Two Tools for Preachers on Applying Scripture

The difference between a hearer of the Word and a doer of the Word is stark—just read James 1:22–25. Those who only hear the Word and fail to live it out deceive themselves (1:22) and are like a man who looks into a mirror, “goes away and at once forget what he looks like” (1:24). But the one who hears the Word and does it “will be blessed in his doing” (1:25).

As preachers of God’s Word, we desire to do God’s Word and produce other doers of the Word. One crucial step in producing doers is by applying Scripture in our teaching and preaching.

Just like preachers need to grow in our handling of God’s Word, we need to grow in applying it, shepherding God’s people (and ourselves) with the transformative intent of the Word of God.

While many see the need for application, many pastors fall into the pitfall of applying Scripture in the same ways to the same types of people without thinking through the wide swath of people and circumstances present in the pews. The two resources below will help you think through application for pew-sitters in different places spiritually:

  1. Sermon Application Grid developed by Mark Dever and 9Marks. See blank grid and a sample of a filled-out grid.
  2. Tim Keller: The Kinds of People to Consider as You Apply Scripture in Preaching (Expansive List) (PDF)

By no means are these the only tools for thinking through applying Scripture, rather they provide a helpful framework for thinking through applications for a diverse group of people. Our prayer is that they would help you teach and apply God’s Word for maximum spiritual transformation.

Related Links:

2 Corinthians: The Supreme Pastoral Letter – Interview with Phil Smith

Download MP3 (right-click to save) | Listen on YouTube

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran: When we think of the Pastoral Epistles, we usually think of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus because they were written to pastors and bear the official title of “Pastoral Epistle.” Even so, some have called the book of 2 Corinthians the “Supreme Pastoral Letter” because it helps us see the pastoral heart and pastoral suffering of the Apostle Paul in a unique way.[1]

Since Leadership Resources is an organization that encourages and equips pastors to teach God’s word with God’s heart, I thought it would be useful to talk about this book that provides unique value for pastoral ministry. With me is Phil Smith, the Executive Director of Leadership Resources. Before coming to LRI, Phil pastored for ten years.

Phil, you’ve shared with the LRI staff how God has used 2 Corinthians to encourage you greatly in your ministry. How did this love develop?

Phil Smith

PS: Thank you, Kevin. My love for 2 Corinthians really developed during my time as a pastor. Coming right out of seminary, I went into a pastorate for ten years on an island in southeast Alaska. There were challenges in that pastorate. I sought to figure out: How do I evaluate ministry? How am I doing as a pastor? I had a different personality from the previous pastor. Was I failing because I wasn’t like him?

I came to love the message of 2 Corinthians: that if you are loving your people, if you are clear with the gospel, shepherding people with the Word and you’re prayerful, depending on the Lord in it—that is what true Christian ministry is about. It was very encouraging for me. It gave me great confidence in my ministry. People in my congregation also needed encouragement in their own ministries—to persevere in ministry even when it’s hard. Much of the message in 2 Corinthians is persevering in the midst of difficulty in ministry.  

KH: What’s going on in 2 Corinthians? We know Paul is writing to the Corinthians again. Can you give us traveling instructions to help us understand the original context?

PS: You’ve got to do traveling instructions with 2 Corinthians. I did a conference on 2 Corinthians recently, and the first sermon was simply doing traveling instructions – starting in Acts 18 when Paul first goes and plants the church in Corinth, then moving to the tumultuous relationship that develops between him and a segment of the church in Corinth as it just descends into mayhem between him and the church. This is the fourth letter to the Corinthians, we think, based on what we read in the two letters that we have here (see 1 Corinthians 5:9–11; 2 Corinthians 2:3–4, 9, 7:8, 12). To see Paul’s continuing, loving pursuit of this church despite the way many of them treated him is remarkable, as is his shepherding care for them. To read this letter in that context is particularly helpful.

KH: One of the key ideas in 2 Corinthians, especially for the pastor, is the idea of New Covenant ministry. Can you define that for us?

PS: Yes, he does spend some time talking about himself in contrast to what seems to be some version of Judaizers in the church, the “super apostles.” They came as “servants of Christ, servants of righteousness” but served a different gospel. In chapter three he contrasts his own ministry with this ministry that emphasized the Ten Commandments, the Jewish traditions, and that sort of thing. So, those who emphasized rules and regulations without surrounding it with the gospel of Christ, that’s what you would say is a modern-day Judaizer. I think we’re all in danger of that in our churches where we emphasize rules without getting to the gospel of Jesus. New Covenant ministry is a ministry that is immersed in the gospel and empowered by the Spirit, looking to the Spirit to work through the gospel of Jesus Christ and expecting God to powerfully work.

