Leadership: An Extraordinary Lesson from George H.W. Bush

The last five days have provided a rich lesson on leadership.

Almost immediately after the passing of George H.W. Bush on Friday, November 30, I started noticing the words being used by people who knew him best to describe him. So I started jotting them down. Here’s my list:

dignity, integrity character, humility, goodness, honor, courage, respect, dedicated, friend, kindness, decency, generosity, loyalty, service, patriot, passionate, caring, loving, role model, decent, honorable, compassionate, class, sensitive, tough, imperfect, humanity, relationships, gentleman, principled, solid, strong, sincerity, noble, legacy

As I look at that list I notice something about true leadership. Most of these are heart characteristics. They point to what kind of man George Bush was on the inside. Yes, people also mentioned some of his external qualities: his good looks, heritage, education, military background, political experience, and more, but those internal qualities defined him.

When you interview new church leaders or recruit volunteer leaders, what do you look for: exterior qualities such as knowledge, skills, talents, positive attitude, strategic thinking, and such . . . or internal, heart qualities such as integrity, character, humility, goodness, and love?

What kind of leader does God look for? That’s an easy one. He said about Eliab, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Of course, God chose David as his leader, because David was “a man after his own heart” (13:14).

What kind of leader are you?

I wrote Leading from the Heart based on the leadership of King David, and the son of David, Jesus. I wrote it not as a “how-to” book; that is, I didn’t write it about what leadership skills to develop. Instead, I wrote it to help readers develop the internal qualities godly, fruit-bearing leaders must have.

God uses ordinary, unschooled leaders, and he wants to multiply them over and over to reach the world. President George H.W. Bush understood this as well. His “thousand points of light” was about ordinary people making a difference in others’ lives and therefore the country. As the church, we are all ambassadors of Christ, a priesthood of all believers, the body of Christ in which every part does its work.

George H.W. Bush was not perfect. Presidential historian Jon Meacham described him as such: “An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union.”

I hope something similar will be said someday of me: An imperfect, ordinary man, he loved a perfect God who did extraordinary things through him.



Return of the Small Group Leadership Blog!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Small Group Leader Summit – January 20

I am privileged to lead the Small Group Leader Summit Saturday, January 20, from 9 AM to noon.

The event will be held at First Church, Burlington, Kentucky, 6080 Camp Ernst Road, in Burlington, Kentucky 41005.

SESSION 1: “Things Every Small Group Leader Needs to Know”: I will focus this session on how to avoid leader burnout, toward which small group leaders are often prone, and how to guide your group as a healthy, overflowing leader. (Some of the content for this session comes from my books The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership, chapters 1 and 2 of Small Group Vital Signs, and World’s Greatest Small Group.)

SESSION 2: “Mike’s Newest and Best Ideas for Small Group Leaders”: I’ll zero in on how to really disciple people effectively in a small group. This topic is, by a wide margin, the most-requested subject of small group leaders and point people (as it should be!).

This event is for new or experienced small group leaders, co-leaders, apprentices, core team members, ministry point people, and anyone interested in stepping up to lead a group in the new year. We want this to be a catalytic event to help leaders see beyond what they are presently doing, to help leaders who have hit a wall in their group, to teach leaders new strategies and tactics to use in their groups, and to show leaders how they can be used by God in new ways to carry out his mission in 2018.

For more information or to register, contact Kristen Flick at First Christian Church, Burlington, Kentucky, at 859.980.0250 or kflick@firstchurch.me.


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

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

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

Today Is the Last Day!

I just sent a quick email to our list of Small Group Leadership email subscribers, letting them know our special discounts on purchases of World’s Greatest Small Group end today, August 31, 2017, and immediately, a small group ministry director at a church emailed me:

“Boy, the summer has flown by. Thank you for reminding everyone to take advantage of your special purchase. I’d like a price on 25 books please.”

I wrote back and provided the discount code and simple directions.

I know how it is. Perhaps like this leader, the summer has flown by. Maybe, like her, you intended to purchase copies of World’s Greatest Small Group for your leaders.

Now is the time! Here’s the information you need:

2 Special OffersWorld's Greatest Small Group cover

  • Between now and August 31, you can take advantage of discount prices when you purchase World’s Greatest Small Group for yourself or your group leaders.

    25% off when you buy 1-19 copies.
    40% off when you buy 20+ copies.

    Click here for more details.

What is a small group leader?

Let’s make sure we’re on the same page right from the beginning. Perhaps it will help to start by looking at some potential small group leaders to show what a small group leader is not.

Hannah Hostess: A true small group leader is (or is becoming) more than a host or hostess who opens up his or her home to the group. While this is a very worthy role in the group, the leader has a different assignment.

Ferdinand Facilitator: Hannah and Ferdinand are related. A small group leader is more than just a discussion facilitator. This may be part of the role of a leader, but only a small part.

