Q&A With Robby Gallaty
by Aaron Earls
Before Robby Gallaty began writing books on discipleship, before he pastored a church committed to discipling members—before any of that—he was a new convert sitting at a table in a Chinese restaurant learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus from a seminary student named David Platt.
Both Platt, president of the International Mission Board, and Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, went on to become influential church leaders, but first they were just two guys discussing Jesus while they ate General Tso’s chicken.
Unfortunately, Gallaty’s experience of having a more mature believer walk with him after his conversion is all too rare in many modern American churches. To find out why and to see what we can do to change that, Facts & Trends spoke with Gallaty.
F&T: How did we end up at a place where discipleship and Christian growth seem almost abnormal for a new believer at some churches?
Rather than discuss every issue, I’ll focus on one I think can impact churches immediately: a lack of discipled leaders in the church.
People lead others the same way they were led, meaning we usually emulate what was modeled for us. If pastors or church leaders were never discipled, they typically aren’t focused on making disciples.
We have spent a lot of time teaching people to share their faith, which is vital, but we haven’t done a great job at teaching them how to share their lives.
Surprisingly, Jesus spent most of His ministry discipling 12 men. I believe pastors and church leaders should evaluate their own lives as disciples and determine how best to invest in others the way Jesus did.
I don’t think leaders are making a conscious decision to ignore discipleship. I believe it’s simply an oversight since no one ever intentionally invested in them.
If you had to boil it down to one thing, what are churches missing when it comes to discipleship?
Churches are missing a model for making disciples that is clear and simple for every believer.
The focus of church leaders must shift from being executors of ministry ourselves to being equippers of the saints, who will in turn partner with us to carry out the ministry.
By doing so, people fulfill their God-given calling to participate in the good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
How can churches evaluate discipleship in their congregation?
Often we celebrate things like conversions and baptisms, which should be celebrated. However, they shouldn’t be the only things celebrated in church.
Baptism wasn’t the finish line for the first-century disciples; it was the starting line. The real work of making disciples began after people crossed the threshold of faith.
In a church where disciple-making focuses solely upon the decisions, the process of walking with new converts is often minimized or set at such a low priority people simply don’t understand the importance.
To better evaluate the spiritual condition of our people, we need a new metric to gauge growth. One way to do this is to answer five key questions:
- How missional are the people we lead?
- How accountable are they?
- Are they reproducing the life of Christ in others?
- Are they living in biblical community?
- Are they getting in the Word of God until the Word gets into them?
We should ask these questions of ourselves first, then of those we are leading in ministry. I believe this will help us have a better grasp of whether our people are being disciples who make disciples.
Ultimately, if we say “every soul matters to God,” are we being honest if we don’t disciple those who have responded to the gospel message?
What practical steps can churches take to begin to change their discipleship culture for the better?
It all starts with the leadership. If the pastor and church leaders aren’t making disciples, it’s very likely the people won’t either.
The first step is to look at how we, as leaders, are living out the Great Commission. We can’t expect others to be passionate about the Word and prayer if we neglect those disciplines. We can’t expect members to share the gospel with lost people if we aren’t doing the same.
Next, we can use that experience as the backdrop for getting others involved in the process.
We must determine how those who attend our churches are being equipped to make disciples. Intentional steps toward disciple-making will build as leaders share their experiences and model disciple-making for the congregation.
Also, when we highlight discipling relationships in our congregation, our people will begin gauging effectiveness by that metric. Remember, our people replicate what we celebrate.
Sadly, many leaders don’t have a simple, systematic process for developing people into faithful followers of Christ. While there are many models of disciple-making, there is one shared mandate for all those who are disciples of Jesus, and that is to make disciples.
What will it look like when a church is effectively discipling people?
Believers who are discipled begin to grow exponentially. The pipeline for service and volunteerism in our church is disciple-making groups. The byproduct of spiritual maturity is numeric growth.
When I began focusing on the depth of my people, God began growing the breadth of the ministry. Normally, pastors tend to focus on the opposite. We are taught to grow the breadth of our ministries and let people worry about their own depth.
But Jesus never left disciple-making to chance. He was intentional with His 12 disciples from the outset of their calling.
Evangelism and discipleship are two oars in the same boat. We must not only invite people to Jesus but also invest in those we have invited.
Discipleship relationships offer two practices the church typically lacks: accountability and reproducibility. When we are effectively making disciples we will see both of these things increase, and the church will benefit as a whole.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.