Simple Outcome and Strategy for Kingdomization: Cellular Networks and Insider Movements (Part 2 of a Series)

By David S. Lim, Ph.D.

In Part 1 of Kingdomization through Oikos Church Networks of Insider Movements: A Biblical Missiology, Dr. David Lim stated that kingdomization is transforming the secular to sacred by incarnating Jesus in the institutions of societies by implementing prayer to God in Jesus’ name and obedience to His word through any small group (as small as 2 or 3) anytime and anywhere from the inside out and from the bottom up. In Part 2 of this series he discusses a simple outcome and strategy towards accomplishing this.

2. Simple Outcome: Cellular Networks of Oikos Churches

What then outcome will have been established when God’s kingdom is realized on any segment of the world? As the “Second Adam,” Jesus modelled what a perfect person could be and what vocation a godly/righteous human being should do for the kingdom (Ac.10:36-38). Thus, to expand the kingdom, he trained his disciples to transform the villages of Galilee by simply going two by two without bringing outside resources into the community (Lk.10:4a), and find a “person of peace/shalom” (vv.5-6) and disciple that person to disciple their oikos, kin, friends and neighbours (vv.4b-9). If there is no such person in a community, they can just leave and go to another one (vv.10-16).

dramatization of Jesus and His disciples

Dramatization of Jesus and His disciples. Photo courtesy of LUMO Project via FreeBibleimages.

2.1. Small (Oikos) Size

Jesus called twelve to be his disciples who he turned into apostles (“missionaries” = disciple-makers) (Mk.3:13-15) – to be sent out to make disciples (eventually to all nations). And that’s how the apostles and the early church extended the kingdom in and through oikos churches across the Roman Empire and beyond.[1] The formation of oikos churches was the practical outcome of “priesthood of all believers” in the early church as each Christ-follower was empowered to use their homes to serve and bless their neighbors where they lived and worked (cf. 2 Tim.2:2).

It’s simply discipling every believer to become “perfect/mature in Christ” (Col.1:28-29), with the confidence to serve as a priest (minister) of God in their oikos. (The Reformation recovered the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers,” but failed to implement it).[2] Disciples are made in small groups, never in big meetings. Each must grow in love, so they must practice and experience intimate relationships (as “best friends”) as they teach, correct, love and confess sins to one another.

Mark in a houses church meeting he pioneered

2.2. Cellular System

What then is the Kingdom organized as it is implanted as small groups in society? Jesus did not form a formal structure, but introduced a cellular system that subsists in the constant reproduction of “new wineskins” (Mk. 2:22) in the structures of society. This is a different outworking and structure of his body on earth – different from the denominational hierarchies of local churches with epicospal, presbyterian or congregationalist structure.[3] The early church had a cellular order where the church exists whenever a small group (even as small as two or three) gathers for mutual edification (cf. 1 Cor.14:26) in order to scatter to share Christ’s love through good works in the world (cf. Heb.10:24; Mt.5:13-16).[4] Each cell forms a part of a oikos church network (OCN), which is similar to the decentralized system of (zero-budget) volunteer leaders that veteran (ex-pagan) priest Jethro advised Moses to form (Ex.18:21), where authority rests on the lowest units (“leaders of tens”) which are assisted by the “higher” coordinating units.[5]

Paul with disciples in Cyprus

Paul with disciples in Cyprus. Illustration courtesy of Sweet Publishing via FreeBibleimages.

What about accountability? Each one is accountable directly to our King Jesus who commissioned each of his followers to make disciples of the nations. Each believer’s oikos is a “house of prayer for the nations,” used to love, serve, bless and improve the homes of others. Each one is also accountable to their own disciplers and disciples in mutual accountability, including to confess sins to one another and to forgive the sins of one another.

2.3. Network (Flat) Structure

Also, the kingdom’s organic structure is decentralized in the form of networks of friendships among the disciples and servant leaders. No hierarchy gives permission or controls the church, for only Jesus is the Lord and Foundation of his church through the Holy Spirit. All leaders in OCNs see themselves as “servants of God” whose only job description is to “equip all the saints to do the ministry” of disciple-making (Eph.4:11-13; 2 Tim.2:2), each according to the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit sovereignly distributes to build up the one Body (1 Cor.12:1-13), one Temple (1 Pet.4:10-11), one Kingdom. It is a flat structure where leaders view themselves as “first among equals” and empower others to become better than themselves (Phil.2:3-4).

Moreover, OCNs are lay movements and their leaders serve in various sectors of society – not in the clergy-led structures of Christendom. Each Christ-follower is discipled to be self-supporting through a means of livelihood (Eph.4:28). OCN leaders in Christendom (and Buddhist) contexts will have to gradually phase out the need for the clerical (and monastic) order, as they learn about the “priesthood of all believers.” Though they may continue to be supported by “tithes and offerings” at the start,[6] they will each transition to a livelihood or trade (to serve as models, 2 Th.3:6-12), most probably for many as teachers of philosophy and ethics. Those who have leadership qualities will naturally rise into management and governance positions in the community and marketplace.

