You can’t force multiplication to happen, but you can cultivate an environment where multiplication can happen. As a leader, you can create a culture where sending people out is expected, celebrated, and shared be the entire community.
Jesus does not simply call us to be a lovely community together, but he sends us out to our neighborhoods, towns, and cities to declare and demonstrate the gospel.
There are five important principles from the story of the Church in Antioch and the sending of Paul and Barnabas in Acts. Their story is not merely a pattern to follow but the essence of a multiplying culture.
1. Start With Thriving Communities That Make Disciples
The sending out of Paul and Barnabas from the church of Antioch doesn’t begin with the prayer meeting in Acts 13, but from the church’s inception. The story of the Church of Antioch’s birth is found in Acts 11:19-26.
Antioch was formed out of the ashes of persecution and the proclamation of the gospel from a few faithful people. They proclaimed that Jesus was Lord, and many came to believe. They relied on the Holy Spirit; they were generous, and they welcomed help for the formation of this church.
Ironically, Paul and Barnabas were first sent to Antioch because it was the frontier and outskirts of the church. They were sent to lay a foundation on the gospel, to encourage this church, and to bless them to remain faithful or to walk in obedience to the teachings of Jesus. Many people believed the gospel and became disciples of Jesus. As the church became rooted and thriving in the Holy Spirit, they morphed from being the outskirts to being the launchpad.
This story is not written as a bizarre one-off tale; it’s describing the ordinary movement of the gospel. The gospel that forms you is the same gospel will propel you to send. People in your community will leave your community to start a new work in another part of the city, another city altogether, or even another country and culture entirely. Sending is a function of gospel growth and maturity. Multiplication happens when disciples are being made, the gospel is being proclaimed, and people are growing in faith and obedience.
The foundational assumption of my upcoming book, Multiply Together is: when you make disciples, the effects reverberate through our cities as the gospel is believed, shared, and demonstrated through thoughtful engagement in making and redeeming culture. People following Jesus lead others to follow Jesus, which leads to the sending of others to start communities.
Multiplication begins with planting thriving missional communities centered on the gospel and faithful to pursue obedience. In other words, as we form disciples to love God, we will find leaders who can form environments saturated with the gospel. As we form disciples who reconcile, forgive, endure, and encourage others in the community, we will see leaders who can shape communities in that same culture. As we engage our neighbors and city with love, we will see leaders lead others in speaking and demonstrating the gospel.
– Gospel Enjoyment: Growing in Our Love For God Together
Missional Communities answer the discipleship command to grow in their enjoyment of the gospel. As redeemed, adopted sons and daughters of God, we are invited and ushered into a life complete and united to God. God has lavished every spiritual blessing on us; our calling is to receive that love and love God in return.
Missional communities have the goal of growing in our enjoyment of the gospel together. We grow together through reading the scriptures, practicing confession, repentance, and faith. Communities seek to know God and give him their hearts, minds, and strength. In this way, a disciple of Jesus is within a context where the gospel is not only spoken but devoured and ingested into their life. We imagine disciples flourishing in a spiritual life that impacts every aspect of their lives and results in worship.
– Community: Growing in Our Love For One Another
Missional communities are also created with the goal that everyone would grow in the aspiration to love one another. That the community would be one centered on God’s sacrificial love and marked by extending that love to one-another. Missional communities are a discipleship environment where we are challenged to give gifts, time, compassion, and peace to one-another freely. In other words, we grow in all the one-anothers of the New Testament.
These one-anothers are expressed through listening to each other and know one another's stories. We care for the burdens, pains, and struggles each person walks through. We celebrate, and we mourn. Also, we serve each other in our areas of need; whether it is yard-work or babysitting. Ultimately, community is a discipline of sacrifice and giving.
– Mission: Growing in Our Love for Our Neighbor Together
Lastly, missional communities are created to pursue mission together. We are called to not only love God and one-another but love our neighbor as we would love ourselves. We are to seek their flourishing. This applies to our wealthy CEO neighbor, refugees down the street in apartment complexes, and the children who are separated from their parents. Missional communities are structured around one common mission where everyone’s gifts and capacities get to work together to share the gospel in word and deed.
Missional communities grow in this area by conspiring to care, learn, show-up, and build relationships with those around them. Participating in this common mission reinforces the way we live on mission in the scattered everyday reality of life.
2. Expect to Participate and Send Globally
The thriving church of Antioch expected the Holy Spirit to advance the good news of Jesus beyond them and to use them. In fact, they had already given of themselves for people beyond themselves in chapter 11.
So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. – Acts 11:29-30
Before they considered sending a team of people to share the gospel, they had already given their wages, property, storehouses, and food for the well-being of people they did not know. They saw themselves as participants in a global kingdom and church, not an isolated one within their neighborhood. They had seen the need, and they had determined, as a whole, to send relief for that need. They were a sending church before they sent Barnabas and Saul.
Your community becomes a sending community long before it multiplies. A community that is aware of the hardships of other communities and takes the initiative to serve them is preparing itself to send. A community that is connected to others and not consumed by itself is fertile soil for multiplication.
