Stories–they are the reason why we find ourselves unable to put down a good book, or why we’re moved to tears in a movie. In stories, we learn to identify with others’ struggles and find courage to walk through our own trials. Through story, we cultivate our heroes and imagine that success on this journey might be possible.
Story can also help us understand difficult or abstract concepts. Think about the parables Jesus used to talk about the Kingdom of God. God has simply wired us to tell and listen to stories.
That’s why when we began to talk about rolling out the concept of Level 5 multiplication to our church in Atlanta, Georgia, one of my first priorities was to look through the Bible to see if this idea that had become so sticky for me was somehow already present in the story of God and His people.
I wanted to help our people see this idea as being from the heart of God in the pages of His Word.
What I found has only deepened my conviction that becoming a Level 5 multiplying church is a journey I want the people of our church to take. To explain these multiplication concepts—including the five levels of multiplication and what it takes to transition from one level to another—I looked to the story of Scripture to provide a biblical layover of this Level 5 journey.
Scripture helps us understand the opportunities and obstacles inherent in moving from one level to another—ultimately revealing God’s dream for multiplication.
‘Go and Multiply!’
In the first chapter of Genesis, we get the imperative to, “Go and multiply!” From the very beginning of Scripture, God shares His dream for multiplication. He commanded Adam and Eve to make a family and be on mission, multiplying. Even after the events of Genesis 3 with humanity spiraling out of control, the whispers of God to Noah and Abram reveal His heart for multiplication.
Throughout the Old Testament, this call to multiply continues in the face of trials—including genocide, famine, captivity and barrenness. (While I’m not sure what the correlation of these things are in your context, I can assure you these kind of hostile forces are in the water.)
But nowhere in the story of God is the path to multiplication clearer than in Israel’s journey from Egypt to the Promised Land:
In Egypt (Level 1: the land of subtraction) When the Exodus story starts in Egypt, the people of God are reproducing. But eventually, the threat of genocide takes the people of God from multiplication to subtraction. Then God sends Moses: “God wants to take you out of Egypt and bring you into this good and plentiful land where you can multiply and become a family on mission.”
At the Red Sea (Level 1 to Level 3): Shortly into this journey, the newly freed slaves come up against the Red Sea (what I call the sea of survival), with pharaoh’s army breathing down their necks. It’s a true inflection point. If God doesn’t come through in this moment, the people of God will die. We all know the epic story. As Moses holds up his staff, the waters part, and hundreds of thousands walk across on dry ground, untouched by the water.
Between Egypt and the Promised Land is a journey God’s people must make. The difficult, often uncertain and risky journey from subtraction to multiplication lies at the foundation of becoming a multiplying church.
In the desert (Level 3: the land of addition) Crossing the water of survival leads God’s people into the desert. And while the desert carries its own set of challenges, some interesting dynamics work together as centralizing forces. In the desert, Israel gets the law and the tabernacle. They move from being surviving slaves in Egypt (subtraction) to becoming one nation in the desert (addition).
The question now is not, “Will they get to addition?” but rather, “Will they get beyond it?”
Will they travel beyond the desert to the Promised Land?
At the Jordan River (Level 4, the body of reproduction) Between the desert and the Promised Land stands one more body of water. Crossing the raging Jordan River is an increase of faith moment. As they cross, several decentralizing factors come into play, allowing them to become a reproducing people. It is the vivid picture of the shifts that occur as a church becomes a reproducing body. At the Red Sea, one leader holds up a staff, and everyone follows on to dry land. But at the edge of the treacherous Jordan, they must actually walk together into the water before the waters begins to part below their feet. They must trust that God is passionate about seeing His dream awakened.
On the edge of the Promised Land (Level 5: the land of multiplication) At the edge of the Promised Land, Israel spies out the land and discovers that Canaan is indeed flowing with milk and honey, fulfilling every promise God had made about the land. It has everything they need to multiply. But there also “giants in the land” that threaten to keep Israel from all that God has in His heart to give them.
You can just feel Israel go into reverse mode.
They see the potential. There’s a part of their heart that wants to move forward. But the other part sees giants and says, “I’m just not sure we can take them.”
The giants aren’t the only threat. The challenge is not just about taking the Promised Land—it’s also about keeping it. Now, so many of the stabilizing and centralizing forces that helped Israel get out of subtraction must be reworked and reimagined. In the Promised Land, God’s people will need to learn not just how to be one nation but also how to be 12 tribes. They will need a different kind of leader.
On the edge of the Jordan stands this reality. The giants are real. The problems are complex. But the benefits are real, too. Sadly, for Israel, too many times they retreat to the desert because of the giants and maybe the complexity. The magnetic force toward Level 3 (addition) is real. It’s simply easier to run away from things than it is to run toward things. But we actually have a word we use for people who don’t run away but run into the chaos. We call them heroes. This is a heroic journey; it’s the journey of the people of God to say, “Will we be content to stay one nation in the wilderness, or will we dare to journey with God into all the potential multiplication has for us?”
And this, too, is our journey as followers of Jesus and leaders of His Church. Wherever you find yourself now, these are the stories of struggles, sacrifices and celebrations that tear at our souls too. There is the journey to be a different kind of leader and a different kind of people on the horizon. There are giants in front of us, and there are God moments behind us. There are issues of complexity and the fear that becoming 12 tribes might threaten what we have found so powerful in becoming one people. But the heart of God and dream of God remains the same—not go and add but go and multiply!
Let’s not spend 40 years traipsing around the desert. Let’s dare to walk across the Jordan, letting the waters part below our feet. And let’s dare to become the multiplying people of God that we were always destined to be.
A frequent speaker at Exponential events, Dave Rhodes is the pastor of discipleship and movement initiatives at Grace Fellowship Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a sought after speaker, writer, consultant and coach, and serves as co-founder of Younique and a collaborative partner for 100 Movements, 10,000 Fathers and Auxano. Watch Dave share this teaching on video, part of the FREE Becoming 5 online course.