Begin with the M in mind – How to think about discipleship

How can we help new (and old) disciples stay motivated, enthused and on mission?

To begin to answer that, allow me to introduce you to a friend of mine. His name is Anonymous.

Anonymous is in the Christ-following Underground. In mission circles they are sometimes called M’s. “M” is code word for an overseas worker that is deeply embedded in a part of the world where the gospel is forbidden. “M” is also a part of a code that is used when communicating with these undercover missionaries via email or phone. This reduces the chances that their cover will be compromised. In this code, we…

  • Never say, “missionary”. They are illegal. We say, “M”.
  • Never say God while speaking on the phone to an M. We only talk about “Dad”.
  • Never write in an email, “We’re praying for you”. We only write, “We’re thinking about you.”

Even today here in the States, I often write, “I’m thinking of you” when I mean, “I’m praying for you.”
It was easier for me to change my language all together than to risk a slip when talking to an M.

I learned a lesson from an M that can serve us to answer the question of maintaining motivation, enthusiasm and focus on mission.
Once, while meeting with an M overseas, I noted my admiration at their commitment to follow Christ overseas. To me, nothing could be more exciting, nothing more central to the gospel, nothing closer to the heart of God and the calling of Christ, than the “whole bodied” act of translating the gospel through missionary service. I had come to understand, though, that few Christ-following people live with this reality close to the heart. In light of this reality, I noted that it must have required an extraordinary commitment for them to leave their home and make Christ known among the nations.

They set me straight. Regardless of what the reality is within the churches, they were not making any greater commitment than the Christ following people who were obeying Christ back home. Those who remained in the states weren’t less committed because they had stayed. They were less committed because even at home they didn’t obey Christ. But, those who obeyed Christ, whether overseas or in their hometown, were all equal in their commitment. Geography is irrelevant. For these overseas workers, it would have been a sacrifice to stay behind.

If geography is irrelevant, then thinking of the life of M’s on the field can give us a new slant on spiritual formation for those serving here. Often, M’s don’t have churches that they can attend. Churches don’t exist where they serve. They don’t have pastors to preach to them every week. There is
no band to get things rocking. No video to inspire them. No drama to make them cry. They don’t have their profiles splattered all over the internet. Few know what they’re doing. They are not celebrities. They are anonymous.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey counseled that we should “begin with the end in mind.” As we think of the spiritual formation of those in our churches, we should begin with the M in mind. We should ask what keeps the M going on the field? The M does not require a huge staff to move heaven and earth to provide a sunday program. Perhaps we have become accustomed to making disciples “in the loud”. [Yes, I just made up this term.] Making disciples “in the loud” requires screaming guitars, thumping bass lines, critical mass of excited people, charismatic “public” leaders. In other words, making disciples “in the loud” is about energy: the energy of crowds, the energy of noise, the energy of activity, the energy of energy.

It is all about the buzz.

Who can dance? Who can sing? Who can speak? Who can be the guy up front? The stage and the spotlight is the focal point of the entire experience. Not much room or need here for Anonymous.

But from where will new believers get their spiritual adrenalin if there is no rocking service? How will the new convert develop himself if there is no weekly service or pastor to “feed” him? How can a new believer maintain his enthusiasm and motivation for mission if there be no crowd, no noise, no activity, no buzz?

We must do “the loud,” but we must also learn to make disciples “in the quiet”.

The person who must have his fix of “loud” should also seek the quiet because

When the pressure from the “loud” that is pushing in upon a person from the outside exceeds the pressure from the “quiet” that is pushing out from within the same person, an implosion is imminent.

The person who must be seen, must be in the center, must be on stage should practice being anonymous. The person who avoids the quiet of aloneness, the solitary search through the scriptures, the moments of prayer, the intimate conversation should fear the “loud”. Sometimes we fill our minds and hearts with sound, with noise so that we don’t have to hear the messages from within. Pain. Loneliness. Shame. Humiliation. Fear. We can keep these quiet with noise, but at great cost.

Spiritual formation in the quiet, where the inner voices can be heard, may become the way for everyone to become an M. The quiet feeds and the quiet forms. The quiet speaks and the quiet listens. The quiet is where deep convictions arise. The quiet is where one human being can connect with another. The quiet is where forgiveness happens. The quiet is where a person’s mission takes shape. The quiet is where voices from eternity make contact with minds locked in the here and now. Without a personal sense of calling and mission, we’ll always need outside forces to keep us going. To get the inside forces flowing, we’ll need to get quiet too. This is not the only thing but it is an essential thing.