Paul as a tentmaker with Aquila and Priscilla

Paul as a tentmaker with Aquila and Priscilla. Illustration courtesy of Sweet Publishing via FreeBibleimages.

3. Simple Strategy: Insider Movements (IM)[7]

What then is the mission strategy to set up OCNs in the whole world, which has multi-cultural and multi-religious contexts? Jesus trained his disciples to do his simple strategy effectively (Lk.9:1-6; 10:1-17), which he also illustrated cross-culturally among the Samaritans (Jn.4) and in Gentile Decapolis (Mk.5:1-20; 7:31-8:10). When entering other cultures, Paul practiced “becoming all things to all people” (1 Cor.9:20-23), in fact “making himself a slave (doulos) among them” (v. 19). As for the local converts, his simple strategy – now called “Insider Movements (IM)”[8] – included three dimensions: incarnational (1 Cor.7:11-17, 20, 24), contextual (vv. 18-20) and transformational (vv. 21-24).[9]

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Illustration courtesy of Sweet Publishing via FreeBibleimages.

3.1. Incarnational

Through the oikos of the person of peace in each community, people begin their faith journey by contextually adapting to the majority religion (or non-religion) in their family and community. They simply develop their faith with a simple religiosity, with each one learning how to live a “love God and love everyone” lifestyle (Mt.22:37-39; Rom.12:1-2) in their society. Jesus did not train his disciples to establish a structure separate from the communities and contexts where they lived and worked.

Kingdomization is an occupation plan, not an evacuation plan (1 Cor.15:24-25; Phil.2:9-11), because Christ is ruler over all things (Col.1:16-17) (Taylor 2015, 377).  Christ-followers sanctify the non-believers (1 Cor.7:14) and food offered to idols (10:20-26), because all things can be purified (Tit.1:15) by prayer and the Word (1 Tim.4:4-5). Jesus Christ entered European pagan cosmologies and transformed them Christward. New Christ-followers can continue to join in the activities and festivities of their community with clear conscience. When they are confronted and asked about their motivation, then they can explain and witness to Christ, even if it may result in persecution. Meanwhile, they should have been trained to “make disciples” (see below) already before such conflict arises.

IMs may thus be called “incarnational missions” which contrasts with the disastrous effects of Christendom’s “imperial missions” on making Jesus look very bad (aggressive, foreign and irrelevant), esp. in the Global South.[10] Perhaps worst is the heavy burden that the latter has been imposing on new believers and churches (esp. those among the poor) as they need to invest their very limited resources in supporting the salaries and theological studies of their clergymen, buying property, constructing cathedrals, financing their religious activities – all of which make them look insensitively rich (and irrelevant) in relation to the houses and facilities in their poor(er) neighborhoods. Most of these projects have been highly subsidized from abroad, esp. their denominational partners, up to this day. Almost all of them don’t even have small budgets for community services, unless they partner with some Christian development organizations.

In contrast, the rich harvest that Jesus expected from his disciples are being reaped nowadays through the simple incarnational approach by OCNs. By just following the instructions of Jesus in his “zero-budget missions” (Lk.10:4a), every disciple just leads someone (usually a relative or new friend, called a “person of peace”) to trust and obey King Jesus in love and good works. As they serve one another, the people (esp. community leaders) around them will take notice of “how they love one another” (and the neighborhood) and will soon also ask for their help. They then naturally rise to become leaders in the community.

Willy & Mercy Fulgencio distributing reading glasses at Dinagat

Willy and Mercy Fulgencio distributing reading glasses on a missions outreach in Dinagat province, Mindanao, Philippines.

3.2. Contextual

What about the cultural forms, esp. religious rituals and festivals of their families and communities (cf. 1 Cor.7:18-20)? Christ-followers should be allowed to develop contextualized religious practices, retaining most of them and redefining them as Christ-centered and Christ-ward customs, while finding “functional substitutes” for those beliefs and values that are idolatrous and occultic. For instance, most popular practices in karmic cultures, including ancestral and merit-making practices will be simplified and some may eventually phase out as they live out the logic of non-samsaric and post-animistic worldviews as they reflect on the Word (Lim 2019; Fukuda 2012, 183-192).

They may even become more biblical and Christ-centered than the tradition-laden and liturgy-oriented denominations in today’s uncontextualized and Westernized Christendom. They will gradually learn how to get rid of anything that is sinful: idolatry, individualism, immorality and injustice.  Not all at once, as all of us have not been totally rid of such sins ourselves, and as Elisha permitted Naaman to do ceremonial worship to pagan gods (2 Ki.5:17-19), and Paul permitted the Corinthians to eat foods offered to idols (1 Cor. 8-10). Almost all of our present Christian practices (in liturgies, weddings, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc) were adapted from pagan customs of pre-Christian European tribes anyway (cf. Walls 1996, 15-54).

