Through Discipleship and Equipping
Healthy multiplication happens in one way—through robust discipleship. I’ve seen this played out in the relationship my wife Prati and I have with Prem and Lillian, a couple we’ve known for over twenty years. When we met Prem and Lillian, they were newlyweds living in a tiny hut in an undeveloped, remote village. A distant relative of mine told me about this couple—Prem, a mechanical engineer, and Lillian, with a master’s degree in nutrition—who had resigned from their jobs and headed out into the villages of the Dharmapuri district to share the gospel.
Prem and Lillian had a burden to share the gospel and were acting on it. In terms of spiritual growth, they were established believers and highly educated people. They could grow spiritually. We didn’t have to sit with them and go over a Basic Christianity curriculum as we do with many of the other people with whom we work. These two were zealous, but they were young, new to ministry, and new to family life. What they needed was support, encouragement, and a model of what it looks like to live out a diligent, long-suffering life of sacrificial service. Prati and I related to them as a family. We built a relationship. We prayed for them.
Just a few weeks ago, Prem and I were reminiscing about those early days, and he told me, “When you met us all those years ago, we were not known beyond the tiny village where we lived. And we did not know how to make ourselves known.” Discipling Prem and Lillian meant helping them look beyond just the two people that they were. It meant giving them a vision to raise up not mere converts, but disciples who “owned” the vision and were just as zealous, sacrificial, and eager to reach the lost as Prem and Lillian were. It meant modeling what that looks like. In order to unleash the indigenous church there in Dharmapuri, Prem and Lillian needed to raise up disciples who could raise up disciples.
Prati and I cast a vision, but as Prem noted in our recent conversation, we also trusted this young couple with real responsibility. “You didn’t wait to entrust us with significant responsibility until we were 100 percent able, had 100 percent of the skills, and were completely mature,” he recounted. That’s right. We didn’t hold out for that. Why? Because more than we trust the competence of any man, we trust the power of God to work through those who are willing.
Eventually, India Gospel League was able to support Prem and Lillian’s work by providing a Life Center in their village. Our discipleship relationship was woven through with prayer, modeling, teaching, encouragement, friendship, and practical support.
All these years later, Prem oversees not only an entire region of churches that are part of the India Gospel League network, mentoring dozens of pastors, but he also mentors the regional coordinators for four other regions! Lillian helps to lead our Women with a Mission team, which unleashes thousands of women every year to take the gospel message out to their own villages. What the Lord has done with two people who once could not imagine a reach beyond one tiny village!
To plant churches with multiplication DNA, we must multiply at the individual level, which happens through discipleship. IGL wants to see the gospel spread organically from person to person, village to village, not in big rallies, nor by sending cross-cultural missionaries. That’s why equipping the local church is of such high value. An incredible amount of our energy goes into equipping the church to witness to its own community, impact it, and then to reproduce itself.
This is an excerpt from the newest book, by Sam Stephens, Unleashed.