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.

‘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.

The Real Truth of the Christmas Story

Apparently, my Nativity scene—and yours—are all wrong. So are many of our favorite Christmas songs.

Jesus was probably born on the ground-floor or courtyard of a home, not a barn. The wise men were not present at his birth, and we don’t know for sure there were three of them. Jesus’ birth likely occurred in the spring, not in December. No mention of Mary riding a donkey in the biblical narrative. No innkeeper is mentioned either. Probably no star over the place where Jesus was born. And, of course, no little drummer boy either.

Writers and teachers have been quick to correct these factual errors for years, but our culture continues to perpetuate the misconceptions.

It’s funny what can distract us from the true meaning of Christmas.

Each of these misconceptions is a distinction without a real difference.

Yes, it’s important to get facts correct in the retelling of a story, especially one as important as this one. Which is why it’s so critical that people read the Bible to understand what really happened.

But let’s not major in minors. Let’s not get so caught up in the minutia that we miss the meaning of the most life-changing event ever to occur in human history. God took on human flesh in the form of a baby. He experienced all the things we do. He can identify with our pain. He empathizes with us. He understands. Because he became one of us. He came to us to redeem us from our sins.

Let's not get so caught up in the minutia that we miss the meaning of the most life-changing event ever to occur in human history. Click To Tweet

I won’t be correcting anyone’s misconceptions this Christmas. I’ll sing the songs. I’ll gaze in amazement at the Christmas creche with the star above and with shepherds and wise men, and even little drummer boys, all worshipping together.

Because that’s why Jesus was born—to live and to die for all of us—and that depiction at the manger is a picture of Heaven. All who believe in him, people from every age and culture, will be gathered together, this time around a throne rather than a feeding trough, worshipping our Lord and Savior and King.

 

 

 

How to Experience Real Joy This Christmas (and into the New Year)

People talk and sing a lot about joy, especially at this time of year, but as you look around, is there much joy to be found?

Most people in the world find joy in sentiment and circumstances and stuff, but the Christian has a different sort of joy—a godly joy.

Let’s look at some of the songs of the season and use them to compare the world’s definition with the Christian’s definition of joy. (I’ll admit up front, I love listening to all kinds of Christmas music this time of year, and I especially enjoy the classics sung by folks like Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Jimmy Durante, Perry Como, Mannheim Steamroller, and, of course, Burl Ives. But while I enjoy those songs, I don’t define my worldview by them!) Let’s look first at how secular Christmas songs define joy:

  • “Here comes Suzy Snowflake; Look at her tumblin’ down, Bringing joy to ev’ry girl and boy; Suzy’s come to town.”
  • “For every year the Christmas tree brings to us all both joy and glee.”
  • “Down thru the chimney with lots of toys all for the little ones Christmas joys.”
  • “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas. Only a hippopotamus will do . . . Oh what joy, what surprise when I open up my eyes to see a hippo hero standing there.”

Compare those with how our Christian hymns define joy:

  • Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
  • “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”
  • “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.”
  • Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With the angelic host proclaim Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

See the difference? Real joy is found in God’s loving gift to the world, not in stuff. It has less to do with what Jeremiah the bullfrog said and more to do with what Jeremiah the prophet said:

This is what the Lord says: “You say about this place, ‘It is a desolate waste, without people or animals.’ Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joyand gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 33:10, 11, my emphasis).

Circumstances could not have been worse for God’s people at this time in history, yet, in the midst of such desolation, somehow the people would experience joy and gladness. How could this be? From where would such joy come? The only way to understand it is to know—really know—the “Lord . . . who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it” (v. 2). God is the source of true joy; it cannot be found aside from him. “Call to me,” he says to the prophet, “and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (v. 3). The Lord then goes on to show Jeremiah what he would do that only he could do. God’s power and provision for us are, most of the time, beyond our human understanding. Joy comes as “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

God is the source of true joy; it cannot be found aside from him. Click To Tweet

The apostle Peter had seen and literally walked with Jesus, but many of the people to whom he wrote years later had not. “Though you have not seen him,” Peter said, “you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8, my emphasis).

To experience that glorious joy, we must understand the nature of God—the all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, perfect Creator—and the nature of man. The chasm between us is so wide, his holiness so awesome, we might wonder how we could ever have a relationship with him. Yet this same God left heaven for us, lived in a human body for us, suffered and died for us. But even more incredible, he now lives in us. He sits at God’s right hand and intercedes for us. He listens to our prayers and answers us. He works all things together for our good. He regards us as his body. He loves us though we are sinners. He has prepared a place for us in Heaven. He provides life to the full and to overflowing for us and those around us. He considers us his ambassadors, as his ministers called to partner with him in reconciling the world to him. He considers us his friends as well as his bride.

I’m already feeling more joyful and triumphant! How about you?

