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.

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

Step #1 in Becoming a Great Leader: Gut-Level Honesty

The World’s Greatest Small Group Leader is a perfect model for us. Jesus’ priority was his relationship with his Father. He said and did and taught nothing on his own, but only what his Father gave him. Henri Nouwen once pointed out that Jesus spent about 50 percent of his time in solitude with the Father, about 40 percent building community with the twelve, and about 10 percent “doing ministry.”[i] How does that match up with your life?

In Experiencing God, authors Henry Blackaby and Claude King also describe Jesus—and godly leaders today—as spending abundant time seeking God. These leaders have discerned the difference between activity for God and the activity of God. Jesus never ran ahead of God. Instead, before making any decisions or starting any new ministry work, he spent time, maybe days on end, with God, waiting on his Father to show him exactly what to do next.

Pastor and author Joel Comiskey’s survey of more than 700 small group leaders in eight countries revealed that the biggest factor in the “success” of small group leaders was not their gender, social status, education, personality type, or skills; it was the leader’s devotional life. He found that those who spent 90 minutes or more in devotions (prayer, Bible study, etc.) a day multiplied their groups twice as much as those who spent less than 30 minutes.[ii] Comiskey says the correlation is logical. “During quiet times alone with the living God, the [small group] leader hears God’s voice and receives His guidance. … Group members respond to a leader who hears from God and knows the way.”[iii]

Jesus modeled seeking and following God for us. As our Leader and Savior, he is our Good Shepherd who calls us by name and is waiting to lead us (John 10:3-4). Are you quiet and still enough to hear his voice?

Let me encourage you as you read this to get gut-level honest with yourself. Where are you in your relationship with God? Are you . . .

  • Walking right behind him; his voice is crystal clear
  • Meandering along toward the back of the crowd; his voice is like bad cell-phone service—sometimes clear, but with lots of dropped calls
  • Running this way and that; I hear lots of voices, lots of noise—his voice is indistinguishable
  • Stuck in a rut; I haven’t heard his voice in a while
  • Other: ____________________

Before considering how you can become a more effective leader, you must get honest with yourself, and with God, on this. Then, there’s the next step. You’ll need to share this with someone else. Get gut-level honest with another person: someone from your group, a church leader, or a good, trusted friend. I’m asking you to be vulnerable and authentic. Until you get gut-level honest with yourself, God, and at least one other person, you cannot become a more effective leader and guide an effective, growing, GREAT small group!

Until you get gut-level honest with yourself, God, and at least one other person, you cannot become a more effective leader and guide an effective, growing, GREAT small group! Click To Tweet

[i] Leadership, Spring 1995.

[ii] Joel Comiskey, Home Cell Group Explosion (Houston, Texas: TOUCH Outreach Ministries, 1998), 26-36.

[iii] Ibid, 34.

World's Greatest Small Group cover

Excerpted from Chapter 1 of World’s Greatest Small Group: 7 Powerful Traits of a Life-Changing Leader, by Michael C. Mack.

‘Where Are You?’

“Where are you?”

The obvious answer to that question is a physical one … but there’s a much more vital spiritual answer.

“Where are you?” is the simple, three-word question God asked Adam (Genesis 3:9) after he and his wife had committed the first sin. The question, while seemingly simple, is deep and full of theological implications. It’s the question I believe God still asks Christ-followers today … if we are listening.

Like Adam and Eve, we have chosen to listen to the wrong voice. We have fallen for the lie implied by the serpent’s question, ““Did God really say … ?” We question God’s authority, and the authority of his Word, and we disobey him. We go our own way rather than his way. We desire what we don’t have rather than being satisfied with what God has given us and trusting him to provide all we really need. We fall short. We sin. We separate ourselves from his loving presence.

But don’t forget. God comes looking for us. He continually draws lost people back to him. He seeks and saves that which has been lost. But he doesn’t force us to do what we don’t want to do. He loves us too much. He’ll never take away our free will—it’s such an important part of how he created us. So sometimes, like the dad in the parable of the lost son (Matthew 15:11-32), he waits for us to come to our senses and head back home to our Father.

God comes looking for us. He continually draws lost people back to him. He seeks and saves that which has been lost. Click To Tweet

Imagine the dad in that story as he waits in his house for his son to return. Picture the tears running down his cheeks. Hear the impassioned words he cries out to a son who is too far away to hear: My son, oh my son … where are you?