When the music in a person’s heart begins to make them sing, the church band is a great added value but not an essential. When no one and no church, regardless of the quality of the worship experience, can ruin your worship, then the quiet is doing its work. When you deploy yourself because you know what your mission is, then the quiet becomes a thundering quiet. When you no longer shop for a church that meets your needs, but search instead for ways to serve, then the quiet is establishing its roots. Being formed in the “loud” alone may lead to a consumer mentality that demands much but is able to give little. But when the spirit works from the inside out, then we gather with something to give. [That leads to second essential: working with a team. We’ll leave that for a later post.]

Sound boring? Fear not.
In my experience, those whose spiritual formation includes “the quiet” are not prone to a solitary life. They tend to be party animals who love screaming lead lines, booming drum and bass, and crowds going wild. [Or wine, cheese, jazz and conversation.] They like being around others. They like recognition. They enjoy Sunday services. They appreciate youth groups. Etc…They just don’t need them. Christ, his mission and their co-conspirators give them everything they need. They are M. You may never know their names. They’re OK with that. They’re anonymous. Imagine the impact of a church of M’s on a community or culture. Disciple new converts with that end in mind.

Processing Questions:

  • How much emphasis do you place on planning “the loud” with your leadership team relative to encouraging “the quiet”?
  • How do the pressures of putting on the weekly service impede or encourage “the quiet” in your life as a leader?
  • How can a rocking service be tools that serve spiritual formation?

What do you think?

See you in the mystic…


If you enjoy these conversations, consider enrolling in an IMN training opportunity.

Join the M underground


23 responses to “Begin with the M in mind – How to think about discipleship”

  1. david Avatar

    thanks for a great post alex, and good questions to think about.
    even though I enjoy the loud or larger gatherings and see there place, I’m often bothered b/c people often depend on that or replace an authentic spiritual life for this weekly experience.
    I’m also haunted by the fact that the loud takes up so much time to prepare and therefore takes time away from helping people develop the quiet.
    As you mentioned, I hope to use our loud stuff to fuel the quiet without losing perspective.

  2. David Avatar

    I just have to say that “the loud” takes the bulk of my time as a leader. Back to “The 7 Habits”, it’s the urgent over the important. The urgent, the coming Sunday, screams for my attention, whereas the quiet of discipleship waits patiently for attention. But every single day it reminds me of it’s importance, like a computer pop-up message. I click “ok”, and ignore it until tomorrow. But it never gets handled. Sigh.

  3. Z Avatar

    You speak directly to my heart. I have been resisting the quiet, the mission, for so long. I have been batting (literally) ideas like this around, or is it more like batting them away. Hmmm. Thanks Alex.

  4. Diane Caracciolo Avatar

    I totally agree…
    my mantra has been “what is the outcome that we truly desire”
    and what needs to happen to get us there?
    that is where we begin…
    we have been in transition
    growing…maturing…becoming someBODY …
    a true expression of community and integration
    where the normative culture “screams” for the inclusion of all
    where the “knowledge of Him” in our hearts,
    in our lives
    causes us to walk in humility, obedience, love
    creating a place for His presence
    His preminence
    His power
    His plan
    to bring us where His heart longs to take us…
    building His Body
    building His Kingdom on earth…

  5. Vicki Sheehan Avatar
    Vicki Sheehan

    I feel relieved.
    Sometimes the quiet is loud for me.

  6. Jeff Avatar

    Opportunities of “the loud” in our community tend to serve as a entry point to a new life, a new way, an opportunity to rethink my current path on this journey. But if we remain with “the loud” alone, and are unable/unwilling to move from the place of entrance into the inner courts of the then we miss out on the beauty and the meaning of the garden. The winding paths that lead past reflecting pools, peaceful vistas, and upclose beauty lead us into a life that we miss if we remain only at “the loud.”

    Thanks Alex for a great post. I especially appreciated our statement, “When the music in a person’s heart begins to make them sing, the church band is a great added value but not an essential.”


