Make More Disciples by Making Less

As a small group leader, how many people do you think you can effectively lead, shepherd, and disciple? Eight? Ten? Twelve? Twenty? Let me ask this question another way: If you are to bear much fruit, fruit that will last . . . if you are to see true transformation of people’s lives . . . if you are to see people develop into leaders so that you are multiplying your leadership . . . into how many people can you invest your life? 

The World’s Greatest Small Group Leader formed a small team that would eventually change the world. But first, Jesus called two sets of brothers: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Three of these, Peter, James, and John, became Jesus’ inner circle, his Core Team. Jesus poured his life into these three men, investing into them and modeling a life surrendered to the Father for them. He took these three away with him to pray and heal, as well as when he was transfigured.[I] While Jesus did not ignore the other nine apostles or his other followers, he intentionally discipled these three and developed them into leaders. 

Jesus knew something vital about leadership, discipleship, and shepherding. No one—not even Jesus—can effectively lead, disciple, or shepherd more than about two or three people. Leading, discipling, and shepherding are based on close relationships in which the leader invests into the life of those he or she is leading. 

"No one—not even Jesus—can effectively lead, disciple, or shepherd more than about two or three people." Click To Tweet

For years, many churches have assumed that small groups or Sunday school classes or discipleship programs make disciples. Just get people into one of these, and voila, you’ve made disciples. But it doesn’t work that way. Small groups and other forms are simply the context or environment in which disciples can be produced. Disciples are made life on life. As Leroy Eims said, “It takes time to make disciples. It takes individual, personal attention. It takes hours of prayer for them. It takes patience and understanding to teach them how to get into the Word of God for themselves, how to feed and nourish their souls, and by the power of the Holy Spirit how to apply the Word to their lives. And it takes being an example to them of all of the above.”

Read that quote again. Study it. Reflect on it. Can you do those things by yourself with 10 or 12 people? How about five or six?

I’ve said it before: We can mass-produce dresses, diapers, doormats, Doritos, and Dodge Durangos . . . but we can’t mass-produce disciples!

The foundation of disciple-making is a one-on-one relationship. Discipleship is the personal relationship in which one believer pours his or her life out into another to help that person become more like Jesus. I think most people can make this kind of investment with at most two or three people at once. In the best circumstances, these two to three should be people within your small group. It does not make a lot of sense to be in one group for discipleship, another for fellowship, another for Bible study, and yet another where you serve together. That leads to burnout for everyone (and yet I’ve seen plenty of churches organized this way). 

"Discipleship is the personal relationship in which one believer pours his or her life out into another to help that person become more like Jesus." Click To Tweet

The small group is where you do life together, serve together in missional community, and discuss and apply the Bible together. It’s also a warm and welcoming place where you can invite friends who do not know Christ yet, where they can see the love portrayed in your community life and meet the One who makes it happen.

Within that larger small group, discipleship happens one-on-one or with two or three who may meet regularly for more intense Bible study, memorization, and personal application; prayer; confession; and accountability . . . or it may be a less formal relationship in which they meet regularly for coffee, talk on the phone and text one another, or whatever works best for those involved. It’s always intentional, but it doesn’t have to be “formal.”

In these subgroups, the two or three people are close confidants whom you trust. The relationships are more authentic and intentional than in the larger small group.

I’ve described in much more detail how this works in a healthy small group in my book, The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership: How to Gather a Core Team and Lead from the Second Chair, and also in Chapter 3 of Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health that Make Groups Flourish (both published by TOUCH Publications, www.touchusa.org). The foundation of the process is that the designated leader of the group must share leadership (that is, shepherding and discipling roles) with several others in the group. Each person on the core team takes responsibility for discipling one to three others. 

I’ve found that those whom have been discipled this way often turn around and disciple others, reproducing themselves again and again.

Jesus demonstrated a simple model we can use to make more and stronger followers, a model that can, and should, reproduce more disciples, more groups, and even more churches, just as Jesus intended.

"We can mass-produce dresses, diapers, doormats, Doritos, and Dodge Durangos . . . but we can't mass-produce disciples!" Click To Tweet

This post is adapted, in part, from Chapter 2 of The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership.

