Book Review: Building A Discipling Culture

Building a Discipling Culture

“Building a Discipling Culture” claims that the western church lacks biblical discipleship. Is there anything to this, and its proposals to fix the problem?

Building a Discipling CultureAuthor Mike Breen believes that biblical discipleship in the church of the western hemisphere has fallen on hard times, and came up with the system he shares in Building a Discipling Culture to help “combat” this problem. The apparent main contributing factor is that most western Christians are altogether unwilling to make the necessary commitment that would foster a successful discipleship culture. Breen claims that we live in an era where said believers are typically content to “make an appearance” at church once or twice a week, and avoid engaging in anything that resembles true spiritual intimacy, making it no surprise that such a “problem” would exist.

Well, I can’t pretend to know how “discipleship” as it’s addressed in the book has fared in supposed “challenged churches” over the years, but I’m inclined to agree. Even so, while in general I appreciate the intentions of how the “authentic biblical discipleship” subject is broached, I also think Breen presents several strange and questionable concepts. An interesting work to dissect, this is.

Specifically, Breen zooms in on all that Jesus Christ did with the Twelve while here on Earth, and attempts to translate it into a system he’s convinced believers ought to follow so as to be genuine, biblical disciple-makers. The questions I would pose then are: does Scripture actually support Breen’s plan for effective disciple-making, and if so…how can we integrate it within our own local fellowships?

My answer to the first question is yes, at least it seems to be as far as the system’s foundation goes. I have no reason to argue that it’s unbiblical since the core ideas are pulled straight out of the gospel accounts. The connections are clear. And to sum up the foundation, Breen claims that discipleship should be done in exactly the way Jesus did it. I’ll tackle the “exactly” part a little later. Anyway, what Jesus did was choose twelve men, grant three of them intimate access to His life, and for years teach them everything He wanted them to know.

And because every “system” needs some sort of hip reference, what BaDC promotes is the 8:6:4 principle, along with a discipleship Huddle. Essentially, a “mature” believer chooses eight others to “train” in similar fashion as Jesus did the Twelve with the expectation that those eight will eventually do the same for six other believers, followed by those six eventually doing the same for four.

The Huddle came about due to the authorship’s belief that western churches focus way too much on Classroom discipleship, and not remotely enough on Apprenticeship and Immersion. (The capitalized terms are written that way in the book.) There’s probably something to this belief, and it’s further suggested that Christians often miss out on many valuable lessons if they’re not learning from the more intricate elements of the mentoring Christian’s life on a side-by-side basis. (i.e. apprenticeship). Ultimately believers are encouraged to be immersed in real environments and cultures where what is learned is actually practiced, all under the guide of the “leader.”

I’ll break down what the Huddle actually is however, before things become confusing. The leader is directed to host his pupils somewhere, such as his home, at least once a week for 1.5 to 2 hours, and to establish a common “language” that the participants can unite around and learn from consistently. (I honestly never understood what that actually means.) If the leader isn’t sure what approach to take, the majority of Building a Discipling Culture’s chapters develop a concept to teach using a geometric shape, starting with the triangle, and ending with the octagon. The shapes are intended to illustrate the chapter’s concept, and the shape’s sides drill down the finer details of what the author believes should be taught so the concept is best understood and acted upon. The whole idea is to seemingly help the Huddle leader do for his group what Jesus did with the Twelve.

It’s a fascinating system all-around, but I caution against eating up everything presented in the “geometry” chapters. I don’t think some of Breen’s beliefs are grounded in Scripture, especially those you encounter in Chapter 10. You’ll read about how all believers supposedly fall into at least one of the categories of people God has given the church (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher), based on Ephesians. There is other material like it, so similarly take it with a grain of salt.

Altogether, if this lack of discipling problem truly is as widespread as Breen claims, how would we integrate the Huddle into our own fellowships?

Well, I don’t know. Given the United States culture and most Americans’ way of life, it’s probably fair to conclude that an idea like the Huddle will never become mainstream. Frankly the familial and societal structures of this country render it virtually impossible. Everyone is busy, and believers often live miles apart from one another, let alone their local church. Yet I don’t think that God faults us for this. We aren’t Israel from 2000 years ago. Certainly many believers (myself included) have unbiblical priorities and waste opportunities to invest in the lives of their brothers and sisters, but to say that all western churches need to implement something like Huddle system is far-fetched.

Building a Discipling Culture has some very interesting ideas. I’m thankful that it challenges the thinking of today’s church, and I continue to agree that discipleship has fallen on hard times. I certainly can improve in disciple-making. But it’s completely counter-productive to parade around the country and even mentally wag your finger at every church’s leadership because they reject the Huddle. I only make such a comment because I got the general vibe that Breen believes churches aren’t truly obeying/following Jesus if they don’t adopt the Huddle, which goes too far. After all, he consistently states that the buck stops at the senior pastor’s office, as he is the one that must be “convinced” about the Huddle, or anything similar. Let’s not forget though that what aids the discipleship for believers in an Ohio church won’t necessarily aid a church in California, and so on. I’m sure that applied to the very first churches as well. I’m not quick to believe that Jesus would condemn us all for not practicing the 8:6:4 principle, let alone the Huddle. The fact is that discipleship can be done in many different ways, and the Huddle is just one of them. May there be discipleship blessings for those who use it, and all who don’t.

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Do you agree with Mike Breen’s assessments? Do you participate in a Huddle, or anything like it? What blessings have you enjoyed from being discipled? Have you discipled anyone?

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Justin Joseph

Automation Developer at Innovis
Justin, test automation developer by day, self-training web developer by night, is a millennial disciple of Jesus Christ who seeks to challenge and encourage other millennial Christians through writing. Justin is also husband to Christine, and a member of Westerville Bible Church where he serves in the music and Sunday School ministries. You can learn more about Justin, the blog, and community, on the Millennials for Jesus Christ "About" page.
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