How to Make a Disciple-Making Church
If our aim in disciple-making is to impact an entire church, we must first ask the question, What does it look like to be a disciple-making church? To start, a disciple-making church has a clear definition of the discipleship gospel, as we have been saying. If this isn’t the starting point, the church is doomed for failure right from the start. A gospel that calls people to be disciples and make disciples is the only thing that continues to empower disciple making in the church; it’s the only sustainable fuel for disciple making in the church. If you try to keep it running on anything else—hype, a pastor’s charisma, a great curriculum, etc.—it will run out of gas—guaranteed. Remember that the gospel you preach determines the disciples you make.
This is an excerpt from The Discipleship Gospel (available in eBook and paperback). Get a discount by using code ‘TBP’ at checkout when you order here.
A clear declaration of the discipleship gospel at the heart of the church is critical for all disciple making in the church. Not only does it help correct the fatal error of allowing discipleship to be considered as optional, it also breeds clarity among the congregation about what the gospel is. A clear, succinct, written declaration also enables viral reproducibility. In other words, it can be published and propagated. For example, at Cypress (Ben’s church), we printed our gospel definition on our website, printed it on 3x5 cards for distribution in our congregation, included it in our new member’s guide, and made it part of our main discipleship tool. Disciple making in the church begins with having and making known a specific gospel definition.
If our churches are going to make disciples, we need to be thoroughly saturated with the gospel. Ideally, discipleship in the local church begins in the pulpit with a pastor who is committed to preaching the discipleship gospel and seeing their congregation transformed into a disciple-making force for the advancing of God’s kingdom.
If the pastor isn’t willing to preach the discipleship gospel, it’s going to be a hard row to hoe. As Dallas Willard once said to me (Bill), “It’s tough to plow around the pulpit.” That is, if the pastor isn’t preaching the discipleship gospel from the pulpit, then the congregation is not hearing about:
Jesus being the Christ,
His death and resurrection,
His call for people to repent, believe, and follow him, and
How all these relate to each other as essential elements of the gospel
When a congregation isn’t regularly hearing the whole gospel, gospel confusion ensues. This also severely disables discipleship in the church as a whole. As Greg Ogden says, “Preaching at its best calls people to become disciples.”
Discipleship in the local church begins with pastors who are unafraid to preach the discipleship gospel; it’s a great joy to do this, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not overcome the church (Matt. 16:18), but that’s not a promise hell won’t vehemently attack the church back—only that it won’t overcome its progress! If there are focal points for the full-frontal attacks of hell upon the church, one of them is the pulpit and the person in it. If the devil can take a pastor down in any way, you better believe he’ll do it!
If only one person in the church has crystal clarity on the gospel, considers the gospel of first importance, and believes that the gospel is the mighty power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, they need to be that church’s pastor. If a pastor doesn’t want these things to be true of them, they should step down from their position. If our churches are going to make disciples, we need discipleship-gospel preachers.
1. From a private conversation in 2002 between Bill and Dallas Willard.
2. Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016) 68.