Terminal. That’s how the consultant described the situation at a church in Oklahoma where Craig Etheredge and Glenn Underhill were serving on staff.
“The church was in this difficult transition,” Underhill said.
The neighborhood was changing and the church was declining. The consultant recommended relocating or splitting up into new congregations. But Etheredge, who was pastor, and Underhill didn’t want to do that. They began fasting and praying.
And God brought across their path some church leaders who suggested simply going back to Jesus’ model of disciple-making. Etheredge and Underhill used that guidance to retool their youth ministry, and it began exploding with growth.
Over the years, the two men moved to other churches, helping them learn how to make disciples who make disciples. Now they both serve at First Baptist Church Colleyville, Texas, and help other pastors learn to do the same thing in their congregations, through small group cohorts and forums put on by discipleFIRST, the organization they lead.
Etheredge, lead pastor of FBC Colleyville, said he’s “convinced the problems we’re facing in the denomination and in our churches [are] because we’ve stopped doing the very thing Jesus called us to do.”
“We haven’t stopped preaching the gospel and calling people to be saved,” he added, “but this investment in people to help them grow and multiply, that is a gaping hole in most churches.”
When Etheredge asks church leaders what they do to make disciples, he said there often is a blank stare, followed by, “Well, we offer courses on a Wednesday night.”
That’s not multiplication oriented, Etheredge asserted.
“We find the churches (using Jesus’ model of discipleship) are the churches that are innovating, growing and are evangelistic,” he said. “Churches don’t become closed when they become disciple-making churches.”
During the forum at CrossPoint, Etheredge walked a group of Alabama Baptist church leaders through how to make a “3D disciple” — a true disciple who is devoted to Jesus, developing in the character and competencies of Jesus, and deployed to make disciples who make disciples.
This happens by walking through Jesus’ four-stage process, Etheredge explained.
“Disciple-making is the process of moving people through,” said Etheredge, author of the book, “Bold Moves.”
“It begins in evangelism and ends in evangelism.”
And in the middle — between when people hear the gospel and when they are sent out to share it with others — there is discipling that happens personally with another believer coming alongside.
‘Message, mission and model of Christ’
Daniel Edmonds, director of the SBOM office of Sunday School and discipleship, said Jesus didn’t just leave a mission to make disciples of all nations — He also left a model.
“Churches should study the message, mission and model of Christ and implement them in the local context,” Edmonds said. “In Craig Etheredge, I have found a kindred spirit in the study and application of the disciple-making model of Christ.
“I’m thankful we have numerous pastors in Alabama’s Disciple Making Ministries who are following Christ’s example in making disciples. These pastors stand ready to partner with others in Alabama.”