Monday, March 31, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

I love baseball. Here's the best way to describe it: when I was 6 years old, my dream was to be the first female major league baseball player. Occasionally, that dream raises up inside my gut again only to be crushed as I acknowledge my pitiful performance at the batting cages.

This has been a great weekend. Saturday night- Exhibition game between the Nats and Orioles at the new Nationals Park. Yesterday- Opening day at Nationals Park with the Nats and my all-time favorite team the Atlanta Braves. Today- opening day at Camden Yards.

I'll be back in the office tomorrow...

Saturday, March 29, 2008


One of my best leaders, Beth McDonald, is leading a Business Forum small group this semester for entrepreneurs and leaders who want to grow in their leadership, creativity, and management skills. I'm so excited to get to be a part of the group.

Yesterday, we talked about values-driven leadership and used John Maxwell's Value Cards to determine our top values as a leader. My top 6 were as follows:
  • Legacy
  • Passion
  • Fun
  • Creativity/Innovation
  • Teamwork
  • Growth
Loyalty, Change, and Courage were close runners-up. (**I also need to note that I didn't include Faith/Religion because that seemed a "given" considering my work. And I included "Family" under the legacy category.)

Ryan and I also determined values for our family by combining the cards that we had in common and the top card in each of our stacks. We came up with the following:
  • Growth
  • Fun
  • Legacy
  • Integrity
Values are important for our personal lives, work lives, and ministries because they set parameters on what we do and what we don't do.

It's critically important that we establish values for our small group ministry, as well, because it helps us remain laser focused on our goals. It helps us determine how we train, what we reward, and where to invest our time. Values keep us from being a chameleon- trying to adjust what we do to accommodate the whims and wishes of everyone who has an idea for how things should change.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Modulus of Elasticity

I was thinking about the modulus of elasticity yesterday. Yes, I tend to think about such things. Blame it on the 6 years I spent in the engineering labs. The modulus of elasticity is the mathematical description of an object or substance's tendency to be deformed elastically (i.e., non-permanently) when a force is applied to it. Once a material reaches the yield point, permanent transformation has occurred. Or more simply, it is the point at which an object can be stretched and return to its original size. The more rigid the substance, the higher the modulus of elasticity. For example, a rubber band has a very low modulus of elasticity. You can stretch it to double, triple, and quadruple it's size and it will return right back to it original size. Steel, on the other hand, has a higher modulus of elasticity. If you stretch it, twist it, compress it, or deform it too much, its shape will be permanently changed.

There's a parallel to spiritual growth here. So often, we implement disciplines and participate in experiences that stretch us, but they don't actually stretch us to our spiritual yield point. When we leave that mountain-top experience retreat, we swear we will never be the same again. And yet by Thursday, our lives and our spiritual fervor have shrunk right back to the pre-retreat size and shape.

In the engineering world, you typically want to design so that the stresses on a material do not exceed that yield point. But in the world of discipleship engineering, we've got to go beyond our current ways of stretching and growing people. We've got to recognize that one sermon, one class, and one retreat will not produce permanent results. Implementing a new spiritual discipline for just a few days will not produce permanent change. We've also got to realize that discipleship can't be one-size-fits-all. Just as wood, steel, and iron all differ in their modulus of elasticity and require a design that recognizes that, so each person in our congregation has their own unique spiritual modulus of elasticity and we must design discipleship environments that offer flexibility and personalization.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I just finished the questions series. Here are links to all of them:

question #6: how will your groups grow and multiply?

Here's the last question of my questions series. It's a question about the stability and growth of the ministry. How will you expand what you are doing? How will groups and leaders multiply? This affects structure, leadership development, and leadership training.

