Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to partner with this week’s guest blogger in many different ways. I edited his book, Christ’s Basic Bodies, written and led training seminars for the ministry he founded (TOUCH Outreach Ministries), and interviewed him for my blog and other writing projects. Neighbour is one of the pioneers of the groups movement in America and around the world. See my video interview with him here.
Here’s what I love about this man: He will challenge you, if you let him, in your suppositions about small group ministry, community, discipleship, the church, and in many other areas. You may not agree with everything he says, but I encourage you to pay attention, because if you do, I believe you can become a better ambassador for God.
May I challenge you over the next three days? Set aside any preconceived notions you may have about small group ministry. Just soak in what Dr. Neighbour has to say and learn from his experiences, especially those he has learned from the church in other countries around the world.
GUEST POST by Randall Neighbour, randallneighbour.com.
In my last blog entry (click here to read) I shared that my wife and I felt led by God to start a house church with hopes it would grow into a network of house churches who have mid-week cell groups.
What have we learned in the last four years about starting a house church? Enough to fill a book. However, no one seems to read books any longer so here I am on a friend’s blog bearing my soul in 550 words or less…
Do you have more questions for me? Ask them below and I’ll answer in detail. Go!
GUEST POST by Allen White: http://allenwhite.org
I hear a lot of pastors debate the need for a quality experience at the expense of connecting and growing the vast majority of their congregations and their communities into their group system. I also hear the reverse of this, which is, in order to embrace a large quantity of groups, then quality must somehow be sacrificed.
We approach ministry as if we have all the time in the world. Somehow we think our people will live forever, and so will the people our people need to reach for Christ. But let’s be honest, we don’t have the luxury of time.
The apostle Paul didn’t have the luxury of time either. Reviewing his journeys in the book of Acts, Paul never spent more than 6-18 months in any one location, yet in his quest to spread the gospel throughout the known world and to reach Spain, he put leaders in place everywhere he planted a church and then gave them the crash course on ministry. We would call this “quick and dirty” before we would call it “quality.” Paul gave them their marching orders and then basically instructed them, “Do the best you can. The Holy Spirit will guide you. If you run into trouble, then send me a letter.” Then, Paul was off to the next place.
In living with the tension between the quality and quantity of ministry, I want you to consider these words from Peter Drucker on the Profession of Management:
There are two different kinds of compromise. One is expressed in an old proverb, “Half a loaf of bread is better than no bread.” The other, in the story of the judgment of Solomon, is clearly based on the realization that “half a baby is worse than no baby at all.” In the first instance, the boundary conditions are still being satisfied. The purpose of bread is to provide food, and half a loaf is still food. Half a baby, however, does not satisfy the boundary conditions. For half a baby is not half of a living and growing child.
It is a waste of time to worry about what will be acceptable and what a decision maker should or should not say so as not to evoke resistance…. In other words, the decision maker gains nothing by starting out with the question, “What is acceptable?” For in the process of answering it, he or she usually gives away the important things and loses any chance to come up with an effective—let alone the right—answer.
In retelling this story, my friend and mentor, Carl George once asked this question, which changed the course of my thinking about small group ministry: “Are your groups more like a baby or a loaf of bread? Because if it’s like a baby, then half a baby won’t do. You want a perfect baby. But, if it’s more like a loaf of bread and you’re starving, any amount of bread will help to alleviate the hunger.”
In managing the tension between quality and quantity, we must figure out a way to embrace the “Genius of the And,” as coined by Jim Collins in Built to Last. This isn’t an either-or circumstance, in that, if there is no quantity, then quality doesn’t actually matter. The question is whether the limitation on the quantity is a matter of necessity or a personal need for control.
As I wrestled with this tension when I was first introduced to the idea of rapidly expanding group system, I pleaded with God, “But, I need quality control.”
God called me on it. He spoke to me and said, “Allen, when you say ‘quality control,’ quality is your excuse.”
God doesn’t go easy on me. But, I got the point, and moved forward.
What do you think?
