Empowered, Enabled, and Entrusted

While your primary call is to serve God, not man, you are empowered, enabled, and entrusted as his subordinate shepherd to serve your group. You serve God by serving others. Quite simply, you lead your group to “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).

Serve your group eagerly and enthusiastically. That takes GUTS!

Genuinely: “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” (Romans 12:10, NLT).

Unconditionally: God’s love for us doesn’t depend on what we do. It’s unconditional. In biblical community we accept and love one another “as is” no matter what. They don’t have to earn it.

Tangibly: In deed, not just words. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24, NLT).

Sacrificially: Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, NLT).

How can you serve your group members “tangibly” (as well as genuinely, unconditionally, and sacrificially)? Here are a few ideas.

  • Make them dinner with all the trimmings
  • Watch their kids and arrange for a night out on the town
  • Take them to, or pick them up from, the airport—no matter what time it is
  • Wash their vehicles
  • Help with a household project
  • Go to their kids’ games and cheer
  • Mow their lawn
  • Take an individual out for coffee and really listen
  • Discover needs and meet them
  • Ask them individually how you can pray for them—and then lift up their needs daily to God. Follow up by asking how things are going.

“Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.” Luke 22:26, NLT

-Michael C. Mack, World’s Greatest Small Group

Get Out of the Way

Years ago, as a new Christian, I was thrust into ministry quickly. At the time I didn’t understand surrender, so I tried to lead by my own power. I learned very quickly about God’s power being made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I got really good at making God’s power perfect! He used me even though I had no idea what I was doing most of the time. But I also made lots of mistakes.

Get Out of the Way So God Can Get to Work

I was sharing my faith—or trying to—with one couple in our apartment building. I spent months using every tactic I had learned, and then some, with no results. Finally, my wife told me to back off. I couldn’t believe it. What a backslider, I thought. I was fulfilling the Great Commission, but I had married a heretic! Then she told me that perhaps I needed to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work in their lives. She was right, of course. I receded, and eventually the couple came to Christ—about a year after we moved from the building.

In my ministry, I’ve been in lots of overwhelming situations. I’ve spoken on the phone with people talking about committing suicide. I’ve walked into hospital rooms of dying patients surrounded by family members in need of comfort. I’ve entered homes where men have died in their prime. In one case—and I wasn’t ready for this—the man’s body was still on the floor in the living room when I walked in.

If I would have been faced with the same situations years ago, I may have done more damage than good by trying to minister in my own power. Over the years, however, I’ve learned more about surrender—yielding the situation completely to God. More and more I can respond as David did: “When I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn” (Psalm 142:3, NLT).

Now, as soon as I get a phone call or enter into a situation, the first thing I do is surrender the situation to God. I pray something such as this:

God, you know I don’t have whatever’s needed to minister to this family. I don’t have the right words, and I’m not sure how to handle this. I’ve got nothing! But I know that you do have all the right words and you do know what is needed. So I’m once again surrendering myself to you. Use me any way you want. If they need words, speak the words through my voice. If they just need someone to be there, help me to be quiet and to be there with them through this. If they need counsel, give me the words to say at the right time. Whatever their need, God, you know what it is, so use me anyway you want. I’m all yours.

I’m always amazed at what happens. God does his work, whether I understand it or not. There’s nothing magical or mystical about it, but I know God has used my weakness to demonstrate his power. One family sent me a card that thanked me for how I ministered to them through my caring attitude, my words, and even my humor. When I received the letter I chuckled because I went into the situation with no idea how to handle it. But God did.

When you surrender your leadership to God, allowing him to use you any way he wants, you will minister in ways you thought you never could. In fact, you will learn, as I have, that it’s not about what you do at all. As Mother Teresa so eloquently put it, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

What Surrender Requires

To learn to surrender, you first need to grow in some other biblical characteristics. The World’s Greatest Small Group Leader illustrated all these character traits perfectly:

  1. Humility—It all begins here. Surrender demands a humble heart. Jesus humbled himself when he “made himself nothing” and left heaven to become human (Philippians 2:7-8). Humility is the opposite of selfish ambition and vain conceit (v. 3).
  2. Authenticity—A humble person can be who he or she is without pretenses. Even though he was, by his very nature, God (v. 6), Jesus came and lived as a man (v. 8). He never denied either part of his identity. He knew who he was.
  3. Vulnerability—An authentic person can be open and honest with others; he has nothing to hide.
  4. Submission/Obedience—A surrendered heart means you are submissive to authority. Jesus obeyed his Father in everything, even death (v. 8).
  5. Integrity—All of these characteristics lead to integrity—uncompromising adherence to truth. Jesus was the model of integrity. He was the truth (John 14:6). Integrity elicits trust, a vital characteristic of a small group leader.

