There’s an old saying that goes like this: “You can count the number of seeds in an apple, but you can’t count the number of apples in a seed.” Reflect on what that means as a believer in Jesus. Think about the mission of your church.
After consulting almost 2,000 churches—from 78 denominations and nondenominational and independent churches—in the US alone, it has become clear: most churches primarily reflect addition rather than multiplication. Many Christ-followers go along with this approach and have never thought much about the concept. With some great exceptions, most congregations focus on programs—sometimes called “ministries.” Jesus launched a movement. In fact, God, the Creator, birthed a movement. And it began way back in the Garden of Eden.
Be Fruitful and Multiply
The Lord said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply.” His plan was to fill the Earth. Humans have been quite good at that! Have you ever seen the Great Pyramids in Egypt? I was there recently. Of course, I’ve seen pictures of them—like everyone else. Yet, when I walked up to the base of one of them, I was overwhelmed by the size. Pictures—and films—of these human achievements cannot capture their incredible size. Those pyramids are so much larger that I could have ever imagined! Many centuries ago, the Egyptians used tens of thousands of workers to build them. Sadly, some of them were slaves. Nevertheless, it is clear ancient civilizations got it right: “Be fruitful and multiply.”
This math is a reflection of exponential growth: 1+1=2; 2×2=4; 4×4=16; 16×16=256! And that is just the beginning! The growth of humanity is actually a population explosion. Everyone eventually dies, but the population total continues to grow larger. Even with major pandemics and wars, the number of humans on planet Earth continues to grow. And it grows faster and faster, increasing every day.
Jesus followed His Father’s plan of exponential growth as it relates to Heaven. It isn’t a calculation about those being born, but those who are “born again.” (See the connection?) Christ-followers become disciples. Disciples multiply other believers, who multiply others, who impact others. The plan is exponential spiritual growth. This is God’s divine plan for the Christian movement. It makes a better world. It populates Heaven for eternity.
Jesus makes it clear: “Go, make disciples,” who make disciples, who make disciples—and so on. The plan is the spiritual “flywheel effect.” The movement moves by exponential multiplication. At least, that’s God’s plan. This explosive, spiritual plan is a holy pandemic. Spiritually “infected” Christ-followers connect with others who become disciples, and the “eternal infection” spreads. Again, at least that is God’s plan.
In actuality, the Christian movement is often truncated by bureaucracy. The movement becomes an organization. The explosive, exponential growth diminishes in direct proportion to the size of the “professional” staff. Disciples are diminished to the status of volunteers. Multiplication is reduced to addition. Growth moves toward plateau. The movement is reengineered to become programs. Disciple-making is seen as a job of the “professionals.” God’s multiplication plan is reduced to addition, exercised by the “professionals.” The Kingdom of God is greatly stalled from its divine potential.
In this reality, the growth of the Kingdom is significantly diminished. It moves from a movement of mass multiplication to the mission of a few cheered on by the many. “Real” ministry is the calling of the elite: pastors, staff—a few active volunteers. Multiplication is significantly reduced to addition.
Everyone a Minister
Scripture calls God’s plan “the priesthood of all believers.” The word “minister”—from the perspective of Scripture—is a designation for every Christ-follower. There are leader-types in the body of Christ. Ephesians 4 identifies them as “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.” Their divine design? Their marching orders? “To equip believers for the work of ministry.” Nowhere is there a hint that these leaders do ministry for the believers in the church.
According to God’s Book, how do the leaders perform their “job description”? By discipling—Jesus’ style. The leaders—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers—follow Jesus’ four-step pattern to equip all God’s people for ministry.
- I do/you watch.
- I do/you help.
- You do/I help.
- You do/I watch.
Then we both go on to disciple someone else following the same formula. This is undeniably the plan, according to Scripture.
There are so many ways to serve God. How do you know where you fit? The Holy Spirit has given you spiritual, supernatural gifts. They are God-given attributes. You don’t decide which role you should perform, nor does any person decide that for you. You are not asked to “volunteer.” You discover your divine, supernatural “sweet spot” in the work of the Kingdom by discovering, developing, and using your spiritual gifts. However, very few Christians know their spiritual gifts. You can’t use what you don’t know God has given you!