Here are a few of the traditional ways for growing and multiplying:
  • Grow and multiply. This is the traditional view of multiplication. Cellular mitosis. Splitting down the middle. You grow to 12-16 people and then split into two groups. This method is easy to implement and administrate, and it generally keeps groups together for about 18 months.
  • Closed and multiply. This is basically the Northpoint Model. They've done a fantastic job with a closed group structure. It's very similar to the grow and multiply-- except you don't grow. You start a group with 8-12 people, and at the very beginning of the group, you set a date for multiplication. These groups usually stay together for 12-24 months.
  • G-12. I really like this approach in places that are not transient. In this model, you remain with the same basic group of people for a very long time, but each person in the group is leading their own group. So you might meet with 12 people, and that's your group. But each of those 12 is leading their own group of 12. And eventually, all 12 of them start leading their own 12. It's exponential multiplication without ever having to disconnect people or disrupt community that's already been formed.
  • Pioneering. In this method, groups don't have to wait until they hit 16 people before they multiply. Instead, they start off with a multiplication mindset and every semester, they spin of a core group of 2 or 3 people to start a brand new group. This method relies on initiative and creativity.
There are lots of different ways this can happen, but those are the four primary methods I've seen. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and I think the most important thing is to determine what works best in your unique church environment.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

question #5: what role will the lead pastor play?

Continuing the series of "questions" that are good to consider when launching groups, community life, and discipleship environments. Knowing what role the lead pastor of the church will play is vitally important to choosing a model. And the more clear, honest communication you have about this up front, the better things will be in the long run. Here are some questions for lead pastors to think about, pray over, and honestly communicate with their group life point-person:
  • Will you lead the group/community/discipleship ministry yourself or will you delegate it? How much will you delegate it?
  • Will you personally lead a group?
  • Will you and your family participate in a group as a family?
  • Will you participate as an individual?
  • Will you not participate at all?

I don't think there are right or wrong answers to any of those questions, but the answers will help you determine the best group model for your church. For instance, if the lead pastor wants to be actively involved, a G-12 type model might work really well. Larry Stockstill, who initially instilled a love of groups in me, has led this kind of model very successfully at Bethany World Prayer Center. On the other hand, my boss, Mark Batterson, takes a much more hands-off approach, making the free market approach a better option for us. Mark values groups, prioritizes leadership training events, communicates the importance of group life, and occasionally leads groups, but for the most part, he has delegated the vision and execution to me. He views himself as the leader of the staff of NCC and that is his small group.

One final thought- regardless of what role the lead pastor takes in the group life of the church, it is absolutely important that they equip, encourage, and empower the person leading that charge. Mark has modeled this incredibly well, giving small groups the pulpit, significant budget, and a voice on the executive decision-making level of the church. A great relationship between a discipleship or group life pastor and the lead pastor can make all the difference!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Whiteboard Sessions

All great ideas and masterpieces begin with a blank sheet of paper. I'm super excited about The Whiteboard Sessions coming up in May. Thanks, Ben, for a great conference idea! And thanks, Mark, for taking the team. I'm particularly looking forward to hearing Mark Dever and Perry Noble. And what I love about this conference is the opportunity to hear from both of those guys in the same day!

If you are a discipleship/small group/spiritual formation pastor, director, leader, or whatever, and you are coming to Whiteboard, please give me a yell! I'd love to meet up for coffee, lunch, dinner, something.

If you aren't registered yet, do it now.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

question #4: Do you expect every person in your church to join a group?

This is the classic question of will you be a church of small groups or a church with small groups. In other words, will the church be the collection of small groups in the church? Or will small groups simply be one ministry opportunity in the church? This goes back to your views of community, discipleship, and evangelism, as well.

This got me into a bit of trouble a few months ago with Bill Donahue, author of Building a Church of Small Groups. I basically said I was tired of this question, totally forgetting that the "of" in the title was specifically addressing this very issue. Regardless of what you decide to do, I'd highly recommend his book. It's still my most recommended book to small group pastors/leaders! (and I'm not just trying to dig out of my hole!)

I don't think there's any one right way to answer this question, but I think it is important that it be considered and answered truthfully because it will affect the way you structure groups, launch groups, train leaders, and talk about groups. It will have tremendous implications on the types of groups you have and what your base model will be.

