Friday, July 18, 2014

The Final 4 Vital Characteristics of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader

In my previous post, I shared the first 4 characteristics of a life-changing leader. Read that post first. While those are the most fundamental, the next 4 are no less vital:

5. Healthy small group leaders are friends with non-Christ-followers
Small group leaders may or may not have the spiritual gift of evangelism, but they do intentionally seek out friendships with those who are not yet friends with God. These friendships are genuine and unconditional . . . no strings attached. Yes, they pray diligently for their friends and watch for opportunities to share their story and the gospel, but they don’t leverage the relationship to force conversations about Christ. Rather, they allow God to use them to shine his light. They allow the overflow of God’s love to pour out of their lives naturally.

6. Healthy small group leaders are shepherds
Transformed, surrendered leaders invest relationally into and lovingly guide the group that God puts under their care. I believe being a shepherd is the main role of the small group leader. All the other attributes describe how to do this one well.

“He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young” (Isaiah 40:11, NLT). Great small group leaders invest relationally into the individual members of the group, and not just during group meetings! Do you know the spiritual condition of your flock (Proverbs 27:23)? The biggest difference between a teacher, facilitator, or host and a shepherd leader is that the former do not necessarily need to know their sheep or lead them spiritually. But that is precisely the role of the shepherd-leader.

7. Healthy small group leaders are servants-first
Jesus made this one very clear. You can’t be a leader in his kingdom unless you first have the heart of a servant. Why do you want to lead? If it is because it is the best way for you to serve the group, then you are on the right track. If you desire leadership for any other reason, reconsider this role. Find another way to serve the group first.

8. Healthy small group leaders are growing in competence
While leading a healthy small group has more to do with heart than skills, a healthy leader is a learner. So remain teachable. Keep reading leadership articles, books, and blogs. Go to every leader training class your church offers. Listen to leadership podcasts and attend leader training events offered in your area.

Most importantly, spend time with Christ every day. Be in his Word, not just to study leadership principles (which are ample in the Bible), but to be filled up so that you may overflow into the lives of others.

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This post is adapted from my book, SmallGroup Vital Signs (TOUCH Publications). 

More About Healthy Leadership

5 Minute Daily Devotions for Leaders ... C'mon Man!
Leader Burnout Is Universal
Silencing the Monkeys in the Banana Tree

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The First 4 Vital Characteristics of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader

One of the fundamental differences between healthy and unhealthy small groups is the spiritual vitality of the leaders. While imperfect, healthy leaders have a soft heart that God can use to accomplish his will. They are highly committed first to God, and then to the group. Healthy leaders have at least eight attributes. Today I'll share the first four:

1. Healthy small group leaders have been transformed
One of your main functions as a small group leader is to build an environment where spiritual transformation is experienced. This happens best when you have first experienced transformation yourself. What happened to Peter and the other disciples between the gospels and Acts to bring about the transformation they experienced? It was a process that Jesus began three years earlier but that came to fruition with the power of the resurrection (John 20), the power of reconciliation (John 21), and finally the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Then Jesus used these transformed leaders to build a great, world-transforming church. He can do the same through you when you spend time with him and allow him to transform your life!

2. Healthy small group leaders live surrendered to God
One thing the apostles learned from Jesus was how to live and lead in surrender to God’s will. Great small group leaders turn to Christ for everything: who to invite to the group, the group’s purpose, and the what to study. To do this, you must pray and then wait before making decisions. Great group leaders know if they surrender their leadership to Christ they will accomplish far more than they can do in their own power.

3. Healthy small group leaders are committed to their calling
God first calls people to lead, then he gifts them to lead, and last, he empowers them to lead. The leadership God has entrusted to you is a precious gift of his grace (Ephesians 3:7) you should never take for granted. Accept it willingly, develop it, and multiply it by the mighty working of his power. Be a good steward of his gift to you!

4. Healthy small group leaders are friends
Jesus called his group members “friends.” But perhaps that word meant more to Jesus than we think: “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus said, “that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Real friendship is sacrificial.