This kind of “inexpressible and glorious joy” will not fade away on December 26 or when your new toy loses its luster or someone gossips about you, when you can’t pay your December bills or are struggling in a relationship, or when the doctor has bad news.

I find it difficult even to describe what this glorious joy looks like or feels like, because it’s, well . . .  inexpressible! It’s a presence, a power, a purpose for life that goes beyond this life. It’s a profound mystery—the joy that comes from being united with Christ as his bride (Ephesians 5:29-32).

Real joy is a lasting joy—something only God can give and has given to us through Jesus Christ. No, I don’t often see that kind of joy on cable news, but that doesn’t mean there is no joy in the world. We just need to look in the right places—internally, not externally. The Lord is our source of joy and we can see it in those who follow him; we can hear it in“the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord.”

Real joy is a lasting joy—something only God can give and has given to us through Jesus Christ. Click To Tweet

This Christmas, regardless of the circumstances, be filled with this glorious joy, express it as you worship the newborn King and proclaim that the Christ is born!

Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Safe or Dangerous?

One morning on the Christian radio station I usually listen to, a local pastor of the “church of the week” talked about the nature of the church. He said the teens from his congregation had written essays about the church, and all of them used the word safe in their descriptions. The pastor went on to say that this is an accurate portrayal of the church.

What do you think? Does safe describe the heart of Christ’s church?

Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. We do want people to feel like the church, and every small group within it, is a safe place. They will be accepted for who they are and where they are in life. They will not be attacked or abused.

On the other hand, God’s Word portrays a church that is dangerous. It’s in a war for the eternal destinies of humankind. It’s a place of surrender and sacrifice. Peace comes in the midst of all this, as we put our trust in Christ. We are eternally safe because of his suffering, but we are on the front lines of a battle every day.

I think that is the gist of what Jesus was trying to teach his followers in Matthew 10, when he sent out the twelve to do ministry. He told them, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

That does not sound very safe to me! It has always fascinated me that in this passage Jesus says he did not come to bring peace, and yet he is the Prince of Peace. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Perhaps Jesus’ words in John 14:27 hold the secret for great small groups. The world defines peace as safety from trouble, but Christians know that in this world there will be trouble. Jesus has overcome the world, however. While difficulties and hardships will come, we do not have to let our hearts be troubled. As Christians, we do not need to seek safety and comfort. That is not the purpose of Christ-centered, kingdom-minded small groups. We seek the mind of Christ—his purpose, will, and peace in the midst of whatever may come our way.

As Christians, we have peace because we have Christ. He gives us life to the full in the midst of troubles.

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

Stand in Faith

Jesus knew what it was like to face trials in life. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that he is not “unable to empathize with our weaknesses” (4:15). He faced temptations in the desert at the beginning of his ministry and trials in the Garden and at the Cross at the end of it. In the middle, he had to deal with the hard hearts of the religious leaders and the hard heads of his followers. Yet he stood strong through it all—strong in his relationship with his Father, strong as he carried out the Father’s will.

Many of our trials in life are related to dealing with people. As someone has said, “Ministry would be easy if it weren’t for people!” You might say the same about your small group at times. Jesus had to deal with trials of many kinds within his group. While Jesus’ small group did become the World’s Greatest Small Group, at times it looked more like a dysfunctional mess!

Within two pages in my Bible, Jesus had to …

  • rebuke his leader-intern (Mark 8:33). Actually, this verse says he looked at all the disciples as he addressed Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”
  • deal with Peter missing the bigger vision during their mountaintop experience (9:5-6)
  • stop an argument between some of his group members and the religious leaders (9:14-16)
  • rescue his group members when they couldn’t do what he had told them to do (9:18, 25-28)
  • correct his disciples who were arguing about which of them the greatest (9:33-34; also see 10:35-45)

The next time you grumble about tensions and problems in your group, look again at Jesus’ group!

While Jesus’ group was a mess and often dysfunctional, it was healthy. That might seem like an oxymoron, but Jesus understood the principle of process. He saw not only what they were, but what they were becoming. And often this process of becoming looks very messy. But think about this: Jesus’ dysfunctional group became the World’s Greatest Small Group!

If your group is a mess—if your group includes a bunch of dysfunctional, sinful, pride-laden, argumentative men and women—don’t give up! Ask God to help you see the process of what your group members are becoming. At the proper time—God’s time—you will reap a harvest if you do not give up!

That takes standing on faith, as Jesus did. Jesus was also teaching—teaching by example—these men in his group to stand firm when they had to deal with opposition. Because they certainly would.

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

Click here to purchase copies of World’s Greatest Small Group at 20% off.

