In my last post I identified a common discipleship-killer. It’s something that sabotages our best disciple-making efforts. And almost every church I’ve ever worked with has it.
It’s a gospel issue. Specifically, the problem most pastors have with answering this question:
Does the gospel I preach naturally lead to people becoming disciples of Jesus?
We need to go beyond the anemic, piecemeal gospels of “heaven when we die” or “justice here and now” and learn to proclaim the gospel that Jesus and the apostles announced: the good news of the kingdom of God.
Read the previous post if you need a refresher on that. But today’s post addresses this question:
How do we do that? How do we announce this good news without sounding like phonies? How do we really learn to believe it ourselves? What does it mean to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom? How do we do it faithfully and effectively?
Four ways come to mind:
1. Proclaim consistently
I’m struck by Jesus’ persistence in his message. He was basically an itinerant preacher who probably said the same things over and over (as a coach and consultant, I think I understand some of this!).
In essence, Jesus simply proclaimed the kingdom over and over, and let the chips fall where they may. He didn’t try to “get people on board.” He didn’t seem to hold emergency meetings when people started leaving.
He simply announced the reality of the present kingdom of God and our new access to it through him. Jesus told people what was possible, and then waited for a response.
2. Proclaim patiently
Jesus was also patient in his proclamation. He announced the kingdom and waited for a response, and often the response was “Meh. This is boring.” But sometimes the response was “Aha! Tell me more!”
Jesus was patient with the crowds who said “no thanks,” and focused on training the few who said, “I want more.” Jesus preached the gospel to the crowds, but he taught a few disciples who wanted to be trained.
One of the mistakes I made in church planting was that I assumed everyone who came on Sundays wanted to be taught and trained. One of our main problems in the church is we insist on teaching people who aren’t remotely interested in learning.
Instead, I had to learn to simply proclaim the good news on Sundays, and then only train those who wanted to be trained. Pastors, here’s the bottom line: Don’t try to make everyone in your congregation a disciple, and don’t try to move everyone along at the same pace.
Remember the parable of the soils! Cast the seed of the word generously by patiently proclaiming the kingdom Sunday after Sunday. Then watch for “good soil” and invest there. That’s how you get a return.
Don’t waste your time breaking up the path or trying to get crops to grow in rocky or thorny soil. Focus on the good soil and let it grow from there.
3. Proclaim Creatively
If you start preaching the gospel of the kingdom, many longtime church-goers will become concerned, because it it involves a massive re-imagining of what most people think Christianity is all about!
Jesus had the same challenge, actually. People “knew” what the kingdom of God was. They knew what to expect. They’d know it had come when they saw it.
The only problem was that they were almost completely wrong.
Jesus came proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, but he needed to find a way to help people find a new imagination for what it meant. He needed to creatively subvert the old ideas and plant new ones without saying, “You’re wrong about everything.”
It’s fascinating to me that Jesus almost NEVER directly confronts people’s misinformation about the kingdom of God.
Instead, he speaks in PARABLES. Jesus’ parables were innocuous-sounding stories that actually snuck new paradigms in the back door of people’s imagination. These stories quietly nestled themselves into people’s minds but eventually exploded like time-bombs, shattering their paradigms and re-shaping their imaginations.
So I’m always thinking, what MODERN parables can we tell that will help people re-imagine their faith in light of the gospel of the kingdom?
We have to put time and effort into proclaiming the kingdom in the same way as Jesus. He did it creatively, using parables to help people into new paradigms.
4. Proclaim Embodiedly
Here is a trustworthy saying: everyone’s “BS meters” are off-the-charts sensitive nowadays.
The thing that will kill your gospel proclamation efforts before they start is if you try to proclaim good news that you don’t actually believe. If there’s no evidence of the truth of your proclamation in you life, people will sniff it out and call foul.
If you proclaim a new way of life you aren’t living into yourself, almost everyone will know it and nobody will listen.
Pastors, we have to smoke what we’re selling.
[tweet “Pastors, we have to smoke what we’re selling.”]
Our witness cannot be in word only. We can’t settle for articulate expressions or elegant ideas. We must embody what we proclaim.
There must be evidence in our lives of the truth we proclaim when we tell people the kingdom is available to them. In other words, we must BE disciples if we are going to MAKE disciples.
Your life and then the life of your community will need to be a living example of what it looks like to hear and say YES to the gospel of the kingdom.
Saying yes to the gospel ourselves
Let me close by simply proclaiming the gospel to you now: Pastors (even pastors!), a new life in God’s kingdom is available to you today.
You can live an abundant, powerful life overflowing with the joy and love of Jesus. It’s available to you today, right now.
Repent and believe the good news, and proclaim it to all… consistently, patiently, creatively, and embodiedly!
Steven Barr says
Thank you for your practical insights. They are a breath of fresh air. Air that speaks to me. I understand where you are coming from and in due season, every season, sow likewise. Not sure about the smoking comment, lol. Some of the people we are aiming to reach are addicts. But live what you preach, a most definate and resounding yes and Amen. (Steven, Paisley in Scotland).
Steven Barr Thanks for the comment, Steven! I get that the “smoke what you’re selling” comment may have limited utility 😉 – appreciate your amen!
“So I’m always thinking, what MODERN parables can we tell that will help people re-imagine their faith in light of the gospel of the kingdom?”
Wouldn’t you think that the way Eldredge uses movies would be a great way to do this?
Thanks, Ben. I have been patiently waiting for this since your previous post. You are helping us think more clearly and deeply about what it means to proclaim good news. I especially appreciate “We must embody what we proclaim.” Recent history of North American pastors validates your claim.
