February 9th, 2014

What’s More Important: A Culture of Mission, A Culture of Discipleship or a Culture of Leadership?

Culture of Mission

It’s amazing how “a culture of” lingo has been trending over the last couple of years. And for good reasons. The understanding of culture, especially with regard to congregational leadership, is very helpful. In fact when I pitched Church Unique in 2007, there were no popular leadership books with the title “church and culture” in the title. My working title for the book’s contract was:

OOZE VISION: How to Shape Church Culture to Guide Church Growth.

Since Church Unique, there have been at least five significant book titles (there are several others)  that have tried to leverage the idea of “culture” in the title:

So, the natural question seems to be, what kind of culture is most important? Does a culture of leadership trump a culture of discipleship? If I am working on a culture of mission, do I need to work separately on a culture of generosity? How many “cultures” am I supposed to be working on anyway?

Let’s start by eliminating the easy ones. As much as I believe in a culture of leadership and a culture of generosity, these are clearly subordinate to the biggest ideas of the church’s identity. Simply put God does not command us to go into the world and make leaders or centers of generosity. (More on Jesus use of leadership terminology.)

That leaves us with a culture of discipleship or a culture of mission. What is more important?

I don’t think there is an objectively correct answer to this question as much as there is a practically useful answer depending on your context. In the current context of North America in 2014, I believe the more useful answer is a culture of mission.

Why? There are four primary reasons:

  1. Most churches can easily mistake a programmatic culture for a culture of discipleship. Therefore the terminology doesn’t wake them up to their problem. A culture of mission has more teeth.
  2. The term discipleship tends to connote contextually, although not biblically, an inward or internal church focus. A culture of mission forces you to grapple with the people far from God whom you are poised to reach.
  3. A culture of mission subsumes a culture of discipleship so directly and clearly, but gives broader application to the nuances of each church’s application of mission. Mission is a bigger idea than discipleship in this regard.
  4. A culture of mission more clearly integrates all of the functions of the church better than a culture of discipleship. Again, this is not necessarily true at all times and places, but I believe there is a slight advantage to seeing it this way today.

Clearly a culture of mission and a culture of discipleship should take us to the same place. But I think it is more possible for a church to think of themselves as good at making disciples and be unclear on mission, than for church to be crystal clear on mission and not be focused on making disciples.

Another way I would support this point, is to ask the question, “What was in Jesus’ mind when he selected his first disciples. Mission or discipleship?” I did a fun post on this looking at three disciple-making catalysts in the life of Jesus. 

I am dying to hear your thoughts. What do you think?

16 Comments on to “What’s More Important: A Culture of Mission, A Culture of Discipleship or a Culture of Leadership?”

  • You ask, “what kind of culture is most important?” Well, what do you consider to be Jesus’ most important words? I’m thinking, if I know the next words out of my mouth will be the last words my loved one will hear, my last words will be the most important. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus’ last words (before ascending into heaven) were, “Go and make disciples… baptizing and teaching them…”. Baptizing and teaching ‘who’? A.- ‘Disciples’!

    As a pastor, it troubles me that we have permitted the congregation (audience) dictate the culture of today’s ‘consumer-driven’ churches in the US of A. Jesus clearly expressed the church culture to be discipleship; not consumerism.

  • Will Mancini says:

    Thanks for your comment Rick. I would add that we refer to this as the Great CoMISSION and that every other expression of mission from the gospels does not mention the term disciple in the same way that Matthew 28 does. I usually encourage vision teams to find the expression of mission in Mark, Luke-Acts and John. Thank you again for contributing to the conversation.

  • I would argue for a culture of discipleship for the following reasons.

    1. Jesus specifically commissioned the disciples with this language. I.e. Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

    2. A true disciple will always have a missional focus ala Breen’s book, as a true disciple is always hearing God’s voice and responding in obedience and in alignment with God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven, which is what mission is. As Dallas Willard has said, discipleship is doing what Jesus would do if he were me. Since Jesus was always responding to the Father and doing what he wanted he was always on mission whether he was developing his disciples or ministering to the crowds.

    3. Without the foundation and first place of discipleship when we are mission and if people come to Christ if there is no intentional process of intentionally discipling them after the missionary leaves the results could be tenous at best.

  • Hi Will
    I’m leading a clearly missional church here in the UK, part of Dave Ferguson’s New Thing network.
    We have an internal values statement of ‘Knowing, Going, Growing’ based on Mike Breen’s Up In Out triangle. It’s helped us a lot, but I say to our people the way we grow the triangle is we push the OUT. That makes us rely Up on God more, and we have to rely on each other to do it so the IN grows too.
    In conversation with Mike about that, he smiled and said – ‘You would say that, you’re an evangelist!’
    So I could be right, or maybe I’m biased, but I’m with you. We grow as we go.

  • Joe Klassen says:


    While I think that you have posed an interesting question I believe that all of those things are attainable if you were to build a culture of Jesus…By that I mean if you build a culture where people are wrapped up in a love for Jesus that leads to people being taught and encouraged to become like him then sharing him with others will be a natural byproduct of the first two. A culture of Jesus should be the only culture that churches focus on, everything else flows from that.

