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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

21 Ideas for Discipleship Sermons

Updated: Jan 22

Discipleship is a central theme in the New Testament, but some pastors struggle to know how to preach on discipleship itself.


What Scriptures Can I Use to Preach About Discipleship?

There are many passages that provide valuable insights into what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, or to make disciples. These Scriptures define it, illustrate it, and challenge us to rise to it.


Here's a list of 21 passages with a key verse and a brief synopsis for each. I've divided them into 3 major categories:

  • Sermons challenging us to be disciples

  • Sermons challenging us to make disciples

  • Sermons challenging us to be disciples in community


Underneath each Scripture is a big idea and an illustration on discipleship. You can click here for more illustrations on discipleship for preaching.



Sermon Ideas Challenging Us to Be Disciples


Sermon Idea #1: The Cost of Discipleship

Scripture: Mark 8:34-38 - "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves..."


Jesus outlines the cost of discipleship, emphasizing the need for self-denial, taking up one's cross, and being willing to lose one's life for His sake.


The Big Idea: Discipleship begins with a death to an old life.


Illustration/Quote: "I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, "If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me." (Source: Kierkagaard, in "And I looked around and nobody was laughing")


Sermon Idea #2: The Cross-Centered Disciple

Luke 14:25-33 - "Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."


Jesus speaks on the high cost of discipleship, urging followers to consider the commitment carefully. Be sure to note in this passage that the cross must taken up. Frequently, people may think of the cross as a burden. But the the actual emphasis of the passage (as understood by the people in the first century) would have been that it was a call to die.


Big Idea: The Cross is not an add-on to the life of a disciple of Jesus; it's the center of it.


Illustration: Clarence Jordan, author of the "Cotton Patch" New Testament translation and founder of the interracial Koinonia farm in Americus, Georgia, was getting a red-carpet tour of another minister's church. With pride the minister pointed to the rich, imported pews and luxurious decoration. As they stepped outside, darkness was falling, and a spotlight shone on a huge cross atop the steeple. "That cross alone cost us ten thousand dollars," the minister said with a satisfied smile. "You got cheated," said Jordan. "There was a time when Christians could get them for free."  (Michael Jinkins via SermonIllustrations.com)


Sermon Idea #3: The Daily Disciple

Luke 9:23 - "Then he said to them all: 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.'"


Luke's version of the "cost of discipleship," is notable for mentioning that the taking of the cross is "daily."


Big Idea: Discipleship is a continual laying down of my own self, and a continual taking up of Jesus' new life.


Illustration: Fred Craddock, in an address to ministers, caught the practical implications of consecration. "To give my life for Christ appears glorious," he said. "To pour myself out for others...to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom... I'm ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory.

"We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking $l,000 bill and laying it on the table--'Here's my life, Lord. I'm giving it all.'

But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $l,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid's troubles instead of saying, 'Get lost.' Go to a committee meeting. Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home.

Usually giving our life to Christ isn't glorious. It's done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at at time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it's harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul."  (Source: Darryl Bell quoted here)



Sermon Idea #4: The Connected Disciple

John 15:1-17 - "I am the vine; you are the branches..."


Big Idea: The intimate connection between Christ and His disciples is the only thing that makes us bear fruit, and proves we are his disciples. What is the fruit of a disciple? It's the fruit of the Spirit, and the fruit of making another disciple. Look at what Jesus says in verses 7-17: Faith (and answered prayer), love (v. 9, 12-13, 17), joy (v. 11), and more. What's the secret to this fruit? Abiding in Christ.


Illustration: Check out this video from a Francis Chan message on abiding in Christ as a disciple:




Sermon Idea #5: Trash or Treasure?

Philippians 3:7-14 - "I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord..."


Big Idea: We would all say that nothing in the world is as valuable as Christ... but do we really believe that everything is trash compared to him?


Illustration: In Binghamton, New York, in 1912 mission Superintendent Ross said to his eighteen-year-old daughter, "Rhea, you've written a little music. Why not give us a song entitled, "I'd Rather Have Jesus"?

"That's a rather unpoetic name for a song," she thought, but she could not shake the idea. Finally Rhea Ross sat down and wrote the words and melody. Ten years later her husband suggested she publish the com-position to make it available to others.

When Mrs. Rhea Miller copyrighted "I'd Rather Have Jesus," she promised to give half its earning to foreign missions. Little did she dream she would be able to con-tribute to a number of missionary projects.

In 1935 Mrs. Adam J. Shea became concerned for her unhappy son, George Beverly. He, like many another, was being pulled in two directions: He wanted to be a Christian, but the world called for his talents. Mother Shea knew of her son's turmoil; she also knew the remedy. She put the words of "I'd Rather Have Jesus" where her son would discover them when, as was his custom, he played the family piano early Sunday morning.