What Surrender Produces

A surrendered leader is one who is connected to the Vine. You are dependent on the Vine. You will produce much fruit (John 15:5). You naturally put the interests of others before your own by

  • Listening to them
  • Serving them
  • Praying for them
  • Loving themThese are some of the attributes of an effective leader, but one more needs further discussion.

Surrender Propels Group Growth

God has called you to help bring about spiritual growth in people’s lives. But how does that happen, exactly? What’s your role?

Imagine you are the captain of a sailboat. How do you make the vessel move forward toward your destination? The wind and only the wind supplies the power necessary for movement. If the wind is not blowing, you might as well forget raising the sails. How about having all the people on the boat blow as hard as they can into the sails? No, that won’t work either. No matter how much effort you expend—no matter how much you huff and puff—you cannot move the ship forward. You cannot create wind.

So what do you do? You wait for the wind and then raise the sails to catch it. What happens if you do not raise the sails? Nothing. The power is accessible, but you must do your part in the partnership—raise the sails. The wind can only propel you forward when you are engaged in it. Sailing is a partnership between man and nature.

Spiritual growth is a collaborative effort between you and God. You cannot do it without God. He has ordained not to do it without you. The term for Spirit is the same for that of wind in both the Old and New Testaments. The Holy Spirit is the wind that provides the driving force of all spiritual growth. You cannot bring about spiritual growth in your own life or the lives of those you lead.

Neither are you a passive bystander. As the Holy Spirit moves, you must become engaged in that driving force. As a small group leader you have at least four vital sail-raising responsibilities:

  1. Pray for the members of your group. That’s your first and most important job.
  2. Be an example to the flock. Let them see spiritual growth happening in your own life by being involved in the spiritual disciples of worship, Bible reading, prayer, and others.
  3. Involve the group every week in practices such as meeting in authentic community, studying and applying God’s Word together, teaching and admonishing one another, praying together, serving together, and confessing your sins to each other.
  4. Shepherd your members outside of group meeting times. Be prepared to mentor them in areas where they need to grow, as God leads you.

Get out of the way so God can get to work.

-Michael C. Mack, World’s Greatest Small Group

To Be Known

What do you want to be known for? Think about this for a moment before reading on. What do you want people to say about you when you die? What do you want written in your obituary?

I would have responded differently to that question at different stages of my life. As a kid growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, I wanted to be known as a great athlete, a Hall of Fame baseball player like Johnny Bench or Pete Rose, a great basketball player like the Big O or Dr. J, or a world-class bowler like Earl Anthony or Dick Weber.

My athletic career was not that spectacular. I accumulated lots of trophies, but mostly because I happened to be on some good teams. I did receive three individual awards: one for best defense in basketball—which went to the kid who never scored a basket. In baseball one year, I received the “Most Spirited Player” trophy—which went to the kid who sat on the bench and cheered on the rest of the team.

My favorite award was the Most Improved Player—which went to the kid who didn’t stink quite as badly as the year before. The trophy had the initials “MIP” on the plaque. I overheard my mom telling all her friends I received the “Most Important Player” award. At least my mom appreciated my talent!

In college, I would have said I wanted to be well known—period. Didn’t matter for what, just popular. I had gotten about as far as I could in most athletics, so just for fun, I tried out for the cheerleading squad at the University of Cincinnati. I figured at the very least I’d get to meet a few pretty girls. On a fluke, I made the squad—three years straight. I was proud to be a “big man on campus” with my cool letter jacket. I was “known.”

In my 20s, I would have said I wanted to be recognized for being successful. I climbed the ladder of success until that ladder—and everything else in my life—fell out from under me. That’s when I gave my life to Christ, and everything changed. Well, almost everything.

