When it comes to math, Bill Wilks is all about multiplication.
As lead pastor of NorthPark Church in Trussville, Wilks considers training disciple-makers to train others to be disciple-makers, who train yet others to be disciple-makers, an essential part of his ministry.
“God convicted me one day that discipleship is not a program, it’s a lifestyle,” Wilks recalled. “The problem in the church today is we’ve taken discipleship and turned it into a program. We’ve limited disciple-making to studies and classes that stop short of training people how to live the life of a disciple-maker.”
From that conviction arose Wilks’ desire to develop D-Life, a simple, small-group-oriented process for equipping believers to make and multiply disciples. And as word of the ease and effectiveness of the D-Life process has spread among churches in the U.S., its appeal for international missions has grown as well.
Ryan Christmas, NorthPark’s minister of missions and operations, recently led a team to India, for which the D-Life training material played a significant role.
A couple in our church have a ministry partnership with a church there,” Christmas related. “They’ve done D-Life, they’ve seen D-Life and they’ve been in D-Groups themselves and loved it, so they recognized it as beneficial in that missional context.
“In fact, everywhere we’ve taken it the simplicity of D-Life has been a good fit.”
Coincidentally, the church in India had been praying about organizing small groups but had no idea where to begin. Then the team from NorthPark arrived.
“We just happened to be bringing with us this great tool for launching small groups,” Christmas said. “D-Life has been really effective and really awesome for them.”
To facilitate missions efforts in India, D-Life has been translated into Hindi and Malayalam, two of the key languages there.
“The translations were done by people we know through ministry partnerships who got excited about D-Life and saw a need for it,” Christmas noted. “The Hindi translation was done by a guy from the slums of India whose parents passed away when he was young. He was adopted by the daughter of a pastor who was a missionary in India, came to faith and is now a children’s pastor.
“A man leading the pastoral training center that we partner with in India saw the need for D-Life to be translated into Malayalam, so he took that on.”
Another NorthPark member grew up in an orphanage in Ecuador.
“Once a year missionaries would come to the orphanage and it was the highlight of the year,” Wilks related. “When he finally got out of the orphanage, he had a motorcycle wreck and almost died. But during that time, the message of those missionaries came back to him and he became a believer. He eventually formed a nonprofit called Kingdom Acts, which organizes multiple mission trips a year to Ecuador.”
The ministry also opened a door for D-Life. Two years ago Christmas led a D-Life Boot Camp for members of Ecuador’s Huaorani community.
“We partner there with about 15 remote, hard-to-reach jungle communities, and our goal is to have a pastoral presence in each one,” Christmas noted. “Some of those communities are using D-Life, and it’s the backbone of what they’re doing.”
It was during early attempts to reach the Huaorani people that four American missionaries and their pilot were attacked and killed in 1956. Elisabeth Elliot, a noted author and the widow of one of the slain missionaries, later returned to Ecuador and was instrumental in leading many of the Huaorani to Christ.
“Descendants of those people are now doing D-Life,” Wilks said. “Two years of D-Life has been translated into Spanish, and that’s what they’re using. It’s all about daily Bible reading, so every one of these groups are going to read through the entire New Testament this year in their own language.”
Besides Bible reading, study and discussion, D-Groups are trained to do six ministry evangelism projects outside the church each year.
“So not only are we doing missions by taking D-Life there, they’ll be doing indigenous missionary projects through their D-Groups in their communities,” Wilks noted.
The first international D-Life Boot Camp took place at a church plant pastored by a former NorthPark staff member in Pedro Escobedo, Mexico.
They didn’t have a ton of resources and didn’t have the ability to purchase every latest book or study,” Wilks recalled. “But we were able to get them the D-Life material and training, and they’ve been using it for three or four years now.”
Another opportunity arose during a Boot Camp when a pastor realized the benefit of using D-Life in an international setting. From that encounter a Haitian-Creole version of D-Life was developed.
“The pastor had it translated so that his church could go and do D-Life training in Haiti with it,” Wilks noted. “There’s also a guy over in Mississippi who’s done D-Life training in Colombia.”
The publisher of D-Life, John Herring at Iron Stream Media, helps NorthPark provide D-Life material free of charge to the missions field.
“So it’s simple, it’s free and our missionaries are starving for resources,” Wilks said.
Closer to home, D-Life is increasing its reach across the U.S. with nine national trainers. Working mainly in Alabama and Georgia, they also have reached out to churches in Virginia, North Carolina and as far west as New Mexico.
This past year Wilks and his wife, Rondie, led D-Life training in Maine with the Baptist Convention of New England. Not long afterward they took a second trip to the region for sessions in Vermont and New Hampshire. They plan to head back north in March to conduct Boot Camps in Pennsylvania.
“We’re beginning to see it spread, not only in other countries, but in areas of our country where we need it the most,” Wilks noted. “Our vision is to see a global, grassroots disciple-making movement, not led by professionals but by common people. We believe that movement has begun, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
For more information on D-Life visit livingthedlife.com.
This article is reprinted with permission from The Alabama Baptist.
The Baptist Resource Network will host two D-Life Bootcamps this spring. This event is for the whole church! Pastors, invite your church members!