Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I Milked a Cow

Yesterday was my day off, so Ryan and I headed out to Cox Farms. Okay, so it's geared towards kids. But Ryan and I happen to be big kids, so we had fun. We ate some apples, drank some cider, enjoyed the hayride, and went down some really big slides. And I milked a cow! I had never milked a cow, so it was a new experience for me.

Good times!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Big Ideas About Small Groups

I'm adding another link to my sidebar-- Big Ideas About Small Groups. It's the online community for small group leaders at Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL, and it's a great resource. I think I'll probably be stealing from them!

We love the guys at Community Christian and the stuff they are doing. In fact, we got the idea to do Big Idea meetings for service planning and programming from them. Check out the book, The Big Idea by CCC Pastor Dave Ferguson.

I want to continue to add links of other churches who are utilizing blog technology to build community and train leaders. Community Christian is doing a fantastic job of that with their site.

Here's what we've got so far:

ZoneGathering (National Community Churchl; Washington, DC)
Creative Community (Calvary Chapel, Fruitport, MI)
Big Ideas About Small Groups (Community Chritian Church; Naperville, IL)

If you know of any other related sites out there, let me know. I'd love for us to be able to learn from one another.


I ate a moonpie last night. It wasn't even on my brain until my co-worker and fellow Alabamian David Russell mentioned it. I caved.

I'm practicing my confessing skills. :)

This weekend, we conclude The Office series at NCC, and I'm preaching: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Staffer. Before going into the ministry full-time, I worked for 2 years at an engineering consulting firm and 5 years on Capitol Hill. And I figure I have some things-- 10 things to be exact-- that I need to confess. Topics range from balance to identity to office gossip, and I believe they are relevant to every corner of the marketplace. I'm really hoping people can identify with this weekend and will be challenged by the Scriptures to be people of integrity, strong work ethic, and good attitude as they live 9 to 5 at the office.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More Service Articles

Here are some more articles on group service. These are geared specifically towards our leaders at NCC, but the principles may be applicable beyond our church.

The Good Samaritan
Developing an Attitude of Service
Serving Your Group
Cultivating an Attitude of Service Within Your Group
Serving Our Church
Serving Our Community
Serving Our World
Appointing a Service Coordinator (also published below)

Groups That Serve

I am re-publishing the Zonegathering.com Thursday Leadership Lesson from today over here because I think it's applicable beyond NCC. We are currently focusing our groups on service, and this post pertains to appointing a service coordinator for your group.

This is Part 8 of our Thursday Leadership Lesson series on Service. Today, we will give some practical steps for appointing a service/outreach coordinator for your group.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us…If it is serving, let him serve. (Romans 12:7)

We’ve been talking for the past couple months about the importance of service, and many of you are probably groaning under the pressure of one more thing you are being asked to do. Don’t do it. Kepp reading while I explain. While we all should live our lives in service to others and your life will serve as the model to your group, you should not necessarily be the primary person driving the service engine in your small group. Instead, appoint a service coordinator for your group.

Leading a small group requires a lot of juggling– lesson planning, house cleaning, win sheet submitting, cookie baking, etc. A mentor once told me, “A good leader can do it all. A great leader doesn’t do much at all.” It’s the power of delegation. Everyone in your group should be contributing in some way, and it’s your job as the leader to make that happen. It’s not just about distributing responsibilities so you don’t have to do as much. It’s about discipleship. When you delegate roles and responsibilities in a way that gives people opportunities to grow their gifts, you are discipling them. As Paul encouraged the church at Rome, “if their gift is serving, let them serve.”

Appointing a service coordinator is practical leadership. And it’s biblical discipleship.

Here are some tips:

Look for Gifts
Appointing a service coordinator begins by looking at the spiritual gifts and passions of the people in your group. People with gifts of mercy, hospitality, service, evangelism, and administration typically make good service coordinators. A mercy-oriented coordinator will approach service differently from an evangelism coordinator, but the end result is a greater focus on service within your group.

Look for Compatibility
Look for someone that you can work with and who understands your vision for your group. Some folks may come in with their own agenda and desire to completely change the direction for your group. Most service-oriented folks are zealous about their work, and they may want to re-route your entire group to the slums of India. Make sure they understand how you would like to see service incorporated into the fabric of your group.

