Invite People Into a Journey, Not Just a Relationship

We often define the Christian life as a relationship. It’s a vital part of our theology and our language. We need a vertical relationship with God and horizontal relationships with others (ref., John 22:37-40; 1 John 1:3).

That’s absolutely true, but the Christian life is much more than that, and I believe we’ve inhibited our outreach and discipleship by communicating our faith only in relational terms (and through purely relational ministries).

In a January 2020 Christian Standard article, Don Wilson, said when he asks people, especially men, to make a decision to become Christ followers, “I ask them if they would like to begin an adventure with Jesus, rather than asking if they want a relationship with him.” (Wilson retired in 2017 as founding and senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley, a multisite church in the Phoenix, Arizona, area, and he now co-leads Accelerate Group, a nonprofit organization created to encourage and support pastors and their wives.)

When I came across this sentence, I momentarily forgot I was supposed to be editing Don’s article. I read the sentence several times and then typed it into my notes program. It was like I just found a lost piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

Following Jesus is a journey we go on with Jesus. We get to experience the relationship as we travel along with him on a wild adventure.

New believers need to know this from the beginning. We need to change our language and the way we teach them about what being a Christian is all about.

Think about it. What did Jesus say to people when he first called them to be his disciples? “Come have a relationship with me?” No. He said, “Come, follow me.” He invited them into a journey with him toward a specific destination. He would make them into fishers of men. He would turn followers into people sent on a mission. He would transform them into leaders of his church. Quite the adventure!

It all happened in relationship, but it was about much more than that.

Relationship, fellowship, community—these things are the environment into which Christians are reborn and in which they learn, mature, transform, serve, lead, and share their faith with others. It’s the setting for the sojourn, the atmosphere for the adventure, the ecosystem for the expedition.

I’m changing the way I communicate the good news and discipleship. “Join me on an adventure with Jesus! You’ll never be the same.”

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.

Make More Disciples by Making Less

As a small group leader, how many people do you think you can effectively lead, shepherd, and disciple? Eight? Ten? Twelve? Twenty? Let me ask this question another way: If you are to bear much fruit, fruit that will last . . . if you are to see true transformation of people’s lives . . . if you are to see people develop into leaders so that you are multiplying your leadership . . . into how many people can you invest your life? 

The World’s Greatest Small Group Leader formed a small team that would eventually change the world. But first, Jesus called two sets of brothers: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Three of these, Peter, James, and John, became Jesus’ inner circle, his Core Team. Jesus poured his life into these three men, investing into them and modeling a life surrendered to the Father for them. He took these three away with him to pray and heal, as well as when he was transfigured.[I] While Jesus did not ignore the other nine apostles or his other followers, he intentionally discipled these three and developed them into leaders. 

Jesus knew something vital about leadership, discipleship, and shepherding. No one—not even Jesus—can effectively lead, disciple, or shepherd more than about two or three people. Leading, discipling, and shepherding are based on close relationships in which the leader invests into the life of those he or she is leading. 

"No one—not even Jesus—can effectively lead, disciple, or shepherd more than about two or three people." Click To Tweet

For years, many churches have assumed that small groups or Sunday school classes or discipleship programs make disciples. Just get people into one of these, and voila, you’ve made disciples. But it doesn’t work that way. Small groups and other forms are simply the context or environment in which disciples can be produced. Disciples are made life on life. As Leroy Eims said, “It takes time to make disciples. It takes individual, personal attention. It takes hours of prayer for them. It takes patience and understanding to teach them how to get into the Word of God for themselves, how to feed and nourish their souls, and by the power of the Holy Spirit how to apply the Word to their lives. And it takes being an example to them of all of the above.”

Read that quote again. Study it. Reflect on it. Can you do those things by yourself with 10 or 12 people? How about five or six?

I’ve said it before: We can mass-produce dresses, diapers, doormats, Doritos, and Dodge Durangos . . . but we can’t mass-produce disciples!

The foundation of disciple-making is a one-on-one relationship. Discipleship is the personal relationship in which one believer pours his or her life out into another to help that person become more like Jesus. I think most people can make this kind of investment with at most two or three people at once. In the best circumstances, these two to three should be people within your small group. It does not make a lot of sense to be in one group for discipleship, another for fellowship, another for Bible study, and yet another where you serve together. That leads to burnout for everyone (and yet I’ve seen plenty of churches organized this way). 

"Discipleship is the personal relationship in which one believer pours his or her life out into another to help that person become more like Jesus." Click To Tweet

The small group is where you do life together, serve together in missional community, and discuss and apply the Bible together. It’s also a warm and welcoming place where you can invite friends who do not know Christ yet, where they can see the love portrayed in your community life and meet the One who makes it happen.

