Monday, November 30, 2009

Book List- Discipleship and Small Groups

A few folks requested that I post book lists from previous focus years. In 2005, I focused on learning all I could about discipleship and small groups. This is not a comprehensive list (and some of them were read before/after that year), but they are a good start.

Building a Church of Small Groups
The classic from the gurus at Willow Creek.

Leading Life-Changing Small Groups
Great resource for leaders or foundations for developing your own training material.

Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders
This has served as a great reference for our coaches.

Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry
I've come back to this book recently as we have sought to re-imagine and re-invent our small group structure.

Walking the Small Group Tightrope
This book was really helpful to me when facing tensions in small groups.

Okay...moving away from the Willow Creek guys... here are some books on various small group models...

Creating Community
Northpoint Community Church's closed group model.

Dog Training, Fly Fishing, and Sharing Christ in the 21st Century
New Life Church's pioneering of the free market small group model. This book was the most influential on our system in the early days.

The Connecting Church
Randy Frazee's neighborhood groups strategy.

Cell Church Solutions
Joel Comiskey's overview of various cell church strategies.

Journey Church's (Manhattan) semester-based and affinity-driven small group system.

Sticky Church
North Coast Church's sermon-based small group strategy.

Other books that relate to small group leadership-

Growing True Disciples
One of the first books I read when trying to wrap my brain around being intentional and strategic about discipleship.

Simple Small Groups
Connect, Change, and Cultivate. Bill Search simplifies the small group experience for leaders. I bought a copy of this book for all of our leaders.

Making Small Groups Work
Another great resource for training purposes.

How People Grow
Understanding the role of community and discipleship in the growth process. Takes a while to read, but very good stuff.

The Lost Art of Disciple-Making
Back to basics look at making disciples.

The Search to Belong
Understanding relational spaces and how that relates to the levels of intimacy and transparency we strive to foster in group environments.

Organic Community
A follow-up to The Search to Belong, this book focuses on being an environmentalist in group life-- allowing community to develop naturally and, well, organically.

I don't necessarily agree with all of these books, but they were helpful to me in thinking through the strengths and weaknesses of various models, designing training content, and developing my own philosophical framework for small group ministry. If I had to make a top 5 list, this would be it:

Building a Church of Small Groups

Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry

Simple Small Groups

Making Small Groups Work

Organic Community

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

To Nashville

At 3pm EST, Ryan and I begin our annual journey across I-81, I-66, and I-40 to the McClure house in Nashville, Tennessee for Sawyer-McClure-Zempel Thanksgiving. Here are some things I'm looking forward to:
  • Turkey
  • Pie
  • Watching Auburn upset the Tide in the Iron Bowl
  • Watching LSU destroy Arkansas
  • Catfish and fried dill pickles at Cock of the Walk
  • Corky's BBQ
  • Chasing my two-year-old niece, Ruthie
  • Being a cheesy tourist at the Opryland Hotel
  • Belting showtunes for ten hours (with the break for the obligatory country tune once we cross over to Tennessee)
  • Playing epic games of Settlers of Catan
  • Catching up with some friends
Actually, I'll probably spend the majority of the time sleeping and eating. Love it. Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Best Volunteer Tribute EVER

This one's a bit old, but our office just enjoyed viewing it again. From River Valley Church and Rob Ketterling, this is the best volunteer appreciation video I've ever seen. They entered it into our film festival a couple of years ago, and we've been laughing ever since. So good.

Monday, November 23, 2009

For a Cause or for Christ?

"The disciples didn't lay their lives down for a cause but for a person."

That's how Dave Buehring kicked off his talk on the Ways of God at our Kaboom Retreat (formerly zone leader/team leader retreat) this weekend.

For some reason, that one statement is really challenging me personally and challenging the way I lead my team. I fear that I have spent too much time motivating people to a cause- make disciples, advance the Kingdom, create culture, change a generation, etc. That's all good stuff, but it's not the ultimate goal, is it? Maybe I should focus a bit more on simply elevating the person of Jesus Christ.

Causes are good. Causes build fans and create evangelists. Christ is better. He builds communities of faith and creates martyrs. Not that we all want to rush out to the Colosseum to volunteer ourselves for lion dinner. But laying down our lives is one of the ways we follow Jesus Christ.

