- Stories of disciples caring for one another
- That we find growth even in hardship
- People making a difference by letting God lead them
- Glimpses into the effects of disciple-making culture
- How we can love people right where they’re at
- The secret to culture is community
- Growth as the byproduct of culture
An interview with Brandon Guindon
Brandon Guindon: My name is Brandon Guindon. I’m the senior pastor at Real Life Ministries, Texas, in Tomball, Texas, which is just a few miles Northwest of Houston.
Stories from the HeartChad: Brandon, I’m really excited about today’s episode because in the first episode of this special series on disciple-making culture, you talked about sort of the what, the why, and the motivation for doing this—and even what does it take? Today’s episode is just about stories of disciple-making culture, and you share a lot of this in your book by that name, but I wanted to give the audience a chance to hear from your heart, these stories, in your voice, in the different contexts that you’ve created and been a part of teams to create culture. Because I think one of the things that you’re going to share with us is that it’s not like one person can make culture. In fact, that’s definitively not culture. If just one person is doing it, right, it might start with one, but it has to sort of permeate a whole church. Brandon, I know that you’ve been in ministry in different locations and you started in Idaho in 1999, doing ministry in Post Falls, Idaho. Then you planted a church in Houston, Texas called Real Life Ministries, Texas, and you sort of brought the culture—the culture of disciple-making, not the Northern Idahoan culture. I guess you can’t really avoid it. You still have elk don’t you, right? Chad: So, you brought yourself, but what you have shared with people as you planted this church about four or five years ago is this, this way of doing life together, where disciple-making is who you are, not just what you do, like you mentioned in the last episode. So I wanted to just hear Brandon, when you planted this church with your team, how did you start with disciple-making as your culture from the very beginning?
We Are Called to Live Out Disciple-MakingBrandon: That’s a great question, Chad. I think what I kind of step back and really think about that and go back to the very beginning, right off the bat.
What’s important is that we return to the Scriptures and we don’t plant a church from a programmatic mindset.
At least that wasn’t my mindset—to plan it with, you know, here’s the step one, step two, step three. It was to look at and go and ask a question. What was the culture that Jesus created? What did Jesus do? How did he live out and model disciple-making? Because at the end of the day, that’s what we are called to do. It’s funny, I’m a church planter, but I don’t really necessarily believe in church planting in the sense that we would kind of define it in America.
I believe in disciple-making, and if we focus on making disciples, I believe churches will be born.
And so, from the very beginning, you know, when you mentioned bringing the culture with me, it was more, I think even than a culture, it was a biblical understanding of, “What does it look like to make disciples? And let’s focus on that. And then whatever that will lead to we’ll just trust God and follow in that.”
A Culture That Started in the Living RoomAnd so my wife and I, when we started, it was, you know, we were discipling three couples. They were in our living room. We were with them, and yes, they, they felt like God was calling them to go with us. And that one day we would start and launch a church. Great. But our focus was to do life together. Our focus was to invest in these couples and to pore through the word of God and to grow spiritually. And to just, as I said, do life together. Well, as that progressed, those three invited other couples invited other people in our group, in my living room, or as we’ve talked about, kind of, in our backyard and our barbecue group and all of that, it just continued to grow. And, you know, I was raising up and then eventually releasing those first three couples to disciple on their own. And so, our group in the backyard, if you will, continued to grow. And I didn’t talk about starting a church service; I didn’t talk about our worship and kids’ ministry, or any of those kinds of things yet. What we focused on is the culture that we had and doing life together, as I said, being disciples of Jesus and learning how to disciples, and so that was our focus and we allowed the Lord to add to it as the Lord would add to it. And so that group continued to grow until a point to where eventually, like I said, I released those three couples that we originally poured into. They started their own groups in their homes and they began discipling people. And that group, you know, just continued to grow out of that culture, to where it got to a point to where we would say, “Okay, do we need to look at having a Sunday morning service? Do we need to look at doing more formal things as a church?” But that was a byproduct of what was coming out of the culture that started very simply in the living room. Chad: And I love the fact that you started small and you grew slow, but then it just kind of took off. Because I want to make sure that we’re clear, that you’re clear, about what you mean when you’re sort of saying, “Well, I don’t believe in church planting in the sense that we normally talk about it.” Would you clarify that for us? Because I think you very much do believe in church planting. It’s just, there’s a certain type that you’re advocating for. And so I want you to be clear about that with our audience.
