BDC – Letting Jesus Build His Church

As we said last time, over the next few weeks we’re going to give you a snapshot of each of the “building blocks” that we believe to be important in seeing a kingdom missional movement established. These building blocks mirror the themes we cover in our two-year Learning Community cycle. If you’d like to get a more detailed picture of what we’re talking about here, we’ve actually written a book on each of these themes. You can visit our 3dm book store for more info.

(We run a three day Learning Community gathering every six months, with a total of four gatherings over a two-year period. Each Learning Community focuses on a particular “block”, building on each other through the process.)

So let’s start from where we finished last time – at the beginning!

Building a Discipling Culture (BDC)

The whole “missional” conversation has largely been triggered by observing the obvious reality of the changing world around us:

We’re no longer in Christendom

building blocks June 2013

Christians are no longer the majority, we no longer define culture and we’re no longer surrounded by people who believe in the same gospel – if any gospel at all!

And yet we’ve mostly been trained and conditioned to lead and live in a way that is no longer relevant to the world we find ourselves in. How it used to be, what used to work, the way we used to do it…… no longer works!

So how do we navigate this new world? How do we live and lead in this new culture and reality? We’ve looked at our declining church numbers, and many have recognised the need to be ‘missional’ and addressed the problem with new strategies, vehicles and programmes. All along we’ve tried to do this with godly motives and intentions but there’s been negligible change.

What needs to change? Where do we start?

As we’ve said a few times now: It’s time to go back to the beginning. In this case, back to Jesus.

The church was birthed out of Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19). Interestingly, He never asked us to build the church for Him. Not once. In a conversation with Peter, He said that He would do that Himself: “I will build my church…” (Matt 16:18).

Often our methods are not working because we are actually taking on the wrong job – we are trying to build the church, rather than make disciples.

In taking on a job that is not really ours, we end up focusing on “results” and on “fruit” before we look at the foundation that is meant to be lying underneath. Somehow, we start focusing on events and programmes rather than relationships and people. And the result? We actually lose Jesus in an attempt to build His church.

So what are these foundations that need to be laid first? Our experience of growing a movement has taught us that it starts by considering the implication of what Jesus said in the aforementioned passages: as WE make disciples, JESUS builds the church. We need a shift in our thinking where we start to believe and recognise that church is the effect of discipleship, not the cause. Or, to put it another way:

If we make disciples we will always grow a church. If we just try to grow a church we may not make disciples.

As we teach BDC in a Learning Community we return to the person, patterns and principles of Jesus. In His short adult ministry Jesus discipled a core group of unlikely men and taught them to follow his words, works and ways. He showed them how to BE and DO like him.  When Jesus ascended they were the ones sent to change the world and make disciples (a huge skills & knowledge drop but, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they managed it!). The ensuing church was the effect of that discipleship.

So it’s worth us taking look at how Jesus operated and what Jesus did in those 3 short years that had such a profound impact on his disciples. Jesus essentially built a discipling culture using a mix of both invitation and challenge.  His disciples were consistently invited into an intimate relationship with Jesus, sharing life & experience with him and being encouraged along the way. But that was only one side of the coin.  Jesus also consistently stretched them, challenged wrong or unhealthy mind-sets, and called more out of them. Jesus perfectly calibrated both of these dynamics (invitation and challenge) in relationship with the disciples.

Replicating this model of invitation and challenge is essential in creating a discipling culture. When we begin to get a healthy balance between the two we move away from the client/provider relationship (where leaders primarily model “invitation)  often prevalent in our churches today, and instead move towards a discipling culture where disciples are empowered to function as producers rather than consumers.

One of the key components in Building a Discipling Culture is asking two key questions of ourselves, and those we’re discipling: “What is God saying?” and “What am I going to do about it?”

The Learning Circle is a simple tool that helps us to answer those two key questions. It is based on Jesus’ words in Mark 1.15: The time has come,’ He said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’

We use the Learning Circle to help people identify ‘kairos’ moments – a moment when God’s kingdom is present and near. As we learn to engage with God in this way we simply use the words Jesus used – ‘repent’ meaning change your mind (also change thinking or direction) which is defined by what God is saying and then ‘believe’, meaning ‘to step out upon’ – doing something about it (the second question!). This helps us to better identify when, and where, God is at work and to be aware of what He’s saying and how we are responding to Him. This equips every person, not just the clever, educated or elite, to be able to live and grow as a disciple – one who follows the person and pattern of Jesus.

In BDC we help you to learn how to grow as a disciple and how to disciple others from the person and pattern of Jesus, as well as encouraging you to persevere as you take steps on that journey. No one can build a discipling culture for us. We need to start with ourselves and just a few other people, like Jesus did. This can be challenging to those of us who are used to thinking that effective leadership is linked to large numbers. It requires a change of thinking, and a willingness to potentially be perceived as less effective and less fruitful. We have to go first.

So, if we’re looking to lay that first building block in our churches and communities, what are some of the keys to help us do this?

We don’t suggest that the methods and principles that we use are the only methods. Our desire is simply that we begin to take up the commission to make disciples.  The methods and principles we have used have been effective for us, and for many other communities around the world.

Our experience has shown us that there are 3 helpful keys which help us to live and lead out this discipling culture:

  • A discipleship vehicle (we use huddles)

you can find previous posts on huddles here:

The difference between huddles and small groups and why many churches use both

How not to lead a huddle

How to lead a huddle well

  • Access to your life (close-up, life-on-life discipleship)

you can find previous posts on life-on-life discipleship here:

Oikos – slaying the idol of nuclear family

Who’s imitating you? – 9 ways to invite others in

  • A discipling language (our discipling language is called Lifeshapes) 

Click here to read Lifeshapes: an Insiders Look over on the 3dm US blog

There is no quick-fix, quick-solution to build a culture of discipleship. It takes effort, perseverance, humility, resilience, and tremendous dependence on God.  But as we begin to return to Jesus’ original commission to make disciples and see Him build His church it’s worth it!

Our experience shows us that the most effective way of getting to grips with, and implementing, the themes of the Learning Community is to participate on one! If you are interested in participating on a Learning Community please click here


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