Pastors’ Forum: Evangelism and Discipleship in the Local Church
Editor’s note: We asked several pastors about practical ways they encourage evangelism and discipleship in the life of their particular local church. Their answers are below.
Let’s start with basics. If pastors want to develop a culture of personal evangelism and discipleship in the church, they should be practicing it themselves. Yes, pastors do evangelize and make disciples through their preaching. But they also need to be meeting with people one-to-one or in small groups. Being engaged in personal ministry sets an example for others in the church and it keeps disciple-making in the forefront of the pastor’s own thinking and experience. And with so many things in ministry that can dry out a pastor’s soul, pastors will be refreshed as they see the Word working in the lives of real individuals. Pastors can’t and shouldn’t disciple the entire congregation single-handedly. But adding a weekly small group Bible study and a regular one-to-one meeting or two or three to his schedule can have a remarkable impact on the congregation, and on his own ministry.
Encouraging Evangelism: When I came to Castleview Baptist Church over six years ago their evangelistic instincts were almost entirely programmatic (preschool for the community, sports league with our property, annual VBS and “Fall Festival,” etc.). In order to encourage our people to be personally evangelistic (and eventually realize the corporate aspect of evangelism), we have worked hard to do three things:
(1) Recover the awesomeness of the gospel. This meant taking it off the shelf of Christian life past and realizing why we are still amazed by our justification, particularly how it provides motivation and confidence in our ongoing sanctification. This thawed out people’s hearts.
(2) Elevate the value of and personal responsibility for personal relationships. The gospel freed people to love others, forgive others, serve others, learn from others, and be hospitable with others. It started within the church and eventually moved to doing so with non-Christians all around us.
(3) Encourage and publicly promote people’s pursuit of this who were seated all around us on a Sunday. This helped people take encouragement from each other’s practices, even if they appeared unfruitful.
Encouraging discipleship: When I came to Castleview Baptist Church, few people talked about “discipleship” and even some elders asked what it meant or looked like. I worried less about vocabulary and more about practices.
- It started with asking my leadership to identify one person they could meet with on a regular basis to “do good to spiritually,” a person who would say they were better in their walk with Christ for having spent that time with them. I would later teach the elders a series three different times on what discipleship is and why we want to do it.
- I then prayed about and went after nine guys to meet with me every week for a year a half in order to read theology and talk about its implications for our lives. After we finished, they were encouraged to do the same for others. (We now have about 70+ people who have all read through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology together in groups).
- I began to go around meeting with older saints and asking them to reach out to younger saints in the church. When they told me they were not the best examples in the past or didn’t know “enough,” I assured them that was okay, that they could humbly admit this as a part of their growth together.
- My wife wrote a booklet on how women could disciple other women since we often heard the feedback: “we don’t know what to do.” As the book was not really gender specific, we gave it to anyone and everyone.
- Every year, I identify a group of guys that I meet with for a year and invest in. When that year is up, I tell them to go do the same for others.
- We give out a ton of books and tell people to find someone to read and talk about it with.
- On our membership application, there is a section that asks, “Have you ever discipled another Christian? If so, tell us about it.” and “Have you ever been discipled by another Christian? If so, tell us about it.” We do this to start the conversation about discipleship from the very beginning. (By the way, most people say “no” to both questions.)
- Be a model of personal evangelism and discipleship.
- Prioritize the church’s corporate prayer time with requests from people involved in evangelism and discipleship.
- Preach in a way that shows how every passage points to Jesus Christ, who now sends us to make disciples of all nations.
- In membership class, emphasize that if people join, they are not just joining a family of believers, but a family of believers with a God-given Great Commission.
- In teaching others how to disciple people, regularly remind disciplers of the importance of multiplication.
- For those interested in discipleship, make it clear up front that everything they are learning is not intended to stay with them, but for them to give to others.
- Pray, pray, and pray for God to stir up His people to have His heart for the nations.
I think the greatest thing a pastor can do to encourage his congregation to do evangelism and discipleship is to personally do evangelism and discipleship. A pastor ought to model what he preaches, boldly sharing the gospel with those in his neighborhood, and engaging in regular discipling relationships with those in the church. It’s also helpful when a pastor shares his experiences, but not in an exclusively “pastor as hero” or “pastor as zero” way. Pastors get to hear lots of stories about evangelism and discipleship happening among the people in their congregation, and it helps to share those stories as well.
