Thursday, August 6, 2015

What Small Groups Should Study and Direction from Above

I just read an interesting article by Eric Geiger at LifeWay. In essence, the article says that most small group leaders are given no direction in what their groups study. Read the article HERE

Here's my reply:
In some ways this is both bad news and good news. The bad news is that leaders and their groups definitely do need more support, equipping, and coaching than many churches provide. Some church leaders have the attitude of, "We have small groups that are meeting together, so discipleship must be taking place." Not good.

But there's some good news tucked away in there too. To borrow the illustration from the article, some pastors would not want an overarching group of leaders in the denomination headquarters telling them what to preach on Sundays. They might say that they know their people better than someone who has never spent time with them. They'd point to the principle of shepherding. In some ways, the same applies to small group leaders. Good, healthy leaders are primarily shepherds who know the sheep under their care, love them, invest in them, and prayerfully seek to lead them, as they follow the Great Shepherd. If these leaders have been well-equipped, church leaders should be able to trust them to shepherd their group members.

Note the IF. It's essential. Shepherd leaders must be equipped, prayed for, loved, invested into, and coached. When they are, that's good news for everyone involved!
One issue involved in this discussion is how we define leadership and oversight. Is the traditional top-down approach or a more decentralized, participative, bottom-up approach better? 

I think this is an important topic, and it includes in it decisions about control, trust, the work of the Holy Spirit, vision, oversight, training, coaching, and more. 

Please weigh in with your thoughts on this! 

MORE ON THIS TOPIC: 

What Every Small Group Leader Needs from their Small Group Pastor
You're A Shepherd, But Not The Shepherd
What's Your Definition of a Small Group Leader?
The Psalm of the No-Good Shepherd



Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What Are the Best Methods and Models for Small Group Ministry?

As a coach and consultant, I'm often asked to talk about the right methods to achieve the goals and mission that the church wants to accomplish. Sometimes the questions sound more sanctified, as I'm asked about the most biblical methods. Other times the discussion forms around models, usually relating to the ones certain successful churches use.

Methods and models often become sacred cows we trust to get results, as if Jesus said, "Those ministries that utilize the best models will bear much fruit. Apart from the correct methods, you can do nothing."

I suppose it's easier that way. Just give me a method or at least a good model, and I can implement it. Three simple steps and voila, paydirt. Methods and models don't take a lot of work and can be implemented quickly. Beginning with mission and culture takes time.

However, the Bible rarely if ever provides one specific method for worship, evangelism, discipleship, community, or anything else of importance.

I was reading Psalm 150 and was struck by all the various ways listed for how and what instruments we can use to worship God. Some commentators imagine a symphony orchestra in this psalm; all these instruments are playing together and people are dancing. I see it more as a list of choices God gives us.
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
     praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
     praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
     praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
     praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
     praise him with loud clanging cymbals (vv. 1-5, NLT).


Note that the passage doesn't even tell us where to worship. It might be in the "sanctuary" or a church building; or it could be outside under the open sky or under the heavens (cf. John 4:21-24).

The main point: "Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord! Praise the Lord!" (v. 6). Praise the Lord is the value. How we praise him is up to us. 

When we try to twist (proof text) the Bible to fit into our preconceived notions of where or how we are to do (or not do) "church," we not only miss the point, but make our faith confusing for people. We also add to God's Word in direct violation of the Scriptures.

God gives us freedom in methodology. The values and the principles are what are most important.

Last Saturday I had breakfast with two church leaders who are planning their small group ministry strategies for the fall and the next several years. I began by asking them a lot of context questions about their church so I'd have a good idea of the culture there. At first they talked about campaigns, different "types" of groups, and adding people into groups. That's all good stuff, but those tactics come way down the line in the strategic planning process.

We would then go back to discussing vision, mission, and purpose. The big question: What's the purpose of groups at the church? After that: What would your senior minister and elders say is the purpose of small groups? How about your group leaders? Group members? Do those match up?

Then we discussed the culture of the church. Like anything else, small groups must work within the culture of your church. That's why I believe using some other church's methods and models is foolish. Those things work in their culture. Sometimes they worked in their culture several years ago when they wrote that book or made that video, but as with all things in life, people and cultures change. So figure out your culture and then design your "model" to work with it now. Keep it flexible so that as things change, so can your methodologies. That takes real leadership!

Let's say your church culture is not as conducive as you'd like for a life-changing small group ministry there. It's OK. Start slow and develop one, then two, then four, and then more healthy groups. Over time and with much prayer, you may be able to change the culture to become, for instance, more community-focused or more missional in nature. That takes prayer, patience, God's presence and power, and a commitment to his purposes.

Once the vision, mission, purposes, and culture are known, the strategies, plans, and tactics (the methods) become clearer.

Keep praying. Keep trusting God. And then you can praise the Lord for his mighty works!


MORE ON THIS TOPIC

Top 10 Small Group Ministry Launch Failures

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!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

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 Small Group Leader Needs from their Small Group Pastor

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.