Dhati Lewis shares Discipleship Lessons from Dense and Diverse Urban Communities.
Dhati is a church planter currently working in Atlanta, Georgia. In this episode he tells the story of Blueprint Church and the lessons he is learning about discipleship in an urban context. This episode is full of great insights for church leaders looking to help their people take next steps in their relationship with Jesus whether they are an dense urban context, suburban sprawl or a wide open rural community. Dhati is sure to share some challenging insights that will force you to think differently about your current approach to discipleship.
Interview Highlights //
00:39 // Dhati leads Blueprint Church and Rebuild Network
01:29 // Dhati is a father of 7
01:40 // How Texas and football lead Dhati to find Christ
06:50 // “It takes a church to raise a Christian.’
08:25 // Dhati and his wife have recaptured the art of hospitality in a radical way
09:50 // ‘Life on life’ versus one on one
10:00 // Dhati and his church wrestle through what it looks like to be present in people’s lives
11:14 // 40 people moved from Texas to plant a church in Atlanta. 35/40 have lived with Dhati and his wife
12:03 // Blueprint has very few programs, prioritizing people as ministry
14:31 // Rich was amazed that Blueprint lists social media as a key ministry tool
16:30 // Dhati’s key question is what should the church be known for and how do we protect that identity
18:31 // Rich states that people need to belong before they believe or become
19:25 // The world is becoming more urban in density and diversity
Lightning Round Highlights
Helpful Tech Tools // Ministry Grid
Book Worth Reading // The Voice of the Heart by Chip Dodd
Inspiring Leader // Barack Obama
What does he do for fun? // basketball before injury, Laker fan, gamer
Interview Transcript //
Rich – Well hey everybody! Welcome to the unSeminary podcast. My name’s Rich Birch. The host around these parts. So glad that you decided to spend some time with us. This is the podcast where we listen in from church leaders from across the country and what they’re learning. Today we’ve got a real treat. I’m super excited for this conversation. I’ve been looking forward to it for a couple weeks. We’ve got Dhati Lewis. He really has, two different organizations: Blueprint Church and Rebuild Network. Looking forward to hearing from you today. Dhati, welcome to the show!
Dhati – Hey, I’m excited to be here. Thank you so much for the opportunity. It’s a privilege.
Rich – Thank you so much. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and the ministry that you are involved in.
Dhait – Ya, well I am a father of 7.
Rich – Nice! Wow!
Dhati – Yes, 7. My wife is the real soldier, she’s amazing!
Rich – What’s the age span there…oldest to youngest?
Dhati – Well we, I have an 18 year old…turning 18 and basically we go all the way down to 5.
Rich – Wow! That’s amazing!
Dhati – So we just had birthdays. We are always celebrating birthdays. Always you know, moving on. It’s a treat. There is never a dull moment in our home.
Rich – Absolutely! For sure.
Dhati – So basically I wasn’t raised in the church at all. My dad played professional football and really my life was given towards sports. Football was my god. Everything I did, I did do was based upon sports and all that. But God used that, sports as a tool to bring me to himself. So in 1993 I didn’t get a scholarship to a major division 1 school and I just started searching. There has to be more in life than sports. I started searching. I studies Hinduism, Buddhism, the nation of Islam, African tribal religion. I studied it all. But Christianity was the only thing that said you are not good enough and you need a Savior. I was a good kid. But I was good because I wanted to be a pro athlete like my dad and I saw drugs and alcohol take that away from him so I didn’t do those things. Not because of religion but I didnt do it because it got in my way of fulfilling my goals and ambitions. So football was my god. Came to know the Lord. Ended up getting a scholarship to the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Met a couple people who were living for the Lord and that was it. This guy named Art Hooker introduced me to a Christian community. This community it was from them that I started learning about things like evangelism and discipleship and it was in that I really caught a passion and desire for this idea of making disciples. I would say my call to ministry didn’t come primarily as a pastor so I could preach. I was called so that I could make disciples. That was really the heartbeat behind why I wanted to get in front of people because it seemed like we reduced Christianity to church services, conferences and concerts. I was like, how can we really be about what I see the New Testament, the Scripture, about making disciples. Not just individually, but corporately because I feel like so many of us have reduced discipleship to a once a week meeting at Starbucks, this mentoring relationship. So I was just really wrestling with that. The tension that I had was, how do we recapture this, what I really believe that parachurch ministries have stolen, this idea of discipleship in the local church. So we started Blueprint. Blueprint church was birthed out of really 25 of us that was in Denton, Texas, that really had a passion to move, to take the church into the urban context. So 25 of us made the commitment to move to Atlanta, Georgia to start Blueprint Church. And we called it Blueprint because the definition of a blue print is a plan or process that’s used as a guide to start something new. So it’s really just, it’s started at a time when the world is coming more urban, it seemed like our church is becoming more rural and suburban. So really it’s like how can we embrace the beauty and complexity, the dense and diversity of the urban environment. And that’s really, when we talk about urban we are not just talking about inner city but we are talking about dense and diverse places. We just said let’s wrestle with the centrallity of the gospel, let’s wrestle with discipleship, let’s wrestle with discipleship in the context of the local church. And that’s what we kind of established a blueprint. But then from there we was to be able to establish and fan the flame and so that’s where Rebuild came from, which is essentially a family of churches that’s geared around recapturing discipleship in the local church. So that was really the heartbeat behind Blueprint and Rebuild. We recognised and we see in the New Testament model was, I see Paul, Paul would go in and he would make disciples. People would come to know the Lord, and as people come to know the Lord then he would say we need to appoint elders and deacons. He would establish the church after people were won. What do we do? We go get our 501C3’s. We go get our building. Those things and then we go and try to do that. But the problem then becomes, now we’ve go this overhead and so now we just go and put on a better show. Then we just get chuch transfers. So I was like how can we recapture disciple making. And it’s been said you can plant churches and not make disciples, but if you make disciples you will ultimately plant churches.