[i]While it seems that Andrew was not included as much in Jesus’ inner circle as the other three, he was included at least once when the two sets of brothers pulled Jesus aside privately to ask him some questions (Mark 13:4). Interestingly, when the Gospel writers listed the Twelve, Matthew and Luke list the brothers together: Peter and Andrew, then James and John. But Mark separates the sets of brothers, placing Andrew fourth on the list behind Peter, James, and John. In the listing of the eleven apostles in Acts 1:13, Luke places them in this order: Peter, John, James, and then Andrew. Is there any significance to this? We can only surmise, but the order of names in a list was usually very significant in Jewish culture.

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Weeks for April 25 – May 6, 2016

Here are the last two weeks of Small Group Leader TIPS as Tweeted, posted on the Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Monday, 4/25: Be sure you are not in God’s way of working in your group’s or individual’s lives. Let God work. #ministry

Tuesday, 4/26: In your meeting agenda, leave LOTS of room for the Holy Spirit to work. #leadership #holyspirit

Wednesday, 4/27: Keep the main things the main things: 
1 Your relationship w #God 
2 #Love Others 
3 Your #mission 
#lead

Thursday, 4/28: Love group members more than you love your group expectations. #smallgroups #leadership #shepherd #love

Friday, 4/29: Learn to listen even when group is silent. Listen w/ your eyes. #kinesics #bodylanguage #facilitate

 – – – – – – – THIS WEEK – – – – – – –

Monday, 5/2: Move beyond the stories of what Jesus DID; discuss-better yet, experience-what he is DOING. #grow #power

Tuesday, 5/3: Healthy things grow, bear fruit, and reproduce. Use these to analyze if your group is healthy. #health

Wednesday, 5/4: Great, life-changing groups don’t play it safe. Move from comfy and cautious to courageous and costly!

Thursday, 5/5: The best community begins with a leader who spends time in solitude with God. #overflow #leadership

Friday, 5/6: Pray as though Christ is in the room with you…because he is! #prayer #presence #power #purposeful

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS!

 Follow @michaelcmack

Is Your Small Group (or Church) Ready to Go Underground?

What will happen to the church and to small groups if (or when) it becomes illegal for Christian ministers to publicly hold up biblical values? What if your testimony became “hate speech”? These are the questions Francis Chan addresses in this three-and-a-half-minute video. The video, I believe, is actually misnamed. While politics is the backdrop of his comments here, Chan’s focusing on the church being the church it’s supposed to be. Take a look:


Francis Chan on Politics from Nate Hanson on Vimeo.

The church that Jesus imagined and founded, the one that is at its purest state, the church the early believers developed and grew under God’s guidance, was an empowered church. God empowers leaders who empower others who continue empowering generation after generation of Christ followers to share the simple and life-changing message of the gospel.

I’d like to think, and I pray it’s true, that if church buildings were closed and church leaders were jailed, the church would not only keep going but would become better and stronger.

It’s sad to me that it would take those kinds of extreme measures to get us to do what we were suppose to be doing in the first place. 

Perhaps we need to stop fighting so much for our “rights” and start empowering others and proclaiming the gospel as we should. Let’s start with prayer, recognizing God’s power, presence, and purposes. May his will be done!

In our small groups and churches, it’s time to share leadership! This is one of the 7 signs of a healthy small group and the one that is the biggest catalyst for a group growing, bearing fruit, and reproducing itself. (See Chapter 3 of Small Group Vital Signs.) It’s time to empower everyone in our groups and churches and to share ownership with every person.

Is your church and your small group ready to go underground? What are you doing to prepare? 

MORE ON THIS TOPIC

10 Stupid Things That Are Keeping Your Small Group from Growing
The Fool’s Gold of Group Discipleship: 6 Small Group Elements Easily Mistaken for the Real Thing
Seven Steps to Share the Leadership of Your Group

How to Kill an Unhealthy Small Group

How do you kill an unhealthy group?

I’ve been asked this question a number of times, but I believe it begins with a faulty premise. Yes, some small groups are unhealthy, but that doesn’t warrant killing them off.

