Discipleship is the great calling of the church, and the only soil that grows disciples is a local church culture of spiritual formation. Every other ministry of the church can (and should) grow from this soil. Why plant churches? To make disciples!
But here’s the challenge: each church already has an existing culture; any attempt to change the mixture of the “soil” will require the deep, patient work of tilling, fertilizing and weeding. Culture change is neither a tactic nor a strategy: It is a transformation. Peter Drucker famously observed, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” He should have said “breakfast, lunch and dinner” because the prevailing culture in any organization is the great unspoken factor in ministry. (Note to church planters: Start by making disciples, because by the time your church is two years old, church culture is beginning to produce fruit, either good or bad.)
Issues of spiritual formation and discipleship are not questions of planning, method or even teaching—they are hardly even questions at all. Spiritual formation and discipleship are more like horticulture than education. The ground is prepared, seeds are selected and planted, weeds are tended as they arise, and the harvest can seem like a distant dream. But good soil brings great harvests. Success in making disciples is not (at first) measured quantitatively, but qualitatively.
Here are the kinds of questions we should be asking: Are the people of our church becoming more like Jesus? Do we even think it’s possible to be conformed to the image of Christ? Do our leaders think it’s possible? Who should do the work of making disciples? How does spiritual growth interact with the metrics of attendance and finances? Is my church’s current cultural model sustainable apart from outside instruction or motivation? If our facilities and resources vanished, could our church continue to exist?
Being a disciple—and making disciples—is where personal growth and church life intersect. So (together) we should all ask these questions. Why not bring them up at your church?