Seven Pillars for a Missional Culture

by J.D. Payne

want to pull back the curtain to show The Church at Brook Hills’ culture of disciple-making and share some of the foundational matters that support this culture and our field activities. This is not my attempt to say you should replicate what we are doing. We do not claim to have it all together. 

want to pull back the curtain to show The Church at Brook Hills’ culture of disciple-making and share some of the foundational matters that support this culture and our field activities. This is not my attempt to say you should replicate what we are doing. We do not claim to have it all together. 

Like all churches, we are constantly being sanctified by the Spirit and will continue to grow and develop in our Great Commission task. However, the Lord has been so gracious to The Church at Brook Hills over the twenty-five years of its life. While I am humbled to write this article, I am also writing to celebrate the grace of our Lord and point to his people who are walking in the light with him and one another (1 John 1:7). Learn from us, but do not clone us. Be like one panning for gold—allow the things that are not appropriate for your context to wash downstream, but collect the golden nuggets for use in your setting.

While I provide pastoral leadership and development in certain areas, The Church at Brook Hills is led by an outstanding group of elders and staff. The overwhelming majority of this article is a testimony to God’s working through their labors and not the work of a single individual. Seven pillars support the missional culture and activities of The Church at Brook Hills. I share these below.

#1. Biblical Foundation

The first pillar is that of a biblical foundation related to making disciples. Whether we are studying passages in Jonah or John, Leviticus or Philemon, members are likely to hear of how the text exhorts us to our Great Commission task. Such teaching is not forced or based on hermeneutical gymnastics, but flows from the text because God is a missionary God, has redeemed a people for himself, and has set them on his mission in everything they do.

#2. Vision, Mission, Goal

The second pillar is an intentional repetition of our vision, mission, and goal as a faith family.  For us, these are expressed in the following statement: We glorify God by making disciples of all nations. The practical win is to see world-impacting disciple-makers involved in multiplying disciples and churches in Birmingham (our city), across North America, and throughout the world. Our vision, mission, and goal influence everything we do as a church when it comes to ministry, staffing, budgeting, and organizing. 

Vision: We glorify God sums up our vision. In everything we do as followers of Jesus, we desire to bring glory to God. This vision affects the way we think about life, family, finances, education, politics, church, and of course, disciple-making.

Mission: By making disciples. Disciple-making begins in the harvest fields with evangelism.  However, our Great Commission calling does not end there, but demands that we both reach people with the gospel and teach them the whole council of God. Practically, we talk about the fulfillment of this mission in four ways. We are to:

•  Share the word

•  Show the word

•  Teach the word

•  Serve the world

Sharing the word is related to our evangelistic efforts. Showing the word is what we do particularly in our small groups when it comes to bearing one another’s burdens. Showing the word is about each member providing care for the other members in his or her small group.  Teaching the word happens when we gather for corporate worship. However, we expect a great deal of teaching to take place in small groups, with parents to their children, and in one-on-one settings. Serving the world includes a host of activities locally in Birmingham and globally—across North America and throughout the world.

Goal: Of all nations. Our members are regularly reminded of the definitions of words such as people groups, unreached, and unengaged-unreached. We talk about eleven thousand people groups in the world, six thousand unreached people groups, and three thousand unengaged-unreached peoples.  

We work hard to blur the lines between international and North American divides. Our people hear of the 360 unreached people groups living in the United States (several we have identified in Birmingham) and 180 in Canada. While the greatest needs are outside of North America, we speak often about the unreached people groups (less than two percent evangelical) being “over there” and “over here.” 

Practically, our labors to reach all nations means we give priority to unreached peoples living in least-reached areas. We frequently speak of sending teams to areas in Birmingham, across North America, and throughout the world, where there are the greatest physical and spiritual needs.

 #3. Aggressive Evaluation

The third pillar involves aggressive evaluation of all that we do. As elders and as a staff, we are regularly asking (and encouraging members to be asking): How can we most effectively make disciples of all nations? This is a matter of kingdom stewardship. If we ask this question and decide that our time,
resources, and efforts are less than what they could be for the kingdom, then adjustment is necessary.

#4. Organizational Structure

The fourth pillar involves our organizational structure. Our pastoral staff team of nine intentionally works in collaboration with one another. We fight to keep from operating out of ministry silos where this ministry is his and that one belongs to another guy. While each of us has primary areas we oversee, we attempt to integrate as much as possible. For example, our pastor of local disciple making and our pastor of member care work closely together on matters within the faith family. Our pastor of global disciple making, pastor of local missions, and myself (pastor of church multiplication) have a natural connection on providing leadership for matters outside of the fellowship. 

