Nurturing a Discipling Culture

About eight years into my work as a youth minister, I was asked two questions that have stuck with me for more than two decades.

The first was this:

Do the students in my ministry know that I love God?

As I pondered this question, I was confident that my love for God was evident, clearly seen in what I taught and how I lived my life. This truth had been spoken to me on a number of occasions. In all humility, this is still true today. It is one of the strengths of who I am and how I lead in ministry.

The second question was this:

Do the students in my ministry know that I love them?

This one was a bit of a punch in the gut. I still remember the sinking feeling as I struggled for evidence of this during my reflection. Being one who struggled with insecurity, I preferred being reserved. I was not effusive in my welcoming. Though I have grown much in my adult life, I am not the one who brings the warm fuzzies to an interaction.

This exercise of reflection left me concerned about the implications for my ministry. Though I still have room to grow, I have managed over the years to learn some ways to lead with a welcome and not lose people in my seriousness.

On Your Own
Consider you own context for spiritual leadership. Now reflect on each question: Do the people you lead know that you love God? Do the people you lead know that you love them? Write down your thoughts about your response to these questions.

A few years ago I participated in a discipleship cohort facilitated by Mission Alive. One of the resources we used in that cohort was the Invitation-Challenge Matrix developed by 3DMovements. This matrix immediately took me back to the two questions from the training seminar. Here’s the matrix:

The foundational principle here is Jesus’ way of leading his disciples. He included both high invitation and high challenge—a natural outflow of an environment saturated with a love for God and love for others (with an implicit love of self, based on a strong sense of identity). Jesus’ invitation has a purpose and a direction. His challenge comes with an inherent welcome.

The matrix produces four quadrants representing four cultures.

  • A “warm blanket”culture results when high invitation exists without challenge. Here the people are tied to the dynamic that was created through the invitation but are left without an accompanying purpose. As with a cruise ship, all are served and provided with plenty of opportunities for fun and relaxation.
  • A “lifeless” culture results where there is low invitation and low challenge. There is neither a dynamic nor a purpose to hold people together. In this culture, you might want to check the pulse of anyone involved.
  • A “discouraged” culture results when challenge, or purpose, is very high without any accompanying invitation. The direction is clear, but with a low investment in relationships, the environment is stressful.
  • A “discipling” culture emerges when invitation and challenge are properly balanced so that a person, ministry, or church moves back and forth between invitation (relationships and rest) and challenge (purpose and direction). People in this environment are empowered for action.

On Your Own
Whether you are a leader or a participant, pause here and review the diagram and descriptions. How would you describe your ministry environment? Where do you find yourself on the diagram and why? Take a moment to make a list of things you notice.

Using my reflections on the two questions I encountered long ago, I recognized that even if my ministry was discipling oriented, I was low on the invitation scale, producing somewhat of a discouraged culture for those in my ministry who needed more relational connections.

Perfectly calibrating the invitation and challenge is impossible. Keeping a healthy balance is best achieved with a leadership community. Left on our own, we will always lean one way or another, rationalizing our position.

Going back to the two questions about love of God and love of others, we recognize the discipling culture as a place of perfect love. Love welcomes and changes.

In his book Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, Scot McKnight provides a great definition for love: a rugged commitment to be with and for someone unto kingdom realities. In other words, you can’t move people toward kingdom realities if they don’t believe you are on their side.

Love God. Love others. Both need to be evident in your life and your ministry.


Discipleship Cohorts (DCs) are small groups of Christians who meet weekly to encourage healthy spiritual disciplines of listening and following God. DCs are a powerful, reproducible tool for spiritual growth, church renewal, and leadership development. For more information about joining a Mission Alive Discipleship Cohort click the button below. New cohorts are forming all the time.

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