  7. tony sheng Avatar

    Alex, Thanks for elaborating on the examples of Ms. I think intersecting them with some of our students is one of the best ways to grow those that sing from the heart.

  8. Alex Avatar

    David, exactly. I think it is normal for the gospel to create “the loud” in places where there is freedom to do so. in places like China “the loud” has been forced underground and happens in caves or wherever it is possible. In the Muslim world “the loud” is suppressed. “The loud” is the normal trajectory but it is not the power for the launch.

    David #2, really like the analogy of the pop-up window. it made me think of how important email i need to act on sits in my inbox waiting for me to plow through less important but perhaps more urgent stuff.

    Z, my pleasure. At least you’re up at bat. One of my favorite lines from Signs by M. Night, “Swing Away”. I love it when the Joaquin Phoenix character says of the fact that he held the strike out record, “It felt wrong not to swing”. Keep swinging with all your might. Stay in the game.

    Diane, Well put. I think your question nails it on the head.

    Vicki, Haha. Love how you turned the phrase. Glad you feel relieved.

    Jeff, Yes, “the loud” can certainly serve as a way of getting peoples attention. Gladly, we are not in China or deeply embedded in the Muslim world. Let’s be loud and quiet.

    Tony, So true. Exposing others to people whose inner gratitude so motivates their personal worship that they are a force for the kingdom in and of themselves is a great teaching tool.

    Great comments all.. I want to invite all of you to consider coming to HUMANA 2.08 ( in Orlando, Fl on Feb 6-7 and staying over for the Voxtropolis World Music jam on the 8th and 9th. Thanks for any help in getting out the word.

  9. Conrad Weber Avatar
    Conrad Weber

    Can learning to live from the quiet be developed outside of pain? Author Peter Scazzerro says that when people have gone through the “wall”, they continue to live for God but now their life is characterized by a “deep, inner stillness.”

    Over the last year, I have begun to know God in the quiet, but it came as a result of several of the most difficult years of my life. The quiet does the things you say it does…I can attest to some of them in my own life, but it was hitting the “wall” which drove me to seek out someone who could give me some guidance. He as been through the wall and has helped many others as well. As a result, I found aspects of God and myself WAY below the surface that I never knew existed….and a clarity of mission is slowly emerging as a result of learning to hear God’s voice….but the pain of hitting the the wall drove me there.

    As I now begin to help a few others take the journey into the quiet, it always involves people who have hit the wall in their life and they’re desperate like I was. I have other friends who need to take the journey, but they don’t want it bad enough, or don’t even think they need it. Maybe helping to form the quiet in others is living close enough to them so that when they want it bad enough you can help them down the path? Or am I being too one-dimensional and projecting my experience onto others? I just have yet to meet someone who has learned to know God in the quiet without first having some pretty rough sailing.


  10. Paul Avatar

    Are there good books that can help me chew on this more? Specifically, as a leader how do we guide people into the quiet? Most ‘discipleship’ material out there is so content driven. Read this, memorize that, fill in the blanks. The disciple almost doesn’t need a RELATIONSHIP with anyone! Our team is currently working through this issue of growing disciples. The ‘loud’ has so much surface emotion to it that it will easily draw a crowd, but the future of the church depends on the next generation not only catching the excitment of the loud, but having the depth, commitment, and tenacity of the quiet. Any good resources? Not looking for curriculum as much as mindset and philosophy of leading others into spiritual formation.

    I also resonate with Conrad’s post. I don’t know of any leaders with great spiritual depth that haven’t experienced the pain of loss, failure, or emptiness at some point.

  11. Andy Avatar

    In the quiet there are people who follow Jesus because that’s their hunger and passion. They choose to, because the “Christian life” isn’t served up and thrust on them. Despite a lack of outward support, they are not unsupported if they can meet with Jesus, share the journey with a few others, and read scripture together. As someone said to me recently, not attending a group or being part of any programs means he has to own his own faith and journey.

    Having said that, I think there are many in the USA who prefer the quiet. Sure you can see that many gravitate toward “the loud” if they can. Those in “the quiet” are less visible but not necessarily less potent.

    To be fair, the ingredients of “the loud” are not just the singing and spectacle but also the preaching and teaching. No matter how excellent a preacher may be, he (or she) goes on and on — 4, 8, 12 hours a month. And then there are the teachers (in small groups, seminars, and conferences) who fill up every silence with words. Doubtless some value every minute of it, but for others it’s loud and endless. Those who step away notice the silence just like an urbanite going to the mountains (and some are nervous, even unable to function in the silence).