That’s a picture of our loving, Father.

I’m currently using a study on my Bible app based on Kyle Idleman’s book, AHA: The God Moment That Changes Everything. “AHA is a spiritual experience that brings about supernatural change,” says Idleman in the first devotional reading. AHA involves three ingredients: an Awakening, Honesty, and Action. We see these ingredients in the lost son’s turnaround, and we can see it in our own if we pay attention.

Today, I’m sitting with God’s question for me: Where are you? I’m considering specific areas of my life where I’ve run away from God or where I’ve been hiding. I’m seeking to be brutally honest and humble as I consider my current spiritual location and I’m looking for where I need to take action.

Some of us may need to step out of the pig trough of our sin—that place where we have become comfortable even though we know how messy it is—and make a difficult journey back home. At the same time, as leaders, we are called by our Father to come alongside those who are still far away from him. “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation….as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20).

As leaders, we are called by our Father to come alongside those who are still far away from him. Click To Tweet

The spiritual life of leaders is probably my favorite topic to write and speak about, although I’m certainly not a perfect model. But I believe it’s vital to how we lead and what kind of impact we can make. (If you want to read more on this topic, see my books, Leading from the Heart: A Group Leader’s Guide to a Passionate Ministry and World’s Greatest Small Group: 7 Powerful Traits of a Life-Changing Leader. It’s also the topic of Chapter 2, “A Healthy Group Has a Healthy, Overflowing Leader,” in Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health That Make Groups Flourish, and Chapter 1, “Change the leader of Your Group,” in The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership.)

“Where are you?” is not a question of condemnation from God. It’s a question he asks in his grace and his unmerited love for us. He seeks us—as he seeks our friends and family members and neighbors and co-workers who are still far from him—so that we may have an abiding relationship with him now and for eternity.

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.

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: Feb. 20-24, 2017

It’s Friday! That means we’re sharing our 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!

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C.J. Stephens on Prayer in Group Life

CJ StephensToday’s guest blogger is C.J. Stephens, Small Groups Minister at Northeast Christian Church. Because I lead a Northeast small group, I receive C.J.’s monthly newsletter called “Leader Connect.” This past month, C.J. wrote about prayer in groups, an important topic for leaders, and I thought he hit the nail on the head. 

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

One of the most difficult, yet rewarding parts of group life is prayer.

It’s something that is incredibly difficult for some of our people. Maybe you’re one of those people.  Some of us have never learned to pray. Some of us make it harder on ourselves than we need to. And most of all, we don’t know how to incorporate it into our group time in a healthy way.

What is Prayer?

For me, this has been a question that I’ve been asking myself as I’m raising my kids. Right now we have our kids say prayers before bed and before meals. However, like most parents I’m struggling with the concept of teaching them what prayer really is. As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of what some friends of mine use when they are teaching their children. When it is meal time, they simply say “OK, it’s time to talk to God.”

It’s really that simple. Prayer is really just talking to God. When I’m discussing these things with people in groups, that’s the way I try to frame it. God knows everything about you, but He wants you to talk to Him. He wants to know what is on your heart and your mind. He wants to hear from you.

It's really that simple. Prayer is really just talking to God. Click To Tweet

For some of us, this is tough. So many people I know are honesty afraid to be too frank with God. They don’t want to upset Him, I guess. But the Bible is full of all kinds of prayers. Some are prayers of thankfulness. Some are prayers asking God for something. Some are prayers of anger or lament. God knows your heart. He simply wants to hear from you.

How Does Prayer Fit into My Group? 

So how does this fit into my group? How does prayer affect group life?

In most of our groups, we have a time for prayer requests. As you are well aware, this can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes people in your group honestly share their hearts with the others in the group. It can be a time where people really grow closer to each other. It can be a time for vulnerability and leaning one another.  That’s the point to prayer time in group.

However, you also know that it can be a time for endless requests. It can seem like a litany of dismay coming from the people in your group. It can also honestly just go too long. That’s the downside.

Despite all of that, I am a big believer in corporate prayer in your group. I think that the benefits can far outweigh the negatives. Where else do our people have the opportunity to share the difficult and challenging things in their life with people who care for them? Where else will you find out about the things the people in your group have weighing on them.

