Multiplying Discipleship: 4 Barriers

Our vision to see a gospel movement on the North Shore will only become a reality if we saturate the North Shore with transformed disciples who multiply by investing in other disciples. In this short blog series, we’ll explore the necessity, the mindset, and story of multiplying discipleship at NSCBC. You can read the first two posts here and here

Why We Don’t Multiply

Though multiplying discipleship is Jesus’ heartbeat and the lifeblood of the local church, we rarely see it happen as fully as we long for. Here are at least four common barriers to multiplication, and how we can overcome them:

Barrier 1: Too Little Vision

The first barrier is essentially a “vision problem.” We don’t “see” the paradigm under which multiplication operates and the end to which it serves.

We embrace a faulty paradigm about who it is that multiplies their faith when we think that multiplication is for the spiritual “elite”—something that only a rare group of extraordinarily gifted (or eccentric!) Christians can do. Those who multiply their faith by investing in others are probably those with some kind of formal training, we think, or maybe even a seminary degree.

The irony here is that this mindset is nearly the opposite of the truth. Multiplication rests on the very principle that there are no spiritual elite. When discipleship group leaders at NSCBC invest in others with the explicit expectation of multiplication, it creates a dynamic of empowerment—one that boldly declares, “I am not elite…there is nothing I’m doing right now that you can’t do…or can’t learn to do.”

I’ve noticed that we also tend to have an inadequate vision of the end for which multiplication is designed to serve. This is primarily because we tend to think individualistically, rather than corporately. If we think merely on an individual level, multiplication becomes simply a Christian “lifestyle option,” to be assessed year by year, along with the other things we’re trying to fit into our schedule. With a greater, and more corporate end in sight, however—a thoroughly discipled “Church of the North Shore,” where every man, woman, and child, is walking intimately with Christ, and aligning their lives
around his reign—multiplication is an utter necessary. We simply won’t get there without it, so it’s “all hands-on deck.”

Barrier 2: Too Little Expectation

A second barrier is simply a lack of explicit expectation for multiplication. With our flesh already working against us, it’s safe to assume that multiplication simply won’t happen without it being stated, felt, and expected all along.

In our discipleship groups, we sign a covenant at the beginning of the year agreeing to “give serious thought to” multiplying a similar group in around a year’s time, and I try to shepherd my groups according to the expectation of multiplication from week one. For example, I’ll often say things, “That was a great idea, suggesting that we read Judges and Ruth together—you should suggest that to your group next year.” Simply put, if it’s not expected, it won’t happen.

Barrier 3: Too Complex

A third barrier to multiplication is that what we’re trying to multiply is simply too complex, and too cumbersome. Neil Cole puts it succinctly: “Simple is transferrable, whereas complex breaks down.” For this reason, discipleship groups at NSCBC are incredibly simple. We read the Bible (a lot of it), and spur each other on to reflect and respond in obedience. We walk in the light with one another, confessing our sins. We pray for each other to live on mission. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Keeping things simple also requires a patient trust in God. His Holy Spirit is more than competent to work through his word, to disciple his people, and to present them “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28) over the course of a lifetime. God does not need to correct every false belief, replace every idol, and instill every discipline in the people you’re investing in, all in the next six months, in order for your investment to be a success. We simply need to help people fall in love with Jesus again, take their next step, and warm them up to the idea of staying in a context that will keep growing them, year after year after year.

Neil Cole, again, says, “Perhaps the reason that we don’t see multiplication of disciples more often is that we are trying to do too much too soon in the process. We fail to grasp the fact that discipleship, following Christ in simple obedience, is a lifelong pursuit. We attempt to teach our disciples so much in the first year that we unintentionally sabotage the rest of the years by intimidating them into thinking it’s way too hard for common people to do.” (see Barrier #1 above!)

Barrier 4: Too Comfortable

Finally, multiplication is just uncomfortable—and if you’re like me, you like comfort! If we spend any significant amount of time with a small group of people, sharing life together, and pursuing a common mission, we will grow incredibly close. It can be hard to leave the comfort, then, of familiar friendships, in order to eventually branch out and multiply.

In John 12:24, Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” He was speaking most directly about his impending death, but in doing so, he put his finger on a principle woven into God’s world—that fruitfulness is preceded by death. We need to expect that the fruitfulness of multiplying discipleship will require of us many small “deaths” along the way—deaths to comfort, familiarity, safety. When multiplication feels like a mini death, we can take heart that in this very feeling we are being conformed to the image of Jesus and the pattern of his kingdom.

There are many barriers to multiplication, but by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit, we can face them, and see Jesus made famous through multiplying discipleship in our day.