Christmas tree

Contextuality should also mark the OC meetings, with the free mixture of activities according to the needs and gifts of the participants, as set by the leader(s) in close consultation with all the members. Following the 1 Cor.14:26(-40) pattern of meeting, all members come prepared to “provoke one another to love and good works” (Heb.10:24) in their body-life together. In literate cultures, Christ-followers can go through any biblical text according to the needs and interests of people present. In oral cultures, they can learn about Jesus and his teachings through storying, singing and drama, which can lead to worldview change (Evans 2008). Today they can also download the Jesus movie and film clips from the Jesus Film Project and IndigiTube, with translations available in over 1,600 languages.

Will they practice water baptism and the Eucharist?  Our preference is for them to discover them (perhaps foot-washing also) as they read the Scriptures. We may introduce them as long as these are done in private (like in the New Testament, except at Pentecost) and does not result in extraction from their family and community.

3.3. Transformational

And what will be the outcome of fulfilling Jesus’ IM to realize “Jubilee everyday”? The OCNs will ultimately help their societies to have a simple yet profound religiosity marked by “loving one another” as members of one big family as Christ loves us (Jn.13:34-35; 1 Jn.3:16-18), most concretely expressed in the “common purse” of the earliest church’s “caring and sharing economy” (Ac.2:42-47; 4:32-37; 6:1-7; cf. 2 Cor.8-9), for sustainability and socio-economic development (cf. 1 Cor.7:21-24), where no one is left behind.

early church sharing

Illustration courtesy of Aya and Nicole Velasquez via FreeBibleimages

As each disciple grows in Christ-likeness, they will be liberated from sin to become more generous, more caring towards and sharing with their neighbors, which is the “agape” law of Christ (Gal.5:13-23; 6:1-2; Rom.13:8-10). They are discipled to do acts of kindness and justice locally and globally, which is called “transformational development” or “integral mission” nowadays.

This spirituality translates into discipling and transforming the global economic system, too. Many OC leaders are involved in Christian development organizations that are already leading in building the third (other than capitalism and socialism) alternative economic order called the Solidarity Economy, which equips and empowers the poor through social entrepreneurship and fair trade, so each person can have their own land (Lev. 25) and their own “vine and fig tree” (Mic.4:4), passed on to the next generations (Isa. 65:21-23).

For instance, the OCNs that had “gospel explosion” in six big provinces in China spread from village to village through the witnessing lifestyles of ordinary Christ-followers who were known for their serving, caring and hard-working work in their neighborhoods. Even Communist cadres and leaders became “secret believers” in these OCNs (cf. Hattaway 2003).

1 Interestingly, Paul also started with only 12 disciples to reach the whole Asia Minor in 2 years (Acts 19:1-10).

2 For instance, Martin Luther wrote in his preface to the German Mass: “Those who really want to be Christians and to confess the gospel in deed and word would have to enroll by name and assemble themselves apart in some house to pray, to read, to baptize, to receive the sacrament, and to do similar Christian works. For in such a regime it would be possible to discover and punish and correct and exclude those who do not behave as Christians and to excommunicate them according to Christ’s rule in Matthew 18. Here, too, a common collection of alms could be enjoined on Christians to be given voluntarily and distributed to the poor following Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians 9… Here, baptism and the sacrament could be administered in a brief and simple manner and everything directed to the word and prayer and love… In short, if one had people and individuals who really wanted to be Christians, the rules and forms could soon be drawn up. But I cannot and will not order or establish such a community or congregation yet, for I do not yet have the people and individuals to do this nor, so far as I can see, are there many pressing for this.”

3 Perhaps best articulated in Simson, Wolfgang.  2001. Houses That Change the World.  Carlisle: Paternoster, Chap. 5.

4 Lim, David. 1987. The Servant Nature of the Church in the Pauline Corpus. Ph.D. Diss., Fuller; Stark, Rodney. 1996. The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. New York: HarperCollins Publishers and 2006. Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

5 Roman Catholics call this the “subsidiarity” principle.

6 Like Jesus, some may go “full-time” when they have well-to-do disciples in their OCN (Lk.8:1-3) to take care of their needs.

7 For more detailed biblical missiology of IMs, see Talman, Harley, and J. J. Travis (eds.). 2015. Understanding Insider Movements: Disciples of  Jesus within Diverse Religious Communities. Pasadena: William Carey Library.; Higgins, Kevin. 2004. “The Key to Insider Movements: The ‘Devoted’s’ of Acts,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 21.4 (Winter 2004), 156-160.; Lim 2008. “Catalyzing ‘Insider Movements’ Among the Unreached.”  Journal of Asian Mission 10.1-2 (March-September 2008), 125-145.

8 For more elaboration on the IM of Jesus, Paul and the early church, see Lim 2017. “God’s Kingdom as Oikos Church Networks: A Biblical Theology.” International Journal of Frontier Mission 34.1-4 (January-December 2017), 25-35.

9 This seems to be a universal principle, since Paul says he teaches this in all the churches (v. 17b).

10 On incarnational missions, see Lim 2011. “Towards Closure: Imperial or Incarnational Missions?” Asian Missions Advance, 33 (October 2011), 20-22.

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