Friday, February 27, 2009

Home Again

All 13 DC-based members of the NCC Team Northern Ireland landed safely back in DC early this evening. The 14th member, London-based Bekah Kitterman, was shipped off to Belfast to meet up with her hubby for the remainder of the weekend.

I've got a lot of processing to do. And praying that my voice returns to full strength soon. Hope to blog more in the next few days!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I'm about to shut down my computer! Leaving on a jet plane for the Emerald Isle. 14 NCCers are heading to Derry, Northern Ireland for a week to work with Cornerstone City Fellowship Church. So excited! Follow on our adventures at or on our facebook group- NCC Team Northern Ireland!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Willard on Evil and Suffering

From Renovation of the Heart, Chapter 6:
I realize that I will either allow my view of evil to determine my view of God and will cut him down accordingly, or I will allow my view of God to determine my view of the evil and will elevate him accordingly, accepting that nothing is beyond his power for good.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Northern Ireland

Have I mentioned on this blog that I'm going to Northern Ireland? I honestly can't remember! A team of 14 NCCers are heading to Derry, Northern Ireland to work with the good people at Cornerstone City Fellowship. We'll be joining their street pastors ministry, organizing character development programs in schools, leading home groups, and spreading love to the city.

There are two ways to connect with us:

1. Join our Facebook group, "NCC Team Northern Ireland."
2. Follow our blog at

Our team is reading through the book of Acts together in preparation for the trip, and I'm posting some devotional thoughts in both of those places.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Under the Wesley Influence

I just got home from speaking at Wesley Theological Seminary, where I was asked to participate in their CUES Theological Diversity Series. It was really cool walking around the chapel before the service started. The first picture I encountered was of...who else...John Wesley.

Wesley has always been a hero of mine because he built a movement based on the power of relationship. From his class meetings to the coaching of younger preachers, Wesley recognized that his influence and legacy was dependent not only to his gifts and skills but also on the gifts and the skills of those he discipled. Even today, you can visit the chapel that he built at Bristol in which he installed a glass window above the sanctuary from which he could watch his young emerging ministers preach. Afterwards, he would meet with each of them and evaluate their progress.

As I encountered the picture tonight, I felt in some strange way like he might be peering down from the cloud of witnesses to evaluate, and I shuddered to think how he might feel about the teaching I would be giving to his spiritual descendants.

Mobility, Technology, and Community

If you work with people and building community and have not read the book Refrigerator Rights, you need to go get it right now. It's authored by Drs. Will Miller and Glenn Sparks at the University of Purdue, and it contains fascinating studies and perspective on the effect that mobility and technology have had on relational connection.

Consider the following:
  • According to the 2000 census, over 16% of the population moved their residence during the census period.
  • One third of young adults ages 20-29 moved in one year—from 1999 to 2000.
  • Nearly 45 million Americans move every year, and the average America moves every 5 to 6 years, thereby rupturing significant relationships with family and friends.
The technological surge of the past 50 years has also impacted our connection points.
  • Roughly one-fourth of America’s dinners are eaten while watching television.
  • According to the Kaiser Foundation, during a typical year, the average child in the United States spends the equivalent of two months of television viewing.
And we have not even begun to consider the impact of social media on face-to-face connection. We've got lots of anecdotal evidence pointing to both the positive and negative impacts of Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social networking on feelings of isolation and detachment. I think it's a net positive. But if we are honest, we just don't know yet what the full impact will be.

All of these variables factor heavily in my personal ministry goals- to create environments where connections can happen. We experience 40 percent turnover at NCC each year. I can't think of many of our leaders who don't stare at a computer screen for the majority of their day. The way we relate to one another is changing. What do we do?

Randy Frazee might say to fight against it, to live counter-culturally.

I think I'm more in favor of embracing the reality and doing the hard of work of building community in the midst of the craziness. But I'm not sure how.

Just rambling...

Monday, February 09, 2009


We are kicking off FOUR Alpha courses around the DC area tonight- Ebenezers Coffeehouse, Rosslyn, Pentagon City, and Kingstowne. I'm so thankful for our amazing team, headed up by Juliet Main. Our Administrators are awesome- thank Geoff, Hyla, Nate, and Darren!