God Adds the DisciplesBrandon: Yeah. So, I believe that our focus that we are called to make disciples, to disciple the people that God puts in your path, as you do that and invest in them and they grow and they raise up and grow up spiritually, they then, themselves, learn to disciple. Another, just as we have seen in the early church, as God continued to add to their number of new people were raised up. They raised up new people. They released him to do other things. The church grew and expanded, and as disciples are made, churches are born. And so the American kind of Western philosophy tends to be, Well, let’s put some money in rent, a building and buy some equipment and let’s start a service and begin a Sunday morning service. And that’s a church plant. And hopefully, eventually, it grows. And we get enough people to be able to do ministry and have our Sunday morning services, and it becomes self-supported and all of those things. What I’m saying is, if you shoot at that goal, you may not ever get disciples made.
If you shoot at the goal of making disciples that can make disciples, churches will be born.
And so you’re right in that, I want to hold as closely to the biblical model and see churches born and grow out of Jesus’ methodology. Then what I would call a little bit more of a programmatic approach of, Let’s find a building, buy some equipment, rent some stuff and start a Sunday morning service, and then call that church. I know that’s counter to what a lot of churches have been planted. Probably even some of the folks listening on the call are like, Hey, that’s how we started our church. It’s just to me, it’s to challenge that notion and go, it’s not that I’m saying their church’s wrong. I’m saying let’s look at the biblical model and example, and let’s do that as close to how Jesus said to do it as we can.
It’s Not About StrategyChad: Right? So we will plant churches. We’ll start new locations of gatherings of believers. Right. But I think what you’re talking about is, it’s not even a strategy. The strategy comes out of this mindset of, we are a people who make disciples. Okay, now what does church look like? And that just reframes the whole discussion, Brandon. And I love how you talk about that in the book. In your book, Disciple-Making Culture, you have these different sections, there’s four key components of a disciple-making culture. Component number one is the biblical foundation. And then you talk about the relational environment and intentional leadership, and then the reproducible process. And, you know, what we’re talking about is really all four of those present from the beginning. And it manifests in people’s lives. This is not just a new strategy. I think that’s huge.
These are stories. These are narratives. These are people living life together.
So I really want to hear Brandon tell us some stories of individual people, like real life stories, of people who joined your church over the last four to five years, and they’ve caught the vision, or maybe they had the vision and then they, they joined your church, so we can really get a vision with you of what we’re talking about here. Share some stories with us.
Stories of People Who Caught the VisionBrandon: Yeah, gosh, I’ll start with one that comes off the top of my mind is, you know, we had a couple Glenn and Michelle Olsen who are close, close friends of mine. And when, when we first started to live this out in our living room, they were friends of mine back in, in Idaho. And I was talking with them one day. I had to go back to Post Falls, and I was back there, and I ran into them and had this conversation. And they just really felt God moving and pushing in them. But they also heard about what we were doing and what we were living out. And then they felt God call them to Tomball, to come help us. And so, I mean, they left everything, their family and, you know, kind of got in their cars and they drove down and moved and got new jobs and came alongside and helped and grew as disciple-makers and Glen and Michelle became two of our best disciple-makers. They raised up several new leaders and people that are currently continuing to disciple in our church today. I think of Bill and Sue Himmel, who are now on my staff. You know, they were part of a church and it was just went through some different changes and frustrations and different things. And they felt called to be part of a disciple-making movement and, you know, came into the church and just served and helped and supported. And, and this, we invested in them. They really became contributors to the culture and, and started to grow and invest and disciple and minister the people in our church. But they wanted to be part of a bigger movement and be a part of something great.
A Culture That Loves PeopleThere’s a couple in our church right now that when they first came in, the husband and wife were not believers, very far from the Lord. Their marriage was nearly over and they just, they didn’t know what else to do. And they had been invited by a coworker to just come check out our church. So they came to a service and they would sit in the back and were very distant. And I just remember kind of reaching out to them. And really they, they were just sitting and observing and God was working on them, but eventually they got in a small group and people began to just love on them and care for them. And one day they came over to my house for dinner. I had them over. And we were visiting that night. And when we were all done, they were leaving. And he said to me, he goes, you know,
“I can’t believe how much people have cared for us, that people want to get to know us, that people want to know our story.”He said to me:
“We’re just very broken.”And that opened the door for he and his wife and my wife and I to begin having a conversation with them about their need for Jesus. And I got the opportunity to lead them to the Lord right there that night. And we baptized them shortly after. And now, to this day, they’re leading their own small group now, and their marriage is together. They’re doing well, their kids are doing well. And you know, I just can’t even imagine where they would be had they not had the opportunity to be in a culture that just loved them right where they were at. It’s been powerful to see the changes in their life and the testimony that they are. In fact, I really believe the more they’re going down this road, I see a call in their lives to ministry. It will not surprise me one bit. That one day that they’re serving full time in ministry somewhere. You know, we’ll see what God does. It’s just, yeah, it’s amazing to see.
