Friday, February 29, 2008


I'm starting a new series on this blog: questions. It's not capitalized because it's certainly not exhaustive and I'm not even sure the questions I will present are the most important. But I've done a couple of conference sessions on building small group ministries, and I'm convinced that the most valuable content I provide is the question list I give to participants to develop their philosophy of groups or to re-evaluate why and how they are doing groups. People tend to implement small groups without ever thinking through "why" and "how."

Here's the whole list:
  1. Why are you doing groups? What mission or purpose do you hope groups will fulfill in your church?
  2. What is your philosophy of community? What is your philosophy of discipleship? How do you expect groups to facilitate and promote community and discipleship within your congregation?
  3. What is your culture?
  4. Do you expect every church member to be in a group?
  5. What role will the lead pastor play?
  6. How will the groups grow?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The River

We've just launched a new set of small groups at NCC called The River, and it's aimed at those who struggle with relational and sexual brokenness. I'm so excited that NCC can be a place where truth and grace intersect in such a way that healing is ignited and nurtured in people's lives.

Check out this great video that our media guru Jeremy Sexton put together. By the way, Jeremy does freelance stuff for other churches and ministries; you can contact him here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Preaching Thoughts From Wiersbe

I'm reading a great book titled Preaching and Teaching With Imagination by Warren Wiersbe. I'm sure I'll blog on it more when I've finished, but for now, I wanted to share a few nuggets from the first section.

"We have forgotten that the bridge between the mind and the will is the imagination, and that truth isn't really learned until it's internalized. 'The purpose of preaching,' wrote Halford Luccock, 'is not to make people see reasons, but visions.'"

"In our noble attempt to be Biblical preachers, we have so emphasized the analytical that we've forgotten the poetic. We see the trees waving their branches, but we hold the branches still, examining them scientifically, leaf and twig, and all the while fail to hear the trees clapping their hands to the glory of God."

And my personal favorite:

"Nobody ever goes to church to find out what happened to the Hittites."

A New Scheme

Back in June 2006, I blogged about my crazy scheme to bring Godspell to the stage of our coffeehouse. I dreamed of an opportunity for artists to worship through their gifts and to grow towards God in a community with one another. I vividly remember the initial conversations with people who became key players; we felt excited and crazy all at the same time. Last Easter, that dream became a reality.

Tonight, I'm having another of those crazy conversations as we scheme new ways to engage our artists in the community. More to come soon...

Quote of the Day

I've got a sticky by my desk now with a quote from team leader Tiffani Hampton:
Church without crazy people would make our lives far less stressful...but we wouldn't have anything to laugh about.
So true. Is that how God feels about all of us? Obviously, he doesn't get stressed, but I do sometimes wonder if he gets a good laugh out of us every now and then.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Group Life Conference

Willow Creek posted information about their 2008 Group Life Conference, and I was so excited to see the speaker's list! There's this great guy named Mark Batterson speaking, and a less cool, lesser known, but very excited discipleship pastor named Heather Zempel speaking, as well. Yep, Mark and I will be on the main stage at Willow and we'll be doing breakouts. I'm super excited.

I attended the Conference last year as a participant, and I'd encourage you to go and to take your team. And I don't say that because I'm speaking. :) It's a great opportunity for you to be refreshed, encouraged, and inspired as a leader. And it's a great opportunity for your leaders to be refueled in their vision and passion for changing lives through transformational community. The conference takes place on the Willow campus in Chicago on October 16-18.

Registration is open now.


There are several things I'm learning over and over again as a leader. First, I believe one of the most important roles of a leader is to identify and call out gifts, passions, and callings in people and equip them, empower them, and encourage them to become all that God created them to be. Secondly, I believe one of the skills that every leader needs to learn is the ability to lead change well. I think I'm heading into a crash course on that skill now!

I think we are heading into a season of change with small groups at NCC. I've been sensing it for a while on a personal level-- recognizing that I've hit a leadership growth lid and need to keep growing. And usually that means there will be a more corporate expression of that, as well. I think we'll see some changes in the way we lead, the way we train, the way we structure, etc. We are definitely going through some growing pains right now, but it's all moving towards good stuff.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Passion Driven Sermon

One of my goals this year is to grow as a communicator, so I'm listening to podcasts and reading books that I hope will stretch, challenge, and equip me. I recently completed The Passion Driven Sermon by Jim Shaddix.

His book focuses on expository preaching; NCC preaching tends to be more topical and narrative. I'm intentionally exposing myself to some methods and models that are different from my own. So there were certainly things that he wrote that I question or don't particularly agree with (again...humbly recognizing that about 97% of what I believe is probably wrong!), but there were some really great principles I pulled from it:
  • The Glory of God should be our goal in preaching.
  • Pray your sermon text.
  • Showcase the Scriptures in the sermon
  • Some messages are worth repeating over and over again.
  • The burden of preaching should scare me big time (that's a paraphrase)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Andy Stanley on God's Will

One of my goals this year is to grow as a communicator, and one of the things I'm doing is listening to podcasts of preachers and communicators that I really respect.

