The interaction between Philip and the man from Ethiopia is a model of intentional and relational disciple making which believers in every generation do well to emulate (
Is there an approach to preaching that is most conducive to engendering a disciple-making mindset in the congregation? Expository preaching is presented as an essential approach that disciple-making preachers should consider and employ. Unfortunately, many churches have not embraced the disciple-making mandate. The following statistics demonstrate why we must assess preaching as it relates to disciple making.
Despite a significant growth in the U.S. population during the 20th century, the percentage of churches actually declined.2 According to the Christian Index, for every 10,000 Americans, there were 27 churches in the year 1900; 17 churches in 1950; and 11 churches in 2000.3 That represents a decrease of nearly 60 percent. Though many churches and parachurch ministries such as Navigators and Evangelism Explosion have long-standing reputations for training in evangelism and disciple making, toward the end of the 20th century, less than 8 percent of American evangelicals had received training in evangelism; less than 3 percent had introduced another person to Christ.4
The rate of baptisms also reveals a downward trend. Among Southern Baptists, the largest protestant body, the rate of water baptisms declined by approximately 5 percent each year from 2005 to 2007.5 Research by missiologist Ed Stetzer has shown that 80 percent of North American churches are either stagnant or declining; nearly 4,000 U.S. churches close each year.6 The dearth of disciple making leads us to ask: Do most preachers embrace the disciple-making and preaching mantels with equal fervor?
The situation is dire. We no longer can afford to analyze the preaching ministry apart from its impact on disciple making. Both are critical for the vitality of a Christian congregation; preaching and disciple making must be analyzed in tandem.
Preaching Empowered by Relationality
Jesus Christ was a preacher (
Bill Hull was correct when he wrote: “Being the disciple-making pastor is the most difficult work in the church.”7 Certainly, the degree of difficulty is in proportion to its importance. It is easier to be task-oriented and fill our schedules with activities and programs; but disciple making calls for a quality investment of our time—sharing our lives of faith with others until they in turn are sufficiently grounded in the faith to go out and disciple others. One of Paul’s summary disciple-making phrases was: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (
What distinguishes preachers who make disciples from those who do not? The answer, at least in part, is intentionality. Certainly, many pastors counsel the searching and explain the gospel; I know many who do. However, the sobering statistics mentioned earlier indicate a dire need for increased intentionality in disciple making. The significance of relationality cannot be overstated, and preachers of the gospel do well to understand it from a full-orbed perspective. An expanded understanding of the concept of relationality should undergird greater convictions regarding its significance. In other words, preachers need to be fully persuaded to re-examine their commitments to intentional relationality in disciple making.
Philip: A Model of Relationality
Philip was a busy preacher. F. Scott Spencer observes that of the 25 times Luke uses the Greek verb εύαγγελίζομαι (preaching the gospel) in Luke and Acts, “the heaviest concentration occurs in the larger Philip narrative in
Though their interaction was brief, it is a model all preachers do well to heed. As the Spirit led, Philip obediently responded. The result was a transformed life and a new disciple, who (we can hope) returned to his home country and replicated the fundamental interaction that he had with Philip—a clear explanation of the gospel. In keeping with this ever widening trajectory of global evangelization (
In the interaction between Philip and the eunuch, the indications of a true conversion are evident—the supernatural activity of God combined with a clear understanding of biblical truth.
Disciple Making and Relationality
Though a preacher may draw a large crowd, it does not necessarily follow that solid disciple making is taking place in that ministry. Robert Coleman maintains that “pastoral leaders with apostolic hearts are in short supply.”10 However, Philip reflected the heart of the apostles in his readiness to preach to the crowds, as in Samaria, and to individuals such as the eunuch (
Certainly, Christian disciples are established and edified by the variety of ministries that are part of many congregations. However, at the heart of apostolic disciple making is the passion to articulate the gospel clearly, as Philip did with the eunuch. As preachers think about ministering to the masses, we also need to focus on individual and interpersonal disciple making.
Perhaps the most important aspect of a disciple-making pastor is that he or she is a growing disciple personally.12 Philip’s growth was evident to all in that early congregation of saints, which was why they selected him for leadership and service (
Disciple making is not optional; it is an act of obedience. Paul understood that his “apostleship [was] to bring about the obedience of faith…among all the nations” (
Expository Preaching Defined
John Stott proposes a helpful definition of biblical exposition: “To expound Scripture is to open the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God’s voice is heard and His people obey Him.”13 Expository preachers are fully persuaded that God’s Word is truth and that truth must be proclaimed (
Figure 1. A Chiasm of Acts 8:25-40.