This is a hard question to answer not because it is hard to understand but because it is hard to do. The answer is quite simple: the pastor encourages evangelism and discipleship by prayer, teaching, and example:
1. Prayer. I seek to pray regularly that my congregation will share their faith regularly and disciple one another willingly. (Gulp!)
2. Teaching. If the gospel is both the way into Christ’s kingdom and how I live in Christ’s kingdom then I must preach the gospel every week. If I teach the gospel clearly then people will be drawn to Christ and taught how to follow him at the same time. I try to work hard at preaching in such a way that expects believers to be doing this as well as responding to the gospel itself. Our Sunday evening services have the explicit aim of training believers in prayer, evangelism, and discipleship . . . interestingly, that does not make them very popular!? (Preaching is not a spectator sport.)
3. Example. I do not have time to do everything but I must model the importance of this ministry. Therefore, throughout my ministry I have always tried to meet up 1-on-1 with one non-Christian in order to read the Bible with evangelistically and another guy in order to disciple. (I’m convicted as I write this because I realize that I’m only doing one of those currently. Nevertheless, I have managed to do it most of the time.) To model does not mean to perfectly illustrate but it does mean that no one in my church is going to get on with it if I don’t.
We press our people on evangelism and discipleship in every single sermon, every single week. We want to give applications in those two areas because every single text that we preach has implications for discipleship and evangelism. Every text contains something every Christian should believe and do, and every text points to the reality that non-Christians need a Savior.
We encourage every person to be regularly praying for and building a relationship with at least one non-believer, and to be consistent in inviting them to participate in the life of the church through our community groups and Sunday morning worship. We provide “invite cards” which are business cards with service times and a map and our website on one side, and on the other side it says, “Meet me at New Life” and has space for their name and phone number. Our people hand these out at the coffee shop, leave them (along with generous tips, I hope) at restaurants, and give them to new friends.
Finally, a good principle is that you get more of what you celebrate as a church. So we regularly post stories on our website and social media about people who are actively engaged in the work of discipleship and evangelism, and we make baptisms a big deal each time we do them. We want to celebrate discipleship and evangelism efforts—faithfulness—not necessarily “success.” So some of the stories don’t end with someone receiving Christ or growing in Christ. Sometimes we simply celebrate faithfulness.
Preach to the non-Christians in your weekly gathering. Answer the questions they have of the Christian faith in general and of your selected text in particular. Graciously show them the futility of their worldview, and direct them to the Savior. This, of course, presupposes that we pastors talk with and listen to non-Christians regularly. We need to learn their hopes and fears, wrestle with their criticisms, and address the gospel to their situation. All of this better equips the people in our churches to engage in evangelism themselves.
Beyond that, we need to keep before our people that we are not disciples unless we are making disciples. That’s the logic of the Great Commission, and we mustn’t escape it. We aren’t following Christ if we’re not actively helping others follow Christ. Given that reality, we encourage evangelism and discipleship by regularly challenging our self-deceived notion that discipleship is little more than piety and publicly confessing our sinful lack of love for others.
The obvious thing here is to model discipleship. Have a couple guys you are investing in and from time to time expose those relationships in a manner that isn’t arrogant, but instructive.
Additionally, it helps to routinely put different faces up in front of the body in corporate services, Community Groups, etc. and to then provide them feedback. This does at least two things:
1. It teaches the congregation that others are being invested in.
2. It helps the person be built up.
Lastly, tell the stories of redemption in the life of the church. Whether that happens in smaller settings over meals, Community Groups, or in corporate services, try and expose people to what is happening in discipleship around the church and celebrate it.
I’ve only been pastoring four months now, but here are some of the practical things I’ve tried to implement so far:
1. Model discipleship to others so that members think it’s a normal part of the Christian life.
2. Provide opportunities for people to build friendships first (this seems important in a culture where discipleship is slow, e.g. where I am in the UK).
3. Do a small group Bible Study on discipleship. We have just worked through “Building One Another” in the 9Marks Bible study series.