New Covenant ministry is a ministry that is immersed in the gospel and empowered by the Spirit, looking to the Spirit to work through the gospel of Jesus Christ and expecting God to powerfully work.

A quick story: A pastor wanted to be hired here at LRI and we started listening to some of his sermons. I still remember while driving to Michigan listening to a sermon from the Old Testament that hardly touched on Jesus let alone the grace found in Jesus. In a sense, he was laying guilt upon guilt on his congregation, and it was like congregational abuse without pointing to the grace of Jesus. That’s a modern-day Judaizer. New Covenant ministry focuses on and gets to the grace we find in Christ.

KH: An important theme of 2 Corinthians is transformation. That pastor preaching in that way really lacks the transformative power of the gospel. It heaps rules upon people, but that isn’t going to change their hearts. With the New Covenant, we have new hearts, by God’s grace, and His Spirit, who is working in our hearts to transform us into Christ’s likeness.

PS: Absolutely. He talks about the surpassing power that comes from God (2 Corinthians 4:7)—His Spirit is transforming us from one degree of glory to another.

KH: Amen. You already mentioned one sign that that particular pastor didn’t grasp New Covenant ministry well. What are some other signs that maybe a pastor doesn’t fully grasp the implications of New Covenant ministry?

PS: The Corinthians struggled with this. They had a very worldly perspective on ministry, and even from the beginning of 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about the cross, the power of the cross, and the pattern of the cross. Pastors are so often influenced by a worldly view of what success looks like, and New Covenant ministry is shaped by the cross and how we do ministry. This means that we are not surprised when there is suffering and hardship or when we feel weak or have feelings of inadequacy.

When I was in pastoral ministry, I asked, “Isn’t there more to ministry? Loving people, speaking the Word to people, speaking the gospel to people and praying for them? Is that it? Can’t there be anything more exciting to make it really powerful?” Actually, no—that’s where the power is.

We tend to want to make our ministries more impressive, more flashy. The power is in the clearly presented gospel and being servants of God who are coming as servants of the people – to serve them by bringing them the gospel.

KH: Like it says in 2 Corinthians 4:7, ”We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” It’s a crucial point to remember. Something that we see in 1 & 2 Corinthians is that the Corinthian culture valued power and oratory and celebrity, which is why the super apostles were such a draw. How does 2 Corinthians’ message speak to our culture today that emphasizes so much platform and influence?

PS: The church in America needs this letter directly preached to them. In a sense Paul is giving us a new set of glasses, as it were, to evaluate what true Christian ministry looks like. So often, we have a worldly set of glasses on that looks for success and, as you said, eloquence and magnetic personalities – people with imposing bearing about them that people are in awe of. People want a celebrity kind of leader. Those pastors who might not have that eloquence or a big personality may think they’re a bad pastor, when they’re really doing a good job, because they are faithfully teaching the Bible. Those pastors get discouraged, and they may give up on ministry when they should be encouraged, emboldened, and confident.

Paul demonstrates great confidence and courage in this letter, even though he wasn’t as eloquent as some. He didn’t have a huge personality like it seems some of them had there. He didn’t boast in the way that they boasted, and yet he had great confidence in the power of the gospel.

At the same time you have some pastors that are really doing a bad job because they’re not clearly preaching the gospel. They’re not loving their people; they are not men of prayer. Yet, because they have those worldly things about them, people pat them on the back. They say they are doing a good job. They’re really not.

So, that’s what’s so crucial for not only pastors but for the whole church to evaluate rightly. That’s what this letter is about: helping us understand what true gospel ministry is to look like.

KH: It’s interesting to think about. First Corinthians 3 talks about how our ministries will be exposed for what they truly are on the Day of Christ. It’s vital to use the right building materials as we do the work of the Lord because we will be judged (1 Corinthians 3:13–14). The artificial fruit and big platforms and all the flashy lights and a lot of followers may be proved to be nothing. What worse thing can we think of than all our work and ministry be burned up on the Day of Christ? But thank the Lord there is so much power in the true gospel and in weak ministry.

