I’ve been teaching a Theological Survey course at The Austin Stone this past fall and spring, and it has been a great experience in equipping the saints to think deeply about God, to love Him with a whole heart, and obey His commandments with willing hands.  Yesterday, one of the class participants asked me about how I personally communicate the gospel, and I thought it might be instructive to share my response.  Here you go!



Thanks for your question…I’m happy to share! When I think about the gospel and how to communicate it, I usually have one of three grids I am using:

  1. Sharing the Gospel Directly from the Bible
  2. The Basic Facts of the Gospel
  3. The Gospel as The Story of Jesus

Below is an overview of each!

Sharing the Gospel from the Bible

I actually used this strategy at the beginning of the class when I worked through 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 with y’all.  This passage is perhaps the most clear articulation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in all of the Bible, so I use it frequently.  I usually start with reading the text:

15 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

Then I work through the following points in teaching:

  1. The past, present and future dimensions of the gospel – verses 1 and 2
  2. The primacy of the gospel – verse 3
  3. The facts of the gospel – verses 3-6

I find this to be an important way to present the gospel to those who are already believers, but don’t have a clear understanding of it.  It has the additional benefit of pointing out the foundation of the Bible as the authority on the matter.

The Basic Facts of the Gospel

The second strategy I often use is the basic facts of the gospel, which is stolen from the book “What is the Gospel?” by Greg Gilbert.  Briefly, the 4 main tenets of a gospel presentation answer the following questions:

  1. Who is God?
  2. Who is man?
  3. Who is Christ?
  4. How should we respond?

To answer those questions, I first talk about God as creator and God as holy and powerful.  Next, I talk about humans as created in God’s image, but we are rebellious towards God in our sin.  Then I turn to Christ, who is the God Man that lived in perfect obedience to God, died an atoning death on the cross, and was raised on the third day in victory over sin, Satan, and death.  Then finally, we should respond to this message with repentance (turning from our sin) and faith (turning towards Christ).

The Story of Jesus

Finally, the one I used in class is a modification of a Tim Keller strategy that has helped me think through the gospel as a story of Jesus.  The story follows the basic pattern below:

  1. Jesus came into this world as God in flesh
  2. Jesus lived a perfect life that you and I never could have lived because of our sin
  3. Jesus died an atoning death on the cross that we deserved to die to save us from our sin and take the wrath of God for sin upon himself
  4. Jesus rose from the dead in victory over sin, Satan and death so that we who would repent and believe might be reconciled back into our relationship with God the Father for eternity.
  5. The bad news is that we are more sinful and flawed than we ever dared to believe, and the good news is we are more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared to hope.  What good news!

It changes each time I tell the story, but those are the general points I usually work through.

I hope those help!  Finally, I have found this article by Tim Keller does a great job of explaining why we need to communicate the gospel in a variety of different ways…it has helped me a lot!

Engstrom Christmas Card 2014


This past few years, I have had the joy of participating the Doctor of Educational Ministry program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  I participated in a cohort of five executive pastors under the supervision of my friend Dan Dumas, and the product of that time was a thesis entitled “Missional Community as a Model for Integrated Discipleship in an American Context”.

If you read this blog frequently, you’ll recognize much of the material that I’ve written her provided the foundations for the thesis, but I expanded the ideas and provided the academic background that drove much of my thinking and practice.

As you continue to lead and experiment with making disciples, I pray this work would serve you well!  Click below to download it:

Engstrom DEdMin Thesis – Missional Communities

This post was originally published at the SEND Network website here.


Building a Disciple-Making Culture

Many people much smarter than me have wrestled with the question “what is culture?”  At the heart of it though, culture is composed of beliefs, values and practices shared by a group of people.  Building a disciple-making culture in the local church is driven by foundational beliefs, shared values and common practices.


When it comes to core beliefs in a disciple-making culture, the fundamental belief that drives movements is the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  While there are many orthodox truths that all churches must believe, the foundation of the church is Christ’s person and work, and a disciple-making culture is built on the foundation that Christ’s death and resurrection prove his Lordship over all creation.

If Christ is Lord, then Christ is worthy of worship and obedience!  A culture of disciple-making makes this explicit and fundamental by every means possible.


Beliefs express themselves in values in a culture.  Values are manifestations of beliefs amongst a particular group of people.  When it comes to a disciple-making culture, one of the key values is the priesthood of all believers – the idea that everyone has a part to play in making disciples.