Rich- Right. Absolutely. There’s a lot there. A lot packed in. I really appreciate that. What does discipleship look like at Blueprint? How are you helping people take their next steps in their relationship with Jesus?
Dhati – One of our underlying premises is that we believe, the old African proverb says this, it takes a village to raise a child. So what we say is, it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a church to raise a Christian. So we really treat disciple making more in a corporate setting, than this way, this one on one, this one on 12…what we say is Jesus had the three. Jesus had the 12. But Jesus also had 70. No one’s calling one on 70 disciple making. We really have to think through, what does disciple making look like in the local context. And so we reduce it down to the mechanics of disciple making and we borrowed some of the language by Mike Breen where he says when he looks at Matthew 4:17 he says two things. One, inviting people into relationship and challenging them to change. When Jesus did that he says, ‘Come and follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.’ So come to live, but in doing that I will challenge you to become something. Those are like the tensions that we wrestle with. The way I define discipleship or disciple making is our capacity to lovingly embody the personal work or Jesus and transmit that into the life of his followers.
Rich – Now how are you inviting people in? What does that practically look like? What does that inviting look like and how do you begin to transfer your faith into someone else.
Dhati – One of the things that I would say personally that we do and has taken hold in our church is, I have been married for 13.5 years, going on 14 and we have really tried to capture the heart of hospitality. So in recapturing the heart of hospitality my wife and I talk about how do we use our house as a weapon for the Gospel. And that’s really something that out of the 13 years, we have always had someone living in our home. We have always done life model, created those types of models, and if you were to come to our church, a lot of people in our gathering, they have ticket on this idea of life on life being more than this idea of one on one, once a week at Starbucks asking you about your life.
Rich – How have you been able to transfer that from your own personal conviction to more people in your church, because I think that’s impressive that you have been able to see more people take that kind of commitment, even with you. How has that gone?
Dhati – We have talked a lot about the concept of being with. We are not really big on the concept of trying to focus on the things that we do as much as principles. I was rocked by Robert Coleman who wrote ‘The Master Plan of Evangelism.’ In reading that book the first chapters kind of grabbed me. The first one was selection and in the Selection chapter he said, men were to be his method. So just saying that men are his method. And then the second one is Association. Jesus was with them. So we really talk a lot about the idea of presence. Being present and wrestling through what does it look like for you to be present in people’s lives. That’s one of the ways that we do it but practically, very tangibly the way we infuse this in our church is we do a program called SIMS. It’s a bad acronym for Saints In Motion. And in doing that we invite singles into our house, we invite 6-8 singles every year into our house. We do a discipleship program with them. We infuse these discipleship principles, teaching them some things, we redeem the family, we redeem the home. That’s a 3 week program, 3-4 weeks. Then we send them out. They never can go back to this individualistic Christianity.
Rich – Oh, ok, Wow.
Dhait – They go out and they infuse that DNA into their church. But then we also have people live with us throughout the year. And so we are constantly saying, well we always say, discipleship is more caught than taught. So let’s catch it! Like I said, we had 25 people, which eventually became 40 people who moved from Texas to Atlanta to start church. I would say 35 out of those 40 at some point in time lived in our house.
Rich – Oh my goodness.
Dhati – So it creates some culture. It creates a culture of disciple making and life on life that people get and gravitate to and reproduce.
Rich – I appreciate you really raising the value. A lot of people talk about culture building and what they mean is using the same buzzwords. But what you are saying is it’s really about relationships. It’s that really intimate, let’s be together, and let’s figure out what life looks like in our church. Does your church do a lot of programs? A lot of stuff to try and help push this forward? What does that look like?
