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The Epic Adventure of Gospel Multiplication

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Excerpted from “Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church” by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger (B&H)

The Creature Multiplies

Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.
—Charles Spurgeon

We are not old men.

We are in our mid to late thirties, but the world has radically changed in our brief years of life. When we were kids, for example, cartoons came on television at specific times of day. You could watch them in the morning, in the afternoons right after school, or on Saturday mornings. That was pretty much it, except for the annual prime-time, holiday showings of things like Charlie Brown, Rudolph, and Frosty the Snowman. Prevailing logic said that cartoons at night made no sense at all because the children would all be in bed. The idea of a twenty-four-hour network that aired only cartoons was about as absurd as a TV show where twenty-five mostly insecure women with loose morals try to make a single man fall in love with them.

Besides having limited cartoons, we also didn’t have any such thing as a remote control. If you were fortunate enough to have cable, a box sat on top of your television with a little sliding bar that gave you access to thirty or forty channels, at most. But if you wanted to change the station or adjust the volume, you had to get up out of your seat, walk over to the television set, and make your selections from there. How primitive.

Reach back in your mind and remember some of the simple implications. Commercials were (and still are) broadcast as much as ten times louder than the television shows they were interrupting. So without having a remote at hand, a person could get a stitch in his side running back and forth from the television to the sofa. It wasn’t pretty.

We also had no capability of recording something on TV to watch later. That was the stuff of Tomorrowland and futuristic legend. If Alf or Magnum P.I. happened to come on while we were out doing something else—or at the same time as another program we wanted to watch—well, that was just too bad.

We did have video games. They were in arcades at the mall, and they cost a quarter to play. Imagine how cool it was when Atari came out. Wow, being able to play video games right there in our own homes! There were some drawbacks, though—like, for example, every game on Atari made the same exact noise, and over time the incessant beeping would drive you mad. Today, as one of the signs of my aging, these culture-changing creations are now considered retro and hip.

From the arcade to the theater—on the average weekend only one or two new movies would come out, not ten or twelve, like today. Of those, maybe one or two a year were cartoons. There was no Internet, no smartphones. Sports had their own seasons, and you didn’t have pictures to color at restaurants.

So … what did we do with ourselves in that apocalyptic setting?

Shocker alert: We played outside.

How crazy is that? “Go outside and play,” our parents would tell us, meaning we didn’t have to be, nor did they really want us to be, home till dark. And so up until sunset, we ran, we rode our bikes, we made up battles with kids from other blocks. It was anarchy. It is amazing that we’re still alive today to tell some of the tales.

Today, we’re the most entertained generation the world has ever seen. There’s more to do, more to participate in, more to connect with, more to read about, and more information to digest than at any other time in history. And yet having so much access to so much stuff still hasn’t filled our need or our desire to be part of something bigger, something grander, something beyond even the wonders that come to us on our phones, laptops, and tablets. Like kids creating and competing in afternoon conquests, we still want to be involved in bigger undertakings, bigger challenges, bigger things that make a bigger difference. We still long for a grand mission.

A conversation once held between colleagues C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien speaks to this innate human desire for being part of larger-than-life stories, quests, and victories—the draw of our hearts toward “myths,” which Lewis said were “lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver.”

“No,” Tolkien replied, “they are not lies.” Far from being untrue, myths are the best way—sometimes the only way—of conveying truths that would otherwise remain inexpressible. We have come from God, Tolkien argued, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they do contain error, still reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily toward the true harbor.

Revisiting some of what we covered in chapter 1 will help bring clarity to what Tolkien was telling Lewis. When sin entered the created order, it fractured everything, from our cells to the very essence of the universe. What was once simply “good” now had the capacity to become perverse, idolatrous, and empty. But God had a rescue plan prepared—a plan to crush the head of the enemy and restore shalom in the universe, to woo home his captured bride and make all things new at great cost. There is no greater battle or love story. And even as you’re reading this sentence, the epic is happening all around us.

Tolkien’s point to Lewis was this: the reason we’re repeatedly drawn into these kinds of mythical stories—the reason we want to be part of a “bigger something”—is because God has imprinted these themes on our souls. And though not everyone knows it, the “bigger something” we long to be part of is the “biggest something” of all, the greatest epic the universe will ever know—God reconciling all things to Himself in Christ.

