discipleship (71)

What’s holding back disciplemaking?

9570817271?profile=originalWhat’s holding back the acceleration of disciplemaking movements around the world? Someone asked me this question recently and I thought hard about the answer. Here are some notes I took on some of the obstacles I see holding back the acceleration of disciplemaking movements around the world.

Lack of a reproducible process:

We need structures that can support a movement—simple, easy, reproducible ways to keep making disciples at a grassroots level. Without structures, even the most powerful movements of the Spirit fade over time and lose their apostolic edge. A good structure can come alongside people to keep the movement going forward. 

Becoming inwardly focused:

All disciplemaking movements begin with an outward focus—loving people and sharing their stories of faith. When those movements fade is often when they shift from an outward to an inward focus. We can help maintain an outward focus through coaching relationships where we ask each other questions about serving, using our gifts, and sharing our faith.

Lack of structures for compassion movements:

On the flipside, some movements can become so overly focused on external compassion ministries that they lose the heart of discipleship—the why for why we’re serving. When this happens, we have care ministries but with no disciplemaking going on. Discipleship leads to compassion and serving, but it doesn’t end there. By creating structures for both discipleship and compassion ministries, you can ensure they run alongside one another, both moving forward.

A relational approach to discipling younger leaders:

Although there currently seems to be a greater sense of interest in the discipleship of younger leaders, the approach taken with that needs to be more relational and personal. Younger leaders don’t want to be pressed into anyone else’s mold. They want to be developed to focus on what God has called them to do particularly. The only way to develop leaders in this way isn’t through classrooms, but through intentional relationships and real-life ministry experience.

What other obstacles do you see holding back disciplemaking?

Did you find this post helpful? Check out these resources:

The Discipleship Difference- This book lays out an intentional, holistic, and relational approach to discipleship that is individualized to meet each person wherever they are.

The Leadership Difference- This book focuses specifically on key leadership skills you need to be effective as a leader

Finding the Flow- This book helps small group leaders experience the power small groups have to allow members to wrestle with questions, create a space where people know and are known by others, and to open people up to encounter God more deeply.

Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

*This blog entry was first posted on loganleadership.com.

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A simple, successful ministry flow outline

9570816487?profile=originalRecently I was trying to think through the most simple way to represent what happens in successful ministry. What is the fewest number of things that need to happen for the basic ministry process to be complete?

Here’s are the seven elements I have so far:

Living and loving like Jesus

Followers of Jesus must live like Jesus, showing God’s love to others and doing the work of the Kingdom of God. This is the great commandment, and is foundational for everything else.

Inviting people to follow Jesus

Those who are following Jesus then invite others to follow him. This is the great commission.

Starting new believers in the faith

 New believers must be established in the faith through baptism and through community with other believers.

Growing as disciples while making disciples

All believers are both being discipled and discipling others. In this way, new believers grow, and those who have been in the faith longer also continue to grow.

Gathering in groups

Believers have always gathered together for encouragement, worship, and prayer. This is the commandment given in Hebrews 10.

Developing leaders for ministry

We need leaders to serve the church. Just as disciples develop other disciples, leaders develop other leaders.

Sending leaders to plant new churches

Some of those leaders then go on to reach out beyond the church and develop new communities of faith in new places, bringing Jesus to the next neighborhood and next people group.

I’d welcome your thoughts on this simple ministry flow. Is there anything I’m forgetting? Anything essential to the church that doesn’t fit under one of these categories?

*This post was first published on loganleadership.com.

 

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Re-imagine Discipleship

Churches are closed! Groups limited to no more than 10! What are we to do?

This morning I gathered with a group of six (including myself). We talked about this very thing. When Church doors close, as they have during this emergency, what are the parishioners to do?
1) Some will put their Bibles on the shelf and turn to watch Netflix/Pureflix/Disney+.
2) Some will watch pod-casts and other visual materials acting like shut-ins.
3) Some will worry and say, "I don't want to catch this plague!"

4) Some will realize their Churches are irrelevant.
5) Some will realize a great opportunity to reach out in small groups and begin to teach and train those within their sphere of influence to be awake and prepared for such emergencies.

I want to be in group 5.

This morning as we met, we had a lesson on how to have a quiet-time. I say "we" because all participated in the lesson. The passage we went through for our quiet-time was Jesus' time of prayer in the olive press (Matt 26:36-46). What stood out to them was telling regarding our situation today:
1) Jesus returned to check on those He wanted with Him because those relationships were important to Him.
2) Jesus' disciples are tired/lazy/unmotivated.
3) Jesus wants His disciples to be awake and prepared.

At the end of the lesson, we broke into groups of three and practiced what we had just learned. Afterwards, I asked of the entire group, "What stood out as we went through and then practiced what we learned?" There were several things:
1) The prayer time (we prayed for the application of the quiet-time of the person on our left) was much more personal.
2) Having been told the lesson, going through the lesson, and then practicing the lesson makes individuals more secure at accomplishing and passing on the lesson.
3) How one relates to personal quiet-times, man-to-man, small group Bible study, and even larger groups is different.

After this discussion, I asked a final question: "Do you believe yourself prepared to share this same lesson in your own homes with another small group?" The answers were a resounding "YES!" I sent these small group leaders off with the admonition as spoken by one of those as we practiced the quiet-time lesson: "Since Jesus has served me, I am willing to go and serve others. (John 13:6-9)"

Serve others by gathering in small groups, passing on the basics of how to maintain a relationship with Jesus. Start with how to have a quiet-time, send them out to meet with others in small groups, and see what it looks like to re-imagine discipleship.

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A powerful new creation / evolution documentary is about to be released: “Dismantled”

(A scientific deconstruction of the theory of evolution)

You can watch it for FREE during the world premiere in two weeks’ time: Fri. 9 – Mon. 12 October.

Mark it in your calendars today.  Details and trailer are linked below.

Whether you believe in biblical creation, evolution, or some amalgam of the two, you will find this documentary fascinating and informative.

https://creation.com/dismantled-movie

Scientific evidence for creation, not evolution, has been growing for some time.

Creation scientists have been working on this and promoting it for many years, but our God-denying, evolution-believing scientists, the media, and our educational systems have clung to evolutionary explanation of origins. It is the principal reason many people have walked away from God, faith, and the church.

What is interesting is that evolution-believing scientists are increasingly recognising that the evolutionary model is broken, and that the creation model is a far better fit with the scientific data.

Strengthen your faith: the Bible can be trusted from the very first verse!

Help your non-believing friends to return to their loving God: watch it together and use it as a discussion starter.

Mark your calendars to watch the free premier.  Promote it to your friends. Order the DVD to spread the message further.

Produced by Bible-believing scientists “yes”, but “no”, you don’t need a PhD to understand it!

Watch the trailer at the link above.

Rom 1:18-25

Go, Make, Grow, Disciples of Jesus

Steve

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9570815657?profile=originalFor discipling people, I like to use the analogy of rubber bands and shoelaces. People need both enough stretch (rubber bands) and enough support (shoelaces) to be able to move forward. One without the other is incomplete. People need to be stretched and challenged in order to grow. They also need the connectedness of being tied in with others for support.

The writer of Hebrews outlines the dual needs of stretch and support in the context of community:

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25, NRSV)

Let’s unpack this rich passage, as it has a great deal to say about how we are to disciple one another:

  • “let us consider…” The word consider implies intentional thought about how to help another individual. We are to take our time, sit down and consider the best way to spur one another on, recognizing that it may look differently for different people.
  • “how to provoke one another…” This phrase speaks to the very nature of community. Some translations use the phrase “spur one another on,” which implies both challenge and encouragement. Community is designed so that we might encourage one another on toward growth. That growth happens in the context of community, and we help move each other toward it.
  • “to love and good deeds…” And toward what end are we spurring one another on? To love and good deeds. Not just love, not just good deeds—both. Here we see the highlighting of both the internal and the external, the being and the doing. That’s holistic discipleship.
  • not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some…” Consistent meeting together speaks to the intentionality of the relationships. In any community of people, relationships can fade out if we’re not careful. We need to be intentional about maintaining our discipleship community.

Too often when we think of discipleship, we think of the practices of an individual. Yet Jesus never intended discipleship as something to be done alone. What are some of the specific ways we can support one another in community—as rubber bands and shoelaces—as we go about our journeys of living as disciples of Jesus?

I personally think of three categories: relationships, environments, and processes. As leaders whose goal is to make disciples of Jesus, our work is to create the kinds of environments, relationships, and processes that facilitate discipleship.

  • What kinds of environments facilitate discipleship?
  • What types of relationships facilitate discipleship?
  • What kinds of processes facilitate discipleship?
  • And lastly, what can you do to make these types of environments, relationships, and processes readily accessible to anyone touched by your ministry who wants to grow in their walk of discipleship?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

*This blog entry was originally posted on loganleadership.com.

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9570814687?profile=originalOften churches send their people out on mission trips. The purpose is to serve others and reach out with the gospel—to be a light in the world. Yet there’s a secondary purpose we often miss: How can we use mission trips as an opportunity for discipling the people who are going? Ideally, mission trips accomplish both.

Missions is Discipleship

To make disciples doesn’t only mean the people you’re serving: it means those on your team as well. Mission trips can be a critical time of discipleship for them, with rich opportunities for growth and development. Missions is discipleship. It's about making disciples and growing as disciples at the same time. There’s a dual benefit.