3. Praying, Worshiping, and Fasting is the Fuel for Sending
We often think we must talk sending up and discuss it often to make it happen. We believe we can speak multiplication into reality. Only God speaks anything into reality. God sends while we pray, worship, and fast. God sends while we respond to what he has spoken. Worship is the “vision cast" of mission. You aren’t called to spread “vision”; you are called to worship, pray, and fast in light of God’s vision for the world. An inescapable reality in the book of Acts is that mission occurs in the midst of worship, because of worship, and results in worship. The elders of Antioch demonstrate this reality well in Acts 13 when Paul and Barnabas are sent in the midst of worship and fasting:
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. – Acts 13:2-4
The Holy Spirit sent them while they worship Jesus as Lord. A community that sends will be one that is regularly praying, worshiping, and fasting to adore God, who is in charge of his mission and the Holy Spirit who will accomplish it. Furthermore, that community will be listening to the voice of God with a dependence on him, knowing the Spirit will send.
Worship dependent mission reproduces enjoyment of the gospel. Worship fueled mission reproduces humility and dependence on the Holy Spirit. Worship inspired sending beckons everyone to listen to the Holy Spirit for what he is calling them to. It is through gospel enjoyment that we plant the seeds of multiplication and create a culture that sends. We are turning our hearts and minds to Jesus, the king of his kingdom, the author, and actor of the gospel. In this posture, we come to multiplication with humility, awe, trust, and joy. The scope of the gospel is on display, and the scope of mission becomes clear. We cannot cast a vision better than a God, who sent himself to love others and make the world whole. This creates the expectation that God will send.
4. PREPARE AND PLAN TO SEND YOUR BEST
In chapter 13, we can see the church and its leaders expecting to send not only their possessions but also their people. They even, you might suppose expected to send some of the most influential people within the church. Paul and Barnabas, who had spent a year being investing in this church, were truly gifted in discipleship, pastoring, and preaching the gospel. We get the understanding from the context of this passage that any of the strong and diverse leaders from Antioch were on the table for the expansion of the mission. They prayed, fasted, and worshiped and it became evident that Paul and Barnabas were to be sent. The church was willing to send any or all of their leaders.
Paul and Barnabas had been prepared for a long time. Barnabas was an initial disciple in the church of Jerusalem. He helped establish the church in Antioch and was a spokesman on what God was doing outside of Jerusalem. His name is a nickname, “Son of Encouragement”. Every mentioning of Barnabas to this point has been in connection with serving the church, loving the church, and going outward. It isn’t surprising God sends Barnabas; it seems obvious. Paul, on the other hand, seemed destined to go to the western borders of the Empire. Upon conversion, he knew he was saved to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. He new he would stand before rulers. Everyone knew he would. Despite a few nervous moments in the beginning, the church as a whole had committed to discipling, training, and nurturing Paul in his calling.
The two of them had been prepared for this moment through their whole lives. They had been taught the gospel, and they had taught the gospel. They had been cared for by the church, and they had cared for the church. The church of Antioch had welcomed them, learned from them, and loved them. Paul and Barnabas grew in Antioch, and they also helped others grow. Barnabas arrived at a young church without leaders. He left that church with leaders and maturity.
Leaders are called, developed, and trained within community and by the Spirit. As you establish a missional community, you will prepare and plan to send your best. Instead of keeping the more mature, bought in, equipped, and enjoyable people off limits and hoarding them in your group, prepare them to start new communities. Spend intentional time preparing for leading on their own. We see this evident throughout the New Testament, as communities freely give great leaders to the mission instead of keeping them.
Missional communities are simultaneously environments for discipleship and training leaders how to make disciples, which is the chaos and brilliance of communities making disciples. As you go, you prepare others to send. We ought to be constantly looking for the next leaders to develop. Multiplication might happen by sending out first-time leaders, or it may be veteran leaders leaving to start a new community. Regardless, we alway develop leaders.
5. The Community Gives Itself. It is Never the Same
Lastly, we see the principle of sacrifice in multiplication. Through prayer, grief, and anticipation that God will advance the gospel; the community sends people. To send, God works in the heart of a community to trust God. To trust that he will give you community everything you need. The people God gives you are the people God wants you to have. You must trust God’s goodness, grace, and ability to orchestrate his mission better than you can.
This is a sacrifice because the community will never be the same. You cannot replicate what was because the personalities, gifts, and perspectives of the community make it. As people are sent, what remains is not an old community and new one, but two new communities. One is sent out discovering how to be a community of disciples on a new mission or with a new group of people. The other remains and is rediscovering how to be on mission and community in the same place and with the some of the same people.
This is multiplication. In the last loving act of being a community, it chooses to give itself and never be the same again. For the sake of obedience. For the sake of gospel growth. For the love, they have for others who will enjoy a new endeavor of faithfulness.
But also for themselves to step into the new thing God has called them to in their current place and within their current mission. Multiplication is final communal discipline. In Acts 13, this is expressed by touching these men and praying for them. It’s a touching moment of a new reality.
Brad Watson (@bradawatson) serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities where he develops and teaches leaders how to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is the author of Raised?, Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities, and Sent Together: How the Gospel Sends Leaders to Start Missional Communities. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their two daughters. You can read more from Brad at www.bradawatson.com.
Adapted from the final installment in our Together book series Multiply Together: A Guide to Sending and Coaching Missional Communities