Michael Mack Named Christian Standard Editor: What Does This Mean for Small Group Leadership?

In April I was named editor of Christian Standard magazine. (Read announcement here.) I am honored and humbled to be the 12th editor of this 151-year-old Christian-leadership journal. The July issue, the first for which I’m responsible, has been completely redesigned and repurposed, and it’s arriving in mailboxes of our subscribers today. We also uploaded it to our app yesterday. (See our story on this here.) Read my first editorial HERE.

What does this mean for Small Group Leadership? I will continue to conduct small group leader training in churches and conferences on weekends; I’ll keep blogging here, at least occasionally, about small groups, discipleship, and other leadership concerns; my TIPS of the Day will still be posted on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and be reposted here each Friday.

I will not be doing as much editing outside the magazine or writing as much as I have for other ministries.

A couple things will change. For instance, you may have noticed that my daily TIPS are now called “Leadership TIPS of the Day” rather than “Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Day.” Does that mean I no longer care about small groups or their leaders? Absolutely not! I found that many of my tips applied to all spiritual leaders, and so I’ve broadened the audience for these, but they are still relevant to small group leaders. (Also, I just saved 10 characters for those 140-character tweets!)

I will continue to write books, but like my daily tips, I want to write more broadly about Christian leadership and discipleship.

I invite you to check out and subscribe to Christian Standard. While the magazine focuses on leaders within “Christian Churches & Churches of Christ” (what some call Restoration Movement churches or Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ), our articles are relevant for leaders in all churches.

Have questions about my transition, Christian Standard, or Small Group Leadership? Please leave a note in the Comments, below.

How Can My Group(s) Do What Jesus’ Group Did? (Is That Even Possible?)

World's Greatest Small Group CoverThe back cover of World’s Greatest Small Group features this audacious claim:

Your small group can do what Jesus’ did: Change the World!

I wouldn’t make such a claim if I didn’t believe it’s possible. But I believe not only that it’s possible, but that it’s exactly what Jesus wants to happen. It’s what he said will happen. It’s what he is still waiting to happen.

Some people may believe it could never happen today—that attaining to being the “World’s Greatest Small Group” is an unattainable dream, or, worse, presumptuous. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Why I wrote World’s Greatest Small Group

I can think of three key reasons why I wrote this book:

God has given me a passion for ordinary people who sense a call to lead.

To be more precise, I’m passionate about these leaders’ hearts, which has overflowed into much of the things I’ve written over the years: books like Leading from the Heart, Small Group Vital Signs, and The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership. Chapter 2 of Small Group Vital Signs was titled, “A Healthy Group Has a Healthy, Overflowing Leader.” In World’s Greatest Small Group, I expand on that chapter, discussing the 7 powerful traits of Jesus as he led his group, the same traits in which leaders today can develop.

I truly believe that ordinary people can courageously lead extraordinary small groups.

This is the mission of my ministry, Small Group Leadership, and I believe my call is to help equip ordinary people to do that. This book came out of that core value. Of course, the value comes from the disciples (followers) Jesus chose to be his apostles (those who were sent; that is, leaders). The religious rulers considered them “unschooled, ordinary men” (Acts 4:13). A closer translation is that they were unlearned or unlettered idiots (idiōtēs in Greek). In other words, these trained religious elite believed that these ordinary folks who worked in ordinary jobs were unqualified, that they didn’t know enough or hadn’t studied under the right Rabbi.

I’m glad these “ordinary” men boldly, courageously ignored the commands and threats of the self-righteous establishment. God does extraordinary things through ordinary people who have “been with Jesus,” who abide in him and then overflow into the lives of others. Ordinary Christ followers are a kingdom of priests. We are his ambassadors. We are all ministers of reconciliation. God’s power is made perfect in our weakness! I want “ordinary,” called Christ followers to understand their identities and mission.

I believe that Jesus’ words in John 14:12 are literal and true.

