When I returned from my sabbatical in 2015, one theme from God’s Holy Spirit burned hot in my heart: Mobilize to multiply. God’s passion for the nations had never been more clear to me, and the most logical place to start doing that was with the people I had grown to dearly love since planting the church in 2004. After all, multiplication is the heart of the Great Commission, the storyline of Acts, and the end time picture in Revelation.
Over the next two-plus years, God began providentially answering this prayer more fully in my own life personally, as well as in the life of our church corporately. Through sovronic opportunities, “chance” encounters, “it-just-so-happened” events, on-the-spot conversations, as well as ordained moments and planned meetings, our gracious Father began opening doors hinged to exactly that: multiplication. Whether at the Exponential conference or the Sending Lab, whether in a conversation with a young, potential planter (at my “second office” at Chick-fil-A) or on the phone with a church veteran looking to relocate and lead, God has been so faithful in providing numerous opportunities for us to put action to intention. And all along the way I’ve heard testimonies from churches and pastors who have reproduced themselves locally in satellites, planted other churches nationally, and/or reproduced themselves over and over internationally as well. Multisites, video venues, campuses, plants, making disciples—all are current words being used to describe the one thing to which God calls his people—multiplication.
At some point, though, I was struck with this thought: This is exactly what my home church did for years; this is the kind of church in which I grew up. Candidly, our church was multisiting, campusing, venuing, planting—multiplying—and didn’t even know it! It made me smile while I remembered there’s nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Some context first. I grew up in Chattanooga, TN, at Highland Park Baptist Church in the mid-to-late 70’s and 80’s. We were the “Church of the Green Light,” and reaching out —“going”—was in our DNA. It was a church alive with passion and mission.
For instance, when we ran out of space in the main auditorium (later named Chauncey-Goode Auditorium), they began another service in the gym with live teaching by one of the staff from the church or college. Then, when we needed even more space, they began another one in Phillips Chapel, an adjoining auditorium right next door. Whatayaknow—we were multiplying through other venues.
Additionally, our church had developed over 60 chapels, located in Chattanooga and the surrounding area, where many of our college/seminary profs, sometimes even upper-level students, would pastor and preach. Yep, over 60 “satellites!” Arguably, one could say these were loose campuses of our church. Some of them eventually became autonomous. Ah, church planting.
See what I mean? The italicized words in the previous two paragraphs are the current words in the discussion of multiplication. Yet this is, in many ways, precisely what was happening back then. We were multisiting, and didn’t even know it. We were adding venues, and didn’t even know it. We were opening campuses, and didn’t even know it. We were planting churches, and didn’t even know it.
One thing we did know: We were multiplying.
Though I write that we “didn’t even know it” with a tad of satire, you get the point, don’t you? Multiplication isn’t new. Exponential didn’t think of it. NAMB didn’t invent it. Acts 29 wasn’t the originator of it. Frankly, neither did my home church. It’s been around since Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20). Or since Paul said, “…what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Multiplication has always been the plan, no matter what you call it in your own neck of the woods and place in time.
I realize some have negative experiences from their time at HPBC and TTU. But personally, God used that environment in a deeply significant way in my life, the fruit of which is apparently sprouting still now as I seek to lead our own small body of believers to reproduce perpetually. I believe the incredible impact of that place was mainly due to how my godly parents helped me process all of it. Not once was I ever taught at home that rules made me spiritual, or that externals produced righteousness. It was clear in the Stiles home that true spirituality was an inside deal, not an outside show.
I also believe it was because of the way my parents allowed so many other godly people to speak into my life at key moments, such as Richard Jones (my Jr. High youth pastor), Joey Ford (my high school ensemble director), Tim Loftis (a youth leader), Anna Karnes (a high school teacher), Jim Blair (my wrestling coach), and many more. My parents were never insecure, threatened, or critical. They were, instead, grateful for any investment someone might make into their kid, open-armed, and supportive with time and resources.
God empowered all of these people, beginning with my parents, to be multipliers—investing in me in ways that I still remember and from which I have benefitted over and over. I trust I, too, have passed it on to others who have passed it on to others who have passed it on to others…and so forth. That’s more than addition. That’s multiplication.
In some ways, my home church was ahead of its time. Maybe not in its verbiage, but for sure in its values. And I’ll be forever grateful for the impact of a multiplying church with people who were committed to “making disciples of all nations.”