Dhati – No we actually, we don’t. Our church, our mission statement is ‘The Gospel changes people. People change the world.’ So we say our ministry are our people. We feel like we exist as a church to unleash healthy people to do ministry where life exists. Dude, I really wrestled with this because I wasn’t raised in the church. I wrestled with the idea of a pastor always telling ‘we need to go out and do this. We need to go out and make disciples and do evangelism.’ If that is what we are supposed to do, why every single night are we at the building!
Rich – Right, right!
Dhati – The question is our system is and our structure has to support the message that we are communicating. And so we really galvanize our church and our staff with the idea of how do we really go about equipping the saints for ministry. And really a lot of our focus is clustered around out missional communities. We talk about we have four primary platforms at Blueprint. One, is our Sunday gathering. Two, is our NC gatherings. The third one is our web, social media web. And the last one is what we call the Start and Stop Programs. And these are the things like retreats, conferences, things that have a start date and an end date. So there’s a start and stop date.
Rich – It’s not going on forever.
Dhati – We don’t want to have things that are going to compete with people doing ministry where life is. Those platforms are places where we equip, empower and encourage our members to do ministry where life exists.
Rich – So now would you say that you kind of want people to be involved in all four of those aspects? A lot of time we say what’s your involvement strategy? Would you say you should be involved in all four of those things to kind of help push your faith forward.
Dhati – Yes, but these are more of the platforms that we use as a staff to equip them. So by us equipping them, these are the platforms that we own as a staff to equip them. In doing that they are going to embrace those different platforms and environments.
Rich – Oh ok. So you see those almost like these are the tools that you have to push that forward. That’s amazing that you’d list social media or web as one of those four. I think that’s the first time I have heard a church leader articulate it in quite that way. I think that’s great!
Dhati – It’s critical. The more and more we go into the 21st century, the web is going to become more and more relevant. I think I can communicate quicker instead of calling them, by getting on facebook or tweeting them. And by doing that I get a lot quicker response. It’s critical. Even in the marketplace, rightly or wrongly, they’ve got one tab that’s open on their facebook account. As they are doing their work, facebook is up right next to them. It’s a wonderful tool.
Rich – Absolutely. Now what have you found translating discipleship, a lot of stuff that’s written out there, a lot of conferences are the more kind of suburban / rural contexts as opposed to a more urban context, a more dense and diverse, I love that language. What have you had to translate? That just doesn’t work here. That doesn’t translate in the communities that you work in.
Dhati – Ya, I think one of the main things that we have to recognise is a lot of times the conversation is either about tractional or missional. These are the models that are a lot of times perpetuated and grown. I don’t really feel like I land in either of those. I think I would say it’s a hybrid of the incarnational. I don’t even like to use incarnational because when we talk about incarnational it’s really you talk about how I incarnate the Gospel. But what I talk about becoming. How do we become the people of God in a local community. So we really wrestle through four primary questions. What is the church? Why does the church exist in the world? So that’s one. The second, what is the identity the church should be known for. The third one is how do we protect that identity. And the fourth one is how do we put that identity on display. So we wrestle with those questions and we feel like, how do we become the people of God in a community and then draw people in that way. Like it’s been said, ‘People will be first converted to the Christian community before they will be converted to the Christian God.’ As they are known for their love, our love for one another, we are only able to love because God through Christ has loved us. So how do we become. And I think that’s so important about this becoming language, because the tension is that a lot of times we will move into the city and we talk about us versus them. How do we reach those people. Reaching versus becoming. I think what we have to do produces more of an ethnic missiology. I think we need to return back to a neighbor missiology. Because of the density and diversity, our neighborhoods no longer look like one cultural group, how do we reach our neighbor. Instead of continuing in the popular notion of the homogeneous unit principle where we lift up one Saddleback type of model and create a whole service around this person or individual, and attract those types of people, what happens when our neighborhoods look like that and how do we really establish. I think it’s really through relationship becoming is how we are really going to be able to overcome some of these hurdles.
Rich – Absolutely. I know there’s that, I think its true that we live in a culture now where people need to belong before they believe or become. And I think a lot of times we have that reversed. We think if you could just come and be like us first, and then eventually you might believe what you believe and eventually you will belong if you hang around here long enough. I think that has been turned on it’s head, needs to be turned on it’s head probably more pointedly for sure. What would you say, anything else you would like to share with our listeners before we jump into the Lightning Round?
Dhati – Well no, I think that this is a wonderful time in God’s grace with urbanization, globalization, secularization that we have, specifically as American Christians to present a clear presentation of the Gospel in the local church. With the world becoming more urban in density and diversity we have the ability to overcome what has torn apart this nation whether it be socioeconomically, racially, gender or whatever it is, and that we can really put on a healthy picture of what the church, the gathering of God could be like. We just really need to desire to be known by the fruit of the spirit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, instead of primarily being known by right theology, or right this, or right that, right worship or right whatever. And if we can recapture what I believe God has called us to be known for, we could have something very attractive in this new urbanization, globalization and secularization of our world.