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus said to his followers, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

This is not just some unattainable dream of Jesus. It’s much more than a motivational speech to move his disciples into action. It’s not a visionary, pie-in-the-sky picture of a preferred future for the Church. It is Jesus’ plan. It points to his method for carrying out his plan: us. Who is Jesus talking about when he says, “whoever believes in me”? Us! Ordinary followers of Jesus! They (we) can do, will do, even greater things than Jesus did. That’s remarkable, but Jesus meant this literally and it is true—because while he is now at the right hand of the Father, through his Spirit, he has not left us. He is with us to help us carry out the mission he has given us to the very end of the age!

I believe that Jesus' words in John 14:12 are literal and true. Click To Tweet

Jesus’ group often looked like a dysfunctional mess. I talk about that in Chapter 7. Yet those ordinary, unschooled, imperfect, weak people went out with God’s power and changed the world! In some ways, because they took the message from Jerusalem and Judea to the ends of the known world, they did even greater works than Jesus, but the fact is, Jesus was working through them the whole time. And he can do the same with us today. He can and will do “even greater things” if we allow him to work in and through us. That’s what these 7 powerful traits of a life-changing leader are all about.

Each chapter of World’s Greatest Small Group focuses on one leadership attribute we see in Jesus and that each of us can develop as well. I show how Jesus lived out that leadership trait as he led his group and I then show leaders today how they can grow in that trait themselves. I demonstrate how it lives itself out as ordinary people boldly lead their small groups to do the extraordinary things that God wants them to do.

By the way, I am speaking on these topics as I help equip leaders in churches through leader retreats, seminars, and workshops. Please let me know if you’re interested in discussing the possibility of helping equip your leaders!

Get your copy or copies now! Here are two special offers.

To find out more about the book, and to get a COUPON CODE worth 20% off the retail price, click here!

Small Group Leader TOOLBOX coverPurchase your book before March 15 and get a FREE COPY of my eBook, Small Group Leader TOOLBOX, a $12.95 value.

Here’s how:

  1. Purchase World’s Greatest Small Groups from one of these online retailers: CreateSpace (use coupon code TKBFSKKR to get your 20% discount) or Amazon (print or Kindle versions, no additional discount) by March 15.
  2. Email (or forward) your receipt to mike[AT]smallgroupleadership.com (replace [AT] with @) no later than March 15.

I will then send you login instructions and a special 100% off coupon code for Small Group Leader TOOLBOX.

If you lead the small group ministry in your church . . .

Help get this book into the hands of ordinary small group hosts, facilitators, leaders, teachers, etc.!

If you would like to purchase 20 or more copies for your leaders, please contact me directly, before you make your purchase, and I will do two things for you:

  1. To help you save money, I will provide you with a special 30% off coupon code.
  2. I will give you a FREE one-hour block of coaching or consulting.

CONTACT ME HERE before you make your purchase, and let me know you are planning to purchase 20 or more copies.

Questions or other thoughts on this post or on the book? Scroll down and comment!

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Are Small Groups Deceiving Themselves?

What are the purposes of vision and mission statements? Are they important? Should a small group have vision and mission statements?

I’ll answer those questions in a moment. But first I’d like to share a series of mission-related tweets I posted a couple days ago:

 

Maybe I was in a sarcastic mood, but I think this is important. Jesus and his early followers often spoke in big-vision, missional terms, but they didn’t leave those statements on the table. They actually lived out the vision and mission daily. So should we.

The problem isn’t that we’ve forgotten our mission as the church or as small groups. It’s that we simply choose lesser missions. We choose comfort. We choose to study the mission rather than doing the mission. We choose us over them.

The problem isn't that we've forgotten our mission. It's that we choose lesser missions. Click To Tweet

We spend more time and energy on reshuffling the already committed than we do on seeking the lost. We spend lots of energy on connecting Christians into groups that are ignorant about or ignoring the mission to which we have been called.

