You are destined to wreck your small group ministry and undermine biblical community if your focus is to multiple groups rather than leaders. The authentic ministry of healthy groups demands familial and familiar relationships. Don’t sacrifice connection so you can hit your “new group goals”. Rather, focus on identifying new leaders that can carry the responsibility to pastoring brand new groups.
Subdividing groups, making two smaller groups out of a larger group, is a multiplication strategy equivalent to taking a bus full of school kids and spreading them out among two different driver-less buses, shoving them down a hill and celebrating growth. Make sure you close your eyes so you don’t see them careen into each other, innocent telephone polls, parked cars, and the occasional brick wall. It is a lunacy equivalent to planting a church without a church planter.
Instead go slow and build into leaders. Let willing people apprentice under proven leaders. Let them get their leadership legs under them while you identify new people who need to get into community. Once you have reached critical mass (8-12 couples/ 4-6 families) and a prepared leader, launch a new group. You actually increase the leadership culture in your church, provide better pastoral care to those in established groups, and prevent more false starts. You will have more groups that last longer.
God built a family and gave them a mission. Don’t try to build a mission by dividing families.
I went to a college that sent bands of young co-eds out on city streets proclaiming the “good news”. What they were actually doing was walking people down the Roman Road trying to save souls. The “good news” as we come to use the term in our churches is only one aspect of the gospel. Knowing how the word was used by the apostles can bring a whole new depth to how we relate to others. Note the thoughts of Joseph Ratzinger aka Pope Benedict XVI,
“This term (gospel) figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world…. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a changing of the world for the better.
“When the Evangelists adopt this word…what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action… For here it is the real Lord of the world – the Living God – who goes into action…The core of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Jesus of Nazareth, pgs. 46-47)
N.T. Wright helps even more,
“…the gospel is not itself about you are this sort of a person and this can happen to you. That’s the result of the gospel rather than the gospel itself. It’s very clear in Romans. Romans 1:3-4: This is the gospel. It’s the message about Jesus Christ descended from David, designated Son of God in power, and then Romans 1:16-17 which says very clearly: “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God unto salvation.” That is, salvation is the result of the gospel, not the center of the gospel itself.” (from an interview with TGC)
Get back to teaching people the gospel; Jesus is the reigning King and he wants to do something in you, with you. The gospel does more than saves souls, it changes lives.
Elise and I watched The Good Lie, a film with Reese Witherspoon about the Sudanese refugees. It was a powerful story about leadership and sacrifice and the importance of community. The ending credits included this quote, “If you want to go fast then go alone- if you want to go far then go together.”
If you want to go far in your faith then you must learn to go with others. Imagine all the verses in the Bible that come into play when you share your walk. You can help one another, serve one another, love one another, encourage one another, teach one another. The list is long. Flip it around. Being in community brings help, service, love, encouragement, support, and adds depth and understanding to your faith.
It is sad but it is possible to go to church in America and not be a part of the faith community. You can hide in the back and not experience all God intends. So get in a small group, life group, community group, what ever your church calls it.
The Christian faith isn’t something that you can do alone.
“Carry one another’s burdens.” Galatians 6:2
It isn’t God’s job to follow me.
I have been too quick to expect God to keep my plans, wander along my paths, and deliver on my priorities. You would think I knew what was best. I have been laying the track and expecting God to chug along on my schedule. I noticed this most in how I pray. “God, do this. Bring that. Answer here. Help now. Stay on track” What a train wreck!
If I am really following God than I will listen more and speak less. I will move into the life God has laid for me and not drag God into my expectation. As David was leaving Jerusalem, exiled by his ambitious Son, Zadok the priest brought the ark to David. David told him to return the ark to its place. It wasn’t God’s place to move to David.
Leader, be careful when heading off to the unknown that you don’t take your plans and stick God’s name on it and call it “vision”. Listen more than you speak. Wait more than you walk. Learn before you lead.
