Review: Building a Discipling Culture

There’s been a lot of buzz about Mike Breen and Steve Cockram’s book Building a Discipling Culture as well as the ministry they lead, 3DM. The Baptist General Association of Virginia (one tribe to which our church belongs) helps promote the discipleship process through the training of leaders. There are several BGAV-affiliated churches who have embraced 3DM’s methodology of helping make people within their church a fully devoted disciple of Christ.

Mike Breen defines 3DM as “the global home for an organic movement of biblical discipleship and missional church that is centered in the United States.” Prior to locating in the US, Breen served as a pastor in England for many years in which he had the opportunity to apply the principles and methods that 3DM now promotes today.

In the summer of 2011, our church did a series called Building a Discipleship Culture before I was aware of the book’s title, and we used material from Real Life Discipleship by Jim Putman, pastor of Real Life Ministries. You can view our cheesy videos from that summer of training and study here. They are bound to entertain and inform you.

With all that said, our church is a church committed to making disciples. We take Colossians 1.28 as one of the deepest aspirations of our community:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

So, I devour books about discipleship. There’s nothing better than helping someone begin to follow Christ, experience His love and become a mature believer who is able to lead others to faith and equip them in spiritual maturity. Any process or tool that can assist that journey that is biblically-centered and relevant to people’s life schedules should be examined greedily.

The book is essentially the primer for the 3DM movement, and it gives an overview of how ministries and churches who want to embrace its methodologies can organize, train and develop disciples.

Let me start with the good:

  • The process outlined in the book is intentional.
  • It’s structured.
  • There is great expectation from the working out of the process.
  • There has obviously been fruitfulness from the process where it’s been implemented.

The actual writing style of the book is pretty dry. It seems disconnected in many points, and after a good read, my copy had some underlining from points that were made that were especially good, but those points seemed extraneous to the overall description of the process.

Let me outline what I didn’t connect with:

  • The process described is extremely involved.
  • While intentional, I don’t know that the training and process is realistic in every church or ministry.
  • I’m not confident that the process of making disciples needs to rendered in such a convoluted way that requires so much explanation of the process itself rather than the qualities desired in a disciple of Jesus.
  • There were a few statements in the book that without knowing Breen, I would need more elaboration on before I’d label the statement as wrong or false. Such as:
You can invite God into any part of your day. Truth is, he’s there already, and it is rude to ignore his presence. He’s never too busy to talk with you, he enjoys the same things you enjoy, he wants to be part of your life – he really does.
My problem with comments like that it may reveal a deeper view of God that I would fundamentally disagree with. Again, without knowing the leaders behind 3DM, I can’t say, but combined with a few other statements scattered throughout the book, this produced a sense of holy caution, or a red flag, so to speak, in my mind.
God doesn’t exist for our happiness, and God most definitely does not enjoy the same things I enjoy all the time. In fact, scripture is pretty clear otherwise that God wants to invite us into His life, for us to enjoy what He enjoys, and for us to discover the joy of laying down our lives and agendas for His mission.
  • There’s literally a lot of shapes used to communicate points. I am not primarily a visual learner, but I would imagine those that are probably learn better from deeper illustrations that squares, triangles, and circles that are labelled. One illustration is shown at right.


There is a lot to commend in the 3DM approach to discipleship and leadership development. If your church is currently doing nothing intentional related to making disciples, it would be a massive jump to embrace 3DM methodology with a lot of planning, training and buy-in among your key leaders. Yet, if you embrace the process, you will see fruit.

I found myself constantly asking why we make discipleship so difficult in the modern church. The process of leading people to maturity must show them models, but I believe those models should be incarnational rather than geometric. In other words, we need more peoplewho are intentional about teaching others to live in joyful, loving obedience to Jesus.

Like the authors, I agree that as a movement grows, there must be structure and processes added to it, and I’m thankful for the thinking and creativity that has resulted in the 3DM approach. I appreciated the heart of this statement because I know many pastors who aren’t involved in the discipleship process at all:

We need leaders who will step out of “managing church” and make discipling others their primary objective. The time has come to humbly acknowledge before God that we have failed to train men and women to lead in the style of Jesus. Whether through ignorance or fear, we have taken the safe option, training pastors to be theologically sound and effective managers of institutions rather than equipping them with the tools they need to disciple others.