 Billy Bible Scholar: Billy might be a good small group leader, but his leadership is not based on his superior knowledge of the Bible or ability to quote large portions of Scripture. Remember, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). (This verse provides an indication of at least one attribute you do need as a small group leader!)

Lisa Leader: Believe it or not, leadership may not be the most essential spiritual gift you need as a small group leader. You can use different spiritual gifts to lead a life-changing group, depending on the type, personality, and purpose of your group. God provides each person in the group with spiritual gifts to help the group function. Lisa’s job is to facilitate the use of these various gifts.

Teasley Teacher: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16, emphasis added). In a small group, everyone is involved in teaching one another! As a small group leader, Teasley needs to be more of a shepherd than a teacher. He does not have to be the group’s “Bible answer man.” Neither do you.

Eddie Educated: While a good education does not preclude Eddie from small group leadership, it also is not a prerequisite. Eddie’s heart is much more vital than Eddie’s education.

Chris “Super-Stud” Christian: In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were the super studs of the religious world. Jesus’ followers, on the other hand, were simple, run-of-the-mill, average Joes. Jesus spent time with some everyday people and made them extraordinary. Chris does not have to be the perfect Christian (whatever that means) to lead well.

What Is a Great Small Group Leader’s Role?

Perhaps the best job description for a small group leader comes straight off the pages of the Bible, from 1 Peter 5:2-4. The writer, the apostle Peter, knew what he was talking about, too. Peter followed the World’s Greatest Small Group Leader for several years. Look closely at this passage, print it out if you must, and underline the words or phrases that you think describe the attributes of an effective small group leader.

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:2-4).

This passage was written to elders in the first-century church (see v. 1). The principles for and attributes of leadership also apply to what a small group leader is called to do in today’s church.

In World’s Greatest Small Group, I refer back to this passage often and discuss the attributes in detail—all to help ordinary people lead extraordinary small groups!

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

Click here to find out how to purchase copies of World’s Greatest Small Group.

Five Benefits from World’s Greatest Small Group

Janet Branham, director of small groups at Ward Church (Northville, Michigan), recently wrote to tell us how using World’s Greatest Small Group (WGSG) as a training tool for her small group leaders has benefited everyone involved:

“I wanted to do something to encourage my leaders; I thought this might be some good summer reading for [them]. I also like the idea of maybe bringing you up for a training session in the future and I thought it would create more interest if people had read your book.

“Also your website says that you offer a free consulting appointment with purchase. Is that offer still available? I’d love to chat with you about what’s going on here and also see what you might offer in terms of training for our group leaders in the future.”

Janet is definitely on top of things when it comes to getting the most perks out of the book. In case you need to catch up, here are Five Benefits of World’s Greatest Small Group:

  1. Unity among your leaders. Reading WGSG together creates cohesion between your small group leaders. They can consult with each other as they review the concepts of becoming the “World’s Greatest.” (This applies to your coaches as well!)
  2. Free consulting appointment with Michael C. Mack. For pastors who use WGSG as their training for small groups (and purchase 20 or more copies of the book), Michael is offering a free hour of consultation. Contact him at Mike@SmallGroupLeadership.com for more information.
  3. Group discounts on bulk purchases of WGSG. Take advantage of buying in bulk so everyone can benefit from WGSG. Go here for more information.
  4. Speaking engagements with Michael C. Mack. What a great way to make the concepts of WGSG more tangible by having the guy who wrote the book speak with your leaders. Check here for Mike.’s availability.
  5. Print or digital options. WGSG is available in print or for Kindle or Nook.

If you have any questions about these perks, feel free to contact Michael at Mike@SmallGroupLeadership.com.

BIG Discounts for SMALL Group Leaders

World's Greatest Small Group CoverBetween now and August 31, you can take advantage of discount prices when you purchase World’s Greatest Small Group for your small group leaders.

  • 25% off when you buy 1-19 copies.
  • 40% off when you buy 20+ copies.

Go here for more details.

Michael Keaton – Small Groups Pastor, Crossroads Church, Newnan, Georgia – is using World’s Greatest Small Group to train small group leaders.

Michael gives some reasons he is using World’s Greatest Small Group:

“I wanted to give my small group leaders a resource to read. As I considered the Fall ministry plan it seemed like a good fit to get the book at the beginning of our semester when we launch groups.

“Our plan is to give the book to leaders and then bring in Michael C. Mack for a talk a few months later. It will be a great intro.

“At first, the title caught my eye, but then as I read I realized Mack had a similar heartbeat, and I loved that. We are big on making disciples. I especially loved his emphasis on the leader’s spiritual vitality. That was huge to me and I connected to that and it is a similar heartbeat of mine.

“I loved the chapter on shepherding. The book was a great option because of its simplicity, length, topic, readability, fit with our focus, and it deals with practical advice and teaching on leading a small group.”