Spiritual Multiplication

Have you ever heard of Dawson Trotman?  He was the founder of the Navigators.  Before he had a ministry program, he had a ministry.  He didn’t wait for a discipleship program to disciple someone.

After seeing the benefits of basic discipleship principles in his own life, Dawson Trotman wanted to teach them to others, echoing the call of 2 Timothy 2:2: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

Dawson began teaching high school students and local Sunday school classes these principles. In 1933, he and his friends extended their work to sailors in the U.S. Navy.

Spiritual multiplication can be seen in the story of Dawson and Les Spencer, a navy man on the USS West Virginia.  After Trotman had been teaching Spencer truths from God’s Word for some time, Spencer brought a friend from his ship to Trotman and said, “Dawson, I want you to teach him all you have taught me.”

But Dawson said, “I am not going to teach him; you are going to teach him. If you cannot teach him what I have taught you, then I have failed.”

And the 2 Timothy 2:2 vision was strengthened.

Dawson Trotman’s early work among sailors enabled discipleship principles to spread exponentially across the military as the United States entered World War II.


Spencer’s friend eventually found someone else who needed to be taught, and the process continued until on that one ship there were 125 men meeting every week for prayer and Bible study. Those men then went to other ships and bases until, at the height of World War II, there were groups of believers started by these men on over 1,000 ships and naval bases all over the world.

The story doesn’t stop there.  The discipleship happening on these boats was literally transforming the atmosphere of the ships.  Eventually, the FBI was brought in to investigate.  The suspicion was that some type of cult had emerged.

The main tip off for the investigation was that these sailors weren’t engaging in normal sailor-type activities.

As they did their investigation, it took them 6 months to weave through all of the stories and all of the “suspects” to get to Dawson.  So many people were involved, it was hard to see who the ring-leader was.

When agents went to one person and asked how the group got started, the reply would be, “I don’t know. I met someone on another ship who started a group.”  So the FBI agents went to that person with their questions, only to be referred to another person on another ship. The investigation continued for three months until they were finally able to trace the whole ministry back to Dawson Trotman.

One man investing in the life of another and a movement was born.  In churches, we get so obsessed with the program that we lose the people.  Jesus’ type of discipleship was life on life not see how many people you can get in seats to hear some information.

Instead of addition, we could focus on spiritual multiplication.  It’s not easy.  It’s not quick, and that’s why we often tragically neglect it.