by Philippe Perrilliat
Philippe and his wife, Marie-Christine, are involved in discipleship and church planting in France.
The vision for Aix-en-Provence seemed complex, especially since there were three objectives: start a work among students, plant a church and develop a regional church planting strategy! Fortunately, the way to achieve these goals was simple: make disciples who make disciples.
The idea of making disciples is not new – it is almost 2,000 years old! In 2016, as a church-planting team of 12, we wanted to apply this command of the Lord as a basic principle for working from Aix-en-Provence. Where should we start? One might think that one should wait until there are converts before starting to make disciples but that would be a mistake. We had to start without delay. The first disciples to be trained were the people who made up the church planting team. One can be a Christian for decades and be committed to the service of God, without being clear about what discipleship really means. So, we made sure that every member of the team was trained as a disciple – training that we were going to give to the disciples who the Lord would send us! We had thus begun, without realising it, to enter into a movement of multiplication: disciples who make disciples.
The number of disciples began to multiply. The Lord sent us new converts and also Christians who were moving for professional reasons. Everyone who joined us had to know that we should not expect to be passive members but disciples who would quickly develop the vision of making disciples in turn. The team began to train several people.
There have also been providential actions of the Lord that emphasised this biblical principle. The Lord’s order, ‘make disciples of all nations’ is framed by two declarations of power: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me’ and ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Mt. 28:18-20). We saw some of this power when we were able to acquire a space in the middle of the campus, which served as a base for work among the students. Since then, an associated cafe is open every day on campus. The Lord sent us a young couple and the husband, Timothy, took responsibility for this full-time work. The number of students has further increased and the programme has become structured. Timothy thus trained several student leaders – disciple makers.
Establishing the Church
Brad Dickson and I could now focus more on Le CEP du Pays d’Aix church. Providentially, we were able to find an hourly rental, using the premises of a dance school, and leave the small restaurant we occupied for something bigger, which was necessary as the number of members increased. The DNA of this community remains discipleship and the dynamism of our actions is centred on the gospel. Not just the one we announce but the one we live out and that transforms our lives. We have learned a lesson in humility: it is not what we do that counts the most, it is what we are. It is also a lesson that provides immense rest, while leaving no one idle!
The idea of making disciples is not new – it is almost 2,000 years old!
After more than a year of follow-up in close collaboration with the nascent church, in October 2021, we had the joy of naming three elders, including Timothy Simon. These young men were elected with great support because of their spirituality and also that of their wives. The dance room we occupy is too small for the number we are now, which is about 60 adults, not counting children who are also multiplying.
Expanding the Vision
Brad and Catherine Dickson chose to start a work at another location in Manosque, mostly among international staff working on the ITER energy project. My wife, Marie-Christine, and I are convinced that our place is still in Aix-en-Provence for training and support.
The vision was also to make Aix a regional training hub for the establishment of the church-planting project. We saw another deployment of the Lord’s power when the regional training centre for implantation opened its doors for the third time in October 2021. The two-year programme will focus on three sites: Manosque, Forcalquier and Vaison-la-Romaine. In Marseille, a multi-site growth project is run from Le CEP Marseille, a church that has a missionary vision and where GLO has been actively involved. Since 2016, this regional training centre has contributed to supporting two locations: one in Salon-de-Provence and the other in St-André-de-la-Roche in greater Nice – both projects have now entered their active phase. Existing regional churches adhere to the strategy of discipleship more easily when they see that it works in the newly planted churches. All the churches remember that they too began from the planting of a team that carried the vision of discipleship.
A Driving Vision
Timothy Simon – ‘After a year of training at the Bible Institute of Geneva, I went to Aix-en-Provence for a two-year internship in the CEP church and also in the Foyer Evangélique Universitaire (FEU), student ministry. I liked the vision that the two church planters, Philippe Perrilliat and Brad Dickson, shared: disciples who seek to make disciples. During these two years of internship, God, in His grace, allowed me to see the fruits of this vision.
I was trained by Brad and Philippe as a disciple, in order to then guide young student disciples myself. When I found myself doubting or struggling, I was able to turn to Philippe and Brad for advice and prayer. This was a wonderful example of disciple multiplication! Simultaneously, the Dicksons and Perrilliats invested in future leaders and their wives to multiply leaders. With two other young men, we joined Philippe and Brad on Thursday mornings to pray and study the biblical qualifications of an elder. In addition, as a couple, my wife and I read the book, La croissance du leader (The making of a leader) by Robert Clinton. With these precious moments of sharing and studying, alongside the example of the Dicksons and Perrilliats, we were able to grasp that being and living out the gospel is more important than doing things, which comes subsequently.
Personally, the vision of disciples who make disciples, as Jesus invites us to do, influences all areas of my ministry among the students in Aix. Together with other FEU leaders, we aspire to see Christian students come alongside newly converted students in their walk with the Lord. Part of our ministry is therefore devoted to training mature students, so that they may respond to God’s call to make disciples using the gifts He gave them. It is not always easy to keep this vision at the heart of the FEU and to live it out because it must be understood and accepted by all.
However, since the beginning of the church plant, this vision was firmly established on the foundation of Christ and His Word. It therefore seems to me that it is our responsibility, as elders, to carry this vision by rooting it in the Word in order to avoid foolishly reproducing a church model just because “it works”. I wish to reproduce this model because I believe it was instituted by Jesus. May we remain close to Him and attentive to His voice.’
I thank the Lord for the work of church planting. The challenge is to make the choice to keep it simple! Pray for the disciples as they grow spiritually and as they train and raise up others. Pray that we remain attached and committed to this one vision: to make disciples who make disciples, for the sole glory of the Master.