by George Patterson

You can multiply disciples doing these four simple things:

  1. Know and love the people you disciple.
  2. Mobilize your disciples to edify immediately those they are discipling.
  3. Teach and practice obedience to Jesus’ basic commands, in love, before and above all else.
  4. Build loving, edifying accountability relationships between disciples and churches in order to reproduce churches.

In the last post we looked in-depth into the first simple thing we can do to multiply disciples. Now, let’s look at the second:

2. Mobilize Your Disciples Immediately to Edify Those They Are Discipling.

To build up the church as a living, reproducing body, Paul instructs pastors and teachers to train the members of the church for the ministry, to edify the Body of Christ (Eph 4:11-12).

Build Edifying Relationships with the Leaders you Disciple

Like most new missionaries, I took myself too seriously. I worried about what my disciples were up to. It took me years to learn to sit back with my coconut milk, laugh at my own goofs and trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in my students. How can we enable the leaders we train to edify each other and their people through personal, loving relationships? Paul left his pastoral disciple Timothy behind to work with the elders in newly planted churches with these instructions:

“The things you have heard from me…these entrust to faithful men who will be able to
teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2).

How dynamic and reproductive this loving “Paul-Timothy” relationship between teacher and student! If you have not yet tried to teach the way Jesus and His apostles did, you are in for a blessing. If it frightens you, start with just one or two potential leaders. Train them on the job; take responsibility for their effective ministry.

Personal discipling does not mean “one-on-one” (Jesus taught twelve), nor is it just to deal with personal needs (Jesus spent most of His time personally discipling the top level leaders of the Church, the very apostles). In Honduras I usually taught from one to three students, in a way they could imitate and pass on to others immediately.

Teach and Model

I helped each one have an effective ministry. I taught and modeled what he would pass on to his own people and his own pastoral trainees in the daughter or granddaughter churches. These taught other elders who taught still others as Paul instructed Timothy.

The chain grew to over a hundred pastors in training, all elders of churches. As soon as a new church was born, the outside worker enrolled a local leader, normally an elder highly respected by his people, and began passing on to him the same doctrine and materials as he was receiving himself. This new “Timothy” taught the rest of the new elders in his young church.

It kept multiplying as long as each discipler did everything in a way his students could imitate immediately. I stopped teaching and preaching in the professional way in which I was used to (they admired it, but could not imitate it). I stopped using electronic equipment including movies, and anything else that was not available to all our workers. That’s hard on a gadget-oriented westerner used to gadgets and conditioned to using the very latest technology for the glory of Christ.

Stop Talking about Church Planting

Once we developed loving, Paul-Timothy discipling relationships we seldom had to discuss church planting. The Holy Spirit channeled the Word of God through these relationships to mobilize the Timothies and church reproduction took care of itself.

At first I failed to trust the Holy Spirit and pushed the men myself. I dictated rules and prerequisites to keep the doctrine and the church pure and to make sure the men did their job. It stifled the work; one bitter failure followed another.

I prayed, “Lord, I don’t want a big ministry of my own; just let me help the Hondurans have a good ministry.” God answered this prayer. I also learned through disappointments to let the people themselves decide on their own leaders, using 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

We learned not to plant the churches first then train the leaders for them; nor did we train the leaders first then tell them to raise up their churches. We married the two efforts in one ministry. My American culture pushed me at first to compartmentalize our organization, isolating its ministries.

Go With the Flow

But I learned to let the Holy Spirit integrate diverse ministries and gifts in the united body (1 Cor 12:4-26). I also began with education objectives that focused on educating the leader. But according to Ephesians 4:11-16, our education should seek only to edify the church in love. I had to discipline myself to keep my student’s people in view as I taught, and not focus only on my student and the teaching content.

Before I learned to imitate the way Christ and His apostles discipled, I was satisfied if my student answered test questions correctly and preached good sermons in the classroom. I neither saw nor cared what he did in his church with what he was learning. I slowly learned to see beyond my student to his ministry with his people.

I responded to the needs of his church by listening at the beginning of each session to the reports of my students. Then I often set aside what I had prepared and taught rather what each student’s people needed at that time.

It was hard at first to let the developing churches’ needs and opportunities dictate the order of a functional curriculum. In time much of my discipling, like the teaching of the Epistles, became problem solving. Yes, if we start reproductive churches we will have problems. The apostles did, too. To avoid problems, don’t have children and don’t have churches.

Encourage Edifying Teaching Relationships Between Leaders and Their Disciples

The pastor or leading elder sets the example for all the leaders. They in turn enable all the members of an infant congregation to minister to each other in love. A weak pastor dominates his congregation. He tries to do everything, or delegates it in a demanding way. He herds rather than leads (both Jesus and Peter prohibit herding in a demanding way: Matt 20:25-28; 1 Pet 5:1-4).

Where do you suppose pastors on the mission field pick up the bad practice of herding others? It’s not all cultural; they learned it from us missionaries. I furnished the only model the new pastors had in our pioneer field. Because of my superior education and resources, I made the decisions for my less educated colleagues.

At the same time, like most new missionaries, I felt insecure and overprotected the first churches. A strong missionary, like a strong pastor, does not fear to give authority and responsibility to others. He does not force gifted, willing workers into existing slots in his organization, but rather builds ministries around them.

George Patterson spent 21 years in Central America training pastors in a way that multiplies churches. George’s strategies and materials for church multiplication have became known and used worldwide. He mentors workers who seriously want to follow New Testament guidelines to sustain church planting movements, many of whom have made significant breakthroughs. He teaches at Western Seminary and has authored Church Multiplication Guide, Train & Multiply, Paul-Timothyand other training materials. See some of his work on MentorAndMultiply.com.