PHOENIX (BP) — Disciple-making in Southern Baptist churches was assessed by SBC entity leaders Kevin Ezell, David Platt and Eric Geiger during a forum at the 2017 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix.
Robby Gallaty, pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., president/founder of Replicate Ministries and chairman of a task force created last year to encourage disciple-making by Southern Baptists, led the discussion at the Replicate Ministries booth in the SBC exhibit hall June 13.
Ezell, Platt and Geiger agreed that one problem is a lack of understanding among Southern Baptists about what disciple-making truly is — that evangelism and discipleship go hand in hand.
“We have a challenge in the SBC with the terminology that we use,” said Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board.
“When we say disciple-making, some people don’t understand that they need to be evangelists as well, and they don’t see reproduction when it comes to disciple-making,” Ezell said. “We have a communication issue in the SBC where they don’t see it as one whole.”
Platt, president of the International Mission Board, lamented “a tendency to do evangelism that’s devoid of teaching people to obey everything that Christ has commanded and really helping them grow into the image of Christ. I definitely think we would admit that there’s a lot done in the name of disciple-making that actually is devoid of evangelism.”
Geiger, LifeWay Christian Resources vice president for its resources division and a member of the discipleship task force, said disciple-making must be “the totality of what we do as a people of God. That’s the mission that Christ has given us.
“When someone says discipleship to me,” Geiger said, “I always [ask], ‘What do you mean by discipleship and what kind of disciple do you want to make?'”
Platt said if a Christian becomes too dependent on particular disciple-making programs and gets into a context on the other side of the world where those programs don’t exist, he or she won’t know what to do.
“We’ve got to be able to do this personally in our lives,” Platt said, noting such questions as “How do you personally lead someone to Jesus, see them baptized and teach them to obey Christ?”
Ezell shared key baptism statistics in the SBC: 80 percent of churches baptized nine or fewer people in 2016, 50 percent baptized two or fewer and 25 percent baptized no one.
“We don’t have a baptism issue as much as we have an obedience issue,” Ezell said. “We just don’t have people intentionally having Gospel conversations as often as they should or intentionally discipling people as they should.”
Pastors need to lead the way for their congregation when it comes to discipleship, Ezell said.
“In order to get anything done in a convention like this it comes down to the pastors,” he said. “So it’s about the pastor having a heart for discipleship and understanding what disciple-making is. We’ve got to do something to stir a passion in the heart of pastors to lead their people to be discipled.”
Geiger said the biggest predictor in any study LifeWay has done about how people grow in their faith is spending time in the Word of God. “Reading the Bible is the one spiritual discipline that impacts every other spiritual discipline,” he said.
Gallaty, in closing the session on “Making Disciples in the SBC,” asked each participant to give one piece of advice to pastors about how to be more intentional about making disciples.
Ezell encouraged pastors not to forget that discipleship starts at home. “It’s important that you disciple your family.”
Platt said he would exhort any pastor to guard intimacy with the Lord.
Geiger said that before he wants to make disciples, he wants to enjoy being a disciple.
“I need to be a disciple continually, continue to repent and come back to Him and enjoy His grace, which fuels me to make disciples,” Geiger said. “I don’t want to get caught in the mission without the meaning of being with Him.”
Replicate Ministries hosted four other panel discussions on disciple-making at its booth during the SBC annual meeting. Gallaty, Johnny Hunt, Kevin Smith, Adam Dooley and Mark Marshall relayed updates regarding the disciple-making task force. Kandi Gallaty, Donna Gaines, Kathy Litton and others discussed “Women’s Discipleship.” Gallaty, J.D. Greear, Vance Pittman and Jimmy Scroggins focused on “Making Disciples in a Church Plant.” Gus Hernandez and others discussed “Disciple-making in Collegiate Ministry.”