Start as an Experiment
Start small by asking someone to serve as the service coordinator for one semester. Or one project. One of our core values is “everything is an experiment.” Establishing a short timeframe will give you the opportunity to determine if your service coordinator is a good fit, and it will give them an exit point so they don’t feel like they are committing to something in perpetuity.

Give Them Projects
Don’t just give them a title. Give them direction. Start small. Inform them that you want to get your group involved in a project like the Thanksgiving Lunch, Angel Tree, or Load the Bus, and let them know that you would like for them to spearhead it and organize it. Talk specifically about your expectations for service within the group– how many service projects will the group participate in over the course of the semester? What types of projects will be done? Eventually, you will be able to let them dream up their own projects, but give them specific directions in the early stages.

Give Them a Platform
Giving a platform begins with public affirmation and validation from you. Give the service coordinator opportunities to cast vision for service and give details on upcoming opportunities. That may mean giving them time each week during your group announcements time to talk about projects. It may mean giving them posting privileges on your group blog to get the word out. Give them the opportunity to lead the group discussion one night and focus on the topic of service. A title with no platform will bear little results.

Coach Them
Take your service coordinator under wing and invest extra time, pastoral care, and discipling into them. View them as part of your leadership team and include them in the planning process for your group. Give them feedback on how they cast vision, organize projects, and mobilize the group around service. Equip them by giving them books and resources or sending them links to good web articles that pertain to service in small groups.

Empower Them
Empowering goes beyond giving a platform. As your service coordinator grows and their gifts mature, you should “let them loose” to dream, plan, and activate your group to service. Your service coordinator should be someone who challenges you personally and stretches you in uncomfortable ways. Communicate to them the importance of the role they plan within your group, and encourage them to continue to fulfill their role in the body of Christ.

Appointing a service coordinator will help you focus on your gifts while giving someone else an opportunity to grow in their gifts. Every member a minister should be the slogan for our group, and the Body of Christ will grow and learn from one another as a result.

If you’ve got other ideas about appointing a service coordinator, please use the comment thread below.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

FAQ: What is Crown?

Crown is the Port City on the Investor Island of the NCC Discipleship Map, and it has become one of the most popular and widely-attended core discipleship groups that we offer. That's mainly due to the incredible Crown leadership that we have. But the material is also really good.

Crown is a 10-week group Bible study focused on applying God's wisdom to topics including work, getting out of debt, saving, spending, budgeting, honesty, and investing. There is weekly Bible verse memorization and daily homework. It's a big commitment, but the principles are inportant and life-changing. It is a great course to help people understand stewardship.

Crown is one of the two core discipleship courses (the other is Alpha) that uses materials developed outside of NCC. There's just no sense in us developing our own stewardship study when such a great one already exisit. Crown was developed by Howard Dayton and Crown Ministries. You can purchase the materials or learn more here.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Moonpie Biography

I came down to my office tonight, and I found a gift waiting on my desk. A note from my favorite pastor and author simply read, "Had to get this for you when I saw it. Enjoy, Mark Batterson." Underneath was a book, Moonpie: Biography of an Out of This World Snack. I don't know how someone managed to write 182 pages about moonpies, but I'm looking forward to reading it (and trying out the recipes in the back!)

I don't remember when my strange fascination with moonpies began, but I love them. And in an attempt to share the joy, I occasionally throw them out to people in the middle of my sermons, retreat talks, leadership trainings, etc. Makes me feel like one of the Conde Cavaliers.

If you've never had a moonpie, go get one right now. Here are a few simple rules:
  • Get the REAL moonpies. The package that says "the original marshmallo sandwich" packaged by Chattanooga Bakery. Don't get the Little Debbie version or some other pathetic imitation.
  • For the greatest snacking experience, get the chocolate moonpie. Don't get the vanilla. And please, whatever you do, don't get the banana. They are gross.
  • Wash it down with an RC Cola. If you can't locate RC at your yankee store, then a regular coke will substitute okay.
  • The best place to find moonpies are at the gas station store. You health freaks ain't gonna find 'em at some organic or whole foods store.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Creative Community

I'm adding a link to my sidebar-- Creative Community.

