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Starting Online Small Groups

The Coronavirus outbreak has opened a new chapter in starting online small groups. Online small groups aren’t a new thing. I was in an online small group on CompuServe in 1992! That might make me the grandfather of online small groups. But, online groups might be new to you.

The Pursuit Church in Minot, ND just launched online small groups off of their online service on March 22, 2020. This church of 1,500 already had about 60 small groups. On that Sunday, 30 people stepped up to start new online small groups. Could you imagine increasing your small groups by 50% in one day. You can hear Tara Wiley tell The Pursuit’s story along with seven principles of starting online small groups.

The Freebies mentioned in this video are available here.

If you want to jump to a specific point of the video:

What You Need to Start Online Small Groups (Point starts at time code indicated):

  1. A willing, caring person to initiate (8:50).
  2. A system to connect (13:58).
  3. A platform to meet on (18:10).
  4. Curriculum to guide (25:14).
  5. Just-in-time training and coaching (30:49).
  6. Follow up and feedback (34:51).
  7. Supervision and accountability (35:59)

Case Study: The Pursuit Church, Minot, ND (44:17)

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Suddenly, Everybody has Time for a Small Group

Unless they offer an essential service, suddenly everybody has time for a small group. The #1 excuse people give for not joining a group is that they are too busy or they don’t have enough time. Small Group Pastors know what they are really saying is, “Small group is just not a priority.” I get that. But, now the “I don’t have time” excuse has been erased, and small groups should become a greater priority — even if they can’t meet in person.

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Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Why do you need to start new groups during a pandemic?

Whether by choice or by mandate, people are staying away from other people right now. Church services have gone online. School has gone online in many places. While people are making their best attempts to curtail the spread of a disease, isolation and loneliness coupled with a steady intake of cable news and social media is a breeding ground for fear. Isolation and fear come straight from a page in the enemy’s playbook. The devil is having a heyday with this.

People have spiritual and emotional needs. With all of the conflicting information and no one to discuss this with, the monsters in our people’s heads just become bigger and bigger. Last week I wrote about practicing the “one anothers” of the Bible while in quarantine. People need more than worship and a sermon to reassure them and help them deal with what’s going on. Beyond that some people have practical, physical needs. How is your church keeping up with older people or people with medical conditions. We must find a strategic way to care for our members. Here’s a tough thought — your people can find a better online service. How you help them right now will determine where they go and where they give after this is all over. This is fertile ground for the enemy to do his work. This is a tremendous opportunity for the church to do its work.

As a church staff, you are working hard to transition worship and sermons to online services, but what about the social time people spent in the lobby or even in the parking lot. How are you meeting your members’ need for connection? This is the time to launch new groups. Groups could meet on a video platform. Groups could meet on a free conference call line. While many are forced to be apart, there are ways to be together.

How to Start New Groups

Starting new groups online is not so different than starting groups offline, except you have one advantage. People need connection more than ever. Now is the time to get all hands on deck and start as many groups as possible. Churches must mobilize the most people they can for ministry right now. Your people need personal care like never before. You can do this. Here’s what you need to get started:

A willing, caring person to initiate.

If there was ever a time to bypass bulky requirements for group leaders and get all hands on deck, the time is now. Invite every person who will willing and caring to start a group right now. If you are insecure about that method, then review a copy of your church’s membership roster. Who would you feel good about? Call them and invite them right now. Who is willing and caring? Remember, they suddenly have time for a group.

A system to connect.

Once you have invited people to lead these groups, then ask them who they know who would be interested in a group. Take a week and have them invite everyone they know inside the church or outside the church to join their group. Then, invite the rest of your congregation to sign up online or even give out some names for leaders to call and invite to their group. The idea is that everyone in the congregation would have someone to connect with personally every week.

A platform to meet on.

Some localities are still allowing meetings of groups less than 10 people. If people are comfortable meeting in person, then they can. Personally, I would recommend an online option like a teleconference or a conference call. This will prohibit any unnecessary contact and potential spread of disease. Teleconference services such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and other services offer a stable platform and an easy way to connect online with video. Most services offer a call-in number for those who might be less tech savvy. For a comparison of video platforms, click here. If video is not a good solution because of the internet service in your area, then a free conference line could work as well. Several services are available.