Alpha is the only thing we do in the NCC discipleship world that I've felt comfortable prescribing to every church I've consulted with. Semester system? Depends on your culture. Free market system? Depends on your goal for groups. Coaching structure? Depends on your leadership. Promotional materials? Depends on your budget. But Alpha...I have yet to find a reason why Alpha would not work in any church.

It's a 10-week introduction to the basics of the Christian faith. While it's geared towards seekers or new believers, we encourage every NCCer to participate. It's a great way to find community, and a lot of NCCers have found their niche through Alpha. Most of our baptism candidates are Alpha grads. It's also a great launching pad for leaders.

I can't wait to hear about our other three launches tomorrow morning.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Wonder and Worship

Thomas Carlyle said, "Wonder is the basis of worship."

I find that fascinating. In Acts 2, we read that the disciples were overwhelmed by a "deep sense of awe" at the work of the Holy Spirit among them." Do I live in a state of awe and wonder at the work of the Holy Spirit around me? Perhaps I do not worship as I should because I don't put myself in the places where God is working enough and I don't pause long enough to see Him.

Communicating to Thinkers and Feelers

I am a thinker. Off the charts. Ryan is a feeler. Close to off the charts. So the challenges of communicating from thinkers to feelers and back is one that I've experienced quite a bit. Now that I'm in a position of leading teams and leaders that are largely more feeling-oriented than thinking-oriented, I find myself needing to learn how to communicate better.

I read this:
In making group decisions, Thinkers, after examining the facts, may be irritated by the Feeler's comment, "I just don't feel good about the way we've handled this." In response, most Thinkers will go over the facts and principles "one more time," not realizing that Feelers are asking to explore more than just facts. (Community That is Christian, Julie A. Gorman)

That really resonated with me and helped me understand some of the communication bottlenecks that I have encountered. I always go back to the facts, trying to communicate them in new or different ways, to try to make folks "get it." When in reality, perhaps they "get" that part of it but want to be turn the situation around and help me "get" a different part of it.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Leaders I Like- Jon Vaughan

I love people who love people. And I love people who love launching people into their God-given gifts and callings. Jon Vaughan is one of those people.

I honestly don't remember when or how I met Jon, but he's been a great friend to Ryan and me and a valuable member of the NCC leadership team for a few years. He has led core discipleship groups like Alpha and Holy Spirit Encounter. His most recent vision revolves around our ministry to the deaf and hearing impaired community in Washington, DC. Together with Jason and Shelly Yost, Jon is working hard to create a welcoming environment at our weekend services, in Alpha, and in small groups. He is encouraging leaders to step up, resulting in our first-ever NCC small group for the deaf community.

On a personal level, I like Jon because he's one of those people that makes me happy to do my job. It's impossible to leave a conversation with Jon without feeling encouraged and excited about what God might do. He has big vision but works quietly and prayerfully behind the scenes to make it happen. Every church needs a Jon Vaughan.

Chase the Yeti

We had a little fun with Mark Batterson at this year's Annual Leadership Retreat. We were focused on the idea of Greater Things. So to introduce his Saturday morning session, we produced a video about his upcoming book, Chase the Yeti.

Props to Jeremy Sexton (director, videographer, and editor) and John Hasler (starring as Yeti).

And no, the title of Mark's new book is not really Chase the Yeti. But it is close...Primal.

Chase the Yeti from Jeremy Sexton on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Summer Experiment: FAQ #1

The following is a series of FAQs that we distributed to NCC leaders at the annual leadership retreat.

A18: Neighborhoods
Summer Small Groups FAQ

What is the summer small groups project, A18: Neighborhoods?
A18: Neighborhoods is a church-wide small group experiment that we will implement during the summer semester. For six weeks in June and July, all of our small groups will be based on a “neighborhood” and use a sermon-based curriculum that will equip us to bless the neighborhoods of the Washington, DC metro area.

Each group leader will identify their “neighborhood”:
  • Geographical Neighborhood (where you physically live, i.e., NE DC, Capitol Hill, Ballston, Kingstowne, Falls Church, etc.)
  • Marketplace Neighborhood (where you work, i.e., Old Executive Office Building, etc.)
  • Interest Neighborhood (where you play- i.e., artists, athletes, cooks, book club, etc.)
NCCers will choose a group based on the neighborhood they want to be a part of. The goal of the experiment is to learn about sharing our faith in practical ways, to understand what it means to love our neighbor, to discover how God wants to use us to love our neighbors, and to bless our neighbors in a practical way.