This post is excerpted from the first chapter of Allen’s upcoming book, Exponential Groups: Moving Beyond Your Limits. To download the entire first chapter, click here: Download Allen’s Free ebook: Exponential Groups.
As a coach and consultant, I’m often asked to talk about the right methods to achieve the goals and mission that the church wants to accomplish. Sometimes the questions sound more sanctified, as I’m asked about the most biblical methods. Other times the discussion forms around models, usually relating to the ones certain successful churches use.
Methods and models often become sacred cows we trust to get results, as if Jesus said, “Those ministries that utilize the best models will bear much fruit. Apart from the correct methods, you can do nothing.”
I suppose it’s easier that way. Just give me a method or at least a good model, and I can implement it. Three simple steps and voila, paydirt. Methods and models don’t take a lot of work and can be implemented quickly. Beginning with mission and culture takes time.
However, the Bible rarely if ever provides one specific method for worship, evangelism, discipleship, community, or anything else of importance.
I was reading Psalm 150 and was struck by all the various ways listed for how and what instruments we can use to worship God. Some commentators imagine a symphony orchestra in this psalm; all these instruments are playing together and people are dancing. I see it more as a list of choices God gives us.
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
praise him with loud clanging cymbals (vv. 1-5, NLT).
Note that the passage doesn’t even tell us where to worship. It might be in the “sanctuary” or a church building; or it could be outside under the open sky or under the heavens (cf. John 4:21-24).
The main point: “Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (v. 6). Praise the Lord is the value. How we praise him is up to us.
When we try to twist (proof text) the Bible to fit into our preconceived notions of where or how we are to do (or not do) “church,” we not only miss the point, but make our faith confusing for people. We also add to God’s Word in direct violation of the Scriptures.
God gives us freedom in methodology. The values and the principles are what are most important.
Last Saturday I had breakfast with two church leaders who are planning their small group ministry strategies for the fall and the next several years. I began by asking them a lot of context questions about their church so I’d have a good idea of the culture there. At first they talked about campaigns, different “types” of groups, and adding people into groups. That’s all good stuff, but those tactics come way down the line in the strategic planning process.
We would then go back to discussing vision, mission, and purpose. The big question: What’s the purpose of groups at the church? After that: What would your senior minister and elders say is the purpose of small groups? How about your group leaders? Group members? Do those match up?
Then we discussed the culture of the church. Like anything else, small groups must work within the culture of your church. That’s why I believe using some other church’s methods and models is foolish. Those things work in their culture. Sometimes they worked in their culture several years ago when they wrote that book or made that video, but as with all things in life, people and cultures change. So figure out your culture and then design your “model” to work with it now. Keep it flexible so that as things change, so can your methodologies. That takes real leadership!
Let’s say your church culture is not as conducive as you’d like for a life-changing small group ministry there. It’s OK. Start slow and develop one, then two, then four, and then more healthy groups. Over time and with much prayer, you may be able to change the culture to become, for instance, more community-focused or more missional in nature. That takes prayer, patience, God’s presence and power, and a commitment to his purposes.
Once the vision, mission, purposes, and culture are known, the strategies, plans, and tactics (the methods) become clearer.
Keep praying. Keep trusting God. And then you can praise the Lord for his mighty works!
In Alan Danielson’s blog post today, he discusses “the most overrated church comment.” What is that comment? “I want to go deeper.” I totally agree, and I’d add a second, related comment: “I need to be fed.” I’ve heard both comments quite a bit. (People have even left our church and other churches, making these comments as they left.) Both comments illustrate a couple concerns in our churches: (1) consumerism and (2) a misunderstanding of spiritual maturity / discipleship.
Consumerism is a blight in our churches that emanates from our culture but really comes straight from the pits of hell. When the Enemy is able to get the church to think like consumers rather than as functioning members of the body of Christ who look not only to their own interests but also the interests of others, then he has destroyed authentic Bible community and the subsequent spiritual growth that happens in that community.
