An oversized crowd of more than 550 attendees packed into the auditorium of Center Grove Baptist Church in Clemmons, N.C., for the two main teaching sessions of the 2018 Disciple-Making Conference on Feb. 27.
“One of the fundamental and primary callings on your life,” said Matt Carter, pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, “is to be a disciple-maker and to teach others around you to be disciple-makers.”
BSC photo by K Brown
Matt Carter stresses the importance of being “a disciple-maker and to teach others around you to be disciple-makers.”
Before outlining three observations in the morning session, he presented a problem. More than 2,000 megachurches have been started in the United States over the last 20 years, but evangelicals do not seem to be reaching the world for Christ like they had hoped.
The current mission strategy in America is to build a nice facility, gather large crowds to hear a compelling preacher and develop trendy programs for kids, said Carter. But it’s not working.
Instead, he argued for a simple disciple-making method based on observations from Matthew 28:18-20, commonly called the Great Commission.
First, he said discipleship and evangelism are essential for all Christians.
“The call to reach the world through disciple-making is not a request, it is a command, and it is a command for every believer,” said Carter.
“We have relegated disciple-making to a small group of ‘super-Christians’ called pastors. … That was never the plan of Jesus Christ to reach the world.”
Second, he emphasized that churches must understand the goal of their strategies.
Jesus did not say Christians should make “church attenders,” “good moral people” or “destiny chasers,” Carter said.
“Jesus clearly defined what it is we are to be making: disciples … people that look and act and think and speak like Jesus.”
Last, Carter encouraged pastors with Jesus’ promise to be with them, even when ministry feels difficult and thankless.
“All the hours, all the work and all the labor in obscurity might not have been noticed by anyone in your church,” Carter said, “but He sees it, He knows, He’s with you and He’s been applauding you all the way.”
In the afternoon session, he described some of the practical ways Austin Stone has implemented these principles, such as in-depth study programs, outreach-focused small groups and initiatives to mobilize church members into international mission fields.
Carter emphasized the need for pastors to prioritize the discipleship of their children and personal disciple-making habits. He also charged them to preach from the Bible, not motivational fads.
“‘Five steps to better time management’ is not going to make better disciples” he said. “The only guarantee your preaching will possess the power of God is when you’re preaching the Holy Spirit empowered word of God.”
The conference also featured a long lineup of equipping sessions.
Courtlandt Perkins, member of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh and staffer for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Kingdom Diversity Initiatives, led a group discussion on biblical interpretation and racial prejudice.
He explained how ethnic and cultural biases have led many people to misunderstand a passage from Genesis 9, often mislabeled “The Curse of Ham.” A false interpretation of the passage has been used historically to justify the oppression and enslavement of Blacks. Perkins also touched on topics related to other passages throughout the Bible.
Jay McGuirk, discipleship pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, spoke about how churches can develop unique methods for making disciples.
Churches looking to create a customized disciple-making pathway should explore three main areas – their ministry context, their current situation and the culture outside their church, said McGuirk. He challenged pastors and church leaders to have the courage to ask what should disciple-making look like in relationship to those three areas.
“The mission of the church given to us by Jesus in the Great Commission was never how do we preserve the institution,” McGuirk said. “Our mission … is to make disciples. That’s the question we should be asking.”
Jonathan Blaylock, pastor of West Canton Baptist Church, said a key principle for disciple-making is a rural context is consistency. That is, “Doing the same things at the same times,” he said.
Blaylock said he meets with different individuals and groups in different places throughout the week. It’s a coffee shop on Mondays and two different restaurants on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The consistency has also helped Blaylock meet, build relationships and minister to customers and workers in those those establishments.
Ultimately making disciples in a rural context is the same as making disciples anywhere else, Blaylock said. “It’s teaching people to follow Jesus.”
Brian Upshaw, team leader for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Disciple-Making Team, joined more than 100 staff and volunteers to organize the event.
“We were thrilled with the whole day,” he said. “All of the equipping sessions were standing room only. The feedback on session leaders was incredibly positive. People were engaged and there was an energy throughout the day that I attribute to the Spirit’s presence in the place.
“Matt Carter was right on target with his message about disciple-making, providing specific examples of the ways they live out the Great Commission at Austin Stone. Center Grove was a fabulous host. We are grateful to N.C. Baptists for joining us as partners in the mission of God.”