In a recent conversation with Andrew Mason, founder of smallgroupchurches.com and an Executive/Small Groups Pastor at Emmanuel Christian Center in Minneapolis, he raised the question of why the role of pastor as a shepherd is not connected to growth and reproduction. While there are extensive references in books and training seminars that speaks to how shepherd care for the sheep, shepherding is not typically viewed as relevant to how pastors lead the church into growth and reproduction.
As we discussed this reality, my immediate response was, “On our farm, my dad was always thinking about the growth and reproduction of his sheep, along with all the other animals.” The fact that the shepherd is thinking about how the sheep will reproduce is assumed because this is part of what it means to be a shepherd. This was especially true in a sustenance culture like that of Ancient Near East; to fail to plan for reproduction is to plan to die. There was no such thing as modern hobby farms where animals are feed and cared for because they are cute.
Some animals do not require much attention. Cattle, for instance, are relatively low-maintenance. Sheep, by comparison, are actually quite laborious. For instance, they can only get pregnant during one season of the year, and if something is wrong with the either the male or the females that comprise the flock and the issue is left unaddressed, it could mean the loss of an entire year of reproduction.
The shepherd knows when each female is ready to breed. After they are impregnated, the first month is a delicate time, and they must be treated with special care. Because the breeding season is in October, lambs are birthed during some of the coldest days of the year, and if the shepherd is not present, the cold can hinder the lamb from getting up and eating its first milk.
When Peter told the elders of the church to watch over the flock under their care (1 Peter 5:1-4), the audience then would have naturally understood these things. Shepherding is not a static leadership image that only addresses the question: What do the sheep need now? It is an image of leading God’s people on a journey. As we read in Psalm 23, “he leads us into green pastures.” Sheep can only see the present, and therefore they will eat the grass down so far into the ground that they will make themselves sick from eating bugs and worms from the ground. A green pasture nearby is beyond their realm of awareness, therefore, requiring a shepherd who can think about what’s next.
The sheep we lead have pressing issues in the present for which they need pastoral care, but that is not enough. Being a shepherd means that the present does not consume their work. The shepherd must ask questions like: What does God want to do? Who is being raised up as a future leader? Where are the places of impact and reproduction that could arise? These are questions of the journey of discipleship, questions that most sheep do not have the capacity to ask at this point.
Are you asking good questions about green pastures that God has for the sheep you lead?
The opportunity for Group Coordinators intersects at the point of the group’s needs, the group members’ need for growth and the needs of the group host(s). The group will have more needs met with the addition of group coordinators. In becoming a group coordinator, group members will be able to make an important step from being a consumer in the group to being a contributor in the group. And finally, the group host(s) will remove themselves from the dead-end role of doing everything themselves.
We see a similar pattern in Jesus’ group of twelve disciples. Look at the following passage…
7 Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread arrived, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John ahead and said, “Go and prepare the Passover meal, so we can eat it together.”
9 “Where do you want us to prepare it?” they asked him.
10 He replied, “As soon as you enter Jerusalem, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him. At the house he enters, 11 say to the owner, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ 12 He will take you upstairs to a large room that is already set up. That is where you should prepare our meal.” 13 They went off to the city and found everything just as Jesus had said, and they prepared the Passover meal there.
14 When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. – Luke 22:7-14 NLT
In this passage, Peter and John serve as group coordinators for the Passover meal. Five observations stand out to me as I read this…
1. They had to be willing to serve on behalf of the group (v. 8)
Peter and John were future leaders, preachers and pillars of the New Testament church. They weren’t using glamorized spiritual gifts or teaching multitudes; they were serving behind-the-scenes. Serving makes us more like Jesus. Serving moves us from merely receiving as consumers to contributing as maturing disciples.
If you can move a person in the group from “only receiving” to finding a way “to contribute” to the group, you have moved them forward in their walk with Christ. You have helped them to become outward focused within their spiritual community that they are receiving from.
2. They valued the task (v. 9)
They asked Jesus a follow-up question in the role He had given them. They were engaged in the task and wanted to follow-through with accuracy and precision towards the intended goal and outcome.
