A disciple-making culture?

In the past few years, we have talked a lot about changing our organizational culture. Back when SEND U (our training department) was being launched, we wanted to establish a coaching culture in our organization, meaning coaching will become a pervasive method of supervision, leadership development, and membership development. I think we have made a lot of progress in establishing that culture. In more recent years, we have talked about creating a culture of collaboration, intentionality, and accountability. Many missionaries long to break away from a highly individualistic orientation and work on stronger teams. But we are an organization that describes itself as a global movement of Jesus followers making disciples among the unreached.1https://send.org/about. If this is to be true, then we need to have a disciple-making culture within the organization. What does it take to create a disciple-making culture?

Organizational culture is “the set of deeply embedded, self-reinforcing behaviors, beliefs, and mind-sets that determine ‘how we do things around here.'”2Stop blaming your culture by Jon Katzenbach and Ashley Harshak, https://www.strategy-business.com/article/11108.

Building a Discipling Culture: Third Edition by [Breen, Mike]

During my sabbatical, I learned a lot from Mike Breen’s Building a Discipling Culture, a book primarily focused on how to create this type of a culture within a church, but which also has many applications for a mission organization.

Jesus includes both invitation and challenge

Breen says that Jesus’ disciple-making model included equal amounts of invitation and challenge. He invited his 12 disciples into a deeper relationship with him, accepting them as they were. He expressed his deep love for them, affirmed them in their identity as kingdom participants and leaders and assured them of unparalleled access to God as Father.

But Jesus also challenged them. He rebuked them, sometimes in very direct ways, when they were wrong (e.g. “Get behind me, Satan”). He sent them out two-by-two, expecting them to cast out demons and heal the sick, even as he warned them that they might be rejected by the townspeople to which he sent them. When they had overstepped their boundaries, he let them know (“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them”). Jesus showed them what real servant leadership looks like, and expected them to follow his example.

The invitation provided both safety and affirmation. They were accepted and blessed. The challenge communicated honest evaluations of weaknesses observed and accountability for ongoing growth. As disciples, they were expected to continue to learn.

Jesus created a highly inviting but highly challenging culture for his disciples to function and grow within.3Building a Discipling Culture, p. 14.

Four quadrants in disciple-making groups

In applying this to our disciple-making today, Breen says,

If we are going to build a culture of discipleship, we will have to learn to balance invitation and challenge appropriately. ….Fundamentally, effective leadership is based upon an invitation to relationship and a challenge to change. A gifted discipler is someone who invites people into a covenantal relationship with him or her, but challenges that person to live into his or her true identity in very direct yet graceful ways. Without both dynamics working together, you will not see people grow into the people God has created them to be.”4Breen, Mike. Building a Discipling Culture: Third Edition (pp. 14-15).

Mike Breen has put together a helpful chart5Copied from Will Mancini’s blog that describes the two essential ingredients to a discipling culture: challenge and invitation.

If we have a lot of affirmation (high invitation) but no challenge, we create a cozy culture, where people feel accepted but feel little accountability for growth. If we have lots of emphasis on accountability (high challenge), but little affirmation and acceptance of people’s struggles and weaknesses, we create a stressful culture that breeds discouragement. Our desire is to be both high-invitation and high-challenge. That balance is not easy to find!

Later in the book, Breen talks about “huddles. This is his term for the small discipleship groups that seek to provide both invitation and challenge. In our organization, we are calling them learning communities. It seems to me that any ministry team should also seek to be in the top right-hand quadrant.

The leader’s role

Breen says that it is the role of the group leader to seek to create and reinforce this culture of high-invitation/ high-challenge within the group.

the job of the Huddle leader ultimately isn’t to create the warmest, most comfortable environment. The leader’s job is to create an environment that is a safe place to be honest, but one of accountability, learning, encouragement and challenge.6Breen, Mike. Building a Discipling Culture: Third Edition (p. 197).

In which quadrant do you think your team or discipleship group finds itself most often? What ways could you move your discipleship group to greater challenge/accountability or greater invitation/safety so that you find yourself more consistently in that discipling-culture quadrant?