5 Ships Every Small Group Needs

A healthy small group needs 5 ships to carry out its mission:

  1. Fellowship: This one’s the flagship. A group needs authentic Christ-centered community to be healthy. But how do you get there? The other 4 ships flank and reinforce the flagship..
  2. Ownership: Share ownership of the group by making sure every member of the crew has a role in the group. I discussed this one in the January 28 post.
  3. Leadership: Share leadership with a Core Team of about 2-3 others. Don’t lead alone! I discussed this one on January 27.
  4. Partnership: Partnership sails together with Leadership. The Core Team partners with God and one another to lead the group. Partnership means you make decisions together, as a team. You partner together to shepherd the group. You each take on responsibility for discipling other members. You work together to develop other leaders. I discuss how to do this in much more detail in The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership.
  5. Discipleship: This is the battleship of the fleet. Discipleship is the reason you need the other 4 ships. The Core Leadership Team partners with one another to disciple the rest of the group, and the whole group should eventually take ownership of the the group’s mission to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Ships are of no use sitting in the harbor. A “ship shape” (healthy) small group ships out to carry out the Commander’s mission!

Is Your Group a Romans 12 Group?

If someone asked me to pick one chapter out of the Bible to explain how a small group should operate, I’d pick Romans 12. I’ve decided to go through this chapter and pull out some principles.

In verse 1 the apostle Paul begins by telling us to give our whole selves to God. The application for us as leaders is obvious. We belong to Him.

I begin each day by surrendering my self and that day to Him: my relationships, my work, my meetings … they’re not really mine at all. The small group I lead on Friday nights is not mine. It is His. The lesson I’m leading is not mine. It is His. I’m called as a steward over these things.

Christ is at the center of my life and at the center of our group. We gather around His presence, power, and purposes. This is foundational and vital for everything else Paul says in the rest of Romans 12-16.

Lord, I give You my body, my life, my day today, the people in our group, the issues in our group, our lesson this week … all to You as a living and holy sacrifice. Help me to be a good and faithful steward of everything you give me so that You may be glorified! Amen.

2010: The Year of More …

I’m glad 2009 is over. It was a very difficult year for me. I won’t go into all the particulars here, but as I look back now, I’d say it was a year of battle. At times during the year I found myself on the front line of an intense spiritual war in my marriage, job, family, finances, and other areas.

It was also a year of prayer. I’d consider myself a pretty decent pray-er. Yeah, there’s a lot of room for improvement, but I’ve always had a passion for prayer. But 2009 was different. Prayer was more urgent for me this past year. Like when I thought my marriage might be ending or when I thought my son was dead.

Yes, spiritual warfare became more real for me last year. My relationship with God was strong, and he enabled me to continue fighting. In fact, I often found myself asking God what he wanted me to learn or how he wanted me to grow through this. Looking back now, I see how he was refining and transforming me–for God knows what.

This morning, to start out 2010 right, I spent some time with God briefly reviewing 2009 and then looking forward to 2010. In the midst of this, I read a few posts by a couple of my favorite bloggers, and God used them to help me think about the upcoming year.

John Eldredge wrote in his New Year’s Eve post about his annual New Year’s practice of asking God for a theme for the coming year. So, following his advice, I consecrated the year to God and then asked Jesus what my theme for 2010 will be. I waited a while silently, listening for his reply. Finally, one word came into my mind: “More.” Oh no! I thought. Not more of the same… The thought of more was overwhelming to me.

Then I heard God complete his message for me, “… Jesus.” More Jesus. Yes. That makes sense. I can live with that. More Jesus means more power as the war rages on. Jesus is the Victory. The way, the truth, the life. I want more of that!

Next I read Mark Batterson’s “Evotional” blog. Several of his posts helped guide my thoughts this morning. On December 26 he wrote about challenging the status quo. We will keep doing what we’ve always done without giving it much thought if we don’t challenge it. So I made up my mind to challenge a few things I’ve allowed to become status quo in my life. Things that rob me of “More Jesus.”

On Dec. 30, Mark wrote about “Seven Margin Maxims.” I agreed that one of my biggest leadership challenges is margin. As he says, “if you don’t control your calendar, your calendar will control you.” I, too, need to control my calendar to have “More Jesus.”

One of Batterson’s margin maxims is to create a “stop doing list.” This reminded me of something I recently read in Joel Comiskey‘s new book, The Relational Disciple. In the first chapter, Joel describes one of the biggest obstacles to discipleship today: we are conformed to the pattern of individualism. A huge cause for individualism is what Comiskey calls “media isolation,” especially TV. I’m going to write about this in a separate blog sometime, but suffice it to say now that TV greatly effects our relationship with God and others. We unwittingly substitute communion with God and community with others for hours in front of the tube every day.

I want to create more margin for my relationship with God, family, and others by making one simple change this year for me and my family. Less TV and Internet usage, especially on those things that become substitutes, perhaps even idols, for the real thing. Less TV sitcoms where we watch other people in community, living vicariously through them. Less Facebook when it becomes a substitute for a real social life in real face-to-face community.

“More Jesus” in 2010. More communion with him. More community with others. More Real Life. What’s God got in store for you this year?

Christmas Battle Prayer

I was thinking this morning about a perspective on Christmas I had never really considered before this year. When Jesus was born, it was as if God was sending his Son into the enemy’s territory to do battle–battle for our souls. Peace on earth, goodwill to men will come in time. But now there is a spiritual war taking place, a war Jesus has already won. 

I went back this morning and reread one of my favorite battle passages in the Old Testament. It’s in 1 Chronicles 14. King David goes to war against the Philistines, and twice stops to ask God what he should do. Each time, God gives him a different strategy, and David faithfully carries out God’s plans. God’s promise to David is true for Christian leaders today as well: “Go ahead. I will give you the victory.”