After becoming a Christian in my late-20s, if I were really honest, I might have said I wanted to be well known and successful as a Christian writer, small group “expert,” or minister. At times, in my more reflective moments, I might have said I wanted to be considered a good husband, a great dad, and a trusted friend.

Today, I want to be like Enoch.

You don’t hear too many people say that, do you? People will say they want to have the faith of Abraham or the power of Moses or the wisdom of Solomon. But Enoch? Who is Enoch?

Enoch was one of only two people who were taken away to heaven without ever dying. The other was Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), who was whisked away to heaven in a whirlwind, accompanied by a chariot and horses of fire. But Enoch just suddenly disappeared. I love what Genesis 5:22-24 says about him: “Enoch lived in close fellowship with God for another 300 years.” He enjoyed a close relationship with God throughout his life. “Then suddenly, he disappeared because God took him” (NLT).

No, I don’t want to live another 300 years! Neither is it necessary to just disappear without dying, unless it’s the rapture, of course. But I do want to live in close fellowship with God throughout what’s left of my life, until God takes me when he’s ready.

Enoch had a heart for God, and small group leadership starts with your heart. It starts with your relationship with God—seeking after him.

One of the key attributes from 1 Peter 5:2-4 for small group leaders is that you are “examples to the flock.” That’s why it is so critical that you are, first of all, a man or woman after God’s heart. It’s why the most important thing you can do as a leader is earnestly seek God every day.

-Michael C. Mack, World’s Greatest Small Group

The Group Is God’s, Not Yours

I often take a break from my work here at my home office to walk back in my woods. I call them mine because of the amount of time I’ve spent working back there, even though they technically belong to the county. I’ve blazed a walking and mountain-bike trail through the woods, complete with log jumps, ramps, and other adventures. I routinely maintain the trail and the woods, cleaning up garbage, removing log jams in the creek, and sawing and removing downed trees that block the path.

These woods are not only my refuge, they’re my little piece of creation that I get to work. They are my Garden of Eden. I identify with Adam when I’m in my woods. He was given a place like this to enjoy and manage (Genesis 1:26). It was an act of stewardship:

Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth. —Genesis 1:26, The Message

I’ve thought about this as I’ve worked in my woods. God created it all and controls it all. But part of his design was to give us stewardship over what is his—to manage it and work alongside him in caring for it. Sometimes as I remove large branches that impede the flow of the creek, I can immediately see a difference in the direction of the water. This might sound silly, but I seek to be in tune with God enough to sense how I can best work together with him to tend to these woods. After all, they don’t belong to me or the county. They’re his, but I am his partner.

Jesus was the perfect example of a good steward.

It is obvious in the Gospels that he lived his life on Earth as a steward of all God gave him. Of particular interest is how he illustrated stewardship of the small group entrusted to his care. Seven times in John 17:6-19, Jesus referred to the disciples as being his, given to him by the Father while he was here on Earth. He discussed what he came to do: to pass on to them what the Father had given him (vv. 8, 13, 14). He talked about multiplication—that he was leaving them behind and that he was sending them into the world just as he had been sent (vv. 11, 18).

Jesus’ attitude about his small group is reflected in his summation: “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction” (v. 12). Not only had they not been lost, but they won thousands to Christ just a few weeks later and started a movement that changed the world. That never would have happened if it had not been for Jesus’ attitude of stewardship as he surrendered his will to God’s eternal purpose (see Ephesians 3:11).

God has a great, eternal purpose for your small group, too. It will be accomplished when you surrender to it as an act of stewardship.

Jesus modeled stewardship for us, and he also spent a lot of time speaking about it. We generally apply Jesus’ teachings on stewardship to money, but that’s just a small part of the picture. God wants you to wisely manage everything he gives you.

In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus gave a number of guidelines for how you can lead your group as an act of stewardship.

“A man going on a journey … called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them” (Matthew 25:14).

You have been called to lead something that does not belong to you. It belongs to the Master who has entrusted you, the servant, with the responsibility to invest into your group members while they are in your care.

As the group shepherd, you have been given a huge trust, responsibility, and privilege. As our main passage puts it: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care” (1 Peter 5:2).

As a small group leader, God has entrusted you with much! He’s entrusted you with his men and women, his message, and his mission!

