You may not have heard of Filipino pastor Joey Bonifacio, but his LEGO Principle—a simple yet profound discipleship model—could change the American church.
When Jesus spoke of the church, He never said to have stirring Sunday morning services, an amazing praise and worship team, or even a good nursery. Yet those are the elements countless congregations focus on the most.
No, when Jesus commissioned those who would follow after Him, He chose two words amid all the other instructions He could’ve offered: Make disciples.
That’s the subject of this month’s issue of Ministry Today. More specifically, we’re addressing how churches can create a culture of discipleship that produces true disciples of Christ rather than mere “churchgoers.” I can think of few people more qualified to make the case for establishing this than Joey Bonafacio from Manila, Philippines. Joey is one of the senior pastors at Victory Church, a community of more than 65,000 believers who eat, breathe and live out the core principle of discipleship every day. Joey’s also the author of a recently released book, The LEGO Principle, which reveals the key elements of connecting with God and connecting with people.
What are the Great Commission building blocks and transferrable principles for seeing your church lead a movement of Christ followers?
In March of this year, two pastors from Michigan and Florida made the trek to Manila to check out our church. Soon into their visit, they expressed their amazement at the way we did church, particularly intrigued by this idea of being one church with multiple services in multiple sites and with multiple preachers.
“We haven’t seen a church model like this one,” they told me. “In the United States, the typical multisite model broadcasts one preacher to multiple sites.” They were also quick to point out that they didn’t believe one model was better than the other. I can only agree.
But they specifically wanted to know and understand how one church does 94 weekend services in 15 locations with 51 lead pastors preaching and with approximately 65,000 in attendance. In their own words: “It’s worth the trip and a two-week stay to observe.”
Preaching. Countless people have done it and are doing it. And as we all know, there isn't just one way of doing it. When it comes to the work of proclamation, we have various strategies and styles—some healthier than others.
Three Common Approaches to Preaching
What I find most often among preachers is something close to one of the three following approaches. While each approach has value, they are not enough in and of themselves.
The inspired approach. We probably know this better as the "I had a word from the Lord" approach. In its best form, this approach reflects a preacher who has been impressed by the Holy Spirit concerning a particular truth in Scripture. It is, in a sense, first-person: "The Lord led me, and I want to tell you how He is leading." In some ways, it reminds us of 1 Peter 4:11: "If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God's words."
The danger here is that if we aren't binding ourselves to the Word of God, it isn't difficult to get off the path of truth and allow our hearts—which the Bible calls deceitful—to guide our preaching more than we allow Scripture to guide us.
Through the years Victory Church has become very clear and very focused on what we are trying to do. Why have we become so fixated on a single strategy? It is, first of all, because we have embraced the Lord’s Great Commission as our own. Making disciples is the driving force behind everything we do. Second, it’s because we have overwhelming confirmation in our own experience that this one move, if mastered, is unstoppable and indefensible. I believe all churches and ministries can grow if only they master a discipleship process that is simple, biblical and transferable. I know of churches that are missing many seemingly important things such as nice buildings, good music equipment, support staff, big givers and dynamic preachers. Yet they’re still growing because they are making disciples.
Churches can be blessed with all those seemingly important things and become completely consumed with activities that have nothing to do with making disciples. Our goal is to make our small groups and everything else we do support our discipleship process.
Unfortunately, crowded church calendars often compete with discipleship. No activity is neutral. We recognize that everything we do and say will either underline or undermine our discipleship process.
—From WikiChurch: Making Discipleship Engaging, Empowering & Viral by Steve Murrell
When a church operates with an “everyone’s a minister” mindset, combined with a defined leadership multiplication process, the potential for kingdom impact is infinite
I am an American, but most of my adult life has been spent in Manila, Philippines, as a cross-cultural pastor and church planter. My wife, Deborah, and I originally went to Manila on a one-month summer mission trip to establish a church that would reach Filipino university students. That one month has lasted almost three decades, and that student church we established now conducts 92 weekly worship services in 16 Manila locations. It’s also planted churches in 60 Philippine cities and has sent Filipino missionaries to plant churches in more than a dozen nations.
