Tag: Discipleship

Building a Discipling Culture (review)

This is a review of Mike Breen’s Building a Discipleship Culture. (Available only as an eBook. It’s worth your $7.49.)

I appreciate Mike Breen’s radical focus on discipleship. He points out that many leaders in the West, while often well-educated, are poorly trained for disciple-making. In seminaries we learn exegesis, systematic theology, church history, and pastoral duties but all too often the basics of making a disciples are left out. While there are exceptions, in general, he’s right. It’s true. Things do need to change.

Some Strengths of the Book

Build a discipleship culture. This is what Breen does well. Build. Equip. Change. If you’re looking for a book to help you to create a discipleship culture, look no more. He does this through structure and insight. The second half of the book is devoted to discipleship structure. He calls for Huddles, small groups of disciples who meet regularly to encourage and disciple one another. These huddles have multiplication built into them. They are kind of like Fight Clubs but with much more structure and intentionality.

What I enjoyed most about this book were the discipling insights, things like Invitation and Challenge. Invitation and challenge was one way Jesus made disciples. He invited them into his life, but not just to be his buddies; he also challenged them. Too much buddying is done in the name of discipleship. We need to deepen in our security in Christ to love others enough to exhort, challenge, and correct them with grace and truth. Breen notes that Jesus created a “highly supportive but highly challenging culture.”

I was teaching through a holistic discipleship class in our local church while reading Building a Discipleship Culture, and to my surprise, there were a lot of overlaps in our structures and insights. This was affirming, as Mike has been at it a bit more than me. Discipleship, if it is going to be true to God’s intention, has to be intentional, integrated, and informed. Mike says roughly the same thing when he calls for three environments: Classroom, Apprenticeship, and Immersion. Most Westerners never get beyond the classroom. Discipleship remains at arms length idea, not a personal investment.

Now, don’t jump to conclusions by lumping Mike into an anti-theology camp. He says teaching and doctrine are “incredibly important”, but goes on to point out how Jesus taught important doctrines in the context of relationship and ministry immersion. So, in building a discipleship culture its important that we integrate information with intentionality in the context of relationships. I really like this statement:

“The best discipling relationships always have an intentional, ‘organized’ component to them, as well as a less formal, ‘organic’ component.”

It’s true. Go all organic and its hard to grow well. Even plants often need support. Go all intentional and relationships can be reduced to meetings and information transfer. We need both intentionality and relationship. For these insights and many others, Building a Discipleship Culture is worth reading!

Overstatements in the Book

Now, Mike and I have exchanged a few winsome emails about some things he says in his book. And, if I understand correctly, he has a tendency to overstatement (of course none of us do!). In light of that, here are a few that I think need qualifying:

  • “Disciples are the only thing that Jesus cares about, and its the only number that Jesus is counting.” Really? Jesus doesn’t care about our doctrine or church polity? And is Jesus counting disciples because he’s basing our worth as a disciple on how many disciples we have, or is he counting because he died for his disciples? Counting can be a dangerous thing.
  • So what is the engine of the church? Discipleship. “If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.” There’s some truth to this statement, but it’s not a truism. Disciples have been made without making churches throughout church history. Very often they end up as cults. Alternatively, many churches are started that don’t mature and multiply disciples but instead gather Christians to Sunday events. This probably needs nuancing.
The Engine of the Church
If discipleship is the engine of the church, we put our hope in pragmatism, albeit Jesus imitating pragmatism. But the hope of every disciple and would be disciple is not the method of discipleship but the might of the gospel! The gospel, not discipleship, is the engine of the church. I asked Mike about this and he gave a helpful response:

All metaphors break down at some point and I’m sure saying discipleship is the engine breaks down on many levels, though i think it works on many levels too. I don’t know that I was trying to make a significant theological statement so much as point to a reality of causation that I believe exists/doesn’t exist in the church. I think you could say discipleship is the fuel and the Gospel is the engine and the point is still proven. Without fuel, the car is still going no where, just as it wouldn’t without an engine.

Point taken! Then I say, “Let’s start the engine, fill it up, and start making disciples!” Let’s build discipleship culture with the gospel of Jesus right in the middle of it!

Making the Gospel Viral (via discipleship)

I’m incredibly excited about what is happening in our church right now. We’re really dialing in on discipleship, more than ever, in a variety of ways. As we assessed the health of our church, we evaluated the four “selfs” of a viable church plant.

  • Self-Governing – a church led by a plurality of elders
  • Self-Sustaining – a church financially supported by its own people
  • Self-Reproducing – a church that multiplies disciples, missional communities, and church plants
  • Self-Gospeling – a church that is equipped to apply the gospel to itself and to its own cultural context
Our Steps towards Viral Discipleship
After sharing our progress on each “self” on a Sunday morning, we have focused in on Self-reproducing. In order to avoid becoming a church that has a shelf-life, we need to reproduce on a micro and macro level. We need reproductive gospel DNA. Although our staff and some of our leadership were practicing reproductive discipleship; it was not viral. Therefore, I wrote a paper on “The Missing Ingredient of Reproductive Discipleship” and discussed it with our elders and staff. Then, after refining our thoughts, we then turned our attention to practical steps for cultivating reproductive discipleship. Those steps included:
  1. Casting Vision to our Leaders about Reproductive Disciple-making
  2. A message on The Mission of Making Disciples
  3. Working through a Gospel/Community/Mission Primer in our missional communities.
  4. Our MCs making a missional commitment to disciple-making.
  5. Identifying & training disciples through 12: Making the Gospel Viral
We’re hopeful that this will lead to viral discipleship and missional faithfulness in passing the gospel of Jesus on. Pray for us if you think about it.