For families with children, encourage them to meet later in the evening when their kids have gone to bed. Wear headphones to eliminate background noise. Mute yourself when you’re not talking. And, do not take your device into the bathroom with you!

Curriculum to guide.

Your groups could start with just a weekly check in to see how everybody is doing. Start the meetings by allowing people to debrief what’s going on in their lives and in their minds. Another great way to start a new group is to ask people to tell their stories or at least the part of the stories that they’re willing to tell. This is an important way for the group to begin to understand each other and have context for what they share in the group.

For new leaders I have discovered that it’s best to use some sort of video-based curriculum that contains the teaching on the video. This makes things safe for both the new leader as well as the pastors. The new leader doesn’t have to be the Bible expert, and the pastors don’t want the new leader to teach or be the Bible expert anyway. By giving them a curriculum that you’ve created or a curriculum that you trust, you could assure that the group will follow the topic that you’ve given them and have a great meeting to encourage each other, build up their faith, and grow spiritually in an unusual time.

Just-in-time training and coaching. Don’t skip this step!

There won’t be a lot of time to train these leaders at first. I have discovered that if you recruit an established leader to follow up with new leaders, you create a win-win situation. The new leaders get help and support right when they need it, and the experience leader gets a trial run at being a coach. Once the trial is over, you can determine whether the new leaders will want to continue and whether the coaches should continue.

Just like groups can meet over a teleconference or conference call, training can also happen in the same way. In the last church I served we had an immediate need for coaches. I knew it would be difficult to add another meeting to an already busy schedule which included all of the coaches leading their own small group, so we met together on a conference line at about 8:30 at night for 30 minutes and did this for about six weeks in a row. Why did we meet so late? Well everybody was home from work, finished with dinner, and their kids were hopefully in bed. With all of these distractions removed, I was able to conduct the training and get these new coaches started. The same can be true for leader training, but I would recommend letting the coaches do the work for at least the first six weeks, then offer more formal training when the leaders are ready to move forward and when the leaders feel like they actually need the training.

Follow up and feedback.

Leading a small group and coaching is important work so you must inspect what you expect. If you’ve asked your coaches to call the new leaders every week, then you need to call the coaches every week and hear what’s going on with the groups. As a pastor, you want to know what’s going on with your people especially during a crisis. Your coaches can give you the needs that you need to address that maybe they cannot. You also get an accurate picture of what’s going on in your small group ministry. If you wait for a report, you are already in the weeds.

Do for your coaches what you expect them to do for your leaders. Just like your people need the care of a leader and your leaders need the care of a coach, your coaches need care from you. Now that your schedule has changed, it shouldn’t be too hard to pick up the phone and give each of your coaches a call.

Supervision and accountability.

While you have successfully given away the ministry to new leaders and new coaches, the only thing that you cannot give away is the responsibility for the ministry. The buck still stops with you. I don’t say this to make you nervous, but I do say this so you will avoid an entirely hands off approach. The coaching structure is effective, but it cannot run on auto pilot. While you are not in the day-to-day care of leaders, you cannot be completely out of it either. This is still your baby.

The End Result

In this climate, everything you do is essentially a startup. You cannot call a meeting and gather people on campus. You cannot do on-site training. You can’t even visit your people in their homes. But you can start online groups that will accomplish all of this. This may go against your personality. This may go against everything that you’ve done before. But the message is the same — We are better together even if we are apart.

By starting new small groups right now, your people will feel less lonely, less isolated, and less fearful. These groups can help your people build their faith and experience the care that they deserve. And the hard truth is that you cannot create that with an email.

My hope for you is that the end result of starting online groups will be at the beginning of something new for your ministry and your church. Pastors and staff cannot possibly meet all of the needs of any congregation. And they shouldn’t. Now more than ever, you need to get your people to engage their gifts and serve others in groups like never before. Don’t waste this moment. Suddenly, everybody has time for a small group!