I blogged a bit on how NCC answered this question here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I've been out of commission for almost a week! First, it was getting over the missed sleep during the return from Long Beach. Then, it was a weekend full of birthday celebration, baptism meeting, raising up new team leaders, Steel Magnolias audition, visiting with friends, and warming the new house. And now it's some cold I've been fighting for a couple days.

Hopefully, I'll be back in action tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Long Beach Reflections

I'm sitting in the Long Beach airport to head back to DC, and I wanted to capture a few reflections from my conversations and experiences with the group life leaders gathering this weekend:
  • I'm as convinced as I've ever been that groups are the best environment for community, life change, discipleship, and leadership development to happen.
  • Creativity is hard work; I need to carve out time in my schedule to let that happen.
  • My greatest priority as a leader is personal spiritual growth. I want to explore the idea of getting a spiritual director.
  • The growth of my leaders at NCC and the growth of the congregation at NCC requires me to lead at a higher level. I want to explore the idea of getting a coach.
  • I'm looking forward to reading Bill Search's book Simple Small Groups. It's coming out in September.
  • The Willow Group Life Conference is going to be awesome this year! Especially Main Session 2. :)
  • I want to explore the possibility of creating a regional network of small group pastors to exchange ideas, encourage one another.
  • I'm really intrigued by the idea of family discipleship. How can we equip and resource families to disciple their kids? I met a couple people this weekend who are passionate about that, as well, and I'd love to be involved in developing resources for that.
  • Films are a great way to spark spiritual conversations. Let's stop telling silly, predictable stories and dive into messy reality. I want to explore DVD curriculum that is fresh and relevant.
  • I want to connect more with leaders who stretch me, challenge me, frustrate me, disagree with me, and inspire me.
  • Leaving Long Beach is dumb. It's so warm here!
I'm sure I'll have more reflections later...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Session 3: Resources, Experiences, and Connections

Wrapping up on the final part of the group life summit meeting today. It wasn't really a "session," but it's the third big thing we thought about today. The question: "What resources, experiences, and connections would be helpful to you as a group life ministry leader?"

If you've got ideas, please let us know!

Session 2: The Stages of Faith

Our second main session revolved around a discussion on the "stages of faith" as outlined in the book The Critical Journey by Janet Hagberg. I haven't read the book myself, but I'm adding it to my reading list. From my elementary understanding of it, Hagberg identifies 6 different "faith stages" that we move in and out of at different points along our spiritual journeys. At times, it's a linear progression; at other times, we jump in and out.

The 6 stages are as follows:
  • Recognition of God
  • Life of Discipleship
  • The Productive Life
  • The Journey Inward
  • The Journey Outward
  • The Life of Love
We tried to identify how well we help people grow in and through each of these stages. Then, we tried to identify the stage at which we are currently at.

This framework is really impacting my thinking about discipleship and how groups fit into the faith formation of people. One big question- do we form faith-stage based affinity groups that strategically target people in each stage? Or do we intentionally mix our groups with people from all different stages so they can help each other grow through them. My guess is it's a both/and solution.

If anyone has read this book, I'd love to hear feedback/thoughts/opinions. And it would be helpful to hear some more explanation of each of these stages. I found some more information here.

Session 1: The Group Life Landscape

In the first session, we talked about the Group Life Landscape, and explored some of the following topics:
  • Trends
  • What's Working
  • What's Fresh
  • Meaningful Conversations We Need to Have
  • Uncertainties
  • Roadblocks
  • Potholes
  • The Goal
I'll post notes on things that were said later. In the meantime, what trends, fresh ideas, meaningful conversations, roadblocks, potholes, and goals do you see in your own ministry and in group life in general? What's working for you? What would you like to add to the conversation?

And head over to the Willow blog to engage there.