The reality? Most pastors and church staff get worn out by doing ministry, but spend very little time discipling others for ministry. This is in spite of the fact that Jesus modeled it!
I’ve heard it, and so have you: “We need more volunteers in the church.” The problem? God doesn’t use people to get a job done. He gifts people—supernaturally—to find their unique, fulfilling “sweet spot” in the most important, miraculous work in the universe! When you serve in the areas of your gifts, it is not “work.” You are powered by the Holy Spirit at a supernatural level. You are a special agent in the most important work in the universe.
“Why,” you might ask, “are most churches operating at a level far below their spiritual potential?” It is because we have corrupted God’s divine plan. We literally handcuff God’s people by neglecting the biblical approach for the Christian movement.
Even more concerning: Churches that operate by staff doing ministry and volunteers being used for organizational activities are robbing God’s people of the most thrilling spiritual experience of a lifetime.
Even worse, the body of Christ—the Church— is crippled by worn out, well-meaning leaders who have inherited a system that fails to follow the Bible’s plan of multiplication. The result? People who need Jesus never get reached. And the staff faces burnout. Meanwhile, the nation declines spiritually.
Reengineering Your Church
Spiritual gifts discovery, developed and used in the culture of your congregation, isn’t a “divine gimmick” or a quick fix. It reflects the spiritual culture of the New Testament church. Want to take a giant step toward renewing your church for greater vitality and impact? Help believers discover, develop, and use their spiritual gifts. Some Christians would describe their efforts as “working at church.” In God’s plan, you are cooperating with the Holy Spirit, who has given you a unique set of gifts.
As Church Doctors, we are constantly surprised by how many churches are filled with those who have never discovered their spiritual gifts. Yet, I shouldn’t be shocked. I went through four years at a Christian college. Then I went through four years of seminary, receiving a Master of Divinity degree. I was accepted into graduate school at that seminary and spent over three years earning a Ph.D. in theology. When I arrived to lead my first church, I still didn’t know my unique spiritual gifts. No one had mentioned it during my journey!
As a pastor of a Lutheran church, I taught confirmation to seventh and eighth grade young adults. The curriculum—influenced by Reformer Martin Luther—included material widely accepted by most Christians. We studied the Apostles’ Creed—a centuries-old summary of the work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Martin Luther’s explanation of the Holy Spirit, I taught how the Holy Spirit “enlightens” believers “with his gifts.” Yet, I had no clue which gifts God had given to me!
It was in mission school at a nondenominational seminary that I was taught about the spiritual gifts Martin Luther had highlighted during the Protestant Reformation! I learned that when you discover the gift mix God has given uniquely to you, you can focus on serving the Lord where he has spiritually designed you to work best.
As a pastor, I began to help those in my church discover, develop, and use the gifts they were personally given by the Holy Spirit. I discovered that Christians come alive in God’s service when they discover their “divine sweet spot.” Several years later, I wrote a book that includes a questionnaire that serves as a reflection tool. It follows the spiritual gift references in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, as well as a few other New Testament references.
One of my favorite workshops, developed by Church Doctor Ministries, is about discovering your spiritual gifts. It is liberating for every Christian to discover their unique gift mix. The process energizes the effectiveness of the local church. You just can’t improve on God’s plan!
The words “geometric progression” are not in Scripture. However, the concept is central to Jesus’ divine plan to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples who multiply—over and over again.
This is how geometric progression works: If you take a thin sheet of paper and fold it once, now it’s twice as thick. If you fold it again, it is four times as thick. If you could fold it 50 times, it would reach from here to the sun! If you folded it one more time, it would reach from here to the sun and back again. The genius God of the universe has given us His Son, Jesus. Jesus has given us a plan to reach the world: Multiply disciples, multiply churches. Want to change the world? Be fruitful and multiply!