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.

____

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

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.

Return of the Small Group Leadership Blog!

Reader, forgive me. It’s been 7 months since my last blog post.

(If you grew up Catholic, as I did, I’m sure that first line has a familiar ring to it.)

So . . . where have I been? As I wrote in a blog post back in June 2017, I became editor of Christian Standard magazine a little more than a year and a half ago. I love that ministry and the way God is using it to serve leaders and churches around the world. But I’ve missed my interaction with small group leaders and pastors here. I still lead small group training sessions in churches occasionally on weekends, and I love that more than almost anything else I do, but I’ve been focusing most of my time and energy on the magazine and its ministry.

I just wanted to let you know I’m planning to return to blogging here on at least a somewhat regular basis. I’d love to get questions from readers of this blog; I’ll try to respond via a post as soon as possible. I’ll also share some of the “best of” materials from my books and other resources.

Meanwhile, I’d like to let you know about an exciting new move we’ve made with our magazines. Christian Standard Media just launched what may be considered one of the most exciting endeavors in our 152-year history. Christian Standard and The Lookout are now available digitally for FREE!

Simply go to each of our magazine’s websites, www.christianstandard.com and www.lookoutmag.com, enter your name and email address when prompted, and you’re in. You can then flip through and read the full magazine with all the stories, pictures, etc. on your computer, tablet, or phone. This isn’t just a three-month offer; we will not come back later and ask you to pay to continue your subscription. And you can be assured we won’t fill your email inbox with a bunch of junk mail; we’ll use your email address primarily to let you know when the next issue of our magazines are available on our websites. I hope you’ll join us!

And don’t forget, please send me your small group and discipleship questions! Click to comment below.

 

 

 

20 “Bible Dialogue” Questions

Here’s a way you and your group can study the Bible without using a Bible-study guide. I developed these questions (some of which I picked up from other places) several years ago.

Read a section of Scripture (a chapter, for instance) together as a group. Be creative. Read in the round (one verse or sentence at a time) or have group members read in parts. Then ask some general questions to get people dialoguing around the text. Move from “what did you get” questions to “what will you do” questions. Here are a few possibilities. You might use only one or two of these kinds of questions in a study! Remember that follow-up questions are the best questions.

  1. What jumped out at you in this passage?
  2. What’s going on here? Summarize what’s happening.
  3. What did you notice here, maybe for the first time?
  4. Who are the main characters in this passage?
  5. What’s your favorite verse in this passage? Why?
  6. What’s your least favorite verse in this passage? Why?
  7. What do you think God is trying to communicate overall in this passage?
  8. If we were writing a sermon with three main points from this passage, what would be our three points?
  9. What did you sense the Holy Spirit saying to you?
  10. What example do you see here that you can follow?
  11. What commands do you see here that you need to obey?
  12. What thoughts do you find here about God himself?
  13. What promise(s) do you see here for you to claim?
  14. What principles do you see here that you need to accept?
  15. What can we learn as a group from this passage?
  16. In what verse or section do you sense God speaking directly to you?
  17. How will this passage affect your relationships this next week?
  18. What changes do you feel like you need to make based on this passage?
  19. So what? What are you going to do based on reading this?
  20. What is one specific thing from this passage that you would pray back to God? How would you word that prayer?

The Need for Accountability in Groups

CJ StephensGUEST POST by C.J. Stephens, Small Groups Minister at Northeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky

 

I hear the stories over and over again. They vary in subtle ways, yet they’re always about that person in your group—the one who seems to have everything together. Their life is going perfectly. Their family is great. They are making more money than they ever have. They love their job.

And then one day, out of the blue, their life falls apart.

It turns out that everything wasn’t as great as it seemed. Maybe they weren’t in such a great financial position. Maybe their marriage was a sham. Maybe the person was dealing with a secret sin.

I wish I could say this kind of thing never happens in our groups, that it never happens in our church. But it does, and each time, it breaks my heart. It can happen in your group, too, if your group lacks something critical: accountability.

Honestly, I hate accountability. I like to make plans. I like to come up with grand ideas about getting healthy or saving money. But I hate when someone holds me to those plans. I’d rather just make the plan and then give up on it whenever it becomes inconvenient for me.