We have become experts at discussing God’s mission. We have learned how to observe God’s Word, interpret it, and apply it. We know how to facilitate discussion, ask good questions, lead prayer times, and care for one another. Those are good things.

But do we do what the Word of God says? If not, we’re deceiving ourselves (James 1:22). None of that matters if we are not going into the world around us and making disciples, being Jesus’ witnesses, being ministers of reconciliation, preaching the gospel.

How do we do this?

Begin with prayer, asking God to give you the opportunities; but don’t make prayer itself the goal or the new vision. While you wait on God’s answer to your prayers, go and serve and love. God will most likely answer your prayers as you are doing those things he has already called you to do. He’ll put people in front of you who you can tell about him, share the gospel, and administer reconciliation.

Develop vision and mission statements and put them into action plans. Take those why statements and be very specific and tactical about the what, when, where, who (and whom), and how.

Go. That action is often in opposition to gathering, but you can do both. You can huddle together to encourage, learn, pray, support, otherwise minister to one another, and plan. But then you quickly break the huddle to go out and carry out God’s mission.

Change the mindset of your group from gathering to going, from huddling to healing, from sitting to serving, from meeting to ministering.

I’d love to help you carry out this plan. A big part of my vision involves partnering with God and his church to revitalize Christ’s mission in and through radical community. How can I partner with you in that?

Question: What’s keeping you from carrying out the mission God has given your group or church? Please respond to this post by clicking the Comment button below.

Jesus’ Leadership Order

Jesus started his church by calling a few normal, workaday guys to follow him, and then he made a remarkable statement. He told these unschooled, unspectacular, blue-collar guys that he’d turn them into leaders who would make an eternal difference in people’s lives (see Matt. 4:18-20) and ultimately the world.

Jesus reiterated the point sometime later when he called together a bunch of the folks he had asked to follow him and asked 12 of them to take their following to the next level. He called these disciples to be a part of a select small group of “apostles,” men who would be enlivened, equipped, empowered, and entrusted to lead his church (Mark 6:13).

That’s what Jesus does, still, today. He takes regular, ordinary men and women and calls them; first as followers and then as sent leaders. It’s always in that order.

Someone who cannot be a humble follower should never become a leader. 

By following the Master Leader, you learn how to lead and how not to lead. As you spend time with him, you see his heart for people and you catch hold of that great compassion. As you abide with him, he pours his love and power and grace into you so that you can then overflow that same love, power, and grace into those around you.

In other words, following Jesus forges you into a leader. 

The anvil of real Christian leadership is a follower of Jesus who becomes more and more like Him.

Before you lead your small group this week, be sure to be a follower first. Spend time with Jesus and allow him to saturate your mind and heart with his love and wisdom. This may sound odd, but don’t pray—at least not in the way you usually think of prayer, as uttering so many words. Just sit with Jesus and enjoy his presence. Ask him to lead you. Then let him.

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Lyman’s Legacy

I wrote yesterday about Lyman Coleman and his thoughts on small groups as an assimilation strategy for the church. Today, I want to share some more personal thoughts about Lyman.
I first met Lyman Coleman in 1992 when I wrote a feature article about him for The Lookout magazine (right). I had called Serendipity House, the ministry he founded, to set up an interview with him. His assistant put him on the phone and he invited me to travel to two cities with him on his training tour. The time I spent with him over several days had a profound effect on my life. He challenged me to throw my life into God’s passion for reaching lost, broken people through authentic community.
I watched as Lyman led those conferences, and when I began to lead small group conferences myself, I tried to lead the way I saw him do it (although, looking back now, there was no way I could lead like him. Coleman is a unique, creative genius). More than anything, however, I caught Lyman’s passion for people the church has not yet been able to reach. I still carry that passion with me today.