“…behold, here I am, let (God) do to me what seems good to him.” – King David (II Sam. 15:24-26)
Are you closing the loop?
Example: Children’s Check-In
If your church has a check-in program for children, a system to maintain security and monitor attendance, make sure poor equipping and human error does not short circuit your attempted programming. You could be operating under the assumption that your children are secure. An open loop, neither monitored nor maintained leaves you operating under a false reality, a lie. In the case of children check-in, parents leave your children with your volunteers under the false reality that their kids are safe. A lack of inspecting what you are expecting means you are actually lying to parents. You gotta close the loop.
- Test it. It is the only way to be sure you are receiving the results you are expecting from your various systems and programs.
- Test it again. You could have just gotten lucky the first time.
- Test it often. It is a necessity of administration, checking your reality- closing the loop.
- Ask your guests. They see things and feel things that you have become immune to. Ask them about your systems.
Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land…And let them gather all the food…. – Gen 41:34-35
Do you have someone you can share everything with? Do you have a group that you keep close? You tell them when ministry is hard. You share when people have let you down. You open up about your fears. You tell them things that you can’t tell everyone, shouldn’t tell everyone. Jesus brought a small group close to his pain.
33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death….” (Mark 14:33-34)
Ministry is not an easy life; Jesus had moments of distress and despair and sorrow and grief. AND, Jesus had friends to share it with, to watch him hurt. Who do you bring close, leader? What do you tell them, pastor? Are you sharing enough? Your honesty will empower and resource their future vulnerability. Revealing your weakness makes them stronger.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Apostle Paul (Gal 6:2)
Nothing cripples the human spirit like the feeling of being forgotten. It is the notion that one’s story doesn’t matter; you leave no legacy. Your pain and suffering and circumstances carry no significance. Raise up a church of fighters, those who fight for the stories of others. Don’t let anyone walk out the door feeling overlooked and not-seen. Raise up a church of Salmons.
Salmon was a leader in Judah who married the pagan prostitute Rahab. Most would have left Rahab abandoned outside the fallen walls of Jericho. Not Salmon. He decided to fight for the story of this outsider and made her an insider who became the matriarch of King David and Jesus Christ. Who saw that coming, that story’s ending? Who knows what stories God will write with a church willing to fight for others.
I will never leave you nor “forget” you. – Jesus Christ (Heb 13:5)
You make hundreds of decisions a week. Leader or not. The more you lead the greater the consequences of those decisions. Not every decision is a deal breaker. Most are rather small; but even a small decision can shut down your work flow if not handled correctly and efficiently. Use this quick filter for decisions. It frees you up to spend time doing what matters most.
Every decision has only five possible responses; do it now, delegate it, defer it, file for later, delete it.
- I am a huge fan of the 2-minute rule. If you can do something in two minutes then just do it now. It keeps work flow moving and gets things off your mental desk.
- Can someone else do it correctly? Delegate it. But delegate it correctly. Give them the information they need to succeed and then take your hand off the stick. Delegating is designed to free you up to make the decisions only you can make.
- Would it be better to make a decision later? Should you have more people around the table? Defer it. Put it in a place with a date on it. I make certain decisions after sleeping on it, literally. But, once deferred it will need addressed. So defer and date it or you will keep putting it off.
- Is it less like a decision and more like information? File it for later reference. Sometimes your people give you FYIs. Have a system for easy retrieval, stick it where it goes, and move on to the next decision.
- Finally, does it just need discarded? Some decisions don’t need made, the only need deleted. “File 13” it and move on to something that matters.
Pick a decision you are dealing with, big or small. Run it through those 5 filters. Now move on.
