“A disciple making culture.” Something deep within pastors and church leaders resonates with that phrase. The thought of a culture that moves people closer to Christ isn’t just relevant, it’s Biblical. For most, however, such a culture remains an elusive goal, like a desert oasis—a nice idea, but not something they’ve seen or experienced.
Disciple making cultures aren’t a myth, they’re real. I’ve seen them, experienced them, grown in them, and built them. They exist in reality, not just in books and brains. Like a building though, we must carefully plan what we’re trying to construct before we begin.
But wait, isn’t a church, by definition, a group of people in relationship together? Yes, but not every church is relationally driven. In our systems-loving culture, it’s a challenge to be driven by relationships. Let me explain.
America is a systems culture. We’ve built an educational system for our intellectual needs, a religious system for our spiritual needs, a healthcare system for our physical needs. We’ve even designed a system to distract us from all our leftover needs, which we call Netflix! From the moment we arrive in the labor and delivery unit, we’re conditioned to live, work, and play within systems.
Systems are helpful. We build them because they allow us to do what relationships alone can't. They easily scale to serve the masses, offer consistent quality, and make individual parts replaceable.
Unfortunately, systems are also harmful. The greatest weaknesses of systems are relational. Those weaknesses are on full display in Dayton, Ohio and beyond as we live in a culture that’s suffering from lack of intimacy, connectedness, and personalization.
Over the past 150 years, the church has effectively leveraged the benefits of systems. They have helped the church to quickly scale both in quality and sustainability. Unfortunately, those same systems have also negatively impacted the church. Most of all, they’ve taught us to value industrialization over incarnation. No longer do we bring our problems to one another. No longer do we seek to be Christ to those who are hurting. We’ve been trained to shop for solutions amongst systems. While Scripture tells us to love one another over ninety-five times, Christians “system one another” by pointing each other to books, Bible studies, and programs specifically designed to meet each need.
For this reason, we develop “systemships” as a substitute for friendships. Systemships come with an adjective before the word friend, such as church friend, work friend, or school friend. These friendships are enjoyable, genuine, and satisfying to a point, but they don’t extend beyond the system. You know what else they don’t do? Systemships don’t satisfy our longings to be known and loved. They provide a taste of those things, often just enough to keep us out of depression and loneliness. But they can’t deeply satisfy because they don’t require us to be open, vulnerable, or real.
Disciple making cultures are relationally driven. Relationships of depth are intentionally cultivated and costly. Such relationships require transparency and compassion over safety and efficiency. They come with the risk of pain, rejection, and conflict that most of us actively avoid. Of course, they’re also the kind of relationships that Jesus modeled and developed (John 15:12-17, 1 Peter 4:8).
Our fear and active avoidance aren’t the only reason churches struggle to develop relational cultures. Many pastors have been trained to relate in system ways. In fact, most were explicitly taught in seminary not to get too close to any lay person, but to maintain a “professional distance”. The “wisdom” of this approach is beyond the context of this post, but let’s be clear that we don’t see Jesus, Paul, Peter or any of the disciples practicing this type of leadership.
Additionally, developing a relationally driven culture is difficult because leaders haven’t developed the skills to lead in a relational environment. Leading in a culture of relationships is messier than leading in a culture of systemships. Such leadership requires humility and spiritual maturity, not just curriculum and theological knowledge.
Developing a relationally driven church culture is difficult, but well worth the effort. Living in a systems culture makes a relationally driven extremely attractive to both Christians and non-Christians. As people love one another deeply (1 Peter 4:8), their need to be loved and known are met. When individuals and families are both relationally driven and compelled by big vision, they leave a wake of restoration wherever they go. We certainly see that with Jesus and His disciples.
“…Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples…” John 13:34-35
To what degree is your church relationally driven? Message me and I will send you a FREE CULTURE ASSESSMENT designed for your pastor or your church leader.