A Change in Citizenship

When you became a Christian, you took on a new citizenship. You no longer belong to this world. Your citizenship in now in the kingdom of heaven. Comparing non-Christians and Christians of his day, the apostle Paul commented, “Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:19-20). Being a citizen of heaven means a change in values and priorities—a change from the world’s systems and standards to those of your new king. It means a change in rules. You now live by God’s Word, not by the principles of the world.

No one sneaks across the border or bribes their way into citizenship in heaven. It is a free gift with many privileges and opportunities, and yet, once you’re in, important responsibilities come with being a citizen of heaven. Make sure you count the cost!

Jesus is a perfect example of someone who lived as a citizen of heaven while in this world. He was not of this world (John 8:23; 17:14, 16), and he reminded his disciples that neither were they (15:19). Neither the religious leaders, the disciples, nor Pilate understood Jesus’ true citizenship even though the kingdom of heaven was one of his favorite subjects to talk about. He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. … My kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).

You are called to live in this world and yet not be a citizen of it. Pastor, speaker, and writer Warren Wiersbe said, “Our sphere of life is not this earth, but heaven; and the things that attract us and excite us belong to heaven, not to earth.”8 You are called to live like Abraham, who “made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country. … For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10).

Take a moment now to consider these tough questions, and perhaps discuss them with your small group:

  • Do you live in this world like a foreigner or a native?
  • Are you living your life in “tents,” not putting down roots because you know this is not your home, or are you settled in?
  • Are you living in comfort here or in hope for your future home?

Part of living as a citizen of heaven is surrendering your own desires so you can carry out the will of the King. But how do you know his will? The answer is clear, even if it is not easy: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is” (Romans 12:2). When you surrender the things the world offers, no longer conforming to its ways, and when you allow your mind to be changed into a new way of thinking—a kingdom mindset—then God shows you his will for your life.

Try this today. Use Romans 12:2 as an acid test for every decision you make, everything you do, whatever enters your mind, every emotion that you feel. Does your decision, thought, emotion or action cause you to conform to the world’s ways or be transformed to God’s ways? This will take full attention and strict discipline, but it will help you know and understand God’s will.

What specific changes do you need to make to live as a citizen of heaven? Take time to reflect on each of the Bible passages in the table on the next page. What do you still need to surrender, and what are your new responsibilities?

One more thing in regard to your new citizenship. The King—the one who has made you a citizen of his kingdom—has given you a significant role. While you are here in this world, he wants you to represent him as his ambassador. He has given you the message about this kingdom, and he wants you to tell everyone you know about it (see 2 Corinthians 5:16-21). And—take note—this is not optional if you are a citizen of heaven. I’ll discuss this more in Chapter 4.

If you are surrendering your will, you’re off to a good start! That decision inexplicably leads to the next one, to surrender your assignment.

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

Click here to purchase copies of World’s Greatest Small Group

Share Stories … Grow in Grace

Helping people in our churches, classes, and small groups understand and experience God’s grace is vital. What is the best way to teach and, better yet, experience this fundamental doctrine?

Use stories, says Kyle Idleman.

Grace Is Greater by Kyle IdlemanIn a recent interview for CT Pastors, Kyle Rohane and Andrew Finch talked with Idleman, teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, about his new book, Grace is Greater (published by BakerBooks; also available as a small group study, pastor’s kit, leader’s guide, and journal).

“We have found that an effective way to help people experience grace is by telling stories,” Idleman says. “It’s not difficult to find biblical examples. In the Gospels, Jesus didn’t use the word grace, he didn’t give a long theological explanation of it, but his whole earthly ministry was marked by stories of grace.”

Idleman says the church is learning to be more intentional about vulnerability, and he explains the important difference between vulnerability and authenticity. Vulnerability, he says, is being honest about our struggles. Authenticity is no longer pretending, but vulnerability is revealing.

“When we ask someone to give a testimony about, say, a health struggle,” says Idleman, “we tell them not to feel like they have to have the whole thing wrapped up. It doesn’t have to be a happily-ever-after story. Instead, we ask them to be honest about the journey, to share why it’s hard and where they feel like God has let them down. That takes things further than authenticity.”

Idleman discusses how this plays out in small groups. “It takes just one person being a little bit vulnerable, pulling back the veil a little, for everyone else to do the same thing,” he says. “If people are going around the room and sharing their stories, and someone shares a struggle or a challenge they’re going through, just watch. The rest of the room will join in.” But he points out that if people share only superficial stories and refuse to go deeper, they will set the tone for the rest of the group as well.

“As a pastor,” says Idleman, “I want to set that temperature so others will want to celebrate their weakness. In doing so, we will point to the beauty of God’s grace.”

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Quotes and information excerpted from, “Kyle Idleman: God Never Wastes What We Go Through” in Christianity Today,’s “CT Pastors.”

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Don’t Let the Sheep Lead the Flock!

