Friday, July 28, 2006

Book Review: Sacred Rhythms

For my Spiritual Experiments small group this semester, I built my own curriculum using a number of different resources. Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton was a book from the new Formatio line of InterVarsity Press that I picked up to use as a reference/resource. Barton has served at several churches, including Willow Creek Community Church, and I have enjoyed listening to her conference talks on spiritual formation.

Barton opened the book with the story of Blind Bartimaus and Jesus' question, "What do you want me to do for you?" That was really exciting because I love that passage and preached on it about a year ago. But then, the chapter became very difficult for me to "get." I just had a problem understanding and relating to the author and the topic as it was presented. The language seemed very distant from my experience and rather inaccesible to me.

My academic background is engineering and my personality is ENTJ with pretty high energy. I get all weirded out and insecure around contemplative types because they seem so holy and I seem so...well...spastic. So when I read stuff like, "When we pay attention to our longing and allow questions about our longing to strip away the outer layers of self-definition, we are tapping into the deepest dynamic of the spiritual life," my initial reaction is, ..."huh?" Granted, that probably shows just how much I needed to slow down, recognize my own shallowness, and read this book. But it was still rather difficult for me.

Once the book got rolling, I really enjoyed the individual chapters. Maybe it's because they were a little less touchy-feely and a little more practical. Maybe it's because I was beginning to understand the languauge of the author a little better. Maybe it's because I was actually getting in touch with my "longings." Who knows.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Self-Examination: Bringing My Whole Self Before God and A Rule of Life: Cultivating Rhythms for Spiritual Transformation. When I ask people how they grow spiritually, I am amazed at how often the responses involved things like self-assessment, goal setting, etc. Barton introduced the Ignatian Examen in a way that is palatable to modern-day readers. Rhythm is important for leaders, and establishing a rule of life, a spiritual formation strategy, or a spiritual rhythm, is absolutely critical.

Barton's chapter on Sabbath was honest, transparent, and very challenging.

The chapter on Honoring the Body was especially challenging and extremely important for our generation and culture.

Her explanation of Lectio Divina was very helpful, and I will actually be using some of that material in our Journey small group.

My favorite part of the book was Appendix C: Choosing Spiritual Disciplines That Correspond to Our Needs. Barton lists sins or negative personality traits and patterns with corresponding spiritual disciplines that can be implemented to help us grow in those areas. This table is extremely helpful when crafting a spiritual development plan or rule of life.

I guess this was the bottom line for me. It was good for me personally, but I didn't use it a lot within the group setting. Every time I read it, I thought, "This is why we don't see more men involved in contemplative spiritual life." I felt like John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted fit more with my personality and leadership style. However, it was good for me to read because it stretched me and forced me to look at my complete inability to slow down and just be with God without thinking about small groups, sermon series, leaders, etc. There were very contemplative types in the group who would love this book, and I recommended it to them. So here's my final recommendation:

If you are a man, read John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted.

If you are an extravert, have trouble sitting still, have lots of energy, have trouble praying, etc., read John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted.

If you are all of the above and have read Ortberg's book, read Barton's Sacred Rhythms to stretch yourself.

If you are a contemplative type, read Barton's Sacred Rhythms.

If you long for silence, solitude, and a slower pace of life, read Sacred Rhythms. You will most likely find it a breath of fresh air and be thankful that someone "gets" you and your needs and gives you permission to be exactly how God has created you.

Communicating Change

Leaders are change agents. Since most people don't like change, effectively communicating change is an important leadership skill. Although it is geared towards our NCC small group leaders, this article gives some tips on how to communicate change in your church or organization.

Here is an excerpt:

The first and most important tip is that there is no pain-free or easy way to communicate change. Seventy-percent of Americans have “stable” personality types, which means they don’t like change. They adopt and adapt only after much persuasion. Change is difficult and there is no easy way to do it. That’s why communication is the role of leaders.

Understand the different ways in which people respond to change- innovators, early adopters, late adopters, and resistors. There will always be people who love change, and there will always be people who dig in their heels and completely resist change. It doesn’t matter how obvious the need is for how well you communicate it, there will be people who simply don’t agree. Some people may even leave. That’s okay. When you understand personality types and make yourself aware of the fact that most people do not jump quickly to change, you will be able have more confidence and peace about what you are communicating. Be patient.

