Four Reasons Every Lead Pastor Should Be in a Small Group

Lead pastors who lead a small group create a win-win dynamic. The pastors and the churches they lead both become healthier and grow as a result. Jim Egli, who has served as a senior pastor, associate pastor, missions pastor, and missionary says that regardless of his role, he has always led a group. He offers these four reasons:

Small groups are at the heart of church health. Egli says a healthy church lives in authentic, Christ-centered, missional community, and a church that uses healthy groups – the focus being on the word healthy – will increase its health, effectiveness, growth, and multiplication.

Pastors’ involvement in small groups greatly multiplies the leadership base of the church. A strategic pastor will lead a purposeful small group of potential leaders who will become new group leaders, new elders, and new leaders in a variety of other vital leadership functions in the church. The strategic pastor will model the discovery, development, and deployment of new leaders so that those he disciples will go and do the same.

Jesus led a small group. Jesus was more interested in starting a movement than preaching a weekly sermon, so he gathered some ordinary, unschooled men and patiently shaped them into bold leaders who would change the world. What would happen if every pastor walked in the ways of Jesus as a group leader?

For your spiritual health you need to be in a small group. “A lot of leaders say it’s lonely at the top,” said Tyler McKenzie, lead pastor at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. “But it doesn’t have to be. I’m not lonely. I have the community of my small group.”

Every church leader needs that kind of authentic, Christ-centered, life-changing, mission-focused community. Every pastor needs a community in which to live out the “one another” passages of the New Testament.

Humbly admit your need and then boldly lead. You and your church won’t regret it.

____

Originally posted on ChristianStandard.com, Sept. 22, 2016.

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.”

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.

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.

 

 

 

20 “Bible Dialogue” Questions

Here’s a way you and your group can study the Bible without using a Bible-study guide. I developed these questions (some of which I picked up from other places) several years ago.

Read a section of Scripture (a chapter, for instance) together as a group. Be creative. Read in the round (one verse or sentence at a time) or have group members read in parts. Then ask some general questions to get people dialoguing around the text. Move from “what did you get” questions to “what will you do” questions. Here are a few possibilities. You might use only one or two of these kinds of questions in a study! Remember that follow-up questions are the best questions.

  1. What jumped out at you in this passage?
  2. What’s going on here? Summarize what’s happening.
  3. What did you notice here, maybe for the first time?
  4. Who are the main characters in this passage?
  5. What’s your favorite verse in this passage? Why?
  6. What’s your least favorite verse in this passage? Why?
  7. What do you think God is trying to communicate overall in this passage?
  8. If we were writing a sermon with three main points from this passage, what would be our three points?
  9. What did you sense the Holy Spirit saying to you?
  10. What example do you see here that you can follow?
  11. What commands do you see here that you need to obey?
  12. What thoughts do you find here about God himself?
  13. What promise(s) do you see here for you to claim?
  14. What principles do you see here that you need to accept?
  15. What can we learn as a group from this passage?
  16. In what verse or section do you sense God speaking directly to you?
  17. How will this passage affect your relationships this next week?
  18. What changes do you feel like you need to make based on this passage?
  19. So what? What are you going to do based on reading this?
  20. What is one specific thing from this passage that you would pray back to God? How would you word that prayer?

Small Group Leader Summit – January 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Need for Accountability in Groups

CJ StephensGUEST POST by C.J. Stephens, Small Groups Minister at Northeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky

 

I hear the stories over and over again. They vary in subtle ways, yet they’re always about that person in your group—the one who seems to have everything together. Their life is going perfectly. Their family is great. They are making more money than they ever have. They love their job.

And then one day, out of the blue, their life falls apart.

It turns out that everything wasn’t as great as it seemed. Maybe they weren’t in such a great financial position. Maybe their marriage was a sham. Maybe the person was dealing with a secret sin.

I wish I could say this kind of thing never happens in our groups, that it never happens in our church. But it does, and each time, it breaks my heart. It can happen in your group, too, if your group lacks something critical: accountability.

