SBTC leader says churches must balance evangelism and discipleship

PORTLAND, Tenn. — Churches that don’t balance discipleship with evangelism will likely struggle to grow sustainably.

That’s what a Texas Southern Baptist leader recently told a room full of Kentucky and Tennessee pastors. On Dec. 3, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary sponsored a RevTalk at First Baptist Church of Portland, Tenn. Kenneth Priest, who serves as the director of convention strategies at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and an adjunct professor at SBTS, coordinated and spoke at the event.

Steve Rice, who leads the church consulting and revitalization team at the Kentucky Baptist Convention, and Steve Holt, the church services director at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, also spoke during the RevTalk. Revitalization leaders from a number of other state Baptist conventions attended as well.

Priest regularly hosts RevTalk events throughout Texas. When he realized he’d be at SBTS around Dec. 3, he worked with the seminary to host a nearby talk for Tennessee and Kentucky churches.

“RevTalk is a revitalization conversation for pastors, to raise the level of awareness for the need of church revitalization. These are conversations I do all over Texas,” Priest said.

During his talk, Priest drew from his book, Rubicons of Revitalization, to share about the Great Commission Code, the idea that churches must evenly balance evangelism and discipleship to fulfill their Great Commission mandate effectively.

“Historically, as Southern Baptists, we provide an emphasis on evangelism or an emphasis on discipleship,” Priest said. “In doing that, we’re out of balance. The Great Commission is perfectly balanced between evangelism and discipleship. By separating the two we’re actually not accomplishing the Great Commission. That is my hypothesis as to why churches are in a state of decline because they are doing one or the other and not providing a balance.” 

Priest says the balanced approach means that everything the church does should answer the questions, “How is this discipleship and how is this evangelism?”

“That means if you’re going to have an AWANA ministry or a benevolence ministry then you actually have to have an evangelism strategy for it and a discipleship strategy,” Priest said. “If you can’t do both, it’s probably something the church isn’t supposed to be doing because the church is supposed to be accomplishing the Great Commission.” 

He adds that this is a plan he has taught about and encouraged throughout Texas. He can point to examples of this in churches around the state who are baptizing and discipling more people because they’re focused on balancing these two aspects.

Rice focused his talk on the marks of godly leaders, based on the book of Nehemiah. He noted how godly leaders demonstrate care, face opposition, live an exemplary life, prioritize prayer and commit themselves to God’s Word. He also noted that Jesus focused heavily on developing leaders and the church grew as a result.

“We have discovered that a godly leader is still the key for his church to experience renewal and fresh growth,” Rice said. “It starts at the top. [In Kentucky,] we are focusing on helping the pastor be the leader that he can be and part of that includes how he can recruit and develop leaders around him.”

Holt shared about “The Power of Fear,” centering his talk around Luke 12:32.

“I believe that it is God’s will that his kingdom grow and he wants the human expression of that kingdom—the church to grow as well,” Holt said. “Consequently, if we are actively seeking to fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples, we know God will bless our efforts. That knowledge should encourage us and drive any fear from our lives and ministry.”

Holt notes that often what pastors fear in church life are byproducts of focusing on human strength and perspective.

“We allow circumstances and people to unduly influence our willingness to step out in faith when God leads,” Holt said. “This creates ‘fortress’ or survival-type thinking that paralyzes growth and ensures decline and death.”

To learn more about upcoming RevTalks throughout Texas, visit

TEXAN Correspondent
Tobin Perry
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