Here’s my prayer for myself and for you today:

Lord, help me be like David, a man after your own heart. Before I move forward with my plans and schemes today, give me the wisdom to first come and ask you whether I should do it. Help me through your Spirit, Lord, to pray specifically about your will, and give me the ears to listen and hear your response. Help me be attentive to you all day long, Lord. Then, when I hear your response, help me, like David, do exactly what you command. Thank you for your promise that you will be out ahead of me when I am carrying out your mission and your will–that you will already be working, arranging, orchestrating things so that as I carry out your work it will be effective and successful, not because of what I have done, but because of what you are already doing. Use me today, Lord to accomplish great things in and for your kingdom. Help me to seek first your kingdom, knowing everything else will fall into place. Rescue me from the petty today, Father. Make me passionate for what you are passionate about. Help me move out of my comfort and safety zones today, Lord, in total trust and reliance upon you.

Go ahead and do God’s work today. He will give you the victory!

Abundant Life Leadership

I closed my last post with this sentence:

If you want to lead successfully, Jesus must first lead you!

To lead well and bear fruit, you must be connected to the Vine (John 15:5). Another way of illustrating  this is to imagine your life as a glass. As a spiritual leader, your main job is to be in a position where Jesus can pour into you to overflowing (see John 10:10; Ephesians 3:20; Psalm 23:5. The word for “”to the full” or “abundantly” means overflowing). As God pours His abundance into your life, you overflow into those He’s put all around you. 

Your job as a small group leader is not to pour yourself out to others, but simply to allow God to fill and abundantly overflow your life into others with His love, mercy, and truth. 

So now I have a question, and I really need your response. How, specifically, is Jesus leading you? How are you opening yourself up to Him to fill and overflow your life into others? Please be specific, and share with other leaders so that we may grow together! 

Get the dialogue started below! 


Trophies, Cheerleading, Enoch, and Leading a Healthy Small Group

What do you want to be known for? What would you want people to say about you after you die?

At different stages of my life I would have responded to that question differently. As a kid growing up in Cincinnati, I wanted to be known as a great athlete, like Pete Rose or Oscar Robertson.

My athletic career was unspectacular. I accumulated a caseload of trophies, because I was on some good teams. I did get three individual awards, however. In basketball I got the award for Best Defense … which went to the kid who rarely scored a basket. In baseball one year, I got the Most Spirited Player trophy … which went to the kid who sat on the bench and cheered on the rest of the team.

My favorite award was the Most Improved Player … which went to the kid who didn’t stink quite as bad as the year before. The trophy had the initials “MIP” on the plaque. I overheard my mom telling all her friends I got the “Most Important Player” award. At least my mom appreciated my talent!

In college at the University of Cincinnati I would have said I wanted to be popular. Just for fun my freshmen year, I went out for the cheerleading squad. I figured at least I’d meet some pretty girls. On a fluke, I made the squad, three years straight. I was proud to be a “big man on campus.”

Today, in my better moments, I want to be like Enoch. You don’t hear too many people say that, do you? People say they want to have the faith of Abraham or the power of Moses or the wisdom of Solomon. But Enoch? I love what Genesis 5:22-24 says about him: “Enoch lived another 300 years in close fellowship with God …. He enjoyed a close relationship with God throughout his life. Then suddenly, he disappeared because God took him” (NLT).

No, I don’t want to live another 300 years! And it’s not at all necessary to just disappear without dying, unless it’s the rapture, of course. But I do want to simply live in close fellowship with God throughout what’s left of my life, and then for God to take me when he’s ready.

Enoch had a heart for God, and small group leadership starts with your heart. It starts with your relationship with God—seeking after him.

The previous paragraphs are adapted from my book, I’m a Leader … Now What? I’m currently blogging about the Second Vital Sign of a Healthy Small Group: a healthy, growing small group leader. I believe in this foundational principle so much I write about it often! I’ve written about it in Leading from the Heart and briefly in The Pocket Guide of Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership. I’ll continue to emphasize this until God takes me. 

If you want to lead successfully, Jesus must first lead you!

The Leader’s Heart: 2nd Sign of a Healthy Group

The most vital mark of kingdom leadership is a leader’s relationship with God. And that’s the second sign of a healthy small group: a healthy growing leader.

The apostle Paul prayed for his Ephesian friends that “Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.” (Ephesians 3:17, NLT). While I pray that prayer regularly for the Life Group leaders at Northeast Christian Church, I think it’s OK to pray it for myself as well. So, Father, I pray …

  • that Christ will be more and more at home in my heart … so I am living the superabundant life he came to give me — life that is naturally overflowing out of me to others;
  • that I may stay connected to the Vine daily (John 15:5), abiding in him so that I can bear much fruit for you, fruit that will last,
  • that, as Christ becomes more and more at home in my heart, others around me may follow my example … but only as I follow the example of your son,
  • that my roots keep growing, deeper and deeper into your awesome, abundant, undeserved, undeniable love,
  • and, as a result (fruit), that Christ will also be more and more at home in the hearts of my family, my friends, my neighbors, and our small group members — as they trust in you as I do.

Yes, the first sign of a healthy group is that it is Christ-centered, but that will only happen if he is first at the center of the leader’s life–at home in his or her heart. (“The ‘heart’ in the Bible always refers to the center of a person’s emotions and will.”  —Life Application Bible Commentary)

May Jesus be at home in your heart, leader. This is more than a surface-level relationship. It is very intimate. This is more than just occasional. It’s constant. It’s why Paul encouraged us to pray “continuously.”

Nothing is more important than this. If Jesus is at the center of the leader’s heart and at the center of the group, the group you have been entrusted with will be on its way to health, strength, growth, and vitality.

So how’s your heart? Or, better yet, who’s at home there?