    Years ago I attended the very first “worship service in a bar” at Mosaic. I brought two friends — a Christian and a non-Christian. Both were members of a very cool band (the bass player and drummer). Afterwards I turned and asked, How was it? After exchanging a glance and testing the water a bit, they both waded in. It was overly produced for their taste, both agreed, like MTV. All noise and no substance. The drummer, the non-Christian, said (as if he’d taken church growth), “It’s great, I’m sure it will reach people who are into MTV and like this sort of thing. But I’d rather be with a small group of people, gathered around a fire, sharing stories and sometimes playing a song or two on the guitar.”

    And as he said it, I agreed. It felt freeing to admit I didn’t care for it either. Now I love loud music (and he does to), but I’ve got a deep longing to know Jesus in a very real way — and that means stripping things down not adding layers of noise, notes, words, and lights.

    As he said, if “the loud” reaches some, that’s great. But “the quiet” isn’t necessarily missing anything. We don’t “need the loud” (whether you really meant that I don’t know). My point is that often it’s the other way around.

    I also sensed an assumption (maybe I’m wrong) that there are people (leaders, shapers, architects) who manage “the loud” and possibly “the quiet.” (You say we must make disciples in the quiet, but how unless we can create or engineer quiet spaces? Is that the true nature of “the quiet” though? Or is “the quiet” in the wilderness?) One of the joys and marks of authenticity in the quiet may be the absence of leaders, engineers, and architects. These are places where Jesus is in control, but we aren’t. I’ve said enough though.

  12. Marcus Avatar

    Sometimes the lure of “loud activity” is so easy to get sucked into. We as a culture have subscribed totally to the idea that activity; no matter what the outcome, equals progress. Lately, I have been realizing that one of the most proactive things that I can do is pray…a very ‘quiet’ exercise. I think a lot of the loud comes from our unwillingness to believe that God will do His part. I am the worse offender. God isn’t moving fast enough, so I’ll kindly apply for His job and show everyone how it’s done. I have had to learn to enjoy the quiet over the last few years, and honestly, I still don’t get it much of the time. Quiet is loving my beautiful wife, and taching my daughters a bible verse as I am snuggling with her before bed. It’s stopping to see what has grabbed the attention of my 18 mo old son. I used to believe that the only way that I could make God proud was if I was “preaching to the masses”. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for that. But I have found that God also lives in the quiet places where there aren’t any microphones; the places where it’s Him and me, and the heart of another person that He appointed that I connect with. I think most anyone that has done ministry will tell you there best work is done one on one…and yet we hunger for the mic…go figure

  13. Camelrider Avatar

    Great post. I’m one of the “m’s” living in North Africa and living without the loud has been an adjustment. I’ve been here for almost a year and prior to this led worship in the states. I went from a stage with studio players, lights, videos, dramas to a small group with a mediocre guitar player and me playing hand drums. It’s been a transition but I’m beginning to enjoy it tremendously. For me the quiet is a cup of coffee, my bible and a few good blogs. Quiet is putting on the iPod and watching my kids dance to worship music.

    I think many have elevated the “loud” to such a place that it takes the place of us. We use the “loud” to reach people instead of us reaching people. I have a lot of friends in the states that only know the loud and keep searching from one place to the next for the “loudest”. It’s sad because what they’re actually after is the “quiet”…. and it’s right there all the time.

    BTW, I’m going to link to this article in a few weeks on my blog. Great post.

  14. Andy Avatar

    Just read this (Scandrette, Soul Graffiti):

    “Our familiarity with the one called Jesus has bred both cyncism and sentimentality. My sense, however, is that what most of us know about Jesus we know somewhat vicariously through the later development of the religion that we now call Christianity…

    A subterranean narrative stands in contrast to the dominant histories of Christianity, a quieter story of people who did not hold on to power, but attempted to surrender themselves to the energy and teachings of the master in the way of love.”