That being said, there are opportunities for improvement. If you find that this time if beginning to be stale or rote, change it up. Ask everyone for the top issue you can pray for. Do a popcorn style prayer where you pray as a group and challenge your people to say a short request. Do prayer time at a different time in your group. Sometimes putting as the first thing you do can shorten it up.

I would also suggest changing who is doing the praying. As the group leader, it is often your role to get things rolling. However, if everyone knows they are in a safe environment, they should feel comfortable to pray. If you want someone else to pray, I’d suggest talking to them ahead of time and getting their permission. No one likes to be put on the spot!

If everyone knows they are in a safe environment, they should feel comfortable to pray. Click To Tweet

Lastly, I want to encourage you to be in prayer for your group members in between your meetings. Sometimes this is something that we let go by the wayside as leaders. However, praying for your group between sessions can be powerful. Take some time during your week to pray for them and their family. I’m a big believer in the power of prayer. This can draw you together and strengthen your group.

“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.”  – Oswald Chambers

Join the discussion about this post. What would you add to C.J.’s suggestions on improving group prayer? What has worked for your group? What other questions or comments do you have about this? Scroll down and click to comment!

 

The 7 Indispensable Elements Necessary for People to Grow Spiritually in Your Small Group

The following post is excerpted from my new eBook, Small Group Leader Toolbox. See more information about this resource at the end of this post.

Just as a plant needs a number of specific elements in its environment in order to grow, Christians need at least 7 vital factors or influences to grow spiritually. Each of these plays a significant part in helping people mature in your small group. Be sure you know your place as a leader with these factors (for instance, you are not the agent of life change!).

Goal: Christlikeness

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Agent: The Holy Spirit

“God the Father chose you long ago, and the Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his blood” (1 Peter 1:2).

“But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23).

Method: Shepherding

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care …” (1 Peter 5:2).

Environment: Authentic Biblical Community

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).

Means: By the renewing of our minds

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).

Instrument: Application of Scripture

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

Time Frame: Lifetime Process

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Question: How have you seen these factors at work in how people are growing spiritually in your group? Please scroll down and click to comment.

Small Group Leader ToolboxI wrote Small Group Leader Toolbox to provide small group leaders with the resources they need to help them and their groups be effective, grow spiritually, and live out God’s mission for them. This 54-page eBook provides scores of ideas, tips, checklists, how-to’s, assessments, planning templates, and, well … pretty much everything a leader needs to lead a dynamic small group or class.

Get your copy of this eBook now!

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Should We Shake Up Small Groups?

I was recently asked this question via email from a church leader in Canada:

There has been some question in the past at our church about how long a group should be together. A thought had been to “shake” things up or break up groups on purpose and in doing so that it would help. My opinion is that it hurts. The leaders are wondering what is best. What are your thoughts?

My first thought is to take a 30,000-perspective on the question. If I were consulting face-to-face with this church, I’d ask,

  • What’s the mission of your church?
  • What would you say is the main purpose of groups at the church?
  • What would your senior leader say is the purpose of groups?
  • What would your group leaders and members say is the purpose?
  • How would you describe your definition of and philosophy for small groups in the church?
  • How did these groups form in the first place? Naturally, organically, and relationally? Or through a programmed approach such as sign-up sheets, assignment/placement in groups (i.e., by last name, ages, neighborhoods, etc.), or a campaign?

I ask those questions to understand the context but also because the answers to those kinds of questions usually help the leader to respond to the more specific how-to questions.

In regard to definition and philosophy, I personally think of small groups as one of the most basic units of the body of Christ. The position the leaders in this church are espousing would be like taking organs out of one body and transplanting them into others. I can’t see how that helps.

If those organs (people) are unhealthy spiritually, that makes the whole situation even worse. Shuffling unhealthy people around in groups won’t help the situation. First deal with the unhealthiness within the groups. To do that you’ll need to assess your groups and your people. (My free group assessment is here: http://www.touchusa.org/free-small-group-health-assessment.)  I believe the best prescription for spiritual unhealthiness is discipleship. Spiritually immature people are often the most spiritually unhealthy.

My other favorite illustration of healthy small groups is a good football team that huddles to call the next play, instruct, encourage, and confess (“my bad; I dropped the ball”); and then breaks the huddle to run the play in order to carry out the team’s mission. No game was ever won in the huddle. Cohesive teams may make some offseason “trades,” but the best ones have been together for a while. They know one another, care about each other, and are a “team.”