Within that larger small group, discipleship happens one-on-one or with two or three who may meet regularly for more intense Bible study, memorization, and personal application; prayer; confession; and accountability . . . or it may be a less formal relationship in which they meet regularly for coffee, talk on the phone and text one another, or whatever works best for those involved. It’s always intentional, but it doesn’t have to be “formal.”

In these subgroups, the two or three people are close confidants whom you trust. The relationships are more authentic and intentional than in the larger small group.

I’ve described in much more detail how this works in a healthy small group in my book, The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership: How to Gather a Core Team and Lead from the Second Chair, and also in Chapter 3 of Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health that Make Groups Flourish (both published by TOUCH Publications, www.touchusa.org). The foundation of the process is that the designated leader of the group must share leadership (that is, shepherding and discipling roles) with several others in the group. Each person on the core team takes responsibility for discipling one to three others. 

I’ve found that those whom have been discipled this way often turn around and disciple others, reproducing themselves again and again.

Jesus demonstrated a simple model we can use to make more and stronger followers, a model that can, and should, reproduce more disciples, more groups, and even more churches, just as Jesus intended.

"We can mass-produce dresses, diapers, doormats, Doritos, and Dodge Durangos . . . but we can't mass-produce disciples!" Click To Tweet

This post is adapted, in part, from Chapter 2 of The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership.

[i]While it seems that Andrew was not included as much in Jesus’ inner circle as the other three, he was included at least once when the two sets of brothers pulled Jesus aside privately to ask him some questions (Mark 13:4). Interestingly, when the Gospel writers listed the Twelve, Matthew and Luke list the brothers together: Peter and Andrew, then James and John. But Mark separates the sets of brothers, placing Andrew fourth on the list behind Peter, James, and John. In the listing of the eleven apostles in Acts 1:13, Luke places them in this order: Peter, John, James, and then Andrew. Is there any significance to this? We can only surmise, but the order of names in a list was usually very significant in Jewish culture.

Step #1 in Becoming a Great Leader: Gut-Level Honesty

The World’s Greatest Small Group Leader is a perfect model for us. Jesus’ priority was his relationship with his Father. He said and did and taught nothing on his own, but only what his Father gave him. Henri Nouwen once pointed out that Jesus spent about 50 percent of his time in solitude with the Father, about 40 percent building community with the twelve, and about 10 percent “doing ministry.”[i] How does that match up with your life?

In Experiencing God, authors Henry Blackaby and Claude King also describe Jesus—and godly leaders today—as spending abundant time seeking God. These leaders have discerned the difference between activity for God and the activity of God. Jesus never ran ahead of God. Instead, before making any decisions or starting any new ministry work, he spent time, maybe days on end, with God, waiting on his Father to show him exactly what to do next.

Pastor and author Joel Comiskey’s survey of more than 700 small group leaders in eight countries revealed that the biggest factor in the “success” of small group leaders was not their gender, social status, education, personality type, or skills; it was the leader’s devotional life. He found that those who spent 90 minutes or more in devotions (prayer, Bible study, etc.) a day multiplied their groups twice as much as those who spent less than 30 minutes.[ii] Comiskey says the correlation is logical. “During quiet times alone with the living God, the [small group] leader hears God’s voice and receives His guidance. … Group members respond to a leader who hears from God and knows the way.”[iii]

Jesus modeled seeking and following God for us. As our Leader and Savior, he is our Good Shepherd who calls us by name and is waiting to lead us (John 10:3-4). Are you quiet and still enough to hear his voice?

Let me encourage you as you read this to get gut-level honest with yourself. Where are you in your relationship with God? Are you . . .

  • Walking right behind him; his voice is crystal clear
  • Meandering along toward the back of the crowd; his voice is like bad cell-phone service—sometimes clear, but with lots of dropped calls
  • Running this way and that; I hear lots of voices, lots of noise—his voice is indistinguishable
  • Stuck in a rut; I haven’t heard his voice in a while
  • Other: ____________________

Before considering how you can become a more effective leader, you must get honest with yourself, and with God, on this. Then, there’s the next step. You’ll need to share this with someone else. Get gut-level honest with another person: someone from your group, a church leader, or a good, trusted friend. I’m asking you to be vulnerable and authentic. Until you get gut-level honest with yourself, God, and at least one other person, you cannot become a more effective leader and guide an effective, growing, GREAT small group!

Until you get gut-level honest with yourself, God, and at least one other person, you cannot become a more effective leader and guide an effective, growing, GREAT small group! Click To Tweet

[i] Leadership, Spring 1995.