GCD Resources for Discipleship (& What’s Coming!)

I am very pleased to announce the launch of www.gospelcentereddiscipleship.com (GCD). The mission of GCD is to promote resources that make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus. Currently, all our content is free! This week we launched with:

GCD will be posting new resources every single week. We have a stash of great articles, some eBooks, more articles currently being written, and curriculum should be available down the road. If you have a topic you’d like to see covered, feel free to drop us a line on our contact form.

Generous Disciples

It’s been about a week of vacation, nestled in the Vail mountains, where Dodson families converged to share a condo, rest, recreate, and fellowship. I’ve learned, not so much from study, but from seeing generosity.

A Generous Spirit is Hard to Find

My parents generosity continues to amaze me. Their stated goal, even during a recession, is to give generously, not primarily to their kids, but to God’s kingdom. This generosity isn’t a mere act but an act of worship. Their generosity has affected Christians and non-Christians around the world. It extends well beyond finances into (or from) a generous spirit. A mundane example from our vacation…

As a family of five, my family is the largest by far among my two brother’s families. Yet, I’m never made to feel guilty when Dad a picks up the restaurant bill for everyone. There are no cutting remarks, snide comments, or jokes about how many mouths there are to feed. In fact, a number of years ago my father told all of us: “Whenever we all meet for a meal, I’ll pick up the tab. Don’t feel like you have to offer to pay. It’s something I enjoy doing.”

Now, I realize that not everyone has this kind of financial liberty, but we all have the opportunity, every single day, to make others feel as though they are in our debt or as though they are in our blessing. We all have the power to make others feel judged or free, as an imposition or as part of the the family. We choose one or the other many times a day. We do it with time.

Generosity of Time

Are people made to feel as though they are robbing your precious time or do they walk away sensing they are free recipients of it?

My father is the CEO of a company, an elder in his local church, and is currently dealing with several emotionally taxing issues. Yet, he remains open, generous, interested in our lives. He listens and asks questions. He pauses to take great delight in is grandchildren. He pursues us in conversation. He plays tennis and enjoins topics of conversation unique to each person.

My mother is ever-present, serving in the background in silent generosity. Meals, dishes, shopping, and laundry, magically remain in order while everyone enjoys their vacation. She has plenty of vocational responsibilities. Yet, she anticipates the needs and preferences of nine to eleven people, and meets them. Blessing flows out from her.

Emotional Generosity

Generosity also has an emotional expression. Do we listen intently to others as they share their joys and struggles or do we secretly lie in wait to express our preference, experience, or current emotion?

Do people feel emotionally drained or strengthened when they walk away from conversation with you?

My mother is one of the best listeners I know, not because she is silent, or because she nods her head continually, but because her eyes tell me she is listening. And when she does speak, it is with understanding. She speaks, not to hijack conversation but to climb deeper into it, into your life. This is how she has deeply and effectively counseled so many women through so many crises. Whether it is a friend in a small group or a confused, broken woman who walked through the door of a crisis pregnancy center, Kaye remains generously present.

Generous Discipleship

Discipleship is about generosity. Take a mental stroll through the Gospels and you will find, again and again, Jesus giving generously of his time and emotions, even when he is exhausted or overwhelmed. As the multitudes press in, as the marginalized reach out to touch him, as his own followers puzzle over his identity, Jesus remains present, listening, giving, and speaking. With his eyes upon their hearts, he offers extended time and enriching presence.

Jesus is not distracted with “the kingdom”; he is present, building the kingdom. People are not an imposition; they are, very profoundly, his creation, his flesh and blood, his family. Jesus offers both presence and understanding as he climbs deeply into our lives. If Jesus was stingy, he would not have lived thirty-three years with us, three of which have spawned countless disciples and endless reflection.

Jesus’ life also teaches us that generosity requires sacrifice. Time, emotions, possessions, and energy must be subtracted from our lives if they are to be added to others. Jesus did not host events and call it discipleship; he hosted people and called them his own. Blessing poured out of him. From the backwoods of Galilee to wood of Golgotha, Jesus gave generously. This is grace.

Grace gives without demand, offers freedom not debt. Grace remakes men. It makes disciples of consumers, freeing us to spend our time and emotions on others. It reminds us that God has made so much of us in Christ, that we have much to give away to others. When Jesus died, he gave life. And to his disciples he says: Truly I say unto you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (Jn 12:24) Generosity requires sacrifice, but the life it nurtures invigorates both giver and recipient, such that we would say: “You don’t have to offer. It’s something I want to do. You have no idea how much I have received, and how much I love to give.”

While financial gifts can help many, it is the generosity of our own lives that will leave the greatest impression. Disciples of Jesus give generously. They leave an impression of grace.