One of the best means for us when it comes to sharing, showing, and teaching the word and serving the world is through our small groups. We grow inwardly by showing and teaching; we grow outwardly by sharing and serving. When it comes to our missionary efforts, we organize around the following options:

•  Short-term missions (two weeks – two months)

•  Mid-term missions (two months – two years)

•  Long-term/church planting (beyond two years)

We challenge our members to begin at the short-term level, then move to mid-term involvement, and finally long term. Beginning with an annual short-term trip, we encourage the church to give two percent (about two weeks) of their time each year to serve in a different context somewhere in the world. Our labors throughout the world are done in context with national disciple-makers and churches (if they exist) with whom we can lock arms for the kingdom.

#5. Values

The fifth pillar is a clear set of values. We summarize these into five areas:

•  Biblical proclamation (Acts 2:42)

•  Sacrificial care (Acts 2:42)

•  Wholehearted worship (Acts 2:42)

•  Desperate prayer (Acts 2:42)

•  Exponential multiplication (Acts 2:47)

Space will not permit me to describe these values. This list will have to suffice. At face value, you should be able to discern their meanings.  

#6. Strategic Principles

The sixth pillar is a set of six governing principles for our strategy to glorify God by making disciples of all nations. These are: Biblical, Simple, Intentional, Reproducible, Cross-cultural, and Radical.

Biblical. God’s word is to dictate and shape all that we do. We do not develop methods and strategy and then ask God to bless them. Rather, we want the Spirit and the word to lead us in what we do locally and globally. What has God revealed in his word that he has already promised to bless? For us, we want to take those biblical ways and contextualize them in Birmingham, across North America, and throughout the world.  

Simple. While we are a megachurch by definition, we work to avoid thinking and acting like a stereotypical megachurch. Our efforts are to keep matters simple when it comes to being disciples and making disciples. Complexity did not turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). The Lord has done and does the complex matters; we are called to a simple task of following him into the world.  

Intentional. We equip members to be world-impacting disciple makers. We say that church leaders are not event planners, but are equippers (Eph. 4:11-12). They do not exist to provide services, but to serve people. They are not program-driven, but people-driven. 

Reproducible. The more complex our ministries become, the more difficult they are to reproduce by our members and new disciples. We keep asking ourselves how we can be organized for rapid multiplication, rather than for routine addition. Part of this process involves eliminating from our vocabularies all references to the church as a building. It also means we keep striving to become decreasingly dependent on ministries that require large budgets, buildings, and complex structures. 

Cross-cultural. We speak often about culture and context. In order to reach the unreached peoples living in Birmingham, across North America, and throughout the world, we must cross cultural gaps. Disciple-making and church planting efforts must be contextualized. People must be equipped to cross these gaps.

Radical. The call to follow Jesus is a call to die to self. This means making sacrifices for the lost, poor, and the church. Casual, comfortable Christianity is not biblical. While we recognize what we mean by radical is simply biblical, the truth is that according to most people in the twenty-first century, the way of Jesus is something radical. 

#7. Equipping Process

The seventh pillar is a process of equipping all members to be world-impacting disciple-makers.  In addition to personal growth in Christ, regular worship gatherings, small-group involvement, local and global service, we provide a means to train all of our members in disciple-making activities. The Brook Hills 7 is a combination of equipping modules (usually six weeks each) to provide biblical and missiological foundations and practical skills related to multiplying disciples and churches. 

Throughout the New Testament, church planting is described as evangelism that results in new churches. And the pathway to such disciple-making follows: gospel shared -> disciples made -> church identified -> pastors
appointed (Acts 13-14). With these steps in mind, the Brook Hills 7 is comprised of the following training:

•  Being a disciple: What does it mean to be a disciple and make disciples?

•  Sharing the word: How do we share the gospel locally and globally?

•  Starting and leading small groups: How do we start small groups and lead them to glorify God by making disciples of all nations?

•  Teaching the word: How do we study the Bible and teach it in a small-group setting?

•  Showing the word: In our small groups, how are we to bear one another’s burdens and provide pastoral care to one another?

•  Serving the world: What does it mean for our church to do missions locally and globally?

Multiplying the church: What is church planting and how can we be involved?

We want all of our members to complete the Brook Hills 7. It is our desire that all of our members will not only be better equipped for the Great Commission task, but they will be able to say, “I can serve on a church-planting team,” or “I can help support and send someone from my small group to serve on a church-planting team.”  


In this article, I have attempted to provide a glimpse into The Church at Brook Hills’ approach to mission. Supporting a culture of mission to the nations—across the street and world—requires different structures. By noting the various pillars the Lord has graciously allowed us to develop over the years to support our culture, it is my hope that you now have a better idea of the model that shapes what we do on the field. 


J. D. Payne serves as the pastor for church multiplication with The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Before coming to Brook Hills, he served for ten years with the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and as an associate professor of church planting and evangelism in the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he directed the Center for North American Missions and Church Planting. 

EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 2 pp. 208-212. Copyright  © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.

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