We see this reality reflected in Jesus’ earthly ministry as well. He made disciples on the go. As he was working to advance the Kingdom he also used every opportunity to shape his followers along the way. Consider his questions and statements to his disciples in the midst of everyday ministry situations: “Some say this, some say that... who do YOU say that I am?” “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven" (after they had just seen a real life example), and “Let the children come to me.” In fact, many of Jesus’ recorded teachings were underscoring realities the disciples were running up against. 

So your role leading a missions trip is as a discipler… not just as a tour guide who gets people there safely. Your role is not just the logistics and service, but also have a discipleship hat on so people come back as better followers of Jesus than they were before. As a mission leader, you are serving as a discipler for your team members.

Here are a few concrete ways to naturally integrate discipleship into your missions endeavors:

Things happen while you’re on mission

Mission trips put people under stress: everyone is tired and jet lagged, sometimes dealing with culture shock. More conflicts arise as people have fewer filters under stress and the team members are spending a lot of time together, often in close quarters. Team dynamics sometimes results in conflicts that are misinterpreted as spiritual warfare. On the plus side, these conflicts provide an opportunity for character growth if people are guided through dealing with them well. People need to ask forgiveness, deal with unmet expectations, flex with changing plans, learn to trust God in the midst of unexpected difficulties. All of these things are discipleship opportunities for you team. Consider how you will handle these challenges as they arise: difficulties, conflicts, unfairness, relational stress, changing plans.

Take note of in-the-moment teaching opportunities

Use the circumstances you and your team are facing as learning opportunities: "You ran into X today? What do you think is going on there?" Sometimes situations lend themselves to illustrations of spiritual truths or guideposts to what God may be up to. To do this, you'll need to keep your eyes and heart open... listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit and look for what he may be up to.

Be intentional about reflection

Set aside time for people to reflect on their learnings. Do this both individually and as a team, as different people process in different ways. Be sure to schedule reflection time and processing time in advance. The following five questions can start you off in the right direction:

  • What's working?
  • What's not working?
  • What are you learning?
  • What needs to change?
  • What's next?

By taking some time to focus on the discipleship of those on your team, you will not only be on mission serving others and making disciples, but you’ll be serving your team members and helping them develop in their own discipleship journey as well.

Resources:

Guide for Discipling- Take the next step closer to Jesus and bring others along on the journey. Each section of this discipleship study is packed with scripture and questions designed to inspire thoughtful reflection on your relationship with God and how it spreads into daily life.  Click here for a FREE Overview.

Becoming Barnabas- A Barnabas creates a ripple effect, empowering others and spreading outward into the broader community. Becoming Barnabas focuses on practical – how – questions: How can you serve as a Barnabas – a son or daughter of encouragement? How can you disciple, develop, and support those around you? How can that relational investment lead to a powerful impact on the church and on the surrounding community?

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

*This blog entry was originally posted on loganleadership.com.

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Digging down to the roots of leadership problems

9570814883?profile=originalSometimes there's a disconnect in ministry between what we say and what we do. For instance, I have always said compassion ministry is important-- but the question is what am I personally doing to engage in it? So I began praying to ask the Lord for some guidance. The turning point for me came when an opportunity surfaced to lead an anger management class at the Salvation Army. I engaged in that, and it led to several other avenues of involvement as well. The greatest impact of those involvements was the character changes in myself. It's not that I was so spectacularly great at serving in that role, but more that it helped me immensely and helped shape my character. As leaders, we can be tempted to talk beyond our experience, saying things that may be true but that we haven't personally engaged.

Most leadership issues are actually discipleship issues. We need to be more genuine in recognizing the gaps between what we say and what we do.

What can that look like in real life? It looks like…

  • The leader who won’t admit it when he doesn’t know the answer
  • The team member who always shows up late
  • The supervisor who is micromanaging others
  • The admin who is subtly correcting everyone

I’m sure you could come up with a dozen more examples. Each of those instances, while certainly having bearing on a person’s leadership capacity, is primarily a character issue. It’s an issue of discipleship.

That’s why we need to take discipleship seriously if we want to do all we can to address leadership shortcomings. First, we need to develop leaders only from among those who are already disciples. That doesn’t mean people who are perfect, but it does mean people whose hearts are open to change and repentance and are actively focused on character growth.

Second, it means continuing discipleship practices and guidance among leaders. That means discipleship doesn’t end when a person becomes a leader. In fact, it takes on even more importance because the stakes are higher. Consider your leaders. Who are their coaches or mentors? What peers can they share freely with? Who is holding them accountable? How are they setting aside time for reflection and listening to God? What discipleship practices are they currently engaging in?

Make sure you create an environment in your organization where discipleship is a priority. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever run into leadership problems—you will. But you’ll have a much better basis for addressing and resolving them.

If you found this blog post helpful, you may also be interested in my books The Leadership Difference and Becoming Barnabas.

Photo by Doran Erickson on Unsplash

*This blog entry was first posted on loganleadership.com.

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My recommendations for discipleship processes

This blog post is adapted from an excerpt from my latest book, The Church Planting Journey, and was originally posted on loganleadership.com.

9570815058?profile=originalIn any healthy ministry, there needs to be a strategy in place for passing discipleship along from one person to the next. Here I cover a few of my most important recommendations and options for discipleship processes.

Make the method easy to pass on

Whatever type of system or approach you take, ensure that it’s something easy to pass on. You need a simple, reproducible disciplemaking process. You can create your own process, or you can borrow one of the following options.

Focused discipleship conversations:

Any discipling relationship must be intentional and developmental, with both an inward and outward focus: 1) helping people celebrate where they’re at, 2) listening to God together to pinpoint where he may want them to grow, and 3) thinking about how they can disciple and serve others outside of themselves.

Life Transformation Groups (LTGs):

Another option designed for two to four people is the LTG. I've found it to be a helpful way to empower ordinary people to make disciples (free downloadable handout). These groups meet weekly to challenge each other in the reading of Scripture and for accountability in life choices:

• Describe your interaction with God this week.
• How did you share Jesus with others?
• What temptations did you face this week? How did you respond?
• What did the Holy Spirit teach you through your Scripture reading this week?
• What next steps does God want you to take personally? With others?

Guide for Discipling (Logan Leadership):

As Jesus discipled people, he expected that there discipleship would touch all aspects of their life, relationships, and even society as a whole. Along with Dr. Charles Ridley, we developed a picture of what a disciple looks like:

• Experiencing God
• Spiritual responsiveness
• Sacrificial service
• Generous living
• Disciplemaking
• Personal transformation
• Authentic relationships
• Community transformation

There are 40 guides can be used as a resource for focused discipleship conversations, or in a peer discipling group. People can read Scripture together, pray together, and ask one another questions about their growth (Hebrews 10:24–25). You can download the free overview and a sample guide here.

Discovery Bible Study (Cru):

This study has a simple structure with three basic parts. The first is connection, thanksgiving, and prayer. The second is reading and engagement with Scripture. The third is committing to living in obedience in response to what you’re hearing and learning. Check out the details here.

There are many, many others...

Precisely which discipleship processes you use doesn’t matter, as long as it includes both an inward and an outward journey—a way of personal growth and a way of reaching out to others. Choose one that is simple enough to be reproducible, but flexible enough that people don’t feel forced into a mold.

Pitfalls to avoid

Avoid the temptation to scatter your efforts. To be effective, just start with one—or maybe two—approaches that work. When you have too many options and too many activities, it’s easy to overwhelm a newcomer or a new believer. They may try to attend everything rather than focusing in on one thing that will facilitate growth and outreach.

Also, while curriculum can be helpful initially, there are also risks to becoming curriculum-dependent. It can feel intimidating to laypeople if it’s too complex to pass on. It can also be viewed as a course or class that, once completed, is never revisited. You’ll need something transferable, ongoing, and relational. You also need something flexible enough to allow people to listen to the Holy Spirit—sometimes people need to address issues in a different sequence than traditional curriculum allows.

Journeying together

Listening to the Holy Spirit and responding in loving obedience—that is the essence of discipleship. We tend to give people more direction when they’re younger in the faith and less when they’re more mature, but we want to encourage people to take responsibility for their own growth at all times. We are not “gurus” —everyone is on this journey together.

Good discipleship processes focus more on facilitating the reproduction of the message than about teaching specific information. The responsibility goes beyond one generation:

You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; 2 and what
you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people
who will be able to teach others as well. (2 Timothy 2:1–2)

Consider what type of simple and reproducible method you might use to create a disciplemaking pathway that moves people from not knowing Jesus to following and helping others follow Jesus.

More resources...

The Church Planting Journey- This newly released book is a comprehensive guide for the church planter. It is the culmination of experience that includes being a church planter myself, and coaching and consulting church planters for more than 40 years. Within the pages of The Church Planting Journey, you will find wisdom, systems, and processes that can help you launch well as well as sustain your unique vision and call.

The Discipleship Difference- This book lays out an intentional, holistic, and relational approach to discipleship that is individualized to meet each person wherever they are.

Finding the Flow Small Group Leader Training: Training your leaders to listen well, recognize the Holy Spirit at work in people, and respond accordingly is an essential component to all discipleship processes. Adapted from the book, Finding the Flow, this downloadable training kit maximizes your small group leader training, equipping facilitators for a myriad of circumstances.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

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An alarming report recently grabbed my attention:9570812857?profile=original

A seven-year study of the causes of death among teens in America observed that the top three causes of death were accidents, homicide, and suicide.* Almost half­ of those tragedies—about 68,000 deaths—were accidents, and most of those accidents—about 46,000—were by motor vehicle.

