The Simple Legacy of Dr. George Patterson (1933-2022)

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by Dr. George G. Robinson, Professor of Global Disciple-Making

There are literally millions of people around the world who have never heard of Dr. George Patterson, and yet have been discipled and/or trained as a follower of Jesus because of his work. This week, at 89 years of age, Dr. Patterson met the One he lived for face to face. If you’re a disciple-maker, missionary, or church planter, your work has likely been influenced by his.

In 1998, I was a 2+ missions student here at Southeastern and was assigned to read “Church Multiplication Guide” that was co-authored by Patterson and Richard Scoggins. It was simple and a bit awkward with its cartoon drawings, yet profound in both its content and structure. It was in that book that I first read about “The Basic Commands of Jesus”, or as some have called it, “The Commands of Christ”. By that time in my walk with Jesus, I had been exposed to countless disciple-making paradigms, most of which were curriculum-based. But the concept that church planting and multiplication was built upon the foundation of making reproducing disciples who look to their Bible as the primary textbook was, much like Patterson himself, profoundly simple. So simple that I started using the principles I learned from the book in my own ministry and training.

Then in 2004 I entered the Doctor of Missiology program at Western Seminary primarily because Patterson taught seminars there. By that time I had read much of what he and his mentees had published, but I wanted to be trained by him. I had the privilege of taking his seminar and, like his writings and reputation, it was refreshing. He didn’t merely teach content. Patterson trained his mentees to obey Jesus. His gregarious personality and sharp wit disarmed me such that I was open to having the myriad missiological presuppositions that I held with an open hand. He modeled a deep reverence for the Scriptures and emphasized the importance of using God’s word as our training manual, not merely to proof-text what we had learned in our academic pursuits. From the time of that seminar, Dr. Patterson would keep in touch with me, always encouraging me to be ruthlessly focused on making reproducing disciples. It took some time to realize just how innovative he was with his online mentoring cohorts, video game training tools, and open-source approach to crafting and improving training tools. He was a founder and forerunner of concepts like Theological Education by Extension, “obedience-oriented discipleship“, reproducible pastoral training, coaching networks, and more. His was a model I could emulate. It was a model anyone, regardless of where they live or how much education they had access to, could follow. That’s why I employed all I learned from him when training both American missionaries and church planters and indigenous leaders in nearly a dozen countries. Every time I taught or trained, his encouraging example provided the foundation I stood upon.

In 2008 I had the privilege of returning to Southeastern, this time as faculty teaching evangelism, disciple-making and missions. Initially I felt the press of returning to a purely lecture-based style of teaching. That wasn’t imposed on me from without, but was rather an internal struggle based upon my own insecurities in the realm of academia. Then in 2011 we had the privilege of hosting Dr. Patterson on our campus for a day of training in the Center for Great Commission Studies. Watching him, once again, inspire and coach while responding charitably to skepticism emboldened me as a professor. So, for the past decade I’ve worked to align the courses I teach with all the pedagogical principles that I had both observed and learned from my mentor. I’m still a work in progress. And so are the courses I teach. But this week, learning of Dr. George Patterson’s passing into the presence of Jesus, has reminded me of how indebted I am for his investment. For 14 years my students here have been influenced by his nearly a century of experience in being both faithful and fruitful. I can picture him now, more spry than ever, joyously obeying Jesus face to face. Dr. George Patterson, you finished well. And the entire missions community is better for it.

Here’s a link to the 2011 interview: https://multimedia.sebts.edu/?p=2700

And here’s a link to an edited session of his training: https://multimedia.sebts.edu/?p=2755

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