Sunday, January 07, 2018

New Analysis of Building a Discipling Culture

Update: it appears that the links below to a critique of Building a Discipling Culture and 3DM by Michael Irwin no longer work, and I don't have a way of finding out if the text is still available. To my knowledge, it was never published except as a Google doc. I leave the post here in case anything may be gleaned by what was written here, as well as to leave the comments up.

Little did I know back in 2013, when I wrote a brief review of Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen, that it would spark such a response. I could describe it here, but if you don't already know what I'm talking about, just go to the link above and check out the comment section. I have been grateful that that post has served as a meeting place for so many people who have been adversely affected by their churches adopting 3DM principles.

I have written, both in a newsletter and in another post, that I haven't written anything else on the subject largely because I have little else to say. However, I have had profitable correspondences with others who do have a lot to say. One of these is Michael Irwin, who has written an excellent, detailed commentary on Building a Discipling Culture, describing the weaknesses and dangers, as he sees them, of Breen's approach. It is my honor and pleasure to make his commentary available to anyone who would like to read it. You may download it by clicking this link.

While the work is entirely Mr. Irwin's, he has kindly given me the opportunity to review earlier drafts of this work, and cited some comments I made in our correspondence. I concur wholeheartedly with his assessment. He correctly

  • refutes Breen's insistence on a new "discipling language"; 
  • points out the problematic nature of populating "huddles" with "persons of peace" who are unlikely to challenge the content of what they are receiving (and are required to commit, before they know what they are into, to participating over an extended period of time and starting their own huddles); and
  • challenges the exegesis by which Breen claims biblical basis for the principles BADC advocates, especially Breen's use of "Covenant" and "Kingdom" as the key concepts for interpreting scripture as a whole.
If you have concerns about 3DM, or even if you are a 3DM advocate and wonder what the problem is, I invite you to download this commentary.

In addition, once the comments on my brief commentary exceeded 300, the limits of my Blogger platform began to be apparent, and it is now difficult to access the more recent comments. Therefore, I invite everyone who would like to continue the conversation to migrate over here.

Once again, many thanks to Mr. Irwin for his dedicated work on this commentary.


  1. Schooley's commentary seems to cherry pick the facts about the Bible he uses to critique BACD.

    For example, while Schooley is correct that mathetes (disciple) is used a relatively handful of times and that akoloutheo (follow) is a directive by Jesus and succeeding leaders of the Jesus community mentioned many more times, one need only review the definition of akoloutheo to understand its relationship to mathetes. Strong's concordance, for example, defines akoloutheo as one who joins a master on the master's journey, one who becomes a disciple. Breen is Biblically supported in his assertion that the only number that matters to Jesus is discipleship of the believer.

    Further, Irwin's idea that the Bible does not provide a patterned instruction for discipling others is preposterous and careless. Acts 2 describes the process of evangelism and conversion of the first disciples post Jesus' ascension: they devote themselves to the Apostles teachings and then imitate the breaking of bread at the temple by breaking bread at homes. Further, the Apostle Paul implored the Corinthian, Ephesian, Thessalonian, Philippian churches to imitate either himself, his own disciples, and/or God in their daily lives. Strong's concordance defines mimétés (imitate, imitator) as "the positive imitation that arises by admiring the pattern set by someone worthy of emulation, i.e. a mentor setting a proper example".

    Because of these initial oversights in his critique, Irwin seems to miss the point in the rest of his critique that Breen is attempting to provide tools for methodology in Christian witness. Breen is not attempting to re-interpret or reject the Bible. Obedience to God, personal conversion, and individual redemption are not cut off from Breen's theology. Breen is attempting to make the point that culture embracing methods of the church growth movement no longer work. Breen's argument is that a Bible-based methodology for nurturing the faith is the best methodology. Unfortunately, Irwin's misguided assessment of Biblical discipleship makes the rest of his critique a mere rant.

    1. My apologies - I reference Schooley in the above comment when I should have referred to Irwin.

    2. Hi Mr. Johnson,

      Thank you for reading Mr. Irwin's commentary and responding. No problem about referencing me at the top of the comment, although I appreciate the correction for accuracy's sake.

