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Terry Hofecker

The 3DM Way of Life and Ministry

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I have spent some time reflecting on how our 3DM movement is different from various fads and trends that spread in the church, particularly the North American church, from time to time.   We all know they happen—seeker-sensitivity as a fad, spiritual formation as a core focus and even missionality as a brand.  Our culture loves novelty—new is always better than old and nothing is better than brand new—ever.

To be fair, some folks do interact with our movement at this level—another stop on a carousel of the latest and greatest magic bullets that will solve their congregation’s “underperformance” and take their ministry to the next level—whatever that is.  Those leaders and churches often turn out to be passing and not permanent relationships on our journey as a movement.  For some of us, however, this calling of discipleship-driven missionality resonates at a deep personal level—a level of calling and conviction.

Early in my personal 3DM journey I saw this and knew I had found a life calling that I had been groomed for from the moment of my spiritual birth—maybe even my physical birth as well.   I am not saying that I “got it” right away or that I even fully comprehend it now—our movement is a dynamic community on a journey of listening to God and doing what he says to do.  All of us are playing catch up to God and our movement pioneers as we listen to him and learn the new things he has for our lives, ministries and movement.  That is a good thing, actually.

In my first months of movement participation I found myself retranslating the paradigm breaking language, structure and strategy that I was being taught into the old wineskins of how I had always done life and ministry.  That is only natural, I think.  Sometimes that is all the farther some people get—a hybrid 3DM experience that doesn’t require them or their congregation to change too much.  I am skeptical about how long that lasts, but the jury is out and I am OK with that for those it helps.

But I, like many others, went “all in” with every expectation of doing this way of life and ministry the rest of my earthly sojourn.   I think it is that phrase that is key to our movement—a way of life and ministry.  We often teach that 3DM begins with discipleship and results in mission, but that is not actually the case.  It is too easy to take for granted that the first step in discipleship is having “a life worth imitating” as a foundation.   Without living what we teach, our whole strategy breaks down.   In other words, without adopting a healthy lifestyle, there is no healthy ministry from a 3DM standpoint.

That is why I adopted this phrase, the 3DM way of life and ministry.  I want to teach others from the start that this is not some burnout ministry method to which I want them to sell out.  This is principally a way of living with Christ and each other that leads to ministry and missional fruitfulness.  We aren’t part of this movement because we do ministry the 3DM way.  We are a real part of this movement if we do life in a biblical way so that ministry and mission are the results.  Sounds a lot like, Jesus, doesn’t it?  From my point of view it is the heart of 3DM.  Is it a way of life as well as a way of ministry for you?  That is a great question for us all.

Communicating the Uniqueness of a Discipleship-based Church

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Communicating the Uniqueness of a Discipleship-based Church

None of us are as “open-minded” as we believe we are.  Even the most adaptable and eager to learn among us are actually constantly reinterpreting what we see in the world around us to fit the existing neural pathways of our brain.  In other words, we have established ways of “seeing” things in our minds that we force what we are observing and/or experiencing to fit.  These preexisting templates are called paradigms.

Although our 3DM way of life and ministry is not an innovation but really a return to New Testament roots, most of the people to whom we try to explain this way of “being church” will struggle to understand it.  Since the the Latin word “radix” means “root” and our word “radical” is derived from it, it is fair to say that this very biblical approach to life and ministry may well be too “radical” for 21st century North Americans to grasp without a focused mental process.

Almost all North Americans will have to go through a process of Information–Immersion–Internalization before they “get” it.  At each stage, their mind will be stretched and new neural pathways will be slowly created until a new paradigm exists that is shaped by a New Testament rhythm of life and ministry and not a programmed one.

At the Information stage, I try to consistently use the term “discipleship-based.”  As frequently as I can I try to point out that our congregation is different in that we are “discipleship-based and relational” as opposed to “program-based and attractional” in our way of life and ministry.  Often, you will find that people nod and agree they understand but, really, they are translating what you say into their existing paradigms of church, ministry and spirituality.  This is not the time to argue–trust the process and patiently help folks move forward.

As soon as possible, we need to get people into Immersion/Imitation in the experience of LifeSharing and discipleship.  As long as a discipleship culture permeates our church, every activity and every event will reinforce the contrast between consumer-based programs and discipleship-based relationships.  Quickly, the people whom God is calling to this journey of growth will begin to adapt to new rhythms of life and metrics of ministry.  Still, we can’t expect too much.  Old paradigms don’t disappear, they only fade away.

Personally, I have never seen anyone enter the last phase of Internalization/Innovation without participation in a Discipleship Huddle.  Perhaps it is possible, but I have yet to see it.  To me, this is stark evidence of how deeply a program-based paradigm to church ministry has become hard-wired into the brains of 21st century North Americans.  I find it doesn’t click for most people until, after we internalize the LifeShapes biblical paradigms, we go chapter by chapter through Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen.  Then I find most people understand what a unique entity a discipleship-based congregation is in our present context.

Over and over my 3DM mentors told me to “trust the process” and be patient as I set out to plant a discipleship-based church.  “Two years to learn and seven years to build out” seemed like a lot but three years into the task of changing mental paradigms for believers and unbelievers alike, “revolutionary change” at an “evolutionary pace” seems to be the best path.  Perhaps, with enough time, “discipleship-based” can even become a paradigm that is widely recognized and broadly blessed.  Just as long as we have the patience and commitment to live it out!