Lyman speaks ardently about the men he learned from, men like Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, Sam Shoemaker, an episcopal priest who was influential in the beginnings of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Bruce Larson, pastor at University Presbyterian Church and the Crystal Cathedral. Lyman is known as a preeminent small group pioneer, but he points to others who had a profound influence on him. Besides those mentioned above, he talks about other people he did ministry with: Bill Bright, Elton Trueblood, Stacey Woods, Keith Miller, Roberta Hestenes, and of course his brother Robert (author of Master Plan of Evangelism among other books).

In an interview with Christian Counseling Today, Lyman said, “I was given the privilege of being around some people in my early life who planted within me a passion for reaching the world for Christ and for ‘binding up the wounds’ of the broken people in this world.” Lyman still lives out this passion as well as passing on the legacy that these pioneers gave to him.
My initial meeting with Lyman Coleman was a serendipitous moment. I thought I was interviewing him. As it turns out, God meant it to plant a passion for lost, broken people into me. I hope I can pass on that legacy to others.

How Your Small Group Can (Must) Partner with God

“God’s work is accomplished by a combination of human and divine effort, said one of my seminary professors, Dr. Joe Ellis. “We cannot do it without Him; He has ordained not to do it without us. We depend on each other.”¹

I love this quote. I’m amazed by the reality that we actually get to partner with God in his mission to redeem the people he loves and desires to draw to himself. But we often err by either taking on the assignment ourselves as if it’s our mission, not his, or irresponsibly sitting on the sidelines believing God will carry out the mission without us. With either extreme, we miss out on being partners with God. It’s a human-divine collaboration.

More often than not, I think, we err on the side of leaving God out of it. “Sometimes the voice of Jesus saying, ‘I will build my church,’ can hardly be heard amid the babble of human voices affirming, ‘We will build the church. Our plans, our organizations, our resources will accomplish it, and we will have it the way we want it,'” Ellis wrote. “God is sometimes boxed out of His own enterprise by His self-centered and self-sufficient partners.”²

Does that happen in your small group? Do you ever move forward with a plan of your own volition? Chances are you have. I hope this is not your regular pattern, however. I believe there are two vital things your group–and you as a leader–must do in order to partner with God:

  1. Pray. The key factor is prayer. Prayer puts the power of ministry where it belongs: in God’s hands. Evangelism without prayer has been compared to explosives without a detonator. Prayer without evangelism is said to be like a detonator without explosives.
  2. Plan. I speak about the importance of planning in Chapter 4 of Small Group Vital Signs, so I won’t try to discuss it at length here. But I’ve found that many groups are more reactive than proactive. And when you live by default rather than design, I believe you tend to go with your gut rather than the leading of the Holy Spirit. Plan how you will partner with God and collaborate with him in his mission and specific calling for your group. 
As a group, never forget that you are Christ’s ambassadors; you are the body of Christ in action. You are more than just a “small group”! You are God’s chosen people–partners with the most high creator of the universe! 
__________

¹ Joe Ellis, The Church on Target (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1986), 34.
² ibid., 30.

Coach K and Jesus on Real Leadership

It’s college hoops time again, and I may be weird, but I enjoy watching the coaches as much or more than the players. I love strategy, and as a former youth coach myself, I love to analyze (and, yes, sometimes second-guess) the decisions coaches make. Coaching is leadership and as leaders we can learn a lot by watching good coaches.  

Several years ago, Duke head coach Coach Krzyzewski did a commercial in which he made a fascinating comment: “I don’t see myself as a basketball coach,” he said. “I see myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball.” I like his perspective. Another great leader once said, 

“But among you, those who are the greatest should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.”  -Jesus, Luke 22:26

As a Christian leader, I don’t see myself as a leader. I see myself as a servant who happens to lead.

God calls all followers to serve. He calls some servants to lead. If you can serve best by leading, and that is what God has called you to, then, by all means, lead, with diligence! (Romans 12:8). But if you can serve better in some other fashion, or if someone else can lead better than you, or if God has not called you to lead, then serve in some other way – with diligence!