How to Start Online Small Groups Replay

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Promoting Community While Social Distancing

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, people need each other more than ever before, yet they need to avoid each other more than ever. Christians believe faith is more powerful than fear. As the news media and government agencies continue to discuss the critically important topic of the spread and impact of Coronavirus, it’s easy for anyone to give into fear, especially when they are isolated from others.

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Courtesy of @kenwmurphy via Instagram

Worship services are forced online as groups of 10 are being discouraged to gather. For smaller numbers, social distancing is encouraged where people should stay six feet away from each other. Whether by mandate or by choice, people are cautious about meeting with any size group. Isolation, though, tends to amplify fear. How can we promote community and social distancing at the same time?

Reframing Life and Ministry

The only thing missing from everyday life amid a pandemic is personal contact. The church may not be meeting within the four walls of the church building for an hour on Sunday, but the church can function as the Body of Christ despite the lack conventional church services.

Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians 12 that every member of the Body is important and that every member has gifts. Rather than meeting in weekend services to check off the church box for the week, members can and should be challenged to embrace their deeper calling. Who can they serve? How can they encourage? How can the church be the church outside of the four walls of a Sunday service? We really should be asking these questions anyway.

When we think of small groups in particular, often we focus on practicing the “one anothers” of the Bible.

“Love one another” (John 13:34; John 15:12).

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Romans 12:10).

“Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).

“Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16).

“Stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13).

“Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).

“Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other” (Ephesians 4:32).

“Build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

“Encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).

“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

“Pray for each other” (James 5:16).

There are 59 of these statements in all. (For a complete list, check out this post on smallgroupchurches.com LINK https://www.smallgroupchurches.com/the-59-one-anothers-of-the-bible/

There are only a couple of these statements that should be avoided in a climate of social distancing:

“Wash one another’s feet” (Mark 9:50) and

“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Peter 5:14).

All of the other “one anothers” can be practiced among believers even in isolation, quarantine, and social distancing.

Reframing the Practice of the One Anothers

What is available to believers who are in isolation or self-quarantine? We have computers, tablets, smartphones, messaging, social media, telephones, streaming video services, and televisions. People communicate more while they are apart than when they are actually together it seems! Now take the communications devices available to people and pair them with the one another statements.

With this technology, how do we “encourage one another daily” as stated in Hebrews 3:13. The reality is most people don’t see each other every day. But, given the technology in our hands, we could text or message encouragement to one another daily. Just the other day a friend in Florida came to mind. I texted to see how he was doing. He was discouraged. In a short text, I encouraged him. His response was, “I think that’s just what I needed to hear today. Thank you.” I wasn’t in the same room with him. I wasn’t even in the same state with him, but I was able to encourage him. How can we encourage one another daily when we can’t see them in person? Use what we have!

The same goes for these other “one another” statements as well.

“Love one another” – We can do this anywhere at any time.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” – We can call to check on each other.

“Honor one another above yourselves” – We can think of others before we think of ourselves. How is the pandemic affecting those we know? How about our neighbors?

“Live in harmony with one another” – Distancing may promote harmony in some ways. But in light of a global pandemic, we can also put our differences aside.

“Stop passing judgment on one another” – Everyone acts differently in different situations. Be as gracious in social media as you would if you were talking to the person face to face. People are already anxious. We don’t need to feed into this.

“Serve one another in love” – Can you spare a square? If someone is in need and you have the ability to help, then help them. You might need to make a “no contact” delivery and leave some toilet paper on their doorstep, but you can serve.

“Carry each other’s burdens” – When you call to encourage someone, you can listen. You can empathize. You can’t give them a hug, but you can care.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other” – Life’s too short. Let it go.

“Build each other up” – When people are isolated, their thoughts and our enemy can get the best of them. Lift them up. Send a text about what you like about them. Post a verse. Leave a voice mail.

“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” – We need reminders to move forward and not get stuck. While stuck home from work or school, we have time on their hands. How can we help others?