There’s power in weakness, there’s joy in sorrow. There is much sorrow in this letter and yet much joy. There’s life through death. As Paul is suffering, life comes through that. There’s confidence amidst apparent failure.

PS: Just as you said there, a weak ministry. That’s the beauty of this letter and its many paradoxes. There’s power in weakness, there’s joy in sorrow. There is much sorrow in this letter and yet much joy. There’s life through death. As Paul is suffering, life comes through that. There’s confidence amidst apparent failure. They thought he was a failure. In chapter 13 he refers to that and yet has such confidence, even though they think he’s failing. So, I hope, just by this conversation, that people are encouraged to reread 2 Corinthians, be encouraged by it, and preach it.

[1] Dr. Murray J. Harris wrote this in his article on 2 Corinthians in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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How to Grow in Humility: Let Philippians Guide You

After love, humility is the most discussed virtue in the New Testament.

While many biblical verses and books speak on humility, Philippians makes a unique contribution to the conversation. For that reason, LRI staff recently read through Philippians with a special eye on growing in humility in order to be better servants of Christ and ministry partners. Below are ten observations from Philippians our staff shared.

  1. Paul and Timothy as servants of Christ Jesus (1:1)

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus”

The book’s first verse shows the humility of Paul, not only by donning the “servant” title but also by not emphasizing his apostolic office (although we know sometimes it’s needed; see Galatians 1:1 and 2 Corinthians 1:1). Paul is known by many as the church’s greatest theologian and most influential missionary, yet here he chooses the title of servant. Do you view yourself as a servant?

  1. Joyful in Christ even while in prison (1:7)

Paul wrote Philippians from prison and yet is filled with joy. Suffering for the cause of Christ shows tremendous humility in the apostle and reflects a deep and abiding faith.

  1. Paul valued the proclamation of Christ more than silencing those who seek to afflict him. (1:15-18)

When considering those who preach Christ from envy or rivalry to afflict Paul in his imprisonment (1:17), Paul rejoices that Christ is proclaimed and refuses to compete with such preachers. Paul doesn’t want to win an argument; he wants Christ to be proclaimed.

  1. The command to consider others as more important than yourself (2:1-4)

Verses 1 and 2 of chapter 2 remind us that the Holy Spirit works in born-again believers to produce unity. Then Paul exhorts us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (2:3) and to look to the interests of others (2:4). In Christ, these commands are not impossible to follow but should become easier and more joyful to obey as we grow in grace.

  1. The example of Christ (2:5-8)

Our Lord is the ultimate example of humility:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The Creator of the universe donned human flesh and wrapped a towel around his waist to serve. He could have avoided the cross and instantly struck His enemies down, exalting Himself. Instead, He obeyed the Father’s every command. Christ’s later exaltation (2:9-11) reminds believers of how those who humble themselves before the Lord will be lifted up (James 4:10).

  1. Nothing compares to Christ. (3:3-8)

Paul counted his earthly credentials as a “loss for the sake of Christ” (3:7). His treasure is Christ, not the fleeting pleasure of human recognition.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

What would you have a hard time giving up for the sake of Christ? Your ministry or ministry credentials? If you treasure anything over Christ, you settle for second best and reject a greater glimpse into His sufficiency and glory.

  1. Our glorious future spurs on present humility. (3:20-21)

Our heavenly citizenship has a direct impact on how we view our bodies. While donning our humble earthly bodies in the present, we must remember the glorious bodies Christ will grant us in the future. These bodies are a gift and are not our own. This future vision should stoke the fires of hopeful perseverance.

  1. Agreeing in the Lord for gospel unity (4:1-4)

Paul wrote Philippians to confront Euodia and Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Those last three words (“in the Lord”) repeat three times in these four verses. Believers are to “stand firm thus in the Lord” (4:1), “agree in the Lord” (4:2), and “rejoice in the Lord” (4:4). This means believers humbly and rightfully place the Lord’s priorities over their own and don’t rejoice in airing their own opinions. This means putting our agendas on the backburner for the sake of the gospel.

  1. Letting your reasonableness be evident to everyone (4:5)

When dealing with and avoiding conflict, reasonableness (sometimes translated as gentleness) is crucial to a peaceful resolution. Reasonableness lays aside our desire to be right and instead focuses on conflict resolution.

  1. Leaning into Christ’s strength for all our needs (4:11-13)

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Paul knows its not by his own strength that he perseveres. He knows that the strength and provision of Christ extends to every situation—and he rejoices.

