Friday, February 13, 2015

How to Start Every Day: This WILL Change Everything!

How did your day start today? 

Let me take a few guesses. 

Some of you rolled out of bed and thought to yourself, Oh no. It's Friday the 13th. I wonder what bad thing will happen to me today. 

Or maybe you thought, Tomorrow is February 14 ... and then ...
  • I've got to get to the store today!
  • I can't wait till tomorrow!
  • I'm going to dread tomorrow!
Or perhaps you simply started the day like most other days, thinking about all the things to do before the weekend, all the calls to make, all the bills to pay, all the worries to worry about ...

I feel blessed today. I started my day reading from Psalm 146:

Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. 
I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live (vv. 1-2).

This psalm begins with the Hebrew word, Hallelu. You know, Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! But the psalmist isn't saying this to others. He's telling himself to praise the Lord! It's a necessary reminder to himself, to his soul, to give praise to God. 

This is something that ought to come naturally to us, and I imagine it did to humans before sin. But now so many other things, other priorities, other worries, distract us. And so we must constantly, daily, remind ourselves each day to Hallelu, praise the Lord, my soul!

Starting your day this way changes everything! 

As in Psalm 145 and other places, the psalmist is acting upon his will, not just his emotions or his intellect. I will praise the Lord! 

As I start each day, I may or may not think I should praise the Lord. I may or may not feel like spending time with Him and worshiping Him. This is a matter of the will. I will praise the Lord all my life. This is my priority. I will seek Him first (Matt. 6:33), above all else. I will love Him with my whole being. I will, because this is now who I am, a new person in Christ Jesus.

When I start my day with Hallelu, praising the Lord, I am telling my soul and I am reaffirming to God, and I am modeling for my family that He is my top priority. He is transcendent, above all else to me. I'm starting my day acknowledging that He is my God, my only God, and I won't have any other gods in my life. 

Yes, I will praise the Lord! 

How about you? 

More Posts on This Subject

The Lord Is on Our Side
Silencing the Monkeys in the Banana Trees
Five Straightforward Steps for Making God's Word a Daily Part of Your Life
The Most Important Thing You Do Today: It's Not Reading the Bible!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How to Kill an Unhealthy Small Group

How do you kill an unhealthy group?

I've been asked this question a number of times, but I believe it begins with a faulty premise. Yes, some small groups are unhealthy, but that doesn't warrant killing them off.

Several years ago, my friend Brian Jones wrote a blog post, “Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups." Many churches have lowered the bar of small group leadership to an absurd level, says Jones. I agree with him that hosts or facilitators cannot reproduce life and bring about spiritual transformation. Nondisciples cannot produce disciples. Yes, some small groups are unhealthy. They may have unhealthy leaders or unhealthy dynamics, or perhaps they have developed some unhealthy patterns.

Because some groups are unhealthy, Jones said he believes churches should kill off their small groups. I would like to offer a second opinion. Don’t euthanize your small group(s)!

As any good doctor would do for an unhealthy patient, I think church leaders should start by diagnosing the health of their groups. That’s what we did years ago at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, through our Small Groups Health Assessment (the 42-question assessment is available at www.touchusa.org/free-small-group-health-assessment and is absolutely free). Once you have diagnosed the health of your group(s), you can make a prognosis. What needs to happen to help the group(s) become healthy? Good training and coaching are major parts of the treatment program for unhealthy groups. Be sure the small groups under your care are led by disciples who love God and his people and have shepherd hearts.

I wrote my book, Small Group Vital Signs, to help churches and groups diagnose and then improve the health of their groups. If you think your group is unhealthy, or if you are a church leader and you wonder about the health of the groups under your care, perhaps this book can help you. So put away the sterile needles and let’s work on some positive remedies!

More About Healthy Groups

The Secrret Sauce to Awesome Small Group Meetings: the 3 Main Ingredients
Jesus' Small Group Was a Dysfunctional Mess
10 Stupid Things That Are Keeping Your Small Group from Growing

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.