  Sit back for a moment and reflect with me. What led to those 131,000 deaths? Bad choices. The general principle: Bad choices take away life; wise choices add life.

  Those dramatic statistics help me focus on a vital priority in my “intentional grandparenting”: I need to help my grandchildren become wiser and wiser. They need to show in their attitudes and behavior that (1) they understand the consequences of their choices and (2) have the wisdom to choose well.

  My lead-off blog in this series about “intentional grandparenting” focused on the alarming message of Judges 2:10. It challenged us to engage intentionally in the ministry of “intergenerational discipling” by praying for—and influencing—each of our own grandchildren to begin their individual, redemptive relationship with God.

  Once they begin that relationship with Him, they need to nourish it by cultivating wisdom. God’s Word says much about living and choosing wisely. It is a lifelong commitment that builds on “fearing” the Lord (Proverbs 1:7) as a way of life.

  The Hebrew word in the Old Testament that is translated “wise” is used in various contexts. In the context of life in general, this word describes a person who is skillful and practical at living in harmony with God’s expectations. We find this word most often in the “wisdom literature”: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.

  How does wisdom show in our grandkids? Proverbs 3, 4, and 5 show us that the proof of our grandchildren’s developing wisdom is their increasing knowledge, understanding, and ability to make the right choices at the right time and in the right way. Are they understanding and choosing wisely in a few situations, or in many situations? Their consistency in this is a measure of their developing maturity.

  What difference does wise living make? Its impact is significant:

  • A lifestyle of walking wisely is our highest offering of worship to God (Ephesians 4:1; 5:1-2; James 3:13, 17).
  • Walking wisely brings personal peace in relationships and situations, rather than anxiety and chaos (Proverbs 1:32-33; James 3:14-18).
  • Our wisdom is a witness to those living in darkness who watch us (Deuteronomy 4:6).
  • Walking wisely helps our children and grandchildren set an influential example as they teach their future children and grandchildren the wisdom of loving and walking in harmony with God (Deuteronomy 4:9).

  Loving Father in heaven, please help    (name of each grandchild)    to take another step forward in Your wisdom this month. Please open my eyes to a way that I can be an example for them and an encouragement to them along their journey into the wisdom of honoring You by choosing well. For Your glory and in Jesus’ name, amen.

 

© 2019 John Garmo

 

* NCHS data brief, no. 37. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2010.

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Sermons Don't Make Disciples

Sermons do a lot of things, but sermons don’t make disciples.

Here’s the dilemma: the church’s mission is to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20). If sermons don’t make disciples, then how does the church fulfill its mission? If sermons don’t directly fulfill the church’s mission, then why is so much emphasis placed on the weekend worship service and the sermon?

What Do Sermons Do?

I’m a preacher. I have nothing against preaching. I take exception, however, in depending on preaching to accomplish what it cannot accomplish.

Sermons serve to inspire, inform, and motivate. People can come to Christ as a result of responding to a pastor proclaiming the Word of Truth. Preachers are brokers in hope. They can help people reframe their lives from a context of frustration and despair to embrace hope and God’s love. Sermons anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit are dynamic things that can make an impact. Yet, sermons don’t make disciples.

If discipleship was a uniform process or the mastery of a body of knowledge, then the information delivered in a sermon would certainly add to knowledge acquisition. But, that’s not what discipleship is. Disciples aren’t processed. They’re crafted.

How Do You Make Disciples?

Disciples make disciples. While much of Western Christianity has depended on the definition of a disciple as a student, then placed the student in a class and delivered thorough teaching, it has ended up with very educated, yet disobedient students. Here’s the proof: what they know is not adequately reflected in their attitudes and actions. I’m not building a case for perfectionism. But, I am a believer in the principle that what people truly believe is reflected in what they do. Or, put another way, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).

Now, I realize that some at this point will wonder if I am advocating some works-based approach to Christianity. This is where I’m going: if church-goers have no desire for the things of God, then I would question whether they truly belong to God. As Paul writes to the Philippians, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). We don’t work for our salvation, but we work out our salvation because God is working in us.

If disciples aren’t merely students, then what are they? The word “disciple” is derived from several different words including follow and “to rub off on.” The model Jesus gave us was to spend 75 percent of His time with His disciples and 25 percent with the crowd. How much time is spent on the sermon? How much time is spent making disciples?

Why did Jesus spend such a disproportionate amount of time with a small group of people? Jesus knew how we learn. People learn by imitation, not instruction.

Who has been the most powerful influence in your life? For most people, they would say their parents. You act more like your parents than anyone else. After all, you could read a dozen books written by experts in marriage, yet your default is a marriage that more closely resembles your parents’ marriage than anything presented by the experts. (Depressing thought, huh?) Change requires intentional effort, committed support, and better models to imitate.

Paul challenged his followers to imitate him (1 Corinthians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). Imitation requires transparency. Imitation requires time and attention. Disciples make disciples.

Why is the Sermon so Important Then?

Sermons can start something. A presentation of the Gospel can help someone start their relationship with Christ and their journey of discipleship. The sermon can lead a congregation to love their neighbors, to focus on the majesty of God, and to hold on to hope. But, the result of a sermon is not another sermon. The result of a sermon is a next step – make a decision, join a group, lead a mission, serve your neighbor, pray…you get it.

This is why I’m a big believer in alignment series and groups that help church-goers take their weekends into their weeks. The sermon can deliver a challenge, and the group can provide the support and accountability necessary to meet the challenge. The sermon by itself, however, is forgotten usually within 48 hours. If they can’t remember it, how are they supposed to do it? Groups help with this.

On any given weekend, pastors have the opportunity to lead a large portion of their congregations to take a step. The weekend service is the largest things a church does in any given week, but it’s not the most important thing they do. After all, sermons don’t make disciples. Disciples make disciples.

For most pastors, whether their churches are 100 people, 1,000 people, or 10,000+ people, would view the sheer scale of disciples making disciples as completely daunting. The key is to start small and multiply. Jesus invested in 12 disciples which multiplied over 2,000 years into some 2 billion people. If pastors invested in just eight people, and then those disciples made disciples within four years the church would have 4,096 disciples making disciples (8x8x8x8). Without disciples making disciples, pastors have audiences for their sermons.

Concluding Thoughts

Back in college a speaker challenged us to think about 5 sermons that influenced our lives for Christ. To be honest, most of us couldn’t come up with one – not even the sermon from last Sunday. Then, the speaker asked us to name 5 people who had influenced us for Christ. Those names immediately came to mind.

The key to discipleship is not a process or a proclamation. The key to discipleship is a disciple.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer books, online courses, coaching groups, and consulting.

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Is Discipleship Possible in the Age of Twitter?

When I entered the Twitter world in May 2012 with @BestBibleTweets, I set a goal that seemed audacious at the time: gaining 4,000 followers within one year. However, that goal was surpassed in just six months, and now I’ve reached 45,000 Twitter followers.

Although this accomplishment is exhilarating in many ways, it’s also a time of sober reevaluation. At each new milestone, I’ve found myself facing honest questions, like “Do Twitter followers count for anything in eternity?” … “Are any lives really changed?” … And “Do my supposed followers even read my tweets?”

Reaching the 45,000-follower mark seems pretty amazing from a biblical standpoint. You probably remember the story of Jesus feeding 5,000+ hungry people on a Galilean hillside. When women and children are counted, it’s likely that around 15,000 people were fed, which was only a third of my present number of Twitter followers. How would Jesus disciple people in the Age of Twitter?

Although the loaves and fish story is one of my favorite events in the Bible, it had a troubling aftermath.

After Jesus fed the multitudes in John 6, He began to explain the cost of true discipleship. Instead of just involving miracles and free meals, it turned out that a real follower had to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood” (v. 53). Hmmm…so much for easy believism or greasy grace.

And while Jesus’ day began with thousands of fair-weather followers, it ended with only the Twelve remaining. The text says that many of those who turned away after hearing His “hard teachings”  had actually considered themselves to be “disciples”  (v. 66). Yes, this is a troubling story indeed.

Jesus finally asked His 12 remaining followers, “Do you also want to go away?” (v. 67). What a question! You see, it’s one thing to say you’re following Jesus when everyone else is—when it’s the culturally expected thing to do. But what if the tide of public opinion is flowing in the opposite direction? Where will you stand in that day?

Peter’s response to Jesus’ question has often been portrayed as heroic, but I’m not sure that’s really accurate. He replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68).

Yes, Peter was absolutely correct that there was no one else he could follow who would be able to provide eternal life (see John 14:6). Yet his response could also be interpreted to imply several less virtuous traits: (1) Peter seems to have already given some thought to what his “other options” might be, and (2) he perhaps would have been open to some other option if it seemed a feasible alternative.

Could it be that Peter was secretly wishing there was some other Messiah who had a “kinder and gentler” message? Or was he tempted to regret that he and his fellow disciples had left behind their fishing nets, tax offices, and other occupations to put their destiny squarely in Jesus’ hands?

Regardless of what Peter may have been thinking at the time, he made the right choice in the end. So I guess it’s OK to wrestle with God’s call as long as we ultimately heed it.

I hope some of my 45,000+ Twitter followers will read this blog post. And I pray that a few will count the cost and become true disciples of Jesus.