I’ve discussed being a steward of his people and his mission, but what about his message? The apostle Paul sent this warning to the Galatian leaders: “Let me be blunt: If one of us—even if an angel from heaven! —were to preach something other than what we preached originally, let him be cursed” (Galatians 1:8, The Message).

This statement is so important, Paul repeated it a second time: “I said it once; I’ll say it again: If anyone, regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you received originally, let him be cursed” (v. 9).

The theme of stewarding God’s message is repeated elsewhere in Scripture:

  1. “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).
  2. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16, emphasis added).
  3. “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1, emphasis added).

The reason Scripture cautions us about sound teaching is obvious. We are handling the truth. Anyone who leads or teaches any kind of group has a high privilege and responsibility. This does not mean, however, that leaders and teachers must be exceptionally talented, highly educated individuals. The apostles were known as “unschooled, ordinary men” (Acts 4:13).

As you lead, you are responsible not only for the group God has given you and his mission, but to correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

-Michael C. Mack, World’s Greatest Small Group

Safe or Dangerous?

One morning on the Christian radio station I usually listen to, a local pastor of the “church of the week” talked about the nature of the church. He said the teens from his congregation had written essays about the church, and all of them used the word safe in their descriptions. The pastor went on to say that this is an accurate portrayal of the church.

What do you think? Does safe describe the heart of Christ’s church?

Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. We do want people to feel like the church, and every small group within it, is a safe place. They will be accepted for who they are and where they are in life. They will not be attacked or abused.

On the other hand, God’s Word portrays a church that is dangerous. It’s in a war for the eternal destinies of humankind. It’s a place of surrender and sacrifice. Peace comes in the midst of all this, as we put our trust in Christ. We are eternally safe because of his suffering, but we are on the front lines of a battle every day.

I think that is the gist of what Jesus was trying to teach his followers in Matthew 10, when he sent out the twelve to do ministry. He told them, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

That does not sound very safe to me! It has always fascinated me that in this passage Jesus says he did not come to bring peace, and yet he is the Prince of Peace. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Perhaps Jesus’ words in John 14:27 hold the secret for great small groups. The world defines peace as safety from trouble, but Christians know that in this world there will be trouble. Jesus has overcome the world, however. While difficulties and hardships will come, we do not have to let our hearts be troubled. As Christians, we do not need to seek safety and comfort. That is not the purpose of Christ-centered, kingdom-minded small groups. We seek the mind of Christ—his purpose, will, and peace in the midst of whatever may come our way.

As Christians, we have peace because we have Christ. He gives us life to the full in the midst of troubles.

-Michael C. Mack, World’s Greatest Small Group

Life in all its fullness

Life to the full, the abundant life, more and better life than you’ve ever dreamed of, everything you need. These are the ways different Bible versions say the same thing.

You cannot lead a small group to experience the fullness of God’s love and grace unless you are experiencing it yourself. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus presents three ways to respond to his offer of abundant life:

  1. Come to me … and I will give you rest.

Life to the full comes only through Jesus. Your response to him is to seek God and stay connected to him.

When you come to Jesus, as his first disciples did, you give your life to him, commit to following him, and let him mold you into what he wants you to be. When you come to him, he gives you rest, especially from legalism—following all the rules to be right with God. The abundant life is far more than living a holy and blameless life. The Pharisees worked hard at living like that, but their lives were empty. They were living religious, rule-keeping lives, but not full lives. When your life is empty—when you have not invited Jesus to take up residence in your life—you are in danger of having all kinds of other things—evil things—come in and take up residence. Being religious will not fill you up. It will leave you only empty and vulnerable. Only Jesus has the power to really fill you—to give you life to the full.

  1. Take my yoke upon you.

This next step, as you become more mature, is the place of surrender to God. It is not only accepting Jesus as your Savior so you have peace and security about eternal life. This place of surrender is about knowing him as leader of your life and living in surrender to his ways and his will. This is the place of service, using the gifts God has given you to administer his grace in its various forms (1 Peter 4:10). Remember that the “yoke” Jesus gives you always fits perfectly!

The abundant life is not the same as the “good life” that so many people run after. It is not necessarily a life free from pain, sadness, difficulties, or the other burdens people face every day. Jesus does not give us these difficult burdens, but he also does not always take away the difficulties and challenges we face in life.

