Language Creates Culture

Language Creates Culture

Language creates culture. This phrase has become one of my personal mantras for life and ministry. It’s the idea that words create worlds. The language we define and use in our ministry will eventually create a specific culture. In essence, the “words” we use will create the “worlds” we live in.

Prior to joining the staff at Long Hollow, I served as a college pastor and campus pastor in a multi-site church in Miami, FL. When I moved down to South Florida to launch this new campus ministry, I immediately wanted to lay the foundation for disciple-making. I began asking people in the ministry if they could define “discipleship” for me. As you can imagine, I heard lots of different answers.

Now let me pause and say that I’m not narrow minded enough to think that there is only one correct definition of discipleship. However, the wide variety of answers I received proved my initial concerns. Since everyone had a different understanding of what it meant to make disciples, they all had different strategies and methods. This also meant that everyone had different metrics for gauging success in ministry. As you can imagine, it’s very difficult to establish a consistent culture when the language is not consistent across an organization.

If we want to create a culture of disciple-making, we need a well defined language that will support it. Click To Tweet If we want to create a culture of disciple-making, we need a well defined language that will support it. Mike Breen reflects on the importance of developing a consistent language in his book Building a Discipling Culture by stating, “This language should be the DNA of Jesus’ teachings, Scripture, leadership, mission and discipleship. The language should be shared by you and the people you are discipling, and eventually, by everyone in your church community.”

When I transitioned to Long Hollow to be the Spiritual Formation Pastor, I joined Pastor Robby Gallaty in setting out to clearly define disciple-making for our church. This definition of disciple-making was essential for crafting a new language in the church that would lead to the desired culture for our church.

Once we agreed on a definition for disciple-making, we wanted it to be understood, embraced, and lived out by everyone on our staff and eventually embraced and lived out by every member of our church.

Let’s Define the Terms: 

Disciple-making is intentionally entering into someone’s life to help them know and follow Jesus (Evangelism) and to teach them to obey His commands (Discipleship).

Evangelism is sharing the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ with someone to help them know and follow Jesus as Lord through repentance and faith.

Discipleship is intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ.

A Disciple is a devoted follower of Jesus.

As seen in the first definition, disciple-making encompasses both evangelism and discipleship. Effective evangelism should naturally lead to discipleship, and holistic discipleship should always produce evangelism

Effective evangelism should naturally lead to discipleship, and holistic discipleship should always produce evangelism. Click To Tweet

For too long the church at large has tried to put these two key components of disciple-making on opposing sides, forcing people to choose between being an evangelistic church (aka “Soul-Winning” church) or a discipleship-driven church (aka “Deep not Wide” church).  It takes both evangelism and discipleship functioning in harmony to accomplish the Great Commission. We must intentionally reframe evangelism within the context of disciple-making.

It takes both evangelism and discipleship functioning in harmony to accomplish the Great Commission. Click To Tweet

Evangelism and Discipleship are like two oars on the rowboat of disciple-making. They are both necessary to move the boat in the proper direction. Imagine being in a rowboat with two oars. If you were to take one oar and put it back inside the boat and choose to just use the other oar to row the boat, all you are going to do is move in circles. You have to put both oars in the water and use equal force to effectively move the boat in the desired direction. If one oar moves faster than the other, you will eventually veer off course.

The same is true for the church. If the church is focused on evangelism alone, we might “reach” a lot of people, but we will not be growing them deep in their devotion and obedience to the Lord. We will eventually find our staff overworked and burnt out because they are the only ones capable of accomplishing the mission since the church members have not been properly discipled to be co-laborers of the gospel. This type of an environment has the tendency of producing consumers rather than disciples. On the other hand, if we focus all your attention on discipleship, it’s easy to become an insider-focused church that rarely reaches out to a lost world with the gospel of Jesus.

As you reflect on the culture of your church, is it the culture you desire to see? If not, let me encourage you to start by examining your mission and the language you use to mobilize your people.

If we want to establish a culture that is laser focused on making disciples, one of our first steps has to be to develop and define the language that will create the culture we desire.

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Gus is the Spiritual Formation Pastor at Long Hollow Baptist Church, where he serves on the Executive Team providing direction and oversight for the church’s disciplemaking strategy. He also serves on the board of Replicate Ministries, equipping pastors and leaders to create a disciplemaking culture in their churches by providing training, coaching, and resources. Before joining Long Hollow, Gus was the College Pastor at Christ Fellowship Miami, where he was involved in planting and starting new college and young adult ministries across Miami. Before serving at CF Miami, he served as the College and Small Groups Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church. Gus is passionate about equipping people to become disciples who make disciples.