A misunderstanding of discipleship also leads the church to a very unhealthy condition which can hamstring its effectiveness. As Alan says in his blog, “I want to go deeper” usually means “Bible study” and, he says, “it reflects a person’s desire to be thought of as pious or spiritual.” Alan then gives three more accurate ways of viewing what it means to go deeper:
(Read Alan’s blog for more details on these.)
As I commented on Alan’s blog, I think this is another important element in (re)defining what discipleship in small groups means. The early church was committed to these three values, which caused them to make a huge impact on their world.
The greatest discipler ever was Jesus. He discipled his small group as he ministered to the world in the context of a community committed to one another. He taught them Biblical principles as they were ministering or in a debriefing shortly after ministry opportunities. My question: how can we do that today?
I have more to say on this topic, but I’ll save it for a separate post. Stay tuned!
Basically, Alan said that if Jesus’ group met in America today, they’d meet in a variety of places outside church buildings and homes. Ben responded that homes would be a primary place although not the only place Jesus’ group would meet. Ben thought that meeting in more public places might feel awkward and look “showy.”
Seems to me place was simply irrelevant for Jesus and his group. They met everywhere: synagogues, streets, homes, beside a well, fields, gardens, cemeteries, mountainsides, lakesides, seashores, boats … everywhere they went. The gospels give the impression that they were constantly on the move. They made disciples and carried out their ministry “as they went.”
The early church did much the same. Their mission (and ours) was to “make disciples as you go …” And the gospel message spread as they did so. Yes, the home was a focal meeting place for the early church. Max Lucado wrote about this in his book, Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference. In his “UpWords” devotional titled “Open Your Door, Open Your Heart,” Lucado says the home was used as a valuable tool for sharing the gospel and making disciples, but it was not the only tool or only place they met.
For many small groups today, “location is everything.” For Jesus, relationships were everything, wherever they happened to be. The location of their ministry was determined by the leading of the Father and the needs of the people. The focus for them and the Christ-followers in the early church was not on meetings, but on ministry. The environment Jesus used for discipleship was not a living room or a classroom, but life itself. And life itself was focused on serving and sharing the Good News.
My big question is: How do we do that today–in the culture in which we find ourselves? Is the current small group paradigm of meeting weekly for 90 minutes in a circle somewhere the best model for sharing the Good News, making disciples? I’m not sure it is, and if it isn’t, then what is?
What is “authentic biblical community”?
It’s within the environment of authentic biblical community that disciples are made and we live out our faith. But what does that look like for us today? Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what a model for discipleship should look like today, and truthfully, I have more questions than answers. I began writing about this last week in my blog I titled “What If Everything We’ve Always Believed About Small Groups Was Wrong?”
It seems others are thinking about this as well. Alan Danielson blogged about the “First Small Group Gathering Ever.” I love the way he poses this:
What is your small group doing to have an exploding reputation in the community? Are you meeting safely inside a home or church building, insulated from the rest of the world? Or are you doing life together in public, so that evangelistic ministry opportunities can be seized? Does your small group look look like Jesus’ small group, or does it look like something different? I’m just asking.
Hmm. I wonder, Is it even possible in today’s culture for our small groups to look like Jesus’ small group? If you say no, why not, and then what should they look like? If you say yes, then how?
I’ve read other blogs dealing with the same questions Alan and I are asking, and I’ll share some of those in a future post. But I want to keep asking and thinking about this and I’d love to hear some of your thoughts, so please respond!
What if everything we’ve always believed about small groups was wrong?
What if we have it all backwards?
What if the model for discipleship is actually something other than sitting in a circle, answering an icebreaker, studying the Bible (hook, book, look, and took) or watching a DVD, and taking prayer requests?
What if we were to go and make disciples (or, more accurately, make disciples as we go) in community rather than meeting in someone’s living room?
What if we were to teach people to obey everything Jesus commanded us, rather than just teaching them curriculum material?
What if our model looked more like Jesus’ (ministering first and then debriefing, taking advantage of teachable moments to learn)?
Just wondering. What do you think?