George Patterson worked in northern Honduras with the Conservative Baptist Home Mission Society. He developed a theological education by extension program that focused on “obedience-oriented eduction.” I had the privilege of meeting him when I was first starting Lake Hills Church in Castaic.
I recently read an article he had written and was challenged by these words…
Christ commands us: “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields” (John 4:35). A brief glance at the “fields” of over two and a half billion unreached people is awesome. Just the mathematics involved forces us to the conclusion that it is not enough to simply go to the mission field or to send someone else. It is not eve enough to go to a mission field and to start a few churches. Obedience to the Great Commission will mean that we either send and train, or go as, the type of missionary that can start churches that will grow and reproduce normally (as churches will) and start daughter churches, and granddaughter churches, and great-granddaughter churches and on and on until you have reached enormous population areas. There is not other way that we can obey Christ. (The Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, p 601.)
Wow! “There is no other way that we can obey Christ.”
Obeying Jesus requires that we multiply disciples, leaders and churches. Patterson describes this as what churches will “normally” do – grow and reproduce and start daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter churches.
Why isn’t this normal any more? When you think about a healthy couple, you normally would expect children, and eventually grandchildren. “All created living beings (the Church included) grow and reproduce.” Yet, somehow, when Christians think of healthy churches, they don’t expect children and grandchildren. Churches that do not reproduce are not healthy! Something is wrong. Many churches are impotent or sick – and some are obese.
If obedience to the Great Commission means that we grow disciples and start new churches, then there are a lot of Christians and a lot of churches that are disobedient. Patterson simply defines a church as “a group of believers committed to obey Christ.” (p 603)
He emphasizes describing the church in terms of what it is able to do and what it does, rather than in terms of structure and organization.
Since Jesus sent us to make disciples who would obey all that He commanded – our focus must not be on preaching for “decisions” but aimed at making obedient disciples.
Make obedient disciples. Then you will see churches multiply. If you just get intellectual decisions, they may believe right, they may know all the dispensations and the covenants, and they may know this and that, but what do you have? Are they multiplying churches? Are they fulfilling the Great Commission of Christ? Are they actually doing what Christ ordered? (p 610)
Patterson teaches every new believer to memorize the following list of Christ’s main commands:
- Repent and Believe (Mark 1:15)
- Be Baptized (Acts 2:38)
- Love (John 13:34)
- Celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:17-20)
- Pray (John 16:24)
- Give (Matthew 6:19-21)
- Witness (Matthew 28:19-20)
What would happen if we taught believers from the very beginning to obey all these commands? What if we didn’t wait for anything?
As I read this article by Patterson, I just said to myself – “Duh! This makes sense.” Yet why did the church I planted get so easily focused on so many other things? Ugh! We kept wanting to plant a daughter church, but we never did. Patterson urges churches not to accept the argument, “We can’t start a daughter church yet; our church is too weak; we must wait until we have a strong home base first.”
No church is too young to obey Christ.
As soon as a worker is available, send him. New churches raise up daughter churches more readily than old ones. If you wait for your church to get strong, it will also get hard; it is often impossible to mobilize an old church to start daughter churches. (p 614)
I don’t teach my children that delayed obedience is acceptable. I have told them again and again that delayed obedience is disobedience. Yet when it comes to disciples who make disciples or churches that reproduce churches – we tolerate and even encourage disobedience.
God, forgive us for this!