Preaching Articles

When I told one of my best friends that for my second career I wanted to preach, he gave me life-changing advice: "Try to imagine talking about your subject every single day for two years. If the idea still thrills you, you've found your topic." For me, that's discipleship.

Here are three foundational passages for anyone who longs to preach about something more than a fire-insurance relationship with Jesus:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:16-20)

1. If heaven is the ultimate goal of the gospel, then discipleship is merely an option, like a choice in the cafeteria. But discipleship is not a choice, it's the mission. There is something lacking in each one of us until we become disciples and until we make disciples of others.

2. Discipleship is open to anyone willing to worship Jesus. Intellectual curiosity is not the ticket in, nor are good works. And here is the really good news: doubt does not disqualify you from worship.

3. At the place of worship we discover that Jesus considers us partners in his mission. He never intended the original twelve disciples to be the only ones: he intended they would reproduce themselves. Amazingly, he intends the same for us as well.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

1. The good news is better than we think: the Father intends that each of us can become conformed to the image of his son. This is staggering: if we are disciples of Jesus, the Father has set a destination for each of us—Christlikeness!

2. Jesus is unique: the only begotten of the Father. Yet that same Father is determined to have a large family. He sends a spirit of adoption into our hearts. We see him as our true Father and we discover our older brother is none other than the Lord of glory.

3. When we first heard the gospel presented as Jesus‘ sacrificial death on our behalf—how many of us imagined the Father had a destination in mind better than Heaven itself?

At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29)

1. If the destination of Christlikeness seems too far-fetched, Jesus comes to our rescue. He himself offers to be our guide and instruct us in the kind of life that flows from being with our Creator moment-by-moment.

2. We can simultaneously learn from him and find rest in him. For example, anyone who has tried to learn a new language, skill or life-habit understands the hard work involved. Yet Jesus tells us that when we are in right relationship with him we will experience new life and refreshing at the same time. No university in the world can offer that combination.

3. Human models of training and leadership depend on intelligence and worldly wisdom for their effectiveness. In this passage the King himself looks heavenward and gives thanks that the kids at the head of the class have no advantage over the rest of us. In fact, they are in the dark—God rejoices that human intelligence is inadequate while offering the benefits of relationship to all who will simply come to him. Who wouldn’t take a deal like that?

Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

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Keith Jackson

commented on Feb 20, 2014

Thank you! A great article and an excellent suggestion for a 3-part sermon series!

Bill White

commented on Feb 21, 2014

Matthew 11:25-29

Terry Frazier

commented on Feb 21, 2014

I agree with Keith! As a Pastor I have often found myself lamenting that the Church today, in general at least, has lost its focus on discipleship. The goal of becoming a Christian is not going to heaven but rather living out the Great Commission and after that discipling the new Christians to become mature participants of the Great Commission as well. heaven is a wonderful fringe benefit of becoming a Christian but bringing the lost into the Kingdom of God should be our main focus. Thanks, Ray for an insightful article!

Ephrem Hagos

commented on Feb 22, 2014

The church today is actually nothing but ?a proud obstacle? raised against the knowledge of Jesus Christ without whom there is no focus whatsoever on discipleship.

Ephrem Hagos

commented on Feb 22, 2014

A COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS (Matt. 28: 18-20) is exclusively for a class of graduating disciples rather than for freshmen like us, who know absolutely nothing about Jesus Christ?s divine identity and absolute authority as progressively taught (Matt. 16: 13-28), elaborated (Ibid. 17: 1-13) and sealed (Ibid, 27: 50-56).

Jeff Glenn

commented on Feb 22, 2014

Great article, Ray. Thanks for sharing!

Rodney Shanner

commented on Feb 24, 2014

It is interesting to me that Ray leaves out the most important foundational passage for discipleship in the NT. This is Jesus' key to discipleship: Luke 9:23-24. Mark addresses the same principle in 8:34-35, and Matthew in 16:24-25. Anyone following Jesus must come to terms with the self-losing to self-saving principle Of Jesus.

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