Answer the following questions: What is changing? Why is it changing? How will it affect me? What is the goal? You need to know the answers to those questions yourself, and you need to be able to articulate them. People need to know exactly what is changing, but more importantly they need to know why it is changing. My boss in a previous job re-organized the entire workplace– new workstations, new offices for everyone, new office set-up. He did it simply because he believed that “regular change is good.” He was right, and that’s probably a pretty good reason. But it didn’t sufficiently answer the “why” question for most people. Yes, regular change is good, but why? He could have said something like, “I think productivity might improve if we…” or “I am concerned about the level of socializing so…” or “I think it makes more sense for these folks to be closer…” Regular change is good…but people need to know why. And even more importantly, people need to understand the ultimate goal and how the change will affect them personally.

Share information as soon as possible. If change is on the horizon, communicate it as soon as possible. This is an area where we really want to improve as a staff. We know we are weak here, and we want to be more intentional about rolling out information to you guys first. If you know you want to multiply a group in the next semester or two, begin talking about it now. That will give time for those late-adopters to buy into the vision and embrace it as their own.

Use a variety of communication channels and vehicles—emails, group meetings, corporate announcements, individual meetings, blogs, etc. Do not rely on only one method to get the word out. Send group emails and individual emails. Carve out group time to talk about it. Make announcements corporately and meet with people individually. Use a blog or google group. When change is coming, talk about it early, often, and in as many formats as possible. Answer the what, why, how, and goal questions in both written and verbal contexts.

Give people adequate opportunities to ask questions, express concerns, offer ideas, etc. A lot of times, people just want to be heard. They want to make sure that someone is listening to their questions, concerns, and ideas. In order for someone to understand and embrace the vision as their own, they need the freedom and opportunity to be a part of the vision-forming process. If necessary, bring in others to listen, as well. For instance, if NCC launches a new initiative and there are people in the group who need to ask questions, feel free to ask a zone leader or staff pastor to visit the group to help communicate that vision.

Model the changes yourself. Your group will follow you. If you want to introduce a culture of service in your group, begin to serve. If you want your group to explore the discipleship map, go to those core groups and take people with you or integrate those curricula into your own group. If you want people to be pray for the next NCC launch, then you must be praying yourself.

Pilgrimage Trailer Online

Two Presbyterians, an Episcopalian, a Lutheran, a Baptist, and a rapper named SaulPaul board a plane...sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn't it?

Last September, I participated in the Pilgrimage Project-- a documentary of seven clergy on a spiritual journey together through the Holy Land. That experience has turned me into an advocate for embracing pilgrimage as a valuable spiritual discipline.

Meriwether Productions is now in post-production on the project, and they have recently added the trailer to their website. You can view it on the website by clicking on "media" and then "Pilgrimage Project." Apparently, I wore the same clothes every day because I have the same red shirt on in every shot.

I wrote an article about my experience and kept a journal on

Thursday, July 20, 2006


I'm heading up to New York City for a few days. My parents are in DC visiting, and they have never been to the Big Apple. My mom was a theatre minor in college, so I am really looking forward to taking her to Broadway. We've got tickets for Wicked and plan to catch a couple other shows while we are there. We also plan to hit the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, 5th Avenue, the Empire State Building, the wooden escalators at Macy's, and the other normal tourist spots. Oh yeah-- and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. It's a tourist trap, but we love it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Written Communication

From the Communication series.

There are two primary forms of communication available to you as a leader: written and verbal. Most of your verbal communication occurs within the context of the group setting, and the bulk of material we have already covered in this series has been related to verbal communication. But it’s important to recognize the value of written forms of communication, as well.

Study Materials
Obviously, any handout materials that you give to your group members at a meeting are a form of written communication. If I am not using a printed curriculum, I like to give handout notes. Granted, it’s sometimes annoying for linear thinkers and presenters like me to see people “reading ahead,” or to suspect that perhaps people are listening only to fill in the blanks. Admittedly, I myself often make a game out of fill-in-the-blank notes by trying to guess what the word is before the speaker gets to it. But, I think handout notes can be helpful. Here are a few reasons why:

First, giving everyone written notes can help reinforce the principles of the lesson.

Secondly, written materials can help you as a leader keep the group focused and moving forward. It’s one way to avoid long rabbit trails.

