DISCIPLE-MAKING PREACHERS

We are seeing a renewed emphasis in the church on making disciples who make disciples. The evangelical church is devoting time, money, and energy to developing resources for discipleship through conferences, workshops, books, and courses. This resurgent interest in making disciples is refreshing, given the fact that Christ left us with only one command in His great commission – make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:19). The mission of the church is singular. All our activities should support our disciple-making mission.

THE DIVORCE

Where does preaching fit into our disciple-making mission? There is a subtle but unmistakable message that many conferences and workshops on discipleship communicate. The message resonates through promotional materials, speaking schedules, and topical emphases. We must divorce discipleship from preaching to be effective disciple-makers. The underlying message goes something like this: Preaching is important, but we cannot make disciples from the pulpit. What a preacher says in the sermon has little to do with what a preacher must do to make disciples. Therefore, preachers need to focus less on preaching and more on discipleship to be effective disciple-makers.

The divorce is unbiblical. Teaching/preaching is an essential element of Christ’s commission (Mt. 28:20). Paul proclaimed Christ, and he admonished people personally to present each person “complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28-29). What we do in our pulpit work should be cut from the same cloth as what we do in our personal work. Both preaching from the pulpit and preaching in person are complementary elements of disciple-making. Neglecting the work of personal discipleship is detrimental to our mission. Ignoring the work of public preaching detaches discipleship from its foundation. Without effective preaching, disciple-making is diminished. Disciple-making in person builds on and expands disciple-making by preaching. Workshops on discipleship need to include sessions on disciple-making preaching to be truly effective.

Why the great divorce?

THE SACRED/SECULAR DIVIDE

Much preaching, especially expository preaching, has sometimes stressed biblical content with limited life application. Life application in messages tends to be about individual spiritual needs or church ministry responsibilities. Sermons focus on discipling for church life while ignoring the call to disciple for whole life (Ian Hussey, “Preaching for the Whole of Life,” The Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society, Vol. 20, No. 1 (March 2020), 66). Mark Greene wrote in 2010, “globally 98% of Christians are neither envisioned nor equipped for mission in 95% of their waking lives” (Greene, The Great Divide, 4). He cited the example of one woman who said that she was called forward in a worship service for a prayer of dedication as a Sunday School teacher. Yet, the church did not acknowledge her role as a public school teacher despite that being her primary calling.

Greene attributes this attitude to the sacred/secular divide in Christianity. (https://www.licc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/The-Great-Divide-Mark-Greene-1.pdf) We make a subtle, and often not so subtle, dichotomy between church work, which is holy and secular work which pays the bills. Pastors regularly call Christians to serve God in church but ignore their calling to serve God in their careers in this false dichotomy. Preachers give the impression that being a pastor or missionary is a holy calling but not a mechanic or nurse. Sermon applications commonly stress our church ministries or our personal walk with the Lord but infrequently address the challenges a disciple faces in his/her career.
 
As I look back over my years of preaching, I can see this tendency in myself. One public school teacher called attention to the fact that I rarely used illustrations of opportunities that public-school teachers have to honor Christ in their vocations. From then on, I tried to include more whole life applications in my sermons.

LACK OF WHOLE LIFE APPLICATION

If we want to integrate public preaching with personal discipleship strategies, we must hone our skills as preachers in the realm of whole-life application. Pastor Ian Hussey calls preachers to use illustrations and applications that relate to the everyday work lives of their people. We need a “faith-work integration” that engages people on the “frontlines” of life (Hussey, “Preaching for the Whole of Life”). Neil Hudson writes disciples are growing when “they have embraced their everyday contexts in such a way that they can believe that God could use them there for his purposes” (Hudson, Imagine Church, 163). Our job as preachers is to focus our sermon applications on those “everyday contexts” that people face in their careers and neighborhoods.

Disciple-making preachers show people how the biblical text relates to their working world. They challenge Christians to recognize God’s call on their lives to serve where they work and live. Preaching that makes disciples celebrates Christians who serve Christ well in the secular world, avoiding the tendency to make them feel like second-class citizens in Christ’s kingdom. Disciple-making preachers use illustrations and applications that demonstrate an understanding of the challenges people face as Christians in their careers. As preachers focus their sermon applications on frontline disciples, they lay a solid foundation for one on one discipleship during the week.

HONING OUR SKILLS IN WHOLE-LIFE APPS

How can we hone our skills as preachers in whole-life application? We must become learners of and listeners to the needs of people in their working lives. Preachers can spend time asking people about the challenges and opportunities they face on the job. There are several resources that preachers can use to help them apply the sermon to the working lives of their people. Here are some to get started.

The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity https://www.licc.org.uk/

The Theology of Work Bible Commentary https://www.theologyofwork.org/resources/the-theology-of-work-bible-commentary

Marketplace Chaplaincy https://mchapusa.com/

The Crocco Institute of Catalytic Leadership https://www.croccoleadership.com/

 

Let’s become disciple-making preachers!