Much more can be said about humility from Philippians. Our prayer is that your humility would grow and lead you to greater joy in Christ and gospel partnership.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Randy Alcorn on Fighting Sexual Immorality in Ministry

It is no accident that 1 Timothy 3:1–7’s description of a biblical elder mentions the devil. Twice. The enemy of our souls wants godly leaders to fall into all kinds of sin. And while all sin is destructive, the consequences of sexual sin are uniquely devastating for the church and the pastor’s family.

Pastor, what steps are you taking to ensure your sexual purity?

The following links from Randy Alcorn will help you think through practical steps to avoid falling and remind you of sin’s great cost.

  1. Strategies to Keep from Falling: Practical Steps to Maintain Your Purity and Ministry
  2. Deterring Immorality by Counting Its Cost
  3. Resources for Sexual Purity

Two other recent articles on the topic:

‘Every Member’ Conference with Tony Payne | Video from Nexus18

Making disciples is for every believer, not just pastors and leaders. This is a truth that Tony Payne and the Matthias Media team get, and that’s one reason we love them.

We’ve shared before about books Tony has written (The Trellis and the Vine, The Vine Project, How to Walk into Church) and now share videos from the recent Nexus 18 ‘Every Member’ Conference:

Watch Video Sessions

Nexus 2018 Booklet (for notetaking)


1. ‘Every member theology’ Tony Payne (with Marty Sweeney)
2. ‘Every member missionaries’ David Williams
3. ‘Every member speech’ Tony Payne + Question time
4. ‘Sending every member’ Carl Matthei (UNSW Chaplain)

Register for next year’s Nexus Conference.

Felt-Needs Preaching vs. Consecutive Exposition: What’s Best for God’s People?

I recently spoke with a pastor who describes the rationale for his church’s preaching:

“Each week we think through needs in the congregation and preach a message to meet those needs.”

This approach, what many call “felt needs” preaching, appropriately seeks to help their congregation grow spiritually and overcome issues they are facing. In this particular pastor’s case, it stems from a love for his flock and a deep knowledge of their lives—something every pastor should strive for.

Occasions exist when needs-focused preaching should be preferred, at least in the short run. For example, when a congregation has experienced a major tragedy, or if there is a serious struggle in the congregation, the pastor might want to preach to the situation.

But is preaching to felt needs the best practice for preachers over the long haul? I don’t think so, especially when contrasted with consecutive expository preaching through entire books of the Bible. Here are four reasons:

  1. God knows our needs better than we do.

The God who created us knows us better than we know ourselves. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). His Word alone meets our every spiritual need and exposes thoughts and intentions of the heart (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12). Our attempts to faithfully diagnose needs cannot compare to God’s: we need God’s Word to shine its light into our blind spots and expose our true needs.

Just as preventative medicine is better than treating a health issue after it appears, preaching through books of the Bible meets a variety of needs that the congregation and the preacher might not know they have. Otherwise, we depend on our limited knowledge to diagnose needs and prescribe solutions.

  1. Our felt needs are often not real needs or our deepest needs.

A great danger in having felt needs as your starting point in preaching is man-centeredness. Our felt needs may actually be “first-world problems” that expose our shallow, myopic state. Often what we consider “needs”—like significance, prosperity, or even health—are expelled by having a more Scriptural view of God and how He works in the world.

Sinners have the true need of a Savior who transforms hearts and lives as people repent and believe the gospel. How many sinners would say that’s a need they are conscious of? A temptation for felt-needs preaching is to give people self-help Band-Aids when they really need a heart transplant that only Christ can give.

  1. We miss deeper contours of biblical passages/books.

God gave us the Bible in book format, not random collections of verses and stories. If preachers only preach topical messages or one-off expositions, they will miss deeper contours of the passage and books of the Bible. Preaching the big message of a book helps us teach our people to read the Bible better and treat it less like a book of inspirational quotations or a self-help manual.

For example, not preaching through the big ideas of Genesis will lose the overarching story of God preserving His creation purposes to bless the world in spite of the sinfulness of humanity. That probably doesn’t meet a felt need, but it meets the real need of humanity to know that evil isn’t something that hijacks God’s sovereign plan.

This is why LRI recommends preaching the Bible as it was given: in complete books.