Several years ago, my friend Brian Jones wrote a blog post, “Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups.” Many churches have lowered the bar of small group leadership to an absurd level, says Jones. I agree with him that hosts or facilitators cannot reproduce life and bring about spiritual transformation. Nondisciples cannot produce disciples. Yes, some small groups are unhealthy. They may have unhealthy leaders or unhealthy dynamics, or perhaps they have developed some unhealthy patterns.

Because some groups are unhealthy, Jones said he believes churches should kill off their small groups. I would like to offer a second opinion. Don’t euthanize your small group(s)!

As any good doctor would do for an unhealthy patient, I think church leaders should start by diagnosing the health of their groups. That’s what we did years ago at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, through our Small Groups Health Assessment (the 42-question assessment is available at www.touchusa.org/free-small-group-health-assessment and is absolutely free). Once you have diagnosed the health of your group(s), you can make a prognosis. What needs to happen to help the group(s) become healthy? Good training and coaching are major parts of the treatment program for unhealthy groups. Be sure the small groups under your care are led by disciples who love God and his people and have shepherd hearts.

I wrote my book, Small Group Vital Signs, to help churches and groups diagnose and then improve the health of their groups. If you think your group is unhealthy, or if you are a church leader and you wonder about the health of the groups under your care, perhaps this book can help you. So put away the sterile needles and let’s work on some positive remedies!

More About Healthy Groups

The Secrret Sauce to Awesome Small Group Meetings: the 3 Main Ingredients
Jesus’ Small Group Was a Dysfunctional Mess
10 Stupid Things That Are Keeping Your Small Group from Growing

10 Can’t-Miss Principles for Finding the WRONG Leaders

Through my assessment of small groups as well as my experience leading groups and coaching other leaders, I’ve observed a direct correlation between leaders who hog leadership and groups that do not grow or multiply.
Leaders who lead healthy, growing groups share leadership with two to three others … but not just any two or three others. I’ve seen leaders pick the right people and the wrong people to share leadership with. Let’s look at how they end up choosing the wrong ones (and, by the way, these also work well for church leaders looking for small group leaders):
  1. Start by developing a recruiting strategy. Make a list of who you think are the right people. Use the normal list of qualifications: knowledge, abilities, charisma, and especially physical appearance. Then consider how you will twist arms to get the ones you want to take on this job.

    A Better Idea … Ask the Lord of the Harvest to send these “workers.” Yes, start with prayer. Trust him to help you know whom to ask.

  2. Announce you are looking for some co-leaders. Ask the group who wants to join you in leading the group. Or send around a sign-up sheet.
  3. Let the group decide. Better yet, ask everyone to make a case for why he or she should be a core team member (after all, this is an exclusive club!) and then have everyone in the group close their eyes and on the count of three, point to the people they think should be on the core team. The ones with the most votes win!

    A Better Idea … Wait and watch whom God leads you to. I wouldn’t even tell group members you are looking for “co-leaders.” Once you have begun praying, watch for whom God puts in front of you. Listen to his voice as you talk to people. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as you interact with group members.

  4. Take anyone who is willing to help. People are busy; no one will want to sign up for this duty. So take anyone who might say yes. Don’t worry about their spiritual lives.
  5. Wait until you get potential co-leaders who meet all your expectations. This is an important job. These people may someday be leaders of new groups, so be cultivate extremely high standards. If no one meets your leadership expectations, don’t do anything. Just keep leading alone.

    A Better Idea … Watch for potential, not perfection. Look for servants, not saints. Look for humble hearts, not superior skills or incredible intelligence.

  6. Recruit people like you. Things will go much more smoothly if your core team members will lead with exactly the same style as you. After all, you are the leadership model. They should have the same gifts as you and will make decisions the same way as you.

    A Better Idea … Do just the opposite. God will likely lead you to people who do not lead like you. Because of that, you may not even see them as “leaders.” Set aside your expectations and trust God to do what only he can do. He is looking for Christlike, not you-like leaders.

  7. Look for people who have the most obvious leadership skills, people who have the spiritual gift of leadership, and people who are successful in business.

    A Better Idea … Consider the condition of their hearts. God will lead you to men or women after his own heart. By the way, leadership is not the only spiritual gift God can use to help lead a group. In fact, those with the gifts of mercy or shepherding or evangelism or other gifts might be the better matches with the gifts you have. Remember, it’s God’s job to put the body together, just as he wants it to be.

