Last summer, I commented on a review of Mike Breen's Building a Discipling Culture. The original review was at a blog entitled Notes from the Trail. In it, Jeff Noble offered a mixed review of Breen's book, lauding its intentional and structured approach to discipleship, but questioning the necessity of such a convoluted approach to discipleship and the effectiveness of the geometric images that Breen employs.
Based on my own experience in a church that had begun using Breen's approach, I commented on Noble's review. I've thought long and hard about whether to deal with the subject here on this blog, and decided that rather than saying a lot myself, I'd simply reprint my comment on the original review, along with a couple of the responses to me. I'm doing so because I think that Breen's approach is dangerous, and I feel that I need to let people know. My comment on the original review read as follows:
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.I received the following response from a woman named Diane, whose church had been negatively affected by the teachings in Building a Discipling Culture:
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.A brother named Mike also responded regarding The Order of Mission, a neomonastic order that Breen leads:
Anyone considering the 3dm model with holy caution should also review the materials found at missionorder.org. 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.I appreciate the input of this sister and brother, which confirm to me what was bothering me about the 3DM program. I think it lends itself to control and manipulation by leaders, and takes its adherents' focus off of the Bible and the truths of the gospel.
A person seeking to join the Order of Mission must make a multi-year commitment. The Missionorder.org website states the following:
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
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.