FBC Colleyville pastor uses technology to help pastors make disciples

COLLEYVILLE Pastor Craig Etheredge realizes the trends don’t look great for many local churches. The vast majority of churches today have hit growth plateaus. The culture seems to be becoming less godly with every passing year.

“Pastors see the writing on the wall,” said Etheredge, pastor of First Baptist Church of Colleyville. “And they want to know what to do about it. We’ve been doing evangelism hard, but people are going out the back door after decisions are made. Pastors are looking for help.” 

Etheredge believes the answer can be found in following Jesus’ pattern of making disciples.

“Disciple-making is not a program,” Etheredge said. “It’s following and emulating a person. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus. But we need to see people that we can see doing it. We need pastors and other leaders in our churches who are passionate about walking the way Jesus walked.”

Three laymen at the first church he pastored opened Etheredge’s eyes to disciple-making. He had noticed these businessmen were leading men to Christ, discipling them and reproducing themselves, so he asked them if they could show him how they did it.

“What I didn’t learn from seminary or from other pastors, I learned from three businessmen who taught me how to walk with God, how to memorize Scripture, how to read the Bible for myself, how to share my faith, how to invest in another man and how to show him how to do the same thing,” Etheredge said. 

The disciple-making patterns Etheredge learned from those three businessmen became a regular part of his life and ministry.

“Those three businessmen really ruined me for ministry,” Etheredge said. “I always thought at that point that ministry was about programs and preaching and pastoral care. If you do those three things, you’re good. If the church grows, that’s all the better. I really had no idea how to make disciples who make disciples.” 

When he became the senior pastor of FBC Colleyville in July of 2007, Etheredge began training his congregation to make disciples using the pattern with which he had become familiar. A few years later, FBC Colleyville partnered with the SBTC to start the Flashpoint Disciple-Making Conference to help other Christians learn how to make disciples similarly. 

To Etheredge’s surprise, pastors all across the country were signing up for the conference with the hope they could take what they were learning back to their churches and make disciples there. 

“We realized that it’s great to give pastors a conference with great speakers and lots of information, but unless a pastor has been discipled, he will never reproduce that in his church,” Etheredge said. “So we pivoted and began really focusing on the pastor himself.”

DiscipleFirst, a disciple-making ministry Etheredge started, established forums for pastors to get a glimpse at what disciple-making is and what it can look like in their churches. The ministry then provides pastors with an online disciple-making cohort where they get discipled themselves and learn to disciple others. 

The pastors in the cohort go through a seven-week curriculum Etheredge wrote, entitled “Walk with God,” that teaches how to follow Jesus, how to listen to God, how to pray and how to obey God, among other topics. 

Two subsequent seven-week studies focus on evangelism and discipling others. 

Thanks to video conferencing technology, DiscipleFirst involves pastors all across the United States in these cohorts. Currently, Etheredge leads two online cohorts himself and has pastors in them from Houston to Winnipeg. 

Etheredge says that once the groups get going people forget that it’s online and the cohorts aren’t much different from groups you lead around a table.

The discussions get deep, he adds. Etheredge mentioned one recent conversation where he asked the pastors participating to describe a time when they heard God’s voice. One of the pastors responded that he doesn’t know if he ever has.  

“Number one, he is being vulnerable, and he is being honest. That’s a good thing,” Etheredge said. “But it just shows you that many pastors felt the call to ministry, they went to Bible college, maybe went to seminary. Then they just started preaching and doing what they’ve seen other pastors do, but they’ve never really been taught to walk with God and invest in other men.”   

Lance Crowell, who focuses on disciple-making at the SBTC, says when the convention pivoted a few years back to focus more attention on disciple-making, he began looking for pastors who were practicing it in the state.

“A couple of things became apparent,” Crowell said. “One, most people didn’t have a clear understanding of what disciple-making was. The second thing is, if you’re really going to make disciples in a church, the senior pastor is going to be a key component of that in every church. It trickles down from him. If the pastor isn’t disciple-making, then the church is going to struggle to do it. Then the third thing is, most of the time senior pastors we interact with have never been discipled. … That leaves many pastors asking the question, ‘How do we do disciple-making?’”

The SBTC is hosting a Disciple-Making Forum at its office in Grapevine on April 11 to help answer that question for Texas churches. Etheredge will join four other Texas pastors to discuss disciple-making and how to implement it in churches.

Etheredge makes a distinction between discipleship and disciple-making, saying discipleship has become too broad of a term.

“When we say the word, ‘discipleship,’ that’s usually a broad bucket where everything about spiritual growth gets thrown into it,” Etheredge said. “I’ll talk to pastors and they’ll say, ‘We do discipleship. I preach. That’s discipleship. We have worship. That’s discipleship. We do Sunday School. That’s discipleship. We do Beth Moore studies and men’s breakfasts. All of that is discipleship.’ But if discipleship is everything, really it’s nothing. But disciple-making is the intentional process of training someone to walk with God, reach their world and invest in others. The end goal of disciple-making is multiplication.” 

Ethredge notes that implementing disciple-making in your church can transform it and help you make a bigger impact on the community. 

“This is what pastors are looking for,” Etheredge said. “I really believe that. Pastors want more people to volunteer, more people to share their faith, more people to serve. They want all of these outcomes. Those are the outcomes of what a disciple does. But you need to back up and show them how to be a disciple so you can get those outcomes.”

For more about the April 11 Disciple-Making Forum and to register, visit sbtexas.com/discipleship

TEXAN Correspondent
Tobin Perry
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