Preaching as the Centerpiece of Discipleship (Part 1)

by Abraham Cremeens

As a church, we love being a community of disciple-makers toward the Great Commission. This means that we aim for a disciple-making culture in everything we do. Our Strategic Plan has in front of us one specific way to move forward in that aim:

Key question: How can we grow as genuine, engaged, God-honoring worshipers when we gather together on Sunday?

Key action: Further develop a culture of preaching God’s Word as the centerpiece of discipleship.

What do we mean by the phrase "centerpiece of discipleship"? Let me begin by sharing a bit of background from my own perspective.

The first time my interest was piqued on this topic was the result of reading The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. They wrote a whole chapter entitled “Why Sunday sermons are necessary but not sufficient.” It caused a double-take for me. What?! Can you say that?! But deep down, I agreed. I simply had never given myself permission to say it out loud. There it was, in print, professionally published by two biblically-based, God-loving, church-loving Christians. Their point is that the sermon is essential to any healthy church. But if all you do is preach and have no other intake of God’s Word, then your spiritual growth will be stunted.

Another important moment for me took place during a discipleship cohort I participated in through Replicate Ministries. The founder and leader, Robby Gallaty, used a phrase multiple times that caught my attention: “Preaching is the centerpiece of discipleship.” I was all ears. I loved the vision of a combined effort to engage God’s Word as a church family.

These two messages combined showed me that preaching is essential but not sufficient as a standalone. Yet, when healthy preaching is combined with other fruitful discipleship efforts, all anchored in God’s Word, the whole package is quite awesome.

Before I begin to unpack this phrase, though, I want to make sure I’m explicit on what may be an assumption related to the words “preaching” and “discipleship.” Preaching at Kossuth is an expositional, text-driven proclamation of God’s Word. This means that the passage of Scripture drives the sermon rather than Scripture being sprinkled in to accommodate whatever the preacher wants to say on that given day. Further, the sermon must be Gospel-saturated, meaning that if Jesus doesn’t show up in some way as our only hope and salvation, then the sermon fails.

As far as what we mean by discipleship, I love 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (CSB):

We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

Paul shows that discipleship is both Gospel-centered and life-on-life, where people invest in one another toward Christlikeness in intentional ways. I find it works best within the context of few people at a time.

So, how does preaching serve as the centerpiece of our discipleship efforts? I will offer five ways that are packaged in the acronym SMART. These five pursuits will continue to be massaged into our culture and efforts at Kossuth in the future. I will offer the first below and the remaining four in next week’s blog.

Preaching as the centerpiece of discipleship…

1. Starts a conversation that continues during the week

A preacher at Kossuth does his best job to know and proclaim what is on God’s heart as it is expressed in any particular passage. He then delivers it in a Christ-exalting and helpful way. However, beyond a few comments and emails that come our way after the sermon, it is essentially a monologue. It is a Spirit-empowered, transformative monologue, but the preacher does not typically experience the privilege of engaging the hearers and how God is using his Word in their lives.

With a culture of preaching as the centerpiece of discipleship, the preacher aims to view the sermon as the start of a conversation that continues well after the sermon itself is complete. At Kossuth, we are aiming to build “a community of disciple-makers toward the Great Commission.” That means we view every member of our church family as an active part of helping others to apply God’s Word to their lives. To that end, whoever preaches attempts to shape a conversation that you can continue. This is done through sermon notes (found in the bulletin and online) that contain discussion questions. It is done through a Bible reading guide related to each sermon series. It is also accomplished through a weekly Discipleship Memo that goes out on Fridays to key disciple-making leaders in our church. That memo explains the main point of the passage, the main point of the sermon, and some discussion questions to be used after the sermon.

All of this points to an important effort to see the sermon as the start of a conversation. When the preacher sees that as part of his role, then a great impact can take place church-wide. It involves each of you in fruitful ministry beyond the sermon.

I hope that encourages you and is something you want to participate in. You can start this Sunday by finding a way to initiate a conversation after the worship gathering, on your ride home, or over lunch. Please check out next week’s blog to read the remaining four ways you can be a part.