God often takes us places we didn’t plan to go.

As I got into my rental car in Louisville, Kentucky, to head out to The Groups Conference in Mattoon, Illinois, where I was speaking last weekend, I set the route I wanted to take in Google Maps and headed out. I was driving along the highway with the radio cranked up, enjoying the drive, when, about 2 hours in, Google Maps told me to get off the highway, at least 30 miles before my next designated turn. I took the exit as GM instructed and then looked at my phone to see where it was taking me. It looked good: a straighter shot than the highway although smaller roads. As I went, the roads became even smaller and smaller and less and less smooth, yet I was enjoying the sites on this country road that I never would have seen on the highway. At one point, GM told me to turn down a dirt road that had just had gravel added. The car in front of me took the same turn, and at several points, the dust from the gravel became so thick I couldn’t see. All I could do was stop the car and let the dust settle. At places in this drive, I had no idea where I was; I felt lost. I was in Illinois in the middle of a lot of barren fields, but I began to see small oil-well pumps. I’d expect to see those in a place like Texas, but Illinois? Then I saw a sign that said “Louisville, 7 miles.” I felt like I was going in circles! I yelled at my phone, “What are you doing? Where in the world are you taking me?”

Eventually, the back roads took me to the expressway, and I got to Mattoon safe and on time.

I admit that I too often treat God like I treated Google Maps. I set my own destination and course for “my” life. I enjoy the easy ride for awhile, but then I come upon a detour that takes me off the road I had planned to travel. I’ve been in those places where the dust and gunk of life became so thick that all I could do was stop until eventually the dust cleared enough to go on. I’ve felt lost and confused. I’ve wondered why I wandering. I’ve yelled at God, “What are you doing, Lord? Where in the world are you taking me?”

Yet, eventually, I get to a better place—and this has taken years of my life—and it’s not until I get there that I can see what God was doing. In the middle of the detour, I believed I didn’t deserve to be where I was. But afterward, I could hear God say, “Yes, you didn’t deserve this detour to your plans, but I did it for your good anyway.” While these times were difficult and heavy and painful, I saw and learned things about life and about God that I would not have seen or learned otherwise. He taught me to rely on him and trust his course for my life. He gives me opportunities to show others who are currently detoured that God is faithful.

If you lead a small group or family or team or any other collection of people, you will soon discover that they too end up on detours in their lives. Sometimes these detours look very much like the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). Yet, somehow, he is guiding them along the right paths for his name’s sake (v. 3). Your job is not to steer them back to the road they wished they were on or planned to be on. Your job as a shepherd is not to fix them or the circumstances. Your job is simply to walk with them through it. You shepherd them as the Good Shepherd guides you. You simply overflow (see v. 5) the compassion and love and peace and comfort and wisdom and power that he has poured graciously into you. Just be with them during these times.

Often, people don’t want to go where the Chief Shepherd wants them to go. He leads us out of our comfort zones so that we will rely on him, not ourselves, for our comfort and peace.

God leads us out of our comfort zones so we will rely on him for our comfort. Click To Tweet

Guiding people to go (or as they go) places where they do not want to go is not easy or comfortable for you or them.

God wants your group to go and make disciples, but they want to stay on the smooth and easy road they know of comfort, stability, and safety.

God wants your group to serve the poor and hungry and homeless and imprisoned, but they want to serve themselves with good meetings and safe relationships.

God wants them to mature so that they will take on leadership and feed others, but they just want to stay put and be fed.

If you as God’s shepherd-leader decide to follow the Chief Shepherd, you will face conflict from sheep who don’t want to go there. I can point to many biblical examples of this, but one of the clearest comes from the Exodus and the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness. They were off course from where they expected to be. They were looking for the Promised Land, but found themselves in the desert. Moses was their shepherd but he found himself in constant conflict with stubborn sheep. Moses heard God’s voice telling him to lead the people, but he also heard the loud bleats of sheep who didn’t want to go God’s way. When this happens as you lead, what do you do?

  1. Always, always, always hold high the values and principles found in God’s Word. Don’t give in to lesser values.
  2. Listen to God’s voice first (and you need to spend time with him—abide in him—to hear him), and then to people’s voices. When there is conflict between those voices, refer to #1.
  3. Don’t kowtow to people who prefer their comfort over God’s mission.
  4. Don’t let the sheep lead the flock!

Don't let the sheep lead the flock! Click To Tweet

God has chosen you to lead his flock. He has entrusted these people into your care as an act of stewardship. He wants you to invest into them, care for them and, lead them to where he wants them to go. He wants a return (Matt. 25:14-30)! He wants fruit (John 15:8). Be a wise and faithful steward-servant-shepherd who follows the Chief Shepherd.

What places does God want your group to go that group members don’t want to go? Share it by scrolling down and commenting.