The apostle Paul described how to live life to the full in Philippians 4:11-12, when he talked about learning the secret of being content, regardless of the circumstances. The abundant life is a life of joy—a joy that can be possessed regardless of the circumstances. It is a life of rest from burdens—a rest that only Jesus can give you. It is a life of freedom—freedom from the burdensome, ill-fitting yoke of rule-keeping.

That reminds me of a story I read about a man who was released from jail at 12:01 a.m. At 12:09 a.m. he was spotted climbing over a chain link fence, back onto the jail grounds, and attempting to pass a cigarette to an inmate through a steel grate covering a window. At 12:10 a.m. the man was back in custody, charged with illegal entry into a prison facility and disorderly conduct. True story! Can you identify at all with this stupid criminal? The apostle Paul wrote about all of us:

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. … I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace (Galatians 5:1-4, The Message).

What do you allow to take away your freedom? It’s probably not circumcision, as it was for Paul’s friends. You may not literally be breaking into jail, like our stupid criminal, but all of us, at one time or another, give up the freedom Jesus has given us, choosing to live as a prisoner.

I want to encourage you, leader to leader—don’t return to the prison cell of living by a list of do’s and don’ts. As a spiritual leader, you are a model of the type of life God wants everyone to live. The Judaizers (those who taught that believers needed to become Jews first by being circumcised in order to become Christians) were spiritual leaders who were not only living as prisoners themselves, they were trying to lead other Christians back into bondage. Be careful, then, not to be like these “agitators,” as Paul called them (Galatians 5:12). Rather, live your life in freedom in Christ!

In Matthew 13, Jesus told his small group a story about a farmer scattering seed on different types of soils. The seed is the Good News of the life Jesus came to give. But many things can keep you from living that life: obstacles, strongholds, worries, busyness, misdirection, and confusion between the “good life” and the abundant life. Jesus gives it freely, but you cannot always receive it. Your heart has to be fertile—ready to receive the good seed God wants to plant there.

Jesus reminds us often in the gospels about the costs involved in coming to him. These involve the possibility of losing your family members, finances, job, position in life, maybe even life itself. How can these “yokes” be easy and not burdensome? Only by putting your total trust in Jesus and learning from him how to live.

  1. Learn from me.

Part of the ongoing process of experiencing more of the abundant life is to learn from Jesus how to live. He teaches you by his example, his Holy Spirit, and his Word. As you yield to his will, you learn how to live life his way.

The World’s Greatest Small Group Leader lived life to the full himself. So he is a perfect model for us. In John 4:34, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” Part of living the abundant life is living your life for God, not yourself, doing his will and living according to the purpose he has given you.

In Matthew 24-25, Jesus emphasized and re-emphasized the need to stay alert. The abundant life is lived with a constant focus on Jesus (Colossians 3:2). It’s all too easy to shift your attention elsewhere. Jesus is encouraging and warning you to stay focused on him.

When you are seeking him and focused on him, you can live life the way he wants you to live it: abundantly … actually, superabundantly!

-Michael C. Mack, World’s Greatest Small Group

Teamwork Drills

I have loved coaching kid’s sports teams, especially basketball. One of the most rewarding parts of coaching for me is taking a rag-tag group of kids who don’t know one another at the beginning of a season and turning them into a team—a team that works together as one, each using his unique abilities for the good of the whole. A team that wins because five are better than one. It takes a lot of effort to build this teamwork—lots of drills and time spent together, both in and outside of practices and games. I love the way Coach John Wooden said it years ago, and I still share this quote with my teams: “It takes 10 hands to score a basket.”

Building a productive team as a small group is much the same. It takes intentional effort, both inside and outside group meeting times. It takes team-building drills such as these:

  • Go on a camping or hiking trip together and give each person a specific assignment.
  • Play a game such a volleyball, paintball, or a role-playing game against another group.
  • Participate in a shared work experience or serving opportunity.
  • Identify a common “enemy” or challenge together.

Guide Them to Authentic Community

One of the first things you do as a leader is build relationships with the members of the group. This should begin way before the first meeting.

