Four Reasons Every Lead Pastor Should Be in a Small Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Leaders and Teams Would Benefit from Leading from the Heart

People still ask me questions about my book, Leading from the Heart, which I wrote 20 years ago. The subtitle, “A small group leader’s guide to a passionate ministry,” defines my original intended audience, small group leaders, plus the coaches and pastors who work with them.

Like several of my other books, the audience really includes a much larger category of leaders. I believe Christian leaders of all types will benefit from this book.

Leading from the Heart is based, at least on a surface level, on the life and leadership of King David, the “man after God’s own heart.” But each chapter also digs a bit deeper, looking at the heart and leadership of the son of David, Jesus. These two biblical leaders provide excellent models of leading from the heart.

But this book is much more than just a theological and theoretical treatise; it provides many practical leadership lessons for any leader. It also includes “Heart to Heart” questions at the end of each chapter that can be used for leadership training, turbo-groups, or coaching/mentoring relationships.

Contents:

Foreword by Lyman Coleman

Introduction

1. The Heart of the Father

2. The Heart of Jesus

3. A Heart Empowered and Led by the Holy Spirit

4. The Heart of the Call

5. Head and Heart

6. A Heart of Worship and Prayer

7. A Heart of Reconciliation

8. A Heart for Discipleship

9. The Heartbeat of Life: Relationships

10. Heart Attack!

Amazon page reviews

See my Product Page for more information, Praises for Leading from the Heart, and a link to buy the book directly from the publisher, TOUCH Outreach Ministries.

THE PANDEMIC’S LEADERSHIP LESSONS

The following is an excerpt from my October 2020 Letter from the Editor in Christian Standard magazine.

Great leaders have a blend of humility—they know that they don’t know everything—and a curiosity to discover answers. They are constantly learning from a variety of sources, beginning with God’s Word, but also through books, mentors, failures, crises, and personal struggles, to name just a few. Perhaps John F. Kennedy summarized it best: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

The pandemic and all of its interconnected effects have provided a wellspring of important learning opportunities for us. Here are four I believe are especially worth considering.

1. The Lord’s Purpose Will Prevail. . . .

2. The Nimble Will Survive. . . .

3. Those Who Are Ready and Willing to Change Will Thrive. . . .

4. There’s No Going Back . . . or Maybe There Is. . . .

Perhaps this is an opportunity—a “divine appointment”—to go even further back than February 2020 … back to the basics in how we practice our faith and carry out Jesus’ mission … back to all believers seeing themselves as a kingdom of priests/ambassadors/ministers rather than as members being served by professional clergy … back to oikos ministry that naturally occurs in and out of Christ followers’ homes through personal relationships … back to a focus on going out to make disciples rather than “going to church” … back to the church as Jesus envisioned and built it.

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Please CLICK HERE to read this article in full on the Christian Standard website.

The Art of Asking the Right Questions (Especially During Times of Crisis)

What do God’s people do when faced with challenges like a worldwide pandemic or civil unrest? We always have a choice: immediately seek solutions or turn to God. Of course, this is not a binary choice—we can do both—but it’s vital for God’s church that we “seek first” to place our trust in him.

The coronavirus and its effects are really not all that novel. For more than four millennia, God’s people have faced challenges literally of biblical proportions, and we can learn from the choices, good or bad, they made. In our September issue of Christian Standard, we included four Bible-study essays, along with corresponding application articles, that provide wisdom for how to deal with pandemics and other challenges we face today.

Jehovah Jireh is more than just another name for God. That he is a God Who Provides is a vital theological truth, and it is a critical operational principle for Christian leaders. Jesus’ concluding words of his commission, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” is a promise of his presence and provision as we go. We lead under his authority and with all the resources he supplies along the way.

That he is a God Who Provides is a vital theological truth, and it is a critical operational principle for Christian leaders. Click To Tweet

Still, when we face challenges, we tend to start with questions: “Why did this happen?” “Who is responsible?” “How can we fix this?” And, of course, a biggie, “How long will this take?” These are familiar questions these days in the world and in the church.

