By Rodger Shull
Respond to what God’s doing in people’s hearts
Since coming to Christ, I quickly got a vision to multiply churches down to the 4th generation and beyond. I still have this vision as I believe it is a biblical vision, but when I started, I thought that everyone would and should have this same vision. I trained everyone like they were going to be church planting multipliers. However, not everyone wanted to multiply or even start churches themselves, even if they agree with the overarching vision.
This led to me getting frustrated because they weren’t doing what I wanted them to do and they got frustrated because I was pushing them to do something they didn’t want to do. I had to be humbled to realize that Jesus commanded everyone to make disciples, but He never commanded anyone in the New Testament to start churches or multiply.
However, He does call and envision some people to do this. So I had to learn to be okay with and celebrate the vision that God has given each person and encourage them to do that. Do they want to be a seed sower? Amazing! Do they want to start a church? Awesome! Do they want to multiply? Excellent!
My task is no longer to try to get someone to become a multiplier, but to find the people who God has already prepared to multiply and equip and encourage them.
Share with oikos first and foremost
There was a time when I trained people on reaching their oikos using an oikos map, but then I immediately pushed them to share with strangers. I assumed that everyone had a fractured and fragmented oikos, so (I thought) there was no reason to try to get them to share with their friends and family. Also, since I was in a city (Houston) where I didn’t have any relationships with lost people, I could only model sharing with strangers.
I got really frustrated though because new believers and new churches were consistently falling away; then I realized that the disciples and churches that were made from those few people across No Place Left (NPL) Houston who shared with their oikos actually lasted. Not only that, but some numbers from the Movement Network showed that those who professed faith in Christ got baptized at a much higher rate when they were oikos than when they were strangers.
After this realization, I and the network began pushing people to share with their relational networks more, and we noticed that a lot of people don’t have a well connected oikos, but some people do and are really good at gathering them. And in reality, most people had enough acquaintances around them to share with. All we had to do was help them open their eyes to the people God had placed in their life.
Who else I learned this from
→ Travis and Jenny Lewis: I have always been impressed by the Lewis’ focus on sharing with their family, friends, neighbors, and especially co-workers. They have gathered people who they’ve led to Christ from their oikos and this DNA of sharing boldly and abundantly has passed down to their disciples
Share with strangers like you are sharing with your oikos
When I learned to go sharing the gospel 2X2 when I came to Christ at NC State, I was taught to share with strangers within the first interaction pretty soon after meeting them. When I moved to Houston after graduation, that got intensified to the point where I was probably sharing with strangers within 5 minutes of meeting them. After getting through my gospel presentation, I’d get their phone number and schedule a follow up and then just move on without talking more. The reason (which I still agree with) for doing this is that I and my team wanted to filter for interest in Jesus using the gospel itself. Therefore, we wanted to just hurry up and get to the gospel. Also, we wanted to follow the pattern we saw in the Bible where it didn’t seem like people waited a long time to share with lost people, and we didn’t want to fall into relationship evangelism where we would wait months before talking about spiritual things.
At times, when I was in college, this led to long term discipleship; however, when sharing in the community of Houston, this led to basically no long term discipleship and no new churches started, which was a problem. To correct this, I started observing other folks in the No Place Left Houston coalition and saw that those who shared the gospel with strangers quickly and relationally did get to more sustained discipleship and church.
This doesn’t mean they waited 6 months to share, but maybe they would share in the midst of a 30 minute conversation or they would share a week or two after meeting a person. This seems slower, but in the end, it led to more disciples actually being made and more churches actually being started and sustained.
Who else I learned this from
→ Keystone Project: KP modelled what I wrote above very well and has been fruitful in making disciples amongst refugees in Houston in a way that has gotten to multiplication
→ Matt. 10, Mark 6, Luke 9, Luke 10: All of the passages in these chapters where Jesus sends out his disciples 2X2 include Him telling them to STAY in the houses that receive them. I think this indicates that you should spend a lot of time with those who are receptive. I believe this indicates that when sharing the gospel, I shouldn’t be so quick to get to the gospel and leave, but I should get to the gospel and stay and spend time.
Abundant seed sowing does not mean sharing the gospel as much as I can personally
When I started ministry in Houston, I and my team set high gospel sharing goals because we wanted to see the gospel reach every person. As such, it got to the point where gospel sharing took up the largest portion of my ministry time every week.