Honestly, I hate accountability. I like to make plans. I like to come up with grand ideas about getting healthy or saving money. But I hate when someone holds me to those plans. I’d rather just make the plan and then give up on it whenever it becomes inconvenient for me.

Yet, I grow the most when I’m held accountable. This is true for your group as well. Your group will grow closer to each other and grow in their spiritual walks when they are being held accountable.

Cross the Line

The major barrier in our groups to accountability is an unwillingness to cross the line. You know the line—the line between comfortable, polite dialogue and discussions about touchy, sensitive topics in your life. So many of our groups never get past the surface level of life. They never move beyond the comfortable. Yet, it’s just across that line where we can ignite the most growth.

I want to give you a word of warning. It takes time and sensitivity to know when and where you can cross the line from casual friendship to speaking truth into someone’s life. The most important thing is that the person to whom you are trying to talk knows you are doing it out of a place of love. They need to know you have their best interests at heart. They need to know you are not meddling or teasing, but helping them in their walk with Christ.

Hold Them to It

Once your group is in a place where you can deeply speak into their lives, you need to consistently hold them accountable. I’ve been in groups in which people bring up the same relational troubles over and over. I know people who mention the same sin issues repeatedly and never seem to make any progress. How can we help those people move forward?

I’ve found one question to be helpful to you as a leader: “What steps are you going to take this week to change that?” It’s a deceptively simple question, but it has helped me enormously. It asks the person to do two things: make a plan to remedy the situation and get to work on it quickly. Let’s discuss each briefly.

Make a plan: Many of our problems never get solved because we never make a plan. By asking group members to make a plan to change, you are asking them to think more deeply about the situation and come up with a solution.

Get to work on it quickly—this week. Our nature is usually to let things go on and on without a solution simply because the solution is uncomfortable. By putting a timeline on the plan, it makes the problem immediate.

And here’s where the accountability comes in. The next time you see that person, ask him or her, “How’s that going?” This part is crucial. If you don’t check back with them, you aren’t holding them accountable. Check in on them. Bother them. Pester them until they start to make progress. Let them know you are on their side, but challenge them to find a solution.

If you love your friends, you’ll want them to grow. You’ll want to see them change. Love them enough to challenge them. Don’t wait until the problem blows up their life and they must then try to pick up the pieces. Keep your group accountable.

_____

This blog post originally appeared in “Leader Connect,” a newsletter for small group leaders at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

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.”

______

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

Save

Save

Save

Save

A Great Small Group Is … (It may not be what you think)

Today I want to show you a way of small group life that is best of all.

A great small group is patient and kind with one another.

The members of a great small group are not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.

In a great small group, people do not demand their own way.They seek God’s way. They look not to their own interests but the interests of others.

People in a great small group are not irritable with one another, and they keeps no records of being wronged.They confess their sins to each other, pray for each other, and forgive one another.

A great small group does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.

A great small group ... rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Click To Tweet

A great small group never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

A great small group is known more by how they love one another and the world around them than what they study, who leads the group, where and when they meet, how many people are in the group, or even what the group has accomplished.

A good small group is the body of Christ where each person is an important part of it, where each person uses the spiritual gifts they have to carry out God’s mission.

But a great small group is not about the group members or even their gifts. A great group overflows what God has poured into them.

And God is love.

A great small group overflows what God has poured into them. And God is love. Click To Tweet

If a small group is known for the depth of their discussions but don’t love other people, they are just making a lot of noise.

If they are known for their superior knowledge of the Scriptures, their pure and sound doctrine, and a mountain-moving faith, but don’t love others, they might as well not even meet.

If a small group is known for their sacrificial giving, serving of others in need, and their evangelistic zeal, but they do all this without truly loving others, they miss the point.

If a SG is known for deep discussions but don't love others, they're just making noise. Click To Tweet

A good small group is faithful, has hope, and loves.

And the GREATEST of these is love.

_____

Thanks to the apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit for inspiration! 1 Corinthians 13.

On a scale of 1-100, how is your group doing at love? Why? Scroll down and comment!