2010: The Year of More …

I’m glad 2009 is over. It was a very difficult year for me. I won’t go into all the particulars here, but as I look back now, I’d say it was a year of battle. At times during the year I found myself on the front line of an intense spiritual war in my marriage, job, family, finances, and other areas.

It was also a year of prayer. I’d consider myself a pretty decent pray-er. Yeah, there’s a lot of room for improvement, but I’ve always had a passion for prayer. But 2009 was different. Prayer was more urgent for me this past year. Like when I thought my marriage might be ending or when I thought my son was dead.

Yes, spiritual warfare became more real for me last year. My relationship with God was strong, and he enabled me to continue fighting. In fact, I often found myself asking God what he wanted me to learn or how he wanted me to grow through this. Looking back now, I see how he was refining and transforming me–for God knows what.

This morning, to start out 2010 right, I spent some time with God briefly reviewing 2009 and then looking forward to 2010. In the midst of this, I read a few posts by a couple of my favorite bloggers, and God used them to help me think about the upcoming year.

John Eldredge wrote in his New Year’s Eve post about his annual New Year’s practice of asking God for a theme for the coming year. So, following his advice, I consecrated the year to God and then asked Jesus what my theme for 2010 will be. I waited a while silently, listening for his reply. Finally, one word came into my mind: “More.” Oh no! I thought. Not more of the same… The thought of more was overwhelming to me.

Then I heard God complete his message for me, “… Jesus.” More Jesus. Yes. That makes sense. I can live with that. More Jesus means more power as the war rages on. Jesus is the Victory. The way, the truth, the life. I want more of that!

Next I read Mark Batterson’s “Evotional” blog. Several of his posts helped guide my thoughts this morning. On December 26 he wrote about challenging the status quo. We will keep doing what we’ve always done without giving it much thought if we don’t challenge it. So I made up my mind to challenge a few things I’ve allowed to become status quo in my life. Things that rob me of “More Jesus.”

On Dec. 30, Mark wrote about “Seven Margin Maxims.” I agreed that one of my biggest leadership challenges is margin. As he says, “if you don’t control your calendar, your calendar will control you.” I, too, need to control my calendar to have “More Jesus.”

One of Batterson’s margin maxims is to create a “stop doing list.” This reminded me of something I recently read in Joel Comiskey‘s new book, The Relational Disciple. In the first chapter, Joel describes one of the biggest obstacles to discipleship today: we are conformed to the pattern of individualism. A huge cause for individualism is what Comiskey calls “media isolation,” especially TV. I’m going to write about this in a separate blog sometime, but suffice it to say now that TV greatly effects our relationship with God and others. We unwittingly substitute communion with God and community with others for hours in front of the tube every day.

I want to create more margin for my relationship with God, family, and others by making one simple change this year for me and my family. Less TV and Internet usage, especially on those things that become substitutes, perhaps even idols, for the real thing. Less TV sitcoms where we watch other people in community, living vicariously through them. Less Facebook when it becomes a substitute for a real social life in real face-to-face community.

“More Jesus” in 2010. More communion with him. More community with others. More Real Life. What’s God got in store for you this year?

Hungry Small Groups

For those of you outside of Northeast Christian, we are now on Day 2 of a food challenge, eating just a small amount of rice and beans for lunch and dinner (and maybe 1 tortilla) and oatmeal for breakfast. We’re doing this as a church as an act of solidarity with those who live in the bottom economic half of the world. We want to understand what it might be like to be hungry, and grow our hunger to make a difference.

An interesting aspect of this for me is watching how our small groups respond. I’ve wondered if they would come together to encourage one another and spur one another on and bear with one another? I got my answer today when one of our group leaders, Stephanie Wilson posted a comment on our church blog:

So great to have a life group to encourage each other through the week. Last night the “I’m Hungry!!” email blasts to our group started around 5pm. It is fun to have a group to connect with and to hold each other accountable and to know that you have someone praying for you during this challenge.