What about you? Are you only following Christ because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do among your friends or family? Are you willing to follow even if others turn away at His hard teachings, after they’ve received their fill of miracles, bread, and fish?

Be honest.

Read more…

The Myth of Indispensability

It’s humbling to discover you’re not indispensable. This unpleasant experience happened to me a few months ago when I had to go on medical leave from work.

The whole thing was unimaginable. Within days I went from having a full-time job I loved to no longer even having a workable scan key to get me into the building.

Most humbling of all was having to encounter the painful Myth of Indispensability. Put simply, this myth says people can’t survive without us. We’re irreplaceable and thus have unlimited job security.

To be honest, it feels good to think you’re indispensable. You feel like a person of exceptional importance, with skills no one else possesses. What an ego trip.

However, humbling as it has been, I discovered in recent months that the world at Inspiration Ministries was quite capable of going on without me. To my deep regret, the suddenness of my departure certainly made things much more difficult for everyone, but they rose to the occasion and life went on.

Is anyone truly indispensable? Perhaps you’re somewhat irreplaceable in your role as a spouse, parent, or grandparent. But in just about any other setting someone else could take your place.

Some of us predicted the quick demise of the Apple brand after the untimely death of Steve Jobs in 2011. But although they lost a great innovator when Steve died, they somehow are doing quite well without him.

Throughout the Bible, we see the Myth of Indispensability confronted…

  • How could anyone replace an amazing leader like Moses? Yet the Israelites’ leadership passed into the hands of Moses’ 40-year understudy, Joshua. Although Joshua must have experienced considerable trepidation at his new assignment, he was encouraged by the Lord to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:1-9). The result? Joshua took God’s people further into their destiny than Moses has been able to do.
  • Elijah seemed like a unique and totally irreplaceable prophetic voice. “I alone am left,” he grumbled to God (1 Kings 19:10). Yet the Lord told him to quit complaining and go train his replacement, Elisha (v. 16). Not only did Elisha perform many of the same miracles as Elijah, but Bible scholars point out that he seems to have done twice as many as his mentor!
  • Queen Esther appeared to be the only person with even a small chance of defeating Haman’s plot to annihilate the Jewish people. Yet Esther’s cousin Mordecai told her something incredible: “If you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place” (Esther 4:14). Even Queen Esther was replaceable in fulfilling the purposes of God. If she wasn’t willing to step up to the occasion, Mordecai was confident the Lord would find someone else.

The Indispensability of Jesus

Far beyond these other examples, Jesus provided us with the most stunning example of the Myth of Indispensability. On the one hand, He’s the only Person in the universe who truly IS indispensable. His disciples came to understand this, so they must have been shocked and dismayed when He assured them that it would be to their advantage when He no longer walked with them in His physical body (John 16:7).

While the disciples must have wondered how they would even survive Jesus’ physical departure, He told them they would actually thrive. They would do the same works He had done when He was with them…and even greater works (John 14:12).

You see, Jesus was the kind of leader who recognizes the folly of the Myth of Indispensability. He easily could have told His disheartened disciples, “Guys, you clearly suck at this leadership stuff, and things are bound to fall apart after I’m gone.”

Instead, Jesus said just the opposite. He assured them they would receive such great power from the Holy Spirit that they would be able to extend His kingdom far beyond Jerusalem and Judea…to the very ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Notice the stark contrast: Insecure leaders, like King Saul, try to hold on to the reigns of power rather than invest themselves in the next generation. Exceptional leaders, like Jesus, confront the Myth of Indispensability by freely dispensing their lives into the lives of others.

If we are truly “indispensable” in our leadership role, something is clearly wrong. It’s a clear indication that, over the course of months or years, we’ve failed to dispense ourselves into those who are called to carry the leadership baton into the future.

But we’ve all seen churches that end up shutting down after the founding pastor dies or must leave his post for some other reason. And countless businesses have to be sold or shut down when the original owner can no longer provide leadership. How sad. Success without a successor often ends in failure.

So what lessons can we learn when forced to admit we’re not as indispensable as we thought? Painful as this experience is, it’s also amazingly liberating. It leads to an acknowledgement that the government of the universe doesn’t rest on our shoulders, but on the Lord’s (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Facing our limitations and vulnerabilities will also help us focus on the Biblical mandate to train our replacement. We’ll be challenged to greater intentionality in dispensing our lives into the lives of others in the months and years ahead.

When the Myth of Indispensability is shattered in your life, it can feel pretty traumatic. I picture it like the scene in the Wizard of Oz where the curtain is pulled back on the “great and powerful Oz.” How embarrassing…

But it’s time to come out from behind the curtain, acknowledging our dispensability and our need for others. Instead of trying to impress people with our own importance, we can transform lives by helping people unleash their own remarkable potential.

Read more…

By Allen White

The American church is off-mission.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

That may seem like a ridiculous statement considering the number of growing megachurches and multisite churches around the country. How could the church be off-mission with record crowds? Well, let’s go back and look at the church’s mission statement:

Jesus said: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV).

Regardless of how churches can rephrase and reframe their mission statements, this is the mission: to go and make disciples. The church is not called to make converts. In fact, to lead people in a prayer without offering them a pathway and companions for the journey is irresponsible. The church is not called to make leaders. In Jesus’ view, the first would be the least. This doesn’t sound like western leadership. It sounds like discipleship. The church is not called to make volunteers to staff the weekend services. In fact, to reduce the ministry of the church body to guest service roles is an affront to the New Testament church. The church is not called to draw crowds. The church is not called to build buildings. The church is not called to make money. We are called to make disciples.

But, how can megachurches or any church for that matter make disciples?

Disciples Aren’t Processed. They’re crafted.

Many churches attempt to convert their crowd into some form of discipleship through an assimilation process. Take this class. Make this commitment. Sign this card. Yet an assembly line process doesn’t work with people. They aren’t raw materials. They don’t all start from the same place.

Who are you the most like? What is your default? While we would all like to say, “Jesus,” the reality is that you and I are more like our parents than any other people on the planet. We think like them. We talk like them. We parent like them. We relate like them. Our habits are like them. Their example is ingrained in us. Some of us had great parents. Some of us had loving parents who did their best. Some of us had parents who were complete nightmares. Regardless of what type of parents we had, what’s ingrained in us is difficult to overcome. Even the example of the best parents can be improved upon. No one’s parents are perfect.

Then, in addition to parents, we can add experiences, tragedies, pain, addictions, suffering, career paths, relationships, and so many other things that shape our lives. Discipleship is not making widgets on an assembly line. Widgets are made from pure, raw materials. Disciples are made from broken and sinful people who long for transformation. But, it doesn’t disappear all at once. As Pete Scazzero says, “Jesus may be in our hearts, but grandpa is in our bones.”

Processes are inadequate to make disciples, yet how many churches have an assimilation process, department, or even pastor of assimilation for that exact purpose? In college I had a double major in biblical studies and missions. What I learned in cross-cultural communication and anthropology is that assimilation is the process of helping people adapt to a new culture. They take on the language, the customs, the mannerism, and the wardrobe of their adopted culture. Once they look like, talk like, and act like the new culture, they are regarded as being assimilated. So if we are assimilating non-church people into becoming part of the church, we are teaching them how to look like, talk like, and act like people who belong to the church. What is lacking is actual life transformation. Mimicking actions, language, and appearance does not make a disciple. It makes a cultural Christian and that’s a lot to live up to. Disciples make disciples, but not in mass quantity.

And while we’re at it, stop using the V word: volunteer. Churches should not have volunteers. The church, meaning the people or the body of Christ, have been equipped with spiritual gifts, abilities, and passions to fulfill a divine calling. By reducing the focus to serving and helps, a church is effectively ignoring about 20 other spiritual gifts. The “real” ministry is reserved for paid staff members. This flies in the face of what Paul taught the Corinthians, the Romans, and the Ephesians about the nature and use of spiritual gifts. Paul admonishes the church that no one part of the body can say to the other “I do not need you,” but that’s exactly what the American church is saying today. The attractional movement told people to sit back, relax, and leave the driving to us. That was Greyhound’s slogan. When was the last time you took the bus?

People are reluctant to get involved because the opportunities churches offer them are beneath them. That doesn’t mean that they’re too good to serve. It just means that the only opportunities most churches offer to their people are menial tasks that feed the demands of the weekend service. When CEOs are handing out bulletins and entrepreneurs are parking cars, this is a great misuse of their gifts and talents. They have so much more to offer.

Processes are inadequate for making disciples. Any mass approach to discipleship is a failure. Assimilation doesn’t make disciples. Worship services don’t make disciples. Sermons don’t make disciples. As Mike Breen says, “People learn by imitation, not instruction.” Yet, most churches attempt a programmatic process of making disciples that does little to help people overcome the powerful models they’ve come to imitate. People can be very inspired by sermons, yet within a day they resort to their default behavior. The only way to help people change and grow is to provide personal encouragement and accountability, and of course, all of this is built on the expectation that every member should apply God’s Word to his or her life. If the expectation is for people to come back next Sunday, then we’ve missed an opportunity and are relying on the weekend service to have a greater impact than it possibly can.

Disciples are crafted, not processed. After all, it takes a disciple to make a disciple.

Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great among other titles, coined this term for when success organizations set out to achieve ridiculous levels of growth. They didn’t settle for being stalled or accepting mediocre, incremental growth. They went for it.