One of the main reasons mankind is so restless these days, why we so easily and quickly downshift into boredom, is because instead of participating in this one great drama, we’re content just to watch and wish we were involved in something this significant. We keep going to movies, watching television shows, and buying video games that give hints of this grand romance and battle. Yet for some reason we fail to see that we are actually caught up in it.

We are in the middle of the love story, the middle of the epic battle. Our real lives are a daring connection point between God and men for the healing of broken lives and a broken culture. By God’s grace, we must help the people in our churches see the “epic” in the ordinary details of life. We must challenge them to open their eyes to this grand event happening all around them, in the hearts of every individual they encounter, and then inspire them to play a fearless, tour-de-force role in this gripping drama of the ages. God used believers before us to pull us into the story. Every one of us in the faith was brought into the faith through the influence of others. God has chosen to expand the Creature through multiplication that is centered on Jesus.

For me (Matt), it was my mom. She always had a steadfast faith in the Lord. She loved Him and strove to follow Him. I could see Jesus in her.

There was also a man named Ronnie Hazzard, a Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church of Texas City. He was a patient, gracious man, and I was moved—even as an unbeliever—by how he loved his wife and daughters and the warmth of their hospitality.

There were others who played key roles in my life: Jerry Hendricks, a youth minister and avid baseball card collector who took an interest in me and welcomed my questions and presence in his office after school. Another was Jeff Faircloth, a fellow high school student who straight-up said to me, “I need to tell you about Jesus. When do you want to do that?” It wasn’t, “Hey, read this tract and let me know what you think,” or “Hey, do you want to come to church with me on Wednesday night?” It was literally, “I need to tell you about Jesus. You decide the when and the where, but it’s happening—right now before football practice, right afterward, or some other time this week. Whenever you say, we’re doing this.” I didn’t get saved immediately after he shared the gospel with me, but I did become very intrigued. And over a period of time, God began to break down the walls that were keeping me separated from Him.

Then one day … He just saved me. I don’t know how to explain it. I was checking things out, studying, finding reasons why I shouldn’t believe, reasons why I shouldn’t need to buy in and submit to Christ. And yet in the middle of all those questions, doubts, and intellectual barriers, I think Jesus just got tired of playing with me and said, “No, you’re Mine.” He rescued me and captivated my heart, and I just immediately fell in love. I still had lots of questions, but when God opened up my heart to Him, I truly became, as the Scripture says, a “new creation.” The old Matt “passed away.” My perspective changed in that moment.

One life. Spotlit on an epic stage. Surrounded by key players who could easily have chosen to be distracted on themselves and their own dreamy interests … if they hadn’t been aware that a grander story was happening right there in front of them, around a young guy named Matt—a story that brought ultimate suspense and excitement into their lives, a role they were “reborn” to play. What do you bet there’s no greater thrill in their lives than seeing their names within this narrative, members of the supporting cast in God’s saving work in one person’s life? What other weekend entertainment or side hobby could ever fill them with such deep, relentless satisfaction? What’s bigger than being part of the biggest story going?

This is the essence of gospel multiplication.

It’s how God calls people to Himself, one person at a time, growing His body today in what is becoming an eternal adventure and romance with Him.

And everyone in your church should be invited to join in.

]Multiplication Practice

So how does Jesus-centered multiplication work? It works a lot like what we just read in Matt’s story: his mom, Ronnie Hazzard, Jerry Hendricks, and Jeff Faircloth talking to him or showing him the gospel, answering his questions about Jesus, pouring into him out of their lives, walking in patience with him, putting up with his ignorance and arrogance. In God’s grace, these four influencers were used powerfully by God to multiply the faith into Matt’s life, just as each of them had earlier been drawn to Christ themselves through individuals who lived a biblical faith in front of them, proclaimed the excellencies of Jesus where they could hear them, and led them in the direction of the gospel. The “old” passed away, and the “new” came into being (2 Cor. 5:17 ESV). And only the greatest epic, the story to which all stories point, has the power to bring transformation.

But as we move from an individual made new in verse 17, we look directly ahead to the next line: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (v. 18 ESV). If we follow how gospel-centered multiplication works, we see men and women who have been influenced by others toward faith in Jesus Christ, who have been captured by the gospel, and who have been maturing in their faith through the influence that others have played and are still playing in their lives. Not only have they been reconciled to God, they have also been saved into the covenant community. What next? Now their influence starts to multiply—into others’ lives—as they work from within that community to lead others to faith and maturity in the gospel.

