Key Components of Multiplication
It was a spring afternoon, and the cafeteria full of elementary school students was chaotic. Thanks to my friend Nate Harrison, an illustration I’d intended to make during my chapel talk at Westview Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio, had taken a kinesthetic twist.
I wanted to describe how the multiplication process works when one person makes two disciples, and those two make two disciples, and so on. Nate suggested that I have the kids act out the illustration. The plan was to start with one child, then have him select two others, then have each of them select two others, and so forth. As you can imagine, the illustration of multiplication was a big hit and caused no small amount of noise and commotion.
Reinforcing the importance of multiplication, with kids or adults, is a joy for me since multiplication has been one of my central focuses for some time at Grace Polaris Church. As pastor of training and spiritual growth at Grace Polaris Church (Mike Yoder, lead pastor), I have conceptual oversight of the spiritual progress of all believers at Grace.
This task is massive. Spiritual growth is not something that a church can commoditize because it is the result of relational interactions between people who are obeying what the Spirit is telling them through the Word of God. There is no disciple-making assembly line, and there never will be. The challenge this presents to any church is profound. How do you expand something that occurs irregularly in smaller settings in such a way that it becomes regular on a larger scale, such as within a local congregation? I believe the answer is multiplication.
The most direct biblical description we have of the multiplication process is the oft-quoted 2 Timothy 2:2. In this verse, Paul charges Timothy to take what he has learned from Paul “in the presence of many witnesses” and entrust it to “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (ESV). Many have noted that there are four generations of disciples represented in this verse: 1) Paul; 2) Timothy; 3) “faithful men who will be able to teach”; and 4) “others also.” Even though Paul speaks only of his ministry to Timothy here, and not of, say, his ministry to Titus, Apollos, or several other leaders, we still see many disciples emerge from the lineage in this verse. If Timothy entrusted his ministry to only two men, and those two men each entrusted their ministry to only two men, we would still be talking about a total of eight disciple makers, and this says nothing of their ministry generations down the road. For the mathematical amongst us, the disciple-making process is exponential when it is working properly. A small, relational endeavor will attain great scope with enough passage of time.
I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of what God wants to show me about multiplication. If you are interested in pursuing the journey of multiplication with those of us who are passionate about it, let me suggest here some key components that I’ve gathered through research and personal experience.
At a recent training event in Columbus, Ohio, veteran church planter David Watson shared an amazing insight from his organization’s research into the habits of its most successful church planters. Researchers were not able to identify a common denominator in the profile of the one hundred most fruitful until they examined these church planters’ prayer lives. Upon investigation, the average amount of time each spent in prayer was six hours per day: three in individual prayer and three in team prayer.
For many of us in North America, such a commitment to prayer is nearly unfathomable. Indeed, Watson was not prescribing a certain time obligation to prayer. He was merely seeking to show that disciple-making movements do not happen without serious, and often extreme, commitments of people to humble themselves before God and seek His face.
I do not spend six hours in prayer per day, but I can point to at least two times of particularly fruitful ministry in my life that occurred alongside an increased commitment to prayer. Perhaps you have experienced the same. As we discuss key components of multiplication, the number one element must be prayer, for spiritual multiplication is a supernatural endeavor from beginning to end. If you are serious about making disciples, be- come a serious person of prayer.
Engagement with lost people
At the FGBC national conference in Palm Springs a handful of years ago, Keith Minier, pastor of Grace Fellowship in Pickerington, Ohio, made a comment during a breakout discussion that has stuck with me. He observed that for their church, their success in equipping believers was correlated with how missional they were at that point. I’ve come to believe that Keith was on to something very important with this idea.
To see ministry multiply, we must extend our training focus beyond our current flocks to the lost people our congregations can reach. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20), which is the believer’s primary directive, includes both making converts (represented by “baptizing them” in Matt. 28:19) and helping those converts grow in Christlikeness (represented by “teaching them to observe” in Matt. 28:20). Training efforts become artificial and listless if they make little reference to the lost, because they address only a portion of the disciple-making process, and miss the “leading edge” of the process.
Some might argue that certain churches or leaders have a particular competency in building up those who are already believers and that concerns for multiplication among the lost are not as relevant in such situations. Here’s the problem with this line of thinking: counter-intuitively, perhaps, a church can never be effective at building up believers in the long term if the church loses focus on the lost.
Picture a community swimming pool with a stagnating membership that endeavors to train more and more lifeguards each month. Eventually, the lifeguards at the pool will become disengaged, and their skills will atrophy because the same workload is divided among more guards. For churches to train believers for service (Eph. 4:11–16), there must be growing opportunities to serve, and this comes naturally as churches engage and win the lost.
A broad understanding of “ministry”
While it is true that some of the most effective multiplying ministries around the globe have are decentralized in their leadership structure, it is not so much decentralization itself that seems to ac- count for their success, but rather a commitment to placing ministry in the hands of all believers. Multiplication thrives when we remember Paul’s instructions that “[Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:11,12 ESV; emphasis added). When a church functions this way, the number of people engaged in multiplying disciples is much higher than if the ministry remains in the hands of a few paid ministry leaders.
Furthermore, multiplication occurs best when the saints, equipped for ministry, come to understand their ministry as much broader than that which can be accomplished within the church walls. CE National’s Ed Short makes a helpful distinction here by distinguishing “segment ministry,” the ministry that a person might do in a particular time window, typically through a church program (e.g., serving in the two-year-olds’ classroom on Sunday mornings), and “sphere-of-life ministry”: the ministry that she accomplishes in the various relational settings in which the Lord has placed her (e.g., the family, the workplace, the neighborhood, clubs and hobby associations).
Many churches would do well to focus attention on equipping their congregations for this latter category, sphere-of-life ministry, for two reasons: 1) it has far greater potential for Kingdom impact than segment ministry given the sheer amount of time we spend in our spheres of life; and 2) segment ministry, while important, naturally usurps focus on sphere-of-life ministry since segment ministry is more predictable and easier to control—thus easier to promote.
Most everyone appreciates a good story, and much of the Bible is in story form. Storytelling is a powerful catalyst for multiplication because it has a unique way of helping vision and enthusiasm spread from the storyteller to the hearers of the story. By sharing what God has done in their lives and ministries lately, effective multipliers help others understand what success looks like, and they also compel others to get on board with the work of multiplication.
Storytelling can take place at the congregational level, with in-person or video testimonies, but it can also occur in the individual or small group level. For the DNA of storytelling to pervade a congregation, it is helpful to get everyone practicing. Consider starting group study times by asking members how God has been at work in their lives through the prior study. Help people get in the habit of summarizing Bible passages they have read and then sharing those summaries with others, including lost people. Help them prepare and share their salvation testimonies, or accounts of more recent events if they were saved a while ago. The possibilities are numerous.
As with anything worth pursuing, multiplication does not come easily, and it typically does not come quickly. If we are compelled, however, that God has ordained this means of making disciples, then it is worth waiting. God has given us the privilege of cooperating in this important endeavor. May He help us to learn from one another as teammates until multiplication culminates in the great harvest (Matt. 13:24–30; 36–43).
Editor’s Note: Beau Stanley is pastor of training and spiritual growth at Grace Polaris Church (Mike Yoder, lead pastor), a Grace Brethren church on the north side of Columbus, Ohio. He also serves on the board of directors of the Brethren Missionary Herald Co.
This first appeared in the Summer issue of GraceConnect magazine, the publication for the people of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. A downloadable pdf version of this issue is available by clicking here. It also may be read online at issuu.com. If you would like to receive the magazine delivered to you at no charge via U.S. Mail, click here to subscribe.