  15. Barry Avatar

    Good stuff here! I would like to go further on a point… Andy, you mentioned that your friend commented that he;d rather be with a small group around a fire. That sounds inviting and intimate. Here’s my question: if many of us feel that way, why aren’t there more small groups around fires? Maybe there are, I don’t know. Is the experience defined by the “loud” simply because some leaders say it is? Are we that much like sheep? I’m not so much challenging the premise but I do wonder why the “loud” can keep propping itself up if it is not attractive. Maybe it’s just easier for people to be spectators. maybe the “loud” is not satisfying but we’re too lazy to do anything else. I guess, I’m just surprised to not see a massive collapse of the “loud” and a revolution to the “quiet.” I suspect that both should be a part of our journey. I’m not just trying to find common ground. If there is a path to follow, I would prefer to do it all the way, with all of my heart. There must be something powerful about the loud, something that only happens there. Maybe, humans, look for a reason to not be open to what is really happening in their hearts wether it be in the loud or quiet and they run to one to hide from the other. Thoughts?

  16. Dropinski Avatar

    The loud. Ever notice when you’re in the next room and the TV is on, how much louder the commercials are than the actual program? When the volume is blaring, I’ve gradually learned to translate the message as “this is an assault on thought, emotions, and soul.” Imagining Jesus as quiet, though, I forget that He could be heard when he was teaching and preaching to multitudes. That multitude thing wasn’t very quiet, neither were the miracles, neither was the Resurrection. All this, very loud, if not audibly so. There was also a sense in which Jesus kept some things unwrapped, until it was time for His followers to shout it from the rooftops. The value is hearing what needs to be heard in either the loud or the silence.

  17. Dani in NC Avatar

    Thank you for this inspiring post. I have felt guilty in the past because I prefer the quiet. There are people who think it isn’t real worship if it isn’t loud. I never thought about the fact that there are Christians all over the world who have fulfilling worship experiences without a lot of preparation and staging.

  18. Andy Avatar

    Barry – I think there are groups like that. They aren’t necessarily organized to the degree that we’d call them “church” (or even house church). When I was leading a small group long ago at Mosaic, several people said, “Why don’t you just plant a church?” My reactions were (in order): I’m not qualified and I don’t want to be a rebel (plus, maybe, It will surely fail). Maybe all those things would have been true given my understanding of church at the time. With my current understanding of church, I wouldn’t be so intimidated or controlling about the outcome. I’d see the prospect as an adventure — people on the move — rather than an organization (or movement) to create. Now, I probably wouldn’t have a fireplace if I were in Los Angeles (or here in Tokyo), so that’s another matter.

  19. Jonathan Avatar

    Great stuff Alex and contributors:
    Maybe the question isn’t whether it’s loud our quiet, but if it has Presence. I think we try to manufacture a sense of God’s Presence in both the loud and the quiet. Unfortunately, it can’t be done. We can leave the loud or the quiet just as empty as we entered.
    We all prefer one or the other (and this may change from one day to the next). But what we seek; what our soul longs for is the Presence. What the world needs is the Presence. It can be argued that we create loud spaces to attract others to God’s presence; but we do the same thing with the quiet.
    The Presence is found where God is (loud or quiet). We don’t define it or induce it, we enter it. (I think this is what you’re talking about Alex…or did I just make a fool of myself…easily done). There is power in the Presence. Power to heal, transform, motivate and move.
    I think we tend to overthink this. We sing, pray, preach…all of it, loud or quiet, to move toward the Presence. Ocassionally we get there. There, we are purified, inspired and sent.
    I’d agree completely that this is more likely to happen in the quiet (as you defined it, Alex), but it’s certainly not limited by our proximity (physically or emotionally).
    I’m arguing symantics here, but I’ve invested too much time in this to delete at this point, so I’ll just hang it out there. Please correct my faulty understanding.
    Presence happens where God is. It’s not limited by our structures or lack thereof. It’s certainly not defined by our preferences. We must seek HIS Presence on HIS terms (in loud an quiet places), find Him and take others with us.

  20. […] by some recent time “in the quiet”, I felt God pushing me to make a list. Now, I write many lists, mostly due to my lacking memory and […]

  21. […] also learn to make disciples ‘in the quiet’,” writes Alex McManus in a post titled “Lessons from the Underground: Begin with the M in Mind.” I think he has a great point. “The loud” is the more high energy worship or at least […]

  22. […] you make disciples “in the loud” or “in the quiet?”  Alex McManus looks at how we in America, primarily, “do church” in contrast with […]

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