Growth Even During StruggleChad: Brandon, I know that, you know, those are great stories, but some people are thinking, Well, that’s nice for you, but we’re having a hard time. You know, I bet some people are thinking, Okay, well that, I’m sure that works cause you haven’t faced any big challenges. And you know, obviously we’re in COVID-19 right now in that crisis, but I want to go to some of the stories from your life, your recent life, I mean, since you moved to Houston and planted this church and I want to hear, okay, well…
What did this look like for you: this way of life—where it’s normal for the people in your church to make disciples, to care for each other, to basically be Jesus for one another? What did that look like when it got hard?
You know, you’ve mentioned that you’ve faced two major challenges in your life since you moved to Texas. So, tell me about that and specifically how your church’s culture of disciple-making helped you as a pastor, helped you make it through those challenges. Brandon: Yeah. There’s two major for sure. You know, I will say, even before I just talk about those two stories, you know, that I just want to encourage the listener that when you go down this road of getting involved in people’s lives and you’re making disciples that almost every day, there’s some form of a challenge because it’s not easy. These families, you know, there’s issues and struggles, and I believe there’s a spiritual war that Satan hates what we’re doing and you face the spiritual battle in a way that is very profound, and I’ve experienced it on many occasions.
Hurricane HarveyBut I think, you know, the two big events that occurred, one, was hurricane Harvey. You know, we were a year plus into our church plant when hurricane Harvey hit. And that was a massive storm. You know, we had fifty-four inches of rain in forty-eight hours. Houston is not built to handle that kind of water, very few places are. And you know, it flooded out thousands and thousands of people. And so, our little church, you know, was, was affected by that. We had families that were affected by it, and we had to rally and band together and began taking care of and helping people and our community. And so something that could have very easily, I would say, caused us to disband or cause us to lose focus, it actually unified us even more. Our people rallied together, even though our church was very young. And, and because of those times we had in the backyard and in the homes together, it was almost as if people didn’t even question it, “This is what we’re going to do.” And so that was, that was a powerful time of… Probably even more so, is on October 28th of 2016, just two weeks before our, our service launch in our church had been meeting in small groups and there was about sixty to eighty of us at the time.
An Accident and a New HomeAnd on October 28th, my two daughters were in a massive, massive car accident, and it was devastating to us. My sixteen-year-old was driving and they were T-boned by an F250 doing about almost fifty miles an hour and hit directly on the passenger door side. And, and my fourteen-year-old daughter was sitting in the passenger side. And my fourteen-year-old Olivia would spend twenty-one days in a coma. And she had sixteen skull fractures and she had a double compounded fractured jaw. Her, her head was just, just, I mean, it was crushed. They gave her a three percent chance to live. And our other daughter that was driving had severe, severe lacerations, had to have a different plastic surgery. She had to have her ear reattached to her head, and she had all kinds of, it was awful. And so, you know, we were struck with this humongous tragedy. We have four children, two girls and two boys.
When that happened, I didn’t know whether or not we were going to make it, whether or not my family would make it. And I was worried about my marriage making it, let alone the church surviving.And because I mean, we were in the hospital twenty-four hours a day. And so my wife and I, at the time and during those twenty-one days rotated from, kind of, the home to the ICU. In fact, one of the crazy little things about this story is we were in the middle of selling a home and buying a new home, so because of the church plant we were downsizing everything. And so, we were literally homeless, kind of, when the wreck happened. We signed the closing documents on our new home in the ICU. And so a family in our church Sam and Judy, who are on our staff, they took us in and we were living with them and they were amazing, helped care for our kids and helped us along the way. But our entire church rallied around us, supported us, walked with us, held our hands, cried with us. One man in our church, I’ll never forget it. Jim Nut, the guy that I had discipled, that was in my men’s group. He spent forty-eight hours and never left the waiting room of the ICU, just sat there and prayed, all night. I don’t know if the guy even slept. I know I didn’t sleep much in those first initial forty-eight hours, but he was there with me. And our church did those kinds of things. We rallied together, you know, and eventually after twenty-one days, Olivia, they wanted to try and bring her out of the coma. And they sent her to a rehab hospital and she survived and it was a miracle. And we spent another two plus months in a neuro rehab hospital. And eventually she got sent home and her rehab at home began and she had to relearn everything to walk and talk and tie her shoes and to integrate back into school. And, and it was incredible, this story, at our church, walking us through it.