Yet, I grow the most when I’m held accountable. This is true for your group as well. Your group will grow closer to each other and grow in their spiritual walks when they are being held accountable.

Cross the Line

The major barrier in our groups to accountability is an unwillingness to cross the line. You know the line—the line between comfortable, polite dialogue and discussions about touchy, sensitive topics in your life. So many of our groups never get past the surface level of life. They never move beyond the comfortable. Yet, it’s just across that line where we can ignite the most growth.

I want to give you a word of warning. It takes time and sensitivity to know when and where you can cross the line from casual friendship to speaking truth into someone’s life. The most important thing is that the person to whom you are trying to talk knows you are doing it out of a place of love. They need to know you have their best interests at heart. They need to know you are not meddling or teasing, but helping them in their walk with Christ.

Hold Them to It

Once your group is in a place where you can deeply speak into their lives, you need to consistently hold them accountable. I’ve been in groups in which people bring up the same relational troubles over and over. I know people who mention the same sin issues repeatedly and never seem to make any progress. How can we help those people move forward?

I’ve found one question to be helpful to you as a leader: “What steps are you going to take this week to change that?” It’s a deceptively simple question, but it has helped me enormously. It asks the person to do two things: make a plan to remedy the situation and get to work on it quickly. Let’s discuss each briefly.

Make a plan: Many of our problems never get solved because we never make a plan. By asking group members to make a plan to change, you are asking them to think more deeply about the situation and come up with a solution.

Get to work on it quickly—this week. Our nature is usually to let things go on and on without a solution simply because the solution is uncomfortable. By putting a timeline on the plan, it makes the problem immediate.

And here’s where the accountability comes in. The next time you see that person, ask him or her, “How’s that going?” This part is crucial. If you don’t check back with them, you aren’t holding them accountable. Check in on them. Bother them. Pester them until they start to make progress. Let them know you are on their side, but challenge them to find a solution.

If you love your friends, you’ll want them to grow. You’ll want to see them change. Love them enough to challenge them. Don’t wait until the problem blows up their life and they must then try to pick up the pieces. Keep your group accountable.

_____

This blog post originally appeared in “Leader Connect,” a newsletter for small group leaders at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

Don’t Let the Sheep Lead the Flock!

God often takes us places we didn’t plan to go.

As I got into my rental car in Louisville, Kentucky, to head out to The Groups Conference in Mattoon, Illinois, where I was speaking last weekend, I set the route I wanted to take in Google Maps and headed out. I was driving along the highway with the radio cranked up, enjoying the drive, when, about 2 hours in, Google Maps told me to get off the highway, at least 30 miles before my next designated turn. I took the exit as GM instructed and then looked at my phone to see where it was taking me. It looked good: a straighter shot than the highway although smaller roads. As I went, the roads became even smaller and smaller and less and less smooth, yet I was enjoying the sites on this country road that I never would have seen on the highway. At one point, GM told me to turn down a dirt road that had just had gravel added. The car in front of me took the same turn, and at several points, the dust from the gravel became so thick I couldn’t see. All I could do was stop the car and let the dust settle. At places in this drive, I had no idea where I was; I felt lost. I was in Illinois in the middle of a lot of barren fields, but I began to see small oil-well pumps. I’d expect to see those in a place like Texas, but Illinois? Then I saw a sign that said “Louisville, 7 miles.” I felt like I was going in circles! I yelled at my phone, “What are you doing? Where in the world are you taking me?”

Eventually, the back roads took me to the expressway, and I got to Mattoon safe and on time.

I admit that I too often treat God like I treated Google Maps. I set my own destination and course for “my” life. I enjoy the easy ride for awhile, but then I come upon a detour that takes me off the road I had planned to travel. I’ve been in those places where the dust and gunk of life became so thick that all I could do was stop until eventually the dust cleared enough to go on. I’ve felt lost and confused. I’ve wondered why I wandering. I’ve yelled at God, “What are you doing, Lord? Where in the world are you taking me?”

Yet, eventually, I get to a better place—and this has taken years of my life—and it’s not until I get there that I can see what God was doing. In the middle of the detour, I believed I didn’t deserve to be where I was. But afterward, I could hear God say, “Yes, you didn’t deserve this detour to your plans, but I did it for your good anyway.” While these times were difficult and heavy and painful, I saw and learned things about life and about God that I would not have seen or learned otherwise. He taught me to rely on him and trust his course for my life. He gives me opportunities to show others who are currently detoured that God is faithful.