Can you give us more detail? What does it look like in the life of Ben Sternke to proclaim consistently? Patiently? Creatively? What method(s) do you use to proclaim? What stories of transformation cold you share?
This represents our growing edge. What help can you offer? Thanks for your tremendous contributions to the conversation.
TodKVogt Love those questions, Tod! Let me stew on them a bit and maybe write about them in the future.
BradMcDaniel Yeah, movies can be that way. I especially love, for example, Babette’s Feast or Chocolat in that way. One thing is that they’re always STORIES. Part of what we need to reclaim in our faith is the primacy of story-telling as a revelatory, kingdom-revealing act.
Rich Wollan says
Ben, the gravity of giving up on church and “ministry” is constantly straining against my desire to lead people into discipleship (not to mention being a disciple myself!). Too often I give into the downward pull and remain motionless. I appreciate the reminder that in God’s Kingdom the law of “gravity” does not have to dictate my movement. Blessings.
Rick Knox says
Thanks, Ben, for this follow-up to your previous article. I personally find it helpful and challenging. Am I showing by example the validity of what I’m proclaiming and teaching?
I’m learning how to do that. Lots of room for growth in this area. Thanks for the suggestion of the consistent proclamation of the same message in varied, creative ways. Capturing the 21st century stories to serve as parables is also a good assignment to focus on. Learning to tell those great stories well is another.
Thanks for upgrading your previous definition by adding the essential ingredient: “You can live an abundant, powerful life overflowing with the joy and love of Jesus. It’s available to you today, right now.” I think one of the biggest challenges I have (at least with non-believers) is peppering my conversations with the name of Jesus and risking the discovery of people who don’t like it. For our King, that was part of the deal, if I remember correctly.
Rick Knox Glad you found these posts helpful, Rick. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.
Paul Koshy says
Hi Ben, I’m late a bit late to the party, but I hope you have time to pour me a drink and hang out for a while.
I’ve really appreciated this and your previous post on the gospel of the kingdom and making disciples.
I have a couple of questions for you: a) Have you seen a more Biblical response (of commitment to being a disciple of Jesus), among more people than previously, to your proclamation of this truer, more Biblical, gospel of the kingdom.
b) Are you seeing more effective disciple-making, among more people than previously, as a result proclaiming of this truer, more Biblical, gospel of the kingdom.
I’m expecting a “yes” to both, but it would be great to confirm that. But as well as a simple yes/no answer, it would be good to hear you unpack those answers if possible, as it would be encouraging to learn from your experiences of outworking what you have been seeking, hearing and responding to God on.
Paul Koshy thanks for commenting, Paul! I like your questions.
A) Yes, I have seen more discipleship response to my proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom, both from Christians and unbelievers. When people understand they’re being wooed into a new way of life, they naturally want to learn how to live it, despite the difficulty of learning it.
And I’m also more joyful and relaxed in the process, because I’m not gritting my teeth trying to guilt, shame, or cajole people into becoming disciples. I just proclaim the kingdom (which I need to hear, too!) and see who wants to take the journey. It’s a much less stressful ministry model 😉
B) Yes, I am definitely seeing more effective disciple-making among those who’ve responded to the gospel of the kingdom. Mainly because (I think) the new VISION of discipleship causes people to look for new MEASUREMENTS of discipleship in their lives. Whereas before people looked for mastery of content and behavior modification, now they look for character transformation (in addition to appropriate knowledge and behavior), i.e. the fruit of the Spirit.
Thanks for the questions, Paul! Peace,
Paul Koshy says
Thanks for your reply. That’s really helpful and good to know.
I won’t bore you with the details of my own personal journey to some similar conclusions, since you’re ahead of me in the journey certainly in the application of much of this beyond your own personal life.
But just to touch on it, a church leader recently asked a small group of guys, including myself, the question, “What is the gospel?” – my reply – not the one that was looked for and also quite different among the answers given – was “Our God reigns”. (I was trying to be brief in my reply. The quotation itself comes from Isaiah, and reverberates through Romans 10.) I am therefore encouraged that where I’ve got to in seeking answers to those questions is along the lines of your own.
Wishing you all the best with being a disciple (a wholehearted lover and follower) – and making disciples – of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul Koshy I’m sure I wouldn’t find the details of your journey boring, Paul. I usually am quite interested in how God works in people’s lives! I love your answer to the gospel question. The one I’ve used is similar: “Jesus is Lord.” Once you start to unpack it, you find it touches on every area of your life!
Paul Koshy says
Hi Ben, I like that: “Jesus is Lord”, and that resonates deeply.
If you’re interested and have time then feel free to download a message I gave in 2007 called “Jesus at the centre, Jesus on the throne”:
It’s a life message really – which I was living in and living out for a good few years – and covers a some key moments in my journey with the magnificent Christ Jesus.
(For the sake of transparency – sadly, following some sort of burnout, and some very poor responses and choices, I’m not living in that place currently. Nevertheless, I know that God deposited something real in my life and it does surface from time to time.)
It’s very raw and unpolished (- so it could be a bit off-putting). But the content is good and very much resonates with what you have shared. I think you will really like much of it.
Let me know if you end up listening to it. No problem if you don’t.
All the best, Ben.
Paul Koshy thanks Paul, for the link and your transparency! Believing with you that your work is not in vain, and that God can bring restoration and renewal!
Paul Koshy says
Thanks very much. I appreciate that a lot. Paul
Wes Groleau says
The gospel of the kingdom naturally includes the idea that there is a King. I want to become a disciple—teaching them to _obey_ all that He has commanded us. I have to neutralize having been taught to make Him a friend—or acquaintance.