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  • Writer's pictureNate Schlomann

How to Integrate Public Theology into Local Church Discipleship

Updated: Oct 2, 2022

In previous posts, we have introduced public theology as a topic and discussed the importance of local church discipleship incorporating public theology. This is a “how-to” post. What kind of things does the church need to be teaching and talking about with each other in order to spur each other on to be more thoughtful about public theology as we each go through everyday life? Even if one is not a church leader, thinking through these issues is a good way to be more intentional about the integration of public theology with discipleship in the church.

Public Theology in the Structure of the Church

At Village Church, we believe that a culture of discipleship must be modeled and prioritized in the structure of the church. This means that every formal function of the church should be asking the question, “How is this furthering discipleship in the life of the church?” With that paradigm as a foundation, we can take the next step and think about ways public theology can be integrated into the discipleship structure of our church.


A healthy church will model discipleship from the pulpit, and that is no different when it comes to integrating public theology. Biblical preaching should not shy away from application. The recent emphasis in evangelicalism towards Gospel-centered preaching and away from self-help preaching has been good and needed.[3] However, Gospel-centered preaching still needs application. The sermon in its application ought to explore how the truth of the passage, in light of the Gospel, might impact the everyday life of the people of the church. This is the place for the integration of public theology, and it requires that pastors are knowledgeable about the public lives of the people of the church. Areas of application should include employment concerns, community and civic concerns (especially education), issues of cultural morality, and yes even political policy concerns when appropriate. The strong caution is that sermons should not turn into weekly current events and political commentary sessions. There is a wide range of issues that fall under the category of public theology. Week by week, passage by passage, if a pastor is careful to include appropriate application on issues of public concern, people will begin to be discipled to maturity in this area.


While the sermon is an important starting point for any aspect of discipleship, other structures in a church are needed to turn the monologue into a dialogue. In our church, we have a group system of sermon-based small groups and very small, gender-specific groups that we call discipleship groups. Whatever format for group discussion a church might have, the church can be intentional about using application questions that integrate public theology concerns.

Application questions should include those specifically about the implications of biblical truth for matters of public concern. As with preaching applications, it is important that these questions do not become a weekly rundown of current events. Matters of public concern include the relationship of the family to the broader society, workplace tensions, and neighborhood relations. That being said, churches must not shy away from asking application questions about current cultural matters, especially when it comes to gender issues and assumptions about the proper role of government. If churches are not discipling their people in these areas, the culture will.

In structured groups where application questions are pre-written, pastors can intentionally direct the church towards considering matters of public theology. However, often groups are less structured and rely on the individual group members asking application questions of each other. At Village Church, our discipleship groups are structured this way. One way we have recently begun to foster the application of questions related to public theology is to teach church members to ask application questions related to the various life roles that people find themselves in. Every person occupies various roles as they navigate society. The application of public theology becomes a natural part of studying Scripture when people learn to think about application in terms of the various roles they inhabit in relation to society, and not merely their own private life. So, for example, we teach people to ask the question, “How does this biblical truth impact my role as a (spouse, parent, church member, employee, boss, friend, neighbor, or citizen)?” This kind of question starts with the more familiar family and church roles and moves outward into society from there. When group members are encouraged in the context of studying Scripture and theology to make application of truth to their everyday life, they naturally start doing the work of public theology.


Beyond the weekly sermon and various discussion groups, many churches provide other teaching environments that supplement the discipleship of the church. These environments can be leveraged to specifically integrate public theology into the discipleship of the church. Teaching outside the gathered corporate worship service provides more appropriate opportunities for topics that relate to public life.

Classes can be offered on specific topics of public interest. At Village Church, we have recently done classes on gender and parenting, both of which provided ample opportunity for extensive application to current public issues. Other classes are planned on faith in the workplace and the proper role of government. There are many public issues that Scripture and church tradition speak to, and churches can teach thoughtfully in these areas.

Churches are wise to use other means of teaching beyond classes. Podcasting is more accessible than ever both to produce and consume. One of the primary reasons we started the Converge Podcast at Village was to have an appropriate venue for discussing public theology. This has been very successful as a means for allowing the pastors to guide members of the church in thinking biblically through pressing cultural issues.


Every church offers different environments for discipleship. Church leaders should think through ways that public theology can be integrated throughout a church’s ministries. Often this takes the form of intentionally encouraging application questions. Church leaders can also work to find appropriate environments for addressing public issues, without having public issues dominate the teaching and activities of the church. When church congregants are taught the importance of applying their faith in public life and see this modeled and encouraged, over time they will naturally grow in their ability to live out their faith publicly.

[1] Yancy Arrington, “How Can You Tell if a Church Is Gospel-Centered? Start With the Pulpit,” The Gospel Coalition, May 29, 2019, accessed September 29, 2022,

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