Josh Patrick: Culture and Discipleship

“The scorecard is changing. Church leaders are less enamored with drawing crowds and seem more interested in making disciples.”

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.

The Disciple-Maker’s Handbook: 7 Elements of a Discipleship Lifestyle (Zondervan, 2017)

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

In the context where I serve (an affluent, church-saturated suburb in the South), I see two primary barriers: isolation and distraction. Faith in Jesus withers in isolation, but it flourishes in community. The vast majority of people I interact with are too busy to cultivate deep connections with others. Relationships require time, energy and risk. Many people are simply unwilling to go there because they are preoccupied with other things like career advancement and kids’ extracurricular activities. It often takes a crisis to wake a person up from a life of chaos and distraction.

2. In our current cultural climate, how do you see the expression of the church’s mission changing from where it was a few years ago?

God seems to be dismantling the predominant expression of the church that arose in the late 20th century. The scorecard of the church is changing. Church leaders are less enamored with drawing crowds and seem more interested in making disciples. I’m also hearing more pastors say that they’re fed up with pacifying immature consumers and are eager to equip the hungry of heart. Questions that drove us in the past like “How can we attract people to this building once a week?” are giving way to better questions like, “Where is the brokenness in this city and how can we bring the hope of Jesus to it?” or, “What does the ministry of Jesus look like in this context?”

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

The church must resist the urge to engage in culture wars and return to its original purpose—making disciples of Jesus. The church in America has a serious image problem. When we point the Bible at the culture like a weapon of condemnation, our witness is severely damaged.

Jesus clearly taught that the trademark of his church is love (John 13:34-35). That doesn’t mean we have to compromise on biblical truth. It means that we must be intentional and wise about how we treat outsiders. We have wasted too much time and energy on causes that have nothing to do with the core mission of the church. Imagine what would happen if every churchgoer in America redirected his or her political and social angst toward the Great Commission. I believe that we would witness an unprecedented spiritual awakening.

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

Relativism is now the prevailing worldview of our day. Truth is perceived as a subjective reality. This is a destructive myth that sweeps people into a tidal wave of unbelief and emptiness. But take heart! The message of Jesus is powerful and potent enough to deconstruct every false cultural narrative. Instead of changing our story or wilting underneath the pressure to please everyone, we must become more creative and winsome in the ways in which we communicate the gospel.

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

God is on the move! He is raising up church planters all across America who refuse to play it safe and stick to the old script. He’s also turning the hearts of pastors who lead existing churches toward Jesus-style disciple-making. Both trends are extremely hopeful. The gloom-and-doom narrative we often hear about Christianity in America is inaccurate and misleading. The stories I hear paint a different picture.

Read more from our discussion on Culture and Discipleship »

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Josh Patrick is the teaching and discipling minister at Harpeth Christian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and co-author (with Bobby Harrington) of The Disciple-Maker’s Handbook: 7 Elements of a Discipleship Lifestyle (Zondervan, 2017).