J.R. Briggs: Culture and Discipleship

“Wisdom without courage is riskless. Courage without wisdom is reckless. But wisdom and courage together is priceless.”

Culture and Discipleship is a conversation, a roundup of nine compelling voices—authors, church leaders, culture observers and disciple-makers. Together, they present a hopeful, pointed challenge to pastors who are looking to redemptively engage the culture for the purpose of effective discipleship.

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1. What do you see as the biggest challenge to effective discipleship in the American church?

As I coach and mentor pastors all over the country, I frequently see and hear five main challenges to discipleship in the American church: (1) the seductive pull of consumerism; (2) the enormous amount of distraction, particularly with technology; (3) a lack of a clear and robust theology of suffering; (4) the belief in the lie that the American dream is the most fulfilling and satisfying expression of true life; and (5) an unwillingness on the part of pastors to make the sacrifices necessary to see people discipled into the Way of Jesus—even if it means losing or leaving their ministry positions.

2. How does the expression of the church’s mission look different today than it did a few years ago?

I’m not sure the church’s mission changes, as it is always rooted in knowing Christ and making him known through the process of discipleship. However, the nature and expression of the church’s mission should always be changing.

Because of the increased reality of mobility and transience, one of the more fruitful expressions of the church’s mission moving forward is embodying a sense of rootedness, stability and hospitality. This is especially attractive for millennials. This ethos is often expressed through a growing receptivity to liturgical expressions of worship and a sense of place within a particular geographical location. We are seeing people take their neighborhoods seriously as the primary place to be missionaries cleverly disguised as good neighbors.

3. How can the church redemptively engage the culture while remaining faithful to its discipleship mission?

Followers of Jesus must learn to “double major” in both courage and wisdom. People often lean toward being courageous and yet they often lack wisdom; or, they possess wisdom, but exhibit very little courage. Wisdom without courage is riskless. Courage without wisdom is reckless. But wisdom and courage together is priceless. This should shape the nature and essence of our prayers.

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More specifically, we must learn to value the power of questions. By doing so, it will cultivate the passion for and ability to ask significant and incisive questions. We often study Jesus’ life, teachings, miracles and parables, but we have largely ignored studying his questions. Redemptive cultural engagement will not come through offering the world more answers, but in showing value, worth, humility and hope through the right questions being asked at the right time for the right reason. Yes, Jesus is the answer; but he is the culmination of our questions, as well.

4. Which cultural issues will have the biggest influence on the church in the next five years?

Power, sex and money have always been the three primary issues (and idols) of our culture, but the expressions and emphases of these changes. Currently, the issue of sexuality—in all its forms and issues—isn’t going away. In fact, it will become increasingly significant. Followers of Jesus healthily stewarding their sexuality, which clearly models the social ethics of Jesus, will be one of the greatest evangelistic opportunities in our culture in the days ahead.

Related to sexuality, helping people address shame will also become increasingly important. People, especially young adults, have not been equipped with the tools to process and address the deep levels of their shame—whether that shame be relational, sexual, financial, familial or spiritual. If the church works purposefully to serve people in order to address shame in compassionate, courageous and truth-filled ways, it will be an attractive reality of hope in our culture.

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5. What encourages you about the recent re-emergence of church planting in the church?

As most pastors are well aware, people are less engaged in traditional forms of church than at any time in our nation’s history. And yet, despite this reality, we’re seeing the church becoming more intentional, flexible and creative. Recent movements of God’s Spirit, like FreshExpressions.org, are helping established congregations join with the missionary work of the Holy Spirit outside of Sunday mornings and outside of the walls of their churches. It’s incredibly hope-filled, kingdom-oriented—void of any competition or territorialism—and it’s bearing evident fruit.

Read more from our discussion on Culture and Discipleship »

J.R. Briggs is director of leadership and congregational formation for the Ecclesia Network, cultural cultivator of The Renew Community in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and the co-author (with Bob Hyatt) of Ministry Mantras: Language for Cultivating Kingdom Culture.