About 10 years ago when I was going through a personal crisis, I found myself asking, “How long, Lord?” I found solace in the fact, as I was reading through Psalms during this period, that David often asked the same question (see Psalms 6:3; 13:1-2; 35:17, as examples). I was frustrated with God’s slowness, as I perceived it—I had to wait several years for my answer to prayer. As I compare my waiting to that of God’s people in Scripture, who often waited on God for decades, even centuries, I’m deeply humbled.

In discussing David’s “How long, Lord” cry, Warren Wiersbe said, “The answer to the question is, ‘I will discipline you until you learn the lesson I want you to learn and are equipped for the work I want you to do.’” So perhaps each of us should shift our questions to “What lessons has God been teaching me through this pandemic?” and “What is the work he has equipped me to do now?”

During my period of waiting years ago, I learned I couldn’t control any of the circumstances I was in, so eventually I surrendered my ways and my timing. I decided to simply do what I knew was right (and righteous) and trust God with all my questions. It wasn’t easy at first. Like many leaders, I’m prone to want to be in control, but God was showing me that he alone is sovereign. In my waiting, as I became more dependent on him, I heard from him more clearly than ever before. I saw him answering my prayers. I now consider that time of waiting as one of the most productive seasons of my life.

Many questions still remain about COVID-19 and its lasting effects. There are many aspects of it we simply can’t control. So perhaps this is a good opportunity for us to learn, to grow, and to relinquish any presumptions of control we may have. When we do, I believe God will make us better leaders.

I’m beginning to wonder: Could this pandemic be part of God’s plan for preparing his church for future challenges, crises, and even persecutions that will also be outside of our control? How will the temporary closure of our buildings—a relatively small sacrifice in God’s overarching story—equip us for only God knows what?

Could this pandemic be part of God’s plan for preparing his church for future challenges, crises, and even persecutions that will also be outside of our control? Click To Tweet

We believe Jehovah Jireh is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Why wouldn’t we look to him first and trust him to provide no matter what comes our way? He will provide—it’s in his name!

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Adapted from my “From the Editor” article in the September 2020 issue of Christian Standard.

MLK: ‘What Kind of Extremists Will We Be?’

“If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.” 

Dr. Martin Luther King wrote these words in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” on April 16, 1963. Now, nearly 57 years later, his words seem prophetic. 

King’s letter was in response to eight white Alabama clergy members who wrote a letter asking the “outsiders” who had come to Birmingham (a thinly veiled reference to King) to stop directing “some of our Negro citizens” in the “unwise and untimely” demonstrations for integration. They preferred to let the issue of racial segregation play out in the courts and to patiently wait for the social changes to happen over time. They said the outsiders’ resistance to racism, “however peaceful those actions may be,” were “extreme measures” not justified in Birmingham.

“I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction in being considered an extremist,” King wrote. “Was not Jesus an extremist in love? . . . Was not Amos an extremist for justice? . . . Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? . . . So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?” 

This is not purely a racial issue, although that was the context of King’s letter. It is, as King pointed out, a church leadership issue. King said that with notable exceptions, he had become disappointed with the church he loved. 

The source of King’s disappointment was that its leaders “have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.” Martin Luther King’s call in 1963 to restore the self-sacrificial spirit of the New Testament church is our call today. 

Martin Luther King’s call in 1963 to restore the self-sacrificial spirit of the New Testament church is our call today.  Click To Tweet

I am convicted by Martin Luther King’s words: 

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

Do these words describe the contemporary Christian church? Do they describe your church? Are we extremists for love, justice, and the gospel? I echo King: “I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.” 