The disciples didn't lay their lives down for some great cause that had captivated their emotions and imaginations. They laid their lives down for a person who had already laid his own life down for them.

Why am I more cause focused than person focused? Perhaps it is more comfortable and easy for me to acquaint myself with and attach myself to a cause than to enter a messy and flesh-killing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Leadership List

Thanks to everyone for all the fantastic leadership book recommendations. Someone asked me to post the books that I have already read, so I will do that now. Once I have developed my to-read list for 2010, I will post that as well.

What's on my shelf that I would recommend:

Now, Discover Your Strengths (Marcus Buckingham)- This book helped me determine what I should be doing, what I shouldn't be doing, and how to manage around the stuff I should be doing but stink at. This book is required reading for our Protege Program.

Courageous Leadership (Bill Hybels)- This book helped me determine my leadership style. It's also required reading for our Protege Program.

Spiritual Leadership (Oswald Sanders)- This one is probably my favorite. It was the first book I gave to my zone leaders (small group coaches) eight years ago. Classic. And also required reading for our Protege Program.

Next Generation Leader (Andy Stanley)- To the point with great insights. Required reading for Protege Program.

Gifted to Lead (Nancy Beach)- Leadership for women.

Becoming a Person of Influence (John Maxwell)- First book on leadership I ever read for the purpose of growing in my leadership of a campus organization at Louisiana State University. About 12 years ago. Wow.

Others I really like:

The 360 Leader (John Maxwell)
Developing the Leaders Around You (John Maxwell)
Leaders on Leadership (George Barna)
Fish! (Steven Lundin)
Tribes (Seth Godin)
Spiritual Leadership (Henry Blackaby)
A Fish out of Water (George Barna)
Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Patrick Lencioni)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Leadership Development Books

What are your favorite books on leadership?

Each year, I pick an area of my job that I want to be intentional and strategic about growing in. One year it was discipleship and small groups, one year it was theology, one year it was preaching and communication, one year it was church history. In 2010, I want to refocus a bit on leadership.

NCC is growing and Team D (my discipleship crew) is morphing, and I need to be a good steward of the leadership responsibilities that have been entrusted to me.

So...if I were to read 12 books on leadership in 2010, they should be...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jesus Spit

Jesus was willing to get down into the mess of life. He touched lepers, befriended despised people, and hung out with notorious sinners. One of my favorite stories about Jesus entering into the mess is found in John 9. Jesus and the disciples encountered a man who was born blind, and the disciples asked for the reason he was born blind- because of his sins or the sins of his family. Jesus responds that the reason was neither because he sinned nor because his parents sinned; rather, the man was born blind in order to display the glory of God.

John 9:6-7
6 Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smoothed the mud over the blind man's eyes. 7 He told him, "Go and wash in the pool of Siloam" (Siloam means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came back seeing!

It's a great story with amazing theological richness about the ways God displays his glory, but here is the idea that has grabbed my attention more than anything else in this passage:

How many times did Jesus have to spit in the dirt to make that mud?

Jesus Christ, the son of God, bent over the ground spitting and spitting and spitting into the dry, dusty ground of 1st century Palestine to make enough mud to cover this man’s eyes to deliver him from blindness. How long did he spit? How much did he have to spit? What were the people around him thinking? He was willing to lower himself to the ground, hover over the dust, and spit until he had mud to bring new vision to his life.

It’s a picture of a leader who was willing to enter into the mess.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Make Disciples

For the past few weeks, we've been exploring this idea that community is messy-- and that it's in the midst of the mess that God brings change to our lives.

Some of you are reading this today and you are on the verge of giving up because you are tired from carrying the mess. You question your leadership. You question the point. You are tired and confused and frustrated. You feel burned out and think the lack of growth in your group is the result of a flaw in your leadership. My encouragement to you:

Stay the course.

What you are doing is fulfilling the role your Creator gave you to do. You are completing the mission your Lord and Savior has charged you to do. When he gave his last command, the Great Commission, he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” He didn’t say go find disciples. He said go make disciples. That means it is work. And that requires us to embrace the mess and enter the mess.

Let's remember our mission is to make disciples...not simply find them.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wading Through the Mess

For a few weeks, I've been writing about dealing with mess when it happens in group. There's no formula for navigating it, solving it, or fixing it. But here are some best practices that can guide us.