  8. Look outside your group. It’s unlikely that a suitable core team member is in your small circle. So look around your church for people with superior leadership abilities. Maybe an elder or deacon. Perhaps a businessman who isn’t connected yet.

    A Better Idea … Look around you. Perhaps God has already put your core team members close to you. They may be the women or men in the group with whom you already have close relationships or those whose gifts complement yours.

  9. Just do it all. It’s probably easier for you to keep leading alone. What real difference can it make?

    A Better Idea … Begin now to share ownership of the group with everyone. Let everyone be involved in the group process. This will help you lead into sharing leadership. (Read my post on the difference between sharing ownership and sharing leadership.) People hesitate to be on a team when the leader does too much. As the group’s leader you must grow in your ability to allow others to use their gifts.

    Leading alone leads to frustration and burnout for the leader and does not effectively help people in your group grow.

  10. Focus exclusively on caring for your group members. You are the group’s shepherd. It’s all about the people in your group right now. Don’t be concerned about anything outside of or beyond that.

    A Better Idea … and this is VITAL … Remember that sharing leadership is part of the discipleship process. It was part of how Jesus discipled and developed Peter, James, and John in his group. Sharing leadership is also a vital ingredient in multiplying leadership, reproducing groups, and expanding the kingdom of God. It’s a necessary part of our great commission to go and make disciples of all nations.

Leaders who hog leadership keep God’s kingdom from growing. Don’t do that!

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Read More about Sharing Leadership with a Core Team

Leadership Is Not a Solo Act
The “Right Person” to Lead a Small Group
Two Rocket Boosters That Will Propel Your Small Group to Accomplish Christ’s Mission
How to Help Group Members Keep Growing and Growing

See more about how to develop a core team and share leadership in my book, The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership.

You can also purchase it in Portuguese here! (I spoke on this topic at two conferences in Brazil in March 2014.) 

The Final 4 Vital Characteristics of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader

In my previous post, I shared the first 4 characteristics of a life-changing leader. Read that post first. While those are the most fundamental, the next 4 are no less vital:

5. Healthy small group leaders are friends with non-Christ-followers
Small group leaders may or may not have the spiritual gift of evangelism, but they do intentionally seek out friendships with those who are not yet friends with God. These friendships are genuine and unconditional . . . no strings attached. Yes, they pray diligently for their friends and watch for opportunities to share their story and the gospel, but they don’t leverage the relationship to force conversations about Christ. Rather, they allow God to use them to shine his light. They allow the overflow of God’s love to pour out of their lives naturally.

6. Healthy small group leaders are shepherds
Transformed, surrendered leaders invest relationally into and lovingly guide the group that God puts under their care. I believe being a shepherd is the main role of the small group leader. All the other attributes describe how to do this one well.

“He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young” (Isaiah 40:11, NLT). Great small group leaders invest relationally into the individual members of the group, and not just during group meetings! Do you know the spiritual condition of your flock (Proverbs 27:23)? The biggest difference between a teacher, facilitator, or host and a shepherd leader is that the former do not necessarily need to know their sheep or lead them spiritually. But that is precisely the role of the shepherd-leader.

7. Healthy small group leaders are servants-first
Jesus made this one very clear. You can’t be a leader in his kingdom unless you first have the heart of a servant. Why do you want to lead? If it is because it is the best way for you to serve the group, then you are on the right track. If you desire leadership for any other reason, reconsider this role. Find another way to serve the group first.

8. Healthy small group leaders are growing in competence
While leading a healthy small group has more to do with heart than skills, a healthy leader is a learner. So remain teachable. Keep reading leadership articles, books, and blogs. Go to every leader training class your church offers. Listen to leadership podcasts and attend leader training events offered in your area.

Most importantly, spend time with Christ every day. Be in his Word, not just to study leadership principles (which are ample in the Bible), but to be filled up so that you may overflow into the lives of others.

*     *     *     *     *
This post is adapted from my book, SmallGroup Vital Signs (TOUCH Publications). 
 

