Four Reasons Every Lead Pastor Should Be in a Small Group

Lead pastors who lead a small group create a win-win dynamic. The pastors and the churches they lead both become healthier and grow as a result. Jim Egli, who has served as a senior pastor, associate pastor, missions pastor, and missionary says that regardless of his role, he has always led a group. He offers these four reasons:

Small groups are at the heart of church health. Egli says a healthy church lives in authentic, Christ-centered, missional community, and a church that uses healthy groups – the focus being on the word healthy – will increase its health, effectiveness, growth, and multiplication.

Pastors’ involvement in small groups greatly multiplies the leadership base of the church. A strategic pastor will lead a purposeful small group of potential leaders who will become new group leaders, new elders, and new leaders in a variety of other vital leadership functions in the church. The strategic pastor will model the discovery, development, and deployment of new leaders so that those he disciples will go and do the same.

Jesus led a small group. Jesus was more interested in starting a movement than preaching a weekly sermon, so he gathered some ordinary, unschooled men and patiently shaped them into bold leaders who would change the world. What would happen if every pastor walked in the ways of Jesus as a group leader?

For your spiritual health you need to be in a small group. “A lot of leaders say it’s lonely at the top,” said Tyler McKenzie, lead pastor at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. “But it doesn’t have to be. I’m not lonely. I have the community of my small group.”

Every church leader needs that kind of authentic, Christ-centered, life-changing, mission-focused community. Every pastor needs a community in which to live out the “one another” passages of the New Testament.

Humbly admit your need and then boldly lead. You and your church won’t regret it.

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Originally posted on ChristianStandard.com, Sept. 22, 2016.

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: Dec. 5-9, 2016

Here are the Small Group Leader TIPS for the last week as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

This week’s TIPS focus on mission, making disciples, and Bible study.

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

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The 7 Indispensable Elements Necessary for People to Grow Spiritually in Your Small Group

The following post is excerpted from my new eBook, Small Group Leader Toolbox. See more information about this resource at the end of this post.

Just as a plant needs a number of specific elements in its environment in order to grow, Christians need at least 7 vital factors or influences to grow spiritually. Each of these plays a significant part in helping people mature in your small group. Be sure you know your place as a leader with these factors (for instance, you are not the agent of life change!).

Goal: Christlikeness

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Agent: The Holy Spirit

“God the Father chose you long ago, and the Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his blood” (1 Peter 1:2).

“But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23).

Method: Shepherding

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care …” (1 Peter 5:2).

Environment: Authentic Biblical Community

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).

Means: By the renewing of our minds

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).

Instrument: Application of Scripture

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

Time Frame: Lifetime Process

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Question: How have you seen these factors at work in how people are growing spiritually in your group? Please scroll down and click to comment.

Small Group Leader ToolboxI wrote Small Group Leader Toolbox to provide small group leaders with the resources they need to help them and their groups be effective, grow spiritually, and live out God’s mission for them. This 54-page eBook provides scores of ideas, tips, checklists, how-to’s, assessments, planning templates, and, well … pretty much everything a leader needs to lead a dynamic small group or class.

Get your copy of this eBook now!

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The Small Group Mannequin Challenge

Small groups are taking the mannequin challenge. Many have been doing it for years.

I admit, I don’t get the current #mannequinchallenge fad. I also admit that some of the videos are fun and creative. Here’s a short one as an example:

This may be the latest cultural fad, but it’s nothing new for many small groups, and the church as a whole.

Several years ago I wrote about the difference between dead and fully alive small groups. (Read it here.) I also wrote a post about “Mannequin Small Groups, which I decided to revise and repost; it’s more apropos now than ever!

The problem is that some small groups were never alive in the first place! My friend Carl Douthit once described these groups as mannequins. They were not created with the intention of being alive, growing organisms. They study the Word only for knowledge, not to put it into practice. They are “all dressed up with no place to go”!

Mannequin small groups are all dressed up with no place to go. Click To Tweet

Mannequin group leaders and members say they cannot understand why they need to invite new people into their groups or share leadership with a core team or do anything outside of their normal agenda. These groups were not founded with the expectation of being more than “Bible studies,” so they are, as Carl would put it, mannequins, which look good on the outside, but with no life inside.