If you lead a small group or family or team or any other collection of people, you will soon discover that they too end up on detours in their lives. Sometimes these detours look very much like the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). Yet, somehow, he is guiding them along the right paths for his name’s sake (v. 3). Your job is not to steer them back to the road they wished they were on or planned to be on. Your job as a shepherd is not to fix them or the circumstances. Your job is simply to walk with them through it. You shepherd them as the Good Shepherd guides you. You simply overflow (see v. 5) the compassion and love and peace and comfort and wisdom and power that he has poured graciously into you. Just be with them during these times.

Often, people don’t want to go where the Chief Shepherd wants them to go. He leads us out of our comfort zones so that we will rely on him, not ourselves, for our comfort and peace.

God leads us out of our comfort zones so we will rely on him for our comfort. Click To Tweet

Guiding people to go (or as they go) places where they do not want to go is not easy or comfortable for you or them.

God wants your group to go and make disciples, but they want to stay on the smooth and easy road they know of comfort, stability, and safety.

God wants your group to serve the poor and hungry and homeless and imprisoned, but they want to serve themselves with good meetings and safe relationships.

God wants them to mature so that they will take on leadership and feed others, but they just want to stay put and be fed.

If you as God’s shepherd-leader decide to follow the Chief Shepherd, you will face conflict from sheep who don’t want to go there. I can point to many biblical examples of this, but one of the clearest comes from the Exodus and the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness. They were off course from where they expected to be. They were looking for the Promised Land, but found themselves in the desert. Moses was their shepherd but he found himself in constant conflict with stubborn sheep. Moses heard God’s voice telling him to lead the people, but he also heard the loud bleats of sheep who didn’t want to go God’s way. When this happens as you lead, what do you do?

  1. Always, always, always hold high the values and principles found in God’s Word. Don’t give in to lesser values.
  2. Listen to God’s voice first (and you need to spend time with him—abide in him—to hear him), and then to people’s voices. When there is conflict between those voices, refer to #1.
  3. Don’t kowtow to people who prefer their comfort over God’s mission.
  4. Don’t let the sheep lead the flock!

Don't let the sheep lead the flock! Click To Tweet

God has chosen you to lead his flock. He has entrusted these people into your care as an act of stewardship. He wants you to invest into them, care for them and, lead them to where he wants them to go. He wants a return (Matt. 25:14-30)! He wants fruit (John 15:8). Be a wise and faithful steward-servant-shepherd who follows the Chief Shepherd.

What places does God want your group to go that group members don’t want to go? Share it by scrolling down and commenting.

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: Feb. 20-24, 2017

It’s Friday! That means we’re sharing our Small Group Leader TIPS of the week as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn. Use these tips in your ministry!

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

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6 Must-Read Books for Small Group Ministry Leaders

I teach a “Small Group Ministry & Discipling” seminary class at Cincinnati Christian University that is designed for students who have an interest in starting or further developing a small group ministry in a local congregation. I selected the required textbooks for these leaders and emerging leaders to give them a mixture of adaptable philosophy, biblical values for discipleship in community, and  practical “how-to-do-it” resources.

Before sharing the books I use, it’s important to share my objectives for this course:

As a result of this course, students will . . .

  • be able to internalize the importance of effective small group ministry in the local church
  • understand the biblical basis for discipleship in small groups
  • understand the process and system for establishing and executing an effective disciple-making small group ministry in the life of a local church
  • be able to discover, develop, and deploy leaders so as to execute their ministries through effective volunteer leadership
  • be able to launch (or relaunch) and operate a life-changing small group ministry in a local church

I share those objectives because I believe those are important for any and every small group ministry leader. With that in mind, I highly recommend these resources for you. I include my own book first because it provides the principles and values I believe in for healthy, overflowing small group ministry.

