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.

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: Feb. 27 – March 3, 2017

Friday means only one thing … the Small Group Leader TIPS of the week as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn. Use these tips in your ministry!

Here they are:

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: August 8-12, 2016

Here are the Small Group Leader TIPS for the last week as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

QUESTION: Which TIP encourages you most? Which one challenges you most? Please share your response by clicking the Comment box below.

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: July 25-29, 2016

Here are the Small Group Leader TIPS for the last week as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

Monday, July 25

This week discuss and set w/ group 1-3 God-sized goals for the next 3-6 mos. #TIP #goals Click To Tweet

Tuesday, July 26

As you set group #goals and plans, be sure they are God's, not just yours. (Prov 16:3; 19:21). #TIP Click To Tweet

Wednesday, July 27

Who is main character in your small group story? You? Needy person? Make God main character! #TIP Click To Tweet

Thursday, July 28

Making God main character in small group narrative chgs everything + everyone! #ChristCentered #TIP Click To Tweet

Friday, July 29

Put your goals, plans, + strategy (the how) in writing. Use it as your #roadmap. #TIP #covenant Click To Tweet

Go ahead: Tweet these (or post on your favorite social network, or just email them) to your followers! Or just share ALL of them by clicking a social button below.

QUESTION: What goals and plans is your group making for this fall? Please leave a comment by clicking the Comment bar below.

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

 

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.

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week: December 28, 2015 – January 1, 2016

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the past week as Tweeted, posted on the Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *
Monday, 12/28: Make God, not yourselves, the main character as you study his Word. #BibleStudy
Tuesday, 12/29: Bible study = connecting God’s story to your stories. Don’t settle for either-or. #both-and #BibleStudy

 
Wednesday, 12/30: Commit with one another to mutual discipleship. Each person takes responsibility for one another.


Thursday, 12/31: Move group members from attending to participating to serving to sharing to leading. #discipleship
 
Friday, 1/1/2016: Set at least 3 God-given, God-sized goals for 2016. Then plan for how you will accomplish them.

All 2015 Small Group Leadership TIPS

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Follow Mike and Small Group Leadership on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks by clicking on the icons in the “Connect with Mike” box in the right column.

What Are the Best Methods and Models for Small Group Ministry?

As a coach and consultant, I’m often asked to talk about the right methods to achieve the goals and mission that the church wants to accomplish. Sometimes the questions sound more sanctified, as I’m asked about the most biblical methods. Other times the discussion forms around models, usually relating to the ones certain successful churches use.

Methods and models often become sacred cows we trust to get results, as if Jesus said, “Those ministries that utilize the best models will bear much fruit. Apart from the correct methods, you can do nothing.”

I suppose it’s easier that way. Just give me a method or at least a good model, and I can implement it. Three simple steps and voila, paydirt. Methods and models don’t take a lot of work and can be implemented quickly. Beginning with mission and culture takes time.

However, the Bible rarely if ever provides one specific method for worship, evangelism, discipleship, community, or anything else of importance.

I was reading Psalm 150 and was struck by all the various ways listed for how and what instruments we can use to worship God. Some commentators imagine a symphony orchestra in this psalm; all these instruments are playing together and people are dancing. I see it more as a list of choices God gives us.

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
praise him with loud clanging cymbals (vv. 1-5, NLT).

Note that the passage doesn’t even tell us where to worship. It might be in the “sanctuary” or a church building; or it could be outside under the open sky or under the heavens (cf. John 4:21-24).

The main point: “Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (v. 6). Praise the Lord is the value. How we praise him is up to us.

When we try to twist (proof text) the Bible to fit into our preconceived notions of where or how we are to do (or not do) “church,” we not only miss the point, but make our faith confusing for people. We also add to God’s Word in direct violation of the Scriptures.

God gives us freedom in methodology. The values and the principles are what are most important.

Last Saturday I had breakfast with two church leaders who are planning their small group ministry strategies for the fall and the next several years. I began by asking them a lot of context questions about their church so I’d have a good idea of the culture there. At first they talked about campaigns, different “types” of groups, and adding people into groups. That’s all good stuff, but those tactics come way down the line in the strategic planning process.

We would then go back to discussing vision, mission, and purpose. The big question: What’s the purpose of groups at the church? After that: What would your senior minister and elders say is the purpose of small groups? How about your group leaders? Group members? Do those match up?