Mannequin small groups are great at standing still, but Jesus gave us a mission to “GO”!

Mannequin small groups are posers. They pretend to follow Christ, but they are unmoved by what and whom Jesus loves. They stand still in the middle of the great needs of lost, hurting people around them.

Mannequin small groups look good on the outside but have no life inside. Click To Tweet

Mannequin small groups are great at standing still, but our mission is to GO! Click To Tweet

Mannequin SGs are posers. They are unmoved by what or whom Jesus loves. Click To Tweet

Mannequin small groups are at best lukewarm about their faith. Actually they are frozen in time, either afraid to move, stuck in a rut of “we’ve always done it this way,” or, frankly, too focused on themselves to care. (Here’s my mannequin challenge with a very sad face.)

What do you do if your small group is a mannequin rather than missional?

First, you need an infusion of life that can only come from Jesus. The first Vital Sign of a Healthy Small Group is that it is Christ-Centered. When Christ is really at the center of your group, you meet together in his presence, for his purposes and under his power, and that makes ALL the difference! Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, so he can bring life to your mannequin-like existence. He is the Way your group should go. He is the Truth your group needs in order to be real and authentic. He is the Life your group needs to animate and invigorate and motivate and activate your group!

Second, you need to recovenant with your group. The fourth Vital Sign of a Healthy Group is that it has goals and plans. It’s time for you to confront the brutal facts of your current existence, as Jim Collins puts it, and then decide as a group about what God is calling you to be (your vision) and do (your mission). Note: A Christ-centered group focuses on what God, not individual members, want the group to be. This is the difference between Christ-centeredness and self-centeredness.

I could discuss more things your group could do to move from mannequin to missional, but this is probably all you can do for now. Each of the seven healthy indicators I discuss in Small Group Vital Signs will help you move toward missional.

A healthy group is a missional group!

What score would you give your group?

Mannequin  1     2     3     4     5   Missional

Please respond by scrolling down and commenting or asking more about moving from mannequin to missional.

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: Nov. 7-11, 2016

Here are the Small Group Leader TIPS for the last week as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

This week’s TIPS focus on building healthy authentic community / unity even in a political environment.

QUESTION: How has your group dealt with politics in your discussions this past week? What are you learning? Please comment below.

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

 

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Small Group Clown Sightings

Clowns have been seen entering small group meetings.

What do you do as a leader when this happens? Do what Jesus did.

Jesus’ small group was full of clowns. Except for its leader, this leadership-training group seemed to lack any observable spiritual leadership potential. A bunch of oddball characters and mess ups. I can hear Jesus talking with the Father: “Clowns to the left of me! Jokers to the right! Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”

Within two pages in my Bible, Jesus had to:

  • rebuke his leader-intern (Mark 8:33). Actually, this verse says he looked at all the disciples as he addressed Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”
  • deal with Peter missing the bigger vision during their mountaintop experience (9:5-6)
  • stop an argument between some of his group members and the religious leaders (9:14-16)
  • rescue his group members when they could not do what he had told them to do (9:18, 25-28)
  • correct his disciples who were arguing about which of them were the greatest (9:33-34; also see 10:35-45)

What a bunch of clowns!

The next time you look around at your small group meeting and see clowns to the left of you and jokers to the right, think about Jesus and his group.

We often talk about what kinds of characteristics to look for in group members and those with whom you’ll share leadership: a heart for God, a servant’s heart, and humility, for instance, but from all discernible measures, the guys Jesus selected did not have these qualities. And the guys with the biggest clown shoes seem to be the ones Jesus selected for his core team: Peter, John, and James.

Of course, “the Lord does not look at the things man looks at” (1 Samuel 16:7). Thank God! Even when we as human beings try to look at the things of the heart rather than just outward appearances, however, we can miss what God sees … which is why we must pray, and ask the Lord of the harvest to send us potential leaders.