Jesus spent three and a half years of His life pouring into 12 men. The impact of these disciples is still felt 2,000 years later around the globe and involves over 2 billion people. Jesus set the BHAG in Acts 1:8. Propelled more by persecution than ambition (Acts 8:1), the disciples spread a movement worldwide to transform lives.

How can you activate your disciples when most are intimidated by the thought of evangelism and distracted by the busyness of life? Groups could be the answer. You could argue that many people don’t have the time or the desire to lead a group. Some don’t even believe they can. I think we’re going at this all wrong.

Jesus didn’t call us to make leaders. Jesus called us to make disciples. And, disciples make disciples. Do you get it? You don’t need to recruit leaders to lead groups to make disciples. You could, but you don’t have to. You need to equip disciples to make disciples. Who in your church couldn’t be a disciple?

Often in the church today, we embrace the definition of disciple as “follower” or “student” when in reality we’re just working hard to increase the size of the crowd. The crowd are not disciples, if they were, they would be making disciples. In Jesus’ ministry, He spent 73% of his time with His disciples. Jesus could have easily built a megachurch, but He spent very little time with the crowd. The modern American church has flipped Jesus’ ministry on its head. Most churches choose to rapidly add people rather than invest in multiplication. This has a diminishing return.

A Disciple-Making Moonshot

So now that I’ve poked at the church and pointed out what’s broken, let’s fix it. Rather than putting our energy into mass efforts of corralling the most people we possibly can at the fastest rate, let’s focus on the 1/3 of your congregation who has enough of a spiritual basis they could each disciple two other people. Who would be on that list? Church members? Leaders? Long-time members? Then, with the church’s guidance, curriculum, and coaching, you could equip these disciples to make disciples. If the church can get 1/3 of its people to disciple the other 2/3, then you’re making some significant progress. You don’t need to do this all at once, but you certainly could. And, it’s doesn’t need to be just groups of three. You could use church-wide campaigns and host homes to get them started, but don’t leave them there. Or challenge people to get together with their friends and do a study. The bottom line is to stop intimidating people with the thoughts of leadership and evangelism and challenge them to offer what God has given them in community with other believers. What they lack, they can learn from a coach, a resource, or relevant training.

We measure what is important. When you think about the metrics used by most churches, they count nickels and noses. Maybe they count the number of groups or the number of people in groups. Maybe they count the number of people who are serving. But what if churches focused on a new metric? This metric would dynamically impact all of the other metrics. What if the measurement of success became the number of people actively discipling other people? It could be a person discipling two other people as I described above. Or it could be a person discipling eight other people. And of course the intention of all of this discipling is to produce more disciples who make disciples.

What Kind of Church is Yours?

Not all pastors and churches are doing a bad job at making disciples. But, not very many are doing a good job either. Pastors and churches fit into one of four categories when it comes to making disciples:

Content: These pastors and churches are happy with what they have. Often discipleship and small group pastors in these churches are content with the groups and discipleship efforts they have because they have met the expectations of their leadership. They are satisfied with a good job that’s keeping them from achieving a great job at discipleship.

Confused: These churches and pastors believe they are making a greater impact with discipleship than they actually are. Often these churches are led by brilliant teachers who can captivate an audience. The thought is if the pastor gives the people more of the truth, then they will learn and become more like Christ. This is a result of the Enlightenment. Knowledge is king. But, we must remember that “Knowledge puffs up, while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1, NIV). How many people know a great deal of God’s Word, yet it’s not reflected in their actions and attitudes? Great teaching alone won’t overcome the average person’s default which was established by imitating their parents and other role models. They need the support and accountability of others to apply God’s Word to their lives. One service or series won’t dramatically change someone’s daily habits. In fact, a call to change without the means to change will lead to tremendous frustration.

Frustrated: These pastors are trying to make disciples in a church that doesn’t support their efforts. Make disciples anyway. These churches have a spiritual growth/discipleship/assimilation/small groups department for the minimum purpose of preventing members from complaining about a lack of discipleship. When someone asks what the church is doing to help people grow or to go deeper, these pastors and churches just need to point to the department. If you are a pastor who’s discipleship efforts or small group ministry as been relegated to a complaint department for unchallenged members, you have my sympathy. In your church, the weekend service is king. But, in your circumstance, you can still make disciples who make disciples despite the limitations.

Disciple-making: These pastors and churches are making disciples who make disciples. They use worship services and sermons to catalyze commitments that lead to next steps in discipleship groups, support groups, or whatever next steps people need in their spiritual walk. In every worship service, every event, every church initiative, these churches provide an opportunity for people to take the next step of working through issues, applying God’s Word to their lives, finding their unique calling as part of the body of Christ, overcoming sin and addiction, and so many other things. A worship service alone will not resolve these things, but it can motivate people to take their next step. People need someone to disciple them. Disciples make disciples.

Which church are you? Isn’t it time to stop striving to become the megachurch you will never be? Isn’t it time to come to grips with the fact that bigger is only better as long as the church stays on-mission to make disciples? The alternative is wearing yourself out trying to raise money, build buildings, market strategically, and recruit volunteers to maintain a large weekend gathering that doesn’t make disciples in and of itself. Then you wonder why you don’t have any energy to fulfill the church’s calling to make disciples. If your church’s focus is not on making disciples, then what are you making?

This is why I am calling churches to the 100 Groups Challenge in 2020. We have got to make up for this deficit of discipleship in our churches. We need to give 100% effort to either connecting 100% of the weekend attendance into groups, reaching 100 total groups in your church, or starting 100 new groups in 2020.

If you are ready to go for it and join the 100 Groups Challenge, you can find out more here. There is no cost. My goal is to help 100 churches start 100 groups in 2020 and effectively disciple 100,000 people. Over the last eight years, I’ve helped churches to start over 16,000 groups and connect over 125,000 people into groups. My BHAG is to do the same in 1 year! Will you join me?

Read more…

The Future is Disciple Making

By Allen White

Small groups are no longer making disciples at the rate they once were. For many churches, the purpose of groups is to assimilate new people and keep them connected so they won’t leave. Everyone needs to go where everybody knows their name, and they’re always glad you came… But, if the purpose of small groups ends with assimilation, host homes, and the church-wide campaign, then how are disciples being made? Host homes and campaigns are great to get groups going, but not so great for on-going discipleship.

Disciple Making is Not Complex.

Programs are complex. Disciple making is not. Jesus told us what we need to know to make disciples.

First, Jesus gave us the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). Jesus boiled 613 commands down to two: Love God and Love your neighbor. God is easy to love. But, neighbors, which neighbors? Look out the window.

Second, Jesus gave us the Great Compassion in Matthew 25 [ “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). Feed hungry people. Clothe those in need. Show hospitality to strangers. Visit the prisoner. Care for the sick. Essentially, love your neighbor as yourself. See #1.

Third, Jesus gave us the Great Commission. Read this and try not to “yada, yada, yada” it. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus told us to “Go.” How well are we scattering? We’re pretty good at gathering. Jesus didn’t say the lost should come to our seeker services. That’s not working as well as it once did. [LINK]

Does this seem too simple? If our lives were focused on these things, we would grow. Our people would grow. As Jim Collins says in Good to Great, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”

 

Disciple Making is Customized.

Disciple Making relies on a system to produce disciples. When we hear the word system, we often resort to a manufacturing process, a catechism, or a training program. While some of these methods might add to disciple making, there is a considerable flaw in the thinking. People don’t come to us as raw materials. They aren’t blank slates. They have a past. They are different – genders, races, backgrounds, educations, experiences, personalities, gifting, callings, opportunities, abuses, and so many other things contribute to who people are. I’m not like you. You’re not like me. Yet, we are called to be like Jesus.

While we must all know basic things about the Bible and what it teaches, how we reflect more of Jesus is a different journey for all of us. I grew up in church. That’s a funny statement, but we were there so often that at times it felt like we lived there. I learned all of the Bible stories in Sunday school. Our church was more of the Arminian persuasion, so I’ve gone to the altar more than 100 times to make sure I was saved. I called this eternal insecurity.

I learned to live by a code of conduct which included no smoking, no alcohol, no dancing, no movies, no playing cards, and the list went on. In my church we couldn’t belly up to the bar, but we could belly up to the buffet. That’s how we got the bellies!

In a holiness tradition, there is a fine line between setting yourself apart for God and becoming legalistic. Legalism defined the don’ts for me, but not all of the don’ts. The don’ts seemed more significant than the do’s.  But, if I lived better than other people, then God would bless me. The others got what they deserved. I didn’t need to understand people from other backgrounds. They were sinners. They were going to hell. There wasn’t a lot of love going around.

Now, put me in your church. How could you help me become more like Jesus? How can I learn to love my neighbor as myself? How can I see people who are different from me as people who God loves? I don’t need to know more of the Bible. I know it. Bring on the Bible Jeopardy!

How would you affect my attitudes and my behavior? How could I think more like Christ? How could I act more like Christ? By the definition set in the church I grew up in, I’m a model citizen. I fit with the tribe. They’re proud of me. Yet, I lack so much.

This is where cookie cutter disciple making goes wrong. We produce rule followers with cold hearts and no actions to demonstrate God’s love to those who are far from Him.

Fortunately, I’m much different now than where I was when I graduated from high school. But, it wasn’t college, seminary, or another church’s process that got me there. It was something unique that God is doing in my life. I’m not the exception here.

