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Spartans, chokepoints and disciple-multiplication

Greg Stier
Greg Stier

“In military strategy, a choke point (or chokepoint) is a geographical feature on land such as a valley, defile or a bridge, or at sea such as a strait which an armed force is forced to pass, sometimes on a substantially narrower front, and therefore greatly decreasing its combat power, in order to reach its objective. A choke point would allow a numerically inferior defending force to successfully prevent a larger opponent because the attacker would not be able to bring their superior numbers to bear.”

In the late summer of 480 BC three hundred Spartan soldiers stood in the way of hundreds of thousands of Persians and the survival of Greece. Thermopylae (otherwise known as “The Hot Gates“) was a small pass on the east side of Greece that had to be used by armies who chose to invade this part of the country.

The valiant Spartans knew that King Xerxes and his vast army had to pass through this narrow pass to get to the rest of Greece. And herein lay their advantage. This passageway (that may have been 50 feet wide or less in parts) had a mountain on one side of it and the ocean on the other. As a result of this narrow pass the Persian warriors lost their tactical advantage against the battle-hardened, highly-strategic, physically-superior Spartans.

Thermopylae was the chokepoint to the rest of Greece and, for three sword-swinging, spear-thrusting days, the Persians fought the Greeks and choked on their own blood. Thousands upon thousands of Persians fell to Spartan steel over those seventy two harrowing hours. Not until a Greek traitor supplied Xerxes with a secret path behind the Spartan lines did these powerful warriors become vulnerable. Finally, these 300 Spartans, led by their warrior-leader, King Leonidas, were slaughtered and the Persians invaded Greece.

But it was too late. In the midst of three hundred deaths one amazing legend had been born on that bloody, narrow battlefield. Inspired by stories of Spartan courage the Greeks united and, eventually, turned back the Persians for good.

So what does this all have to do with discipleship making? More than you might think. And it all has to do with the underestimated chokepoint you must get through if you want to make disciples who make disciples.

There’s a whole lot of talk about disciple-making and multiplication in church circles these days (a very good thing!) Jesus told his followers to “Go and make disciples….” in Matthew 28:19 and a big part of making disciples is teaching them to make disciples. As Lecrae raps, “I’m out to take the Bible, create disciples who make disciples, disciple cycles.”

Love it!

But, just like the invading Persians, discipleship multiplication has a chokepoint it must pass through if it is going to accomplish it’s goal. That chokepoint is evangelism.

Put simply, if you can’t make a convert then you can’t make a disciple. And if you can’t make a disciple then you can’t multiply disciples.

“The Hot Gates” that every disciple multiplier must pass through is actually being able to lead a lost person to Christ. But far too often, standing in the middle of that chokepoint is, not 300 well-trained soldiers, but an army of over-used excuses (“I don’t have the gift of evangelism”, “Evangelism doesn’t really work in a postmodern culture”, blah, blah, blah), church leadership that isn’t willing to pay the price of bringing “those” kinds of people into the pristine building and Satan himself.

I wonder how many pastors, youth leaders, church elders, Sunday school teachers and small group leaders can bring the good news up with an unbeliever naturally, explain the gospel clearly and give that person an opportunity to put their faith in Jesus in a loving and persuasive way. Unfortunately, my experience is that many can’t and that most don’t.

So what some church leaders have created is a culture that talks about discipleship multiplication but defaults to a group of believers meeting weekly to talk about stuff from the Bible that they should already know and already be doing. This default brand of “discipleship” tends to be meeting-driven, inbred and not nearly messy enough.

True discipleship multiplication is always messy. It’s book of Acts kind of messy. It triggers messy persecution (mostly the milder forms of mockery, marginalization and ostracization.) It forces us out of our La-Z-boys and into messy relationships. It causes us to engage with the neighbors who live next door, the Baristas who make our lattes and the mechanics who fix our cars.

And when that Barista, neighbor, co-worker, family member, mechanic or friend puts their faith in Jesus the real work is just getting started. We’ve made it through “The Hot Gates” and now we must help them grow deep and go wide. We begin the process of spiritual multiplication in the power of the Holy Spirit so that they too can make disciples in their spheres of influence.

On a side note, the pass at Thermopylae was nicknamed “The Hot Gates” because of the smell of sulfur and the hot springs that were in the area. Because the smell and heat were so intense, this pass was rumored to be the entrance to hell. What a great illustration when it comes to discipleship multiplication! We are going to the very gates of hell so that we can rescue the lost and make disciples who make disciples.

If you want to multiply disciples you need to learn how to share the gospel effectively first. At Dare 2 Share we literally do have an app for that! Not only is it free but it will train you in the basics on how to share the gospel (how to bring it up naturally, explain it clearly, engage with different religions, etc.) I’ve also done a podcast series called “Live THE Cause” which you can use to train your small group, youth group or Sunday school class how to share the gospel.

A chokepoint made the difference for the people of Greece. Without it the 300 Spartans could have never taken such a courageous stand that would inspire their fellow Greeks to turn back the Persians.

A chokepoint makes all the difference for the church. Without inspiring and equipping our people to share the gospel we will never truly make disciples who make disciples and defeat the kingdom of darkness where it stands.

Who’s with me? Let me hear your war cry!

Unlikely Fighter

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The story of how a fatherless street kid overcame violence, chaos, and confusion to become a radical Christ follower.

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