“Pray for each other” – We can pray over the phone. We can even pray on someone’s voice mail.

Meeting with Your Small Group Online

Hebrews 10:25 instructs us “…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…” Often these instructions are taken for worship services, which today have moved online. The author of Hebrews is more than likely speaking to smaller home gatherings. This is your small group. You could take the risk and meet together in-person. But, let’s face it, we don’t know where the Coronavirus pandemic is going to go. Your group might meet, but some might choose to stay away – either out of caution or out of fear (Remember: “Stop passing judgment on one another”). If we can’t meet in person, we can meet online.

I was part of an online small group on CompuServe in 1992. There was no video or audio. It was basically a chatroom and a message board. It seems like ancient history now, but this was back before most people had ever heard of the internet. On my dialup modem, I connected with Greg in southern California, Trish in Chicagoland, David in California, and a couple in Idaho. Greg wasn’t even a Christian at the time, but he joined our Christian forum because it offered low priced, flat rate service. One day Greg informed the group that he received Christ as his Savior. We all converged on Greg’s house in San Dimas, California for his baptism. Years later, Greg was a groomsman in my wedding. Since moving to the East Coast, we don’t see each other very often, but we still connect.

With online technology today, it’s easier than ever to host groups online. You get to see faces and hear each other’s voices. It’s much better than my CompuServe days! To meet in online groups, you have to pick a platform. I prefer Zoom, which offers both a paid and free service. Group members can connect by video, audio, and/or telephone. I use it every day for staff meetings and coaching groups.

To make group meetings work best, you have to eliminate distractions –close other windows and notifications on your computer, tablet, or phone. Use ear buds or headphones to prevent audio feedback. Make sure there is nothing distracting in the environment where you are sitting. Then, just focus on your group meeting.

Over the years, I’ve heard people object that people who meet online can pretend to be anyone they want and won’t necessarily present their real selves. I’ve discovered this is also true in in-person meetings. It’s up to group members to choose how much they will disclose about themselves and how vulnerable they will be. Remember: speed of the leader, speed of the team.

Ministry doesn’t have to stop because of a pandemic and social distancing. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities for the church to be the church. The persecuted church in Acts 8:1 couldn’t stay with the apostles in Jerusalem, but they did spread the message of the Gospel throughout Judea and Samaria just as Jesus commanded them in Acts 1:8. How can we use this circumstance to fulfill Jesus’ command? We don’t need church buildings. We don’t need “official” ministries. We don’t need church staff to lead the meetings. Now is a time to be the church more than ever. My hope is even when we go back to weekend worship services, we will never go back to “normal.” The church should continue to be the church.

For more information on online small groups:

How to Host an Online Group by Jason DeGraaff (Offers a comparison of teleconference services).

How Online Small Groups Work by Jay Kranda

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Lay It Down: The Book

This entry's somewhat more personal/self-promotional than past entries, but a year and a half's worth of work will drive a man to push the envelope. And this is the right group to tell about it. So I appreciate your forebearance....

 

Jesus told us in John 15:13-14, “No one has greater love than this — that one lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends  if you do what I command you.” That’s really the heart of discipleship.

But it often comes in pieces. How do we lay down our past — our old life, sins, compulsions, shame? How do we lay down our present — our burdens, weaknesses, strengths, possessions, reputation? And how do we lay down our future — our fears, goals, expectations, even the good things God’s already given us?

Our lives have to move from being of Christ to being in Christ, and ultimately to where finally each of our lives “is Christ” (Phil. 1:18, et al.). And that’s tough. Lay It Down makes the processing part, at least, a bit easier — and offers you the opportunity to process both on your own and in a small-group environment.

A synopsis of contents follows, but first, the critical purchase info:

• To purchase the physical book (210p.) directly from CreateSpace ($12.99), go here.

• For the Kindle version ($9.99, with free borrowing for Kindle Prime members), go here.

• And while you’re at it, go Like the Lay It Down Facebook page here – then Share it.