Stephanie’s words point to at least two of our signs of a healthy small group: Authentic Biblical Community and Mission-Minded. I’ll write more about these in a future blog, but I thought this was a great opportunity — a teachable moment, perhaps — that I did not want to miss.

Groups that are moving both inward in community with one another and outward in mission are the most healthy, strong, life-changing groups. And the best part is how these two values are interdependent. They are symbiotic, or mutually beneficial to one another. It’s what I posted in my first blog about being a part of a healthy ecosystem.

Is your small group hungering for more?

“Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty'” (John 6:35).

Click the banner below to check out our “Hunger Blog”

Seven Signs of a Healthy Ecosystem in Your Group

Question #1: Is your group healthy? A healthy group is a group that will naturally grow, develop, bear fruit, and reproduce.

Question #2: How do you know if your group is healthy or not?

Last spring I wanted to answer the second question so I could help our groups answer the first one. So I thought and prayed and asked other leaders and pastors and read and prayed some more. Finally I came up with what I called “7 Signs of a Healthy Group.” I’ve now modified that original list slightly.

What I want to do in this blog for a while is discuss these signs of a healthy group along with the correlating 3 results. So here they are with just a very brief definition for each.

1. Christ-Centered. The group leader and members recognize that God is the real leader of the group (the leaders are stewards of the group). Group meetings are focused on the presence and purposes of Christ in their midst (Matt. 18:20) rather than on curriculum, group issues, individual’s needs and desires, etc.

2. Healthy, Growing Leader. The group leader is growing in his or her faith by being involved in daily disciplines such as Bible study and prayer.

3. Core Team. The group is led by a Core Team of 2-4 members who share leadership. No one leads alone.

4. Goals & Plans. The group has a written “Action Plan” that includes a mission, goals, expectations, ground rules, etc.

5. Authentic Biblical Community. The group meets regularly & consistently. The group regularly prays for and ministers to one another. Group members participate in a role (shared ownership) in the group. The group is doing life together outside of meetings.

6. Disciple-Making. Discipleship (helping one another grow up spiritually) is intentional. The group engages regularly in group Bible study and application.

7. Mission-Minded. Christ’s mission (Matthew 28:18-20) is the group’s mission. The group regularly prays for their lost friends and is sharing their faith with others. The group is intentionally open to new people. The group is serving others together and/or individually (or has a plan to do so if the group is new).

The RESULT or “fruit” of a healthy group is a group that is …
• Growing
• Reaching Out
• Reproducing

What do you think of these 7 signs of a healthy group? Would you add any others? More importantly, how are you doing on these? Which does your group do well? With which do you struggle the most?

Next time we’ll dive into #1: Christ-Centered.

Is Your Small Group Ecosystem Healthy?

The other day I was listening to a sermon by Chip Ingram in which he compared authentic community to an “ecosystem” (a link to the MP3 can be found at the bottom of this blog entry).

I like this comparison. For years I’ve taught that authentic Christian community is the “environment” or “culture” where people grow best. I used to use a Petri dish as an illustration of the fact that everything needs an environment or culture in which to grow. So do Christians. In the environment of Christian community, Christ followers receive all the nutrients they need to grow spiritually.

I think I like ecosystem better. Ecosystem suggests an interdependence upon one another in the environment, functioning together with each other for the betterment of the whole. It sounds a lot like Paul’s description of the body of Christ.

So I’m going with ecosystem now. And as we well know today, healthy growth only happens in a healthy ecosystem. Interestingly, even ecologists find it difficult to define a healthy ecosystem. (Check out this blog from the EPA, “What Is a Healthy Ecosystem?”)

Over the next several weeks I’ll share my thoughts on what makes a healthy ecosystem in a small group. I’ve already done a bunch of research on this, and I’ll share some of the results of the health assessments our leaders at Northeast Christian took last spring. I think this will help small group leaders to not only understand what makes a group healthy or unhealthy, but to begin to make healthier choices as they lead.

By the way, I’ll be posting at least weekly, so make sure you’re following!

Listen to MP3 of Chip Ingram’s sermon: “Balance Your Ecosystem”