Creative Community is the online community for the LifeGroup drivers at Calvary Church in Fruitport, Michigan. It is a good example of using a blog to create community among leaders, share ideas and information, and conduct ongoing leadership and spiritual development. There's a great post on there today about identifying success in the small group environment. David Rudd, pastor of spiritual formation at Calvary Church, is the mastermind behind Creative Community.

If you've got a blog for your small group leaders, email me.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


I swore that I would never publish one of those "what I ate for breakfast" posts. I also never imagined myself to become one of those people whose coffee order contains so many words that it requires a break for breath when ordering. But I'm about to break those promises...

I am officially addicted to dirty chai. I've got a sugar-free dirty chai with skim milk on my desk right now, and it makes me very happy!

For those who order their coffee clearly and simply and have not discovered the joy of dirty chai, it's a chai with a shot of espresso.

Yum and buzz.

FAQ: What is Inward Bound?

We do two spiritual formation retreats at NCC: Inward Bound and Upward Bound. Inward Bound is located on the Influencer Island of the Discipleship Map, and Upward Bound is found on the Seeker Island of the Discipleship Map. Both retreats are currently being reengineered. But here is the general idea and how we have done it in the past:

Inward Bound, the flagship NCC retreat, helps people explore how God has wired them and discover the story that he is writing in their lives. The sessions look something like this:

Orientation- We begin at the end. It sounds a bit morbid, but we challenge folks on the first night of the retreat to think about their death bed and consider the following questions about their life: What have they learned? What have they accomplished? Whom did they influence? What investments will follow them to heaven and which will not amount to a pile of ashes?

Session 1: Interpreting Your Past. We provide a framework for people to begin writing their life story. Dividing their life into "Chapters," participants list people, places, and events that were significant in their personal development and life trajectory.

Session 2: Discovering Your Spiritual DNA. We talk about the idea of Dual Destiny-- our universal destiny (to become like Christ and share him with others) and our unique destiny (what discipleship and evangelism look like in our own lives)

Session 3: Preparing for Your Future. Participants list 100 life goals in the following categories: Spiritual, Physical, Relational, Financial, Vocational, Intellectual, and Personal.

Session 4: Understanding Your Present. We talk about the importance of being plugged into God's word and accountability relationships, the importance of delays and detours, and the spiritual discipline of living day by day.

Session 5: The Jealous Author. In order to understand the story that is being written in our lives, we must know our Author. Our Author is a jealous God who loves us and deeply desires relationship with us.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

FAQ: What is The Story?

The Story is the Port City for the Learner Island on the NCC Discipleship Map. It is one of my favorite things that I do at NCC. I love the Bible, and I love helping others fall in love with the Word of God. My primary goal for The Story is to drive people head-first into the Word with a new passion and excitement.

The Story is typically offered during our "May Term" series, and it is offered in a lecture format. It appeals to folks who might have a more intellectual bent in their approach to discipleship, and it is a good first step for people who might be interested in small groups but a little intimidated about going to the home of a person they've never met. The Story is a smaller setting than Sunday morning, but not as intimate as a home-based small group.

Here's how it works:

We spend the first night Exploring the Backlot-- talking about where the Bible came from, who wrote it, how it's structured, where the events took place, and other background information. Everyone learns cool words like "plenary inspiration" and they find out where places like Goshen and Corinth are located. They get a great packet of maps (that's one of my favorite parts!)

The second week is Act One: Exploring the Story of the Old Testament. We start with God creating and the Holy Spirit hovering, move through the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, the patriarchs, the exodus, the judges, the kingdom, the divided kingdom, the exile and return. We talk about stuff like who Obadiah was, what his book is about, and where he fits into the story.

The last week is Act Two: Exploring the Story of the New Testament. We talk about the Life of Christ as recorded in the four Gospels and then learn about the spread of the Church in the book of Acts. Then, we put all of the epistles into context of the story.

It's a lot of fun, and my ultimate prayer is that people would want to go deeper in their study of God's word.