Finding Your Group

If you are just getting started and do not have group members yet, start with prayer. Ask God to show you exactly who he wants in your group. Then keep your eyes open to whom he will send. It’s highly likely—but not absolute—that these will be people already in your circle, people you already know. They may be friends, neighbors, co-workers, people you serve with or otherwise know from church, for instance.

To keep your eyes open for whom God sends, ask him for the spiritual eyes to see. In John 1:47-49, when Jesus saw Nathanael approaching him, he said, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” This surprised Nathanael: “How do you know me?” he asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” How did Jesus “see” Nathanael, whom he had never met? He had been praying that the Father would make known to him those whom the Father was going to give him out of the world (John 17:6).

Several years ago, I started a new “turbo group” (a small group that lasts about three to twenty-four months in which every member is a leader-in-training and will begin a new group at the conclusion of the group). When I first began planning it, I knew that the selection of this group would be critical to the future of our small group ministry. So I decided not to “recruit” the group or even make a list of names. Instead, I prayed every day that God would bring them. Because I believed these would be future leaders in our small group ministry, I did what the World’s Greatest Small Group Leader said to do: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38). I also asked for God to give me the eyes to see them when they came.

Larry walked in the front door of our office building one day and asked to see the small group minister. I reluctantly set aside my turbo group planning and went out to meet him, a bit dismayed by the unannounced intrusion into my work—I thought the visitor was a salesperson. I soon discovered that Larry and his wife Glenda had been led to Christ by Ralph Neighbour, one of the pioneers of small group ministry. Larry and Glenda had spent years in ministry themselves, and had recently moved to Louisville, looking for a church where they could be involved. Larry wanted to get back to his passion for discipleship in small groups.

I had known Chris and Tiffany for several years. Chris works on our backstage crew and has a huge servant’s heart. I saw Chris standing around one Sunday morning before the service. It seemed odd to me that he apparently had nothing to do. Something inside me told me to go over and talk to him. I obeyed, but had no idea why. On my walk over, God told me—and it was extremely clear—to ask Chris to be in the group. I stopped for a moment in the middle of our lobby. Chris is a successful home builder in our area, but I had not yet considered him as a potential small group leader. Finally, I obeyed, told Chris about the group, and invited him. I expected him to say he’d have to think about it, but he immediately said, “Yeah! I’m in!” He went on to tell me that he and Tiffany had just talked and then prayed about getting into a small group the night before.

The stories about how each of the other members came and how I knew them are also unique and amazing. Each one is a testimony to the fact that God is the Chief Shepherd and the Lord of the Harvest!

-Michael C. Mack, World’s Greatest Small Group

Appointed, Not Recruited

Leading a small group (or anything else in the church) comes out of an assignment or appointment from God. This is critical and foundational to Christian leadership. When someone recruits you to a job that you are not called to, it’s easy to throw in the towel when the going gets tough.

Are you a small group leader because someone recruited you, because there’s a shortage of leaders, or because you have been called by God?

Let me be clear: You may have been recruited, even out of a sense of need, by someone in your church: a pastor, ministry point leader, coach, or the leader of your group, for instance. That does not mean you have not also been called. God often—actually, usually—uses other people as his ambassadors to call us into his service. You may have been primarily called as a small group host or facilitator, but now I’m talking to you about being a leader, and maybe you’re thinking, Not so fast! I’m not a leader, just a host or facilitator.

Please let me encourage you.

First, don’t underestimate yourself. The best leaders are often, at first, anyway, reluctant leaders. Humility is a vital trait of a godly leader.

Second, and I’ve said this before, it’s not about you anyway! The best leaders are people who are simply willing to let God use them. God takes ordinary people and does extraordinary things through them.

Third, simply start where you are, in whatever role God has called you to, and be ready to grow into what God is making you into. Remember what Jesus told some guys who started as fishermen: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!”

It comes down to this: You assume the role of a leader “not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be” (1 Peter 5:2). What’s important is your willingness to let God use you as he wants for his kingdom work.

-Michael C. Mack, World’s Greatest Small Group

Stand in Faith

Jesus knew what it was like to face trials in life. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that he is not “unable to empathize with our weaknesses” (4:15). He faced temptations in the desert at the beginning of his ministry and trials in the Garden and at the Cross at the end of it. In the middle, he had to deal with the hard hearts of the religious leaders and the hard heads of his followers. Yet he stood strong through it all—strong in his relationship with his Father, strong as he carried out the Father’s will.

