5 Takeaways from Building a Discipling Culture for Campus Ministers

Last year, my team was stuck having the same conversations about our ministry week after week during our staff meetings. We were making efforts to invest in students but weren’t seeing those efforts poured out from student leaders to other students. I asked around was recommended a book called Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen. I picked up a copy and read it. It completely changed the way I looked at discipleship for my campus ministry context.

We took away lesson after lesson from the book and conversations about it, but here are 5 larger lessons we’re still learning and implementing today.

#1 – Culture isn’t quick, so be strategic with your investments. 

When I started the book, I was looking for a silver bullet to fix our discipleship problem. That is the exact opposite of what I found from the book. Building a culture takes a significant time investment. It’s often said that Jesus spent tens of thousands of hours with the 12 in order to prepare them to continue the work He started. We aren’t immune to the reality that to build a healthy discipleship culture, we need to make significant investments.

As I’ve tried to faithfully invest in student leaders, I’ve found that you must be strategic about the students in which you invest. Whatever trajectory you set them on now will be felt months, semesters, and years from now in both your ministry and the churches they will call home. If you start with the wrong ideas or people, it’ll take even longer to change the flagship that is your ministry culture.

#2 – Teach values, not tactics. 

Building a Discipling Culture places a huge emphasis on replicating the DNA of the Gospel and your church’s response to it through smaller units called Huddles. Different churches call them different things, but the essence of the huddles it to teach those you are leading to value the right things over doing the right stuff. If you’re only teaching people to run a certain play (as opposed to responding to a certain defensive scheme), they’ll only know how to run that play. Equipping for life-long, life-deep, and life-wide ministry requires that we pass along what to love and how to think, rather than simply what to do.

#3 – People (read, students) are hungry for discipleship.

There’s a parallel in support raising that you, “don’t say no for anyone.” After reading Breen’s book, I realized that I was saying no for lots of students who appeared to be disinterested or unwilling. Some of our best leaders have simply been waiting for the tap on the shoulder, and that could have come earlier if I hadn’t said no for them.

But building a culture of discipleship means building a culture of invitation. There’s too much here to unpack in this post, but remember that discipleship starts with an invitation. We have to start by assuming that there are people in our ministries and churches right now that want to grow and lead, and are merely waiting for a tap on the shoulder.

#4 – Become okay with failure. Be more okay with grace.

Failure in an inevitable and essential part of growth. I realized about halfway through Breen’s book that one of my expectations was that student leaders should have it all figured out before they qualified to be a leader. While there certainly are leadership qualities (desire, charisma, warmth, humility, personal holiness) which leaders require, we have to model and call people towards leading well. People still learning any skill will fail, so give your leaders the ability to “fail small” and learn as they grow.

Two things that we have to keep in mind when using failure as a learning tool. The first is that our failures (or successes) do not define us. Only the grace and love of God through Jesus Christ does. The second is that we need to celebrate success early and often. A little encouragement goes a long way.

#5 – Vision, Vision, and more Vision.

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “vision leaks,” meaning that over time people naturally forget the end they’re working towards. I do it, you do it, everyone does it. So as you work towards building a discipling culture, we have to be creative about the ways we share our vision. Everything we do must be attached to it, otherwise the requests you have of the people you’re leading become burdensome. People are looking to make meaningful contributions wherever they are. Sometimes we have to help them see how they are already doing that.

I hope that these thoughts are helpful. If you have ready the book, I would love to hear your thoughts below. Or if you’d like to discuss further, please reach out to me at mswanson@ccojubilee.