The article is a part of the Easter Aftermath series.
Most pastors, like me, are praying for God to revive their people on Easter Sunday. But the question is: What are you going to do with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people who might respond to the invitation for salvation?
One factor that set the first century church apart from modern churches is that they had a plan for making disciples, not just for making decisions. In Acts 2, I believe the disciples were scrambling to get baptized believers involved in discipling relationships that would continue after they exited the baptismal pools outside the Temple. Every Pastor should ask themselves and their staff: Do we have a process for moving people from being an unbeliever to being a disciple—a pipeline for spiritual growth? Jesus never commanded us to make converts. He expected us to make disciples.Jesus never commanded us to make converts. He expected us to make disciples. Click To Tweet
With the larger than normal crowds for Easter, our time will be consumed with how to receive guests who drive into our parking lot, how to greet them as they walk into the building, what text to preach during the sermon time, and how to handle the people who respond to the sermon. Unfortunately, most Pastors don’t think about what to do with people after they make decisions. Easter Sunday offers an opportunity to preach to people who otherwise don’t attend our churches, not to mention our casual attenders.
For years, the end goal of the invitation has been salvation. The Christian life has been reduced to what a person is saved FROM, which is foundational, but we have failed to instruct new believers what they are saved FOR. We have been taught a non-discipleship Gospel. Remember, God saves us to sanctify us. He takes us where we are but doesn’t leave us where we were.We have been taught a non-discipleship Gospel. Remember, God saves us to sanctify us. He takes us where we are but doesn’t leave us where we were. Click To Tweet
Begin with the End in Mind
If the Gospel only means forgiveness from sins and earning a spot in a celestial place called Heaven, what’s the use of growing in Christ? Why bother with biblical maturity? I’m going to heaven anyway when I die, who cares about the rest of it? By adopting this mindset, conversions become the goal, and baptism becomes the finish line. I’m not discounting either of these things, but for the early church, baptism wasn’t the end; it was the beginning.
Sadly, we have reduced salvation to a transaction where if a person provides the correct answers to a spiritual questionnaire and says “Amen” at the right places, we respond with: “You’re saved.” Following Jesus, in many cases, becomes optional. Obedience to Christ is optional. Reading the Bible is optional. Prayer is optional. Going to church is optional. Whether a person replicates his or her life into another person is a choice, and many, sadly, choose not to do it. Within this framework, spiritual disciplines for the Christian have been reduced to recommended but not required activities.
Centuries of a non-discipleship gospel have produced scores of undiscipled believers who occupy the padded seats and pews of our churches each week. We should be alarmed by this since the only activity Jesus authorized us to engage in was to make disciples: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples!” As important as these activities are, he didn’t command us to plant churches, revitalize churches, or even start churches. He didn’t command us to make Christians, seek out converts, or count decisions. He commanded us to make disciples, which moves people beyond a sinner’s prayer.
The challenge for most pastors is the time involved with shifting their ministries from an invitation only model to an investing model. Please don’t misunderstand me, sharing the Gospel is critical! In fact, it’s necessary for salvation. But when we stop there, we fulfill half of the Great Commission. We cannot expect to experience the results of Jesus’ ministry if we divorce ourselves from the method He emulated for us. So how do we make Easter more than simply a number we celebrate or report to the convention (or post on Twitter or Instagram)? How do we maximize our Easter invitation?We cannot expect to experience the results of Jesus’ ministry if we divorce ourselves from the method He emulated for us. Click To Tweet
Let me offer three subtle shifts that you can implement now that will garner long-term results in the life of your people.
1. Plan to Multiply
The first shift is a mental change toward multiplication. Jesus instructed us to pray not just for a great harvest, more people saved, but for more workers to be send into the harvest. “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). The problem is never with the harvest. The problem lies with the workers. We need more laborers and workers to enter into the field.
Every harvest begins with a seed. If I were to ask you, “What does an apple tree produce? You may say, “An apple.” But an apple farmer would respond differently. He would say, “No, you’re wrong. An apple tree produces an apple tree.”
You see, anybody can count the amount of seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed. Baptism is not the end. It’s the beginning. The Gospel came to each of us because it was heading to someone else. Every believer is either fumbling the handoff or passing it on to the next generation.The Gospel came to each of us because it was heading to someone else. Every believer is either fumbling the handoff or passing it on to the next generation. Click To Tweet
Our mission is not to produce disciples who only go deeper in the Word. Our focus shouldn’t be to establish “Christian frat houses” filled with members who know enough of the Bible to pass a seminary exam. We aren’t interested in forming “holy huddles” of inclusive believers who hang out with Christians only. We believe the outflow of a robust disciple-making ministry is that believers will change the world and reach their community. When God leads a pastor to a ministry assignment, he doesn’t just call him to a church. He calls him to impact a city.