A resource for this is available for this particular course. It includes 5 audio CDs and 1 resource CD containing lecture handouts and maps. It costs $10 and can be ordered by emailing me.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

FAQ: What is Journey?

Journey is the second step on our Discipleship Map. It is a a quick-stop outpost island that outfits and resources participants to move between Alpha and the four discipleship islands.

Journey is as an 8 week small group that introduces participants to the four dimensions of discipleship- seeker, learner, influencer, and investor. We spend two weeks on each topic, as follows:

Week 1- Seeker: Prayer
Week 2- Seeker: Sacraments
Week 3- Learner: Bible Reading and Bible Study
Week 4- Learner: Bible Meditation and Bible Memorization
Week 5- Influencer: Service and Evangelism
Week 6- Influencer: Community and Discipleship
Week 7- Investor: Financial Stewardship
Week 8- Investor: Spiritual Gifts and Ministry

We typically offer a staff-led version of this group during the fall and spring semesters. The group is best led within the context of a pre-existing small group, however, so we make the curriculum available to all of our small group leaders and encourage them to consider using it as the curriculum for their group for one semester.

Friday, October 13, 2006

FAQ: What is Alpha?

I am a big believer in Alpha, and it is the launching pad for our Discipleship Map. We have found it to be valuable for the most sincere seekers to the most hostile cynics to the most mature disciples. And we've also found that it's the best opportunity for people to find a place to plug in at NCC. So we encourage (though we don't require) every NCCer, regardless of their spiritual history, to go through Alpha.

The Alpha Course, developed by Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton, is a practical introduction to the Christian faith.

Here is how it works in general: Alpha is hospitality on steroids. It's all about loving people into the Kingdom. It all starts with a big kickoff event and a video of Nicky teaching on Christianity: Boring, Untrue, or Irrelevant? We encourage NCCers to invite their friends to the dinner. At the end of the night, guests are invited to sign up to be a part of the 10-week course. Each week, the participants are served dinner, hear a talk on some aspect of Christianity (Who is Jesus? What about the Bible? etc), and then break up into small groups to discuss. Some churches get their pastors to do the talks live. We have chosen to stick with the videos for now because Nicky is such a great communicator. About 8 weeks into the course, the participants attend a "weekend away" (also known as the Holy Spirit Retreat) where they learn about the role and function of the Holy Spirit. It's good stuff.

Here are some ways it works for us:

  • Front door to the church- We encourage new NCCers to go to Alpha. It's a great way to meet other NCCers and to get plugged in.
  • Nursery of the church- People who ask for information on following Christ are guided towards Alpha to get their questions answered. People who cross the line of faith or go public with their faith are guided towards Alpha to put down some roots and get connected to other believers.
  • Connecting Place- since Alpha is so focused on hospitality and community-building, it is a great place for people to get connected. That's why we encourage all new NCCers to start with Alpha, regardless of their spiritual maturity.
  • Leadership Launching Pad- we have discovered that Alpha is a great way to get people involved in leadership at NCC. We have a couple dozen people on our Alpha leadership team. With the exception of a few of those people, most of those folks were not plugged into leadership, ministry, or small groups before Alpha. Now they are leaders in the church! In addition, we've got about 8 people leading small groups this semester who got their first taste of leadership in Alpha.

My only problem with Alpha is that their graphics and branding are terrible. :) It's hard to make the stuff fit with our edgier culture at NCC. But the content is good.

Visit the Alpha website here.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Groups and Service

Alright, I'm gonna stop all these FAQs for a second because I've got a question of my own.

We are trying to mobilize our groups for service this semester. I believe that the group that serves together grows together, so we are asking every group to participate in one service project this semester. We are blogging about it on zonegathering.com. We will focus on the topic of service at our next Leadership Summit.

So here's my question: how have you mobilized groups for service in your church? What has been successful? What has not? Help?

Fried Turkey, Football, and Family

I just purchased my tickets to fly home for Thanksgiving. So excited!! I haven't been to Mobile since last Christmas. It's really weird because I flew home about once a month when I worked in the Senate. Now that I'm working at NCC, there aren't as many "work" reasons to fly home.