3. They had to be able to follow directions (v. 10-13)
Jesus gave them parameters for their task that required their attentiveness and diligence for success.
4. Jesus provided replenishment for them (v. 10)
Jesus provided a pitcher of water for them at the end of traveling through the hot desert. As we serve, we must serve in faith that Jesus will pour back into us the refreshing we need.
5. The group experienced was enriched because of their contribution (v. 14)
As the group sat down at the table to break bread together, they reaped the blessing of Peter and John’s service.
Unbeknownst to Peter and John, their contribution was coordinating one of the most significant events in human history.
What could adding “group coordinators” in your spiritual community result in? How could it increase the value of the group experience for each person?
Below are 7 Different Group Coordinator roles along with a detailed description and profile. I encourage you to offer this list your group and invite them to find a way for them serve and contribute to the group. Don’t worry about getting all seven roles filled. Let it be a resource that sparks vision and participation. If you only get four roles filled count it as a huge win that is moving your group forward…
7 Group Coordinator Roles
Purpose: To champion communication in-between meetings; creating clarity for group members and removing confusion through consistent and accurate information.
Profile: Heart for people, organized, consistent.
2. Snack and Food Coordinator
Purpose: To champion the groups commitment to “break bread” together.
Profile: Hospitality gifts, fun, social.
3. Childcare Coordinator
Purpose: To champion supervision and care for the children in the group.
Profile: Loves children, caring and encouraging
4. Prayer Coordinator
Purpose: To champion prayer as an active and vital ingredient to the overall health of the group.
Profile: Desires an authentic walk with God through prayer, heart for people, heart for corporate prayer in the life of the group.
5. Activity Coordinator
Purpose: To champion fun and community-building activities outside of the typical group meeting.
Profile: Social, fun, encourager, heart for people.
6. Service Coordinator
Purpose: To champion a service or outreach project(s) for the group to mobilize around 3-4 times a year (or more).
Profile: Heart for the community, people connector, servant’s heart.
7. Birthday and Anniversary Coordinator
Purpose: To champion the celebration of people and their personal milestones.
Profile: Heart for people, encourager, cheerleader.
CC Image – Courtesy of Rajnish357 on Flickr
This is a video that is part of my church’s Host Activation Series, a compilation of short videos to empower group hosts. Here, I share 5 simple ways to prepare for your group as a host in-between meetings.
These are NOT simply strategic items to be diligent with before your first meeting with a new group or at the beginning of a new series, rather, these are best practices to employ on a weekly basis. If these rhythms can become part of a group host’s repertoire, their group will build momentum week after week until it’s an unstoppable freight train for the kingdom.
The Five Ways to Prepare Are…
Leading a small group (or anything else in the church) comes out of an assignment or appointment from God. This is critical and foundational to Christian leadership. When someone recruits you to a job that you are not called to, it’s easy to throw in the towel when the going gets tough.
Are you a small group leader because someone recruited you, because there’s a shortage of leaders, or because you have been called by God?
Let me be clear: You may have been recruited, even out of a sense of need, by someone in your church: a pastor, ministry point leader, coach, or the leader of your group, for instance. That does not mean you have not also been called. God often—actually, usually—uses other people as his ambassadors to call us into his service. You may have been primarily called as a small group host or facilitator, but now I’m talking to you about being a leader, and maybe you’re thinking, Not so fast! I’m not a leader, just a host or facilitator.
Please let me encourage you.
First, don’t underestimate yourself. The best leaders are often, at first, anyway, reluctant leaders. Humility is a vital trait of a godly leader.
Second, and I’ve said this before, it’s not about you anyway! The best leaders are people who are simply willing to let God use them. God takes ordinary people and does extraordinary things through them.
Third, simply start where you are, in whatever role God has called you to, and be ready to grow into what God is making you into. Remember what Jesus told some guys who started as fishermen: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!”
It comes down to this: You assume the role of a leader “not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be” (1 Peter 5:2). What’s important is your willingness to let God use you as he wants for his kingdom work.
