When I see or hear the word ‘multiplication’ it takes me back to school days – as both student and teacher. I’m one of those who liked math and science – particularly biology. I still like them. I suppose they feed my inner geek!
I can remember the ‘times-tables’ drills, especially from grade three with Mrs. Walker, but of course we didn’t start there. We began with addition, then worked our way to subtraction, then multiplication and then division. All of these processes appear in church multiplication as well. First, believers are added and numbers increase, presenting an opportunity and need to multiply. As a group from that church is blessed and sent out, numbers decrease, so there’s subtraction. The result is two churches, so multiplication has happened yet the process involved is division. The book of Acts gives us insight and examples of how this unfolds.
Multiplication and division are linked – not just in math, but also at the fundamental unit of life, the cell. This happens in our bodies all the time – literally – and usually we’re totally unaware of it. Our cells multiply for health, growth and repair and the process of cell multiplication actually occurs by division. I’m going to put on my biology teacher hat for a moment here, for an overview of the process.
Cells divide to make more cells. That’s what they do because the DNA inside them directs the process. When conditions are right and necessary for more cells, the DNA that contains all the information the cell requires for healthy function starts a series of steps that takes one cell and turns it into two.
The first step is the exact duplication of the DNA itself. The DNA is packaged into chromosomes and the chromosomes are contained in a structure inside the cell called a nucleus. At the end of this stage, there’s one cell with two nuclei that are identical. Then the outside of the cell starts to pinch in and continues until the cell splits – so there are two cells, each with a nucleus. Yet these two cells may not be identical at this point, because there is more inside a cell than a nucleus. There are lots of other smaller bits. When the outside of the cell pinches in to make two cells, the division of all those smaller bits is arbitrary so one cell may have more bits than the other. All of the bits are important and both cells need them. Without those bits the cell will die because it can’t function properly. Yet that doesn’t happen. Do you want to know why?
It’s all due to the DNA. The cell that is missing important bits has an intact nucleus with the DNA that has all of the information the cell needs to thrive. The DNA directs the cell to make whatever bits it needs, so it does that first.
Multiplication through division. It’s a life process in us and without it each of us would simply be one giant cell…if that were possible. There are too many factors that work against that possibility and so without multiplication, we would not be alive. Yet I’ve always been intrigued that a cell that ended up with the short end of the stick in terms of cell bits can still fulfill its function as long as the DNA has been duplicated.
This life process happens in the church too. That shouldn’t surprise us – the church is people, after all. As I read Acts in particular, the desire and need of the believers to share the Good News and bring about church multiplication is evident. It was in their DNA. The church at Antioch provides an example. The church was new yet Luke records that multiplication was about to happen at the direction of the Holy Spirit. Whatever the size of that church, we know it was growing and by conversion growth, not transfer! Luke tells us that there were at least five leaders there. Two of those leaders, Saul and Barnabas, were blessed and sent off – church multiplication in action! I see that as a rather uneven division, though – just like the cell division process. Antioch retained leadership and all of the ‘other bits’. Saul and Barnabas are more like the cell without all the bits, yet we know new churches were established in Cyprus and Galatia because of them. Saul and Barnabas had what they needed, and in cell life, they were the nucleus with intact DNA. In church life, I believe that’s representative of leadership.
In the rest of Acts, Luke refers to Saul as Paul – and Paul with others continues to multiply the church, raising up local leaders along the way. Paul didn’t remain in those churches, but they remained. Someone had to be there to receive Paul’s letters to teach and read them to the people! All of those ‘someones’ were leaders.
There are other analogies I could make, but the connection between church multiplication and leadership development remains and I believe both are still part of our DNA as Christ-followers but perhaps that DNA needs to be reactivated. There are ways to do that in cell life and there is in church life too – He’s called the Holy Spirit! As I read Acts 13, Saul & Barnabas didn’t have it all planned out. They said ‘yes’ and went where the Spirit directed. They show for us again how faithful God is, in that He will equip those He calls.
To multiply churches we also need to multiply leadership. The analogy of cell life has its weak points – for example, much of cell division results in exact duplication and church multiplication is not a cookie-cutter process. However, there is a process called cell specialization that also has parallels to church life….but that’s a lesson for another day.
Rev. Kim Henderson is the Director of Personnel with
The Free Methodist Church in Canada