Why churches begin with the best of intentions to make disciples only to drift off course, falling back in pragmatic or programmatic ways of thinking? Probably because there’s a culture problem argues author Brandon Guindon. Guindon points out that strategies for making disciples don’t set the culture of the church. It’s the other way around: “Strategies come from culture, whether it is a healthy or an unhealthy culture” (23). If culture sets the direction and atmosphere of the church, what is it? Guindon offers some helpful ways of thinking about culture:
- Culture is “the way a church naturally functions when they are not under pressure” (17).
- Culture is “the way things normally go” (17).
Therefore, if the culture of a church is not favorable to making disciples, then any strategy or methodology for making disciples imported into the church will struggle (33). Because culture is so important, Guindon defines the elements of a disciple making culture. They are 1) a biblical foundation, 2) an intentional leader, 3) a relational environment, and 4) a reproducible process.
Guindon lays out his case for personal disciple making as a key mark of the church in his section on biblical foundation. Guindon walks through key passages in the Bible where Jesus and the apostles spent time with people and taught them the word of God. The culture of disciple making does not happen in a vacuum, however. It must be spurred on by intentional leaders. Guindon rightly points out that “the culture of any organization is driven by the actions of its leaders” (80). To put it another way, as the Elders go, so goes the church. If the pastors and Elders aren’t making disciples, neither will the rest of the congregation.
Guindon goes on to argue that leaders must set a relational context for disciple making. He calls this a “relational environment.” For Guindon the values and culture of these environments is more important than their actual set up (120-21). In other words, a church could use one-on-one meetings or small groups for discipleship. The most important thing is what is happening in those environments. If there is only surface-level sharing, it doesn’t matter if two people are getting coffee, disciple-making isn’t happening (117).
The final section deals with creating a reproducible process for disciple making. The process must be simple, accessible, and easy to pass on. Churches should also considering “putting their money where their mouth is” by allocating significant portions of their budget to those who are doing personal disciple making (173-82).
Guindon’s book is especially helpful due to its emphasis on culture. Any disciple making strategy will fail without the necessary culture to undergird it as famed management guru Peter Drucker has said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If pastors really want to get serious about making disciples, they must get serious of their church’s culture. Guindon also offers many helpful practical suggestions about inculcating a disciple making culture such as setting a reasonable schedule for training the church (156-57). While Guindon’s book offers much beneficial material for creating a disciple making culture, there is a glaring hole in the book: he does not sufficiently prioritize corporate worship in the disciple making process.
The impression the book gives is that personal relationships are the primary way that disciple making happens. Guindon pays scant attention to the importance of corporate worship merely mentioning the sermon as one avenue of communicating the cultural values of the church (93-94). But while the New Testament indicates that personal disciple making is certainly good and right (see Jesus and the apostle’s examples), the NT authors make much of corporate worship as they context for growing as a disciple. For example, Hebrews exhorts believers not neglect meeting together (Heb 10:25) and Paul says that the whole body grows into maturity through worship (Eph 4:14-17).
The relationship between corporate worship and personal disciple making relationships is not one of two wings on a plane as if they “balance” each other. Instead, the relationship with more like that of a train: the engine of corporate worship pulls the rest of the church’s mission (disciple making) along. The Protestant Reformers all defined the mission of the church first around corporate worship than personal disciple making. The three marks of a true church according to the Reformers were the right preaching of the gospel, the right administration of the sacraments, and the right practice of church discipline. All of these marks are first corporate before they are personal. The preaching of the gospel occurs through the qualified ministers of the church, and the right administration of the sacraments is occurring in times of corporate worship together. Finally, church discipline is ultimately practiced by the whole church (Matt 18:17).
I would have liked Guindon to spend more time working out the relationship between corporate worship (which most pastors are concerned with) and personal disciple making. If the COVID pandemic of 2020 has taught us anything, it is that corporate worship is much more important than we think…which is exactly the teaching of the New Testament.