George Beverly Shea himself tells about it. "The music I wrote for the words came to me in my parents' home in New Jersey when I was twenty-three years of age. . . . This experience of coming across these beautiful words and writing music for them became very precious to me. It proved to be a time of complete dedication to the Lord, to be used of Him in any way, in His work." Later that morning in the Wesleyan Church where his father was pastor, George Beverly Shea, accompanied by a little reed organ, sang the song which had brought him to a place of full surrender to God's will. (Source: Gems of Truth, published by Herald and Banner Press Sunday School literature.)



Sermon Idea #6: The Cost of Following Jesus

Matthew 8:18 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”


Big Idea: When Jesus calls, nothing should stop us from responding. Don't delay, don't defer!


Illustration: Warren Buffett wanted to help his employee get ahead in his working life, so he suggested that the employee list the twenty-five most important things he wanted to accomplish in the next few years. He then had the employee circle the top five and told him to prioritize this smaller list.

All seemed well until the wise Billionaire asked one more question: "What are you going to do with the other twenty things?"

The employee answered: "Well the top five are my primary focus but the other twenty come in at a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit as I’m getting through my top five. They are not as urgent but I still plan to give them dedicated effort."

Buffett surprised him with his response: “No. You’ve got it wrong…Everything you didn’t circle just became your ‘avoid at all cost list.’”

Steve Jobs said something similar in an interview a few years ago:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” (Source: Cal Newport Blog)



Sermon Idea #8:

Colossians 2:6-7 - "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him..."


Big Idea: Paul encourages believers to walk in Christ just as they received Him, rooted and built up in Him.



Sermon Idea #9:

#7: Hebrews 5:11-6:3 - "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God..."


Big Idea: It's time to stop playing around, and build something on the foundation of your salvation. The author urges believers to progress from elementary to mature understanding, emphasizing the importance of spiritual growth. Note: The Greek word "telios" (translated here "maturity") is actually a deeper concept closer to "completeness or perfection." We're to build something complete, not halfway, something that perfectly serves its purpose.


Illustration Idea: We've all heard the story of the 3 little pigs. Imagine discipleship as a construction site where we're the builders, and faith is our foundation. Let's take a cue from the Three Little Pigs story for a lively comparison. Picture the first pig rushing to build with straw – that's like a faith that's just on the surface. When life's challenges huff and puff, it all falls apart. The second pig goes for sticks – a bit sturdier, but still not quite there.


Now, think of the wise third pig using bricks – representing a solid commitment to Christ. In our discipleship journey, we're like those pigs. We need to build intentionally with prayer, study, and community, creating a faith that can weather any storm. It's about constructing a spiritual foundation that stands strong, just like that wise pig's brick house that stood firm against adversity. So, let's be the builders with bricks, investing in a discipleship that lasts!



Sermon Idea #10: A Full Sacrifice

Romans 12:1-2 - "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice..."


Big Idea: Paul encourages believers to present themselves wholly to God, experiencing transformation through the renewing of their minds.



James 1:22 - "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says."


Big Idea: James emphasizes the active nature of discipleship, urging believers to not only hear the Word but also to live it out.


Sermon Idea #10: The Unpopular Truth About Discipleship

1 Peter 2:21 - "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."


Big Idea: Discipleship is essentially suffering just like Jesus. Peter encourages believers to follow in the footsteps of Christ, embracing suffering for the sake of righteousness and spiritual growth.


Sermon Illustration:

Consider the life of Joni Eareckson Tada, a well-known Christian personality whose journey was profoundly shaped by suffering. In her teenage years, Joni faced a tragic diving accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down. This unexpected turn of events became the canvas upon which her inspiring life unfolded.

In the depths of her suffering, Joni discovered a resilient faith and unwavering hope. Through the challenges of quadriplegia, she tapped into her artistic talents, learning to paint with her mouth and becoming a celebrated artist. Joni's suffering became a platform for ministry as she founded Joni and Friends, an organization dedicated to supporting individuals with disabilities. Her enduring spirit and reliance on God's grace touched countless lives, proving that even in the face of immense suffering, one can find purpose and meaning.


She wrote this: "I like to say that “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” For example, God took no delight in my broken neck, but He allowed my terrible injury, in order to accomplish something beautiful: the image of Jesus in my life.

But that’s not all. He allowed my broken neck for a bigger purpose, and the story of Joseph in Genesis 50 explains what that purpose is: “God intended it for good in order to accomplish what is now being done”–now get this–”the saving of many lives.”

Suffering is a platform from which the Gospel goes forth. Had my accident not happened, Joni and Friends wouldn’t exist. But God is using this ministry to reach thousands of disabled people for Christ. My accident was for “the saving of many lives.” (Source: A Bigger Purpose, Joniandfriends.org)




Sermon Idea #11: Discipleship Is Living Like Jesus

1 John 2:6 - "Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did."


Big Idea: John stresses the transformative power of discipleship, challenging believers to align their lives with the example set by Jesus.


2 Peter 1:5-7 - "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love."


In this passage, Peter provides a roadmap for spiritual growth and discipleship, urging believers to actively cultivate virtues in addition to their faith. This sequence emphasizes a progression of qualities that contribute to a well-rounded and mature discipleship.