  1. We communicate that the Bible is primarily about meeting our needs instead of receiving the revelation of God.

The Bible does meet our needs, but it does more. The Bible is not primarily about us, it is about Jesus (Luke 24:24). Human history is not primarily about us, but about God and His actions to redeem sinful humanity through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3–14). Approaching the Bible as God’s revelation of Himself to humanity puts God in the center of our lives and not ourselves. This means approaching the Bible with the question, “How can I fix my problem?” is useful, but incomplete. When we put God in His proper place, everything else in life will certainly fall in line (Matthew 6:33).

A Better Way

Some argue that preaching to felt needs helps you immediately gain the attention of your audience. While that may be true, we don’t have to choose between meeting needs and preaching the Word. We can simultaneously preach through a book of the Bible, keep our listeners’ lives in mind, and make our message engaging for a 21st-century audience. This way, God sets the agenda, and needs are met organically.

Here are a few suggestions for preaching through books of the Bible while keeping real needs in mind:

  • Consider preaching through books that deal with issues confronting your congregation. If your congregation lacks evangelistic zeal or harbors bitterness, try preaching Jonah. If your congregation needs training on the Christian worldview, try Genesis. If your congregation lacks unity, preach Philippians.
  • When a need becomes obvious, find a biblical text (or several) addressing the issue, and preach it in an expository fashion.
  • As you consider each text you preach, think through the overlap between your congregation’s needs and the text’s main ideas. With the Spirit’s help, you should find more relevant application than at first glance. You may find the 9Marks application grid or Tim Keller’s list of people to consider as you apply Scripture helpful tools to use.
  • Just focus on preaching the Word—God has a way of responding to needs. For example, at the height of the #MeToo headlines exposing sexual abuse, Colin Smith was preaching through 2 Samuel and reached 2 Samuel 13—the story of Amnon’s rape of his sister Tamar. In preaching it, he drew powerful attention to how Scripture speaks to our deepest pains and instilled confidence in his listeners about Scripture’s sufficiency.

Maintaining Momentum in Disciple-Making Ministry (Phase Five)

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below from 19:12–end.

Download mp3 | Listen on YouTube

SM: The fifth and final part of the process is what we call maintaining momentum.

This is very important, because so often we get excited at the beginning of the school year, we launch a new ministry initiative, and maybe it runs out of steam by Christmas. We’re busy and we get tired. It’s very important to maintain momentum. Part of maintaining momentum is that constant cycle of reforming your personal convictions and doing loving honest evaluations.

How is the ministry growing? Where are we seeing gospel growth in people? Are there blockages that are stopping us? Do we need to change our tactics perhaps? Perhaps what we are doing isn’t working. We need to find another way of doing it.

Part of maintaining momentum (this might sound counterintuitive) is giving each other permission to fail. If we don’t feel there’s momentum and we realize it’s because it’s not working, it’s okay to say, “This didn’t work. Let’s fail forward. How do we learn from this? And then, how do we change it and then try a new initiative to do it?”

Another key component for maintaining momentum is what we call the Uluru Graph (as developed by Phillip Jensen).

Uluru Graph - Phillip Jensen tool for Leading Ministry

The Uluru Graph (above) contains an incline, a high long plateau, and then a decline on the other side.

When you think about the life cycle of a typical church or ministry, the first five to ten years is just starting up and growing. (That is the beginning incline).

At some point in the startup phase, you need to hit the line of viability. The line of viability is where you have enough people, enough finances, and perhaps a place to meet so that you’re a viable ministry. That can be anywhere from two years to ten years, depending on your context.

Eventually, the initial growth will wear off, and you will plateau. When you plateau, it’s important to understand that the length of that plateau will depend on your ability to reinvent yourself as a ministry – to innovate and implement. I’m not talking about being creative for the sake of being creative, but always asking ourselves, “How are we doing making disciples? Do we need to reinvent the way we do things? Do we need to keep innovating and growing?” So, I’m not talking about marrying the culture – just asking ourselves, “Are we reinventing?”

If you don’t reinvent, the plateau period will be shorter for your ministry, and eventually, you will start the long slow road of decline. Once you decline, it’s very difficult to turn around. Eventually, you will get below the line of viability, where you won’t have the finances or people anymore. And the ministry will end up dying and closing its doors. So, when you are on that plateau, you need to keep reinventing and implementing.

If you’re leading a ministry or church, it’s good to have a conversation and ask each other, “Where are we on the Uluru graph? Are we in the growing phase, or are we on that plateau? If we are on that plateau, how can we innovate and implement and keep reinventing what we’re doing so that we can maintain momentum? If we’re on the decline, where are we on the decline? What radical emergency steps do we need to take?”

