How Do You Preach to the Disciples In Your Church?

This is the final article of a five-part series based on Pastor Daniel Im’s book, The Discipleship Opportunity: Leading a Great-Commission Church in a Post-Everything World. In his previous post, Daniel explained the mindset of a “consumer,” and how to best disrupt their comfort as you preach to them.  In this post, Daniel will talk about church-goers that he calls “disciples”—Christians in your church committed to living the gospel.

How do we preach to disciples in such a way that those in our churches will grow as disciples of Jesus and disciplemakers of others? By equipping them!

I have found that most of the Christians in my church think the primary purpose of preaching is to feed the congregation. In fact, in the past I’ve had many Christians— both disciples and consumers—tell me that my job is to feed them, that this is what I get paid to do. So if I don’t do this, or if I start doing something else, they’re going to leave because they want to be fed. Ouch! Is this what preaching has come to? Are churches now restaurants, with preachers as the chefs? No wonder preaching is one of the main areas where pastors get critiques and compliments!

Viewing preaching as feeding isn’t a new concept, because the primary biblical metaphor for pastoring is shepherding. The Greek word for “pastors” in Ephesians 4:11 can be translated as “one who serves as guardian or leader, shepherd.”2 In John 10, Jesus, who is the model for pastoral ministry, called Himself the Good Shepherd and used this metaphor to explain how He relates with us, His sheep. In 1 Peter 5, we read that the role of elders (and pastors) is to “shepherd God’s flock among you” as undershepherds to the Chief Shepherd, Jesus. And when Jesus was restoring Peter after His resurrection, He did it over breakfast, saying, “Feed my lambs,” “Shepherd my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep” (John 21:12-17).

So if pastors are shepherds leading their local flocks of sheep, it makes sense that we need to feed the sheep who are under our care. But we must not stop at feeding. We must also engage in “guiding (because sheep easily go astray), guarding (against predatory wolves), and healing (binding up the wounds of the injured).” We must preach in such a way that we are equipping as well as feeding so that the disciples in our churches will grow into “Here I am, Lord” sorts of disciples like Ananias: disciples who see their mission field as the community they are living in. Our churches should be places where the word of Christ is dwelling so richly among everyone that disciples are making disciples by “teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in [their] hearts” (Colossians 3:16, emphasis mine).

How do we do this? It’s not by hand-feeding them; shepherds only do that if a sheep is sick. Instead, it’s by equipping them to feed themselves by leading them to a good grazing pasture! I love how John Stott describes this nuance:

We who are called to be Christian preachers today should do all we can to help the congregation to grow out of dependence on borrowed slogans and ill-considered clichés, and instead to develop their powers of intellectual and moral criticism, that is, their ability to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil. Of course we should encourage an attitude of humble submission to Scripture, but at the same time make it clear that we claim no infallibility for our interpretations of Scripture. We should urge our hearers to “test” and “evaluate” our teaching. We should welcome questions, not resent them. We should not want people to be moonstruck by our preaching, to hang spellbound on our words, and to soak them up like sponges. To desire such an uncritical dependence on us is to deserve the fierce denunciation of Jesus for wanting to be called “rabbi” by men (Matt. 23:7-8). . . .

This kind of open but questioning mind is implicit even in the “pastoral” metaphor. Sheep, it is true, are often described as “docile” creatures, which may be so, but they are fairly discriminating in what they eat, and are certainly not uncritically omnivorous like goats. Moreover, the way in which the shepherd feeds them is significant. In reality, he does not feed them at all (except perhaps in the case of a sick lamb which he may take up in his arms and bottle-feed); instead he leads them to good grazing pasture where they feed themselves.

When you preach to equip, you are both feeding and equipping your church since you are leading them to a good grazing pasture where they can feed themselves. This will produce disciples and disciplemakers. But when you preach only as a means of feeding, you aren’t equipping disciples to feed themselves. Instead, you are creating a culture of consumerism and overdependence on you.

It’s like the difference between eating takeout versus cooking with a meal kit. With takeout, someone else does the cooking and the delivery. So if you feel like eating Korean fried chicken, then that’s what you order. Or if you feel like a burger and fries, then you order that instead from another restaurant. You can’t really customize the meal once it’s been delivered because it’s already cooked. And with takeout, you won’t get better at cooking or grow in your ability to feed yourself when the takeout restaurant’s app doesn’t work. As you get older, your skill level will remain the same.

Meal-kit services like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, however, provide you with the recipe and the premeasured raw ingredients. All you have to do is cut up the ingredients and follow the recipe. If you’ve never cooked a meal in your life, it might take you a bit longer, and the final product may not look exactly like the picture. But if the recipe card says meatballs and rice, you’re not going to end up with beef gnocchi. And if you’re experienced in the kitchen, you can easily add or take away ingredients to make the meal your own—instead of ginger pork meatballs with bok choy and rice, you may decide that you want teriyaki pork meatballs with mixed vegetables and rice. Regardless of your variation, you’re still going to end up with the same core meal as others who ordered the kit—all the while growing in your ability to cook and feed yourself.

When you preach to feed, the church gets to eat a good meal, but no one is learning how to cook (how to read, understand, and apply the Bible). People can obviously deconstruct the meal and try to figure out what the ingredients and recipe were, but it’s not the same as seeing it prepared and cooked in front of their eyes. And if the church doesn’t know how to cook and feed themselves, then they’re either going to show up next week famished, cranky, and malnourished because they haven’t eaten all week, or they’re going to keep on ordering takeout by watching or listening to sermons from other churches.

Preaching to equip is like offering a meal kit. When you preach to equip, you are helping your church learn how to feed themselves. For example, preaching on the weekend is like opening the meal kit and cooking the first meal of the week in front of everyone and for everyone. You aren’t serving up an already cooked meal, but you are taking the ingredients out and showing everyone how to cook one of these meals (how to read, understand, and apply the Bible). And then everyone gets to eat the food! But it’s not like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet that leaves you not wanting to see or eat food for the next couple of days. Rather, you’re feeding the church with an appropriately portioned, freshly cooked meal, and then equipping them with their meal kits for the rest of the week, so that they can grow in their ability to feed themselves. Do you see the difference?

When you preach to equip, you’re preaching to develop, leading your congregation to grow as disciples and equip others as disciplemakers. When you preach to feed, you’re preaching to create dependence so that people have to come back next week to eat.

Preaching to equip elevates the role of God’s word and Spirit to bring about transformation in people’s lives. Preaching to feed elevates the role of the preacher and the church service to bring about transformation in people’s lives. Preaching to equip is synergistic. Preaching to feed is parasitic. Preaching to equip will produce disciples and disciplemakers. Preaching to feed will produce consumers.

Read the full series of articles from Daniel Im about The Four Types of People in Your Church, including sleepers, seekers, and consumers.

Daniel Im is a pastor, Bible teacher, writer, and podcast host with a passion for the local church. He is the lead pastor of Beulah Alliance Church and the author of No Silver Bullets,Planning Missional Churches, and You Are What You Do: And Six Other Lies about Work, Life, and Love. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta with his wife Christina and their three children. For more information, visit and connect with him on social media @danielsangi.

Want to share this with members of your church? The Disciplemaker blog from NavPress has published a series of articles from Daniel Im written for your church members.