Thirdly, giving people handout notes puts a resource into the hands of your group members so they can continue to process the lesson throughout the week. Some people in your group are wired as “intellectual” disciples, and they really like having information that they can make notes on and come back to later. Sarah Owen is a great example of that kind of person. I got really nervous when I realized that she had saved every piece of paper ever given to her as a leader– summit notes, retreat notes, zone leader meeting notes. She recently had to upgrade to a new bigger binder.

Finally, developing written handouts can also be extremely valuable to you as a leader because the process of drafting notes forces you to think more strategically and in greater depth about what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. Written materials can enhance and improve your verbal communication.

Written communication can be a valuable skill for building community beyond the meeting itself, as well. One of the best lessons I learned about small group leadership is this: what happens during the week is often more important than what happens during the group meeting time itself. Understanding the communication tools available and effectively using those can help you create community throughout the week.

Email is one of the best tools available to us as leaders. Here are some hints for using it effectively and guidelines for using it appropriately:

  • Touch base with group members at least once a week through email. Share a verse, a word of encouragement, or give them something to think about for the upcoming group meeting. Touch base with group members through corporate emails and individual emails.
  • Use email to coordinate some of the administrative components of group life (who brings snacks, where the group is going to meet, etc)
  • Use email to send out prayer request lists. Appoint someone in your group to be in charge of recording the requests during group and then emailing them out later.
  • Very important: Do not use email for navigating conflict. In email, there is a tendency to fire off quickly without thinking, and it’s impossible to control the tone. Wherever there are people (especially Christians!), there will be conflict. Conflicts are a natural part of community and they should be approached as growth opportunities for everyone involved. Don’t be caught off guard when they happen; just remember that conflict navigation should always be done face-to-face.

A blog, google group, or yahoo group can also be an effective tool for building community within the group. Many of our group members sit in front of a computer for 10 hours a day, so let’s use technology to our advantage. A group blog can be used for the following:

  • Announcements. Use the blog or group to announce last minute changes in meeting places or to get the word out on activities that the group is doing.
  • Discussion. Sometimes, we have to cut off discussion in the group for the sake of time. Use the blog to allow for the discussion to continue beyond the 2-hour group meeting. Post a compelling question every day to encourage group members to think more deeply about the topic and to engage in on-going discussion using the comment threads.
  • Create culture. You can use a blog to create culture for your group. Do a weekly interview with a group member, asking off-the-wall questions to help others know the person better. Post music, movie, or book reviews or encourage group members to post their own. The posts that have generated the most comments at zonegathering are the posts that link to dumb questions like “What Narnia character are you” or “What theologian are you.” It’s frustrating at times that more people are more excited to jump in to share their Star Wars name than to post a win, but I’m getting over that because building a community and a culture has to begin with getting to know one another.

Everyone likes to get a good old-fashioned handwritten note from time to time. I think it’s because people know that it takes more time and thought to write and send a note than it does to fire off an email. Handwritten notes can encourage people, especially those who have “words of affirmation” or “quality time” love languages. Do an experiment one semester and try to write a note to one member of your group each week.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Women's Mentoring

Every couple of years, I hear a cry from young women wanting "mentors." It's always a little unclear exactly what they are looking for in a mentor-- whether they want traditional one-on-one discipleship, whether they want to learn or grow in a specific area, or whether they just want an older woman in their life. I think the latter is often the reason. Young women want to be in relationship with another woman who has been around the sun a few more times.

I had a great meeting with one of our NCC leaders earlier this week about launching a women's mentoring ministry. We love the idea of it and we even know what we want the end product to look like. But we aren't sure how to put the steps in place to make it happen. How do you engineer environments where women can connect in a way that is normal and not forced or artificial?

If you've got any ideas, feel free to email me or use the comment thread.

Writing Rhythm

I really need to find a better writing rhythm. The plan a couple of months ago was to get up an hour earlier every day to write. That worked well until summer started. By the way, Mark Batterson has a great post on writing at You can link directly to the article here.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Zonegathering Update is our online community for small group leaders at National Community Church. We are currently giving it a facelift. Props to our digital pastor David Russell and zone leader extraordinaire Nathan Gonzales for making it happen. We've still got some work to do to streamline the site, but check it out and let us know what you think.