This was exciting and fun in a lot of ways, but the brutal facts of lostness always nagged at my mind. I knew that the only way to reach my city was through multiplication, which meant I had to slow down enough to actually disciple people and train leaders.
I really had to wrestle with this idea in my mind and heart because I had to completely reevaluate the expectations I had for myself and the expectations that I perceived that others had for me. After my mental struggle was resolved, I concluded that I had to share the gospel less personally if I wanted to multiply. Though my gospel sharing rate declined, I spent that extra time I had pouring into others. This caused the total number of gospel shares to actually increase.
From then on, I’ve had a major mindset shift towards seeing how many gospel sharers I could raise up rather than how many gospel shares I could have.
Who else I learned this from
→ Steve Smith: The SOILS acronym that I learned from Steve Smith has been helpful when thinking through how to most fruitfully spend my time. The SOILS diagram can be found HERE
→ Jesus and Paul gradually shift how they use their time during their ministry. Early on, they do a lot of gospel sharing, but gradually shift until they are predominantly developing leaders. Jesus spends most of His time with the 12 before he goes to the cross, and all of His recorded interactions post-resurrection were only with the 12 or his other disciples. Paul’s third and final journey talks about the leaders he is surrounding himself with more than his first two journeys.
Disciple in the context of church
After learning about movement principles and reading T4T, I had a mindset that every new believer was the start of a new church. The hope was that an individual would share with their friends and family and then gather them for church. Therefore, as I shared the gospel and started DBSs, I would not invite the person back to any church of any kind. This didn’t end up as I had hoped and I ended up with a lot of two and three person gatherings (when I include myself) because almost no one wanted to gather their network of people. Not only this, but it was difficult and sometimes awkward to know how to best disciple these folks without a whole community with me.
God eventually showed me and a few others around me that disciples were often gathered around the initial catalyst (or “outsider”) in the Bible. Not every biblical gathering was started by finding an insider who then gathered their friends and family as I had been trying to do. This was a revelation to me.
My team and I started trying to invite new people we would meet into pre-existing simple churches. Thus, these new believers had many people around them to help encourage them to grow in Jesus while also building community and fellowship. It just seems like people prefer to be invited into something rather than start something centered around themselves. And if a new believer needed deeper discipleship, they could be met during another meeting throughout the week.
Who else I learned this from
→ Movement Network: The Movement Network of churches is the first group of people who I heard say “disciple in the context of church”. Another related phrase they say is “be the Person of Peace before trying to find a Person of Peace”.
→ Mark 3:14-15: Jesus called his 12 to be with him so that he could send them out to preach and cast out demons. This is one of several examples of Jesus gathering people around Himself rather than starting a new gathering
→ Acts 13:43-44: In Pisidian Antioch, Paul gathers crowds from the synagogue around himself and Barnabas. There is no record of them finding a person and asking that person to gather people in Pisidian Antioch. (This was the key verse that convinced me to make a shift in my actions)
→ There are a lot of other examples other than the ones I list above
Function as churches, not training groups
When initially learning to plant churches in homes, I and my teammates did it as a response to God’s mission because we knew that a lot of people in our society would not come to a traditional church. In our zeal, we really pushed to equip one another with disciple making tools, and to search the scriptures for disciple making principles. Training was our great emphasis.
After a while, something started to feel more and more off to me. I knew that we were a church, but it felt out of balance. It didn’t seem like we were emphasizing everything that the Bible says a church should do. It began to dawn on me that we definitely identified as a church, but we functioned like we were a training group. This resulted in most people not wanting to stay in our church. In the end, we really only had apostolic and evangelistic leaders in our church.
After this realization, I tried to slow us down just a bit and make sure we went deep together. Soon after this, I observed that we were pushing away fewer disciples, therefore more people stuck around to get training which ultimately caused more churches to get started. Though gospel sharing did slow down at first, multiplication began to truly take root. To say it another way (as Lee Wood would say it), focus on the depth of your ministry and God will take care of the breadth.
Don’t try to start just one church, but a “church of churches”. AKA a relationally connected network of churches
At first, I thought that all of the churches that we started would be fully-autonomous and independent of one another. The issue was that in a church of 5-25 people, it was sometimes hard to build community or raise enough money to meet large needs. Small group sizes and a lack of connection also made leaders feel isolated and it felt like something was lacking.