      I am dubious about the word "only." Breen will say that the only number that matters to God is the number of disciples made; the traditional evangelical position would be that the only number that matters is the number of people brought to faith in the first place; John Piper would say that the only thing that matters to God (numerical or not) is His Glory. I believe that Irwin's issue (and mine) is that Breen's "only" tends to diminish activities (e.g. gift lists in Romans 12 and 1 Cor. 12) that may not appear to be overtly related to discipleship but nonetheless accomplish purposes related to discipleship and/or to other aspects of Christian community. Breen tends to denigrate what the church is already doing in his advocacy of what he thinks the church ought to be doing.

      You characterize Irwin's contention that the Bible doesn't provide a patterned instruction for discipling believers as "preposterous and careless." I am happy to affirm the principles of devoting ourselves to Scripture (the Apostles' teachings) and to breaking bread in homes, from Acts 2, and of imitating the examples of Jesus and of other, more mature believers; but that doesn't mean that Scripture gives us a detailed pattern for how to do it. If you believe that the Bible provides this patterned instruction, then by what authority does Breen attempt to substitute his own tools for methodology and his own language for conveying it?

      If Breen truly contended "that a Bible-based methodology for nurturing the faith is the best methodology," I, for one, would be in full agreement. My contention (and, if I understand him rightly, Mr. Irwin's) is that Breen's methodology has very tenuous ties to scripture. The exegesis by which he attempts to connect his lifeshapes to his proof texts would be laughable if it weren't so tragic in the way the 3DM methodology actually plays out in churches. To be blunt, Breen's lifeshapes claim to be biblically based, but aren't. Therefore, they cannot possibly accomplish what Breen claims they accomplish.

    3. Neither of these links work, nor a search on Irwin. Do you have any way to still access? Michael Irwin, who has written an excellent, detailed commentary on Building a Discipling Culture, describing the weaknesses and dangers, as he sees them, of Breen's approach. It is my honor and pleasure to make his commentary available to anyone who would like to read it. You may download it by clicking this link.

    4. I'm sorry to say that I don't have a way to contact Mr. Irwin. He was an elderly man at the time we had an email correspondence, and that was several years ago. I was unaware that the links were broken.

  2. 3DM and TOM alumni--
    Same game, different name . . .

  3. Network Church Sheffield has really hit rock bottom, Peter and Anne Findley have left before covid and the new Leaders Sam Evans business focused and Mike Rutter pastoral side are now in charge. The Network Church Sheffield site is rundown and looks to be in a state of disrepair. It looks,like they have rented most of their buildings out to various businesses. There is a constant smell of cannabis emanating across the site and drug dealers are regularly seen parked up.

  4. I am wondering if anyone has any recent updates, reviews, commentary in this area. Lately, Fall 2022, I’ve seen names like Alan Hirsch, Leonard Sweet and a local California person who is connected to Breen and another group Access Leadership, and the larger 3DMovements group. I read many of the early writings. But this is still very active and the Leonard Sweet connection has been there for some time. There are lots of interconnections in this movement. There is definitely a side of what the old reformers would have called the “Visible Church”, that is very active teaching what they often call old paths to Leadership, Discipleship, Mentoring, and Spiritual Direction. Hardly a day goes by with my running into some form of the new/old Spirituality, manifesting itself as an old and ancient lost way.

    Looking at scripture (and it’s true we would need to study these verses in context of the whole Bible) would be useful, to see if this is truly Biblical, actual a new Gnosis or just a movement that God in his Sovereign sovereignty allows, or truly a wrong path.

    Here are a few challenging passages. Btw my personal old path is when I reached back to the KJV Bible a few years ago. These are favorites:

    Jeremiah 6:16-17 Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. 17 Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.

    (The real old Path)

    Btw…whatever path we are on I think Jesus did leave us a caution ⚠️, and a rule to apply if true miracles or simple acts of service are done in Jesus name and to the glory of God.

    Mark 9:38-41 And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. 39 But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. 40 For he that is not against us is on our part. 41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

    As the Westminster Catechism begins…

    Larger Catechism

    Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
    A. Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

  5. Sad but no surprise!