[ii] Joel Comiskey, Home Cell Group Explosion (Houston, Texas: TOUCH Outreach Ministries, 1998), 26-36.

[iii] Ibid, 34.

World's Greatest Small Group cover

Excerpted from Chapter 1 of World’s Greatest Small Group: 7 Powerful Traits of a Life-Changing Leader, by Michael C. Mack.

‘Where Are You?’

“Where are you?”

The obvious answer to that question is a physical one … but there’s a much more vital spiritual answer.

“Where are you?” is the simple, three-word question God asked Adam (Genesis 3:9) after he and his wife had committed the first sin. The question, while seemingly simple, is deep and full of theological implications. It’s the question I believe God still asks Christ-followers today … if we are listening.

Like Adam and Eve, we have chosen to listen to the wrong voice. We have fallen for the lie implied by the serpent’s question, ““Did God really say … ?” We question God’s authority, and the authority of his Word, and we disobey him. We go our own way rather than his way. We desire what we don’t have rather than being satisfied with what God has given us and trusting him to provide all we really need. We fall short. We sin. We separate ourselves from his loving presence.

But don’t forget. God comes looking for us. He continually draws lost people back to him. He seeks and saves that which has been lost. But he doesn’t force us to do what we don’t want to do. He loves us too much. He’ll never take away our free will—it’s such an important part of how he created us. So sometimes, like the dad in the parable of the lost son (Matthew 15:11-32), he waits for us to come to our senses and head back home to our Father.

God comes looking for us. He continually draws lost people back to him. He seeks and saves that which has been lost. Click To Tweet

Imagine the dad in that story as he waits in his house for his son to return. Picture the tears running down his cheeks. Hear the impassioned words he cries out to a son who is too far away to hear: My son, oh my son … where are you?

That’s a picture of our loving, Father.

I’m currently using a study on my Bible app based on Kyle Idleman’s book, AHA: The God Moment That Changes Everything. “AHA is a spiritual experience that brings about supernatural change,” says Idleman in the first devotional reading. AHA involves three ingredients: an Awakening, Honesty, and Action. We see these ingredients in the lost son’s turnaround, and we can see it in our own if we pay attention.

Today, I’m sitting with God’s question for me: Where are you? I’m considering specific areas of my life where I’ve run away from God or where I’ve been hiding. I’m seeking to be brutally honest and humble as I consider my current spiritual location and I’m looking for where I need to take action.

Some of us may need to step out of the pig trough of our sin—that place where we have become comfortable even though we know how messy it is—and make a difficult journey back home. At the same time, as leaders, we are called by our Father to come alongside those who are still far away from him. “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation….as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20).

As leaders, we are called by our Father to come alongside those who are still far away from him. Click To Tweet

The spiritual life of leaders is probably my favorite topic to write and speak about, although I’m certainly not a perfect model. But I believe it’s vital to how we lead and what kind of impact we can make. (If you want to read more on this topic, see my books, Leading from the Heart: A Group Leader’s Guide to a Passionate Ministry and World’s Greatest Small Group: 7 Powerful Traits of a Life-Changing Leader. It’s also the topic of Chapter 2, “A Healthy Group Has a Healthy, Overflowing Leader,” in Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health That Make Groups Flourish, and Chapter 1, “Change the leader of Your Group,” in The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership.)

“Where are you?” is not a question of condemnation from God. It’s a question he asks in his grace and his unmerited love for us. He seeks us—as he seeks our friends and family members and neighbors and co-workers who are still far from him—so that we may have an abiding relationship with him now and for eternity.

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.

 

 

Leadership: Helping People Become Who God Created Them to Be

God wants us to realize that we are works of art in progress, and we, as leaders—church leaders, small group leaders, teachers, parents, etc.—can envision others with this truth.

I am fortunate that several people in my life took the time to help me see beyond my present circumstances to something better. God used to them to transform me into what he had in mind for me in his plan for my life. Allow me to share my own personal experiences.

School was a chore for me. I was always the youngest and smallest kid in my class. It started in Kindergarten. I had not fully developed my language skills yet—even my mom didn’t understand half of what I said. My Kindergarten teacher was a Chinese nun who herself had not mastered English. Mom understood less than half of what she said. (Somehow my teacher and I understood each other perfectly well, but no one else could understand either of us!) My teacher and I got along great, but when the year was over, I was not even close to being ready for first grade.

