Cultivating a Culture of Discipleship: A Call to Relationships, Equipping, Humility, and Inclusivity
By Ashley Weir Myers, Host of The Abiding Family Podcast
In virtually every church, the importance of discipleship is professed, yet the true reflection of its significance varies. Many churches, especially mission-focused churches like Baptists, excel in initiating believers but struggle with sustaining their spiritual growth. The conversion moment is merely the beginning of a lifelong journey. A common pattern involves encouraging new believers to join groups, only to witness their disappearance after a few months. How can we make discipleship an integral part of our church identity? While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, foundational principles such as relationships, humility, equipping, and inclusivity can guide us in establishing a culture of discipleship, aided by prayer and the leading of the Spirit.
- Relationships: Drawing inspiration from Jesus, the ultimate example of discipleship, the significance of personal connections is evident throughout the Gospels and the early church. Genuine relationships foster an environment where teaching and growth occur, both formally and informally.
- Humility: Embracing humility, as demonstrated by Jesus and later by Paul, strengthens relationships and builds trust. Acknowledging faults and shortcomings fosters an environment where individuals feel safe and supported in their spiritual journey. Practice what we preach.
- Equipping: Discipleship goes beyond mere friendship; it involves intentional teaching, holding each other accountable, studying scripture together, and praying collectively. Equipping transforms relationships into discipleship, providing a solid foundation for understanding scripture and walking with Christ.
- Inclusivity: Reflecting the all-embracing nature of Jesus, inclusivity is a crucial aspect of discipleship. Churches must strive to include individuals from diverse backgrounds, breaking away from the comfort of existing groups and fostering an environment where everyone, regardless of differences, can experience discipleship.
Inclusivity, often the most challenging principle, demands a willingness to step out of comfort zones. Inclusivity is more than a welcome team holding the doors open on a Sunday morning. By actively seeking to include diverse individuals, churches can break the mold and create a culture where everyone has the opportunity to be discipled and to disciple others. This may mean having hard conversations with individuals and groups about being more inclusive.
The transformation of a church’s culture begins with its leadership. Church culture often is built from the top down, in some situations it can take years for a culture shift. Depending on the church leadership structure, sometimes that is the lead pastor and staff, and in other situations that are leadership committees. Top-down changes, led by pastors, staff, or committees, are essential. Leaders must embody the principles of discipleship, leading by participation. Leaders have to equip other leaders to be disciple-makers. The pastor cannot be the only one to have disciple-making relationships.
At its core, discipleship thrives on relationships. The impact of one-on-one connections surpasses the influence of sermons. Equipping each other, studying scripture together, and navigating life’s challenges collectively are essential components of effective discipleship.
As we strive to embed a discipleship culture in our churches, we must assess the presence of foundational principles: relationships, humility, equipping, and inclusivity. Shifting our focus from numerical metrics to individual growth and relationships. By reflecting on the principles modeled by Christ in scripture, we can move closer to a culture of discipleship that transforms lives.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common