Allen White

What Giving up Control Taught Me about Effective Group Ministry

GUEST POST by Allen White: http://allenwhite.org

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I hear a lot of pastors debate the need for a quality experience at the expense of connecting and growing the vast majority of their congregations and their communities into their group system. I also hear the reverse of this, which is, in order to embrace a large quantity of groups, then quality must somehow be sacrificed.

We approach ministry as if we have all the time in the world. Somehow we think our people will live forever, and so will the people our people need to reach for Christ. But let’s be honest, we don’t have the luxury of time.

The apostle Paul didn’t have the luxury of time either. Reviewing his journeys in the book of Acts, Paul never spent more than 6-18 months in any one location, yet in his quest to spread the gospel throughout the known world and to reach Spain, he put leaders in place everywhere he planted a church and then gave them the crash course on ministry. We would call this “quick and dirty” before we would call it “quality.” Paul gave them their marching orders and then basically instructed them, “Do the best you can. The Holy Spirit will guide you. If you run into trouble, then send me a letter.” Then, Paul was off to the next place.

In living with the tension between the quality and quantity of ministry, I want you to consider these words from Peter Drucker on the Profession of Management:

There are two different kinds of compromise. One is expressed in an old proverb, “Half a loaf of bread is better than no bread.” The other, in the story of the judgment of Solomon, is clearly based on the realization that “half a baby is worse than no baby at all.” In the first instance, the boundary conditions are still being satisfied. The purpose of bread is to provide food, and half a loaf is still food. Half a baby, however, does not satisfy the boundary conditions. For half a baby is not half of a living and growing child.

It is a waste of time to worry about what will be acceptable and what a decision maker should or should not say so as not to evoke resistance…. In other words, the decision maker gains nothing by starting out with the question, “What is acceptable?” For in the process of answering it, he or she usually gives away the important things and loses any chance to come up with an effective—let alone the right—answer.

In retelling this story, my friend and mentor, Carl George once asked this question, which changed the course of my thinking about small group ministry: “Are your groups more like a baby or a loaf of bread? Because if it’s like a baby, then half a baby won’t do. You want a perfect baby. But, if it’s more like a loaf of bread and you’re starving, any amount of bread will help to alleviate the hunger.”

In managing the tension between quality and quantity, we must figure out a way to embrace the “Genius of the And,” as coined by Jim Collins in Built to Last. This isn’t an either-or circumstance, in that, if there is no quantity, then quality doesn’t actually matter. The question is whether the limitation on the quantity is a matter of necessity or a personal need for control.

As I wrestled with this tension when I was first introduced to the idea of rapidly expanding group system, I pleaded with God, “But, I need quality control.”

God called me on it. He spoke to me and said, “Allen, when you say ‘quality control,’ quality is your excuse.”

God doesn’t go easy on me. But, I got the point, and moved forward.

What do you think?

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This post is excerpted from the first chapter of Allen’s upcoming book, Exponential Groups: Moving Beyond Your Limits. To download the entire first chapter, click here: Download Allen’s Free ebook: Exponential Groups.

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