Adding. Multiplying. Exponentially growing.

All the time.

And we all get to be a part of it.

This takes us back to the beginning of the chapter and our assertion for why we’re so restless and prone to boredom. We sit here in our modern-day world, demanding that the activities of the moment satisfy us and give us meaning. We order them to meet the yawning lack of significance and purpose that aches in our hearts whenever we turn off our public faces and realize we’re getting older without necessarily getting richer, fuller, deeper, better. Whatever we hope to accomplish, achieve, and be known for is bound by the constraints of what remains of our human lifetime. And as the time slips steadily and quickly by, the pulse to find more in each experience intensifies.

But what if our people realized—more each Sunday, more each month, more each year—that their lives are as connected with God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 as they are to the business of the day? That God’s plan of redeeming and reconciling people from all nations and people groups is as alive and electric today as it was at the dawn of civilization and, indeed, in eternity past? That the work of the apostles and leaders of the early church is as attached to our own work in God’s kingdom as their work was attached to God’s promises to His peopleIsrael? Today is an opportunity to engage in a centuries-old epic, to splash into an ocean of God’s sovereignty, and send out ripples that will continually mount in reach and intensity, stretching eternally in all directions.

This … is huge.

Rodney Stark, an expert in the rise of Christianity, estimates that by the year AD 350, an estimated 52.9 percent of the Roman Empire worshipped Jesus as Lord. That’s some serious multiplication. Think of it: the reason we are a worshipping, serving, community of faith today is because men and women before us took seriously what they had been given—“the ministry of reconciliation”—and dove headfirst into it by multiplying the work of Christ in them. They were caught up in the great romance, the epic drama.

And now it’s our turn. Regardless of where we, or the people we serve, are in spiritual maturity, we are instruments in the hand of God to see all things reconciled to God through Christ.

Whether someone in your church is a young, urban professional, an empty nester, a parent to a young family, or a student, each of them have been uniquely designed and placed here by God for the ministry of reconciliation, multiplying the grace and mercy that has changed them. They are agents of reconciliation.

That’s the great, gospel drama you must continually invite them to live. They don’t have to watch Saving Private Ryan over and over again anymore. They don’t have to fantasize about what it would be like to wage some epic battle or to fight for some deep love. They don’t have to just imagine what it would be like to be part of something huge and pivotal in history. They’re already in it! They just need to “go outside and play.”

Over the years, we have run into people who think the city in which they live is lame, their job is lame, their church is lame, their neighborhood is lame. Everything … lame. How different would they feel if they knew that God had called, equipped, and set them free to be part of His mission of reconciliation in their own workplaces, neighborhoods, cities, and churches—the very things with which they’re so very discontent?

Evangelism and More

This mission of multiplication plays out in more diverse ways than simply evangelism. It’s never less than evangelism, but it can certainly be more. Think of how the apostle Paul painted the gospel in Colossians 1:15–20 (ESV):

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

As glorious as the redemption of any one person to Christ is, the majesty of what the gospel accomplishes on a grand, cultural, cosmic scale only adds to its ability to inspire and amaze. So when God calls us to the job description of being “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20 ESV), He means much more than just repeating a one-time gospel message to those still outside the community of faith.

As church leaders, yes, we must continually encourage people to be bold in sharing their faith. We must not suggest that the potential awkwardness and discomfort involved in challenging people to consider the claims of Christ somehow exempts the squeamish from going there anyway. But at the same time, we must diligently and consistently cast the gospel in larger terms than only evangelism. The gospel consumes the Christian life itself, affecting how our corporate lives play out among the communities where God has placed us, providing us with multiplication potential at every turn.

If someone is a regenerated, Jesus-centered worshipper of God, this change of heart should create a certain ethic in his business style and practices. It should inspire excellence and integrity in his schoolwork. It should infuse a noticeable joy and genuineness in the way he interacts with those around him. It should make him gracious and kind toward waiters and waitresses and store cashiers. In whatever domain God has place ma believer, a gospel-centered believer is a faithful presence, an all-the-time witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ—an ambassador of Jesus Christ.