Section 1: Lay Down Your Past—We need to allow God to deal with what’s already happened in our lives before we can fully move forward. Even long-time Christians have issues from the past that have a way of cropping back up in our lives in brand-new ways—or even in ways we thought we’d left behind.

• Week 1, Lay Down Your Old Life, addresses the core issues of our old life without Christ, such as sin and our former patterns of thinking

• In Week 2, Lay Down Your Baggage, we address those issues from our past that might still have a hold on us—old hurts, grudges, addictions.

Section 2: Lay Down Your Present—What are your current life issues, and how are you trying to control them on your own rather than lay them down before Christ?

• Week 3, Lay Down Your Kingdom, deals the stuff we hold onto and take pride in apart from Christ—and how to hand over the reins.

• With Week 4, Lay Down Your Triggers, we take a step further toward trusting God fully with our lives and identity right now, so that God can provide something better.

Interlude/Retreat: Lay Down Your Time—Between the Present and the Future I’ve inserted an Interlude. (Where better to put it?) This directed retreat can be done on your own or better yet, with a group. I pretty much guarantee that those following the structure presented here will come back renewed, refreshed, and with a deeper sense of spiritual intimacy and purpose—I’ve seen this work too many times to believe otherwise. And with that, it’s time for…

Section 3: Eternal Life Starts Now—Everything we do here on earth is rehearsal time for that endless day we will spend in eternity with Christ. The remainder of the book explores that.

• Week 5, Lay Down Your Future, addresses our immediate future—how to lay down our anxieties, fears, and even our own expectations about what God has planned for us.

• In Week 6, Lay Down the Law (and Leave It There), we’ll explore what it looks like to walk out our entire lives in the Spirit, and the different ways God has provided so that laying down isn’t just sacrifice, but rest and peace in Him.

• In Week 7, Lay Down Your New Life, we’ll look at what it means to lay down our new lives in Christ. God always has something better in store for us, but in order to receive it we need to lay down our gifts and worship the Giver.

And finally, with Week 8, we’ll Pick It Up, Put It On, Walk It Out. We are pilgrims together on this journey, and even now we should be able to recognize our new life in Christ in one another as well. We’ll explore what that looks like.

So that’s it. Interested? That’s what I was hoping. Enjoy, be blessed, be changed, and spread the word.

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A Healthy Small Group Is the Body of Christ

A small group, at its core, is Christ’s body in action. Stop and think about this for a moment. Your small group is the church. Not a subset of the church. Not a supportive program within the church. Not a tool to close the back door. Unfortunately, in today’s world, our mental image of “church” is usually something much bigger or more institutional than a single small group. We say, “I’m going to church,” meaning a building, a mass meeting, or possibly a structured program of some sort. The New Testament never uses the word church that way. Rather it refers to God’s people, called to carry out his mission. The New Testament uses the word church in three basic ways:

  1. The church that meets in the home (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Philemon 1:2)
  2. The church in a certain geographical area (Acts 13:1; Romans 16:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2)
  3. All of God’s called-out people (ecclesia, Matthew 16:18)

My objective here is not to get into a pointless argument about the definition of words (see 1 Timothy 6:4 and 2 Timothy 2:14). I want to help you see what your group really is, or at least what it has the potential to become.

You are the church. You are the body of Christ,

perfectly arranged by God to carry out his mission for his world.  — 1 Corinthians 12:18

If your group is not healthy, this definition may not fit you today. Perhaps you are not seeing God’s mission accomplished through your group at the present time. But I believe there is hope! I believe that God can transform your group into a robust and healthy expression of Christ’s body.

In my new book, Small Group Vital Signs, I put on my doctor’s scrubs and got out my diagnostic instruments to help you measure the health of your group. Then, I provided holistic cures to help your group become the healthy body that God designed it to be.  If you are the group’s leader, don’t attempt to do this alone. Your whole group must be involved!

______

9570800474?profile=originalThis blog is an excerpt from my new book, Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health that Make Groups Flourish (TOUCH Publications) to be released late February, 2012.

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How's Your Small Group Prayer Time?