A healthy leader considers the members of the group as his or her friends, not as students, participants, or “people who show up to our meetings.” As the leader, you invest into those friendships. A group member from our church wrote:

Joe and I have been in small group with Gary for about five years now. I wasn’t sure about joining a “Bible study,” but this group is so much more. The friendships we have formed are everlasting. Our small group, with Gary as our leader, not only studies the Bible, but we hold each other up; we encourage each other in good and bad times; we have moments where we laugh and sometimes cry; we love each other no matter what; and we know in our hearts that Jesus Christ is always with us. Gary keeps us focused, and he is one of the best friends Joe and I could ever have!

Wouldn’t you want someone in your group to say the same about you? Become their friend!

Read the next four vital characteristics of a life-changing leader.

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This post is adapted from my book, SmallGroup Vital Signs (TOUCH Publications). 

More About Healthy Leadership

5 Minute Daily Devotions for Leaders ... C'mon Man!
Leader Burnout Is Universal
Silencing the Monkeys in the Banana Tree

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Small Group Peloton: 7 Principles Your Group Can Learn from Cyclists in the Tour de France

Are you watching the Tour de France? One of the most remarkable elements in the race is the peloton. Cyclists ride in tight packs to save energy by drafting (up to a 40 percent reduction in drag in a well-formed peloton), but there are many more advantages of the peloton, including the encouragement from other riders and the teamwork involved.

I enjoy cycling in a group: riding together, taking turns at the front, talking about life as we roll along, and helping one another when bikes or bodies break down. There is a sense of community on these rides.

Authentic community is an indicator of a healthy small group that I discuss in my book Small Group Vital Signs. Your group cannot be healthy and growing if you are not living in authentic, biblical community.

Here are seven principles for developing authentic community that we can learn from cyclists:
  1. Become a Group. Before you can build teamwork, you need to know one another. A great cycling team, as in any sport, spends time together, getting to know one another personally. It's really good to know the tendencies of the people I ride with. Same goes with small group members.
  2. Develop Bonds of Trust. In the peloton or even a paceline, you must trust the riders in front of and around you. If a rider in front of you just touches his or her brakes, it can cause many riders to crash. In a small group, you must develop a trust among one another. For one, discuss the vitality of confidentiality. Group members must be able to trust others in the group for authenticity to take hold. To go along with this one, a great cycling team and small group develops a commitment to one another and to their shared goals as a team. Trust and commitment go together like a chain and cogs. 
  3. Become a Team. Each cycling team member has his or her own unique strengths and weaknesses. Some are sprinters, some are climbers, and some are "domestiques," that is, cyclists whose role is to support and work for other riders. It's important for your group members to know what gifts and talents they bring to the group--for the good of the group. Every single group member should have a role. 
  4. Develop the Team. Your work is not finished once you form a team. Cycling teams spend lots of time on the road practicing for all kinds of different situations during events. As your small group works together using your individual gifts and roles, both during group meetings and as you serve others together, your teamwork will become stronger and stronger. But you must get out of your comfort zones to make this happen! 
  5. Share Leadership. In a paceline, each rider takes turns up front. This is a way of serving the team, and it is often hard work. But everyone takes a turn, giving the others some time to recover for their next time up front. (A leech is a rider who takes advantage of the draft from other riders but never takes a turn up front. Be sure you don't have any leeches in your group!) Now here's the really cool part. In a good paceline, the front rider actually gets a small help from the riders behind him or her. Somehow, and I don't quite understand the science behind it, the slipstream provides a kind of "push" for the front rider. Sharing leadership with your group may be the best thing for the group you ever do! 
  6. Confess and Speak the Truth in Love. Cycling team members must get really good at real, transparent communication with one another. They know that to get better as individuals and as a team, they must be able to say "my fault" or correct other riders. Learn how to care enough to confront sinful behavior in an environment of unconditional love and with God’s grace. If you can’t speak the truth in love (and with the person’s best interest at heart) then you’re not ready to speak. Keep praying. 
  7. Have Fun Together! Riding with a finely tuned team is lots of fun. You go faster and can ride farther together. Healthy, genuine community should be exciting and fun! Laughing together builds friendships and can even build trust and set the stage for deeper discussions. 

More Post on Authentic Community

Community Is Not All It Should Be (even in Brazil)
5 Surefire Ways to Screw Up a Small Group
Relearning our New Testament Calling

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

4 Specific Things You Can Do to Make Your Group More Christ-Centered

You may be familiar with this graphic that shows how to
live a Christ-directed life. How could you apply this to
your small group? 
Over more than 20 years of doing small group ministry, I’ve learned this: There are many skills and techniques you can learn to help you lead a good group. But nothing else even comes close to the magnitude of the first vital sign of a healthy group.