If you are below the line of viability, maybe it’s time to have that hard conversation that it’s time to close the doors.

KH: One hard reality of the five-step process outlined in The Vine Project is that implementing the process takes time. You can’t just plow through it in a year or two. What encouragement would you give to a person who is a pastor at a church that just has an uphill battle of changing church culture?

SM: First, I would like to remind them of something I remind myself of that Martyn Lloyd Jones said many years ago: “Soul work is slow work.” I’ve called that to mind many times when I’ve been discouraged in ministry or I’ve been meeting with someone and feel like nothing is happening. The reality is that the truth takes time.

It’s helpful to remember that God is very patient with us. He is a careful gardener, pruning us as we go. It’s a process of years. When we were converted, it wasn’t overnight that we had all our theological “i”s dotted and our “t”s crossed and we were mature Christians. God is slowing pruning us, growing us, and transforming us in the image of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through the Word of God and prayer by the power of His Holy Spirit.

The second thing I would say to encourage people who are struggling is that, as you mentioned, this process doesn’t happen overnight. We want things to happen. I would say, realistically, depending on your context, you’re talking three to five years to see any significant change. And that’s hard for us to hear because we live in a culture where we want a quick fix. We’re looking for seven steps. Give me that secret silver bullet, that magical thing I need to do to build a bigger, better church. We need to release our minds from building a bigger, better church. We are not called to build a bigger, better church. We are called to make disciples of all the nations. Our goal is to be faithful. It’s to be faithful to God, it’s to be faithful to His Word, it’s to be faithful to people. That’s success.

It’s just like marriage. A successful marriage is a marriage where you are faithful to one another, right? I’m not talking about the basics of marital faithfulness – you’re faithful to one another in all things. Ministry is the same way. It’s about being faithful to God and His Word and His people. That’s success.

[Read our quotation summary of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent Hughes.]

The reality is that it takes most churches about five years to turn the first corner. The hard thing about that is, typically in a church, most pastors last three to five years, and then they move on. They get frustrated, or the congregation gets frustrated with them. “We’re not seeing enough change, and it’s time for you to go.” Or the pastor thinks he’s not seeing enough changes and, “It’s time for me to go.”

And I say, “Stop! Actually, this is where you just might turn the first corner.” Don’t leave after five years. After five years have an evaluation with your team and ask where you are going. Then ask what’s next?

KH: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a disciple-making church isn’t built in a day either. And trying to shortcut the process can potentially do damage to the real work in ministry.

SM: Absolutely.

KH: As we said, the fourth “P” of the four “P”s of discipleship is perseverance. So, may the Lord help us persevere, and may those who are reading persevere in the ministry of making disciples.

SM: Absolutely. And I just want to say as well, Kevin, that we need to remember that people are not projects. God has called us in ministry to shepherd His people. People take time, and every person is different. So, when you go through these phases of conviction with your church, some people will be on board with you right away. Some people will need time to be convicted and convinced that this is the way to go. And some people might stand against you. That’s just the reality of ministry. So, you’re working with people, and every person is different. It just takes time.

Learn more about The Vine Project or Vinegrowers Ministry.

How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making

We long to see the Word of God flow mightily through every church to every nation. For the Word to flow powerfully through a church, it must start with leadership and flow to members who labor toward gospel growth in their own lives and the lives of others. We want the Word of God and prayer to drive the church culture.

We’ve shared our love for Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s book The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Around Disciple-Making on the blog before. This new series of posts shares the transcript of a conversation between Sean Martin and Kevin Halloran through the five phases of The Vine Project.

How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making

  1. The Foundational Convictions of Expository Ministry (Phase One) | 0:00–07:54
  2. The Four “P”s of Disciple Making Ministry | 07:55–10:30
  3. Reforming Your Personal Culture (Phase Two) |10:31– 13:46
  4. Honestly Evaluating Your Disciple-Making Ministry (Phase Three)| 13:47–16:11
  5. Discipleship in the Church: Innovation and Implementation (Phase Four) | 16:12–19:11
  6. Maintaining Momentum in Disciple-Making Ministry (Phase Five) | 19:12–end

Download mp3 | Listen on YouTube

Discipleship in the Church: Innovation and Implementation (Phase Four)

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below from 16:12–19:11.