How’s the prayer time in your small group? Is it something you look forward to or groan at? Are you seeing answers or do you assume that even God is bored? Here’s a resource that will help you. Evaluating Prayer in Your Small Group is a new assessment tool from SmallGroups.com. And I have two articles in it.

Continue reading at Why Didn't You Warn Me?

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The Most Powerful Word In The Bible

If.

Two letters, one word.
Jesus said: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

What is it to be a disciple of Christ?
It is to come after him. A true disciple of Christ is one that follows him in duty and will follow him to glory. A disciple of Christ comes after him like a soldier after his commander. A disciple is one who wants only to see God glorified - one who walks as he walks and is led by his Holy Spirit.

What is required?
If any man will come. Discipleship begins with an option – IF. If any man would come... Discipleship is a deliberate choice, an act of the will. Many fall into discipleship at other’s request or by situation, but Jesus desires that his disciples choose to volunteer themselves as his disciples.

The terms:
1. Let him deny himself. Admission into Christ’s school of discipleship begins with self-denial – it is the first lesson learned and the foundation from which all other lessons are built upon. Those who have learned self-denial are those who deny themselves absolutely and do nothing to seek life on their own terms. They are those who lay down their lives for others and only for their good. They have understood the difference between time and eternity and have chosen to forsake this life for the time to come. They no longer love this life’s rewards such as thinking their time is their own, no longer love leisure, power, authority and financial security for they have discovered how empty these really are. They become free to follow Christ and in so doing, will inherit eternal life and begin immediately to experience abundant life and the benefits of truly following Christ Jesus.

2. Let him take up his cross. The troubles of believers are rightly called crosses – troubles including God’s afflictions, persecution for righteousness’ sake, troubles we encounter whether for doing well or for not doing evil. Isaiah calls this the bread of adversity and the water of affliction - my cross, my troubles are my substance (Is. 30:20). Every disciple has his cross. Every disciple must bear the cross that God has provided. My cross is not your cross. Your cross is not mine. I must not avoid, add to, or take away from that which Father God has made for me. I must take up my cross and not think what I am facing as an accident or evil, but I must rejoice in my afflictions for I know that it is working for my good. I must deny myself the pleasure of sin and the fleeting, deceptive advantages of this present evil age for Christ.

3. Let him follow me. If I have denied myself, have taken up my cross, I now can follow Christ. He then bears my cross for me and bears it from me. I must follow Christ in all instances of holiness and obedience. As a disciple, I must study and imitate Christ, conforming myself to his example, regardless of what the world suggests or what troubles lie ahead. I must do well and I must suffer troubles for this is the way of Christ. A disciple studies to imitate their Master, and conforms themselves in every thing to his example, and continues in well doing, whatever troubles lie in their way. To do well and to suffer ill is to follow Christ. If any man will come after me, let him follow me. Those that come after Christ must follow after him.

If anyone would...
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Developing A Discipleship Ministry

We know that Jesus was the greatest disciple maker who has ever lived, but how did He begin?

Though Jesus had many who followed, He chose only twelve ordinary men with a mixture of backgrounds and personalities to be His disciples. Jesus’ entire ministry depended upon these men who would go on to start the Christian Church. He began His discipleship ministry in prayer:

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles” (Luke 6:12,13).

Jesus then selected the men His Father told Him to choose for He only did what He saw His Father doing – Jesus saw these men in prayer and then hand-selected them from the multitudes: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19).

Jesus focused His time in prayer, communion and fellowship with His Father and then He selected His men. This is paramount to fulfilling Jesus’ model for making disciples.

Jesus chose a few in prayer, and prayer was His first priority as He continued to make them into life-long disciples.

Jesus focused on a few and He did nothing without first having prayed.

Though Jesus’ vision was enormous, He focused on just a handful of men. In so doing, He demonstrated the power of small beginnings:

“He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches” (Matthew 13:31,32)

Our Lord Jesus focused on twelve men to change the world and to whom He would give the task of building His church. He spent the majority of His ministry life pouring into an obscure, seemingly insignificant group of twelve very unlikely men. As Lord, He knew the power of small beginnings, the power of seedtime and harvest.