I'm really looking forward to some fried turkey, football, and family (not necessarily in that order!)

I'm also hoping to check out the People of Mars Hill church.

I'm also tempted by the biplane rides.

FAQ: Do you focus the entire church on one aspect of the Discipleship Map at a time?

Not now. At least not intentionally. But that is a really good idea as we brainstorm sermon series for next year.

We do, however, strategically focus our leaders on different aspects of the map at different times. For instance, right now, we are focusing our groups on being investors by living lives of service.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

FAQ Series

Last month, I started an FAQ series to post the responses I give to people who email me questions about our discipleship philosophy at NCC.

If you would like to submit a question, use the comment thread below.

Here are some of the questions we have covered to date:

Discipleship Philosophy
How do you do discipleship in rented facilities?
Why do you do small groups?
What is the "free market" small group system?
We want to start small groups in our church. How do we begin?
What if the church has a bad taste in its mouth because small groups were tried and failed in the past?
Are you a church "of" small groups or a church "with" small groups?
What is the difference between a "small group" and a "ministry?"
I've seen the "Be One, Make One, For One" slogan. What does it mean?
What is Seeker, Learner, Influencer, Investor?
Does "Seeker, Learner, Influencer, Investor" represent a linear growth process?

Semester System
Why do operate on a semester system?
What are the dates of your semesters?
Do Sunday morning ministries operate on the semester system?
What is May Term?

Discipleship Map
What is the Discipleship Map?
What's the deal with non-linear discipleship?
What are the components of the discipleship map?
Is the discipleship map implemented and followed by groups or individuals?
Can people take a non-linear path through the discipleship map?

FAQ: Can people take a non-linear path through the Discipleship Map?

Absolutely! That’s one of its strengths and one of the reasons we created a map instead of a linear system of classes. We wanted to give people guideposts and mile markers instead of step-by-step directions.

We encourage everyone to start with Alpha and then move to Journey. And we encourage people to hit the 4 port cities before exploring inland because the port cities are good introductions to the other experiences on the island. But there are no pre-requisites, and anyone can go anywhere they want whenever they want.

For more on non-linear discipleship, read this post.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What the Heck Happened?

SEC football reigns supreme. I'm absolutely convinced it is the most exciting conference in college football. It's totally unpredictable. Case in point- this past weekend. What the heck happened?

My Tigers (of the Cajun variety) lost to Florida. Okay, so that wasn't completely unexpected.

But my Tigers of the Auburn variety got totally stomped on by Arkansas? What? I still don't understand what happened there. That's just downright embarrassing.

And Georgia, depsite their great start, got beat up on by Tennessee.

So the weekend didn't turn out very well for me. But at least I'm a part of the best conference!

Is the Discipleship Map implemented and followed by groups or individuals?

Yes. Our approach is both/and. We want to ignite people’s passion for God and then get out of their way.

Here are some of the different ways that the discipleship map is used:

An individual can use the map to chart their own course for discipleship, moving freely each semester between the islands as they desire.

Some Alpha groups explore the map together after leaving Alpha. For instance, in Spring 2006, a group of Alphans came together to Journey. Then they went to The Story in May Term. Then, they jumped into Spiritual Experiments in Summer 2006.

A group leader can take their group through the map in a couple of ways. They can physically take their group to attend one of the map courses, retreats, or groups. For example, one leader brought their group to The Story during May Term. We encourage leaders to bring their entire groups to Inward Bound and Upward Bound. Leaders can also implement the map by running some of the map groups themselves. For example, Journey and Spiritual Experiments curricula are available for any leader to teach at anytime. One group invited an approved Crown leader to lead Crown Financial for their group during the Fall 2006 semester.

We encourage our leaders to use the map as a framework for their group throughout the year by focusing their group on a different dimension of discipleship each semester. In other words, one semester, they may help their group become learners by doing an inductive Bible study together. The next semester, they may help their group become influencers by focusing on a topical study of community, discipleship, or evangelism. The leader’s ultimate goal is to help the members of their group grow in each of these four dimensions over the course of the year.