But as Jesus-centered people, this call to all-around Christian living is not motivated by the desire to be a good person; rather, it is based on the understanding that we are not good people, and yet Christ has extended grace to us. Unlike the adherents of other religions, we’re not trying to earn anything, nor are we trying to impress anybody. We’ve been freely given, and so we freely give. We walk uprightly because we’ve been loved and forgiven, not because we’re better than anybody else.

In this way, we are truly ambassadors for Christ—ambassadors of His gospel.

Living and proclaiming the gospel on a daily, ongoing basis, we reach out in love as an implication of this gospel. We’re not after converts; we’re after disciples—encouraging our neighbors and coworkers in the Lord; speaking life into those we interact with; sharing gospel truth as a matter of course; inviting others into our communities of faith to explore, ask questions, and walk with us; making much of Jesus with those at our kids’ sporting events, at the gym, in the dorm halls, and in business relationships.

We’re discovering the reality of something bigger, better, and more beautiful than our own desires and comfort. All day every day.

Again, it’s all part of being wrapped up in the epic of God’s gospel purposes. Do we really see it that way? Do we encourage others to see it that way? He’s inviting us to come play our specific parts, maturing others through the power of the Holy Spirit, always multiplying what God has multiplied in us.

The Bigger Story

Whenever people come to a service at your church, they should hear in some way that we are all sinners in need of grace, but that grace has been extended to us in Jesus Christ. His righteousness has been imputed to us, and in His cross God’s wrath toward us has been removed if we will hear, submit, and believe. Every week someone should proclaim the gospel, no matter what the topic is. If we’re talking about holiness, about manhood, about marriage, parenting, money, or any particular biblical command, we need to teach it and talk about it in view of the gospel, always bringing it back to the epic story of God’s redemption.

For this is how we inspire people to see their place in His bigger story. This is how the desire for multiplication keeps being stirred in the hearts of individuals living in community. This is how the seeds of new relationships are stirred into growth, all the way from personal interactions with people down the street to church planting projects with people in other parts of the city, state, region, or world. As people continually embrace and understand the gospel, His love supernaturally compels them to invest their lives in ensuring the gospel is embraced by others. People who own the gospel themselves don’t want to be the only ones who own the gospel.

A Creature centered on Jesus multiplies both organically and organizationally. People within the church multiply as they live with a “mission of reconciliation” on the forefront of their minds. Typically church leaders long for a program at this point, a method to help people within the church multiply. And while these ideas are grounded in sincere motivations, the answer is not another program. Organic multiplication simply happens as people are constantly and continually refreshed with the gospel and reminded of their part in the greater story.

In Matthew 16, when Peter answered Jesus’ inquiry about who people were saying Jesus was, Peter responded with “You are the Messiah.” Jesus told Peter he was a small stone (petros) but that Jesus would build and multiply the Church on the Rock (petra), the reality that He was the Christ who came to rescue sinners. The multiplication movement is built on Jesus and His work for us. And each person is a small stone. Each has a part to play in God’s redemptive plan for the nations. Multiplication will rise to the level that the people in our churches understand the bigger story and realize they have a part in it.

At the same time, a church consumed with Jesus will be driven to rally people around focused multiplication. A church will be driven to organizational multiplication, a leveraging of resources to ensure other Jesus-centered churches around the world are planted. There will always be a deep relationship between churches embracing the gospel and those churches multiplying and planting new churches. For as a church feasts on Christ’s mission, she is driven to multiply. She rallies leaders, leverages resources, and challenges people to participate in the beautiful birth of churches that are grounded in Jesus.

Jesus spoke His Church into existence. She is formed by the Word. When a local church lives as a local Creature of the Word, she is matured as she worships, lives in community, serves, and multiplies. How beautiful the Creature the Lord forms!

Matt Chandler is the lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, a 2012 Outreach 100 church (No. 45 Largest), and the author of The Explicit Gospel (Crossway).

Josh Patterson is the lead pastor of ministry at The Village Church.

Eric Geiger is the vice president of the church resource division at LifeWay Christian Resources and is the author or co-author of several books, including Simple Church(B&H).

Creature of the WordThis excerpt is taken from Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger. © 2012 by The Village Church. Used by permission of B&H Publishing Group.

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