The Logistic Barrier
As stated above, in order to be truly effective, Christian discipleship should take place in a context of one-on-one or small group meetings. However, the enormity of the task before us, in terms of unevangelized and undiscipled peoples and individuals, makes a slow, plodding, one-by-one addition model of discipleship ultimately inadequate if we are to make disciples from among all the nations of the earth. Jesus said, in Luke 4:43, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
In order to truly be obedient to the Great Commission, we must have a strategy of multiplication. In Mark 4:8, in the parable of the sower, Jesus comments: “Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” Acts 19:8–10, narrating his missionary experience in the city of Ephesus, states that
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
Though it is not clearly stated, it is almost certainly implied that Paul and his apostolic team had a strategy of not only multiplying disciples, but of also multiplying disciple-makers.
In contemporary church and missionary methodology, there are various models of multiplying disciples that have been proposed and have met with some degree of success around the world. Among the most important is reproductive church planting. Rankin comments:
There will never be enough cross-cultural missionaries to touch all the people in the world with a witness that will enable them to hear, understand, and respond to the gospel in their own cultural contexts. But when our cross-cultural witness results in a church, there is a permanent, ongoing nucleus of witness in a community. This witness extends the evangelistic effort beyond the occasional visit of an itinerant missionary or volunteer team. And because it is the nature of a church—indwelt of God’s Spirit—to grow and multiply, a network of reproducing indigenous congregations can eventually envelop a town, a district, a province, a country, and people group, making the gospel accessible to everyone . . . Planting new churches is the surest way to increase the number of believers, but missionaries themselves cannot produce a rapid multiplication of new churches. It is contingent upon churches starting churches. The churches themselves must catch the vision of the missionary or national church planter to extend their witness and nurture believers in another location. (29)
The multiplication of churches depends, to a large degree, though, on the multiplication of church leaders to attend to the discipleship needs of the new disciples being made. The following quotes from Carl George are instructive in this regard:
The main limiting factor in the part of the harvest that corresponds to the church, is, very probably, the lack of trained leaders. (30)
No single church can reach everybody. Therefore a need exists to multiply the number of available units in order to handle the large number of people groups and communities within a general population. . . . The secret to the expansion of Christianity as a movement is to deploy more laborers. The key is not only new congregations but new units. It’s a harvester-based approach. The more units, the more harvesters who can be effective. The best way, then, to prepare for a greater harvest is to prepare more care leaders. (31)
Learn to develop cell-group leaders. That is the most important single thing that you need to do as a leader of a church. (32)
Beyond the strategy of reproductive church planting, in and of itself, there are several ecclesiological models that have proven to be conducive to the multiplication of disciples and the multiplication of disciple-makers. One of these is the “cell church,” so-called because of the network of small disciple-making groups under the umbrella of a larger congregational structure, which, similar to biological cells, grow by a process of division and multiplication. Another model that has become increasingly popular in missionary circles in recent years is that of “simple church” or “house church networks.” Similar to the “cell church” model in some aspects, “house church networks” generally concede a higher degree of autonomy to individual small-group gatherings of believers.
The “Pioneer Evangelism” model promoted by Wade Akins involves encouraging and training pastors and leaders of existing congregations (which may have either a traditional or non-traditional structure) to raise up a group of individuals from within their congregation whom they can disciple and train to begin new evangelistic units, which may or may not evolve into autonomous congregations. (33)
Whichever particular model is used, the important thing is training, mobilizing, and multiplying more and more evangelists, disciplers, and “lay” leaders. There will never be enough “pastors,” “missionaries,” or “full-time workers” to reach all the people that need to be evangelized and discipled.
(to be continued…)
(29) Rankin, 87.
(30) George, 41.
(31) Ibid., 174.
(32) Ibid., 130.
(33) Wade Akins’ Pioneer Evangelism materials may be downloaded free at http://www.pioneermissions.org/ministry/pioneer-evangelism-training-materials.php