This simple small group agenda is based on 7 principles from Acts 2:42-47, 5:42 and 6:7. The seven principles are as follows…
These seven principles represent settings, practices and the fruit that is produced as a result. They can be touched upon in a weekly home group through a simple small group agenda known as The Four W’s: Welcome, Word, Worship and Witness. I did not come up with these but I have revised them slightly. Ralph W. Neighbour originally developed the concept of The Four W’s.
The Welcome time helps people get connected to each other as they arrive. A meal or snacks and upbeat Christian music can create an irresistible atmosphere (See also Creating An Irresistible Environment). When we have provided the opportunity for a meal, we offer it as an option 30 minutes before the starting time.
This window as well as the time hanging out after dismissal are the key times for believers to experience the 59 “one another” of the New Testament. For more on this see The 59 One Anothers of the Bible.
The group should be small enough and healthy enough for everyone to fellowship. It should be illegal for a person to show up to a small group and experience isolation.
Before you move into the Word segment, you can begin to transition the Welcome time by starting the meeting with an Ice Breaker. For more on this see Tons of Free Ice Breakers and Why They’re Effective.
(30 – 45 minutes)
The Word time should complement the corporate teaching time in the weekend service (not try to duplicate it). People need to grow in the Word of God through hearing (corporate teaching) and dialogue (small group). See my article Fully Developed Disciples for more on that.
This can be achieved in a small group through a Word-centered conversation. If the Word of God is a seed then an interactive Bible discussion can plow the fallow ground of a person’s heart through deepening, open-ended questions (See Small Group Discussion Questions that Go Deep as well). This process can be remembered with the acronym for SOIL…
S – Scripture reading and focus (this is also the spot for a short video teaching if you’re using video curriculum)
O – Observation questions about the passage.
I – Interpretation questions about the passage.
L – Life application questions about the passage.
Facilitating skills, listening, vulnerability and navigating personalities are keys to an effective Word segment (See Five Facets of Facilitating with Finesse) .
The goal here is for people to grow in their knowledge of the Word and develop their own language for discussing their faith. Transformation occurs through revelation and transparency with the community of believers.
(20 – 25 minutes)
Some prefer to have their worship time before the Word segment and end their meeting with prayer. Whatever works best for your group or that night’s purpose is what you should do. I prefer to lead into the time of intercession with worship.
First I ask for and write down any prayer requests from the group. We then seek God’s face in praise and worship for 5-8 minutes before bringing our prayer requests to His throne. It’s an open time where anyone can lead out.
The worship time releases presence, prayer and power in the midst of the group in a way that builds up each other’s faith and spiritually bonds everyone together.
As you close your gathering you can share vision for the future direction of the group. This is vital to keeping the group looking outward through mission, ministry and multiplication. Serving opportunities and reaching out to unbelievers as a group promotes a balanced discipleship pattern. Multiplication of the group through the cultivation of laborers and launching of a new group should be discussed for the group to continue to grow into a kingdom mindset (See also 5 Ways to Multiply a Small Group).
A typical small group meeting should last between 90 minutes to two hours. We’ve had people at our house for over four hours, but we’ve always dismissed the formal meeting within two hours. After the dismissal, we welcome people to stay as long as they want but that may differ for you.
To dive in deeper on these concepts I highly recommend Joel Comiskey’s book, “How to Lead an Effective Cell Group Meeting.”
In the likeness of John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, I have created a Pyramid for a Successful Small Group Gathering below…
This past weekend I had the pleasure and honor of hosting the One Day Groups Gathering event with author and consultant, Scott Boren, as the Keynote Speaker. There was an amazing download of content shared throughout the day and I wanted to share a quick snapshot through a handful of quotes.
We had group leaders come out from four different churches from 9am – 3pm on a Saturday. When American believers are willing to give up their Saturday to grow in discipleship and community, that alone is a testimony!