A: They started back to Jerusalem
B: to many of the villages of the Samaritans
C: they were preaching the gospel
D: spoke to Philip
E: go…to the road (way)
F: and behold (there was)…a eunuch
G: the Spirit said to Philip
H: to come up and sit with him
I: and the passage of Scripture
J: Messianic text quoted from Isaiah 53:7-8
I: from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him
H: came up out of the water
G: the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away
F: and the eunuch no longer saw him
E: he went on his way
D: But Philip found himself at Azotus
C: he kept preaching the gospel
B: all the cities
A: he came to Caesarea
This chiastic arrangement of Acts 8:25-40 is an English translation of the Greek model used by Spencer.14 Adapted from F. Scott Spencer. English translation mine.
Though we do not know all of the content of Philip’s sermon that day, he clearly began with the passage where the eunuch already was reading, Isaiah 53:7-8. The chiastic arrangement helps us identify significant patterns and areas of emphasis in the interaction of Philip and the eunuch. The concept of preaching is mentioned twice (vv. 35, 40) in this section.
Other features of the section that find special emphasis by virtue of their parallel arrangement in the chiasm—the proclamation of the gospel; the action of the Holy Spirit; and the term Scripture is used twice, both of which are immediately on either side of the central theme of the passage, namely the quotation of Isaiah 53:7-8. Luke’s exegetical and expositional orientation is evident.
Expository Preaching Distinguished
That invaluable nature of expository preaching has been established. Brian Chappell maintains that an expository preaching is essential because the power for spiritual change resides in God’s Word.”15 However, a new existentialist homiletic is gaining influence. This existentialist homiletic is a “turn away from traditional preaching” and places its emphasis “on practical application as opposed to biblical proposition.”16 The existentialist homiletic is not expository and effectually devalues the objective truth of the biblical text.
Doug Pagitt, for example, dismisses the traditional approach to preaching by renaming it as speaching, which according to Pagitt, is ineffective. Instead of preaching, Pagitt calls for a “progressional dialogue, where ‘the presenter and the listeners’ can create substantive changes to the content of a presentation.”17 For Pagitt, the importance of welcoming the voice of the community into the life of the church extends to the unbelievers. Philip’s approach was the reverse: He expounded the Scripture as he spoke liberating truth to the traveler from Ethiopia.
Calvin Miller maintained the sermon “must carry the burden of informing its hearers about the single reality that lies at the heart of Scripture: God has a word for us, not an opinion. The kingdom of God is not a discussion club. The church doesn’t gather on Sunday to invite opinion. It gathers to hear the Bible—the Word of God.”18
Because “the pulpit drives the church,” as Matt Chandler maintains, the pulpit ministry must lead the way and model intentionally relationally disciple making.19 As Hull wrote, “disciple making is the key to world evangelization because it is the key to reproduction and multiplication.”20
Because preaching and disciple making are essential Christian ministries, we are wise to explore how these two aspects of ministry impact each other. Too few believers are equipped in intentional and relational disciple making; and too many churches are permanently closing their doors every year. If, as Calvin Miller contended, “the sermon is the workhorse of ecclesia,” is there an approach to congregational homiletics that is most conducive to fostering a disciple making atmosphere?21 The preaching and disciple making ministry of Philip the evangelist suggests that expository preaching is essential for vibrant Christian ministry, including disciple making.
1 Bill Hull, The Disciple-Making Pastor, (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 2007), 152.
2 From 1910 to 2010, the U.S. population increased from approximately 92 million to more than 308 million. Source: U.S. Census Bureau. (Accessed January 2012).
3 The Christian Index, the official publication of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
4 Hull, 24.
5 The Christian Index, publication of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
6 Ed Stetzer, SBC Life, Journal of the Southern Baptist Convention. (Accessed January 2012).
7 Hull, The Disciple-Making Pastor, (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 2007), 40.
8 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from The Reformation Study Bible, English Standard Version, (Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2005).
9 F. Scott Spencer, The Portrait of Philip in Acts: A Study of Roles and Relations, (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992), 37.
10Quoted in Bill Hull, The Disciple-Making Pastor, (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 2007), 9.
13John Stott in “A Definition of Biblical Preaching,” in The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005, 24.
15Bryan Chappell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 30.
16Gibson, Scott M. “Critique of the New Homiletic,” in The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 476.
17Doug Pagitt, Preaching Re-Imagined, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 23.
19Matt Chandler, in debate with Steve Furtuick, (Accessed January 2012).