Somehow I got through first grade . . . and then came second grade in a new school. Mrs. Stevens (not her real name) was my teacher, and for some reason she did not like me. I can’t remember doing anything to warrant her disaffection, but, well, she just treated me as if I had stolen her favorite broomstick. At the end of the year, she gave me an F in math. My mom went to the principal’s office, armed with the evidence of passed quizzes and assignment papers, to complain. When confronted, Mrs. Stevens admitted to a “paperwork mistake,” and upped my grade to a B. But the damage of that year was done on my psyche and self-image. (Several years later, Mrs. Stevens was fired from the school, allegedly for a drinking problem.)

In fourth grade I endured several social embarrassments, including having my pants rip up the entire inseam while playing football on the playground. This freak accident happened twice in two weeks.

In fifth grade, I had to go to a special class each day for kids with speech problems. I couldn’t say my Rs correctly, so “bird” sounded like “boawrd.” I hated being singled out and pulled out of my class to go to the “speech teacher.”

In sixth grade, I discovered I had diabetes, and missed three weeks of school. When I returned to classes, I had to leave class twice a day to get a snack. Doctor’s orders. My friends treated me like I was “different,” and my teachers did nothing to help educate my classmates about the disease.

I struggled academically and socially through school until eighth grade when two important events took place to change the direction of my life. The first happened at home. Mom owned and operated a custom drapery shop in the basement of our home. She employed about four other women in the shop, all of whom became like extended family to me.

One day, out of the blue, Mom said, in front of everyone, “You know, Mike is a really good problem solver. He always uses his creativity to come up with good solutions to difficult situations. He really has a creative mind.”

The second positive thing that helped change my life happened in school. It was math, the subject with which I struggled most. I had a Chinese teacher, Mrs. Li, who knew very little English. “Here we go again,” I thought. My first couple days in class were like a terrible nightmare. I’d become sick just thinking about going to class.

Mrs. Li had a lot of difficulty keeping control of the class. She even had her military-regimented husband come in one day to scold us for our misbehavior. We were moving through the math textbook at a clam’s pace and learning nothing.

About a month into the year, two of my friends, Paul Augustine and Dale Trebor, went to Mrs. Li and suggested they do an independent study through the textbook. She agreed, and they asked me to join them. Each day we worked through the textbook ourselves. If we came across something we didn’t understand, we tried to work it out ourselves, and if we really had trouble, we asked Mrs. Li for help. When one of us got stuck on a concept (this was algebra), the other two stopped to help him figure it out. None of us moved on until all three of us got it.

When we finished one textbook, Mrs. Li got another and let us advance. At the end of the year, Paul, Dale, and I had worked our way through three and a half textbooks! The rest of the class had not even finished the first, with very little comprehension.

If you were to ask my friends and co-workers for a reference on me today, they might say a couple positive things about me.. First, I’m a creative, big-picture thinker. I’m good at seeing a problem and coming up with creative solutions. Secondly, I’m pretty good with numbers. After my “small group” experience in eighth grade, I went to a private college-prep high school and tutored other kids in algebra.

You see, I was given a vision of what I could be, indeed, in what I truly was. I am not the short kid with speech and math impediments. God worked through those painful times in my life to develop something inside me that only he could bring about. And, in his design, he used others to envision me with his plan for my life.

My mom used encouraging words to bring out something good in me—something good that God had created in me. She saw it, helped me to see it, and then helped me become it. She was God’s instrument in his process of transforming my life.

Paul and Dale included me in their community with a purpose. I believe this was my first small group experience! Together, we spurred each other on and, in the process, really connected with each other. We challenged one another and were patient with each other as we moved together to become something better.

God created every person as a unique work of art in his creation. God’s plan is for us to realize this and live it out. But we do not always see the beauty and purpose within us. Leaders have a special privilege of helping people see, understand, and live out the purpose God has created within them. It is God’s plan to use his people to encourage one another and spur one another on to what he wants us to be. He wants this for our lives because he loves us.

 

Leading from the Heart cover

Adapted from Chapter 1 of my book, Leading from the Heart: A Group Leader’s Guide to a Passionate Ministry, published in 2001 by TOUCH Outreach Ministries.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Leadership TIPS of the Week: April 23-27, 2018

Whether you lead a church, small group, class, ministry, business, work team, or family, these Leadership TIPS are written to help you lead in more godly, effectively, fruit-bearing, overflowing ways. We post them each day, Monday through Friday, on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Please share them with your friends!

Read all our Leadership TIPS.

Leadership TIPS of the Week: April 16-20, 2018

Whether you lead a church, small group, class, ministry, business, work team, or family, these Leadership TIPS are written to help you lead in more godly, effectively, fruit-bearing, overflowing ways. We post them each day, Monday through Friday, on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Please share them with your friends!

Read all our Leadership TIPS.