– Adapted from Letter from the Editor, by Michael C. Mack, Christian Standard magazine, February 2018. https://christianstandard.com/2018/01/what-kind-of-extremists-will-we-be/

Every Decision Point Is an Opportunity to Grow (and a Possibility for Pain)

Why do some churches grow and multiply, some plateau, and others decline? 

It’s a question I’ve considered for a long time, and my experience as well as everything I read and study and all the people I talk to reinforce my theory that growing churches do certain things and have a particular mind-set largely absent in stagnant and declining churches. I’ll try to explain. 

In my personal life, I’ve seen a direct correlation between my physical health and my tolerance for pain. For years I lived with carpal tunnel syndrome and eventually lost quite a bit of functionality in both hands. I knew having surgery would be painful, inconvenient, and uncomfortable for weeks after the procedure, but I need the use of my hands for work and many other things. I had to weigh the costs, and I decided to have the surgeries. It was difficult at the time, but now, about 18 months later, I sit at my computer and type without pain. 

I’ve experienced something akin to that in my spiritual, emotional, and relational life. Growth in those areas has come about mostly through times of struggle, pain, loss, sacrifice, and surrender. That’s why James said we should consider those kinds of struggles “pure joy”: they result in maturity and completeness. 

I believe similar correlations exist in our churches. Vitality and growth will never happen without pain, loss, and sacrifice, and we must weigh the costs of joyfully taking on those struggles—and the bigger, kingdom impact of not doing so. 

Churches, small groups, ministry teams, and other ministry organizations go through a common progression. They start “up and to the right,” with excitement and growth. Eventually, however, they begin to level off and plateau. This is not necessarily good or bad, at least not at first—it’s just a natural occurrence in organizations; it’s hard to sustain long-term accelerated growth. A brief plateau may be a time for rest—a sabbath of sorts. But over time it can become unhealthy: a comfort zone, a time for maintaining the status quo, focusing internally, and, well, lukewarmness. Churches, groups, classes, and teams can forget their “first love,” the very reason they were started, and settle for something safer and more comfortable. 

I think one of the saddest things in life is to see a once vibrant person, group, or church now plateaued and remaining there for years upon years. They weren’t created for that! 

One of the saddest things in life is to see a once vibrant person, group, or church now plateaued and remaining there for years upon years. They weren’t created for that! Click To Tweet

Along the plateaued line, a church comes to countless decision points, and each one represents an opportunity. They can continue with the status quo, or they can push out of the comfort zone, wholly trust God, and focus on his mission to the world around them. 

Recognizing and responding to these various decision points is a vital leadership responsibility. I have used this chart to teach small group leaders how to get out of maintenance and into missional mode, and the same principles apply for church leaders. One of the first things the leader must do is simply recognize these decision points as opportunities to grow. 

Leaders should also recognize that each decision point bears an associated opportunity cost. A decision to step out of a comfort zone may bring temporary pain and loss, including the loss of some traditions, programs, and certain people. But missing or ignoring the opportunity has kingdom consequences. We accept pain to achieve progress; we endure loss to embrace real life. We walk through pain, help people grieve loss, trust God’s plan, and strive for his mission.  

We accept pain to achieve progress; we endure loss to embrace real life. Click To Tweet

Of course, it’s not enough to just recognize decision points. We must act on them! We unapologetically cast a biblical vision. We refocus leadership meetings from internal to external. We start a new, externally focused serving initiative. We reach out to a neglected group of people in our community with the gospel. We develop young leaders and let them lead, even if imperfectly. We decide and communicate clearly that objects are not sacred and can be moved or changed to help us be more effective in carrying out God’s mission, which is sacred. 

As a church moves forward in living out God’s mission, it becomes healthier. And healthy things naturally grow, bear fruit, and multiply. Unhealthy things don’t (or we don’t want them to!).  Leaders in healthy churches count the cost at each decision point, and they ultimately decide temporary pain will not deter them from becoming the disciple-making church Jesus established and envisioned.

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Adapted from my Letter from the Editor in Christian Standard, May 2019, page 6.