What we learn is that bigger is not always better. In discipleship, it is better to do more with a few than to do little with many. It is better to have a few very committed people than it is to have an army of mediocrity. We are so programmed to believe that the evidence of a successful ministry is how much, or how big, or how many. We turn to programs again and again that create mechanically produced leaders, but who are not prepared to stand, walk, and engage in spiritual battle. They lack much for they are still entangled in past hurts, offenses, bitterness, divisiveness, not firmly established in the Word of God, and have not learned to walk in the Holy Spirit of God. Too often, they are released to work for Him before they understand their position in Him.

These first two steps are important in developing a discipleship ministry that produces disciples into the third and fourth generation.

May God grant that we become disciple-making churches.


Doug Morrell

CoreDiscipleship.com

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2011: The Year of Relationships

On New Year's Day of 2010, I began a new practice that I'm continuing next year. I had read John Eldridge's New Year's Eve post about his annual practice of asking God for a theme for the coming year. Last year, I heard God say the word more. Since 2009 had been a very difficult year, that word really scared me at first. I did not think I could take more of the same. But then I heard God complete the theme: more Jesus. See my 2010 New Year's Day blog here to read more.

The past year has still been a tough year. It wasn't more of the same from 2009, but there were definitely lots of challenges. I got through 2010 because of God's fulfilled promise of more Jesus.

I spent more time with Jesus on a regular basis this past year, and those times have been rich and rewarding. But more than just time spent with him, I have sensed more of his presence and power in my life than ever. Like monster truck rallies, I felt MORE POWER! I'm hoping for even more of that in 2011.

Over the last several weeks, I've been asking God for a theme word or phrase for next year. What I believe I'm hearing is relationships. This is a key word for me right now. I desire for God to strengthen my relationships on every level:

  1. Continue to grow in my relationship with my Father. That's where it all starts! If I have a strong relationship with him, I believe he will strengthen my other relationships as well (see Matthew 6:33).
  2. Continue growing in my relationship with my wife, Heidi. Next to my Father, this is my most vital relationship. I still have a lot to learn here!
  3. Continue to invest into my relationship with my kids, Jordan, Dru, Sarah, and Annie. I want to be a good steward of what God has entrusted to me, and, next to Heidi, they are the best gifts and responsibilities he has given me.
  4. Invest into my relationships with our small group leadership team and leaders. I tend towards the task-oriented/achiever side of leadership. Like many other small group pastors I know, I love vision and implementing it through strategies. (Alan Danielson wrote a great six-part series of blogs titled "The Problem with Small Group Pastors." Start here to read this series. See his Triple-Threat Leadership graphic here.) I desire to be a more relational leader, and it takes effort and Christ's power to move in that direction. This year, I'm going to be very intentional about this.

I believe I needed more Jesus before I could successfully strengthen and build my relationships. God is at work, and I can't wait to see what he does in 2011.

How about you? What theme is God giving you for 2011?

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How different we would be if we were to follow Jesus' plan for Biblical reconciliation.

Disciples must confront each other about their sins privately,
and never engage in or be a party to gossip and tale-bearing. This article provides a step-by-step process "If a brother sins against you."

This should be one of the first lessons taught and lived out by those discipling others. Disciples must confront each other about their sins privately, and never engage in or be a party to gossip and tale-bearing.

Read and do what Jesus said without addition or excuse:
Jesus said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15).

First, Christ is speaking about a brother. This passage applies only to believers.

Secondly, Jesus is talking about sin. “If a brother sins….” The Greek word used is hamartano which means to miss the mark and not share in the prize. The mark is God’s holy law. It means that we should not take offense over personality differences, cultural differences, socioeconomic differences, etc. Because we are sinners, we do not need fairness – we need mercy.

Thirdly, the sin committed is personal - it is against you and not someone else. Christ is discussing private offenses and not public sins. If the sin is committed against you alone, or if you observe a brother commit a sin in private, then you are required to keep the matter private and go to your brother. Public sins are handled in a different manner. A sin that is public and known by the whole church requires a public rebuke and repentance.