Yet to be gracious, I don’t think the answer is to jettison the baby with the bath water. The answer is not to create vacuous disciple makers by abandoning theological soundness and effective leadership of organizations. It’s not an either-or situation. It’s a both-and. We need to increase the equipping for discipleship while continuing to do the other.

Since I know the process is bearing fruit in hundreds of places, I cannot argue against it. However, don’t feel guilty for questioning whether the 3DM model is right for your ministry. There are other dynamic models of organizational discipleship. The most important model is the one that you choose and use. Leading people to maturity in Christ is not an option.


  • For another perspective on the 3DM approach from someone who is using and embracing it, check out this post. It’s excellent.

On this day...


  1. Kim Jones says:
    Thanks for your comments, Jeff. I have been searching the web looking for any feedback on 3DM and the book. I agree with your points. Their use of the five-fold ministry is also important to note, as many have differing opinions regarding that topic. SInce you are obviously very thoughtful and have a passion for upholding biblical truth, what is your favorite discipleship book/model??? thanks
  2. Jeff says:
    Kim, I’d have to go with “favorites” instead of picking just one:

    The Master Plan of Evangelism and Discipleship by Robert Coleman
    Experiencing God’s Story by Scott Duvall
    One on One with God by Jerry Fine

  3. I have a fundamental problem with the exegesis in Building a Discipling Culture. Breen seems to want to shoehorn passages in order to fit his LifeShapes: for example, he uses what I can only term a fanciful exposition of the Sermon on the Mount in order to support the “Kairos circle,” one of the most fundamental tools of 3DM. Proponents call the Kairos circle learning to hear the voice of God; I think it’s learning to submit oneself to groupthink and possibly manipulation by the leader. If the principles in 3DM can’t be supported biblically without far-fetched interpretations, why should anyone submit to them?

    I also have a problem with the fact that Breen insists on the necessity of a common language with which to do discipleship, but then instead of using the language that the Bible already gives us, he substitutes his own. I envision communities of people who go on and on about Kairos circles and Up, In, and Out triangles, but are biblically illiterate. How is creating an insider lingo going to expand the Kingdom of God?

    I would say, listen to that holy caution. I don’t think that there is anything in the 3DM pyramidal approach that will prevent it from going down the same path as the Shepherding movement of the 70s and 80s. I’m sure that most people using it are well-meaning people who only want to help others become more Christlike, but if the foundation is not solidly biblical, the fruit won’t be, either.
    Keith Schooley´s last blog post ..Looking for the Pearl

    1. Jeff says:

      Thanks for your comment, and I tend to agree with you on some of the problems with using the terminology and process of BDC. “Holy caution” is a great admonition. With that said, I don’t think churches or church leaders have an excuse for NOT seeking to build a discipleship culture in their church. Whether we like or embrace BDC or not, we don’t have the option of growing forward in our systemic approach to making disciples in the context of our local churches.

  4. Diane says:
    Thank you, thank you, thank you Keith, for offering up a warning regarding 3dm, Mike Breen, and Building A Discipling Culture. Tragically, our church has been torn apart and dismembered by the promulgation of this material. Even in the face of the facts presently before us (a mass exodus of devoted disciples, including associate pastors) there is denial by our pastor that there is anything wrong with Breen’s program; in other words, there is no “bathwater” with the baby! Some of us also saw hermeneutical problems with BADC and have been told that we are interpreting Scripture “too narrowly.” What I perceived as a consistent “backfilling” with Scripture to support his agenda made reading Breen’s book an exercise in discernment and critical (not criticizing) thinking. I am prepared to agree that perhaps my pastor completely mishandled the introduction of this program (a term that Breen denies applies to his vision) but, having read BADC myself, I see that my pastor stuck to the playbook. The secrecy, the inherent divisiveness of the program (creating two classes of disciples) the “language” that must be learned AND the obvious similarities to the Shepherding Movement should be discussed openly with a church’s leadership before this program is implemented. Our pastor uses the dearth of a dissenting view online or in our denomination as “proof” that the people who have left our church ( and those that continue to offer up a differing viewpoint) are simply fearful! For any Bereans out there who are doing research about 3dm, “holy caution” is indeed warranted. In our case, the “end” has not justified the “means” no matter how well-intentioned Mike Breen, et al are.
  5. MIke says:
    Anyone considering the 3dm model with holy caution should also review the materials found at You will find that Mike Breen, the leader of 3dm, is also the Senior Guardian of the Order of Mission, a self-proclaimed “neo-monastic order.” The Order of Mission aspires to be a small, radically committed group of people who will seek to usher in the next great awakening or next large move of God.