If you’re purpose is to build disciples in healthy community, the big question is what’s best for doing that?

I don’t fully know this church’s situation, but in many cases like this one there’s something else going on behind these leaders’ desire to “shake things up.” It would take time for the small group director to meet together with people, invest into them, and do some evaluating to discover what that something is. Are people afraid of intimacy? Do they simply not like the people they are presently meeting with? Are they too inwardly focused (a holy huddle that’s not carrying out the mission)?

This is where the question about how they formed into their present groups comes in. If they were assigned or placed in groups by the church, or if they connected through a sign-up sheet or something like that, I can see why they might want to shake up that nonrelational program. However, I’d carefully, prayerfully put together a plan first for how the new groups will form. Because I believe in a more relational, rather than programmed approach to groups, I’d find a way for people to gather in groups through the relationships they already have—not as consumers, though, but as friends who desire to live in community to carry out God’s mission.

By the way, I suggest three books for anyone wrestling with this question:

My Small Group Vital Signs. It provides seven indicators of health that keep groups flourishing (so that members want to work together, grow together, bear fruit together, and then naturally multiply into new healthy groups).

Scott Boren’s MissioRelate (click for more info or to buy now), for small group directors, pastors, and other church leaders. Out of the hundreds of books I own on small group ministry, it’s the best and clearest on how to build a healthy small group ministry.

Scott Boren’s Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus (click for more info or to buy now), for small group leaders, core team members, and the rest of the group. I’m reading this book now, and it’s fantastic! Scott shows groups how to move from good meetings to having great small group experiences that transform lives and make a kingdom impact.

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week for June 27 – July 15, 2016

Here are the Small Group Leader TIPS for the past three weeks as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn. Thanks for waiting while we updated to our new website!

 

Monday, 6/27: Lead w/ the end in mind. What behaviors will change as a result of discussion? Click To Tweet

Tuesday, 6/28: Lead with humility. Focus on what group members need, not on how well you present the lesson. Click To Tweet

Wednesday, 6/29: Remember: “The people in your group are the agenda!” @ralphneighbour Click To Tweet

Thursday, 6/30: Love group mbrs intensely (1 Pet. 1:22), but love God and his mission more (1 Jn. 5:21)! Click To Tweet

Friday, 7/1: Ask the group, What idols do we as a group worship? What do we put before God? (1 Cor. 10:14) Click To Tweet

Monday, 7/4: Help group members take their burdens, sins, addictions to Jesus. #real #independence Click To Tweet

Tuesday, 7/5: Never stop learning and growing as a leader. Take advantage of every equipping opportunity. Click To Tweet

Wednesday, 7/6: Always affirm ppl when they boldly share candidly and honestly. #authenticity Click To Tweet

Thursday, 7/7: Develop the trust and love ppl need to take off masks and be their real selves. #authenticity Click To Tweet

Friday, 7/8: Be a shepherd-leader 24-7, not just 90 minutes once a week. #Pray #care #invest Click To Tweet

Monday, 7/11: Priority 1: Follow the Master Leader. He'll teach you how to lead. (See 1 Cor 11:1) Click To Tweet

Tuesday, 7/12: Sit w/ Jesus, enjoy his presence. Ask him to lead you. Stay connected to the True Vine. Click To Tweet

Wednesday, 7/13: Want group members to grow spiritually? Pray for them daily. Vital practice for leader! Click To Tweet

Thursday, 7/14: Look on grp mbrs as friends, not students, participants, or people who come to weekly mtgs. Click To Tweet

Friday, 7/15: What is most important ingredient of a life-changing group meeting? The real presence of God! 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: Which of these TIPS create an “aha” for you, and why? Please leave a comment by clicking the Comment bar below.

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week for May 9-13, 2016

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

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Monday, 5/9: As you lead this week, try this: Lean not on your own understanding. Seek God and he’ll show you the way.

Tuesday, 5/10: See not only what your small group members ARE; see what they are BECOMING. #process #transformation

Wednesday, 5/11: When you face issues, remember you are the church, and “all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”

Thursday, 5/12: Ask someone to be timekeeper who watches time and helps keep group on track. #sharetheroles #ownership

Friday, 5/13: Don’t be afraid to take bold, faith-requiring risks in & with your group. #GodSizeIt #Faith #LeadBoldly


Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS!