The bottom line of disciple-making is where and how, not if
Easter morning my church had 54 baptisms of adults, teens and pre-teens over five worship services in two venues. Many other congregations surely had even larger counts of people making their decisions for Christ. No matter the numbers, we can all rejoice in the commitment made by any number who chose to be baptized this Easter.
But there are more important things than warming more seats in the pews. The something more is discipleship. Pastor J.D. Greear, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., writes in Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send (Zondervan, 2015), “we don’t need better gathering techniques; we need better discipleship. Larger audiences and more ‘decisions for Christ’ are just not cutting it. If we are going to move the mission needle in America, we have to turn unbelievers into church leaders, atheists into missionaries. We have to get good at making disciples,” he writes.
He says that a lot of people come to church for the excitement, but that we haven’t done much of a job in turning them into life-long disciples. Some of the responsibility lies with pastors, he suggests. “Many skills make for an effective minister, but there is one without which everything else we do is useless: make disciples,” he says.
“Apart from that, all the money we raise, buildings we build, ministries we organize, sermons we preach and songs we write won’t move the mission forward. Without that one thing”—disciple-making—“we fail,” Greear says.
I could go on and on in sharing how Greear “pins ministry and ministers to the wall,” so to speak, holding us accountable for applying the Great Commission. And as Christians we are all called to minister, he says of the Great Commission, it is only a question of how and where we serve.
And making disciples is “fairly easy.” Says Greear, “You simply bring people along in your spiritual journey. Making disciples is more about intentionality than technique: Discipleship means teaching others to read the Bible the way you read it, pray the way you pray, and tell people about Jesus the way you do.
“If you have Christian habits in your life worth imitating, you can be a disciple-maker,” he says. “It doesn’t require years of training. You just teach others to follow Christ as you follow him.”
Well, some may argue with that, but Greear doesn’t leave us off the hook. “If you know how to love and walk with Jesus, you can disciple someone else,” he says. “Any sincere believer can teach another how to seek God, repent, read the Bible, pray, and share with others.”
Every Christian is born to reproduce, he tells us. “Reproduction does not happen through programs, books, or experiences, he says, but when individual Christians accept their role in the Great Commission.”
I’ve read just about every book by a pastor on transformation, change, church health, and the like, and I regret not picking up this book two years ago when it came out. It is packed with good advice and strong churchmanship. I selected out the parts on disciple-making (and there are many more good parts not shared here). My church has its staff reading and discussing it.
It is a 200-page book (before you get to the two appendices) and the book is challenging and well written. So I’ll leave you with another of his major points: “Our success as a church will never go beyond the commitment of individual members to make disciples.” Read the book, but put it into practice.
Ronald Keener Ronald E. Keener was editor of the national business and leadership magazine, "Church Executive," for eight years, and writes from Chambersburg, Pa.