A disciple-making culture won’t be widespread until leaders in the church believe that everyone has a role to play in ministry and mission.  The greatest barrier to disciple-making movements in America is that we cater to consumers in our churches rather than expecting everyday people to get off the bench and play in the game.  Disciple-making isn’t for experts, it is for everyone who believes Christ is Lord!


In addition to shared beliefs and values, a disciple-making culture is committed to simple, reproducible and transferrable practices.  A football team can believe they need to score touchdowns and value winning, but without a clear game plan and playbook, chances are good they won’t win a game!  One of the challenges in establishing a disciple-making culture is providing a simple, understandable way to live out the vision.

Leaders often make discipleship so complicated that it requires a Ph.D. to understand, but it’s pretty straightforward.  Living under the Lordship of Christ means committing to reading His word, repenting of sin and believing the gospel, demonstrating the kingdom and sharing the gospel with others.  At the Austin Stone, we embed discipleship in a very simple, reproducible, transferrable tool we call a Life Transformation Group.

These groups are meant to reinforce the basic disciplines of healthy disciples, do it in a reproducible way, and make them easy to multiply with other people.


Finally, it’s important to remember that strong cultures are created over time.  Being committed to the basics for a long period of time can seem tedious, especially for leaders in our day, but creating culture happens by doing simple things repeatedly over time.

The following article was originally posted on the SEND Network site here.


I am ecstatic that much of the conversation in church planting and church leadership has been moving towards the topic of discipleship.

Books are being written, conferences are being themed and leaders are calling the church to consider the core mission of the church—making disciples of Jesus.

The church is certainly talking about disciple making, but at the core, what is it?


When it comes to the essentials of disciple-making, the most crucial passage we must consider in all of Scripture is the Great Commission.  In the Gospel of Matthew, it is recounted like this:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV)

While the basic content of discipleship is simple, the missing ingredient in most churches is not one of content, but one of obedience in action. As a pastor committed to the local church and making disciples of Jesus, I must consistently remember both the simplicity and the urgency of Jesus’ commission to his first disciples, and recognize that disciple making has not changed in 2000 years.

The Great Commission is commanded on the authority of the risen Christ, who reigns as Lord now and forever. We are also reminded in verse 20 that the Great Commission is pursued with the presence of Jesus, who will be with us in the task of bringing glory to God.

But what is the essential content of disciple making?


The first essential component of making disciples is “go.”  Discipleship at its very core requires obedience to follow Jesus and make him famous in the nations. By God’s design, the gospel will be proclaimed by His people among those who do not yet know Him, and we as God’s people must go to the nations.

While some people are called of God to move overseas to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, every believer in Christ is called to participate in making disciples of the nations.

For some of us, engaging in discipling the nations means intentionally crossing the street to have a conversation.  It means doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality, and showing others how all of life is submitted to the reign and rule of Christ—even buying groceries, coaching soccer or enjoying hard work to the glory of God.


In addition to going, disciples of Jesus are commanded to baptized.  Baptism is primarily about identifying with Jesus and his lordship.  Baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality that we no longer live for ourselves, but for the sake of God and his glory.

Baptism is a clear reminder of our new identity in Christ, and a reminder to those who have participated in this ordinance that we have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection.  The church of God must tell the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and if people respond in repentance and faith, we must baptize them!

Teach to Obey

After baptism, we must be committed to the final command and teach people to obey. Disciple-making involves both teaching content and obedience.  At the very core of discipleship are the commands of Jesus.

If you were to ask the people you are leading “what are the basic commands of Jesus?” what would they say? In my experience, many people in our churches and ministries are woefully lacking when it comes to knowing the basics of the teachings of Jesus like repent and believe the gospel, love God and your neighbor, give generously, serve the poor, make disciples and many others.

While the basic content of discipleship is simple, the missing ingredient in most churches is not one of content, but one of obedience in action. Part of being an effective disciple maker is to expect people to actually obey the commandments that Jesus gave us. Quite simply, if you are teaching great content but not holding people accountable to obeying the commands of God, you are not making disciples of Jesus!


While this post may seem rudimentary to many, the simplest and most foundational truths are often the ones that become assumed.  The moment you assume something, you lose sight of its importance and begin searching for other things to fill its place.  Discipleship at its essence is incredibly simple—Go, Baptize, Teach to Obey.  We complicate discipleship when we make it about anything more than those simple things.