The Church Can Do Amazing ThingsAnd you know, I sit back now today and look back on it. And you know, Olivia is, you wouldn’t even know she’d been in a wreck. In fact, she’s going to play division one softball at the University of Massachusetts and, and our girls are doing great. But it was during that time, much like Harvey, where we rallied together and our church grew during that time, all the while, me, the senior pastor was rarely around. I could preach when I could, our church grew. And during that time, we went from eighty people to almost 140 people. And we had baptisms during that time, we had groups branch during that time, the whole while, you know, I’m just holding on. And so, it just is a testimony to when we do things Jesus’s way, people respond, and God uses them, and it grows. And the church can do amazing things. When, when we see that much, like in Harvey, when we ministered to people and reached out to them and cared for them, and we saw people come to Christ through that, just as our church survived this car accident. And I’ve said before, I mean, many churches, you know, I think it’s a question for the listeners:
If your church faced a major tragedy, would it survive? Would the people hold together? Would you be able to fall back on Jesus’ methodology and the church?
And that’s my hope for everybody. I want people to be able to experience the culture, to live in a culture that Jesus modeled because it’s life-changing. It’s life-saving at times. I mean, that’s why I wrote the book. It’s so much more than just writing a book. I want to inspire people, motivate people to live out relational disciple-making, to live in that culture that Jesus calls us to.
Overwhelm with LoveChad: Brandon, thanks for sharing those stories, man, that, that gripped my heart because my wife and I just moved. And, you know, it was in the middle of a pandemic that our house, we were in between homes and actually the house we were going to close on, fell through. And in the middle of that, we found out about our daughter, Catherine, who’s due this June, that she has a syndrome that we’ve talked about. And so, you know, I’ve heard that story before, but I didn’t realize that it all happened at once. Like you were moving, then your daughters were in a car accident, and man, that’s, these kinds of things have the potential to devastate us, but like your church, my church, too, and I’m in Nashville, Tennessee in Franklin, just south of Nashville. My church has overwhelmed us with love during this tough season for us. And when you told your story, I’m like, “Me too.” Like I’ve experienced it too. And what I love about your story as a senior pastor is you’re saying, “Look, not only did we not crumble when I was in crisis, but our church grew.”
If there’s anything that sounds like the kingdom of God and like the disciples of Jesus, that story’s it—that during a challenge we actually grew.And to me, that’s so inspiring, Brandon. So thank you for sharing that.
You Are a Disciple Wherever You GoBrandon, as we close this out, you know, you’ve told us some stories about disciple-making culture. Is there anything else you want to add? This really is kind of a heartfelt thing. This is not like we’ve mentioned several times. It’s not any strategy tactic. This is who we are. Now strategies and programs and methods come out of this who we are as disciple-makers. But is there anything else you wanted to add, just as we close out on these narratives? Brandon: I just want to encourage everybody that’s listening, that regardless of your church background, regardless of the position or seat that you may sit in in your church, maybe you’re just a volunteer, maybe you’re just a staff person, maybe you’re the senior pastor, maybe you’re, you know, you just attend, wherever that you sit, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, that you are a disciple, that wherever you go, that you can help create, that you can live out a culture of disciple-making. I want to create that in my home. I want to encourage you to even start there, to living that out even in your own home. You know, you said at the very beginning of this call, Chad, that, you know, culture is not just one person and that’s true. It’s a collection of us that create it, but it really does, it starts with each of us individually, that we make that commitment. I just want to encourage you, and that you can do that, that you can live out Jesus’ methodology, regardless of the circumstances that you’re kind of in, to just start being that person and allow God to work through you, to do that and watch the stories that are built out of those things, to watch how God uses that and begins using you to maybe influence or change or shift or shape culture.
And so I just, I really want to encourage everybody that with the power of the Holy Spirit and living in obedience to God’s word, that Jesus is going to use you and you will see God do some powerful things.And so I just, I want to leave everybody with a word of just encouragement that you can do this.