Why are we doing the A18: Neighorhoods small group project?

Every now and then, it’s a good idea to get everyone on the same page, singing off the same sheet of music, running off the same playbook, insert whatever metaphor you want here. There is momentum when the Body of Christ comes together with a single purpose and mission. We want to combine the power of community, service, and weekend worship experiences to bless our neighborhoods in very practical ways.

What is the desired outcome?
Specifically, we want to see 1,000 people in 100 small groups learning to be influencers of their culture and blessing the neighborhoods of Washington, DC.

What exactly do you mean by “bless the neighborhood?”

The semester will culminate with each group performing a neighborhood blessing project. What that looks like will be entirely up to the group or leader. A geographic neighborhood group might do a street clean-up or host a backyard Bible club for kids. A marketplace neighborhood might bring in food for employees or offer lunch-time prayer for co-workers. A book club neighborhood might contribute to a library at a local school or an artists group might offer some free classes to kids at Southeast White House. We don’t want to give you too many suggestions because we want them to spring from your prayerful creativity.

Why are we moving away from the free market small group model?
We aren’t, really. Yes, we are asking everyone to follow the same curriculum. But the neighborhood you choose is completely up to you. And the way you choose to bless your neighborhood is completely up to you. In the fall, we will go right back to letting you choose your own curriculum and groups will continue as they have in the past.

Can I continue to lead my current group?
Probably. It’s really about every group being intentional about two things: 1) identifying your neighborhood and 2) being a blessing. We will ask that each group meet weekly during the semester dates and use the sermon-based small group curriculum.

What will the curriculum include?

The curriculum will tie into the summer sermon series and will include the following: 1) a workbook or Bible study material for group participants to use during the week between gatherings, 2) leader facilitation questions, notes, and ideas to use during group gatherings, and 3) downloadable video content to be shown at group gatherings or available to participants outside of group. It will be a Bible study on influencing others, covering topics such as understanding the Gospel message, sharing our faith, praying for others, serving others, etc.

My name is Nate Meyer. How many groups can I lead?
Ideally, we would like for you to lead just one group. We want every group to meet weekly and be very intentionally and strategically focused on their chosen neighborhood. If you just can’t decide what neighborhood you want to do, then we will limit you to one group per neighborhood (in other words, you could lead one geographic neighborhood, one marketplace neighborhood, and/or one interest neighborhood).

What are the dates?
We are still nailing that down, but the semester will launch on either June 13 or June 20 and run through the end of July.

Who can lead?

The groups will be heavily curriculum-based, so we are throwing the doors of leadership wide open.

I’m already a small group leader; do I need additional training?

Yes. Our spring semester Leadership Summit on April 4th will be your training for the summer A18 neighborhood groups. At the summit, you will receive a draft of the curriculum and any additional information you will need for leading.

I’m not a small group leader yet; can I lead a group?

Yes. If you are not already a small group leader, you will need to 1) complete an application and 2) attend the summit on April 4th.

What’s my next step?
Well, we actually have three steps for you:
  1. Think about what neighborhood you might want to lead this summer. Talk with your team leader, zone leader, or campus pastor about it.
  2. Attend Leadership Summit/Training on April 4th.
  3. Get at least one other person from your current group or team to lead their own group, as well.
I’m interested in being on the strategic team or curriculum development team for this project.
Email Heather.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Summer Experiment: The How

So we've got this crazy idea to merge a Free Market small group model into a church-wide groups campaign or "alignment series." How do we plan to do that? Great question!

Here's how we are thinking it will work:

The Fusion
The "free market" remains intact as leaders have the freedom to choose 1) their neighborhood (in one of three categories: geographic, marketplace, or interest) and 2) their unique blessing to their chosen neighborhood (i.e., the way they implement what they are learning from the curriculum). The campaign comes in the form that 1) every group studies the same curriculum, which will be based on a sermon series, 2) the confusion over groups is minimized as every NCCer picks a group based on their neighborhood.

