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.

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.

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: Nov. 7-11, 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.

This week’s TIPS focus on building healthy authentic community / unity even in a political environment.

QUESTION: How has your group dealt with politics in your discussions this past week? What are you learning? Please comment below.

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

 

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Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: Sept. 26-30, 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.

This week’s TIPS focus on God’s Sovereignty in small groups.

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QUESTION: In what area of small group leadership or group life do you need to know that God knows (He is sovereign)? Please share your responses by clicking the Comment box below.

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

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Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week for May 30 – June 3, 2016

Here are this past week’s Small Group Leader TIPS as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

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Monday, 5/30: You CAN go deep AND be open to new ppl. Everything doesn’t have to happen during the meeting!

Tuesday, 5/31: Encourage daily Bible reading. If only time ppl open Bibles is at SG mtg, that’s not discipleship.

Wednesday, 6/1: Lead your family and group as if it’s your ministry calling, not a supplementary task. #mission #lead

Thursday, 6/2: Avoid leader frustration and burnout – Let God lead thru you. His power is unlimited. #stewardship

Friday, 6/3: After you ask a question, wait…not only on ppl to answer, but on the Holy Spirit to work. Isa. 40:31

Go ahead: Copy and paste these to tweet or post them to your followers!

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

 

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week: December 7-11, 2015

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

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Monday, 12/7: Use this season strategically to make a difference in the environment in which God has placed you.

Tuesday, 12/8: Remember that nothing that happens in the world surprises God. He placed you here for his purpose.

Wednesday, 12/9: Worship with your group. Jesus is present with you (Matt. 18:20). How can you not worship him?

Thursday, 12/10: Christmas is a time to be with family and friends. That’s what a healthy group is. Why would you take a break?

Friday, 12/11: You don’t need to repeat prayer requests back to Jesus as if he wasn’t listening the 1st time.

MORE SMALL GROUP LEADERSHIP TIPS 

All 8Weeks of Small Group Leadership TIPS

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4 Reasons Leaders Don’t Pray More for their Groups

Praying leaders have faster growing groups. 

 

That’s not just speculation or theory. It’s a fact backed by research. This morning, I read and nodded my head through Jim Egli’s newest post, “4 Reasons Why Praying Leaders Have Faster Growing Groups.” If you lead a small group or are a coach, ministry leader, or any kind of Christian leader, this short post should be on your “required” reading list. Actually, the principles Jim discusses should be on the top of your required to-do list.

This topic is not new. Joel Comiskey has written about this quite a bit in his work. I wrote about it in my book, Leading from the Heart. It was also the topic of the second chapter, “A Healthy Group Has a Healthy, Overflowing Leader” in Small Group Vital Signs. And, much more importantly, this is a topic throughout God’s Word.

So I wonder, why are so many small groups not growing as they should? What’s keeping leaders from praying for their groups, something that seems so simple and easy to do? I’m going to try to tackle that question today. I’m sure I won’t hit every reason, so please throw in your thoughts in the comments.

  1. We’ve been distracted from what is most vital. Yesterday, a friend in Brazil posted a quote from me on Facebook: “Dealing with the tyranny of the urgent always leads to frustration and burnout. Leaders must spend less time on urgent … and more time on those things that are vital.” The most vital thing in our lives is our relationship with God. That sentence deserves both an “Amen” and a “Duh!”

    Jesus was blunt: “Seek first the kingdom of God.” Praying for group members, our families, our friends, our neighbors comes naturally when we are putting God, his kingdom, and spending time with him first—above all else—in our lives. The tyranny of the urgent will always take over our lives if we let it. Take note of what I just said there: if we let it. Yes, this is under our control. I must make time to spend with God, no matter how pressing other things in my life may seem. Bill Hybel’s book title is apropos: Too Busy NOT to Pray.