Andy Stanley is on that list, and one of the things I love about his style is his ability to craft memorable message points. When someone walks out of a sermon, it's impressive if they remember one or two points. Andy's gift is designing and word-smithing a point that sticks.

I just listened to Part 1 of his Discovering God's Will series in which he talked about our sometimes insincere prayers to hear the will of God for our lives. He asserts that we often want to hear God's voice when we are not ready to act on it and obey it; rather, we simply want to add God's thoughts to the rest of the opinions we are considering. He summed it up this way: "God does not give information for consideration or contemplation but for cooperation."

That point will stick.


My blog dashboard informs me that this is Post #500. I should probably harness this milestone to say something really witty or profound. But I don't have that much mental capacity right now. I could link to my favorite blogs from the past two years, but I'm not sure I was any more witty or profound then, either.

Instead of looking back and reminiscing on how far I've come as a leader or how far we've come as a small group ministry at NCC, I'm a bit overwhelmed at recognizing how much more I need to grow in my love for God and love for others.

In the book, Static, author Ron Martoia says, "I once heard the eminent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright say he is pretty certain that 70 percent of what he believes is wrong; he just isn't sure which 70 percent." That about sums it up for me, too. Except-- if N.T. Wright is wrong about 70 percent, I must be wrong about 97 percent. God still has a lot of work to do in me.

Coaching Essentials

Each semester, I focus on a different topic or study with our zone leader team. Typically, we go through a book together. Last semester, it was Organic Community by Joseph Meyers. We've also done Spiritual Leadership by Oswald Sanders and The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player by John Maxwell.

This semester, I decided to back us up and focus on coaching essentials. Sometimes, I think we get so busy as leaders that we forget or neglect some of the most important things. I began by looking at leadership areas in my own life that needed some shaping up and built the "curriculum" around that. Here's what we are talking about as a team over the spring semester:
  • Setting Goals and Preparing Plans
  • Casting Vision
  • Rallying the Troops (meeting with leaders one-on-one and in zone huddles)
  • Leading Team Leaders
  • Communication
  • Approaching the Semester Change
  • Building Community
  • Troubleshooting
I'm sure there are a bazillion other things we need to cover, and it's very targeted to our specific model at NCC and where we are currently at as a team.

Next semester, I'm planning to lead the troops through Reimagining Evangelism by Rick Richardson.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Resource: Randall Neighbour Blog

I just discovered that Randall Neighbour of Touch Outreach Ministries has started blogging. I love the blog name and the tag line in the banner:

The Naked Truth About Small Group Ministry- I don't give a crap who's bringing snacks next week. Why are we still sharing the same struggles we had last year? Why aren't there any gold-plated heathen here tonight? We have damned ourselves to spiritual mediocrity! We must embrace a completely new way of doing church in small groups.

Amen. Check out the blog here.

Radical Hospitality, Part 2

I posted the second in the Thursday Leadership Lesson series on Radical Hospitality over at yesterday. It's a short survey of hospitality in the Bible. In this series, we are attempting to move away from seeing hospitality as teacups and doilies and move towards a more proper Biblical and theological understanding of this important spiritual practice. You can check it out here.

Zonegathering is the online community for small group leaders at NCC. Each Thursday (or on some very busy weeks, on Friday), we post an article on some aspect of leadership. We usually write a series of articles on one particular topic each semester, beginning with a Biblical, theological, or philosophical foundation, moving to more practical applications and ideas for leaders in groups, and ending by highlighting or interviewing groups or leaders that are good examples of the topic under consideration.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I'm studying the topic of Identity in Christ for my Neighborhoods and Nations small group this week. If anyone's got any resources they'd recommend, let me know!

Leadership is Born Out of Lordship

I'm loving my iPod. I've started listening to a few podcasts while I work out. It's great-- I'm getting discipled by some awesome people, letting some great communicators rub off on me, and keeping in shape all at the same time. Last night, I listened to a message by Pastor Clint Pressley of Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, and his primary point was that leadership is born out of Lordship. Our leadership is entirely dependent upon following Christ and allowing our lives to be shaped and formed by him. We should be leaders who bring peace, receive and give the love of Christ, and are driven by purpose.

It's simple, but it was a great reminder.

Some other folks I'm listening to include:
  • Andy Stanley
  • Craig Groeschel
  • Mark Driscoll
  • Perry Noble
If there are other podcasts you would recommend, let me know.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Making My Way Through Hogwarts

Over Christmas, I picked up a little book called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. As I packed for my week vacation in Oregon, I realized I had 4 small groups/spiritual formation books in my bag and decided I needed to throw in some brain candy. I'd seen the HP movies but decided I'd check out the book hype.

