Last week, I gave a talk on discipleship at the “Building Biblical Churches Conference” hosted by the Spurgeon Fellowship of Florida. One of the points I argued had to with the responsibility of the leadership to create a culture for disciple-making. It just doesn’t happen by accident, and it should not happen by exception. In order for disciple-making to become normative in the life of a church, I argue that one of the most fundamental steps to take is to create a culture through robust means spearheaded by intentional leadership.
On Creating a Disciple-Making Culture
1. A Philosophy That Focuses on Disciple-Making [PURPOSE]
From the very beginning, church leaders should have a clear understanding of the mission of the church. The church does not exist to satisfy the preferences of members or cater to the demands of religious consumers. The church exists to make disciples, and a philosophy that undergirds that mission focuses the life of the church toward that end. The practical benefit of purposeful thinking encourages a straightforward and simple approach to ministry rather than a busy calendar and complex, compartmentalized approach.
2. Leadership Who Model Disciple-Making [PRAXIS]
Like priests, like people. Those most influential in creating culture are the leaders and the example they set. If church leaders are not the lead disciple-makers, then it is disingenuous to pursue a culture of disciple-making when the leadership undermine it. The Apostle Paul was such a discipler that he could send one of his disciple-making disciples in his stead to teach, serve, and live in a manner consistent with the life he modeled for churches. This did not come about on a platform or in an office. It happened because Paul was on mission in all of life to make disciples of Jesus. A model either magnifies or marginalizes the making of disciples.
3. Structures to Facilitate Disciple-Making [PERMISSION-GIVING]
Churches can be structured in a way that communicates to the people only the gifted, paid professionals should do the work. The structures of the church which facilitate disciple-making are permission-giving in that aspiring disciples and emerging leaders find opportunity to meaningfully participate in the life of leading disciplers as well as the work they are doing. Do your structures provide latitude for amateurs or leverage for professionals? Permission-giving structures exist for the former and demystify the latter.
4. Systems to Foster Disciple-Making [PATHWAYS/PROCESSES]
A professionalized culture cuts off pathways and processes, and internal systems are not necessarily since the work is reserved for the uniquely qualified. However, a disciple-making culture necessarily must have systems in place to foster the relational work of growth in the gospel, community, and mission. What systems are in place to make disciples? Mature disciples? Mobilize disciples? Multiply disciples? What pathways and processes exist for not-yet believers to hear and respond to the gospel? For new believers to become covenant members? For members to be integrated into the mission and vision of the church? For disciples to own the mission to make more disciples and lead others in the process? When there is a disciple-making culture, you will find a farming system composed of pathways and processes that foster disciple-making in a comprehensive manner.
5. Assessments to Measure Disciple-Making [PROGNOSIS]
In the past, there have been various kinds of assessments, including the notorious B’s (building, budgets, baptisms) and N’s (nickels and noses). These are not entirely wrong, but they are also not necessarily helpful either. They don’t tell the whole story. In the same way, a busy church with a lot of activities does not mean it is a disciple-making church. In fact, such busyness could be a substitute for a failure of real discipleship. I would suggest that a better assessment would be the R’s, namely (1) Renewal based on the gospel, (2) Relationships built on the gospel, (3) Rhythms established for gospel mission, and (4) Reproduction born from faithfulness in making disciple-making disciples. Assessments are like scorecards. It helps you evaluate successes and failures. In that way, assessments provide a prognosis for church health and vitality.
6. Values to Filter Out Distractions to Disciple-Making [PRIORITIES]
Aiming to please everybody and attempting to do everything that appears to work is a quick way to lead the church to failure. The church should not be a laboratory to try out the latest trends. It should be viewed as the people who stubbornly value the things of God because He knows what is best for us. To have a disciple-making culture, you need to know (1) your pre-commitments to govern how you invest your time and energy, (2) your pre-determined parameters to guide where you should spend your time and energy, and (3) pre-scripted emphasis to steer your time and energies to the appropriate goal.
I believe the implementation of these robust means through the intentionality of church leaders will serve them well in creating a disciple-making culture. There is a danger that we all face: we can become committed to doing things that don’t matter and good in the things that don’t register in the kingdom of God. When a disciple-making culture exists, a church will more easily detect the distractions to the heart of the mission and diseases to the health of the body.
Let me ask you: are there other aspects of a disciple-making culture that I have not mentioned? What else would you add or suggest for creating a disciple-making culture?