More About Healthy Leadership

5 Minute Daily Devotions for Leaders … C’mon Man!
Leader Burnout Is Universal
Silencing the Monkeys in the Banana Tree

The First 4 Vital Characteristics of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader

One of the fundamental differences between healthy and unhealthy small groups is the spiritual vitality of the leaders. While imperfect, healthy leaders have a soft heart that God can use to accomplish his will. They are highly committed first to God, and then to the group. Healthy leaders have at least eight attributes. Today I’ll share the first four:

1. Healthy small group leaders have been transformed
One of your main functions as a small group leader is to build an environment where spiritual transformation is experienced. This happens best when you have first experienced transformation yourself. What happened to Peter and the other disciples between the gospels and Acts to bring about the transformation they experienced? It was a process that Jesus began three years earlier but that came to fruition with the power of the resurrection (John 20), the power of reconciliation (John 21), and finally the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Then Jesus used these transformed leaders to build a great, world-transforming church. He can do the same through you when you spend time with him and allow him to transform your life!

2. Healthy small group leaders live surrendered to God
One thing the apostles learned from Jesus was how to live and lead in surrender to God’s will. Great small group leaders turn to Christ for everything: who to invite to the group, the group’s purpose, and the what to study. To do this, you must pray and then wait before making decisions. Great group leaders know if they surrender their leadership to Christ they will accomplish far more than they can do in their own power.

3. Healthy small group leaders are committed to their calling
God first calls people to lead, then he gifts them to lead, and last, he empowers them to lead. The leadership God has entrusted to you is a precious gift of his grace (Ephesians 3:7) you should never take for granted. Accept it willingly, develop it, and multiply it by the mighty working of his power. Be a good steward of his gift to you!

4. Healthy small group leaders are friends
Jesus called his group members “friends.” But perhaps that word meant more to Jesus than we think: “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus said, “that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Real friendship is sacrificial.

A healthy leader considers the members of the group as his or her friends, not as students, participants, or “people who show up to our meetings.” As the leader, you invest into those friendships. A group member from our church wrote:

Joe and I have been in small group with Gary for about five years now. I wasn’t sure about joining a “Bible study,” but this group is so much more. The friendships we have formed are everlasting. Our small group, with Gary as our leader, not only studies the Bible, but we hold each other up; we encourage each other in good and bad times; we have moments where we laugh and sometimes cry; we love each other no matter what; and we know in our hearts that Jesus Christ is always with us. Gary keeps us focused, and he is one of the best friends Joe and I could ever have!

Wouldn’t you want someone in your group to say the same about you? Become their friend!

Read the next four vital characteristics of a life-changing leader.

*     *     *     *     *
This post is adapted from my book, SmallGroup Vital Signs (TOUCH Publications). 
 

More About Healthy Leadership

5 Minute Daily Devotions for Leaders … C’mon Man!
Leader Burnout Is Universal
Silencing the Monkeys in the Banana Tree

4 Specific Things You Can Do to Make Your Group More Christ-Centered

You may be familiar with this graphic that shows how to
live a Christ-directed life. How could you apply this to
your small group?

Over more than 20 years of doing small group ministry, I’ve learned this: There are many skills and techniques you can learn to help you lead a good group. But nothing else even comes close to the magnitude of the first vital sign of a healthy group.

A healthy group is Christ-centered. Christ is the real leader, and the group is primarily focused on him, experiencing his presence, carrying out his purposes, and living by his power. This is where group health starts, because all the other vital signs are dependent upon how well you as a leader keep Christ at the center of your life and your group. When you put yourself or anyone or anything else at the center of the group you’ll lack the power to accomplish much of anything.

So here are 4 specific ways you can make your group more Christ-centered.

1. Recognize His Presence. I begin every meeting with a worshipful prayer, recognizing Christ’s presence with us and his leadership of the group. I sometimes include Matthew 18:20 in my prayer, remembering that Jesus said that whenever two or more come together in his name, he is actually there in our midst. Then I watch for what he does during our meeting. It’s sometimes easy for me to forget that Christ is actually there in our midst throughout the meeting. He does not leave us during the Bible study. His Spirit is there to help us understand and apply his Word. He certainly does not forsake us during our prayer time. He hears each of our requests, so we don’t have to repeat them back to him at the end!

