It’s very possible that I’ve learned more about the nature of spreading the Gospel from watching zombie movies than going to seminary. True story. At the very base level, the zombie apocalypse occurs because infection infiltrates relational networks. Friend bites friend, wife bites husband, zombie-dog bites neighbor (I’ve seen weird zombie movies). People within relational networks pass the infection from one person to another in the places where they interact and live their lives. Don’t push the metaphor too far, but hopefully, this humorous intro will help us connect to Jesus’ strategy.
Jesus’ Strategy of Pressing into New Networks
Levi and His Tax Collector Friends (Mark 2:13-17)
One day Jesus is walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and he sees Levi, also known as Matthew, and he says the two words at the heart of being a Christian, “Follow me.” So Levi immediately gets up, leaves his business and his money, and follows Jesus. After a quick scene change, suddenly Jesus is at a legit dinner party with Levi and his buddies. And let me tell you, Levi was no Mother Theresa, and neither were his friends. This was a dinner party full of tax collectors who essentially were the most hated crew of people among the Jews. They were traitors (working with the Roman government), extortioners (overcharging people to get rich), and straight-up sinners. And it’s not like they were misunderstood; tax collectors were not known to be good people. So the Pharisees get wind of this so-called holy man eating with these people and they ask his disciples, “Why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Hearing them, Jesus said, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I came for the sick” (my paraphrase).
Did you catch his multiplication strategy? Jesus finds a dude on the margins who responds to the call of God, and then presses into his relational network so that those who would probably not seek out “church” on their own initiative are suddenly discovering Jesus together.
The Demon-Possessed Man from Gerasa (Mark 5:1-20)
Another time Jesus turns to the disciples and says that they should cross the Dead Sea. After almost getting dominated by a huge storm, they land in Gerasa, which is one of the 10 cities of the Decapolis (10 autonomous cities of the Roman Empire, predominantly gentile). There Jesus meets a man who is possessed by a whole legion of demons.
After some back-and-forth with the trembling demons, Jesus casts them out and they go into some pigs. Word started to spread like crazy, and people didn’t know what to do with this. They were afraid and pleaded with Jesus to leave. But the formerly possessed man, the one who is totally transformed and restored after encountering Jesus, pleads with Jesus to go with him. The text says he begged Jesus. He begged him! And Jesus says no. He tells him instead to go home and go to his family. He was to proclaim to his relational network all that Jesus had done. This word spreads like the aforementioned zombie apocalypse, because the demons are gone!
Why would Jesus tell someone who desperately wants to leave his network to follow him “No”? Because Jesus is being strategic. In fact, if you take a step back and look at the whole story, you see that this was the entire point of going across the lake in the first place! Who saw that coming? Who would have figured that the best dude to reach this whole other group of unreached people would be the man filled with demons who lives in a cemetery and cuts himself?
That’s Jesus’ strategy of multiplication. He “infects” this dude (in zombie terms), and then tells him to go infect others. Jesus often told the Jews he healed not to tell anyone about him, because it will be revealed later. But to this gentile, he says, “Go and infect.”
Jesus pressed into networks. He knew that the best way to spread a message is to allow it to travel through natural, relational connections. It’s how the gospel has always moved throughout history. It’s social networking, old-school style. And it aggressively challenges the methods of how we “disciple” people in Western churches.
Sadly, the longer we follow Jesus, the fewer unbelievers we know. That’s actually embarrassing to even type, but we know it’s true. And we know it’s messed up. But that’s the paradigm we have. You know who else had that paradigm? The Pharisees. The word pharisee actually comes from the root word in Aramaic that means “to separate/to distinguish.”
I know we like to think that Pharisees and bad guys are synonymous terms. The reality is that we function like the Pharisees. We, too, separate ourselves so that we can be discipled in healthy environments.
Jesus Moves in the Margins
The margins are often not pretty, yet Jesus calls us to join him there in his mission. Our role is not to extract ourselves or others from the lost; it’s to infect them with the truth and love of Jesus! Extraction discipleship doesn’t do that. Extraction creates an us-versus-them dichotomy that absolutely halts the movement of the gospel.
When Jesus left his disciples with their marching orders, his final and primary commission to them was to go and make disciples. Go and replicate what I have done with you. Go and multiply my efforts. As people become disciples, they too take on the primary task of a disciple, which is to replicate themselves. Multiplication is embedded at the very core of the Great Commission. If our entire goal is to extract people from their networks, “disciple” them in church until they’re “equipped” to go back out, then instead of a viral gospel movement, we get a gospel quarantine.
The Call into the Margins
The gospel virus doesn’t spread when it’s isolated. It must be unleashed. It must penetrate new environments and it must be released into new networks. We tend to disciple the sense of “mission” out of our best missionaries: the newly transformed.
Disciple Making Movements around the globe understand all of this. The gospel of the Kingdom of God cannot be contained within the educated. It can’t be controlled by the few. The Spirit of God is on the move “out there” and we must join him to see its fruit. We have to learn how to come alongside new believers, to press into their networks, and plant the gospel in new ground. This is how Jesus operated. This is how Paul operated. This is how the gospel is spreading all over the world even as I type this. If we are to see similar fruit, we must make a mindset shift!
Cory Ozbun is a Pastor and leader in the church since 2007, and has been actively engaged in multiplicative disciple-making and microchurch ministry since 2015.