Yes, Jesus’ group looks like a group of clowns at first sight, yet Jesus’ group was healthy. That might seem like an oxymoron, but I don’t believe it is. Jesus understood the principle of process. He did not see only what they were, he saw what they were becoming. And often this process of becoming looks very messy.

If your group is a mess—if your group includes a bunch of dysfunctional, sinful, pride-laden, argumentative clowns—don’t give up! Ask God to help you see the process of what your group members are becoming. Remember, Clown Lives Matter.

Ask God to help you see the process of what group members are becoming. Click To Tweet

Interview: Leadership Expert Deborah Ike on Leading Healthy Small Groups

I recently met Deborah Ike, who works with church leaders to help them grow their churches and create a life with healthy margins. She is the author of two books, Volunteer Management Toolkit-Church Edition and Protect the Vision: A Practical Guide to Church Risk Management, both available on her website: Velocity Ministry Management. After reading this interview, go check out her site and ministry for church leaders.

Here’s our interview:

Michael Mack: I became familiar with and interested in your ministry through a tweet in which you mentioned burnout, which is also a favorite topic of mine. How did you first get interested in that topic?

Deborah Ike: I became interested in the issue from my own experience burning out and in talking with others who’ve had similar experiences. It breaks my heart to see people with incredible vision and love for Christ who lose their passion for ministry because they’ve been trying to do too much, too fast. After all, we are still human and have physical limitations. We need rest, sleep, and even play. Our culture focuses on quick results and we can get sucked into that mindset. Instead, we need to focus on staying in ministry for the long haul. That won’t happen if we burn ourselves out. I’ve learned many lessons the hard way and now help church leaders focus on what matters most so they can grow their church and lead a healthy life with more margin.

Michael: You write a lot about recruiting volunteers. What three best practices would you provide to small group ministry leaders about finding and asking people to lead a group?

Deborah: #1 – Clarify expectations about the role.

If you invite someone to lead a small group but only provide vague information about what that role looks like and what you expect a small group leader to do, you’ll have a tough time getting anyone to say yes. A potential small group leader needs to know what he/she is signing up to do. They’ll want to know things like, How often should we meet? Do you provide a study guide or any outlines for what to discuss at our meetings? How would people join the group? Where do we meet? What resources are available if a member of the group has a question or issue we don’t know how to address?

#2 – Look for people already leading.

You have leaders in your church—you may need to look a bit more closely. Who holds a leadership role at work? Who has served at various church events and did a great job? Ask around and listen for what names come up most often. Those are the people you should start talking to about leading a group.

#3 – Provide support.

When you talk with someone about leading a small group, make sure he/she knows you’ll be available to answer questions and/or provide direction as needed.

Michael: A healthy small group is a team that works together to carry out the mission God gave them. You write and speak on the topic of teamwork. What are a couple teamwork principles that small groups could use to grow in this area?

Deborah: Communication is key in any group setting. This includes learning the personalities and communication preferences of each team member. When we focus on communicating with each individual in a way he/she is best able to receive, we avoid potential conflict from misunderstandings and have more productive conversations overall.

Also, don’t be serious all the time. Yes, it’s great to have deep discussions about faith. However, it’s also really helpful to just have fun together, too. Make ice cream sundaes, go bowling, play a board game, etc. Those moments break the ice, help you see another aspect of each other’s personality, and will help your group grow closer together. People are more willing to engage in challenging topics when they trust and know the rest of the group. Having fun together is a great way to start building that trust.

Michael: What’s your favorite thing to do to unwind (and avoid burnout)?

Deborah: I’ve found exercise to be a great way to reduce stress. In fact, I have my best workouts after a challenging day! A tough workout releases endorphins, loosens up tense muscles, and makes me feel better overall.

Michael: Thanks, Deborah, for your great insights from a fresh perspective on leading healthy, growing small groups. And thanks for using your passion for God’s church!

QUESTION: What is the biggest takeaway for you as a leader from Deborah Ike’s interview? Please click the Comments box, below, to join the conversation!

The Best Small Group Coaching Resources

Every small group needs a coach to be healthy, grow, bear fruit, and eventually reproduce themselves.

