Building a Discipling Culture

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Rachel VanSchepen is the Discipleship Coordinator at Eastern Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, MI. She has contributed a book review of Building a Discipleship Culture by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram. Thanks Rachel! Next week: Paul Worster will share his review of Leading a Missional Community.

Report on Building a Discipling Culture, by Rachel VanSchepen

“I recently read Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen and the 3DM team.  Our churches spend a lot of time focusing on programing, creating an inviting environment, or even squabbling over our differences. According to this book, our main focus, which we all can agree on, is that Jesus tells us to make disciples.   “If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.”  Making disciples is an intentional process; it doesn’t just happen.  This book provides a method for discipling people. They don’t say it is the only way, but simply it is a method that has successfully worked for them and communities around the world.

I found the argument for why we need to focus on building a discipling culture very compelling.  The book does a great job of delving into the life of Jesus and his disciples, and showing us that the future of the church is about discipling people. Of course, agreeing and understanding this was the easy part!

The process for making a discipleship culture introduces many intriguing concepts, specifically huddles and lifeshapes, were new to my vocabulary. 

“A huddle is a group of four to ten people you feel God has called you to specifically invest in, and you will meet with them regularly (at least every other week) to intentionally disciple them in a group setting.” (43)

Life shapes are a set of discipleship themes that become a common language of the community. 3DM uses specific shapes to symbolize different themes that are easily recognizable.  Their goal is that by the end of the year, each huddle member will have learned to pray (hexagon), build deeper and balance relationships (triangle), multiply discipleship (square), etc.  

Naturally, I took what the book was saying, and considered my current role at church- how do we implement these ideas?  What should we change so that we can build huddles? Who is the person that can start this first huddle? I thought about what it means to be a part of a huddle, and pondered how can I integrate lifeshapes into my own life.  Of course, these first steps alone seem so daunting!  Yet the book is a practical guide that takes the big picture down to where we are at this moment.

While the book is an outline for a successful method of making disciples, it is also a down to earth approach for how to start making change. That is why I really appreciated how detailed the book is. It gives you exact outlines of how to begin your huddles. It guides you through the many steps and advises you to take your time on each Life Shape. This book is a continual process for how to make discipleship happen. This process is not quick, this process is not a program that has a definitive beginning and ending- it is life. After all, it takes time to get to know a person at an intimate level, it is certainly going to take time to learn how to be disciples! This book is not a curriculum; it is a guide to have at your side always.  This guide reminds us of our mission, and leads us on our path.  This guide is how we should be living- disciples making disciples.

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I just started a Huddle this past week! I had a little anxiety as I started the huddle as it is a much more directive form of discipleship than what I've done in the past. But the four guys in my huddle responded well and seem excited to grow. I think Breen and co. are totally correct that there is a discipleship crisis in our church. It is one of our primary callings as pastors (along with preaching the word and administering the sacraments), but we tend to put all our eggs in the Sunday morning basket, and spend the rest of our energy on programs, while actually doing very little discipleship. I also think its clear that Sunday school and Christian school (even Christian college) are no substitute for the kind of discipleship that Jesus had in mind for us to be doing. You can go to Christian schools your whole life and not really be a disciple. I'm an example of that. I don't think I really learned how the gospel applied to my life in a practical way until a mentor discipled my wife and me during my first year in full time ministry (after seminary). This is not to say I didn't know my theology or know the Bible. Discipleship is more than learning information, right? It's walking with Jesus, obeying him, and becoming more like him as you enter into relationship with the Triune God.

Great review Rachel and good words Ben! The two things I would add is first, what Mike Breen says over and over again about how discipleship is the engine that drives missional living and missional communities. There's a lot of focus on MCs these days, and rightly so. But Breen is right that without discipleship at the center it's hard to have the power, sustainability or reproducibility you want to see in your missional work. A second comment is how much we're resonating with the biblical framework they provide for discipleship in their book, "Covenant and Kingdom: The DNA of the Bible." Very reformed! Very refreshing! Like Ben, we're using huddles and life shapes as one of our tools for discipleship with great response. As we live missionally these tools are helping us be like Jesus and do the things he did.