How to Create a Disciple Making Culture

Every other Tuesday I lead a Sonlife Coaching Cohort with 14 other pastors from 11 different states. We study the life and strategy of Jesus together so we can understand how He built a disciple-making ministry. We want to understand so we can imitate and implement His disciple-making model and method into each of our churches.  

As we examine the ministry of Jesus chronologically through the gospels, it reveals some distinct “phases” in ministry that Jesus progressed through to build His disciple-making ministry (these are explained in detail in the Sonlife “Strategy” seminar and “Knowing Him” workbook). While this model from Jesus is revolutionary to modern church ministry and worthy of being replicated, it is important to understand that Jesus built His disciple-making ministry in an already-existing disciple-making culture. And this disciple-making culture is an absolute necessity for ministry leaders to build a disciple-making ministry.

A rabbi/disciple relationship system was part of the culture and a normal religious reality in the Jewish community in first-century Israel. The first followers/disciples of Jesus had previously been disciples of John the baptizer and were accustomed to following him as their “rabbi” (see John 1:35-43). Disciples naturally endeavored to imitate their rabbi (Luke 6:40) because that was innate in the Jewish religious culture. This disciple-making culture was an essential ingredient for Jesus building His disciple-making ministry.

My cohort pastors realize that because our churches are different in size, demographics, location, and history, we are not going to all do the same exact things in the same exact sequence to implement Jesus’ strategy in our churches. But we can all do the same things to establish a disciple-making culture in our churches to pave the way for the implementation of Jesus’ strategy.

I am working at this now at my current church (Freedom Bible Church, EFCA) by focusing on two primary things: Mission and Leadership.  

Mission. To build a disciple-making culture, we must have a disciple-making mission statement that is (1) aligned with Jesus’ disciple-making mandate, (2) repeated often and known by everyone, and (3) lived out by the leaders.

(1) Alignment. At Freedom we are clear about our mission – making disciples who know Jesus, follow Jesus, serve Jesus, and obey Jesus. Not only is it intentionally aligned with the great commission given by Jesus, but it is also connected to the disciple-making method of Jesus that is highlighted in Sonlife’s “4 Chair Discipling” book and seminar.  

Our end goal is a disciple of Jesus who makes other disciples – a disciple-maker. We make disciple-makers by helping lost people to know Christ, then help them as believers to follow Christ, then help them as workers to serve Christ in the harvest field, and finally help them as disciple-makers to obey Christ in living the great commission. Our mission is clearly and intentionally aligned with the mission of Jesus.

(2) Repeated. We pray it, say it, and display it. We pray this mission statement all the time on Sunday mornings (during sermons, during prayer time, at the end of the service, all the time). We say it in our worship gatherings, sermons, leader meetings, and membership classes. We announce activities by this mission (“this is an outreach to help people know Jesus,” “this is a chance for you to follow & serve Jesus,” etc.). We display it on the front of our Sunday program/bulletin, in my weekly emails to the church, and even in our budget (the budget is actually broken down into “knowfollowserveobey” line items). We constantly repeat the mission so our people know what it is, know what it means, and know how we try to accomplish it.

(3) Lived by Leaders. People must be a proven disciple-maker to be a leader.

Leadership.  Most church leadership teams (elder team, deacon team, etc.) consist of solid believers who make decisions for the church. They believe their main leadership role is that of “decision-maker” and don’t even consider “disciple-maker” as part of their job description. 

Leaders at Freedom, elders and deacons, must first be proven disciple-makers before being qualified to be a decision-maker. Our decisions are filtered through our mission. Our mission guides decisions about what ministries and events we will and will not do. Everything must strategically help people knowfollowserve, or obey Jesus, otherwise we will not do it. Our mission determines what we budget and spend money on, what missionaries we will support, and which people can be recommended to join the leadership team.

At the beginning of every Leadership Team meeting, we walk through every room in our church building and pray for all the people that occupy those rooms on Sunday or during the week. We pray through our mission statement for them (“help so-and-so to serve and obey Jesus,” “help our children to know Jesus and teachers to serve Jesus well in Kidz Church each week,” “help our students to follow Jesus closely,” etc.).  

During our Leadership Team meetings, we share how we are personally growing in maturity and godliness. We share about the Disciple Group we each lead, and who we are personally discipling and reaching out to with the gospel. All these habits keep us accountable to be disciple-makers as leaders and contribute to culture.

We actually got these disciple-making culture-building ideas from Jesus Himself. Yes, there was a disciple-making culture already in existence when Jesus built His disciple-making ministry, but we also see Him strengthening that culture with a clear mission and investment in leaders. He stated His mission often (Luke 19:19; Matthew 16:18, 28:19-20; Mark 10:45; John 3:17, 4:34, 17:2-4; and more). He built His ministry on proven leaders (Matthew 4:18-22, 17:1ff; Luke 16:12-13; Mark 3:13-15; John 21; and more). We build a disciple-making ministry like Jesus by beginning with a disciple-making culture like Jesus.

By creating a clear mission that aligns with the disciple-making mission of Jesus, and is repeated often and lived by leaders, you and I can establish and sustain a strong disciple-making culture in ministry.  Like Jesus.