By thinking with the end in mind, it shifts our focus.
2. Present Next Steps
While every decision to follow Christ is critically important, the goal is to move people onto a pathway for growth. We must look at our Church’s pathway and ask the question: Is our current structure producing maturing disciples? Rather than only celebrating the number of salvations and baptism decisions, begin celebrating people moving through a process. Remember, what you celebrate gets replicated in your church. What you celebrate gets replicated in your church. Click To Tweet
By coming alongside new believers in their spiritual journey, we help them discern what God is doing in their life. As a result, they begin to recognize what God has saved them for, not just what they were saved from.
In his book The Lost Art of Disciplemaking, Leroy Eims recalls the phone call from a friend in anguish. The young pastor lamented, “Church is going great. People are getting saved. We have witnessed more baptisms than previous years combined. However, I have a problem. I need someone who can do more than take my sermons to shut-ins, pray after the service, take up an offering, distribute the Lord’s Supper, chair a business meeting, manage finances, or teach Sunday School.” He continued, “As good as these things are, I need someone who can share their faith with a lost person, disciple them for a season of time, and mobilize them to do the same with others.” When the young pastor looked at his congregation, he identified no one who could do that.
Let me ask you, how many Christians in your church can share the Gospel, help a new believer grow into a maturing follower of Christ who knows how to read, study, pray, and obey, and then replicate the process with someone else?
Sadly, we may not know many who feel confident to do this. Have we spent all our time teaching people how to share their faith but neglected teaching them how to share their lives with others?
When I speak on discipleship, some have questioned, “Do you promote evangelism in the church?” Absolutely! I just don’t want to be the only evangelist in my church, which is the case in many churches. Pastor, would it help if your people were mobilized to partner with you in ministry instead of you executing all the ministry yourself? I believe so. All of us have an army of gospel co-workers waiting to be equipped for ministry. They are the men and women who stare at us each week when we preach. The way to get them off the discipleship bench and into the game is through a pathway.
3. Prepare a Pathway
Each part of your pathway should have tangible steps for people to understand and follow. Simply put, they need clear steps for moving from the worship service (large gathering) to the Sunday School/small group (smaller gathering). They shouldn’t just know the “what” (biblical community) but the “why” (intimacy, accountability, and fellowship) behind it. Here is a diagram of our Discipleship Pathway for moving our people through a process for spiritual maturity:
As each part of the pathway becomes clearer and each step is spelled out, more people engage in the process. Whether their next step is to trust Christ for salvation, attend our membership matters class, or plug into life group or discipleship group, every person who makes a decision will be encouraged to take their next step. A clear pathway for moving people beyond salvation eliminates the ambiguity I referred to earlier.
If the members of your church are unclear about what you are trying to accomplish, the water is even muddier for new guests and new believers. We want to offer our people a map not a menu. A menu model lists all the programs and opportunities to worship, serve, and grow in the church. Members are left on their own to decide where to plug in. The problem with most churches is they offer so many options their people suffer from analysis paralysis. While a menu is helpful, it typically produces consumer Christians looking to attend the next Bible study, event, or program to meet their personal needs.
A map, on the other hand, presents a clear pathway for your people to follow. A ministry pathway leads believers on a journey through reading God’s Word, sharing God’s Word, leading others in discipleship relationships, serving, giving, and growing one step at a time. Paul told the church at Philippi, “This one thing I do,” not “These thirty things I dabble in.”
Easter Sunday is a prime time to ensure that your pathway is clear and people know what you are asking them to participate in. The reason I direct people to respond at our “Next Steps” room every week is not just to count heads of those who walked an aisle. I’m assisting them in taking the next step in their spiritual journey. Whether it’s for baptism, membership, life group involvement, volunteering, or missions, guests and members are directed to a designated place each week. Each person is counseled and spoken to by one of our deacons or wives at one centralized place. Since implementing this strategy, the number of responses after the sermon has increased threefold.
A clear Discipleship pathway can move people through a biblical process that goes beyond the starting line of baptism to becoming fully devoted followers of Christ.
Praise God for His Results
I understand that every church will not experience an incredible number of decisions on Easter Sunday. The truth is that we cannot save anyone, only God can do that, so the pressure to manufacture a move of the Spirit is off our backs. I learned years ago that ministry is received from God not achieved in my own strength. However, if we are faithful to present the Gospel, we can rest assured that the Word will do the work. I pray that you will experience an incredible movement of God this weekend as we celebrate our risen Savior.
For more information about how to develop a pathway for your church or deploy your people to get involved in discipleship, you can email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org