I have tried every coaching model and system I could find, and I made up some of my own along the way. Several times I totally eliminated my whole coaching structure and started over with something new. All I wanted was something that actually worked with voluntary leaders and didn’t take up most of my time.

Along the way I’ve found 5 great resources I’ve used together to develop and lead a working coaching strategy. Here they are and how I used them. (I’ve linked each of these resources—the first four to Amazon—so you can check them out or purchase them yourself.)

Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders: A Comprehensive Guide for Developing Leaders of Groups and Teams

By Bill Donahue and Greg Bowman

I used this book as a resource for training the coaches under my care and I also gave it to directors who also oversaw coaches. It’s the most comprehensive of the coaching resources and will provide you plenty of material for developing your coaches, continually training them, and resourcing them.

A Pocket Guide to Coaching Small Groups: Befriending Leaders and Helping Groups Produce Fruit

By Randall G. Neighbour

I bought these little books by the dozens and gave one to each coach. This book is (intentionally) concise, an easy read, simple to implement, and Christ-centered. Because of the book’s size, readability, and practicality, I knew I could get my coaches to read it, and when they did, they took more ownership in the process.

 

How to Be a Great Cell Group Coach: Practical Insight for Supporting and Mentoring Cell Group Leaders

By Joel Comiskey

I’ve used this book as an additional resource for equipping and continuing to develop my coaches. I used many of the very practical strategies, ideas, and tips throughout the book, conveniently placed in call-out boxes on almost every page. I’ve also quoted Comiskey quite a bit from this book. Often, when I’d meet with my coaches—either together in coach clinics or one on one—I’d use material from Comiskey’s book.

 

Ordering Your Private World

By Gordon MacDonold

Why is this book on a list with coaching resources? Because I gave one to each of my coaches. I considered this a big investment in these vital people in our small group ministry. This book was life-changing for me and I knew it could be the same for them. Truth is, if the private worlds of my coaches were disordered, I couldn’t expect much from them in coaching our leaders and groups. My prayer and plan was that upon reading this book, my coaches would begin to naturally overflow God’s wisdom and power out of a well-ordered heart. I also used parts of this book in my one-on-one meetings with coaches.

 

Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Coaching Strategy: PART 1 / PART 2

As I was experimenting with different strategies, I realized—and even wrote about the fact—that different leaders needed different types and levels of coaching. (Some leaders thought they didn’t need any coaching at all, but I still wanted to care for and support them.) About that same time I came across two short articles on ChurchLeaders.com in which Mark Howell interviewed Steve Gladen about his coaching strategy at Saddleback. From these articles, I then developed a system that really worked for us. It looked like this:

PROACTIVE CARE

New Leaders/Groups or Unhealthy Leaders/Groups: Priority Care
(Ratio – ~1-3 leaders : 1 Coach)
New Leaders are full of questions and unsure of themselves; Unhealthy groups are off track in one or more of our 7 Vital Signs of a Healthy Group and need help getting back to health – Stay in close contact and give all the support they need: meet with leader, visit group, phone calls, emails, etc.

Seasoned Leaders/Groups: Personal Care
(~3-5 : 1)
Excited, ready for direction and encouragement, good enough to be dangerous! – Coach them how to be a healthy, Christ-centered, disciple-making group.

 

REACTIVE CARE

Veteran Leaders/Groups: Phone Care
(~10-15 : 1)
Know what they are doing but not immune to conflicts and issues – Touch base regularly though email, phone calls, texts, or Facebook; let the leader tell you which.

Stubborn Leaders/Groups: Supportive Care
(~25-30 : 1. We asked some older folks who had been in groups to keep in touch with them.)
Been at this for a while; they may say they don’t need to be coached, but still want to know where to go when issues arise – Leave them alone for the most part; leave a voice mail about once a month and offer prayer for them.

Should We Shake Up Small Groups?

I was recently asked this question via email from a church leader in Canada:

There has been some question in the past at our church about how long a group should be together. A thought had been to “shake” things up or break up groups on purpose and in doing so that it would help. My opinion is that it hurts. The leaders are wondering what is best. What are your thoughts?

