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.

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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.

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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 Small Group Peloton

7 Principles Your Group Can Learn from Cyclists in the Tour de France

Are you watching the Tour de France? One of the most remarkable elements in the race is the peloton. Cyclists ride in tight packs to save energy by drafting (up to a 40 percent reduction in drag in a well-formed peloton), but there are many more advantages of the peloton, including the encouragement from other riders and the teamwork involved.

I enjoy cycling in a group: riding together, taking turns at the front, talking about life as we roll along, and helping one another when bikes or bodies break down. There is a sense of community on these rides.

Authentic community is an indicator of a healthy small group that I discuss in my book Small Group Vital Signs. Your group cannot be healthy and growing if you are not living in authentic, biblical community.

Here are seven principles for developing authentic community that we can learn from cyclists:

  1. Become a Group. Before you can build teamwork, you need to know one another. A great cycling team, as in any sport, spends time together, getting to know one another personally. It’s really good to know the tendencies of the people I ride with. Same goes with small group members.
  2. Develop Bonds of Trust. In the peloton or even a paceline, you must trust the riders in front of and around you. If a rider in front of you just touches his or her brakes, it can cause many riders to crash. In a small group, you must develop a trust among one another. For one, discuss the vitality of confidentiality. Group members must be able to trust others in the group for authenticity to take hold. To go along with this one, a great cycling team and small group develops a commitment to one another and to their shared goals as a team. Trust and commitment go together like a chain and cogs.
  3. Become a Team. Each cycling team member has his or her own unique strengths and weaknesses. Some are sprinters, some are climbers, and some are “domestiques,” that is, cyclists whose role is to support and work for other riders. It’s important for your group members to know what gifts and talents they bring to the group–for the good of the group. Every single group member should have a role.
  4. Develop the Team. Your work is not finished once you form a team. Cycling teams spend lots of time on the road practicing for all kinds of different situations during events. As your small group works together using your individual gifts and roles, both during group meetings and as you serve others together, your teamwork will become stronger and stronger. But you must get out of your comfort zones to make this happen!
  5. Share Leadership. In a paceline, each rider takes turns up front. This is a way of serving the team, and it is often hard work. But everyone takes a turn, giving the others some time to recover for their next time up front. (A leech is a rider who takes advantage of the draft from other riders but never takes a turn up front. Be sure you don’t have any leeches in your group!) Now here’s the really cool part. In a good paceline, the front rider actually gets a small help from the riders behind him or her. Somehow, and I don’t quite understand the science behind it, the slipstream provides a kind of “push” for the front rider. Sharing leadership with your group may be the best thing for the group you ever do!
  6. Confess and Speak the Truth in Love. Cycling team members must get really good at real, transparent communication with one another. They know that to get better as individuals and as a team, they must be able to say “my fault” or correct other riders. Learn how to care enough to confront sinful behavior in an environment of unconditional love and with God’s grace. If you can’t speak the truth in love (and with the person’s best interest at heart) then you’re not ready to speak. Keep praying.
  7. Have Fun Together! Riding with a finely tuned team is lots of fun. You go faster and can ride farther together. Healthy, genuine community should be exciting and fun! Laughing together builds friendships and can even build trust and set the stage for deeper discussions.

More Posts on Authentic Community

Community Is Not All It Should Be (even in Brazil)
5 Surefire Ways to Screw Up a Small Group
Relearning our New Testament Calling

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

UPDATE: You Can’t Teach an Old Blog New Tricks

A quick update today.

I’ve launched a new blog, called “Life’s Highs & Lows: Living Life to the Fullest Despite the Circumstances.” Those circumstances include living with type-1 diabetes, which I’ve been doing since 1971, but the blog will include more than that.

While the blog you are reading right now will continue to tackle issues dealing with small groups, discipleship, leadership, and whatever, the new blog will be my personal site where I’ll talk about living positively with diabetes, writing, marriage and family, and other stuff I’m passionate about.

Why start another blog? Simply put, I’ve found that trying to combine the two isn’t very effective. The subject matter is just too disparate (that’s my Word of the Day: disparate). 

So … if you’;ve come here recently because of my posts about diabetes, please go to and follow my new blog site. But if you’re interested in tips and ideas about groups and leadership, please stay engaged here!

The Secrret Sauce to Awesome Small Group Meetings: the 3 Main Ingredients

Great small group meetings don’t just happen. They take careful preparation and the right ingredients. Here are the the three most essential elements in the recipe:

1. The Real Presence of God: Simply put, a group cannot be awesome without an AWE of the presence of God in your midst. Recognizing God’s presence with you leads naturally to worship. And worship does not end after your opening prayer or singing. Your sharing, study, and strategizing all take place in God’s presence, for his purposes, and with his power. A Christian small group that does not worship is a paradox.