When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?…What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. – Jethro Exodus 18:14-18
I haven’t posted in 26 days. I have done other things, important things that no one would call into question. However, as a writer and a blogger and a thinker and a leader I must deliver. I have thought about posting and have intended to post. I put great weight on the priority of living intentionally, on purpose. Yet, intention and action are not the same. Ya gotta get on the horse and ride at some point
You, also, have things that matter to you, to your church and ministry. Yet, they aren’t happening. You want them to happen. You pray about them happening. You have dreams and visions and tell yourself stories about what things will be like when they are happening. You reinforce it with inner monologues while solo-driving on the way to work. But, as of now, nothing is happening. Time to get on the horse.
- Overcome Inertia. You aren’t doing anything so you must get the mind/body/soul in motion, slowly. Do something simple, first, like put your “thing” on the calendar. Carve out a 90 minute block, a week in the future.
- Prime the Pump. While you are doing other things, before your intended and scheduled thing, your mind-factory will begin to work the problem and crank out solutions. Visions of your “thing” completed. Rough-edged. First-drafted. Raw to be sure. In the shower. At bed. Mowing the lawn. WRITE THEM DOWN! Save them for your future meeting.
- Hit the Ground Running. You have come to your scheduled time, you have a paper filled with fodder ideas. Get to work. Plan it. Do it. Write it. Clean it. File it. Scrape it. Paint it. Call it. Whatever you have needed to do, just do it. You will find that overcoming your mental inertia and priming the pump have given you the needed momentum to get ‘r done.
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? – Luke 14:28
History class was often the most overlooked under prioritized class in school. The adolescent voice cries out, “Why study yesterday when we have today…eat and drink and be merry…etc.etc.etc.” As a church historian, that makes me cringe. Let me offer 6 reasons learning history actually makes you a better leader today;
1. Everyone screws up. History is peppered with big names of venerated leaders who really dropped the ball from time to time. Read David McCullough’s 1776. It wasn’t the greatest year for George Washington, the father of our country. Seeing their mistakes gives hope that we are in good company and we too can survive to lead another day.
2. Your situation has a context. Understanding words and sentences requires context. Understanding your church and your beliefs also requires context. The history of your church and tradition is one section heading in a long chapter of a long book written by God. Learning that context keeps you from taking your current struggle too personally. It gives you a frame of reference.
3. Free lessons in leadership. The historian in me has little patience for the “new” and “popular” of contemporary thoughts on leadership. You want real, battle tested insights? Open your history books! Account after account of the good and the bad and the ugly leadership practices of real people. Oh, and it is free. You don’t have to fly to a conference or hire a leadership coach on the blogosphere. Sit under Churchill. Study Gregory the Great. Read the Apostolic Fathers.
4. Your situation is not new. Study church history in any depth and you will unearth old footprints, impressions of your current situation already played out, lived out. You are not the first pastor to face A,B,C. You are not the first leader to be confronted by X,Y,Z. It has been seen before. What did they do? How did they maneuver the mine-field? Step where they stepped and you will most-likely reap the same results, good or disastrous.
5. History uncovers your control beliefs. We all have pre-understandings and suppositions that filter what we see and what we read and how we process reality. They re-enforce our theologies and root our models of church. They can also lead us into serious leadership error. Study history and you uncover the experiences behind your beliefs. You may also discover reason for a little humility.
6. History gives hope. God worked in the past in wonderful ways. God is still working and working in your situation. History reminds us to be patient and let God write the story. Looking back to previous promises, now fulfilled, helps us stay the course and look to tomorrow.
7. History humanizes those we differ with. The christian church is a big family- a wide river with many tributaries and streams. Reformed. Pentecostal. Evangelical. Catholic. Orthodox. Holy pagans (another article for another time). Hearing their story humanizes them in our eyes and we become more patient in the face of diversity and understanding in the presence of discord.
Start adding a healthy dose of history to your reading list. And, read history outside your stream of theology. If you are Reformed than read about Pentecostals. If you are Pentecostal than read about the Apostolic Fathers. If Catholic than read about the Orthodox. Their story is our story. Our story is His story.