We will continue to explore ways to facilitate the exploration of the map by both individuals and groups.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I'm at Catalyst, so my posting may be a bit spotty over the next few days. I will try to get some stuff posted from the conference.

Had a great day at the Labs. More to come...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Book Review: In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day

What do you do when opportunity roars? According to Mark Batterson, we must rediscover our chasing gene, lock eyes with our lion, and sprint directly towards it.

In the first chapter of In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day, Batterson weaves a thrilling tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat and the adrenaline pumping. Then, you discover it's actually a re-telling of a Biblical story. It's the story of Benaiah and his rise from lion chaser to David's chief military advisor. It's a story we may have read a hundred times before and breezed over without fully experiencing its drama and passion. (We do that with a lot of the Biblical texts, don't we? When did we make the Bible boring?) But in the opening pages of this entertaining and at times unsettling book, Batterson breathes new life into this ancient tale in a creative, thought-provoking, and challenging way.

We've all seen lion tamers. But lion chasers? That's just plain crazy. And yet that is what God is calling us to be. People who realize that Jesus did not die on the cross just to ensure that we could live safe lives. In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day dares us to go back to Biblical faith, which is risky, uncertain, and dangerous. But it always leads to God.

Batterson uses Benaiah's encounter with the lion as a backdrop to explore seven lion chasing skills:
  • Overcoming adversity
  • Unlearning fears
  • Embracing uncertainty
  • Calculating risks
  • Seizing opportunities
  • Defying odds
  • Looking foolish
This book challenged the way I think about faith, and I hope it will find expression in the way I live out my faith. As Yoda challenged Luke Skywalker, I must unlearn what I have learned. I need to realize that my action regrets will pale in comparison to my inaction regrets.

Sprinkled with references to pop culture and ancient culture, In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day digs out Biblical principles and helps us understand their relevance in our everyday-walking-around lives in the 21st century. But ultimately it's not Mark Batterson's story. And it's not even Benaiah's story. It is God's story and it is one that he wants to write in and through each of our lives.

This book made me want to jump out of my chair and start running after God with more intensity and focus than ever before. It's a fast and funny read, and it will leave you with lots of good stuff to chew on.

Get it and begin your lion chasing training today.

Website Launch

We just launched our new NCC website. Check it out at www.theaterchurch.com.

Big time props to Digital Pastor David Russell for making it happen.

FAQ: What are the components of the Discipleship Map?

That’s a question we are currently revisiting at NCC. The purpose of the Discipleship Map is to list the groups or experiences that we want to encourage every NCCer to participate in at some point during their time at NCC. When we first designed the map, we had the overall concept nailed down, but we basically just threw our existing groups and experiences on the map where we thought they best fit. Now, we are reworking all of the 4 main islands from scratch in order to be more intentional about the groups, trips, and experiences that we offer.

The reworked map will most likely include the following:

Alpha- 12 week practical introduction to the Christian faith

Journey- 8 week introduction to the four dimensions of discipleship

Seeker- This island is currently being redeveloped, but it will most likely include Spiritual Experiments (8 week small group introducing the spiritual disciplines), Holy Spirit Encounter (small group), and Upward Bound retreat.

Learner- This island is currently being redeveloped, but it will definitely include The Story (a 3 week high speed thrill ride through the entire Bible). It will most likely include Old Testament 101 (12 week small group), New Testament 101 (12 week small group), Bible Study Methods (May Term group), and Theology for Dummies (8 week small group).

Influencer- This island is currently being redeveloped, but it will definitely include the Inward Bound retreat, Leadership 101 (3 hour class on leadership and discipleship), and Missions Adventure (a missions trip). It will most likely include a port city called “Neighborhoods and Nations” that will focus on how we can share our faith and impact people for Christ both here and abroad.

Investor- This island is currently being redeveloped, but it will definitely include Crown Financial (12 week small group) and Ministry Internship (semester-long ministry involvement). It will most likely include a port city called “Portfolio,” a May Term small group that helps people understand how God has gifted and resourced them and how they can invest in Kingdom work.

When we unveil the new, improved discipleship map, I will post again about every component that is included.