Suspend your disbelief for a moment, okay? Imagine someone approaches you today and offers a choice: He will give you one million dollars immediately, or one penny doubled every day for the next month. Which would you choose?
No, I don’t have insider knowledge of some wealthy magnate planning to make this offer. I haven’t consulted with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, or even Donald Trump. But as you’ll see, it’s an interesting exercise that illustrates an important principle.
Most of us would probably leap at the $1 million offer. No brainer, right? But wait. At first it would seem anyone who opted to receive a penny the first day, then have it doubled the second day and each succeeding day for a month, would be the loser. But as they say, do the math.
Let’s suppose Joe accepts the $1 million. He even sets it aside to collect interest. Good decision, right? However, his friend Jim, a curious soul, elects to take the one penny the first day, doubling that amount every day for a month of 31 days. At first things go slowly for Jim – one cent, two cents, four cents, eight cents, 16 cents. Ho hum. But momentum starts building.
On day 10, Jim receives $5.12. Day 15 nets him $163.84; on day 20 he gets $5,242.88, and on day 25 Jim’s single day’s “earnings” are $167,772.16! The agreement of the one penny doubled daily for a total of 31 days, so the amount continues to multiply. On day 31, Jim is the recipient of…more than $10.7 million! Would you still rather take the $1 million up front?
This silly scenario represents the genius behind Jesus’ strategy for growing His Church around the world, a plan that’s been has largely ignored.
You might recall the Lord’s last words to His followers before ascending to Heaven. He told them, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”(Matthew 28:19-20). We know it as the Great Commission.
Instead of “making disciples,” however, much of Christianity has focused on making converts, producing spiritual babes without putting in the hard work to assist them in growing into maturing, spiritually reproducing disciples.
Let’s apply the monetary illustration to Jesus’ command. Suppose an established follower of Christ meets for a year with a younger believer, helping him or her to grow in their faith. At the end of that year, they both find someone else to disciple, effectively doubling or “multiplying” their number from two to four. One year later, each one finds another person to disciple – now there are eight. So far, not too impressive.
But like the example of the ever-doubling pennies, the numbers begin to surge geometrically. At year 10, assuming there’s no attrition, there would be 512 believers meeting and helping each other to grow. By year 20, the number has grown to 524,288! Projecting to year 30, following Jesus’ strategy and directive to “make disciples,” there would be nearly 537 million committed, fruitful followers of Jesus Christ having an eternal impact at home, at work, in their communities and the world around them.
By year 34, there would be more than 8.5 billion maturing, reproducing Christ followers – more than the current population of the world!
In reality, the issue isn’t numbers. If it were, Jesus would have issued production quotas. No, His desire was simply for us to make disciples who make disciples…who make disciples. Ultimately, men, women and young people all devoted to Christ and committed to following Him no matter what. Folks who, as Romans 6:11 states, “count [themselves] dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
How many people do we know like that, individuals willing to follow Jesus’ directive: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That, in just a handful of words, is Jesus’ description of what a disciple looks like – the kind of people He commissioned to engage in consistently devoting themselves to ministering to others, life on life.