I'm praying specifically for 1,000 people in 100 small groups blessing the neighborhoods of Washington, DC. But I'm also praying specifically for two things:
  • A diversity of neighborhoods. I'm praying that we have groups in geographic neighborhoods in all four quadrants of DC, in northern Virginia, and Maryland. I'm praying that we see some really strategic marketplace neighborhoods, like the U. S. House of Representatives, schools, and Farragut North. And I'm praying for some really creative and culture-shaping interest neighborhoods- sports teams, book clubs, cooking clubs, artists, etc.
  • A diversity and abundance of blessing. I'm praying these neighborhoods hear from God and bless their chosen neighborhoods in ways we could never have dreamed or expected as a staff.
Best of both worlds. The creativity of the free market with the momentum of having everyone focused on the same goal at the same time. Basically, we are asking all groups to be on the "Influencer" island of our Discipleship Map for the summer semester.

Strategic Planning
Starting this month, we will pull together a strategic team consisting of a chief visioneer (that's me), and chief strategist (Sarah Owen), a Neighborhoods Catalyst, Promotion and Recruitment Catalyst, Curriculum Development Catalyst, and a Blessing Catalyst. This team will implement the systems and structure needed to make Summer 09 happen.

Tasks include:
  • Curriculum Development
  • Leader Recruitment and Training
  • Group Registration
  • Group Promotion
  • Celebration of Neighborhood Blessings
If anyone has done anything like this before, or if you have wisdom and insight in leading church-wide group campaigns or alignment series, I crave any advice you would be willing to share!

The Summer Experiment: The What

Our missions initiative at NCC is called A18- based on Acts 1:8- and launched this year with a dream of 10 missions trips with 10% of NCCers going. Check out Our missions initiatives have built mud huts, trained leaders, worked with orphans, provided medical services, and brought hope to many. We want to harness that passion and "bring it home" to our Jerusalem-- the neighborhoods of Washington, DC.

This summer, all of our small groups will become A18-based groups. Right now, we are calling it Project A18: Neighborhoods.

For six weeks in June and July, all of our small groups will be based on a “neighborhood” and use a sermon-based curriculum that will equip us to bless the neighborhoods of the Washington, DC metro area.

Each group leader will identify their “neighborhood”:
  • Geographical Neighborhood (where you physically live, i.e., NE DC, Capitol Hill, Ballston, Kingstowne, Falls Church, etc.)
  • Marketplace Neighborhood (where you work, i.e., Old Executive Office Building, etc.)
  • Interest Neighborhood (where you play- i.e., artists, athletes, cooks, book club, etc.)
NCCers will choose a group based on the neighborhood they want to be a part of. The goal of the experiment is to learn about sharing our faith in practical ways, to understand what it means to love our neighbor, to discover how God wants to use us to love our neighbors, and to bless our neighbors in a practical way. Each group will grow in depth as they study the Bible together and grow in influence as they reach out to share with others what they are learning.

The Summer Experiment: The Why

For a few weeks now, I've been hinting that we will change up our small group strategy for the summer semester. I cast the vision at leadership retreat this past weekend, so now I'm ready to unveil the idea here at the blog.

For several years, we have operated primarily out of a free mark approach to small groups. Get a vision from God and run with it. Tap into your interests, passions, and gifts and look for creative ways to turn those into disciple-making opportunities. As a church, we won't tell you what to study and what to lead; rather, we will help you discover your passions and then encourage you, equip you, empower you and unleash you to go make disciples out of those passions.

This summer, we are going to try a twist on that model and launch a new experiment.

Theory #1- Free Market small group models are the best for building organic community, raising up new leaders, and pushing discipleship out of the classroom and into real life.

Theory #2- Church-wide small group campaigns are the best for mobilizing new group start-ups, encouraging people into groups, and focusing the entire church on one strategic goal.

Theory #3- Theory #1 + Theory #2 = Chaos and Confusion = The Best of Both Worlds = Potential to Learn Something New = A New Wineskin for Discipleship.

Basically, we are going to try to create a hybrid. We are going to merge our free market DNA with the energy, synergy, and momentum that happens in churches that all focus on the same study at once. We want to see if we can implement both a free market and a church-wide strategy. We want to launch both a small group campaign and focus on taking groups deeper all at the same time. Can it be done? I have no idea. But we've got to try this experiment.

Here are some things we are hoping will happen:
  • Sermon-based Bible study curriculum that all groups will study together.
  • More leaders stepping into leadership.
  • More NCCers stepping into small groups.
  • Every group prayerfully and creatively discovering and implementing a way to spread the Gospel and bless their community.
  • 1,000 people in 100 small groups prayerfully and creatively blessing the neighborhoods of Washington, DC.
That's just a little of the "why" behind what we are doing. I will post more specifically on the "what" and the "how" later.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Writers on Writing: Nabokov

Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita) said:
The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.