My first thought is to take a 30,000-perspective on the question. If I were consulting face-to-face with this church, I’d ask,

  • What’s the mission of your church?
  • What would you say is the main purpose of groups at the church?
  • What would your senior leader say is the purpose of groups?
  • What would your group leaders and members say is the purpose?
  • How would you describe your definition of and philosophy for small groups in the church?
  • How did these groups form in the first place? Naturally, organically, and relationally? Or through a programmed approach such as sign-up sheets, assignment/placement in groups (i.e., by last name, ages, neighborhoods, etc.), or a campaign?

I ask those questions to understand the context but also because the answers to those kinds of questions usually help the leader to respond to the more specific how-to questions.

In regard to definition and philosophy, I personally think of small groups as one of the most basic units of the body of Christ. The position the leaders in this church are espousing would be like taking organs out of one body and transplanting them into others. I can’t see how that helps.

If those organs (people) are unhealthy spiritually, that makes the whole situation even worse. Shuffling unhealthy people around in groups won’t help the situation. First deal with the unhealthiness within the groups. To do that you’ll need to assess your groups and your people. (My free group assessment is here: http://www.touchusa.org/free-small-group-health-assessment.)  I believe the best prescription for spiritual unhealthiness is discipleship. Spiritually immature people are often the most spiritually unhealthy.

My other favorite illustration of healthy small groups is a good football team that huddles to call the next play, instruct, encourage, and confess (“my bad; I dropped the ball”); and then breaks the huddle to run the play in order to carry out the team’s mission. No game was ever won in the huddle. Cohesive teams may make some offseason “trades,” but the best ones have been together for a while. They know one another, care about each other, and are a “team.”

If you’re purpose is to build disciples in healthy community, the big question is what’s best for doing that?

I don’t fully know this church’s situation, but in many cases like this one there’s something else going on behind these leaders’ desire to “shake things up.” It would take time for the small group director to meet together with people, invest into them, and do some evaluating to discover what that something is. Are people afraid of intimacy? Do they simply not like the people they are presently meeting with? Are they too inwardly focused (a holy huddle that’s not carrying out the mission)?

This is where the question about how they formed into their present groups comes in. If they were assigned or placed in groups by the church, or if they connected through a sign-up sheet or something like that, I can see why they might want to shake up that nonrelational program. However, I’d carefully, prayerfully put together a plan first for how the new groups will form. Because I believe in a more relational, rather than programmed approach to groups, I’d find a way for people to gather in groups through the relationships they already have—not as consumers, though, but as friends who desire to live in community to carry out God’s mission.

By the way, I suggest three books for anyone wrestling with this question:

My Small Group Vital Signs. It provides seven indicators of health that keep groups flourishing (so that members want to work together, grow together, bear fruit together, and then naturally multiply into new healthy groups).

Scott Boren’s MissioRelate (click for more info or to buy now), for small group directors, pastors, and other church leaders. Out of the hundreds of books I own on small group ministry, it’s the best and clearest on how to build a healthy small group ministry.

Scott Boren’s Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus (click for more info or to buy now), for small group leaders, core team members, and the rest of the group. I’m reading this book now, and it’s fantastic! Scott shows groups how to move from good meetings to having great small group experiences that transform lives and make a kingdom impact.

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: July 18-22, 2016

Here are the Small Group Leader TIPS for the last week as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

Monday, 7/18

Get out of the comfort zone of people just like you. Click To Tweet

Tuesday, 7/19

Study John 17:20-23 & ask God to make this happen thru your grp. Click To Tweet

Wednesday, 7/20

God gave us the 'ministry of reconciliation.' So go and be reconcilers. Click To Tweet

Thursday, 7/21

Seek to radically love people who are different from you. Click To Tweet

Friday, 7/22

Like Jesus and his disciples, choose to cross cultural barriers. Click To Tweet

 

Go ahead: Tweet these (or post on your favorite social network, or just email them) to your followers! Or just share ALL of them by clicking a social button below.

QUESTION: As you can tell, all these tips deal with reconciliation. See my blog post on this topic HERE. What are some things your group is doing to bring racial or any other kind of reconciliation in the world? Please leave a comment by clicking the Comment bar below.

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!