Here are some thoughts and resources that were shared with us by Scott Boren…
Groups flourish when it’s “OUR” group versus “your” group. – Scott Boren
Be thankful for what God is doing… God is at work even in the ugliest of situations. – Scott Boren
If you’re leading a small group, NEVER lead the ice-breaker yourself. A fourth grader has the ability to lead the ice-breaker. Use the ice-breaker as an opportunity to involve someone else from the group. – Scott Boren
Ask the question, “How do we become a group that matters?” – Scott Boren
Pay attention to your relational networks (friends, family, co-workers) and neighbors. Who are the neighbors and people in your networks who need an experience of God’s love? Identify four or five people and take time regularly in group meetings to pray for those people. -Scott Boren
Scott also shared with everybody the free download that is available on his website of “Cultivating Community in the Way of Jesus.” It’s a free e-book copy of the 100-page study guide for Missional Small Groups.
Last but not least, we were joined by Real Life Church’s new Lead Pastor and SGC Contributor, Dean Deguara. This is the first time we’ve had three SGC Contributors under one roof…
“… if I do not have love, I am nothing.” (Paul, in his first letter to the church at Corinth)
A person can love another to the extent that they have been loved. No. That’s not quite right. I think this is better stated as: A person can love another to the extend that they are being loved. Not past tense. Love is not something that can be known as a past reality. It’s a present perfect, and ongoing emanation of God toward us, like a river that never dries up. The degree to which someone knows love is the degree to which they can love. Or to personalize Paul’s point, “If I do not possess love in my inner being as an ongoing knowledge that I am loved and am living in love alongside others, I am nothing.”
Victor Hugo stated, “The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved.” The giving and receiving of love lies at the core of what it means to be human. We search for it. We yearn for it. We hope for it. Just turn on the radio and listen to the top 40 hits. While in most cases, we are “looking for love in all the wrong places,” as the old country song confesses, the reality is that we are all “looking for love.”
One of the things that I find interesting about the typical way that we commonly talk about spiritual growth and discipleship in the church is that the topic of love, that “touchy feely” experience of God’s emanation toward us, is something that we teach to children, “emotional” twenty-somethings, and new Christians. However, Christian maturity means that we outgrow the need for such basic things as God’s love. We assume that the experience of God’s love is like spiritual milk, but as one grows in Christ spiritual meat means that we grow out of the need to talk about God’s love, acceptance, and grace.
On my journey with God over the last three decades, I have found myself being led back to reconsider God’s love for me. The first few times this happened I got frustrated with myself because I assumed that I should have moved beyond such basics. After all, I had dealt with God’s love and grace in my early stages of Christian discipleship. But every time I came back to a fresh touch of God’s love, I realized how much I was shocked by the unexpected unveiling of God’s touch. I began to see that I’m only loved to the extend that God’s love astonishes and astounds me. Otherwise, my thoughts about God are merely a compilation of my best and most godly facts about God.
This means that a disciple of Christ cannot outgrow the need to live in God’s love. There is no higher plane of discipleship than receiving the hug of God.
If God is love (1 John 4:8), then everything about our walk with the Father-Son-Spirit is rooted in and flows out of a knowledge and experience of that love. To try to move beyond it is like telling a basketball player that his development will move him to the point that he will no longer need to do anything with a basketball. He will develop the ability to dribble, pass, and shoot the ball without actually having to touch a physical ball because the game will be so deeply woven into his mind. The actual experience of the ball is no longer required. As a result, the game becomes excarnate, a gnostic experience that leads one to a higher level of disembodied reality.
Too often, we imagine Christian growth that is more excarnate than incarnate. Christian maturity is a mental, disembodied thought process that does not have much to do with our senses, our feelings, or our experiences. God’s love becomes a fact that we can state and talk about in our Bible studies, but we don’t actually know it in a participatory way.
Just as playing basketball means doing something with an actual ball, so too following Christ means living in the actual experience of God’s love for us. If there is no ball, there is no game. If there is no love, then we are not actually following Christ.
CC Image • Courtesy of of Farid Iqbal Ibrahim on Flickr
Update: Camille and I (and our two boys) will be moving across the country in the near future. I have accepted a new position as Executive Pastor of Discipleship Communities at Emmanuel Christian Center. We will be providing leadership to their Connect Groups, Equip Courses as well as being a part of the teaching team. Emmanuel is an influential, 3,000 member, multi-site church in Minneapolis, Minnesota pastored by Jodie and Nate Ruch. They have a tremendous team of pastors and leaders that we are honored and humbled to lock arms with and work alongside.
Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the opportunity we’ve had to serve at Real Life Church during this season of our lives. This was not an easy decision and it involved much prayer and reflection before deciding to start a new chapter of our lives. We will take all of our Sacramento friends and family with us in our hearts to keep us warm.
Before we dive too deep into 2018, I want to make sure to highlight some of the kingdom content released through SGC in 2017. Below is a list of the top ten articles of 2017.
We published 30 blog posts this past year. The content consists of videos, product reviews and articles. This list is comprised solely of articles and is ranked purely by web traffic.
Congrats to our SGC Contributor Mike Mack for having the most viewed and most popular article in 2017! Here is your Top 10 Articles of 2017:
Insightful info from teaching a seminary class of millennials…
Yes, Mark Zuckerberg actually talked about church small groups…
Need we say more?
Creativity, resourcefulness and innovation will mark the next generation of effective disciple-makers…
Make sure you have a discipleship plan that doesn’t suck…
Discovering a kingdom pathway to develop growing disciples…
Make it easier for your Lead Pastor to lead the groups ministry…
Do you have a strategy for equipping future small group leaders?
Turbo-charge your next church wide campaign with this ninja move…
Take advantage of the opportunities God has given you to learn from others and grow your small group ministry…
“You’re always doing curls for the girls.” When I was a high school football player, that is something we would say to a teammate in the weight room in jest. The comment was for a guy who was consistent with his arm curl weightlifting routine but not-so consistent with his lower body and legs exercises. The result would be impressive vein-popping biceps, but little-to-no-development in the calves and thighs. They would have huge arms and pencil-thin legs. Their bodies and muscle were disproportioned and uneven.
There can be a similar dynamic that occurs as disciples when it comes to our spiritual development with the Word of God.
Being whole-hearted learners of scripture is a calling-card of a healthy disciple. Jesus said in John 8:31, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” Again, he says in John 15:7-8, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
The first discipleship communities of the early church were also branded with this attribute in Acts 2:42 as they met from house-to-house, “…they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…” The apostles’ doctrine is now our modern-day New Testament.
When we see the Jerusalem church in Acts eating together from house-to-house (Acts 2:46), we must remember that among Jewish people, the standard topic of discussion at a meal was Torah. Early Christians did more to grow in the Word of God than just listen to good preaching (although they did a lot of that too). Early Christians also did not have the benefit of the printing press and access to multiple print-versions of scripture at their fingertips. They spent more time discussing scripture than we do reading scripture and they were bearing exponentially more fruit than we do (Acts 2:47).
How do we make sure we are fully-developed through the Word of God? How do we avoid disproportionate results?
In Courage and Calling by Gordon T. Smith, there are Four Learning Styles that are outlined…
In American church ministry, we are very effective at creating settings for Cognitive Learning and Action Learning. Through preaching and serving activities we help people intentionally grow in the Word. We leave the Social and Observational Learning up to chance however, when we have little or no emphasis on gathering in circles for further empowerment. In small groups, believers are afforded the opportunity to discuss the Word of God and observe the quality of other believers’ lives in close-quarters.
Unfortunately, we have many Christians today that are disproportionately growing in the Word of God. They can read their Bible on their own but they cannot talk about their faith to others. They can take notes and listen to a sermon but they can’t sit down and listen to a brother or sister in Christ share their own thoughts and discoveries.
This is why it’s so important that a Group Host see themselves as a Facilitator, not a Sunday School Teacher. There is a different dimension to growing in the Word of God when it comes to group study and discussion. Compared to weekend services, classes and outreach; it’s not an issue of “either/or”, it’s an exhortation towards “Both/And.” We need both great teaching, serving opportunities AND relational settings for biblical discussion in order to be well-rounded disciples of Christ in the Word of truth.
Don’t just have your ears tickled with great preaching or have your head full of more info through reading. Don’t do the spiritual equivalent of “curls for the girls.” Allow your heart to be cultivated, enlarged and expressed through discussion of scripture and you’ll be on your way to becoming a full-developed disciple of Christ.