My friend John Hampton, Senior Pastor of Journey Christian Church, Apopka, FL lost a ton of weight recently. By ton, I mean, 50-60 lbs. and he’s kept it off. How did he do it? He joined a gym who gave him a personal trainer. The trainer’s first question was “What do you want to work on?” The trainer didn’t prescribe a standard course of physical fitness. The trainer connected with what John was motivated to change. In turn, John’s team is now sitting down with people at their church and asking them, “What do you want to work on?” Then, offering a next step to get them started.

There is nothing outside of us that can motivate us more than what is inside of us. For the believer, God is inside of us – in case you didn’t know where I was going there. What we are motivated to change right now should be the thing we focus on changing. If we don’t sense a need to change, then we need to bring that question to God: “What do you want to work on?”

Disciple Making is Obedience.

The last phrase in the Great Commission punched me between the eyes not long ago: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Read the phrase again. What did Jesus tell us to teach disciples? Hint: Jesus did not say to teach his commands. Jesus instructed us to teach obedience.

In the area where I live, everyone goes to church. There are more than 75 other churches within 10 miles of the church I attend. It’s part of the culture. While these church-going folks are faithful to church attendance, it doesn’t stop them from being hateful, passive-aggressive, and racist. There’s a high incidence of domestic violence here. The daily news is not good news. Now, this isn’t everybody. But, with so much access to church, you’d expect people to be a little more like Jesus. Bible knowledge is there, but changes in attitudes and behaviors are lacking.

Recently, a man who grew up here, told me about his family history in the area. His family has lived here for over 100 years. It’s a colorful family history – running moonshine and other illegal activities. At one point, he told me, “My grandmother was a fine Christian woman, well, except for running a brothel.” I had no response.

Concluding Thoughts

How’s your disciple making? What results are you seeing? What’s missing?

There is so much to unpack here. Please join me in the comments for a discussion. We’ve got to get our people beyond just coping with life. We’re on a mission. How can your members join that mission?

Read more…

I noted in last week’s post that Christianity experienced a seismic paradigm shift when Martin Luther and other reformers essentially zero-based the church’s traditional doctrine of salvation and rebuilt it using only God’s Word—“Sola Scriptura.”

 

Then I stepped back from the details and considered applying that same strategy to discipling ourselves and others. I asked you, “If we zero-base our understanding of what it means to disciple ourselves and others, and then rebuild our understanding Sola Scriptura, how will our strategies—our “discipleship programs”—differ from what it is right now?

 

Why ask such a question? Because a recent Barna Group survey of discipleship across America (Dec 2015) alerts us to a disturbing situation: Despite our numerous church and parachurch discipling tools, programs, and activities, research reveals “the disconnect between how people think about their spirituality and what’s actually happening in their lives.” Among their conclusions: “Church leaders and congregants need better methods of thinking about and evaluating their discipleship efforts.”

 

Our key problem is this: People outside the church see woefully little difference between “Christians” and non-Christians. We need to discern that, acknowledge that, and change that. We need to make disciples who make a difference. Further, we must begin with ourselves, and only then influence others as disciples.

 

If we apply that zero-based strategy, here is what I envision we’ll remember and return to:

  • We’ll honestly and intentionally make love our aim. Agape love is a disciple’s distinctive feature (John 13:35; 1 Corinthians 13).
  • We’ll more clearly discern the relationship of discipline (e.g., solitude, prayer, memorization) and process (e.g., one-on-one, small group) to outcome (agape love, which shows in our Christlike character). Disciplines and processes are many and flexible; the outcome God desires is fixed. God challenges us in His Word to focus more on being than doing; on becoming more purposeful than process-full (Psalm 19:14; Matthew 15:8-9). And knowledge (e.g., theology) plus skill (e.g., Bible study) minus Christlikeness (agape love) leads to collapse.
  • Our testimony—in sharing our faith and in discipling—is more about what others see in you and me than what we say (Matthew 5:14–16). Again, let’s make love our aim. Let’s walk in a manner worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1-2; 5:1-2).

 

This week, 500 years ago, marked the start of the Protestant Reformation. Could this week in 2017 mark the start of a Discipling Reformation? “Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.”

Read more…

Jesus selected an odd cast of characters to be His disciples.  If you were asked to pick a team of 12 people to change the course of history, I’m guessing you wouldn’t head straight to the local marina or IRS office looking for candidates.  Yet that’s exactly what Jesus did.  In fact, the Old Testament, New Testament and the annals of church history are riddled with stories of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things”.  God gets all the glory when those least capable achieve the seemingly impossible.  Maybe those who truly understand they are powerless without the Holy Spirit are most qualified to receive the Holy Spirit’s power.  Maybe those who’ve heard “no” most often are those most willing to say “yes” to whatever God asks of them.

Yes, disciples are those who are transformed from ordinary to extraordinary – and leave an indelible mark on the world around them.  Life transformation through discipleship is so powerful and important that Jesus invested heavily in a small band of average Joe’s – knowing a few fully committed followers is all it would take to spark a wildfire that would circle the globe.  So when only 1% of church leaders today say American churches are discipling well, is it any wonder why the Church is declining in growth, impact, influence and perception?  As we discussed last week, when asked about discipleship, most pastors are quick to cite “Small Groups” – yet a church where Small Groups are the primary discipleship vehicle isn’t very serious about discipleship.

Maximizing Kingdom, Community and Church Impact in America hinges largely on resuming intensive, personal discipleship within and outside of our nation’s churches…

Discipleship Expands the Kingdom…

…As You Follow God’s Growth Plan

Only disciples can make disciples.  It “takes one to make one”.  Disciples look like Jesus.  They act like Jesus.  Jesus was loving, selfless and compassionate.  As a result, He attracted a large following.  So did His disciples.  Nothing has changed.  Disciples are still the key to expanding the Lord’s Kingdom.  God’s math remains the same – a few followers on fire for Him have an exponential impact as they disciple a few others, who in turn each disciple a few others, and so on.

…As You Invest in Disciple-Building, Not Institution-Building

If disciples are the means by which Jesus intends for people to come to Him, then the most critical function of the church should be to make disciples.  Seek to grow disciples and you’ll build a church; seek to grow a church and you’ll build an institution.  Our contention in this blog series that churchgoers are too often treated like “customers” doesn’t mean churches should pay less attention to them.  In fact it’s the opposite.  Churches should focus even more on members and attenders but spend that time quite differently, shifting from attracting and retaining to discipling and deploying.  Rather than measuring “nickels and noses”, pastors should measure life change and the resulting ripple effect on those around them. 

….As You Turn Your Church Inside Out

Those in the pews are the definition and embodiment of “church”.  They are the conduit through which the Church accomplishes its objective in the world – the Great Commission.  Therefore, they are “insiders” who should be trained much like a company trains its employees.  The company’s revenues decline if the customer service and sales staff isn’t adequately prepared to “care” and “share”.  Likewise, churches aren’t maximizing returns for the Kingdom if they’re not effectively training disciples to be Jesus’ workforce – His hands and feet.

Discipleship Changes Your Community…

…As You Confess

Are our hearts broken for the helpless and hopeless around us?  A pastor once told me, “I’d love to have a church full of Nehemiahs who weep for the lost and poor in our community.”  That should be our response too, but is it?   As we become more like Jesus, our hearts meld with His and compassion begins to outweigh comfort.  Churchgoers will lack the impetus to radically shift their priorities if leaders are reluctant to challenge and train them to truly become disciples of Jesus Christ.

…As You Commit

There’s a clear, compelling linkage between discipleship and local community missions.  Why would a church teach people how to share their faith if it doesn’t send them out to do so?  Conversely, if a church is going to put people in position to “share”, it needs to prepare them to be effective evangelists.  As you’d expect, churches that pull away from discipleship typically pull away from local missions as well.  If churches aren’t highly focused on the one, they won’t be focused on the other.  Churches who don’t feel at liberty to impose the commitment and costs of discipleship on the congregation are likely equally hesitant to request they step out of their comfort zones to follow Jesus’ model of evangelism – opening the door to sharing the gospel through loving acts of service.

…As You Coalesce

Signing up for an occasional service event or mailing out a check is not the full extent of a disciple’s responsibility to impact the world around them.  Discipleship provides the inspiration and motivation to do more, but uniting around a common cause can provide the direction.  There are pressing social issues all around us.  How can your church respond?  In the absence of an outside cause around which to unite, many churches make themselves the “cause”.  How frequently do you hear requests from the pulpit for volunteers to serve inside the church versus to volunteer for community activities to reach those outside the “4 walls”?

Discipleship Grows Your Church…

…As You Abandon Conventional Wisdom

Bucking current trends entails convincing Christians that church is not a place, it’s them.  As the Church, reaching the lost and poor with the Gospel is in their job descriptions, not just the pastor’s.  The starting point for revival in America and at your church will be when churchgoers undergo a discipleship-driven transformation in their thinking about their role and responsibilities between Sundays.  Expectations must flip from evaluating what they’re getting out of church to what they’re putting into becoming church personified.   As members “grow” then “go” through discipleship, your church releases more powerful advocates for Christ into their circles of influence, vastly increasing your church’s leverage.