Many of our trials in life are related to dealing with people. As someone has said, “Ministry would be easy if it weren’t for people!” You might say the same about your small group at times. Jesus had to deal with trials of many kinds within his group. While Jesus’ small group did become the World’s Greatest Small Group, at times it looked more like a dysfunctional mess!

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 couldn’t do what he had told them to do (9:18, 25-28)
  • correct his disciples who were arguing about which of them the greatest (9:33-34; also see 10:35-45)

The next time you grumble about tensions and problems in your group, look again at Jesus’ group!

While Jesus’ group was a mess and often dysfunctional, it was healthy. That might seem like an oxymoron, but Jesus understood the principle of process. He saw not only what they were, but what they were becoming. And often this process of becoming looks very messy. But think about this: Jesus’ dysfunctional group became the World’s Greatest Small Group!

If your group is a mess—if your group includes a bunch of dysfunctional, sinful, pride-laden, argumentative men and women—don’t give up! Ask God to help you see the process of what your group members are becoming. At the proper time—God’s time—you will reap a harvest if you do not give up!

That takes standing on faith, as Jesus did. Jesus was also teaching—teaching by example—these men in his group to stand firm when they had to deal with opposition. Because they certainly would.

-Michael C. Mack, World’s Greatest Small Group

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A Change in Citizenship

When you became a Christian, you took on a new citizenship. You no longer belong to this world. Your citizenship in now in the kingdom of heaven. Comparing non-Christians and Christians of his day, the apostle Paul commented, “Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:19-20). Being a citizen of heaven means a change in values and priorities—a change from the world’s systems and standards to those of your new king. It means a change in rules. You now live by God’s Word, not by the principles of the world.

No one sneaks across the border or bribes their way into citizenship in heaven. It is a free gift with many privileges and opportunities, and yet, once you’re in, important responsibilities come with being a citizen of heaven. Make sure you count the cost!

Jesus is a perfect example of someone who lived as a citizen of heaven while in this world. He was not of this world (John 8:23; 17:14, 16), and he reminded his disciples that neither were they (15:19). Neither the religious leaders, the disciples, nor Pilate understood Jesus’ true citizenship even though the kingdom of heaven was one of his favorite subjects to talk about. He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. … My kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).

You are called to live in this world and yet not be a citizen of it. Pastor, speaker, and writer Warren Wiersbe said, “Our sphere of life is not this earth, but heaven; and the things that attract us and excite us belong to heaven, not to earth.”8 You are called to live like Abraham, who “made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country. … For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10).

Take a moment now to consider these tough questions, and perhaps discuss them with your small group:

  • Do you live in this world like a foreigner or a native?
  • Are you living your life in “tents,” not putting down roots because you know this is not your home, or are you settled in?
  • Are you living in comfort here or in hope for your future home?

Part of living as a citizen of heaven is surrendering your own desires so you can carry out the will of the King. But how do you know his will? The answer is clear, even if it is not easy: “Do not conform 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” (Romans 12:2). When you surrender the things the world offers, no longer conforming to its ways, and when you allow your mind to be changed into a new way of thinking—a kingdom mindset—then God shows you his will for your life.

Try this today. Use Romans 12:2 as an acid test for every decision you make, everything you do, whatever enters your mind, every emotion that you feel. Does your decision, thought, emotion or action cause you to conform to the world’s ways or be transformed to God’s ways? This will take full attention and strict discipline, but it will help you know and understand God’s will.

What specific changes do you need to make to live as a citizen of heaven? Take time to reflect on each of the Bible passages in the table on the next page. What do you still need to surrender, and what are your new responsibilities?

One more thing in regard to your new citizenship. The King—the one who has made you a citizen of his kingdom—has given you a significant role. While you are here in this world, he wants you to represent him as his ambassador. He has given you the message about this kingdom, and he wants you to tell everyone you know about it (see 2 Corinthians 5:16-21). And—take note—this is not optional if you are a citizen of heaven. I’ll discuss this more in Chapter 4.

If you are surrendering your will, you’re off to a good start! That decision inexplicably leads to the next one, to surrender your assignment.

-Michael C. Mack, World’s Greatest Small Group

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