Through studying the scriptures, it seemed to me like there were “city-wide” churches where individual house churches were relationally connected to one another. When I realized this, it was just a bit too late because it was difficult to back track and try to connect the churches that had already started and were used to being disconnected. I have found that it is much easier to start churches with the intention of networking them together than to try to introduce that concept later down the road.
To help foster the sense of network cohesion, it helps to have a common name amongst the churches, a common vision, and shared leadership that oversees the entire network of churches. There are actually a ton of ways to help grow a network together and focusing on starting a church of churches has created more depth and breadth in the ministry.
Who else I learned this from
→ Out Tha Box Churches: The Out Tha Box Church network was the first network of simple churches that I saw that shared a common name, common training, and common leadership. It was pretty clear that people viewed themselves as being a part of something much larger and it helped to strengthen them overall.
→ Acts 9:1-2, 19:9, 19:23, 24:14, 24:22: “The Way” is a shared name to describe the Christians that lived across the vast region of the eastern Roman Empire. Paul even says that he worships God according to “The Way” in Acts 24:14.
→ There are several instances where entire cities are referred to as a church despite there being multiple churches that meet in homes in that city. So all of these house churches viewed themselves as being a part of a larger “city-wide” church (see Acts 15:30-32, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1 as examples)
→ Acts 20:17: The elders of the church in Ephesus are called together. So there is common eldership across the entire city
Leaders find you, you don’t find leaders
Early on, I figured that if I worked really hard, trained enough people, and networked enough, then I would surely find leaders who would multiply. The issue was that all of my efforts did not yield much fruit. When I did finally get leaders, they all reached out to me or were given to me. In other words, they found me.
This was humbling to learn because it showed how little I was in control and how much it was truly God who brought the leaders to me. However, I was a bit perplexed with how to use my time. If all my efforts to find leaders didn’t really work, what was I supposed to do otherwise? Just sit around twiddling my thumbs until someone knocked on my door?
Well, not exactly. The first thing I learned to do was the essential work of prayer. That was a huge step to realize that God wanted me to stop working as hard at getting in front of people as I was doing, but instead to get time communing with Him.
The other thing I noticed is that the training events were not all for naught, they just didn’t have the purpose that I thought they did. The trainings weren’t actually about training. They were about making it easier for the right people to find me. The more people I was around sharing God’s vision for multiplication, the more likely that someone who wants to multiply would hear about me and reach out.
Therefore, I now dedicate myself to praying for leaders, vision casting to as many people as possible, and waiting on the Lord.
→ John 1:29-42: This is an instance where Jesus first meets his disciples because John brought them to Him. Afterward, Andrew brought Jesus Simon-Peter. These disciples more or less found Jesus (even though Jesus foresaw this happening)
Filter for leaders, but don’t push out disciples
When I first started to learn about trying to develop leaders, I learned the biblical precedent of using hard sayings, lordship issues, and parables to “filter” disciples to find which ones were leaders. In our eagerness, my team and I employed these filters regularly. After a while, it was apparent that our few simple churches were full of leaders!
Unfortunately, they were full of leaders and basically no one else. Thus, the churches were small and the leaders who were trying to start their own gatherings followed this pattern which made it difficult for them to get a consistent group of people to gather. Through failing forward, we learned that this obstacle was the result of us applying these filters so frequently and so strongly that only leaders could handle the intensity.
Eventually, we instead learned to use multiple layers of soft filters in church gatherings instead of frequent hard filters. Leaders still responded to these soft filters favorably, but now the disciples who weren’t leaders were also not pushed out. Lo and behold, the size of our churches increased and several new churches started. This also meant that to develop leaders, we needed to pull them aside for ongoing training and coaching because they weren’t going to get the in depth training they needed in the church gatherings.
Another unexpected result of this was that the people who didn’t immediately emerge as leaders stuck around and gradually caught the vision. As they grasped the movement concepts more and more, they started to share more, disciple more, and even gather their own people to start new discovery bible studies and simple churches. This reinforced the importance of not pushing people away so easily.
→ Precision harvesting is a study that shows how Jesus employed hard sayings, lordship issues, and parables to filter his disciples to find leaders
I began following Jesus January 1, 2012 and was taught immediately how to share the gospel and make disciples. I am thank God for those who poured into me in that way as abiding in Christ and making disciples who make disciples has been my passion ever since.