Because our church constantly plants new churches and sends cross-cultural missionaries, it seems we’re always in the process of training new pastors, new worship leaders, new kids’ pastors and other new leaders to replace those we send. Because of this constant need for leaders, we’ve had to develop a culture and process for leadership multiplication.
Here’s an example of what we’ve done: Joseph was a talented singer and musician, but his first few times on stage leading worship were less than spectacular. After a staff meeting (that did not include Joseph), the head of our worship department suggested we switch worship leaders for the following week because we had a big-shot foreign guest speaker scheduled. He reminded me that the last time Joseph led worship, it was “forgettable.”
My response: I said that I was well aware we were hosting the big-shot American and that Joseph was not our best. However, I didn’t see any reason to bench Joseph. I reminded our entire staff that we weren’t trying to impress our guest speaker. In fact, he had better impress us or he wouldn’t be invited back.
For me, it’s more important to equip a worship leader than to have a perfect worship service. I knew that if we rescheduled Joseph, it would shatter his confidence and set the equipping process back a few months. When Sunday came around, Joseph led worship and our big-shot foreign guest preached. Sure, the worship was less than average, but Joseph went on to become a good worship leader and later a great pastor and church planter. He and his wife are now pioneering an underground church network in a restricted nation. Being an upstart worship leader was an integral part of his equipping process. I’m not sure he would be where he is today if we had short-circuited the equipping process to impress our guest speaker.
We hear the phrase all the time, “Every member a minister.” Yet because of our performance-driven culture, we often have little tolerance for the messiness of the equipping process that empowers average members to minister.
We do church as if only professional ministers should do ministry. But Scripture offers a different perspective. The biblical job description for professional ministers—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers—is to equip the “nonprofessionals” for ministry, then get out of their way and allow God to move through them. When we forget that job description, we forget one of the primary reasons God called us in the first place.
As full-time pastors, it’s common for us to measure the effectiveness of our week by how busy we are with random acts of ministry. On Monday we saved a marriage, on Tuesday we prayed for Fred in the hospital, on Wednesday we taught lesson 26 of our 48-part Ezekiel series, on Thursday we preached to our mailman and on Friday we said a prayer at the high school football game. All that’s great, but in the process, did we equip anyone else to do ministry? Usually not.
It’s common for pastors to have a week packed with ministry activities and yet still be delinquent in our ministerial responsibilities. It’s because we’re not only called to do ministry, but also to equip others to do ministry.
I often ask pastors two questions: Do you spend more time ministering to people or equipping people to minister? Do you spend more time preparing sermons to preach, or preparing people to minister? Unfortunately, most full-time ministers I know spend far more time preparing sermons, leading meetings and running religious organizations than actually equipping regular people to do ministry.
Once we accept that we’re called not just to do ministry, but also to equip others to do ministry, the next question is: How? Out of the desperation of our endless need for leaders in the Philippines, we developed a simple, four-part leadership development process.
1) IDENTIFICATION. The starting point for equipping spiritual leaders is to help people identify their unique and divine calling. A calling is from God. Everyone has one. Far too many people have no clue what they’re called to do.
Leaders help people identify their calling by helping them recognize and develop their God-given strengths and gifts. Leaders also help by recognizing hidden potential in others.
I never would have started teaching the Bible 32 years ago unless my pastor had first identified a potential gift God might have given me. Then he led me (and often pushed or dragged me) through open doors, even if the opening was barely a crack. I’m thankful for people who saw gifts and strengths in me that I never noticed because of my condemnation, ignorance and immaturity.
2) INSTRUCTION. Paul’s letters are filled with doctrinal, relational and practical instruction. Many times he sent instructional letters to churches in cities he had never visited, demonstrating that effective instruction does not depend on personal relationship or physical proximity.
My life has been positively impacted by instruction through books and podcasts written and spoken by people I have never met. Two seminary courses, Ethnohermeneutics by Larry Caldwell and The Book of Genesis by Dr. Nomer Bernardino, impact almost every sermon I have preached nearly 20 years after sitting in those classes. I could list many individual books or sermons that have redirected my life, enlightened my mind or softened my heart in life-changing ways.