A healthy group is Christ-centered. Christ is the real leader, and the group is primarily focused on him, experiencing his presence, carrying out his purposes, and living by his power. This is where group health starts, because all the other vital signs are dependent upon how well you as a leader keep Christ at the center of your life and your group. When you put yourself or anyone or anything else at the center of the group you’ll lack the power to accomplish much of anything.

So here are 4 specific ways you can make your group more Christ-centered.

1. Recognize His Presence. I begin every meeting with a worshipful prayer, recognizing Christ’s presence with us and his leadership of the group. I sometimes include Matthew 18:20 in my prayer, remembering that Jesus said that whenever two or more come together in his name, he is actually there in our midst. Then I watch for what he does during our meeting. It's sometimes easy for me to forget that Christ is actually there in our midst throughout the meeting. He does not leave us during the Bible study. His Spirit is there to help us understand and apply his Word. He certainly does not forsake us during our prayer time. He hears each of our requests, so we don’t have to repeat them back to him at the end!

2. Depend on His Power. I find that many groups need to learn to take members’ hurts and problems to Jesus, not just to one another. I often hear concerned group members give all kinds of advice for a person’s personal issues during the sharing of prayer concerns. As the leader, ask members to simply listen, and then take the concerns to Jesus—not to a recommended book, a miracle diet or exercise program, a referred doctor, or even a platitudinous Bible verse.

3. Seek His Purposes. “What are Christ’s purposes for our group?” Begin with that question and then study the Great Commission and other passages. Ask, “Why did Jesus say he came into the world?” (to seek and save the lost), and then remind the group that just as the Father sent him into the world, so he sends us into the world (John 17:18). Ask the group to imagine some big ways you as a group could make an impact on your community. Ask them to imagine something so big that if God isn’t in it, it would be destined to fail. Then read Ephesians 3:20, and make some God-sized plans!

4. Move Beyond Study. As you open God’s Word as a small group, don’t just study Jesus as the historical figure of antiquity. Move beyond discussion about the stories of what Jesus did, to talk about—better yet, experience—what he is doing. He is indeed present in your group meetings—right now. Recognizing this will make all the difference in your group.

More Posts on Christ-Centeredness

Friday, June 20, 2014

UPDATE: You Can't Teach an Old Blog New Tricks

A quick update today.

I've launched a new blog, called "Life's Highs & Lows: Living Life to the Fullest Despite the Circumstances." Those circumstances include living with type-1 diabetes, which I've been doing since 1971, but the blog will include more than that.

While the blog you are reading right now will continue to tackle issues dealing with small groups, discipleship, leadership, and whatever, the new blog will be my personal site where I'll talk about living positively with diabetes, writing, marriage and family, and other stuff I'm passionate about.

Why start another blog? Simply put, I've found that trying to combine the two isn't very effective. The subject matter is just too disparate (that's my Word of the Day: disparate). 

So ... if you';ve come here recently because of my posts about diabetes, please go to and follow my new blog site. But if you're interested in tips and ideas about groups and leadership, please stay engaged here!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Secrret Sauce to Awesome Small Group Meetings: the 3 Main Ingredients

Great small group meetings don't just happen. They take careful preparation and the right ingredients. Here are the the three most essential elements in the recipe:

1. The Real Presence of God: Simply put, a group cannot be awesome without an AWE of the presence of God in your midst. Recognizing God's presence with you leads naturally to worship. And worship does not end after your opening prayer or singing. Your sharing, study, and strategizing all take place in God's presence, for his purposes, and with his power. A Christian small group that does not worship is a paradox.

2. The All-In Presence of People Truly Seeking God: Call it community or fellowship or life together or what you wish, it is vital that group members are much more than merely group members; they must become, over time, friends and even family. As the current TV commercial puts it, they're framily. When framily members gather together they are not merely in attendance, they are completely present with and for one another. They are fully there to give and receive support, encouragement, accountability, prayer, and ministry. All this is summed up by Jesus' simple command: "Love one another."