…As You Pursue Church Health, not Size 

The healthy way to go wider (i.e. grow) is to go deeper.  Unhealthy churches go wider by allowing members to wade in the shallow end.  The waters are calm and no dangers lurk beneath the surface.  Churchgoers dip their toes in the water, knowing they’ll never drown or become “lunch”.  They’ll never be compelled to head into the deeper waters of real life change and discipleship.  Yet that’s where Jesus demands we swim.  Healthy churches are ones that pursue “organic”, not “acquisitive”, growth.  “Acquisitive” attracts Christians from other churches – offering facilities, sermons, music and programs that others can’t match.  Acquisitive growth without discipleship leads to internal turmoil you’d expect of churchgoers who aren’t fully committed disciples – squabbles, splits and consumerism.  However, “Organic” growth actually increases the size of the “pie” by making disciples who lead others to Christ – adding a face who didn’t simply come from another church.

….As You Take Big Risks

The Organic model involves great risk in today’s acquisitive world, but has a much higher upside.  Yet disciple-building has always been a high-risk venture.  At the height of His popularity, Jesus did the unthinkable.  He preached His most controversial, challenging sermon.  In fact, He knew few would be left standing beside Him after telling the crowd of followers to drink His blood and eat His flesh.  Imagine the pastor of a large church in the midst of rapid growth preaching the most demanding, difficult message members had ever heard, knowing with near certainty that few of them would come back the next Sunday.  Imagine that same pastor pulling all the members aside and laying out the full picture of discipleship costs and expectations, knowing it was a pill few of them could swallow?  That’s exactly what Jesus did.  He preached it down to a select few.  But through those remaining, sold-out disciples the early church grew at an astronomical clip.

It’s Your Turn…

People retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they discuss with others, 80% of what they personally experience and 95% of what they teach others.  In other words, the best way to fully absorb what it means to be a disciple is to live it out.

Meet The Need is about mobilizing disciples at your church into action…year-round!:

  • Software – Go to www.meettheneed.org to get your church started using all of our FREE tools
  • Coaching – Visit our website and blog for posts and eBooks with tips and best practices
  • Campaigns – Learn more about how to encourage others to live prayer, care, share lifestyles at #MeetAnEternalNeed
Read more…

Internal Factors Keeping Churches from Discipling

Part 1 – Internal Factors

As we showed last week, discipleship expands the Kingdom, changes your community and grows your church.  So why do only 1% of church leaders surveyed believe American churches are discipling well.  Why wouldn’t more pastors emphasize discipleship and implement a discipleship track that goes well beyond sermons and small groups (which aren’t making many disciples)?  Why don’t many churches utilize more intensive and effective discipleship methods?

It’s not for a lack of understanding that discipleship is important.  Most pastors list discipleship as a priority.  Few deny its Kingdom-building potential.  The story of Jesus’ ministry cannot be told without reference to how fervently He invested in, empowered and released disciples into service.  For all those reasons, discipleship is addressed in sermons at least on occasion at nearly every church.

4 Discipleship “Pump Fakes”

However, today pastors seem more willing to preach discipleship principles than the corresponding actions and expectations that true discipleship entails.  Too many pay lip service to discipleship and fall short on execution, anticipating few churchgoers will go beyond dipping their toes in the discipleship waters.  In other words, in football terms during this Super Bowl week, in one of 4 ways pastors “pump fake” the congregation and hand off rather than throwing the ball downfield:

  1. Preaching without Principles – Not revealing the full costs of discipleship outlined in Luke 9 and Luke 14.  This isn’t restricted to prosperity or “name it and claim it” churches, but applies to any church that fails to disclose that following Jesus may mean losing everything.  Jesus’ high standards for His followers stand in stark contrast to the life improvement plan touted in churches that not only tolerate but cater to “consumer” Christians.
  2. Preaching without Programs – Fearless presentation of what challenges may await those who take a full-fledged leap of faith, but not offering a discipleship plank off which to leap.  No company would rely solely on a weekly lecture and an optional weekly forum led by untrained employees as the full extent of its training program.  Likewise, it is unreasonable for churches to think sermons and small groups should suffice as adequate discipleship training for those intended to be the personification of “church”.
  3. Preaching without Practicing – Sharing a hard message with a soft landing.  So often Biblical truths passionately introduced throughout the first 25 minutes don’t seem to match the action items laid out in the last 5 minutes.  You’ve seen it before – right message, wrong conclusions.  A demanding sermon that seems to push the limits of life transformation (e.g. discipleship, evangelism and community impact), but ends with the same old Invite/Involve/Invest institution-building requests (e.g. invite friends, sign up for “church chores”, join a small group, give to the church).
  4. Preaching without Progress – Even with appropriate principles, programs and practices, real progress in disciple-making requires some form of accountability and tracking, either personal or corporate.  A discipleship-driven church seeks to know whether its congregation is living out the Great Commission.  It lays out a discipleship path and measures degree of life change as people move down that road.  It may even abandon internally-focused “nickels and noses” metrics, replacing them with externally-oriented metrics like lives touched and impacted by its members.

Preaching with Power involves not only unveiling the costs of discipleship, but instituting an intensive 1-on-1 or triad discipleship program, deploying disciples into personal ministry inside AND outside the church, and expecting life transformation in line with what Jesus asked of His disciples.

Discipleship Works…so Why Not?

There are powerful INTERNAL forces (next week we’ll discuss EXTERNAL factors) at work within the current psyche of church leaders that deter all but a few from implementing full-scale, Biblical discipleship:

  1. Graduation – Churches provide different levels of Biblical “education”: Elementary School (“milk” Paul spoke of in Hebrews 5:13); High School (beginning to eat “solid” food); College (in-depth Bible study); and Grad School (deep personalized discipleship).  Few churches provide all four levels.  Yet I’ve never come across a church who admits that and refers members to another church once they’ve exhausted all the depth it can supply.  A church who simply doesn’t have enough senior, mature leaders to start a “college” or “grad school” level discipleship program should either commit to fix that problem, or congratulate and bid farewell to those ready to earn their “bachelors” or “masters”.  Instead, nearly every church tries to hang on to every person.  That’s a disservice to those churchgoers and the Kingdom.  Some may argue that those senior, mature leaders should stick around to disciple others, but their skills are likely underutilized by elementary and high school level churches where serious discipleship isn’t a priority.  Regardless, truly transformed disciples probably won’t be content for long in a church that subscribes to conventional growth models – eventually leaving for a church with a higher “ceiling”.
  2. Centralization – Some pastors even get upset when members step away from church responsibilities to engage in community or world-changing external ministry.  Leaders whose aim is to transform and release (build disciples) versus attract and retain (build an organization) would be excited for them.  Serving on a finance committee or as a greeter builds that church, but serving in an external ministry that equips and unites many churches may do more to build the Kingdom.  However, as pastors and staff have gradually come to be viewed as the “professionals” and “church” as a place to go to on weekends, the need for member engagement and loyalty has increased.  A centralized concept of “church” is far more labor intensive and expensive to maintain than a decentralized church model.  Discipleship decentralizes as members increasingly function as the embodiment of “church” between Sundays and more actively seek ministry opportunities outside the “4 walls”.  A cycle of institutional dependency revolving around a single organization slowly gives way to a wider view of one’s personal responsibility to impact the community for Christ.  In that respect, discipleship threatens a church’s viability by releasing its most valued resources.  In fact, some churches have even asked me whether all external service opportunities that conflict with their internal volunteering needs can be eliminated from Meet The Need’s database.
  3. Expectation – The tables have turned.  The “balance of power” today has tipped in favor of members.  The law of supply and demand has given churchgoers the upper hand.  A large number of churches, each carrying fixed expenses that have to be covered, are going after a shrinking “pool” of frequent attenders, each of whom donates less on average.  The landscape is also filled with more “Walmart” churches, making life difficult for “mom-and-pop” churches who are unable to provide the same weekend “experience” for adults and children.  Meanwhile, seminaries are producing significant numbers of aspiring new pastors every year.  The math will only get worse – fewer people and funds to spread over the remaining base of church facilities and pastors.  As a result, churches too often choose the path of least resistance to cling to members.  As we discussed, they’ve reduced WorshipCompassion and even Salvation to events.  Expectations have flipped – emphasis previously was on leaders expecting members to “perform” (e.g. life change; community impact) but now members expect pastors to perform (e.g. entertaining worship; availability for counseling and family events).  Pastors are more hesitant to regularly make high commitment (and high Kingdom “payoff”) requests for discipleship, local missions, and evangelism – instead offering lower commitment alternatives (with lower Kingdom “payoff”) like serving on the usher, greeter or parking team.

It’s Your Turn…

Stop pump faking and throw the pass downfield.  Get beyond words and put in place a life-changing discipleship program at your church that transforms people into the image of Christ.

Then, utilize Meet The Need’s software to point your members to opportunities to follow Jesus’ model of evangelism – letting loving acts of service open the door to presenting the Gospel message.

Finally, encourage your members to live Prayer, Care, Share lifestyles by introducing our new initiative #MeetAnEternalNeed.  #MeetAnEternalNeed is a challenge to Christians and churchgoers everywhere to be intentional about:

  • Bringing help and hope (found in Christ alone) to a friend, neighbor, coworker or complete stranger
  • Posting a pic and telling their story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #MeetAnEternalNeed (and #WWJB, #WhereWouldJesusBe) to inspire others
  • Specifically challenging 3 friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”
Read more…

This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.

03-group.gif

There’s nothing like a well-functioning small group.

After a tough week, it’s nice to be able to go where everybody knows your name. Where they're always glad you came. Where everyone’s troubles are the same. Or so promises the theme from the old TV show, “Cheers.”

But what about your neighbors or friends who are unchurched? Do you invite them to your group?

