Culture is a tricky thing. Who gets to define it? How exactly does the past influence it? How does culture shift? And how do you know when it shifts since it is hard to pin down in the first place? These are some of the questions that I carried into my reading of Disciple-Making Culture by Brandon Guindon.
Creating a Disciple-Making Culture
I was intrigued that this book was written by someone with a track record for success in disciple-making—starting at Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho, with Jim Putman, authoring books on discipleship and then reproducing that culture with a Real Life church plant near Houston, Texas—a church that grew from a few people at his home to over 800 people in three years. So, when I had a chance to read this book it was an easy decision.
There aren’t many books that deal with creating a disciple-making culture in churches. Many, many books deal with how to disciple people, and many books deal with how to run discipleship groups and small groups geared toward discipleship. But there aren’t many books at all on this specific niche: how to create a discipleship culture in an existing congregation. That last bit may be the hardest, “in an existing congregation,” because if you are planting a church, it is much easier.
I love Brandon’s definition of culture: “The way a church naturally functions when they are not under pressure” (17). Culture is easily formed. Every organization has its culture. Brandon’s book offers fresh insight into how to determine and develop culture that makes this book a must read for two groups: people in church leadership and people who are making disciples (and hopefully those who are doing both).
Healthy culture formed through intentional practices can be quite difficult to attain and even more difficult to sustain. But it can be done.
Whether you are planting a church or part of an existing church, this book will help. This book can even help you create or maintain a disciple-making culture in your small group. You may not have much say in what happens at your church or in the vision for the larger congregation but many of us have roles we can use to influence the church to a greater degree. This book will help inform you on how to do that. If you really want to get down to brass tacks, applying the principles of this book to your home life could help you have a home that takes making disciples seriously.
Disciple-Making Culture is not a book about strategy, although it contains strategy. This is not a book that will give you a plan, although it does illustrate a plan. It is a book that drives you back to what remains most important in making disciples, and it cautions you away from the ever-present temptation to copy a successful ministry. The reason that never works is because of culture—we aren’t them and they aren’t us. Our people aren’t their people and their people aren’t ours.
In essence, what you end up with is a book that walks the tightrope, giving examples without saying this should be your path, as well. Walking that rope takes humility and wisdom because the temptation for many church leaders is to think they have finally figured it all out, that after everything they’ve put into developing their church, they have finally found the thing everyone else is missing.
Instead of falling into that trap Brandon offers specific examples of principles, with a call for the reader to return to Scripture, return to prayer, and return to the Holy Spirit for guidance in finding their own path through the principles laid out before them. Put more directly, this book offers principles rather than a path but still illustrates a path to flesh out what is being said in more specific ways.
The Structure of the Book
The book is broken down into four key components of a disciple-making culture:
- Biblical Foundation
- Intentional Leadership
- Relational Environments
- Reproducible Process
Brandon gives multiple chapters to each of these components and gives countless stories and illustrations of what this looks like specifically in his congregation. The main gist of the book is this:
Church leaders need to embody what we find in the Scripture, and as we are called to do everything through relationships centered around love in simple and reproducible ways, God shows us how to do it.
1. Biblical Foundation
Brandon starts at the right place—the Bible. What has God revealed to us in Scripture (especially through the ministry of Jesus and the early church) about making disciples and healthy church culture? What we find in the Bible translates into our value system as a congregation.
The Bible must be the foundation of all that we do, and we need to allow the Bible to define our terms for us so that we are all on the same page and working in the same direction. Not only do we have to study the Scriptures, we have to communicate the Scriptures and discuss them with others in order for the message they hold to spread.
Grounding our approach in Scripture allows us to better stay the course. If I come up with a clever strategy that I am convinced is best, I can be swayed to another strategy if you can convince me it is better. But if the strategy comes from studying God’s Word, then I will be much less swayed by other clever plans that may come along. Grounding our approach in the Bible helps us steadfastly maintain the culture we are creating.
2. Intentional Leadership
Second is intentional leadership: culture starts at the top—what we believe, prioritize, value, and act upon as leaders makes its way down to the congregation. A church will not have a disciple-making culture if the church leaders are not engaged and involved in the process in meaningful ways.
I love Brandon’s saying, “Culture is more easily caught than taught” (81). That sentiment was true for Jesus, and it is just as true today. It is far easier, more memorable, and more impactful to show rather than just tell. The congregation will not take the mission more seriously than the leaders do.
3. Relational Environment
Third is relational environment: How many big God stories do you have in your life that only involve you in isolation? I can’t think of any in my own life. When God moves big it almost always involves other people and involves community. We should yearn for such a community to be created.
Ultimately God creates community, but he does allow us to assist and shape the characteristics that our community takes on. Brandon gives two pillars for the kind of community culture that is conducive to making disciples. And I will let you read Chapter 8 to find out what they are!
Without being rooted in love, shifting to a disciple-making culture will fail.
This isn’t adding a new program; this is inclining our hearts toward the people around us, just like Jesus did. Once you make that move, you can sustain the shift. Going through the motions to try to create a successful church and vision won’t cut it if love is not central to the process.
4. Reproducible Process
Last is having a process that is reproducible. Like with most successful things, you will have to have some kind of plan or strategy to guide the process (hopefully one heavily influenced by Scripture).
You will need to train so that people can execute the plan, set goals, and celebrate the win. Those items are fairly intuitive, but what is helpful in the book is Brandon’s specific application of those things to disciple-making church culture.
One of the things I really like about the book is that when he talks about an area of culture shift he always gives three to five practical things you can do to help turn the corner.
There is so much right about this book, and I really do think you should read this book if you have interest in discipleship and you are in church leadership on any level, because these principles apply to more than just making disciples.
Here is the one thing I believe this book lacks. It doesn’t address the all-too-common situation where a congregation wants this kind of culture, but the leadership is unwilling to embrace such a shift and unwilling to make changes in the way things are done. How can we navigate that?
Maybe the members want disciple-making culture, but the leadership is stuck keeping things as they always have been. Or maybe a church has a toxic culture and desperately needs a shift … how do we navigate that kind of culture change in a church?
I do believe principles that could potentially answer those questions are embedded in this book, but by and large the book itself anticipates a reader who is already aligned with wanting and creating a healthy, intentional disciple-making culture in their congregation.
That is the best-case scenario, but it is not always the case. Given the prevalence of unhealthy church culture it would be helpful to get more information on how to navigate that, especially from a church member perspective.
Brandon Guindon responded to this critique with his blog, “Fight for Disciple-Making Culture.”
Read Disciple-Making Culture by Brandon Guindon
I appreciate Brandon’s tackling such a difficult topic in a way that will be accessible for people of all levels of experience. I endorse this book as something that will be helpful to church leaders and people who are making disciples.
It would be a huge plus for a church planting team to read this book in their prayer and planning phases pre-launch, or even shortly after launch (if you already jumped in) to help clarify some things about the culture that is being created and to make sure what’s happening is being done in a healthy manner. Go out and pick up a copy of Disciple-Making Culture.
You will most likely want to buy a copy for each of your team members to read and discuss!
And make sure to check out the video course that compliments the book. You won’t regret it!
Hear from the author of Disciple-Making Culture through Brandon Guindon’s podcast series on this topic.
MATT DABBS is a church planter at Backyard Church and editor of Wineskins.org. The most important part of his life is his family—being husband to his wife Missy and father to their two boys Jonah and Elijah. When Matt isn’t ministering or writing he is an avid reader, runner, and disc golfer.
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