Hanging Out In Long Beach

I arrived in Long Beach earlier today, er, yesterday...sometime...I'm getting confused. Anyway, it's so great to be here hanging out with cool small group people. It was great to reconnect with Eric Metcalf of Community Christian and Alan Danielson of Life Church. And I was really excited to meet Gary Foran from Gateway, Alan Pace from The Peoples Church, Dave Auda from Mosaic, and Bill Willits from Northpoint and author of Creating Community.

I'm looking forward to learning a lot. The Willow guys are taking questions for the group to consider here.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Brainstorming in Long Beach

I'm heading out to Long Beach, California tomorrow to dream and brainstorm about community, discipleship, small groups, and leadership development with some of the best brains and biggest hearts in the Body of Christ. They obviously extended an invitation to me as a mercy mission.

The guys at Willow Creek have organized the event, and I can't wait to be challenged, inspired, frustrated, convicted, and catalyzed towards greater growth first and foremost as a Christ follower and secondly as a leader.

We'll be blogging live from the event, so be sure to check it out at the Willow Group Life Blog.

Now, if I could just figure out when and how to get a ride on Space Mountain...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

question #3: what is your culture?

When you consider the types of small groups you want to have and the model you want to implement, it's really important to think through the demographics and culture of your church and the people you want to reach. A semester system might work great in a church culture with lots of families with young children or in a church with many students because their lives naturally follow a semester rhythm. In those churches, a semester system would be a catalyst for community. In a different church culture, the semester system might actually hinder or stunt community.

A G-12 model works great in a church where members stay around for several years; it doesn't work as well in a highly transient environment.

A free market model of small groups works well in church cultures that encourage creativity while a neighborhood model works well in cultures that encourage community outreach.

Here are some specific variables to consider:
  • Location- Urban, Suburban, Rural
  • Demographic of Congregation
    • Age
    • Marital Status
    • Singles/Families
  • Transient or permanent
  • Frequent change or stability in vision, programs, etc.

Friday, March 07, 2008

New and Improved Leadership 101

I invested the entire day into final development of our "new and improved" Leadership 101 class. And after 12 hours, I'm not sure how much of it is actually "new" and I'm even less certain it's "improved."

Leadership 101 is our 3-hour introduction to leadership, discipleship, and community that we require for potential small group leaders at NCC. The reality is that we've been using basically the same curriculum for it for the past 2 years, and that's ancient history by NCC standards. A few things have changed since then (we now have team leaders in addition to zone leaders) and we've learned a few things since then (some of the best discipleship experiences happen in interest groups). So I'm hoping the new material will reflect that.

We are recording video and audio of the sessions tomorrow, and those will be available in a week or so.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

question #2: what is your theology of community and discipleship?

What is your theology of community? What is your theology of discipleship? How do you expect groups to facilitate and promote community and discipleship within your congregation?

Once you've thought strategically about why you are doing groups, it's important to think through your church's vision, mission, purpose, and uniqueness to determine how groups will help advance those goals. Here are some follow-up questions:

How do groups fit into the larger vision of the overall church? Think Biblically and theologically about community—what does it look like? What does it not look like? What about spiritual growth? What is the goal? How does that happen? Small groups can be used to promote community, spiritual growth, and evangelism in your church, but what role will those play in your unique church culture? Will they be the primary vehicle for one of those things? Or only a vehicle? Can people belong to community at different levels, or do you desire to move everyone to intimate and accountable space relationships? Does discipleship happen best face-to-face or shoulder-to-shoulder? Does discipleship happen best one-on-one or within the context of community?

Develop a definition of community. Develop a definition of discipleship. Or better yet, develop pictures of community and discipleship. And let your groups and your model of group life emerge from there.

