The Two Disciple-Making Tensions We Must Confront

Todd Wilson

Recently, Exponential released a new FREE eBook, Dream Big, Plan Smart: Finding Your Pathway to Level 5 Multiplication. It’s the third in the series of books focusing on Exponential’s annual themes—all focused on seeing the Church multiply. In the guest post below, Exponential Co-founder and Director Todd Wilson zeroes in on Jesus’ multiplication dream in Acts 1:8 (…to be His witnesses … to the ends of the earth) and the two tensions in mobilizing disciples that go and fulfill His dream.


Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that Jesus uses us—flawed men and women—to accomplish His mission of multiplication? He could have spent all of His time and energy preaching to thousands, or led a giant church. He could have started and handed off an organization. Instead, He modeled disciple-making and made disciple makers and then commanded His disciples to do the same.

At the core of any multiplication movement is disciple-making. We need disciples who will go, carrying the fullness of Jesus into every nook and cranny of our world. So if that’s the mission, how do we accomplish it as church leaders? How do we mobilize and empower people to make Matthew 28 disciples of every tongue, tribe and nation?

We need disciples who will go, carrying the fullness of Jesus into every nook and cranny of our world.

Two Simultaneous Tensions

While mobilizing disciples is key, in the local church mobilization is one of the most difficult areas to embrace and put into practice. Mobilization gives us a couple of tensions to manage, namely the familiar “both/and” call: Scripture calls us to “live in common” as a family of believers and to simultaneously “live deployed” as missionaries in our unique corners of society.

Scripture calls us to “live in common” and to simultaneously “live deployed.”

Look at the collective “they” statements we find describing the early Church in Acts 2:46-47:

  • They met daily.
  • They broke bread together.
  • They had everything in common.
  • They sold property and possessions to give to those in need.

“They” activities were at the heart of their gathering. Like the church in Acts 2, we are to “live in common.” But at the same time, we’re also to live deployed, carrying the Good News with us everywhere we are. As people who have been called by God to carry out His mission, each of us has a mission field of influence and a specific gifting.

My friend and NorthWood Church Planter/Pastor Bob Roberts Jr. wrote about this tension in his book, Real-Time Connections: Linking Your Job With God’s Global Work. He remembers the first time he realized God has called the whole church—not just vocational missionaries—to be deployed.

“Rather than encouraging people to use their vocations to serve the church, what if we made it the church’s task to mobilize Christians to use their everyday vocations to serve people in need—both locally and globally?” Bob writes. “What would happen if Christians used their jobs, skills and passions to directly answer Christ’s call to minister to those in need? What if we started to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minister to the oppressed, and shelter the homeless? Could this be God’s plan for reaching the nations and fulfilling the Great Commission?”

I love what he shares about the shift in the church’s approach to evangelism: “Instead of focusing on building a church by bringing people into it,” Roberts writes, “we focused on being missionaries to our area, making disciples who would fill churches.”

Living in common vs. living deployed

So many times in our churches, we sacrifice the “living deployed” for the “living in common” because we need people to run the church. We need volunteers who will serve as greeters, ushers, a set-up and teardown team, small group leaders, nursery workers, student ministry volunteers, hospitality teams, the list goes on. In our zeal to “feed the beast,” we often miss or even mute this dimension of “living deployed” to “release the beast.” Unfortunately, most of our churches don’t see equipping and mobilizing people to go and be missionaries in their communities as their role.

So many times in our churches, we sacrifice the “living deployed” for the “living in common” because we need volunteers to run the church.

I often use an aircraft carrier as an illustration. An aircraft carrier’s mission is to send air power to places the carrier cannot go. Take away the planes, and the carrier is simply floating metal. Dead weight. To carry out that mission, 5,000 men and women work, eat, and do life together—on a common mission, but each with unique roles. But only 120 people fly the planes. The rest cook, clean and operate machinery in support of the pilots. In the same way, the average church has an army of volunteers living in common to support the work of the paid, full-time professional pastors (the pilots).

Jesus didn’t intend for the Church to function like this. We are called to live in common, doing whatever is needed to support the family, while simultaneously flying our planes into our unique corners of society.

The bottom line is that when we don’t use our unique calling and gifts to go, we negatively impact Jesus’ mission for His Church. As leaders, we have to look for new ways to lead our churches that help us simultaneously live both in common and deployed.

At Exponential, we’re passionate about coming alongside the Church to make disciples that will multiply and go. I invite you to check out our the many FREE, downloadable resources on our website. We also have five opportunities this year to be part of an Exponential live gathering, including two national conferences (the upcoming Exponential East in Orlando and Exponential West in Los Angeles) and three smaller regional events in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Houston. We hope you’ll consider joining us as we dream big for multiplication!


Co-founder and director of Exponential. A nuclear engineer by training, Todd left a successful career in the marketplace for full-time vocational ministry. He is passionate about mobilizing people on their unique, God-given, personal calling. He is the author of several books including the 2016 title More: Find Your Personal Calling and Live Life to the Fullest Measure (Zondervan). Todd is married to Anna and they have two sons, Ben and Chris, and a beautiful daughter-in-law, Mariah (married to Chris).