Leaders after God’s own heart, like David, are often the last ones considered by human standards. But God doesn’t look at what man looks at. He looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:1-13). And the heart of any real spiritual leader is a servant’s heart.

How are you serving your small group? 

MORE POSTS ON LEADERSHIP
The One Thing a Leader Must Know
Great Humility = Great Leadership
Your Main Job as a Leader

You Have Been Elected!

The day after the election, I’m reflecting on bigger picture values. I turned off the news programs in which so-called experts are discussing all the nitty-gritty details of why this person won and that one lost and what all that means. Like many people I got caught up in a lot of the hype and drama of this electoral campaign. But now I’m trying to get a bigger view.

Someone on Twitter commented that elections show us what we value as a country. That’s an interesting observation, but I’m not going to go into the politics of that. I’m a Christ-follower with a socially conservative bent, meaning simply that I believe in living out God’s standards for how to best live life, as revealed through his Word, but I also believe in loving people liberally and unconditionally–regardless of how they believe or act. I believe that God knows better than me or you how we can best live this life he’s given us, and I trust him at his Word. 

For some reason as I was spending time with God this morning, I started thinking about the word elect. Fascinating word in the New Testament. Jesus used the word (ekloktos in the Greek) numerous times, three times in Matthew 24 where he spoke about what would happen at the end of the age. The word refers to those whom God has selected or chosen to be his own and implies that they are his “favorites.” The Practical Word Studies in the New Testament says, “It means to be one of God’s holy and beloved followers.”

If you are a Christ follower, just sit and let that sink in for a few moments.

You, as part of God’s church, are his elect, his chosen people, holy and loved by him. You are one of his favorites! Not because of good things you have done. You do not need to campaign with God. He has accepted you because of what his Son did for you and because you have believed.

God cares more about who you are than who the current POTUS is. And much more is at stake in this election. 

As Christ-followers, we are the elect. We have been chosen, not by proportional representation or majority. We have been called. We have been given a huge privilege and responsibility. Our first priority now is God’s kingdom and his righteousness. We have much more power and authority than we realize in this kingdom work. 

Let’s act like it.

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What to Do When Ministry Feels Like It’s Failing – Part 3: Redefine Success

This is the third and last planned post in this three-day series. I introduced the series in Part 1 and talked about the first reason we face failure and what to do about it in Part 2. Today, let’s tackle a second reason we sometimes don’t feel like we’re bearing fruit and what we can do about that.

At times, we may not see the fruit, the results, of how God is working through our lives. We may, in fact, see just the opposite, at least for a time and perhaps for our whole lives. We consistently share the gospel or teach or preach the Word or lead a small group or rear our children or stay committed to our spouse, and it seems like nothing is happening. We see no movement, or worse, things are digressing. Why does this happen and what should we do?

Is your ladder of success leaning on the right building? If you are defining success by worldly standards, you may end up terribly disappointed when you don’t see the results you are expecting. But God’s working does not operate as the world’s systems do. As Isaiah learned, the teaching of God’s Word may harden people’s hearts at first. In Isaiah 6:9-10, a passage quoted six times in the New Testament, God tells Isaiah to expect people to not understand his Word. Even though Isaiah would pour his life into preaching God’s truth,  the people’s eyes and ears would seem totally closed to God. Like Isaiah, we must believe that God is at work anyway, that his Word will not return empty, but he will accomplish what he desires through us (Isa 55:11).

We are to be witnesses of God’s truth and love. Period. How they respond is in God’s hands. This takes surrender.

What really matters is not outward successes, but our faithfulness to him. God makes the seeds we have planted and watered grow in his own timing, not ours. We may see the fruit in eternity if not here on earth. I believe we will be greatly surprised by what God did though what we thought were futile efforts. And those may be our greatest rewards in heaven.

How do you define “success” in your ministry?


If you were to redefine success based on God’s calling and direction rather than on worldly wisdom, how would it be different?