The Lifestory—discipling nations to follow Jesus

For 20 years I knew the Lord and tried every way I knew to share Him with others, but I saw no fruit. I thought, “Am I really a believer? How can an apple tree bear no apples?”

— “Coach” (a Lifestory movement leader)

Coach is a key leader in the largest of the Lifestory movements among a number of people groups. He directly serves 150 leaders of large Lifestory Teller teams. When Coach and I talked, one team leader had just died suddenly—a top Sufi singer in his country, with a team of 25,000 active Lifestory Tellers.

The Lifestory: I have a short story. It takes 5 minutes. Would you like to hear it?

The Lifestory is a 5-minute gospel story that concludes with an invitation to make a decision to trust in Jesus. Those who trust Jesus are then led in prayer to commit to follow Jesus, after which they are invited to learn the Lifestory and become Lifestory Tellers, and to follow Jesus in engaging their family and friends in the same process.

Pure Lifestory movements have proven as contagious as a pandemic—with the ability to spread rapidly to every level of society, especially in contexts with little influence from “Western” religions. Lifestory movements also spread easily across traditional people group “barriers of understanding and acceptance.”

Lifestory movements focus on rapidly discipling every new believer to follow Jesus in becoming a fruitful witnesses. As quickly as possible, willing new disciples are trained to work in teams, to:

  • present a simple gospel story and invitation,
  • listen, hear and abide in Jesus,
  • join with others in following Him, and
  • bear fruit in fishing for men.

In our call, “Coach” shared with me his personal story:

For 20 years I knew the Lord and tried every way I knew to share Him with others, but I saw no fruit. I thought, “Am I really a believer? How can an apple tree bear no apples?”

Then I received and began sharing the Lifestory and immediately had fruit among my friends and with strangers. My friends had immediate fruit as well, and the strangers became my friends!

Today in the Lifestory movements every Lifestory Teller is part of a team, and each member of each team aims to tell the Lifestory to at least one or two people each day. Most of those we tell the Lifestory to say “Yes.” So a team of 10 may lead 20 or more to say “Yes” to Jesus in the course of a week.

Each team then prays and follows up with everyone who says “Yes” to Jesus, and we never stop praying for them and discipling them. As the number of those who have said “Yes” to Jesus grows we simply identify more leaders so that everyone is cared for by a leader.

We have developed our own pattern of “His Voice” discipleship which teaches every believer how to listen to Jesus and hear and follow Him. What excites us most is the Word of God getting in to people’s lives and transforming them.

We also have developed a wonderful way of training new believers in just three hours to tell the Lifestory that knits them together into teams from the beginning while giving them confidence in telling the Lifestory. We use a very standardized presentation of the Lifestory in training, and then each person adapts it as the Holy Spirit leads them in telling it.

Most teams are 5 to 10 people with a leader. Every group of ten or so leaders also has a leader, and so on for as many levels as we need to stay connected and organized. So in many places these teams relate to each other in much larger teams—tens of thousands in some places.

These networks experience the dynamics we see in Acts—seeking the Lord and fellowshipping together and caring for one another’s needs, particularly for the widows and orphans—especially of our martyrs.

In some places the work has become much easier as these larger teams are growing very quickly, and a team of 5 or 10 can double in a week to start a new team—with each telling the story every day and then discipling those who say “Yes” to Jesus.

In other places the work is much harder where teams are struggling and multiplying slowly, so then others will come from a team that is growing quickly to help and encourage them until there is a breakthrough.

In the beginning the work was hard everywhere, but recently we have found the work much easier, and the movement growing more rapidly in most areas.

— “Coach”

These Lifestory movements have highlighted for me the difference between movements that:

  • Immediately give the local community the impression of a new separatist community and may thus face increasing resistance from introducing foreign forms and labels (such as church and baptism),
  • discipling whole nations to follow Jesus as fishers of men before introducing such forms, so that the “yeast” of the gospel has a chance to “work through the whole lump of dough,” letting the Holy Spirit lead the new local believers in deciding together how to follow Jesus in adapting such biblical forms to their local context.

In the first region where the Lifestory has been introduced and allowed to spread without the encumbrance of such forms, the Lifestory is nearing saturation. In places where the work was initially hard, it is becoming progressively easier, and 10% or more of many large communities are now actively sharing the Lifestory, with teams doubling every 2–4 weeks.

Acceleration of Movements Globally

In light of all the turmoil in the world (see this list of 10 growing and pending catastrophes, for example), it is encouraging to me to see this progression in movements:

  • The Student Volunteer Movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s started church movements in many parts of the world with a doubling time typically measured in decades. Eventually these impacted roughly 10% of the world and resulted in the majority of believers living in the “Global South.”
  • Movements with doubling times measured in years or even months have multiplied in recent decades to involve 1% of the world with a mixture of direct evangelism and discovery Bible study.
  • Lifestory movements appear to have a potential doubling time measured in weeks.

Accelerating Movements with the Lifestory

In early 2020 I was in Uganda, meeting with movement leaders there and gaining a new understanding of what it means for all nations to be blessed through us.

I was also there partly to help leaders in one movement learn the Lifestory to see if this would accelerate what they are doing. When friends heard that my companion and I were in Uganda, they introduced us to two other movements going on there:

  • Henry is a former pastor who was introduced to Simple House Church by Roger Thoman of Appleseed Ministry. Henry described for us in detail the form of discovery Bible study he uses, and listed for us by district more than 1,000 Simple House Church and groups his movement has started across many parts of Uganda. He was very interested in learning and trying to accelerate his work with the Lifestory.
  • Wilson is a former bank manager whom the Lord led to start a DBS movement in the ghettos of Kampala. Their movement now numbers 1,000 groups and has come under the All Nations ministry founded by Floyd McClung. My traveling companion from the U.S. got to attend some of the group meetings in the ghetto with Wilson before he left for a training in Thailand, and I caught this picture of the gen map on their wall, showing successive generations from Wilson (green in the left center) with different colors and consistent reproduction beyond 5 generations. I shared the Lifestory with one of the top leaders of this movement and he too was excited about learning and using the Lifestory.

We also spent time with Raymond and other leaders of the Shield of Faith ministry, toward helping them become a movement. They also wanted training in the Lifestory. Here Raymond and George (another leader in Shield of Faith) share their appreciation for the Lifestory:

Learn more about the Lifestory:

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