2. The All-In Presence of People Truly Seeking God: Call it community or fellowship or life together or what you wish, it is vital that group members are much more than merely group members; they must become, over time, friends and even family. As the current TV commercial puts it, they’re framily. When framily members gather together they are not merely in attendance, they are completely present with and for one another. They are fully there to give and receive support, encouragement, accountability, prayer, and ministry. All this is summed up by Jesus’ simple command: “Love one another.”

3. A Courageous Leader: The third ingredient, the leader, is vital for bringing the first two ingredients together to create a flavorful group meeting sauce. If we were to describe God as “sweet” and people as “bitter” or “sour,” we could then describe the leader as “umami” or “savory.” The leader’s job is simple: to bring the framily into the the real presence of God. To accomplish this, the leader must be a seeker of God and a shepherd of God’s people. By the way, a solo leader will not be effective or last very long in this role. he or she must share leadership responsibilities with other framily members.

These are not the only ingredients in the recipe of an awesome group, of course, but if you have these three, all the other ingredients will come in and blend in much more easily and naturally (see Matthew 6:33).

Is your group AWEsome? How do these three ingredients blend well in your group? 


More Posts to Read on this Topic:

Jesus’ Small Group Was a Dysfunctional Mess
10 Stupid Things That Are Keeping Your Small Group from Growing
The Missing Ingredient in American Churches and Groups
Learn How to Lead a Small Group Discussion from Jim Lehrer

The Brazil Cell-Church Conference: What I Learned … #5 – Go with the Flow

One of my favorite topics to speak on is the principle of overflow. In my training, I use a pitcher to represent God and everything that he wants to pour into us and a glass to represent our lives. I use this illustration to show that God does not simply fill our lives to the full (John 10:10), he fills us to overflowing. Spiritual leadership is basically about two things: putting yourself daily in a position to receive from God and then naturally overflowing into the lives of the people he has put around you.

I want to live my life in this natural rhythm: receive and overflow, receive and overflow …

But, probably like you, I sometimes find myself with my glass upside down, trying hard to pour something out of my life–ministering out of my own strength and knowledge–which leads to both ineffectiveness and burnout.

I was in Brazil last month to teach about these vital topics, but God also used the trip to teach me this vital principle over and over again. In my last post, I talked about two examples of staying in the flow: driving in Brazil and a surprise preaching opportunity. But God used numerous other object lessons as well:

Relationship-First
One of the things I teach about is the importance of keeping our priorities in the right order. Many times, those of us in ministry get these mixed up and out of the order God commands. Here’s the right order:

GOD
COMMUNITY
MINISTRY
Unfortunately, we often turn this upside-down, which leads to … guess what? Yes, ineffectiveness and burnout, not to mention idolatry, broken marriages, and broken families.
I took my 19-year-old son Dru with me on this trip and I’m so glad I did. It was an opportunity for Dru and me to develop a deeper bond in our relationship, for him to grow in his own faith and ministry, and for him to get the opportunity to travel, something he hopes to do a lot more of in his life. Though I was in Brazil for ministry, it was clear to me what my priorities needed to be: my relationship with God, then my relationship with Dru, then the ministry itself.
The best times in Brazil were the times that God overflowed out of my life into my son’s life and then from his life into some of the people God put around him.
Plans
I’m a planner, but I needed to remember that as many and good and godly as my goals and plans might be, God’s purpose will prevail. I often found the need to let go of my plans and just go with the flow.
As in many other South American countries, Brazilians are not slaves to their watches and schedules. Often I thought I would be speaking at a specific time, and when that time passed, I became impatient inside my head (I tried not to let it show), wondering how long the person or program in front of me would continue. Often, as I thought one person was coming to a close, I’d anxiously get my notes together and move toward the front of my chair, when another person would jump up on stage to make an announcement or share a story. One Sunday evening, about the time I was scheduled to preach, some kids put on a very cute little show of singing and dancing. I enjoyed the first two minutes, but twenty minutes later I was anxious to get going. Then the children’s director stood up to talk about the children’s show. Then the pastor came up to thank and pray for the children. Then another pastor came up to read Scripture. I thought my turn was finally coming. No. The pastor began expounding on the passage–a sermon before my sermon. He was speaking in Portuguese and my interpreter wasn’t sitting next to me, so I wondered what he was saying, and if, perhaps, it might be on the same topic I was planning to talk about. When he finished someone else came up to give some more announcements. Finally, my translator, who was also the director of the ministry that brought me to Brazil, went up on stage. Finally, I thought. here we go! Then the translator began to speak in Portuguese. I glanced over at Dru and he just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Finally, at long last, the interpreter invited me to speak. I jumped up on stage … and totally forgot what I was going to say. Actually, that’s not true. I’m glad God helped me to go with the flow and I just allowed his Spirit to flow through me.

