What I Love About Discipleship Culture

Studying culture has been a big deal since I bit into the post-modernity conversation way back when.  Ha, post-modernity.  Anyway, I loved sociology in college and even considering getting a Master’s in it; though my current master’s degree is non-existent.  Either way, when the study and observation of culture became important for church leadership, I was instantly intrigued.

2The process of understanding culture and its relevance to ministry is still important; with or without post-modernity (sigh).  This is especially true for youth and young adult ministry leaders.  Every day we live in the trenches of cultural differences; whether its the cultural difference between us and our students, the church and our students, or all three.  Youth ministries is where I learned to see myself as a missionary to a foreign culture and where I was given the foundational training I needed to do cross-cultural ministry.

As is often pointed out by both myself and others; we live in a time when the church remains culturally divided according to generational lines.  We often struggle between these cultures and as youth or young adult pastors, we strive to somehow get them connected.  I recently wrote a piece about this which you can access here.  This is a struggle which every church in the western church must face and/or is facing in some way.

If our churches have even entered the dialogue on this topic, then usually some solutions have been suggested.  Initially, the thought is to force young people into situations where they must simply outright accept the culture of older generations.  This has its cons, but also has some surprising pros.  Another solution is for the church to become more culturally relevant to the younger generations.  This too has its pros and cons.  A third option has also been expressed by taking the younger generation and planting a church that specifically addresses their needs and reflects their culture.  Generally speaking, each of these suggestions have both merit and shortcomings of their own.

Still, the somewhat depressing thought remains that these are our best options.  Either force boomer culture on millennials, force millennial culture on boomers or isolate generations altogether.  And while I’d rather fumble my way through these options than do nothing at all, it seems that many people are only becoming frustrated with the unintended results of these strategies.

However there may yet be a fourth option.  Rather than asking various generations to jump off their respective cultural cliffs, only to catch each other in the air; why can’t we build a bridge between the two? If we can build a third culture that is both shared and positive, the various generations in our congregations can begin to interact over a common middle ground which is understood and accepted by all (This actually serves the needs of multiple cultural groups, not just two seemingly opposite generations).

DiscipleshipTitle-300x224Mike Breen and the people at 3dm have done a tremendous amount of work around building discipleship cultures.  As I have been exposed to their work and ideas I have come to the realization that a shared, discipleship culture is potentially the answer to our generational-culture divide.  Mutually adopting a discipleship culture means sharing language, values, expectations and norms in a way that draws people together into a new vision of community.  This may be one of the few strategies that has genuine potential to give Christ-followers of various generations a way to relate to each other.  Furthermore, we may find ourselves connected around the lifestyle of following Jesus; which is probably the best part yet.

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Is discipleship a curriculum?

We’ve all seen it.  Some of us have used it, with or without having bought into the promises.  Most of us have found ourselves victims of it.  To be a Christian in the western world is to have some experience with Bible teaching curriculum.  Youth ministry, children’s ministry, preaching, college, small groups, etc…  You name it and there is someone out there with a curriculum that will “transform” your church and people.

Here are some real examples of marketing promises made by the producers of various curriculum resources:

…immerses kids in the gospel…ensures that no matter whenyou jump in, you won’t miss a thing.

Can you really make that guarantee?  

Now you can give your Easter celebration its biggest possible impact with the…

Um….bigger than the resurrection?

….teaches about the life-changing message of the Crucifixion in a way that everyone can understand and no one will forget.

That’s awesome.

…kids will love coming to Sunday school.  Watch them grow in their relationship with Jesus!

What is this?  Chia-pet discipleship?  Open the box and just add water.

To be fair, there are some resources that boast realistic results. But you and I aren’t dumb.  We don’t read those lines and believe the hype.  We hopefully choose curriculum because they will truly help us make disciples.  This however begs the question of whether or not curriculum can produce disciples.  To some of us a question like this might be akin to blasphemy.  Our minds immediately wonder how we could make disciples without teaching.  Of course you can’t, but that doesn’t mean that teaching is the whole of discipleship.  Not to mention that discipleship which is only teaching assumes a very linear process which is not only presumptuous, but increasingly irrelevant with younger generations.  

We live in an information based society.  Yet we in the church have assumed that if we present the information of scripture, A- people will automatically accept it and B- people will know what to do with it.  If these assumptions were ever true, they will only leave us frustrated in our current context.  Yes we must present the word and the Gospel, but we need to do so in a way that isn’t just the transference of information.  

But this is where curriculum comes in AND where I have found myself guilty.  Rather than take the time to teach others to teach, lead and disciple (a novel idea), we hand them some out of the box, bell and whistle curriculum.  Our hope is that this will produce disciples.  What it really does is allows us to give teaching responsibilities to unqualified people, so that they can dispense information that we are comfortable with in a way which we approve of.  In fact, they don’t even have to be living as a disciple themselves to dispense the information, which only compounds the problem.  Ultimately It’s low empowerment with high expectation.

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

If you look at the Gospels to discover how Jesus trained the original disciples, you actually find some great disciple making strategies.  Strategies which quickly become counter-cultural to the western evangelical context.  Embarrassingly, I admit that I’ve only recently begun to do this, always wanting to rely on other models and/or the regurgitation of information.

For now I’m still a rookie in the world of disciple making.  I have a lot to learn and am only at the beginning stages or rethinking these issues.  Still, The Bible isn’t a curriculum; the Holy Spirit isn’t a program; the Christian life isn’t a meeting.  If we’re to do this right, we must accept that something else is required.