    Thanks for allowing me to comment,


  • jb says:

    Will, as a young church leader and former missionary for the last 12 years, I have to say I disagree with you. A culture of discipleship will over time produce a culture of mission and the difference is, it is sustainable mission. In my context of leading, it’s taken us 5 years to build a culture of discipleship where people can actually say, “Yes, I know how to disciple and I can do it wherever I go.” The visions of mission have indeed been slow to come, but as we are discipling people, teaching them how to hear God for together, they are obeying the mission God is asking them to do. As a church consultant, I see churches major on the mission like it’s the only thing that matters, and over the long haul their people become bitter and exhausted at what the mission requires. Most of my missionary friends have left the field in under 10 years because of this very epidemic. They don’t know how to disciple! You need discipleship to build a foundation otherwise I don’t think the mission lasts. One small blog comment can’t tell you my whole testimony, but I can’t reiterate enough how badly I wish churches would learn how to disciple (not just create a program) before they get all “missional”.

  • Suzie Reeves says:

    Are these even meant to be separate focuses? What God is opening my eyes to more and more is the accomplishment of discipleship through mission. Not before or after, but throughout.
    We are sent, we go (or sometimes we stay, as it were, on mission where we are) but we make disciples AS we go. We disciple *one another* as we pursue the mission we are supernaturally anointed for. A continual process of discipleship… in others that we (help) disciple and in us individually as we are discipled.
    Maybe this concept is a given, or not the point of what this question is meaning to unravel…but I think it’s a vital distinction. Many Christ Followers and leaders only understand and operate from the concept of The Church as an organization, instead of a focus on the Church as The Body, solely led by the Holy Spirit. I do believe the church as an organization has a vital role in this, no doubt, but I think the focus of leadership needs to be released a bit more wildly into the hands of the Holy Spirit through the Body He is leading.
    Make sense at all? Thanks for bringing up the topic and allowing for feedback. Good brain food for me today!

  • Don Van Zandt says:

    So very appropriate. Way too many churches think “Mission” once a year for the kids, or that financial support to a missionary checks that box right off the list.
    Mission is every day in all aspects of the church’s activities if it is done right. It is our DNA if we recognize who we are supposed to be. That is why churches get stagnant. We are managing assets for the dying stakeholders instead of using them to reach the unchurched and unaware.

  • […] close out this section, here is some helpful reflection around mission, discipleship and leadership from Will […]

  • Will Mancini says:

    Thank you for your comment Mike. Excellent fuel for continued thinking!

  • Will Mancini says:

    I can hear Mike saying that Anthony and I look forward to getting his take on the question. Thanks for chiming in. I lean toward your bias!!!

  • Will Mancini says:

    That’s a slam dunk Joe. It’s hard to argue with a culture of Jesus! Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  • Will Mancini says:

    JB- thanks for taking the time comment and thoughtfully push back. You case is compelling. I see a culture of disciple and mission as similar enough, that given the context, I could see how discipleship is a more important emphasis. Thank you for your contribution.

  • Will Mancini says:

    Thanks for jumping into the conversation suzie!

  • Tom Rawls says:

    What a great discussion. Its something we at Proclaimers have been talking about for the last decade. We say that being “motivated by the cause of Christ” is the most important ingredient to our culture. It is the matrix over which everything else functions. It is the “why” to every activity in our church. It’s the why to discipleship etc…

    Discipleship can be a detour or a “noble distraction” if not taken within the context of Mission. Jesus said go AND make disciples – He didn’t say go and then make disciples. But we go and make – we make disciples as we go – we go making disciples – but we must prioritise the going. But must never forget that as we go we make.

    Making disciples can become an end in it self – but if discipleship is motivated by Christ’s cause then we will continue to GO and we will continue to simultaneously MAKE disciples who GO.

    As a pastor in a small town in England (about half a million in our district) we need to see MISSION as the primary ingredient to a healthy church. We say our vision is “… the salvation of our city.” As a church we want to “seek and save those who are lost” and we inspire and motivate people in this great cause.

    P.S. Love your stuff a lot Will – you add value! Thanks.

    Tom Rawls
    Lead Pastor Proclaimers
    Norwich, England

  • John Beck says:

    Why should there be an either/or? What is most important? It all is most important.
    This reminds me of when Paul talks about the different body parts in I Cor 12. It is all necessary to fulfill the full mission of Christ.
    We pose these questions as if we need to prioritize God’s will. In reality, we must focus on all aspects, and create a culture that promotes all these things.
    We tend to get caught up in whatever the latest trend is. The fact is, the latest trend is only a new trend because we have finally realized it is something we should have been doing all the time. Then, all focus gets put on that one thing.
    I would encourage churches to focus on a culture that draws out the God-given passions and strengths of the entire congregation so that the entire body works together to fulfill all that God expects.

    John Beck

Leave a Comment