginning. A multiplying movement approach is asking: "What's it going to take to reach everyone?" Work backwards. Start with the end vision and reverse engineer it. That's movement thinking.

We're not approaching the Middle East incrementally. We're envisioning thousands and thousands of multiplying churches all across the Middle East. What's it going to take to achieve that vision? God likes big and bold. He's incredibly audacious. We think too small. Start with the end vision and reverse engineer it.

VOL: How is Anglican the final product of converted souls?

ARGO: Honestly that's not my concern. Jesus never said to make Anglicans. Now, if someone finds Anglicanism the best way for them to follow Jesus, that's great! Personally, I love Anglicanism. I'm a very, very, happy Anglican priest. But it's not the goal. If you try to make Anglicans, you largely won't. Hasn't worked. Not working. Will never work. But if Anglicans make disciples, some of those disciples will appreciate our way as a great path to following Jesus.

We work with prostitutes, for example. Actually, Aimee and the gals do, the guys don't engage with them, we just provide security. "Go to church" is not good news for a prostitute. "Become an Anglican" is not good news for a prostitute. Jesus and His Kingdom ARE good news for a prostitute.

Now I can hear the screaming: "Reaching the lost and making Anglicans aren't mutually exclusive." Ok, fine, then show me the fruit. Show me your numbers. I don't want to hear theory or self-soothing theological conviction. Show me hard proof. Let's be intellectually honest together. The people who tend to attack most have the least fruit. The proof is in the pudding. Wanting it to work and actually working are two different things.

As an Anglican, I can at times contribute some helpful ideas. For example, I suggested we have a common liturgy in the Middle East. Not so much because it's "Anglican" but because we needed a pattern for worship that is easily transmitted generationally from church to church. Otherwise, we'd have a big mess with everyone trying to figure it out.

We called in all of our local leaders and said, "Today we're going to develop a common liturgy. I don't care what you come up with as long as it's Biblical and we all agree." We parked them in Acts 2 and they did it! We now have a common liturgy.

The Gospel moves fastest when everyday people share naturally through natural social networks. The problem is that we pull people out of their natural environments, teach them church-ese and Anglican-ese, and then send them back out with a new, foreign vocabulary. It doesn't work.

Just give the locals the simple Gospel, get them in the Word and let them figure out how to move the message. They know how to move information around on their own terms and in their own way.

Having said all of that, we're working with an Anglican Primate in Africa in his home diocese. This diocese is extremely High Church. If it moves, they incense it. It's in a heavily Islamic area, 98% Muslim. They haven't baptized an adult Muslim in 150 years.

They heard about our work and success with Muslims and asked for training. All we told the archbishop was no clergy at the training. They'll just push back and fight us. Give us laity of all ages and a good mix of men and women.

The archbishop didn't stick around, he just told them to do what we say and then left. In the last month they've baptized 200+ Muslims. Anglicans can do this. We've proven it. We have great hope! We're now talking about rolling out it to the Province.

VOL: You say you start with a Discovery Group, using Discovery Bible. They discover God for themselves, no teaching, using Discovery Bible Study (DBS).Teaching doesn't multiply. Then ask an interested person to form a small group. Family, friends, anyone whom they think might be interested or have the same problems/questions as they do. Can you expand on this?

ARGO: Teachers cannot be multiplied. Teaching cannot be multiplied. You can't rely on experts because experts can't be multiplied. Multiplication happens through showing ordinary people how to feed themselves on the Word and then train with simple, easily replicable tools. If you want to multiply you must keep it simple.

We want people to be self-feeders. Not running to us all the time with questions. We take Jesus at His Word:

"It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me." John 6:44-45. And then there's Jeremiah 31:33, ""But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days," says the LORD. "I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." We actually believe that.

We share the Gospel, share our testimonies, and heal the sick. 80% of the time globally when someone accepts Christ, it's from healing and deliverance. You can repeat that stat over in your head a few times if you like. Again, I'm just reporting. If the person is open, we meet and do Discovery Bible Study on the 7 Commands of Jesus, one each week. The focus is on discovering God for themselves and, as Jesus said, "teach disciples how to obey." There are other ways to do it but this is working for us.

DBS without "teaching" is where some people scream, "Heresy! Heresy will get in!" Well, 60% of regular church-going Americans believe Jesus is NOT the only way to the Father. I can assure you that our Believers to the 8th generation believe Jesus is the only way. Because that's what the Bible says. Work on your own heresy.

We teach new Believers from day one to protect the Word. Anyone in the group can ask, "In which verse did you find that?" After someone tells the story from memory the group is trained to ask, "Did the person add or subtract anything from the story?" Imagine if TEC had done that 40 years ago? We wouldn't have needed an ACNA.

VOL: You talk about the 7 Commands, - Repent and follow Jesus; be baptized; pray; make disciples; love; Lord's Supper, give) - Is this key to discipleship training?

ARGO: It's just the beginning and one way to begin. The first seven DBS scripture passages start laying the foundation. Then it's a lifetime of obedience to Jesus and going deeper. There are a lot of places in life where we are called to obey Jesus. After the 7 Commands, I prefer going topically. What does God have to say about money? Marriage? Faith? Anxiety? Hope?

The keys are being rooted in the word, obedience and, as we said before, loving accountability. I know that every week my group is going to hold me accountable. I have 20-year-olds holding me accountable! And they're not shy about it!

Group leaders are also to check in with their members every week, asking if they need prayer, how they're doing with their obedience point, have they shared, etc.? Discipleship is a hands-on team "sport." How many pastors call ALL of their people every week to see how they're doing and how is it going with following Jesus?


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