2. Depend on His Power. I find that many groups need to learn to take members’ hurts and problems to Jesus, not just to one another. I often hear concerned group members give all kinds of advice for a person’s personal issues during the sharing of prayer concerns. As the leader, ask members to simply listen, and then take the concerns to Jesus—not to a recommended book, a miracle diet or exercise program, a referred doctor, or even a platitudinous Bible verse.

3. Seek His Purposes. “What are Christ’s purposes for our group?” Begin with that question and then study the Great Commission and other passages. Ask, “Why did Jesus say he came into the world?” (to seek and save the lost), and then remind the group that just as the Father sent him into the world, so he sends us into the world (John 17:18). Ask the group to imagine some big ways you as a group could make an impact on your community. Ask them to imagine something so big that if God isn’t in it, it would be destined to fail. Then read Ephesians 3:20, and make some God-sized plans!

4. Move Beyond Study. As you open God’s Word as a small group, don’t just study Jesus as the historical figure of antiquity. Move beyond discussion about the stories of what Jesus did, to talk about—better yet, experience—what he is doing. He is indeed present in your group meetings—right now. Recognizing this will make all the difference in your group.

More Posts on Christ-Centeredness

The Brazil Cell-Church Conference: What I Learned … #3 – Burnout Is Universal

Robert Lay, holding up my book, The Pocket Guide
to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership,

translated into Portuguese

Brazilian leaders deal with burnout.

When I was first asked to speak on the topic of leader burnout in Brazil, I was surprised. Because of all the wonderful things I’ve heard about the Brazilian church, cells, and the people, not to mention the more relaxed pace of life there, I assumed they did not deal with burnout like we do in North America. I was wrong.
In my first session I walked through some of the reasons that leaders tend to burn out and later I talked about the dangers signs of burnout, especially for cell leaders. In more than 25 years of small group ministry, I’ve witnessed leaders unfortunately burning out and then stepping out of leadership.
I told the story of Don, a group leader in our church several years ago. Don’s group started smoothly and seemed to go well the first several months. But within the first year, Don called me to tell me he was stepping down from leadership. When I met with Don to ask what happened, he described the time he spent …
  • preparing for the meeting
  • calling members
  • caring for some of the needy people in the group
  • reaching out to lost people
  • inviting people to the group
  • discipling two of the newer Christians
  • dealing with issues and conflicts
  • helping his wife clean the house before the meeting
  • and praying daily for cell members

Don also had a growing family with three young children, a demanding job, and many other responsibilities.

Does that sound familiar to you, leader? Unfortunately, Don is just an example of the legions of leaders who are burned out, burning out, about to quit, or have already quit.

If you are reading this and you have lost your passion and joy for your ministry, I hope God can fill you back up. It’s one of his specialties. I just want to encourage you: Don’t give up! The kingdom of God needs you! But first, God wants you to be healthy. “Do not become weary in doing good. Because at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
I wrote my book, The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership (a small book with a big name!) because I believe the stakes are too high for leaders to burn out and quit. And I believe there are much better solutions. That book describes several ways to lead so that you won’t burn out. The subtitle of the book provides a clue: “How to gather a core team and lead from the second chair.”  But I’ve learned two things over the years about beating burnout:
  1. It’s not just about burnout. The same principles that will keep you from burning out will also make you much more effective as a leader. They will help your group to grow, bear fruit, and multiply.
  2. That first discovery led to the second: Leading your group (or anything else, for that matter) in a healthy way will have two huge effects: (a) you will be much less likely to burnout; and (b) your group will grow, bear fruit, and multiply. You see, writing the book about burnout led me to write my next book, Small Group Vital Signs.
I spoke at the Brazil conference about several of the vital signs of a healthy group and how these vital signs would help these leaders to not only avoid burnout but to be effective and productive in their ministry. So I spoke about the absolute vitality that your group be a Christ-centered community. If your primary focus is on anything else, you will tend toward burnout as a leader and your group will not grow, bear fruit, or multiply.
I spoke on the fact that a healthy group demands a healthy, overflowing leader. This is my favorite topic to talk about, and I found that the people in Brazil responded the most to this topic, both times I spoke about it. Leadership, I believe, is simple: you as a leader must be putting yourself in the position to RECEIVE from Jesus, the true Vine, and then you will naturally OVERFLOW into those you lead.
In my fourth session I talked about the vitality of a leader sharing leadership with 2-3 others in a core team. Over the years, I’ve learned that one of the major causes of burnout is when leaders try to do everything themselves, especially the responsibilities of shepherding and discipling group members.
In my last session, I spoke very personally about my own struggles with allowing my life to become upside-down and the huge toll that took on my relationship with God, marriage, family, and ministry. When we allow our ministry to become our priority, it can drown out our relationships with God, our spouses, our kids, and our friends. Burnout is often ultimately a result of living upside-down, allowing things other than God to be transcendent in our lives.
Leader burnout and ineffectiveness is a universal problem because we as humans tend toward living life and leading our own way rather than God’s way. It’s true in the USA and in Brazil and anywhere else in the world where people are less than perfect. But there are solutions.
Read the rest of the posts in this series on Brazil HERE

