Many skills make for an effective minister, but there is one without which everything else we do is useless: make disciples. 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, we fail.
Everything else we do is ultimately in support of that one thing. Disciple-making was the central component of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19), and it ought to be the standard by which we should judge every ministry in the church.
1. Are you personally making disciples? Can you point to others serving in the mission now who were not believers when you met them? Are you reproducing yourself?
2. Is your church making disciples? Can you look around your church and point to people leading ministries who, ten years ago, were not even believers?
The good news is that making disciples is fairly easy. 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. It doesn’t require years of training. You just teach others to follow Christ as you follow him.
Should We Have a Discipleship “System”?
I asked one of the most effective disciplers I know to share with me his discipleship “system.” I was expecting a fancy curriculum with a silver bullet. Instead, he sent me a scanned list of verse references he had typed out by hand on a word processer from the 1980s. He explained that he gives this list to the person he’s trying to bring to faith and asks them to read the verses and then write out on a sheet of paper what they think each verse means and what God might be saying to them through it. He then meets with them the next week to discuss their answers. After that, he said, he asks them if they want to read a book of Bible together and do the same thing.
That was it. No secret sauce, no electrifying jolt of discipleship genius. Yet just about every time we do a baptism, that discipler has somebody represented in the lineup — either from him directly or through someone he’s led to Christ who is now bringing someone else to Christ.
Effective discipleship is not about a curriculum; it’s about one person learning from another person what it looks like to follow Jesus. If you know how to love and walk with Jesus, you can disciple someone else. Even if your life is far from perfect. Any sincere believer can teach another how to seek God, repent, read the Bible, pray, and share with others.
The Key Question for Every Preacher
Is my preaching making disciples or merely communicating knowledge? Every pastor is first and foremost a disciple-maker, and that ought to be the focus in every sermon. The criteria to answer, “Am I an effective preacher?” is not, “Do other pastors admire my skill with the text?” or “How many people shouted while I preach?” or “How much did we grow during the past year?” but “Am I moving my hearers to grow in Christlikness?”
Personally, my favorite preachers are those whom I can tell are focused on moving the congregation to maturity as they preach. If I am discipling a new believer who has just been saved out of a life of crime, I don’t tell them, “Meet with me for the next ten years and I’ll walk you through every verse of the Pentateuch line by line, showing you the hidden jewels buried in the Hebrew language.” Instead, I ask, “What areas do you most need to grow in, and how can we study the Bible together so that you can resist sin and live victoriously?”
Yes, I want to know the beauties and complexities of the Bible. I think preaching should have as its subject matter the Bible, and the best preaching works its ways through books of the Bible so that we don’t leave out anything God wants us to know. But the Great Commission is a mission, so every sermon should have as its focus inviting people to salvation and launching them out into that mission. Thus, if your preaching is not moving people into action, it is not true gospel preaching.
—J. D. Greear, adapted from Gaining by Losing. This book will show you how every Christian is “born to reproduce.”
How to Use This Book
Gaining by Losing will challenge your scorecard for gauging success in ministry. You will see how success isn’t about seating capacity, but sending capacity – and then you will learn how to create a thriving, sustainable “sending culture” in your own church.
Gaining by Losing
Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send