If a disciple overhears a conversation between two believers in which he thinks something offensive was said by one believer to another, it is the person’s responsibility to whom the statement was directed to either overlook the matter in love or confront the person who made the statement. The person who overheard the conversation has absolutely no business taking offense and spreading the matter around the church when the person to whom the statement was made has not taken offense and would like to drop the matter altogether. If you believe that a brother is covering a sin that is so serious that you think it needs to be dealt with, then go to him privately and discuss it. But Christians who go about the church and meddle in affairs that should not concern them are gossips and busybodies and unnecessarily disturb the peace of Christ’s church. Gossip is sin.

Lastly, the offended brother is to go and confront the brother who sinned in private and alone. “You, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” This is the first command in the text. This is a divine imperative from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ. This procedure for dealing with a brother who has committed sin is not optional for disciples. These are not suggestions. These are not just words of advice.

Often when accusations are leveled against a brother behind his back and spread throughout the church and the accuser and accused disagree, factions or camps develop within the church. People have a tendency to take sides in a dispute. When those on opposite sides become heated and obstinate, often the result is a serious schism among the brethren. How many churches have a split because someone did not obey Christ’s simple command to go to a brother privately and keep the matter private? Such divisions often take years to heal. It is a great sin to bring dissension and strife into the body of Christ. Elders have a solemn responsibility to ensure that Christ’s instructions are followed. Those who disobey Christ and bring strife and bitterness into the church must be rebuked publicly before all. When church leaders know that Christ’s command has been violated and yet do nothing, they are partly to blame for the resulting chaos this brings to God’s Church.

Why are you to go to your brother?
You are there to bring about biblical reconciliation. The passage says: “If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” Which means that the erring brother has agreed with you, admitted his sin and that you are now reconciled with your brother. But what is biblical reconciliation?

Apologies are fine when you accidentally bump into someone at the shopping mall but they should never be used as a substitute for biblical reconciliation. Whenever sin is involved it is simply not enough to say “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” Jay Adams explains why: “An apology is an inadequate humanistic substitute for the real thing. Nowhere do the Scriptures require, or even encourage, apologizing. To say ‘I’m sorry’ is a human dodge for doing what God has commanded.” The biblical response is to say: “Yes, I am guilty. I have sinned against you. Will you forgive me?” The reason that an apology is inadequate when actual sin has occurred is because it does not elicit a proper biblical response. When a believer admits his guilt and then says: “Will you forgive me?”, the Christian who has come to confront him regarding his sin must say: “Yes, I forgive you.” This places the ball in his court. He must either explicitly forgive or openly rebel against God. When the brother says, “I forgive you,” he promises never to bring the matter up against you; never to bring the matter up again to others (even his spouse); and never to bring the matter up to himself by dwelling on it and dredging up bitterness, etc. This is biblical reconciliation.

Are you offended or angry with someone right now? What are you doing to resolve your differences? Don't let this day end before you begin to work on mending your relationship. Be a doer, not just a hearer of God’s Word.

Let us purpose to grow in grace and in truth.

Doug Morrell
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Solitude First

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I've been blogging a short series about our inner life, discipleship, community, and ministry, inspired by an article by Henri Nouwen years ago in the Spring 1995 issue of Leadership. Find the most recent blog here.

A short excerpt from the blog that you may find interesting:

It seems to me that in today's church culture, we put everything else in front of solitude.

  • Some put discipleship first. They say it all starts here. That we have to teach people how to grow and serve and share their faith.
  • Some put evangelism first. Our first priority, they say, is to carry out the mission to make disciples.
  • Some put leadership first. Everything begins with leaders who model the abundant life and bring others along, right?
  • Some put community first. After all, they say, all of this good stuff happens in the environment of authentic Biblical community. So we have to build small groups.

Jesus said, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." We seek God's Kingdom by being committed to the King.

Pleasr check out the rest of the blog here and I'd love to hear what you think.

Feel free to subscribe to my Small Group Leadership blog at http://smallgroupleadership.blogspot.com/.

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