  2. We’ve forgotten who God is. How in the world can this happen? The key to the answer to that question is right in the middle of it: in this world. Satan is at work in this secular world and trying to work in our minds to get us to forget that our God is all-powerful, always present, all-knowing. Over the last couple days of my Bible reading and time with God, he has reimpressed this fact on my own heart:

    The Lord is on our side (Psalm 124:1).
    “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (v. 8).
    “Those who trust in the Lord … will not be defeated but will endure forever” (Psalm 125:1).
    “Just as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forever” (v. 2).
    The One who created all that exists is on my and your side! Don’t let Satan or anything else in this world distract you from that.

  3. We’re out of tune. Because of the reasons above, we are not “singing” in tune with God. We’re out of step with the Spirit. This morning, God reminded me how vital this is:  “O Lord, do good to those who are good, whose hearts are in tune with you” (Psalm 125:4, NLT). This prayer is for God to do good—not just for anyone but for those who are living life God’s way, those whose hearts are in tune with God. They are men and women after God’s own heart. Romans 8:28 comes to mind as I read this verse. God does indeed work for the good of those who love him and are called according to HIS purpose. 

    People in tune with God naturally care about those they are called to lead, and the first way they serve them is to pray for them regularly, perhaps daily … not because they should, or because some research shows how effective it is, or to get their group to grow in numbers. They pray for members because their hearts—hearts in tune with God—rouse them to pray.

  4. We think growth is about what we do. We’ve been taught or we’ve somehow  come to believe that our leadership skills, our teaching ability, and the decisions we make are what will grow our groups. Perhaps our church leaders have taught us that, either directly or by what they’ve modeled. Or perhaps we’ve learned it from our culture. It’s what we’ve learned in school and in our jobs and we’ve carried out those faulty notions into our churches and groups.

    The fact is, our prayers put matters in God’s hands, not ours. It says, in no uncertain terms, that we trust God to shepherd and lead these people through us. It’s a matter of humility. It’s what being a Christlike leader is all about. (Don’t believe me? Read Philippians 2:1-11.)

Prayer is the game changer for our groups and churches. When we pray for our groups, just as Jesus prayed for his group (John 17, for instance), miracles happen. It’s the #1 key to the Lord adding daily to the number of those being saved.
What reasons have I missed?
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More Posts on the Vitality of a Praying Leader

Small Group Fireplaces Series: Leaders Pray
Your Vital Roles as a Shepherd-Leader
How I Prepare to Spend Time with God
The Reason Leaders Face Deep, Dark Valleys

The Lord Is on Our Side

The Lord is on our side. 

I came across these six little words as I read Psalm 124 this morning. These words are so vital to our lives that the writer, David, asked the people to repeat them. I took some time to simply meditate on these small yet profoundly impacting words. Here are a few of my thoughts. Let’s begin by repeating these words, meditating and focusing on the words to bring additional meaning:

GOD is on my side!

God is on MY side!

God IS on my side!

When everyone else seems to be against me, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe is, indeed, in my corner. I have his power on my side. He won’t leave me when the fighting gets tough. He’ll stand in front of me to protect me. But sometimes he’ll put his hand on my back and give me an encouraging shove to enter into the battle myself–with him still at my side. He never leaves or forsakes me in times of trouble.

Later in the psalm, are the words, “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Let that sink in for a moment. The God who made everything that exists is on my side and is here—right here!—to help me. He has already helped me in the midst of my sin by dying for me and saving me. And he continues to do even more through the powerful working of his Spirit. He will do this for me and you TODAY.

Whatever you and I are dealing with today, our help will come from him. How? I don’t know yet. I bet you don’t either. I wish I did. But I need to continue keeping in step with the Spirit who is here as my help. I have to walk his way, according to his plans and purposes, not my own. I need to do things his way.

The next thing I did as I read this psalm was to talk to God about my day today, and I simply reminded myself that in every big and little thing, God is on my side and he is here to help me. I submitted myself to him and doing things his way, and I asked for his wisdom and power in the midst of the things I do today.

God is on your side! What does that mean to you today?