3) IMPARTATION. As important as instruction is, it’s not enough. Paul wrote to the Romans, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong” (Rom. 1:11, NIV, emphasis added). Paul sent instruction to people he had never met, but he seemed to need a face-to-face relationship for impartation to happen.
I can read all about evangelism, but something happens when I actually hang around my friends who are evangelists. I get an evangelistic impartation that changes me for the better in ways that instruction alone can’t.
Impartation happened when King Saul was hanging around the prophets, then started prophesying (see 1 Sam. 19). Impartation happened when God took the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on the 70 elders (see Num. 11).
I’m not sure that the same level of impartation happens through email messages or online classes. There’s something about face-to-face ministry that God has designed to be part of the equipping process.
4) INTERNSHIP. Elijah and Elisha, David and Solomon, Barnabas and Paul, and Paul and Timothy are only a few of the biblical examples of internship. Internship is basically on-the-job training. Internships can be either formal or informal. Over the years, I’ve had formal interns who requested a mentoring relationship, and I’ve had informal “interns” who had no idea I was intentionally equipping them for ministry. They thought we were just hanging out together. Whether formal or informal, internship is a vital part of the equipping process.
In closing, let me explain the power of equipping every believer to do ministry with a real-world illustration. In 2000, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger started an online encyclopedia called “Nupedia.” Their goal was to include articles written only by credentialed experts. Before an article could be posted to Nupedia, it had to go through an extensive, seven-step, scholarly review process, which proved to be painstakingly slow. When Nupedia finally unplugged its servers in 2003, only 24 articles had been posted, and 74 were stuck in the review process. There weren’t many articles, but they were professionally written.
In 2001, one year after Nupedia launched, Wales and Sanger also started a feeder system called “Wikipedia.” They got the name from the shuttle bus at Hawaii International Airport called WikiWiki Transport. Wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning “quick.” The Wikipedia idea was to allow nonprofessionals, non-scholars and non-experts to write articles that the Nupedia scholars would then review. If the Wikipedia articles survived the seven-step Nupedia approval process, they would be posted. If not, they would be trashed.
By the end of 2001, volunteers had submitted more than 20,000 “wiki” articles. It took the trained expert scholars three years to create 24 articles and the volunteers one year to create 20,000. Wikipedia now contains more than 18 million articles written, edited and posted by volunteers.
Unfortunately, many churches and ministries today function more like Nupedia than Wikipedia. They allow only credentialed, ordained professionals to minister while volunteers are expected to show up and pay up, but not to engage in serious ministry.
Imagine if the situation were reversed. Imagine if every believer, not just paid leaders, actively engaged in ministry. That’s what I call a “WikiChurch.” That’s what happened in the book of Acts.
Wikipedia may be an imperfect source, but it has made information widely available by simply empowering volunteers. That’s what church leaders are called to do—to equip and empower imperfect people to honor God and make disciples.
Steve Murrell is the founding pastor of Victory in Manila, the president of Every Nation Churches and Ministries, and the author of WikiChurch, from which this article is adapted with permission. He and his wife, Deborah, have three adult sons and split their time between Manila and Nashville, Tenn.
Joey Bonifacio is the senior pastor of Victory Fort, one of 15 congregations that make up Victory Church in the metro Manila area of the Philippines. Each weekend, Victory hosts 94 gatherings with 51 lead pastors preaching to a multigenerational congregation of almost 65,000. Though the church’s membership has grown almost 25 percent each year for the last 12 years, of greater concern to Victory’s leadership team are the number of baptisms (4,613 in 2011) and discipleship groups (currently more than 5,000).
After running a successful business for years—and then splitting time between his company and ministry—Bonifacio joined the Victory team as a full-time pastor in 1998. Today he is a member of the International Apostolic Team of Every Nation Ministries and a member of the board of directors of the Real Life Foundation. He and his wife, Marie, have three sons.
Bonifacio is also the author of The LEGO Principle, which draws parallels between the famous toy-maker and core discipleship elements. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor. Just as a Lego piece was designed to do one thing—connect, regardless of shape, size or color—we were made to connect with God and others, Bonifacio says. “If you can connect to the top with God and to the bottom with others, you can pretty much shape the world you live in.”