When you bring up the topic of discipleship to Rick Burgess, it doesn’t take long to discover the level of passion he has for it. But even that might be eclipsed by his desire to see the Church take seriously its role to equip believers to make disciples.
Burgess, co-host of the popular syndicated “The Rick and Bubba Show” radio program and a member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Vestavia Hills, will be the featured speaker for the Nov. 14 evening session of the Alabama Baptist State Convention. In his message, he’ll be reflecting on the convention theme, “Disciple — Be One, Make One,” based on Matthew 16:24.
“I’m glad the convention is focused on this because I think a lot of times we as the Church deal with the symptoms in people’s lives, instead of dealing with the disease,” Burgess said. The real problem, he says, is that many church members have really never been discipled, leaving them in the state of perpetual spiritual infancy Paul teaches about in 1 Corinthians 3.
“That was one of the biggest struggles in my life early on. I believed in Jesus from the time I was a child, but I didn’t become a disciple until I was 31.”
Burgess and his co-host, Bill “Bubba” Bussey, regularly talk about their faith, spiritual matters and Scripture on the show, which has been on the air more than 20 years. Broadcast on more than 65 stations in 16 states with a listenership of 3 million, it’s given them a huge platform. But just as important to Burgess as reaching the masses is following Christ’s call to disciple individuals one at a time, as others did with him.
He credits two pastors and his wife, Sherri, for starting him on the road to true discipleship. Rick Cagle, who led the Burgesses through premarital counseling, helped him realize that his life was bearing no fruit and that “the first step to true discipleship was coming to grips with the fact that you aren’t one.”
He remembers the night he went home and read James 4:7–8, having not opened his Bible for 13 years, “and it just clicked. I had never submitted to the authority of Christ. I had simply believed in His existence.”
Lighting a fire
Then three things happened. God gave Burgess a “fire to consume the Word of God,” and Sherri Burgess began to disciple her husband.
Then Jerry Starling — then pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church, Oxford, their first church as a married couple — took them both under his wing. “He began to invest in us to get us out of spiritual infancy and into spiritual maturity,” Burgess said.
From there Rick Burgess developed friendships with other men who invested in him and he became involved in Bible studies. Rick Burgess recalled, “Once I learned the Scriptures, I couldn’t ignore what it said. ‘You’ve been made a disciple, now you go make some.’”
For him, the “make one” part of discipleship started when he began teaching 12th grade Sunday School at Shades Mountain Baptist, reluctantly at first. But he knew, “If you’re going to teach, you’ve got to be prepared,” he said. “That’s when you really start learning.”
Then He felt God calling him into men’s ministry in his local church, something he wrestled with at first. It was Sherri Burgess who reminded him something he had told her, “If God tells you to do something, you’d better do it.” He realized he had been leading conference after conference outside his church but hadn’t done anything to invest in the men in his own church. As a result, he and some other men began to develop and lead services aimed at discipling men at his church. Then about two years ago, he started leading a men’s Bible study at “The Rick and Bubba Show” studios each Wednesday at noon.
“I can’t tell you what that entire process has done for me not only in growing as a disciple, but it’s also given me tools to make new disciples — in my home, at church with the youth and now with the men of our church,” Rick Burgess said.
Joining Rick Burgess in the session will be Kevin Derryberry, worship leader at Westwood Baptist Church, Alabaster. Both are reprising roles they played in 2008 for that year’s annual meeting in Montgomery, still the largest attended Tuesday evening session in recent memory.
Preceding the evening service, Sherri Burgess will speak at a dinner to be held in conjunction with the state convention meeting (see story below).
“If you don’t take the opportunity to go hear her teach when you have the chance, you’ve really missed out,” Rick Burgess said. “She loves her Lord, she loves His Word and she’s an incredible teacher.”
Both Rick and Sherri Burgess will be available after the evening service to meet those who stop by and sign books. Their books will be available for purchase, with proceeds going to support ministries funded by the Bronner Burgess Memorial Fund.
Rick Burgess said it is his hope that the two events will “inspire the Church to stand up and to be who God has called us to be, to be the salt and light in a very, very dark society.”