Neil Cole: A Bridge (destruction) Too Far (Is Preaching Part of Discipleship)

Cole_NeilOver on Facebook yesterday, Neil Cole started a discussion that was quite lengthy with a retweet of @lanceford: If North American pastors worked as hard at Disciple-making as they do on Sermon-making we could change the world//Prob true! I’m not sure if the “Prob true!” comment is Neil’s or Lanceford’s. The Discussion went on for quite a while and was stimulating on its own merits but, then late in the day Neil made the following comment on the tweet.

Neil Cole

I do not think preaching is bad, I just don’t think it makes a disciple. It informs and even at time inspires, but a sermon is no replacement for just God’s word. The problem is that we often think that the sermon is God’s word but it is simply a message about God’s word. I think preaching sermons is a lazy man’s way to make disciples.

I thought the comment was too much, especially the last sentence. So I responded. Neil responded and I responded back. Hopefully tomorrow he and I and others will join the discussion and work toward some helpful clarity for the body of Christ. Meanwhile, here is the rest of the exchange up to this point. What do you think?

  • Marty Schoenleber Jr

    Neil, I have a lot of respect for you but that last comment is way over the top. You have jumped the shark brother. No qualifiers. Not “many” or “most” or “the majority”, just the statement that “sermons are a lazy man’s way to make disciples.” Frankly, you would have to be God himself to make this statement. It’s too much and it’s not fair to your brothers who are laboring in the Lord’s vineyard.

    Some of us are working hard at both preaching AND investing our lives in one-to-one disciple-making. We labor over the text because we believe that part of disciple-making is equipping the saints by teaching, and exampling, and inspiring them to live passionately for and like Christ. But we also know that Jesus’ pattern was to couple with his preaching an intense and intentional “withness” with those who he was seeking to form in Christ. We know that he who bought us expects us to live sacrificially for and among those within whose community’s we have been sovereignly placed by Christ.

    We know that the congregations we preach to must see a living reality of Jesus’ and Paul’s model in our lives if they too are to follow us as we follow Christ. Make your point. It’s a good one. But don’t insult those who also labor for the kingdom. There is no need to argue for an either/or. There is an extraordinary need to argue for what is missing in some pastors/churches discipleship process but pendulum swings tend to promote equal but opposite imbalances.
      • Neil Cole 

        No its not over the top, it is putting it in the proper perspective. Making disciples involves WAAAAAY more than preaching a sermon. And the person who thinks that they are making disciples by just preaching sermons is not in the game. I am  not insulting people I’m just saying that those who spend their lives only preparing sermons and preaching them are not making disciples, they are making sermons. You must BE with people to make disciples.

        I love to preach but I learned a long time ago that another sermon will not make another disciple. We MUST get into people’s lives brother, there is no short cut, that’s what I mean by the lazy man’ way. Those who think that they are making disciples by just preaching sermons are deceived. It’s not meant as an insult, but it is also not a soft point to make. Preach. BUT do not think that alone is making a congregation of disciples, because it isn’t…it hasn’t…and if we keep deceiving ourselves that way we will continue to produce passive and unengaged consumer Christians.

But that’s my point. I didn’t say we could make disciples without being with them either. There was a very intentional and intense “with me” character to Jesus’ (and Paul’s) disciple-making process. Absolutely, no question. Jesus called who he wanted that they might be WITH HIM, that he might send them out to preach (Mark 3:12-14). Indisputable. I agree. He suffered with them; he and they had no place to lay their heads; in their uprising, their down sitting, walking-along-the-path-lifestyle he was no doubt doing and living out the kingdom in the midst of them.

Discipleship that isn’t fleshed out like this is shallow and mostly ineffective. Agreed. You have a good point. But part of that process of forming them while living with them was them observing and hearing A LOT of preaching. Preaching by itself, doesn’t fully form disciples. But to say what you said went beyond that, especially your last sentence. Your phraseology makes it seem like you have some kind of spiritual x-ray on the motivations of a every other preacher you know … I think you are wrong brother. 

 I’m not saying that preaching pastors shouldn’t do more, indeed, I think they are doing too many trivial things to really maximize their time with men and making disciples, life on life. Many do rely on preaching too much. But it was a major part of Jesus’s own discipleship methodology, ALONG WITH, life on life, grinding it out in the trenches of the dirt and squalor and pain and joys of life.

What do you think? Is Preaching a Part of Discipleship?

6 thoughts on “Neil Cole: A Bridge (destruction) Too Far (Is Preaching Part of Discipleship)

  1. I have an untested theory that preaching is primarily (not exclusively) for unbelievers in public settings. Many of the examples of preaching are to unbelievers to bring about repentance and faith but it seems like the disciples receive a greater abundance of their instruction through discipleship. I hold this theory very loosely because I’m not sure if it’s even important and I’m not willing to start counting passages to make the point. What has been vitally important in my life is 2 Cor 10:4-5 “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,”

    Discipleship and preaching are both pretty weak if they don’t destroy the specific false concepts of God and faith that people have. Some of the Puritans were really good at destroying my arguments. John Bunyan, Walter Marshall and John Owen are my friends. I would say I favor discipleship because there is at least a possibility of getting to peoples specific objections to saving faith in Christ. But I think community worship including preaching has great potential. But I think a lot of work needs to be done to get modern saints competent to destroy arguments and establish true biblical faith in the congregation. That’s my two cents worth.


  2. Marty, I strongly agree with your take!!! Is Neil’s statement and response over the Top? Yes, indeed. A pendulum swing? Again, yes, indeed. In His ministry pattern, Jesus would have had ‘no disciples’ if He had not preached! We are called to “preach the Gospel” and to “make disciples.” Not an either/or issue, but a both mandate.

    There are many godly men who stand before congregations and present teaching which they have labored over for days and years. And many in these congregations are getting more discipleship from their expository preaching and teaching than much of the discipleship programs I’ve seen. Laboring over a text, seeking to remain faithful and balanced, writing, counseling, preaching, teaching and praying… are all part of the discipleship, not a hindrance to it.

    It is easy for some to have a pendulum swing and throw the ‘baby out with the bath water,” instead of just changing the dirty water, but keeping the baby! Fads come and go, but two things will remain and will be clear to anyone who spends time in the Word–preach the gospel AND make disciples…the two tracks which steer the spread of the gospel and the planting of churches.


  3. Read “Preaching in a New Testament Model for Discipleship” by Eric Tober (Doctoral Project -Trinity Evangelical Divinity School-2007)


  4. It is my view that “preaching the gospel” and “teaching the scriptures” is HOW disciples are made. This can be seen in how the apostles obeyed the command to make disciples in the book of Acts. They went about preaching the gospel, planting churches, teaching believers. See everywhere that the verb “make disciples” is used, especially Acts 14:21 for support of this view. If I am right, then public preaching is a primary way that disciple-making occurs, though also house to house and one on one. But even there, it’s the teaching of the word and the proclamation and application of the gospel that is making disciples. If this is correct, then the dichotomy being made between preaching and making disciples is false from the start.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.