    A person seeking to join the Order of Mission must make a multi-year commitment. The website states the following:

    Temporary Covenant

    On taking their three year temporary vows for The Order of Mission, members take the following vows at Initiation:

    In the name of the Father,
    and of the Son,
    and of the Holy Spirit,
    I solemnly promise before God
    to devote myself
    to a life of simplicity, purity
    and accountability
    within The Order of Mission.

    I vow before God and in the presence of the Senior Guardian (Guardians)
    and the members of the Order,
    to live and work according to its Rule.
    I ask for the grace of Almighty God
    and the prayers of all those present.

    Interestingly, the vow requires members to live and work according to the Rules of Life of the Order. The Rules of Life of the order are based upon the concept of “Lifeshapes.” The Lifeshapes used by the Mission of Order are the same Lifeshapes that are taught by 3dm ministries. The Order uses geometric shapes to teach their “rule of life.” The shapes used are:
    The Circle: Listening to God’s voice and responding obediently
    The Triangle: Balanced and deep relationships
    The Semi-Circle: Kingdom-oriented rhythms of life around Rest and Work
    The Square: Multiplying the life of Jesus into the lives of others
    The Pentagon: Personal calling
    The Hexagon: Prayer
    The Heptagon: Organic Health
    The Octagon: Relational mission

    Both 3dm and the Order of Mission think that in order to build a discipling culture, you must first have a discipling language. They believe that the language used creates the culture. Tthe language used by the Order of Mission and 3dm is completely different than that used to describe discipleship in the Bible. The 3dm groups call their meetings “huddles.” They engage in close knit missions or “oikos.” They talk about SWOT analysis and inflection points. They talk of high challenge, high invitation churches, etc., etc.

    Members of the Order of Mission also take vows of Simplicity, Purity and Accountability.

    The use of “accountability” and the ushering in of a “new” discipling language clearly makes the 3dm and Order of Mission potential candidates for a re-emergence of the abusive and heretical Shepherding Movement that ran from the 70s and 80s. I was part of a church involved in that movement and saw first-hand the damage that it did. When your desire is to create a system that requires people to take vows to live by the Rule of Life of the Order, you steep them in a “special” language, you tell them that they are a part of a radical movement that will usher in the next great awakening, and you make them accountable to you, you have taken far too many steps down the road of Shepherdship error. The steps outlined above can lead to “disciples” who are alienated from other Christians (who do not share their language), who have taken vows to live by something other than the Bible, and who voluntarily submit themselves to the authority of another human being under the guise of “accountability.” There really is only one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus.

    I never want to see the abuses of the Shepherdship movement repeated, and I don’t want believers to think that in order to be “radical” you have to learn something “deeper” and “more effective” than the language that Jesus and his disciples used to transform the world. If you are like the Bereans who studied the scriptures daily to see if what was taught them was true, you will find that Jesus did not use Lifeshapes, he did not require a special discipling language, he never authorized Senior Guardians or Guardians, and he never required anyone to take vows or oaths.

  6. paul says:
    This is a great balanced review. Thanks! Best line in the whole thing:
    “Yet to be gracious, I don’t think the answer is to jettison the baby with the bath water. The answer is not to create vacuous disciple makers by abandoning theological soundness and effective leadership of organizations. It’s not an either-or situation. It’s a both-and. We need to increase the equipping for discipleship while continuing to do the other.”

    As with most new movements, they tend to correctly react to something missing in the church at first, but then, out of that zealous reaction, tend to go too far and overreact, swinging the pendulum the other way.

    1. Jeff says:
      Thanks for the kind comment, Paul!

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