That's fascinating to me as a writer. It's also fascinating to me as a Christ-follower. We are created in the image of God, but sin has marred and hidden that DNA. There are God-ordained passions, dreams, and gifts written on our hearts that are clamoring to become visible. We need the Holy Spirit to spring them to life.

Weekend Reflections

Here are some weekend reflections and wins that are totally unrelated to Leadership Retreat!
  • Dick Foth's sermon. Wow.
  • Praying for folks at our 11:30 Union campus. Felt like church!
  • Christy Tanious' cheese dip. A-mazing.
  • Laughing till we hurt in the Union food court on Sunday afternoon.
  • Meeting with my Northern Ireland team.
  • Watching the Super Bowl with good friends.
  • Sleep.

Leaders I Like- Jonathan Shradar

Not sure if I will make this a regular feature or not, but today I'm feeling incredibly grateful for the leaders God has placed at NCC. There was so much potential represented at Leadership Retreat 2009. Today, I'll pick on Jonathan Shradar.

I think I met Jonathan during our inaugural Alpha launch. Then, he served as an Alpha leader, participated in Journey, started up new small group for young adults, and now leads an incredible men's group. Jonathan is a fantastic leader who inspires, challenges, and brings truth to the lives of the people he influences. I've never been in a men's group, but I suspect it's one of the best of any church ever. Jonathan's group consists of several other small group leaders, a hospitality coordinator, an Alpha administrator, a Team Leader, and a campus pastor. So cool.

Today, I'm also thankful for Jonathan's leadership at our retreat this weekend. For the past two years, he has served as MC and has kept us laughing and learning. Good stuff. Every church needs a Jonathan Shradar.

Retreat Reflections

Best. Retreat. Ever. Period.

We will try to get some resources and video posted somewhere soon, but in the meantime, here are some of my favorite moments:
  • Passing out bananas to our key leadership retreat staff on Friday morning (inside joke)
  • Will Johnston, "live" from Ebenezers, grating cheese to demonstrate "greater things."
  • John Hasler, aka, "J. J. Barracuda," talking about the 09 Groove Lounge.
  • NCCers posting greater things dreams and goals and prayers on sticky notes on the wall.
  • Proteges suiting up to welcome our leaders to the retreat.
  • Watching our staff greet people as they entered the retreat location.
  • Singing "God of this City" with 180 passionate leaders.
  • Someone brought me a Cracker Barrel bag with a box of CHOCOLATE moonpies. THANK YOU to whoever that was!
  • Min Kim giving me two Snickers bars. Yes-- best candy ever.
  • Saturday morning- Pastor Mark taking us back to our corporate and individual genesis stories.
  • "Are You Smarter Than a Protege?"
  • Jonathan Shradar. 'Nuff said.
  • Joel taking us to the edge of the vision cliff.
  • Praying for our leaders at the communion/commissioning. There is no greater honor.
  • The newspaper was AWESOME. Thanks Will Johnston and Yeti.
  • Following the Twitter traffic.
  • Listening to our amazing small group leaders teach breakout sessions.
  • Chase the Yeti!!
Alright, there are dozens of little moments that I'm forgetting. I'm fairly certain it was the best leadership retreat ever. Here are a few of the people that make this thing happen:

Thanks to our hard-working Proteges for creating fantastic videos (Dave Schmidgall and Brad McMath), creating a welcoming and exciting environment at the retreat center, and going the extra mile to love on our leaders.

Thanks to Jonathan Shradar-- for keeping the retreat moving, fun, and inspirational.

Thanks to Jeremy Sexton for working ridiculous hours to brand the retreat experience and create three times the number of videos we typically do for retreat.

Thanks to Maegan and Dasha for keeping us sane, organized, and logistically proficient. Even when we are driving them insane. :)

Thanks to Steph and the band for some of the best worship moments we've ever had on retreat.

Thanks to David Russell for navigating truck issues!

Thanks to my boys- John Hasler and Will Johnston-- for making life and ministry so much fun.

And thanks for my amazing husband Ryan Zempel, who encourages me, prays for me, and loves me ridiculously.