Download mp3 | Listen on YouTube

The fourth phase is what we call innovate and implement.

At this point we know what we need to be doing in ministry. We need to make disciples of all the nations so that they might obey all that the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded. And the way, the means, of making disciples is the Word of God and prayer. As the Spirit of God backs the Word of God, people become disciples

Innovating and implementing is asking ourselves: Where has God placed us? Who are our neighbors? How do we make disciples of those people? And that’s going to look different depending on your context.

How we go about discipleship is different in different contexts – whether you’re a pastor leading a church, whether you’re a student working on a campus, whether you’re a youth group leader during the week, or whether you’re the person who helps lead Sunday School classes for children on Sunday morning. It’s thinking through pathways for disciple growth:

  • How can we engage people?
  • How can we evangelize people?
  • How can we establish them in the faith?
  • How can we equip them to do the work of ministry?

That cycle repeats itself. The person who is equipped now engages people, evangelizes and establishes them, then equips them, and the cycle repeats. That’s how God is building His kingdom. Be creative: think through the ways you could prayerfully meet people with the Word of God in the context God has placed you in.

I want to give you an example: Some years ago in a country I was pastoring in, we had a young man who was a student thinking about ministry. He was a surfer. He left for the summer, and we didn’t see him.

Four months later he showed up with long hair and a glowing suntan. We said to this young man, “Where were you?”

He said, “I was surfing all summer.” We thought, “Well, that’s a nice way to spend your summer!” And he said, “Actually, I wasn’t just surfing. I was making disciples. Because I can surf, I met with other surfers. All these people in the surfing community are not Christians, but because I’m a good surfer, they respected me. They let me join their surfing community. God opened doors for me to evangelize these surfers all summer, hanging out with them on the waves and having picnics on the beach at night.”

By the end of it so many people came to Christ that he said they needed a church. It was hard for him to put people in other churches. He asked us, “Would you train me to be a planter for the surfing community?” So, we trained him to be a planter, and he went back to that surfing community and planted a church.

So, there’s a situation where a guy was just innovating and implementing along the way. How can I reach surfers with the gospel? How can I get trained, so I can plant a church for surfers on the west coast? He made disciples in a creative way but did it around the Word of God and prayer.

Honestly Evaluating Your Disciple-Making Ministry (Phase Three)

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below from 13:47–16:11.

Download mp3 | Listen on YouTube

Sean Martin: Phase Three of The Vine Project is what we call loving honest evaluation. Loving honest evaluation is having a conversation amongst leaders about where we’re at currently. So, it’s like doing a diagnostic of your church, small group, Sunday school program, or whatever you’re doing.

How are we doing as leaders? Are we prayerfully teaching the Word of God? Are we seeing gospel growth? I’m not just talking about numbers, but are we seeing gospel growth in people? Are we seeing them grow in Christ? Is the place we meet the right place?

For example: I did a workshop some time ago with a church, and one of the things that came out of a loving honest evaluation we had with the leadership team was that the building they were meeting in wasn’t a helpful building to meet in. It was far away from any neighborhoods, it was difficult to find, there was no parking, and they soon realized they weren’t really going to make disciples there. They were always going to have the same people coming all the time because their location was an impediment to disciple making.

Sometimes it gets more personal. Sometimes the thing that comes out of loving honest evaluation is, “Maybe I’m not the actual person to lead this ministry any further. Maybe someone else needs to lead it.” Kevin, those are really hard conversations to have, but they are very important if we are going to grow in our ministries and if we are going grow as disciples of Christ ourselves. We have to have a loving honest evaluation with ourselves and with our leadership teams quite regularly.

Kevin Halloran: Anything worth doing is worth having hard conversations about.

SM: Absolutely. I think one of the reasons we avoid this is because many of us are afraid of conflict. But we need to learn to see that conflict is creative. If conflict is done with godliness and love and care, it can be a real pastoral opportunity for someone to grow and change.

If you are ever having a loving honest evaluation and you realize you need to move someone on to another ministry, it’s okay to say, “I don’t think God has called you to do this, because He hasn’t gifted you do this.” So, if you do that with sensitivity and Christian love, it can be a pastoral opportunity for someone.


    Launching Pastoral Training Movements Worldwide


    The mission of Leadership Resources is to launch pastoral training movements worldwide. This blog shares articles, resources, and updates from staff of God’s work around the world through our training. If you’re new to our blog, start here.


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