Yesterday, I finished Order of the Phoenix. These books just keep getting better and better! I've got to hold off on buying another one though, until I finish up some projects at work and around the house. They are so addicting that I can't stop reading one once I've started.

Why did you need to know that? You didn't, but just thought I'd share.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

What is Connection Cafe?

I've got a new question to add to my Frequently Asked Questions series: What is Connection Cafe? Once each semester, we host a lunch after services to connect new NCCers to our pastoral team, ministry leaders, and small group leaders. The campus pastor of each of our location runs the hour-long Cafe, giving history of NCC, vision of NCC, and information on how to plug into a small group and ministry. Ministry leaders and small group leaders attend to greet newcomers, answer questions about NCC, and invite people to be a part of their group.

We schedule the Connection Cafe for the weekend of semester kickoff whenever possible. Otherwise, we do it the weekend before or the weekend after the semester kickoff.

We serve lunch. Usually, this is something fairly easy- like pizza and soft drinks. At our Union Station and Ebenezers campuses, we run the Connection Cafe at our coffeehouse. At the Ballston and Georgetown campuses, we run the Connection Cafes at a local pizza restaurant. Our campus pastors develop relationships with these establishments so we can get discounts/group rates.

As newcomers file in, they are greeted by our ministry leaders and small group leaders who grab plates and sit with folks as they eat. They are given a connection card and asked to complete it and turn it in.

About 20 minutes into the Cafe, the campus pastor gets up to give some history and vision of NCC. They also introduce ministry leaders and share how newcomers can plug into a ministry.

Then, the discipleship pastor or zone leader talks about small group opportunities and introduces the small group leaders present.

Finally, the participants are given an opportunity to ask questions. The whole thing lasts about an hour. We collect the connection cards and follow up with each participant later that week.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Radical Hospitality

I'm starting a new leadership lesson series on that I'm really excited about: Radical Hospitality. You can read today's post here.

God's really challenging and reforming my ideas of what hospitality is all about, and I'm learning that forcefully advancing God's Kingdom can begin with a smile and a greeting or a simple walk across a room to shake a hand.

Here's a quote that really struck me from the book Radical Hospitality:
Hospitality has two meanings for most people today . It either refers to hotels and cruise ships, or it is connected to entertaining friends and family in the warmth of candlelight with gleaming silver and ivory lace. One model makes it an industry, thereby assigning some productive use to it and making it profitable. The other model relegates it to the domain of entertainment and housekeeping, generally considered women’s work. Thus, it has become safe and cozy, even productive, rather than revolutionary, risky, and world-rattling.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Tough Sayings of Jesus 2

Threads has done it again. A fantastic new curriculum written by my friend and amazing communicator, Michael Kelley. The Tough Sayings of Jesus 2 forces us to confront 4 more uncomfortable statements that our Savior made while walking around this earth. These studies confront our preconceived ideas about who Jesus was and what he was about, and they challenge us to redefine what it means to be a Christ-follower.

In this sequel, Michael looks at four potentially disturbing yet enlightening passages:
The study can be completed in four weeks, but there's so much meat here that you might want to stretch each chapter out to two weeks.

If you aren't familiar with Lifeway's Threads line, they are designed with young adults in mind. It's a mixture of Bible study and relevant life application, and the workbooks force participants to consider questions that do not yield easy, obvious, or Christianese-filled answers. They work well for small groups, Bible fellowships, Sunday School, and personal study.

If you aren't familiar with the first Tough Sayings of Jesus, make sure to check it out, as well.

NCC Media- Sermon Links and Online Directory

Our NCC media department is amazing. We'll be showing off some of their excellent retreat work in a few days. But today, I've got to show off what David Russell's been up to. We've got a brand new media section on the website that includes audio and video of recent messages.

For whatever it's worth, you can access my most recent message, How to Read the Bible, here.

One more thing-- in case you missed it-- we have taken our Discipleship Atlas online. You can view all of our spring semester small groups on our new online directory and search for a group based on category, focus, night of the week, and area. It's really taking our groups and our ability to connect people to the next level.

Help Needed: How do you handle childcare for small groups?

Okay, I've got a question and I'm hoping some of you faithful blog readers can help me out. How do you handle childcare in small groups?

This is something we are in the process of streamlining right now, and it would be helpful to know what other churches do. Northpoint gives reimbursement stipends to parents. When I was at Bethany World Prayer Center, we incorporated children into the group and parents rotated taking care of those too young (babies and toddlers) to participate. At NCC, we currently pay for childcare in the groups.

Here are some questions:

1. How do you do it?
2. Are there any specific requirements (other than the typical legal stuff like background checks) for sitters? i.e., do you require them to be Christians? Members of your church?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Back from Nashville

I'm finally back at work after a much-needed vacation, and I've got so much to blog. Retreat reflections, Nashville reflections, etc. But right now, I'm plowing through the ridiculous stack of emails that piled up while I was chowing on BBQ and listening to country music. I'm excited to be back, though. It's going to be a great semester for groups at NCC.