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More Posts about God in Your Corner

What I Learned in Brazil: Keep Trusting God
A Daddy Who Stoops Down
Lord of the Darkness: Trusting Jehovah When Suffering Comes
What Do You Do When Life Sucks?

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

The Brazil Cell-Church Conference: What I Learned … #4 – Keep Trusting God

When life is safe and comfortable, there is no real need to trust God.

That’s as true for your small group, your church, and your family as it is for you personally. It’s when you step out of your comfort zone, count the costs, surrender your own preferences, and obey God no matter what that you will most need to trust God … and, by the way, that’s when God will make the biggest impact through you.

This was another discovery in my recent trip to Brazil to train cell pastors and leaders.

This was the first time I spoke outside of the United States, the first time I spoke with an interpreter, and the first time I’ve traveled abroad outside of one mission trip to Guatemala several years ago. It also involved a lot of firsts for my nineteen-year-old son Dru, who went along with me on this trip. Both of us learned to trust God on the journey, and sometimes that trust was learned in unexpected ways.

Jesus Take the Wheel
In Brazil, the lines on the road don’t mean much. Neither do posted speed limits, stop signs (where there are stop signs–they are mysteriously absent in the cities) or other traffic laws. They are more like suggestions than rules. But their system works. Often four vehicles across will occupy two lanes, especially in the cities, as drivers use every available open spot on the street. If a spot opens up, someone will fill it, even if it means moving ahead of someone else who was there first. Meanwhile, hundreds of motorcycles and scooters zoom between the cars and buses, just barely missing the mirrors of the other vehicles. Brazilians use their horns quite a bit, not in an angry way as we Americans do, but as a warning: “Here I come!” Motorists constantly cut one another off, which would drive me crazy as an American driver, but in Brazil it’s just part of doing life together.

On our way from Águas de Lindóia to São Paulo, a curvy two-and-a-half-hour trip down from the mountains into the city, the driver, whistling the whole way, constantly crossed double-yellow lines around curves to pass slower (slower, meaning they were going about 65 miles per hour I’d guess) vehicles–sometimes passing several trucks at a time.

As we rode along, I was often praying, begging Jesus, to take the wheel. I had to learn to trust these drivers, that they knew what they were doing, but even more, I just had to relax and trust that God really was (and is) in control.

Jesus Take the Stage
At the end of the first conference in Manaus, the senior pastor of the church where the conference was held was wrapping things up. My interpreter, Robert Lay, was sitting right next to me, telling me some of what the pastor was sharing in Portuguese:

Robert (translating): “… and Michael will be preaching tomorrow morning here and tomorrow night at our other campus.”

Me: “Huh?”

Robert: “You didn’t know you were preaching tomorrow?”

Me: “Uh, no.”

Robert: “Well, I guess you’ll be up late tonight writing a sermon!”

Yikes. I knew God would use me to speak what he wanted me to say, but I had no idea what that message was, so I went back to my hotel room and prayed, and the words came. I don’t want to sound like Abe Lincoln, but I wrote out an outline and some notes longhand, and trusted God to speak through me. Days earlier, the senior pastor had told me how his people struggled to be truly authentic with one another (see my post on this), confessing their sins to one another, and I sensed that was something I could talk about from Scripture, but I also sensed God wanted me to go deeper. I began by sharing my testimony of how God reached out to me and then how he led me into my first small group where I experienced true community, and then I shared from Scripture and my experience the vitality of living in truly authentic community with one another.

As Robert interpreted, I noticed that people were leaning in toward us–a good sign, they were engaged. I sensed God was at work, speaking through me and Robert. At the end of the evening service, the pastor asked people to respond to the good news. He told me later that a number of people gave their lives to Christ that evening. That wasn’t in my plans. But,

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:20-22).

Trusting God is an everyday, lifelong pursuit for me. He keeps teaching me in many different ways. Sometimes I think I should have this down by now, but God is so patient, and he never gives up.

So, how are you and how is your group stepping out of the comfortable and trusting God to do what only he can do?

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