Then we discussed the culture of the church. Like anything else, small groups must work within the culture of your church. That’s why I believe using some other church’s methods and models is foolish. Those things work in their culture. Sometimes they worked in their culture several years ago when they wrote that book or made that video, but as with all things in life, people and cultures change. So figure out your culture and then design your “model” to work with it now. Keep it flexible so that as things change, so can your methodologies. That takes real leadership!

Let’s say your church culture is not as conducive as you’d like for a life-changing small group ministry there. It’s OK. Start slow and develop one, then two, then four, and then more healthy groups. Over time and with much prayer, you may be able to change the culture to become, for instance, more community-focused or more missional in nature. That takes prayer, patience, God’s presence and power, and a commitment to his purposes.

Once the vision, mission, purposes, and culture are known, the strategies, plans, and tactics (the methods) become clearer.

Keep praying. Keep trusting God. And then you can praise the Lord for his mighty works!

MORE ON THIS TOPIC

Top 10 Small Group Ministry Launch Failures

7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation this Christmas Season – #6 & 7: Party and Plan

Today I’m giving my last 2 of 7 ideas your group, class, or family can use to celebrate Christmas. See 1-5 here.

Throw a Party
The holidays are an excellent time for a party with a purpose. Be creative: make it a story party, where each person comes prepared to share a short story about a Christmas past; or have a birthday party of Jesus with the kids. The main thing is to make this a party to which everyone can invite friends, especially those who don’t fully understand the meaning of Christmas. As Jesus did with Matthew’s friends in Matthew 9, simply enjoy the opportunity to connect with one another, and see what God will do.

Plan for a New Year
Sometime in December or early January, gather group members for a fun gathering that you use to plan for 2015. Start thinking and preparing for this planning party now, in December.

For many of us, the holidays are the biz, biz, busiest time of the year. Talk to your group members now to discuss some of the things you won’t do this year so that you can experience Immanuel—God with us—and be an Incarnational small group by taking the message of Jesus into the world around you.

The Brazil Cell-Church Conference: What I Learned … #5 – Go with the Flow

One of my favorite topics to speak on is the principle of overflow. In my training, I use a pitcher to represent God and everything that he wants to pour into us and a glass to represent our lives. I use this illustration to show that God does not simply fill our lives to the full (John 10:10), he fills us to overflowing. Spiritual leadership is basically about two things: putting yourself daily in a position to receive from God and then naturally overflowing into the lives of the people he has put around you.

I want to live my life in this natural rhythm: receive and overflow, receive and overflow …

But, probably like you, I sometimes find myself with my glass upside down, trying hard to pour something out of my life–ministering out of my own strength and knowledge–which leads to both ineffectiveness and burnout.

I was in Brazil last month to teach about these vital topics, but God also used the trip to teach me this vital principle over and over again. In my last post, I talked about two examples of staying in the flow: driving in Brazil and a surprise preaching opportunity. But God used numerous other object lessons as well:

Relationship-First
One of the things I teach about is the importance of keeping our priorities in the right order. Many times, those of us in ministry get these mixed up and out of the order God commands. Here’s the right order:

GOD
COMMUNITY
MINISTRY
Unfortunately, we often turn this upside-down, which leads to … guess what? Yes, ineffectiveness and burnout, not to mention idolatry, broken marriages, and broken families.
I took my 19-year-old son Dru with me on this trip and I’m so glad I did. It was an opportunity for Dru and me to develop a deeper bond in our relationship, for him to grow in his own faith and ministry, and for him to get the opportunity to travel, something he hopes to do a lot more of in his life. Though I was in Brazil for ministry, it was clear to me what my priorities needed to be: my relationship with God, then my relationship with Dru, then the ministry itself.
The best times in Brazil were the times that God overflowed out of my life into my son’s life and then from his life into some of the people God put around him.
Plans
I’m a planner, but I needed to remember that as many and good and godly as my goals and plans might be, God’s purpose will prevail. I often found the need to let go of my plans and just go with the flow.
As in many other South American countries, Brazilians are not slaves to their watches and schedules. Often I thought I would be speaking at a specific time, and when that time passed, I became impatient inside my head (I tried not to let it show), wondering how long the person or program in front of me would continue. Often, as I thought one person was coming to a close, I’d anxiously get my notes together and move toward the front of my chair, when another person would jump up on stage to make an announcement or share a story. One Sunday evening, about the time I was scheduled to preach, some kids put on a very cute little show of singing and dancing. I enjoyed the first two minutes, but twenty minutes later I was anxious to get going. Then the children’s director stood up to talk about the children’s show. Then the pastor came up to thank and pray for the children. Then another pastor came up to read Scripture. I thought my turn was finally coming. No. The pastor began expounding on the passage–a sermon before my sermon. He was speaking in Portuguese and my interpreter wasn’t sitting next to me, so I wondered what he was saying, and if, perhaps, it might be on the same topic I was planning to talk about. When he finished someone else came up to give some more announcements. Finally, my translator, who was also the director of the ministry that brought me to Brazil, went up on stage. Finally, I thought. here we go! Then the translator began to speak in Portuguese. I glanced over at Dru and he just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Finally, at long last, the interpreter invited me to speak. I jumped up on stage … and totally forgot what I was going to say. Actually, that’s not true. I’m glad God helped me to go with the flow and I just allowed his Spirit to flow through me.

There is a flow to leading, whether you are facilitating a small group discussion, leading a ministry or church, or leading anything else. That flow, when healthy, starts with God, not us, our ideas, or our own power. That flow means that I am not in control … which means I can relax and just let God speak and lead through me.

Our trip to Brazil taught Dru and me to trust God more, allowing him to be in control, enjoying the flow of the journey as he pours into us and then overflows into the lives of others.

Read the rest of the posts in this series on Brazil HERE

10 Stupid Things That Are Keeping Your Small Group from Growing

Geoff Surratt, director of Exponential, wrote a book titled Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches from Growing. Great title, so I, ummm, borrowed it. Here are what I believe are the top 10 stupid things that prevent groups from growing or doing anything truly worthwhile.

  1. Consuming. Groups who focus all their attention on themselves grow … fat. But they don’t grow up. They are consumer groups who, like Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, swell up into something completely useless, to be rolled away by Oompa-Loompas. Healthy groups focus on others, which leads not only to the Golden Ticket, but to real maturity.
  2. Concentrating on study and knowledge.  Yeah, it’s ironic that this is a stupid thing that keeps groups from growing, but it’s actually true. The apostle Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up (there’s Violet again), but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). James said not to just listen to God’s Word, but to actually do what it says (James 1:22).
  3. Forgetting that Jesus really is present when you meet. An unhealthy group sets its own agenda or falls into the agenda of strong or very needy group members. Healthy groups remember that Jesus is present and meet for his purposes and with his power.
  4. A meeting mentality. A great group is way more than merely a meeting. Focus on mission and ministry, not just on holding meetings.
  5. A leader who leads from knowledge, abilities, or personality. Groups that grow are led by leaders who are growing in their own relationship with Christ. This is their #1 priority. They lead out of the overflow of what God is pouring into them.
  6. Solo leadership. Groups that grow, really grow, have leaders who share leadership with a core team of a few others. These groups not only grow, they multiply more naturally.
  7. Arms-length relationships. People often get into small groups because they want friends with whom they can do this Christian life. They may not say that or even totally realize it, but that’s what they’re really looking for. When they don’t get it, they’ll go somewhere else. People grow spiritually in an an environment of real-life community [translate, “friends”]. Groups grow when groups are friends, not just acquaintances
  8. No ownership. In stagnant groups, people show up empty handed and leave without contributing anything to the rest of the group. In a healthy group, everyone participates and contributes. Group members use their gifts and involve their passions. Each person has a role in the functioning of the group.
  9. No plans or goals. Dormant groups live by default rather than design. They live in reactive rather than proactive mode. An assessment of the groups at our church showed conclusively that when groups know who they are, what they are about, and where they are going, they grow spiritually and numerically.  If your longest range plans are who is bringing what kind of cookies to next week’s meeting, you’re probably stuck, and that’s stupid.
  10. Taking Yourselves Way Too Seriously. Nobody wants to come–or keep coming–to your humdrum small group. Loosen up. Laugh together. Play some music and have a dance off. Change the regular order of your meeting agenda–or just throw out the agenda. Be creative.
That’s my 10. What stupid things that keep groups from growing would you add? Scroll down to comment!