DMM – Book Review of David Watson’s Contagious Disciple Making

DMM’s (Disciple Making Movements) have sparked much interest in the missions world of late, particularly for ministry in challenging contexts. David Watson, as one of the leading practitioner and thinkers in the area, has written Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery along with his son, Paul Watson as a practical and valuable guide to obeying the Great Commission. While David is engaging in his in-person teaching, drawing on rich examples from his own ministry, his written work is even more balanced and valuable for those involved in establishing churches, particularly among the unreached.

DMM is often used synonymously with CPM or Church Planting Movement. Watson defines CPM as “an indigenously led Gospel-planting and obedience-based discipleship process that resulted in a minimum of one hundred new locally initiated and led churches, four generations deep, within three years” (Kindle location 210).

Watson divides his book into two parts, the first dealing with the mindset, theory or “the being” aspect of DMM and the second with specific practices, “the doing”. The mindset part is divided into 9 principles:

  1. Disciple-makers embrace lessons taught by failure.
  2. Disciple-makers deculturalize, not contextualize the gospel.
  3. Disciple-makers plant the gospel rather than reproduce their religion.
  4. Disciple-makers realize how hard completing the Great Commission will be for strategies and organizations built around branded Christianity.
  5. Disciple-makers realize the structure of the community determines the strategy used to make disciples.
  6. Disciple-makers realize their culture and religious experience can negatively influence their disciple-making unless they are very careful.
  7. Disciple-makers understand the importance of obedience.
  8. Disciple-makers make disciples, not converts.
  9. Disciple-makers understand the importance of the priesthood of the believer

The second or “practices” part of the book includes thinking strategically and tactically about DMM, reproducing disciples, the foundational role of prayer, finding a person of peace, Discovery Bible Studies and establishing churches.

While the whole book is valuable for those engaged in making disciples and establishing churches, I was particularly struck by his appeal to not simply extract individual converts from their context, but to find persons of peace who can allow us to witness effectively to entire social groupings. Watson argues that the gospel messenger should be one to cross the cultural bridge to minister to the world in their native context rather than expecting the world to come to us on our terms. A second key point Watson argued was that Bible study needs to be grounded more in obedience and following rather than mere head knowledge. My own studies in adult learning resonate with importance of acting on what we know. Watson also passionately commends us to bathe our ministry in prayer and to use reproducible means in our outreach.

While I recommend Watson’s book, it has a couple of limitations as well. With the increasing importance of urban ministry in the global missions context, it would have been good for the book to address urban missions. Secondly, I think Watson is a bit harsh in his treatment of denominations and what he terms “branded Christianity.”  Movements also have life cycles and tend to formalize their practices over time, an observation Watson does not address. That said, the book is still a worthy read and comes highly recommended.

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