You and your family are going to take a trip…a long trip. So you pull up Google Maps on your computer just to get an idea of how long your trip is going to take and what it might look like. But what you find is not just one suggested path, but four. You now have four legitimate ways to get to your final destination. Whichever suggested route you take, you can rest assured you will reach your final destination. Each proposed way is a different length, a different cost, with different scenery, and different food options. Now it’s up to you to determine whether you want to take the quickest route, the cheapest route, or the scenic route. Always take the scenic route!
As pastors, we are all taking part in a long trip with the church God entrusted into our care. This long trip is one of leading our respective churches to make disciples. Becoming effective in disciple-making is our final destination; it’s what we are all striving towards. But like using Google Maps to plan a family trip, everywhere you look for directions on how to be successful in making disciples proposes a different strategy or program you should consider.
Many of the suggested routes are proven strategies for making disciples but might not be best suited for you and your context. But while many of us search for the next tried-and-true method for reaching the lost and leading them to maturity in Christ, we might have forgotten one of the greatest disciple-making tools available to every pastor and church: preaching the Word of God!
What Does Making Disciples Entail?
Before we move to consider how preaching effectively make disciples, let’s first think about what making disciples entail. First, it involves reaching the lost with the gospel. Our first goal as pastors and churches is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to those who are dead in their sin and call for them to respond. Discipleship can’t take place unless we have a disciple. Second, making disciples means helping believers mature in their faith and grow into Christlikeness.
Walking alongside fellow Christians as they become more like Christ, includes aiding them in developing a biblical worldview, helping them develop godly disciplines, encouraging them to use their gifts to serve others, leading them to see Christ as Lord over every aspect of their lives, and ultimately, teaching them to go and make disciples. Making disciples is the primary mission of the church; it is why we exist. Therefore, as the shepherd of God’s people, pastors must determine how to evangelize the lost and produce mature believers within their church. Look no further than the faithful proclamation of God’s Word.
Now picture your Sunday morning worship service. Guess what? Unbelievers are there. Some of the lost are members of your church who are not true believers, others are younger children or youth who have heard but yet believed, and then there are the friends of your members who have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel. One of your target audiences will be listening to your message. What do you do? Give them the Word! In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul writes that the Scriptures we handle each Sunday morning “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). Paul is not merely referring to evangelistic passages in God’s Word, but the entirety of God’s Word, which is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit” (Heb. 4:12).
Our hope, as we stand before the lost and preach the Word, is not in our slick presentation, air-tight arguments, or hilarious anecdotes, but in the living, active Word of God that is able to penetrate even the hardest of hearts. Regardless of where our preaching passage falls in the Bible, there will be legitimate ways for us to connect our passage to Christ and to call unbelievers to turn to Christ in faith. If we believe the entirety of Scripture is living, active, and able to make one wise for salvation, we have every reason to believe God can and will use our faithful preaching to save the lost.
Look again at those in attendance on Sunday morning. Do you see them? Christians—mature and immature—are there to hear the Word preached. While most pastors have developed some sort of plan for discipling their congregation, many have never considered the importance of their preaching as a part of their discipleship plan. We must not downplay the potential impact of consistent, faithful, expository preaching for making mature disciples. Whether a Christian is new in their faith or has been growing in the Lord for half a century, the preaching of God’s Word remains a primary way God grows His people. Returning to Paul’s letter to Timothy, we read, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
According to Paul, the inspired Word of God is beneficial for believers and able to equip them for good works. As pastors consistently preach God’s Word, Christians will be taught truths about God and living for Him, reproved for their sinful attitudes, words, and actions, corrected of unbiblical beliefs about God, the gospel, and Christian living, trained in righteous living, and equipped for good works. Notice how Paul not only focuses on what God’s Word is able to do but how it prepares us for what we are called to do. Making disciples is much more than teaching biblical truths for life change; it is also calling on disciples to act on those truths. Preaching is an effective way of helping Christians grow in their faith as the Word of God we proclaim encourages, convicts, and challenges Christians to live for Christ.
Practical Ways We Can Preach to Make Disciples
Let me conclude with two practical ways we can preach to make disciples.
Assume the Lost are listening
If we assume everyone listening is a Christian, we will preach our passage as if everyone is a Christian. Instead, we need to assume some in our church membership are not Christians and others attending might be hearing about Jesus Christ’s saving work on the cross for the first time. By assuming the lost are among us, we will be more inclined to intentionally and clearly share the hope of the gospel for lost sinners and to call them to repentance.
Always Apply Your Text
Let’s just admit that applying the text can be difficult at times. And yet, application is necessary in each sermon. When we begin to view preaching as a primary means of discipleship we will also see the true value of application. If we apply the text well, we are offering hearers specific truths to believe, actions to take, commands to obey, and sins to avoid. Applying the text is a way for the pastor to say to his people, “The Scripture we just studied together is calling for a response.” Again, preaching as discipleship is more than teaching truths, it is calling for disciples to go and follow the master in obedience to Scripture.
Pastors, don’t underestimate the power of God’s Word proclaimed for making disciples.