There is a flow to leading, whether you are facilitating a small group discussion, leading a ministry or church, or leading anything else. That flow, when healthy, starts with God, not us, our ideas, or our own power. That flow means that I am not in control … which means I can relax and just let God speak and lead through me.

Our trip to Brazil taught Dru and me to trust God more, allowing him to be in control, enjoying the flow of the journey as he pours into us and then overflows into the lives of others.

Read the rest of the posts in this series on Brazil HERE

The Brazil Cell-Church Conference: What I Learned … #4 – Keep Trusting God

When life is safe and comfortable, there is no real need to trust God.

That’s as true for your small group, your church, and your family as it is for you personally. It’s when you step out of your comfort zone, count the costs, surrender your own preferences, and obey God no matter what that you will most need to trust God … and, by the way, that’s when God will make the biggest impact through you.

This was another discovery in my recent trip to Brazil to train cell pastors and leaders.

This was the first time I spoke outside of the United States, the first time I spoke with an interpreter, and the first time I’ve traveled abroad outside of one mission trip to Guatemala several years ago. It also involved a lot of firsts for my nineteen-year-old son Dru, who went along with me on this trip. Both of us learned to trust God on the journey, and sometimes that trust was learned in unexpected ways.

Jesus Take the Wheel
In Brazil, the lines on the road don’t mean much. Neither do posted speed limits, stop signs (where there are stop signs–they are mysteriously absent in the cities) or other traffic laws. They are more like suggestions than rules. But their system works. Often four vehicles across will occupy two lanes, especially in the cities, as drivers use every available open spot on the street. If a spot opens up, someone will fill it, even if it means moving ahead of someone else who was there first. Meanwhile, hundreds of motorcycles and scooters zoom between the cars and buses, just barely missing the mirrors of the other vehicles. Brazilians use their horns quite a bit, not in an angry way as we Americans do, but as a warning: “Here I come!” Motorists constantly cut one another off, which would drive me crazy as an American driver, but in Brazil it’s just part of doing life together.

On our way from Águas de Lindóia to São Paulo, a curvy two-and-a-half-hour trip down from the mountains into the city, the driver, whistling the whole way, constantly crossed double-yellow lines around curves to pass slower (slower, meaning they were going about 65 miles per hour I’d guess) vehicles–sometimes passing several trucks at a time.

As we rode along, I was often praying, begging Jesus, to take the wheel. I had to learn to trust these drivers, that they knew what they were doing, but even more, I just had to relax and trust that God really was (and is) in control.

Jesus Take the Stage
At the end of the first conference in Manaus, the senior pastor of the church where the conference was held was wrapping things up. My interpreter, Robert Lay, was sitting right next to me, telling me some of what the pastor was sharing in Portuguese:

Robert (translating): “… and Michael will be preaching tomorrow morning here and tomorrow night at our other campus.”

Me: “Huh?”

Robert: “You didn’t know you were preaching tomorrow?”

Me: “Uh, no.”

Robert: “Well, I guess you’ll be up late tonight writing a sermon!”

Yikes. I knew God would use me to speak what he wanted me to say, but I had no idea what that message was, so I went back to my hotel room and prayed, and the words came. I don’t want to sound like Abe Lincoln, but I wrote out an outline and some notes longhand, and trusted God to speak through me. Days earlier, the senior pastor had told me how his people struggled to be truly authentic with one another (see my post on this), confessing their sins to one another, and I sensed that was something I could talk about from Scripture, but I also sensed God wanted me to go deeper. I began by sharing my testimony of how God reached out to me and then how he led me into my first small group where I experienced true community, and then I shared from Scripture and my experience the vitality of living in truly authentic community with one another.

As Robert interpreted, I noticed that people were leaning in toward us–a good sign, they were engaged. I sensed God was at work, speaking through me and Robert. At the end of the evening service, the pastor asked people to respond to the good news. He told me later that a number of people gave their lives to Christ that evening. That wasn’t in my plans. But,

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:20-22).

Trusting God is an everyday, lifelong pursuit for me. He keeps teaching me in many different ways. Sometimes I think I should have this down by now, but God is so patient, and he never gives up.

So, how are you and how is your group stepping out of the comfortable and trusting God to do what only he can do?

Read the rest of the posts in this series on Brazil HERE

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