3. A Courageous Leader: The third ingredient, the leader, is vital for bringing the first two ingredients together to create a flavorful group meeting sauce. If we were to describe God as "sweet" and people as "bitter" or "sour," we could then describe the leader as "umami" or "savory." The leader's job is simple: to bring the framily into the the real presence of God. To accomplish this, the leader must be a seeker of God and a shepherd of God's people. By the way, a solo leader will not be effective or last very long in this role. he or she must share leadership responsibilities with other framily members.

These are not the only ingredients in the recipe of an awesome group, of course, but if you have these three, all the other ingredients will come in and blend in much more easily and naturally (see Matthew 6:33).

Is your group AWEsome? How do these three ingredients blend well in your group? 

More Posts to Read on this Topic:

Jesus' Small Group Was a Dysfunctional Mess
10 Stupid Things That Are Keeping Your Small Group from Growing
The Missing Ingredient in American Churches and Groups
Learn How to Lead a Small Group Discussion from Jim Lehrer

Friday, June 6, 2014

Dealing with Disease, Staying Healthy, and the BIG Connection

Over the last month, I've been writing about living life with type-1 diabetes (see the posts here). During this time, I've also been involved in several social media groups for people with diabetes, diabetic athletes, and even cyclists with diabetes. And I've noticed something quite intriguing.

I've seen many posts like these:
Depressed and hate being diabetic. 
Anyone else just feel like all of this is crap. I have days where I do pretty good, and then days like today that I HATE this thing called diabetes. I just want to eat what I want and not have to worry about the carbs that are there. I just want to be happy again.
I'm so *fishnetting* tired of this *schnitzel* I can't take it no more my sugar either to high or to low.... I'm seriously going to lose my mind! I hate everything about it! [*I made some word-choice revisions to clean up this post.]

Then there are more positive posts, such as these:
23 years with type 1; still going strong!
I have been diabetic 10 years and really found my passion for athletics 4 years ago. I am a whole foods high carb low fat vegan who loves crossfit and lifting heavy stuff. I also just started training for my first half marathon.

Rode the Tour de Cure - Silicon Valley this weekend; 75km course. A great ride, great day, big crowd and a very well run event. What fun to be a Red Rider! The cheers and friendly support from riders all along the course was a real lift!

I've observed a general proneness for people who have a strong faith and those who are involved in some athletic or fitness pursuit to be mostly positive about their diabetes. I've also noticed that those who have a supportive community--whether that's family, friends, fellow athletes, or fellow church members--around them are much more positive about their illnesses.

This is where the BIG connection comes in. All of us have imperfect bodies that tend to fail in one way or another at some point in our lives. I know of no one over 20 who hasn't had at least some sort of health complication. The difference is how they handle it. 

I tend toward a holistic approach to my health. In other words, I can be the most healthy, even with type-1 diabetes for more than 40 years, if I eat right; exercise regularly; hang out with supportive, encouraging people; choose to focus my mind and emotions on the positive; and walk with God each day. And the last of those is the most vital, of course. 

Let me explain it this way. In a particular online group for people with diabetes, someone posted that her "religious" father-in-law (she confided she was not religious) told her that following the Daniel Plan in the Bible would cure her type-1 diabetes. She wondered how she could put her father-in-law "in his place without insulting his religion. How do [I] put him in check with reality and stop him from thinking that the bible is the only way to cure everything?"

I thought it was a very good question. Here's how I responded. See what you think:
Your father-in-law's error was not with his faith or his "religion," but with the basic facts about type-1 diabetes. This happens all the time. The Daniel Plan is a healthy way of eating, and if our bodies are healthy, of course many diseases can be avoided. But that's simply not true for t1. Christians believe what we do about what is in the Bible simply because we believe God is the creator, and as such he knows how the universe, our civilization, and our bodies work best. And that's pretty much the idea behind the story in the Bible in Daniel 1. Read it for yourself; it's a pretty cool story:
I could have shared a lot more than this, of course, but my point is simple: How do we deal well with a disease we have, whether it's a physical disease such as diabetes, a mental or emotional issue, the social disease of loneliness, or the spiritual disease of sin? Who knows best how to treat these illnesses and issues? The one who created us.

As I read through God's Word I see all the other components of holistic health brought together as well. One of those in particular that I'm passionate about is the social aspect. God created us in such a way that we are to do life together. The support and encouragement we get from and give to one another are part of his prescription for living healthy lives in every aspect.

Our God created everything and connects everything. Our part is simply to trust him, and I believe when we do, God gives us life to the full, regardless of our diseases.