Recently, 3DM leader Mike Breen posted an article called “State of the Evangelical Union” on the 3DM blog, sharing his reflections on 2012 and looking toward the future for church leaders. Exponential caught up with Breen to ask him a few specific questions about his observations and their potential impact on church planters — including his insights on what it takes to plant with a discipleship DNA and keep it a front-burner focus, as well as what Breen calls the “make or break” thing for the American church.
Lindy Lowry of Exponential: In your post, you express a concern that focusing on discipleship may be a passing fad for church leaders. What have you seen, both historically and recently, that causes your concern?
Mike Breen: In the last 100 to 150 years, you see a trend of people focusing on one of three things at a time: leadership, mission or discipleship. The issue, of course, is that they do so to the exclusion of the others. Moreover, in the age of the quick fix and instant gratification of American consumerism, we see this all the more in the church culture we live in. People want results, and they want them immediately.
Unfortunately, discipleship doesn’t work that way. It takes time before you see a real tipping point as you’re learning to multiply leaders. Sadly, most people don’t have the desire to stick with it until they hit that point.
How do church planters specifically ensure that discipleship stays a front-burner concern and focus? What are your suggestions to church planters just starting out? What about to planters who are realizing discipleship isn’t a focus in their church and need to make a shift?
The invitation of any Gospel proclamation is always an invitation to discipleship. If we have a Gospel that makes discipleship optional, we have a different Gospel than the Gospel of Jesus. I think that’s the place we have to start first.
For many of the church planters I meet, they also struggle with their own discipleship. Mainly, they may never have been discipled in the first place. So, if they are finding that they don’t have a focus on this in their church, it might be that it’s not a focus for them in their own lives. After all, leaders create culture. So where is the place to start? With their own life and family.
How did you keep discipleship the focus in Europe where you were leaders at St. Thomas Sheffield?
First, it’s the only thing we counted. We weren’t terribly concerned about church attendance (this is worth counting, but it’s not the ultimate win). What we were most concerned about was the number of people in discipling relationships. That’s what Jesus was after, so we built a church that cared about that most of all.
Second, we built missional vehicles lay leaders could drive that were lightweight and low maintenance and were highly reproducible. We saw enormous traction and kingdom breakthrough with these vehicles, which came to later be named “missional communities.” But the only way these leaders were capable of starting, growing, sustaining and multiplying these communities was if they were discipled well and continued to be discipled.
You wrote that much of your focus in the coming year will be families on mission and called this the “make or break” thing for the American church. What catalyzed this for you? When you look back on the last year or two, do you see a pivotal or revelatory point in your thinking or focus?
I think for Sally [Breen’s wife] and I, it’s always been the point of focus. Because we grew up in England, where so few people went to church and it is highly secular, we were constantly searching the scriptures and history for the thing that’s been the catalyst for movements of God. And it has always been family on mission. Those spiritual families of 20 to 50 in the New Testament church are what changed the world.
Family on mission has been the focus point of our whole life together as a family. But somewhere in the last two years, I realized that people were making missional communities the point. But they aren’t the point. Missional communities are the training wheels for family on mission. They teach us how to be the church again. But they aren’t the end goal. Family on mission is where all of this is going.
How do church planters launch with an end-goal focus of seeing families get on mission and start to live that way? How does a planter make that part of the church’s DNA?
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s got to start in your own life. Discipleship is about whether or not you have a life worth imitating. One that looks like the life of Jesus. Family on mission is about whether you have a family worth imitating. Ultimately, this is what every church planter should do: Build a kingdom-oriented life that is a good life. And not just a good life — a great life. And then invite people into that.
The breakthrough the Lord has given to your family will spread because people want what you have. Your calling isn’t to be a church planter, as if that’s your job. Your calling is to be a Christian who has this kind of life. Start there.