Tuesday, January 27, 2015

5 Ways to SERVE Your Leaders Well

Yesterday I wrote about what leaders really need from us as leaders of leaders. Today, let's get more practical.

What do leaders really need? I developed a simple acrostic to help me and other leaders of leaders remember what is really important. It's the responsibility of every leader of leaders—whether that's a pastor, other ministry staff person, or volunteer coach—to provide these 5 things consistently.  

Support – Leaders need prayer support and they need to know that they are being cared for. Every leader needs to have a shepherd who prays for them daily and is always available – through a phone call, email, or visit – for any kind of support needed. Shepherds never call meetings with their leaders or demand anything from them. They are there to serve the leaders.
Encouragement – Leaders need lots of encouragement to keep going, no matter what. A leader of leaders can schedule luncheons throughout the city several times a year just to encourage leaders in their ministry. But encouragement is a lot more than lunch. I’ve found that, no matter how many leaders we have in our ministry, I must work very hard at developing and sustaining relationships with them. No, it’s not easy with so many leaders. But when you don’t have a heavy structure to maintain and a layer of coaches to work with, you'll have considerably more time.
Resources – Leaders need for us to provide good resources for them. That means curriculum, of course, but it also means a variety of other resources that will help them do their ministry well. Many churches provide these resources through their website. However you avail them, resources are important.
Validation – Leaders need to know they are valued. Many churches validate only what is programmed by the church. Try to validate anything and everything that is ministry in community. That means getting out of the typical churchy boxes that institutional ministries often find themselves in.
Equipping – Leaders need good training, both upfront – before they begin to lead – and ongoing. Provide both and do everything you possibly can to provide the best, most creative, most dynamic, training you can. Provide food at events. Provide childcare when you can. Make the times convenient. If someone can’t come to “your” training event, take it to them, in their home, to their workplace, in a special session with a few leaders at church – whatever. Do everything you can to remove obstacles to equipping leaders. You're in your role to serve them. 

What do leaders really need? Yes, they need love, relationships, freedom, … but the way to provide these things is by serving them. Maybe that’s the thing there’s really too little of!

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More Posts for Leaders of Leaders

Ralph W. Neighbour: What We Can Learn from this Pioneer in the Groups Movement
Lyman Coleman: Small Groups Are Much More Than an Assimilation Strategy
The Missing Ingredient in American Churches and Groups

Monday, January 26, 2015

What Every Leader Needs from You

I've made it a regular, ongoing practice in my ministry to ask the leaders under my care, “What do you need? How can we help you most in your ministry?” If I were to sum up their typical response in one line, it would sound something like an old Carpenter’s song:

“What a leader needs now … is love, sweet love.”

No matter how much I do, how many classes I teach, how many awards I give, what structure I have in place, they need love more than anything else from me. “It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of!”

Small group ministry is by nature a relational ministry. So I believe the support system / structure / leadership community – whatever you want to call it – ought to be intensely relational in nature as well.

I have the privilege of consulting with church leaders and coaching small group champions in churches. I also often lead training seminars in churches all over the U.S. and other countries as well. It's fascinating for me to be the outsider looking in at how a ministry and leadership development and support are organized. 

Back when I was just starting to get involved in small group ministry 25 years ago, many church-growth gurus who had studied the phenomenal growth of churches in America and other countries were writing books and conducting seminars to help churches build organizational systems and strategies to bring about that kind of growth through groups here in the United States. Churches, searching for some way to jumpstart growth and get their hands around the concept of small groups, bought the books and seminars and bought into the principles whole hog.

Here’s what I believe happened over time: small groups became another program in many local churches. We've taken a very simple, natural, relational concept, and we've institutionalized it. Perhaps we need to deinstitutionalize small groups and, at the same time, esteem and value natural, relational, creative ministry that can happen when we give people the freedom and support to do it.

So let's get back to my original question: What do leaders really need?

First, they need freedom to do the ministry that God puts on their hearts. One of the jobs of a small group pastor is to create an environment where people sense that they have that kind of freedom. Freedom to be creative. Freedom to experiment. Freedom to fail. For this to happen in the church, you have to release control. Surrender the need to manage everything that happens. Ephesians 4 tells us that Christ is the Head of the Body, not you or me (v. 15). Your responsibility is to “equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (v. 12, NLT).

Second, people need equipping to carry out their ministries successfully (as we see in Ephesians 4). God provides them with the passion and the calling to do his work. He has called leaders of leaders to train them to carry it out.

Third, they need relationships in which to serve. They need a community that encourages them, validates them, keeps them accountable, keeps them going when things are tough. I played with the coaching structure at our church until I developed one that worked to provide those things for our leaders. The typical 5x5 structure wasn't working, so I found some things that did. It was as simple as as thinking about different levels and types of leaders and then asking what type of support they needed from us. Rather than trying to fit your leaders into your coaching and support system, fit your system to your leaders. 

What do leaders really need? I developed a simple acrostic to help us remember what is really important: SERVE . . . which I'll share in my next post. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation this Christmas Season - #6 & 7: Party and Plan

Today I'm giving my last 2 of 7 ideas your group, class, or family can use to celebrate Christmas. See 1-5 here.