Would You Read This? (Engineering and Discipleship)

I played around with some writing this weekend, and I've got a couple ideas that I'm going to start pounding away at. One idea was to juxtapose my environmental engineering background with discipleship. In book form, it would look something like this:

Chapter 1: Properties of Materials (Understanding individuals and how they engage in the discipleship process; moving away from mechanization and towards individualization in how we design discipleship systems)

Chapter 2: Everything is an Experiment (Moving from theoretical to practical and from classroom to real life; allowing for creative discipeship ideas to explode out of the classroom into the laboratory and out into the real world of life)

Chapter 3: Bioreactors (Identifying optimal parameters and catalysts for spiritual growth)

Chapter 4: Synthesis and Design (Developing a plan for discipleship that is non-mechanical, experimental, Biblical, and spiritual; putting it all together)

Would anybody read that?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

question #1: why are you doing groups?

Why are you doing groups? What mission or purpose do you hope groups will fulfill in your church?

This is the first installment of the questions series, and I think this is definitely one of the most important questions you need to ask before starting a small group ministry. It's also a helpful question to return to and reflect upon once a year or so.

A lot of people do groups because they think it's the thing to do. This is one of my pet peeves and I could stand on my soapbox on this for several minutes. We read a book or hear someone speak or learn in seminary that we need to do groups, and we buy into the promise that if we do groups, all of our church problems will be solved. So we go to a conference or read a book or see something that works and then we take what we learned wholesale and plop it into our churches without giving any thought to our own people, own church culture, or what we are even trying to accomplish in groups.

It took John Wesley 15 years to develop and fully implement his discipleship system that later became the Methodist Church. It took Willow Creek Community Church 7 years to develop their small group program, and they are in the process now of changing it again. The largest cell church in the world pastored by Dr. Cho, with 25,000 small groups, overhauled their group strategy 3 major times before finding the right fit. So don't rush it. Don't start groups just because it's the cool thing to do. Slow down and think intentionally, strategically, philosophically, and theologically about why you are doing small groups.

Is it primarily for organizing your church into smaller groups for pastoral care purposes? For discipleship and spiritual growth? To facilitate community? Typically, the reasons for forming groups in a church fall into one of three broader categories:

  • Community and Fellowship
  • Discipleship and Spiritual Growth
  • Church Growth or Evangelism (the idea is that the church will grow best through relational evangelism. Non-christians are more likely to come to someone’s home than to church, so churches empower and challenge groups to reach out to their communities.)
You will most likely decide on some sort of mix of different purposes. The idea is not to box yourself in to one particular philosophy, but to determine what you most want to accomplish. Once you have thought through the "why" question, then you can build a model that is founded on and advances those values.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Forceful Advance: Southern Style

Spent the evening with Bekah and Ian Kitterman tonight, and Bekah had a little fun with photoshop. Over Christmas holidays, Ryan and I went to shoot clay pigeons in Oregon. Here's the happy scene...

And here's Bekah's first edit:

And it gets even more dumb last night as she dumped me into the Civil War... just wished we'd had this for leadership retreat. :)

More Wiersbe Quotes on Preaching

From Preaching and Teaching With Imagination by Warren Wiersbe:

"Parables start off like pictures, then become mirrors, and then become windows. First, there's sight as we see a slice of life in a picture; then, there's insight as we see ourselves in the mirror; and then there's vision as we look through the window of revelation and see the Lord."

"The Christian church does not need more popular preaching, but more unpopular preaching" (quoting Walter Russell Bowie)

"There is a difference between preaching because you have to say something and preaching because you have something to say."

"A sermon isn't a picture on the wall, hanging there for folks to admire. It isn't even a window in the wall, giving people a glimpse of a beautiful life that's beyond their reach. The sermon is a door that opens onto a path that leads the pilgrim into new steps of growth and service to the glory of God."

Sunday, March 02, 2008

11:19 Thoughts

After a night of revelry with my small group and some added friends, I'm more and more convinced of a couple of things.

There's a simplicity on the far side of complexity.

There's beauty found in and through the chaos.

Simple complexity and complex simplicity and beautiful chaos and chaotic beauty intersect at the point of community and drive the community deeper.

Or maybe I just fancy riddles at 11:19.