  1. Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health That Make Groups Flourish, Michael Mack. Houston, TX: TOUCH Publications, 2012.
    ISBN 978-0-9825352-5-7.
  2. MissioRelate: Becoming a Church of Missional Small Groups, M. Scott Boren. Houston, TX: TOUCH Publications, Inc., 2011. ISBN 978-0-9825352-4-0.
  3. Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry: A Strategic Guide for Leading Group Life in Your Church, Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. ISBN 978-0-310-33126-1.

I tell students that if they have read any of the previous texts within the last two years, to substitute the following:

  1. A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small-Group Dynamic, Rick Howerton. NavPress, 2012. ISBN: 13-978-1-61747-995-3.
  2. Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches That Make Disciples, Jim Putman. NavPress, 2010. ISBN: 13-978-1-61521-560-7.
  3. Small Groups with Purpose: How to Create Healthy Communities, Steve Gladen. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-8010-1379-9.

 

QUESTION: What other books or other resources have you found that are “must-reads” for small group ministry leaders? Please share yours using the Comment button below.

12 Crowd-Sourced Ideas to Get More People Involved in Your Groups

I participate in a huddle of small group and discipleship ministers in the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana region that discussed how to get more people involved in disciple-making groups. Here are 12 of their ideas. Many of these work well in combination with others.

1. Build a culture of authentic community in small groups in the church. Of course, the preaching minister/lead pastor is in the best position to build this culture. Consistently mentioning in his messages how his group has helped him or made an impact on others sends the clear message that groups are important.

2. Redefine “normal.” In everything you do as a church, make being in a group the norm for church attendees and members. That may mean converting your membership class into a group experience, for instance. Help people, new and old, see that “this is who we are.”

3. Think “product placement.” Be sure groups are mentioned from the stage or during services, place items about them in the bulletin and newsletter, promote them from a visible place in your lobby, and so forth.

4. Share group stories whenever and wherever possible. Use video and live personal stories in services, on the website, in your newsletter, on social media, and so forth. Be creative!

5. Consider how to reach different segments in the church. Do you need one or more groups to reach out to young families? Single moms? Blended families? People who work third shift? Be creative in how you help people connect.

6. Encourage every group member to talk about and invite people to visit and join their group. Create an invitational culture in the groups by reminding members that this is part of their mission (1 John 1:3).

7. Pray for your “one.” Dale Reeves, pastor of adult discipleship at Christ’s Church at Mason (Ohio), has asked group members to consistently pray for and then invite the person whom God has put on their heart and in their path.

8. Leverage other church ministries. Start new couples groups out of a marriage class, or ask current group members (not just leaders) to stand so that those not yet in groups can ask them about their group. Another idea for young couples groups: Serve in the nursery or at the check-in counter and prayerfully look for opportunities to invite new young couples to your group.

9. Plan a large small-group fair or connection event two to three times per year. Plan so that group members and leaders can meet people and extend invitations to their groups.

10. Provide clear entry and exit ramps. Make it easy for people to get into a group, but also provide guilt-free exits for them if their initial group isn’t a good fit.

11. Begin new groups with short-term commitments. A barrier for many people is the fear of jumping into a group that has no clear ending point. But the best, most authentic, family-like groups are ongoing. To solve that problem, ask for a four- to six-week commitment up front. Once people make friends in a group, they are much more likely to stay.

12. Plan a small group campaign several times a year. Base the group materials for this campaign on the sermon series. People like to dovetail what is being discussed in weekend services into their groups, and this provides a great way to get new people involved in an up-front, short-term commitment. By the way, it’s vital to have your next group study planned in advance, so you can easily invite the new people to stay in the group. Be strategic!

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: July 25-29, 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, July 25

This week discuss and set w/ group 1-3 God-sized goals for the next 3-6 mos. #TIP #goals Click To Tweet

Tuesday, July 26

As you set group #goals and plans, be sure they are God's, not just yours. (Prov 16:3; 19:21). #TIP Click To Tweet

Wednesday, July 27

Who is main character in your small group story? You? Needy person? Make God main character! #TIP Click To Tweet

Thursday, July 28

Making God main character in small group narrative chgs everything + everyone! #ChristCentered #TIP Click To Tweet

Friday, July 29

Put your goals, plans, + strategy (the how) in writing. Use it as your #roadmap. #TIP #covenant 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: What goals and plans is your group making for this fall? Please leave a comment by clicking the Comment bar below.

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!