Typically, when it comes to “bringing in the sheaves” we immediately offer invitations to strangers to visit our church. In my experience, resistance to such invitations is high. In many cases, it was a bad church experience in the past that is keeping people out of church now.

Church, for many, carries a negative connotation. The experience is viewed as ritual, formal, impersonal, and even a little weird.

Yet, when invited into a Cheers-like scenario, even sans alcohol, those outside the church are much more interested in trying it out. Mostly because a small group in their neighbor’s house doesn’t look like church!

Yet, welcoming newcomers does have its challenges.

The good group is cozy, safe, and maybe even a little predictable. Rocking the boat by adding newcomers can be resisted by the group, but it’s a resistance that should be overcome. Why? Because the group isn’t just about you or your buddies! Or any one person. Well, other than Jesus.

Exactly because small groups are cozy, safe, and predictable, they are the perfect, non-threatening place to invite your skeptical friends and neighbors for these four reasons:

1. It’s just people. Instead of an institution, the small group is basically just some folks hanging out. While some may have issues with “The Church,” fewer have a problem with getting to know their neighbors and their neighbor’s friends, enjoying some snacks, and engaging in casual discussion of the Bible or issues of faith.

2. More than a book. Engaging with people of the Word who view the Bible as God’s living Truth, makes the Bible accessible to those who view it with suspicion. Instead of being confronted with a harsh set of esoteric rules, the warmth of the Word is released through the sharing of those who seek to live it authentically.

3. Hey, this is nice! Being welcomed into an intimate, caring, loving group of people translates the Gospel into reality for those encountering it. Instead of being “preached at” in a sermon,  in a group people engage with other people who are just like them. People who have car payments, trouble at work, childcare issues, health challenges, and all the rest of the stuff of real life. Instead of ritual, they encounter reality.

4. Is there more? A good small group exhibits the attractiveness of the Gospel and, therefore, attracts outliers into the group and then into the church. Often those who object to church do so for reasons that aren’t really valid. Their fears or objections are based on misinformation or time- and location-specific incidents that are not representative of the full Body of Christ. Acceptance into a good group helps dissolve the barriers to meeting the personal God and finding a relationship with Jesus.

It’s tempting to rest in the enjoyment of the group we know and ignore those outside we don’t. But to be true to our calling to share Christ everywhere, even our cozy groups need to be open and inviting. Is yours?.

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Previously in part 1: Logistics of the good group.

Previously in part 2: Leading the good group.

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BlogQuestion.pngAre you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!

Read more…

This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.

02-group.gifA small group leader training booklet lists 15 tips for leaders. Number 13 is my favorite: “You’re not Spurgeon.”

Right now, in my church, we’re wrestling with the need to grow up new group leaders. We have several small groups that are at or near capacity. This means they soon will need to split in two, with each part needing a leader.

This then raises the question, ”What makes a good leader?” To answer that requires addressing another question, “How do you lead a small group well?” And to answer that, you need to answer, “What’s the role of a small group?”

The primary role of a small group -- and in fact, of the church experience in general -- is discipleship. By that I mean helping those who claim Christ as their Savior grow into spiritual maturity. Spiritual growth, in the very simplest sense, occurs two ways:

  • Content infusing. This happens through intentional Bible study, listening to sermons, attending Sunday school, and so forth. You could label it “Christian education.”
  • Relationship building.It’s in the environment of relationships that the head knowledge of content infusing is moved into the heart of meaningfulness. Information is made practical, truth is turned into experience.

A sermon on a Sunday morning is high on content infusing while low on relationship building. This is why small groups are essential. Here’s how I guesstimate the ratios break out for various activities:

Discipleship - The purpose of the church

Content Infusing
(Christian Ed /
teaching, etc.)

Relationship Building
(Personal interaction)

Sermon

90%

10%

Small groups

20%

80%

Sunday school

80%

20%

Doing life together

10%

90%

There’s no science here. Just my own guess based on several years of being in church and small groups. Doing life together, by the way, simply means believers hanging out with each other outside of church.

Given that the primary emphasis in small groups is relationship building, to lead one well means ensuring that this happens. And now we can address the key traits of a good leader with these four insights:

1. Be a person, not a Spurgeon. You don’t need a seminary degree* to be an effective small group leader. If you have a heart for God and a good study Bible, you’ll be okay. What’s most important is that you are honest and real. This means you’re going to have to be a little vulnerable, sharing your own experiences, both the good and the bad. Opening your heart to the group will encourage others to open their hearts as well.

*Caution to those with seminary degrees: You know a lot and that’s a wonderful thing. However, the small group is not a seminary classroom where you need to bring all of your knowledge to bear. Feel free to prepare like you would for a test, but dial your presentation way, way back for the group. Otherwise you risk coming off as intimidating, overwhelming the participants, and perhaps even discouraging others from considering leading a group.

2. Protect and serve. For relationships to form and grow requires a safe place. Make sure everyone has a chance to be heard. Facilitate a “no wrong answers” environment. This doesn’t mean endorsing heresy, but rather allowing people to ask hard questions and share their doubts and fears. Therefore confidentiality -- what’s said in the group stays in the group -- is paramount.

3. Keep it moving. A small group leader is mostly a facilitator. You want to keep things moving. Make sure one person doesn’t dominate the discussion. Sometimes you’re going to have to cut off a lively discussion to ensure there’s time for addressing individual needs. While it will feel awkward, everyone will understand what you’re doing and appreciate your intervention.

4. Wrap it all in prayer. A good leader prays. Seek God’s help as you lead and prepare. Pray for each member of your group when you’re not together. Make sure each session is opened and closed in prayer. Ensure when needs become known, time is taken to pray and care for the one in need.

Leading a small group is simply one way we can fulfill the Great Commission. And we are all called to be His witnesses near and far. You don’t have to be a theologian to facilitate a group. But you do need a basic knowledge of God’s Word and a caring heart that burns to see others grow in the grace of Christ. The Holy Spirit will provide the wisdom to those who step out in faith as small group leaders.

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Coming next in part 3: Outreach of the good group.

Previously in part 1: Logistics of the good group.

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Are you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!

Read more…

This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.

01-group.gifIt’s the first night of your small group. Several people are now gathered at the front of the sanctuary. You begin with prayer and dive into the study.

After a few minutes, you notice Ted looking around, appearing distracted. Beads of perspiration are on his forehead and he’s fidgeting.

“Wow,” you think. “The study must really be hitting home. Ted seems under a fair amount of conviction.”

Just then Ted gets up and makes a beeline for the exit.

Was Ted’s behavior driven by conviction? Nope.

It was too hot, the room too large, and he had to go to the bathroom but wasn’t sure where it was and if he’d make it in time.

Small groups are a big deal in churches and a great vehicle for fostering biblical engagement while building relationships.

Here are six key ingredients for success that too often get overlooked:

1. Is there an echo in here? Years ago, I read Em Griffin’s great book, Getting Together: A guide for good groups (IVP). One piece of advice always stuck with me. He writes, “Meet in a room small enough to put you in touch with each other. Bank lobbies and church fellowship halls may be impressive, but the cavernous space they allow kills intimacy.”

I’ve tested this by holding meetings in very big and much smaller rooms. The differences are significant. Putting a little group in a large room makes people feel small and lost. Minds and eyes wander as every sight and sound is a distraction. A large group in a too small room is just annoying. Fit your group into an appropriate space; big enough that no one feels cramped, but small enough that it feels cozy and safe.

2. Lukewarm is okay. Thermostat battles are real! While it’s impossible to please everyone perfectly, be aware of the room temperature. An empty room that’s a little cool is a good thing -- don’t bump the heat up! The room will warm on its own when bodies arrive. Pay attention to such things as sleeves being rolled up or down, booklets being used as fans, sweaters being pulled on or off, etc. Ask people if they’re comfortable. Make adjustments gradually to avoid wide temperature swings.

3. The lay of the land. Whether you’re meeting in the church or someone’s home, let everyone know where things are, especially the bathrooms. Explain that bringing a cup of coffee to their seats is okay. Allow time for introductions. If you’re located near a quarry (as a group I participated in was) and there will be a loud explosion or two, let people know what’s going to happen so they won’t panic or become preoccupied wondering if they should.

4. Arranged for success. Yes, how you arrange the chairs makes a difference. The circle is most common. If you’re using a video, then a u-shaped arrangement allowing easy  viewing is okay. However you arrange the seating, make sure everyone can see and hear each other easily. Better Bible engagement comes through better sharing.

5. Just say no to technology. Technology is amazing, but can also be annoying. While using PowerPoint is helpful in the college classroom or sanctuary, it’s seldom useful for a small group. Dimming lights induces dozing when it’s cozy! If you choose to use a video or any technology, make sure you know how to use it. Set everything up before people arrive. Test, test, test. And if there are any glitches, be prepared to set the technology aside and go analog, just like Jesus did.

6. The reason I’ve called you together. Small groups are great for building Bible engagement and relationships. Except when the group’s purpose becomes diffused and ambiguous. Have a purpose, mission, and a goal and make sure everything the group does drives toward them. Ambiguity and loss of focus -- which happens over time with inattention -- will kill the best of groups.

Griffin states, “The good group has cohesiveness.” People know what to expect and where they fit. This doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentionality and effort. The payoff is the good relationships and better Bible engagement that ensues.

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Coming next in part 2: Leading the good group.

Coming next in part 3: Outreach of the good group.

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BlogQuestion.pngAre you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!

Read more…