The Brazil Cell-Church Conference: What I Learned … #2: Community Is Not All It Should Be (even in Brazil)

It’s been a couple weeks since returning from my trip to Brazil, training cell pastors and leaders at two conferences. Yesterday, I shared the first of some of my discoveries from my trip: Community Is a Way of Life in Brazil, and because of that cells fit into that culture.

While I believe that’s true, I also noticed that the Brazilian church, like the church in most places, is still lacking many of the biblical components of true, authentic community. That’s my topic for today:

2. Community Is Not All It Should Be.
I’ll tell the truth. When I was asked to speak to the pastors and leaders in Brazil, I wondered what I had to teach them. I’ve heard so much about the strength of the church and the cells in Brazil. I was told they are the “cell-group Mecca.” One widely known cell-church leader told me the Brazilian Christians “are far ahead of us in experiencing the supernatural presence and power in their cells than US churches experience.” Another cell-church leader told me about a church in Brazil with 10,000 cells.

It’s easy to idealize (even idolize) the churches in other countries. We read about the great things God is doing there, the growth of the churches through groups, the spiritual vitality of the people. But we don’t always hear about the weaknesses. Afterall, they had asked me to come and speak specifically about leader burnout and the vital signs of healthy groups.

While in Manaus, in the northern part of the country, the pastor of the church where the conference was held told me about some of the struggles many of their cells had. These sounded very familiar to me.

Lack of Authenticity
While the Brazilian people naturally share life together, they still seem afraid to share deeply about their inner lives. Like so many people I know, they tend to hide from one another, a situation that’s been around since Adam and Eve after the Fall (Genesis 3:8).

Lack of Confession
This hiding results, of course, in abandoning the New Testament admonition of confessing our sins to one another and praying for one another so that we may be healed (James 5:16). I could tell, even through our language barrier, that this pastor yearned to see his people be able to break free from their sin through authenticity, confession, and prayer. Oh, for more pastors who have this level of compassion for their people!

Lack of Christ-Centeredness
I spoke in my second session about the idea that a healthy group is a Christ-centered community. Even in my remarks, I mentioned that much of this was probably review for them, but after the end of the session in both cities where I spoke, many people thanked me for sharing this vital principle. Like so many groups, many of them had let other priorities rather than Christ take first place in their groups. Satan is tricky. He gets groups focused on otherwise good things that take our attention off of Christ, and the result is we don’t experience his presence and power or carry out his purposes as we should.


Spiritually Struggling Leaders
I sensed the Holy Spirit leading me, over and over, to speak truthfully and personally about the vitality of leaders’ spiritual lives, taking time, regardless of how busy they are, to spend time with God, to get away from the crowds and their groups and to spend time in solitude with the Father. In Aguas de Lindoia, I felt led to share my own story of allowing my ministry to come before my relationship with God and my relationship with my wife, and the terrible toll that took. Many pastors hugged me afterward, some with tears in their eyes and very firm holds on my shoulders, thanking me for sharing. It’s so easy for us as leaders to confuse our priorities–to allow our passion for God to become a consuming zeal for ministry that then takes over our lives. Our call as leaders is to delight ourselves in the Lord, not in our ministry. God overflows through leaders who delight in him. He gives them the desires of their hearts.

Read the rest of the posts in this series HERE