Sermon Ideas Challenging Us to Make Disciples


Sermon Idea #2: Matthew 28:18-20 - "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations..."


Known as the Great Commission, this passage emphasizes the responsibility of every disciple to make more disciples, teaching and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It's worth noting that the main verb in this verse (and thus the main point!) is not "baptizing" or "teaching" -- it's "make disciples!"


Sermon Idea #3: Mark 1:17 - "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people."


Similar to Matthew 4:19, this passage in Mark highlights the simplicity and immediacy of the call to discipleship.


#1: Matthew 4:19 - "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people."

This passage marks the beginning of Jesus calling His disciples. The focus is on the immediate response and the transformation that Christ produces -- even to transforming the calling and vocation of those who are his disciples!


2 Timothy 2:2 - "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others." Synopsis: Paul instructs Timothy on the generational aspect of discipleship, emphasizing the passing on of teachings to faithful individuals.




Sermon Ideas Calling us to Discipleship In Community


Sermon Idea #1: The Most Reliable Mark of a Disciple

John 13:34-35 - "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 


Big Idea: Have you ever noticed that Jesus never gave even one of his disciples the option of being his disciple alone? Jesus calls all who are his disciples to do it in community! Jesus emphasizes the essential role of love among disciples, reflecting the love He has shown to them.


Here, Jesus teaches us the clearest way that his disciples will be distinguished from the world around them... and notice, it's not a political affiliation, or an outward appearance, or sins that they avoid. It's something deeper, and more affirmative: It's LOVE for each other!


Illustration: In the fall of the year, Linda, a young woman, was traveling alone up the rutted and rugged highway from Alberta to the Yukon. Linda didn't know you don't travel to Whitehorse alone in a rundown Honda Civic, so she set off where only four-wheel drives normally venture. The first evening she found a room in the mountains near a summit and asked for a 5 A.M. wakeup call so she could get an early start. She couldn't understand why the clerk looked surprised at that request, but as she awoke to early- morning fog shrouding the mountain tops, she understood. Not wanting to look foolish, she got up and went to breakfast.

Two truckers invited Linda to join them, and since the place was so small, she felt obliged. "Where are you headed?" one of the truckers asked.

'Whitehorse,' she replied.

"In that little Civic? No way! This pass is dangerous in weather like this."

"Well, I'm determined to try," was Linda's gutsy, if not very informed, response.

"Then I guess we're just going to have to hug you," the trucker suggested.

Linda drew back. "There's no way I'm going to let you touch me!"

"Not like THAT!" the truckers chuckled. "We'll put one truck in front of you and one in the rear. In that way, we'll get you through the mountains." All that foggy morning Linda followed the two red dots in front of her and had the reassurance of a big escort behind as they made their way safely through the mountains. Caught in the fog in our dangerous passage through life, we need to be "hugged." With fellow Christians who know the way and can lead safely ahead of us, and with others behind, gently encouraging us along, we, too, can pass safely. (Source: Don Graham, via www.sermonillustrations.com)


Sermon Idea #2: The Best Way to Make Disciples

1 Corinthians 11:1 - "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."


Big Idea: Being a disciple is imitating Jesus; Making a disciple is modeling the way for others. The best way to make a disciple is to be one, and invite others to imitate you! Paul calls believers to imitate him as he imitates Christ, stressing the importance of mentorship in discipleship.


Illustration:

"Where is your man?" That's the question with which Professor Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary challenged me at a pastor's conference in Gatlinburg, TN in the early 1980s... Dr. Hendricks said that when he was invited as a guest speaker in churches where graduates of the seminary were pastors, he was often led on a tour of the church buildings. "If you've seen one Sunday School room, you've seen them all!" Dr. Hendricks often said... "So I began asking these pastors, 'Where is your MAN? Your church building is nice, but I'm more concerned about the men in whom you are investing your life!" (Source: Randall Faulkner, From "Meeting the Dawn at Jimmy's Egg," a book on discipleship)



Sermon Idea #3: A Church

Acts 2:42-47 - "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship..."


Big Idea: The early Christian community exemplifies the traits of devoted discipleship, emphasizing teaching, fellowship, and communal living.


Sermon Idea #4: A growing, active body

Ephesians 4:11-16 - "From him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love..."


Synopsis: Paul discusses the role of different gifts in the body of Christ, emphasizing unity, growth, and maturity in discipleship.





1 Timothy 4:12 - "Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity."


Synopsis: Paul advises Timothy on being an exemplary disciple, highlighting the importance of setting a positive example.




Revelation 3:20 - "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me." Synopsis: In the context of the church in Laodicea, this passage symbolizes the personal, intimate relationship Jesus desires with each disciple, emphasizing the need for a responsive heart.


These passages cover a broad range of discipleship themes, from the initial call to the ongoing commitment, the cost, the communal aspect, and the ultimate goal of maturity in Christ.

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