Throw a Party
The holidays are an excellent time for a party with a purpose. Be creative: make it a story party, where each person comes prepared to share a short story about a Christmas past; or have a birthday party of Jesus with the kids. The main thing is to make this a party to which everyone can invite friends, especially those who don’t fully understand the meaning of Christmas. As Jesus did with Matthew’s friends in Matthew 9, simply enjoy the opportunity to connect with one another, and see what God will do.


Plan for a New Year
Sometime in December or early January, gather group members for a fun gathering that you use to plan for 2015. Start thinking and preparing for this planning party now, in December.

For many of us, the holidays are the biz, biz, busiest time of the year. Talk to your group members now to discuss some of the things you won’t do this year so that you can experience Immanuel—God with us—and be an Incarnational small group by taking the message of Jesus into the world around you.



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation this Christmas Season - #5: Start Some New Traditions

This is Day 5 of my 7 ideas your group, class, or family can use to celebrate Christmas. See 1-4 here.

For most of us, the holidays are about traditions: taking a drive to see the lights, decorating the house together, going to local events, and, of course, going to church services. Why not invite those from your group or others who are lonely to join you in some of your traditions? 

One Thanksgiving, I got to know a young man named Mark who lived at a homeless shelter. I invited Mark to some our family and church events during the holidays, and he enjoyed spending time with us. Mark had many needs, some of which we could not provide for, but we could reach out to him and offer him friendship, hospitality, and the love of Jesus. My family and I also benefitted from inviting Mark into our family traditions. His presence with us made those traditions even more meaningful for us. It’s easy to sing, “Go Tell It on the Mountain”; it’s another thing to go tell a homeless person that Jesus Christ is born.

Start new traditions with your small group. Each year several groups at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, help provide Thanksgiving meals for families who would otherwise not have a nice meal. They not only buy it, but they deliver it and pray for the families. Many of the groups at Northeast also work with Operation Christmas Child each year. One group basically “owns” this event, organizing it months in advance, helping collect shoe boxes and running the distribution center on our church property. Your small group tradition can be little or big; what matters is to do something together for the least of these.

Monday, December 15, 2014

7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation: #4: Give Gifts

This is Day 4 of my 7 ideas your group or class or family can use to celebrate Christmas. See 1-3 here.

Years ago, I read +Dick Alexander’s sage advice about gift giving that I've never forgotten. “Gifts are an integral part of Christmas,” he said, “but they can either express or distort its meaning.” He suggested limiting our gift giving to one another (in the family or small group). Your family or group may usually exchange gifts with one another (even though is Jesus’ birth we’re celebrating!). Instead, give gifts to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45).

As the body of Christ in action, your group has the privilege of penetrating the culture by serving people. After all, that’s what the Incarnation is all about. Here are a few ideas:

+Eric Bingaman shared what his small groups at Batesville (Indiana) Christian Church (where he used to be the small groups minister) have done: “Small groups brought in residents of a group home for a Thanksgiving dinner. One group took a Saturday to watch the children of church members so they could get their shopping accomplished. Groups often adopt members of the congregation or community for the holiday. One group went door to door Christmas caroling in their neighborhood.”

+Chris McCall, Small Groups and Care Pastor at Watermark Church in Ashford, Alabama, said, “Our groups have connected with the local schools in our community to provide Christmas for needy families. Groups enjoy it because it’s more than providing gifts for the families; it’s about the relationships built with the families they provided for. A number of our groups have taken this opportunity to help them minister to the families outside of the holiday season throughout the year.”

Yes, Clark, that’s the gift that keeps on giving throughout the entire year.


Friday, December 12, 2014

7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation: #3: Love Those Who Are Struggling

This is Day 3 of my 7 ideas your group, class, or family can use to celebrate Christmas. See #1 HERE. #2

Remember the folks in your circles who struggle this time of year. Many people—inside your group and among your group members’ friends—are vulnerable during the holidays. Many hurting people find it difficult to be thankful at Thanksgiving and come to Christmas feeling like God is far away. They desperately want to know Immanuel—God with them—but he seems more like Exmanuel: God used to be with me, but now I feel like he’s left me ... or, I feel like he is so external to my current experience.

This is one of the best times of year for a small group to reach out to these folks and love them, invite them into your celebrations, and invite them to know more than the “baby Jesus”—to develop a relationship with him who died for them and lives today. People are not only vulnerable, they are open to an invitation to connect during the holidays.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation: #2: Celebrate Immanuel

This is Day 2 of my 7 ideas your group or class or family can use to celebrate Christmas. See #1 HERE.


This Christmas, move past the historical Jesus who was born and lived 2,000 years ago. Consider the living Christ who is still Immanuel, God with us ... the One who is with us whenever we gather together in his name. As a group, discuss and prepare to celebrate the Event of events when the Creator of the universe made himself nothing and took the form of human flesh, a baby, a humble servant, a sacrifice for our sins.

Don’t reserve worship for your Christmas-eve services at the church building. Build up to that celebration by singing worshipful hymns together as a group and finding other ways to praise God for what he did by lovingly sending his only Son into the world.

What ideas do you have for worshiping Jesus as part of your Christmas celebration? Please share them in the comments!