1. Acknowledge the mess
It's best to acknowledge mess when it happens and not be afraid to call it what it is. Paul told the Philippian church, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Synteche to agree with one another in the Lord.” Imagine being one of them when that letter was read to the congregation. When mess happens, admit it. Some of us have a tendency to want to ignore it and hope it goes away on its own. That won't happen. Don’t let an elephant linger in the room.

2. Identify the kind of mess
Second, it might be helpful to identify the kind of mess you are encountering. Is it a sin mess? Relational mess? Life mess? Often, it’s some combination of two or maybe even all three. Identifying the kind of mess will keep you from feeling immediately overwhelmed.

3. Have the right perspective.
Three, have the right perspective. Mess is not the end of your group, it’s the catalyst for something great in your group. Sometimes you have to take a big step back to see the bigger picture. Let me pause on this one because I believe our perspective makes all the difference.

I talk about metaphors from the engineering world quite a bit so let me shift gears and give you illustration from the world of art that I blogged about here, Perspective: Mess or Masterpiece?

Sometimes you have to take a big step back in order to see God’s perspective on what is happening in your group. Perspective can transform the mess of our lives into a masterpiece of God’s transforming power. To say “pray and read your Bible” seems like a very trite and predictable thing to say, but it’s true because that’s how we get God’s perspective. I am convinced that God wants to give us wisdom and discernment about the people he has entrusted to us and on the situations we find ourselves in.

If you are like me, there is a tendency for you to see everything that happens in your group—both good and bad—as a reflection on your leadership. So when sin happens or conflict happens or bad things happen to my group members, my immediate instinct is to assume something is wrong with my leadership. When the sin mess that eventually turned into relational mess happened in my group, I immediately thought, “What did I do wrong?” Now, I think looking at your own leadership is always a good thing. But sometimes, it’s not a matter of “what did you do wrong?” but of “what did you do right?” Sin happens. Conflict happens. Life happens. Mess happens. People don’t necessarily sin or get into petty arguments because you are a bad leader. It could be that you are a great leader and you have created an environment in which God can bring those things to the surface in a safe environment in order to deal with them. When mess happens, you might be exactly where God wants you to be as a group. The question is what he wants to do and how he wants to work.

4. Ask good questions.
In every mess you face, there is what you know and there is reality. And there is often a vast chasm between the two. Suspend judgment and fill the void of what’s known and what’s reality with good questions. Asking good questions also allows you to go beneath the surface mess and discover the roots of the mess. In every mess, there is often a deeper mess that God might want to expose and use to bring growth.

5. Talk to the right people.
Next, talk to the right people. Know where you can go for support, guidance, and assistance. There is a big difference between getting help and spreading gossip, so make sure you are going to people who can actually come alongside you to help your clean, navigate, or tend the mess. Who is a coach, a pastor, a trusted friend who can help you know how to engage the mess?

And know that some messes require professional counseling. When your group begins to revolve around the mess of one person, the mess has become toxic and requires professional attention. You don’t just stand around and watch a hazardous waste spill and hope it will clean itself. You call in professionals.

6. Communicate a Biblical goal.
Every mess is an opportunity for growth and every mess is an opportunity to bring glory to God. That’s how we try to approach the messes we encounter in our community.

Here’s the difficult truth—not every mess will have a happy ending. In fact, as my husband Ryan and I were thinking about a lot of the messes we had encountered, I realized that I had been less than stellar in how I handled many of them. And even fewer had nice, clean resolutions.

But even if the mess doesn’t completely resolve, we can always learn something and we can always grow.

7. Commit to the Process
Finally, commit to the process. It’s going to require transparency, commitment to people, leadership, care, time, prayer, digging into the Word, and discernment. The question is, are you willing to fight? Not fight the mess…but fight in the midst of messy environments to become the answer to Jesus’ prayer in the Garden that his followers be one? To fight for community? To fight to fulfill the commandment of Jesus to make disciples?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sacred Roads Winner!

AND...we have a winner for the free leader kit of Sacred Roads: Exploring the Historic Paths of Discipleship. Theresa Haskins-- small group leader at Northside Christian Church in Virginia. (Winner chosen by

Congratulations, Theresa!

Stay tuned for more Sacred Roads updates and free stuff in the future.

If you just can't wait and want to order a copy for yourself, go to the Threads store.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Inspectors vs. Engineers

When mess happens in groups, it's messy. That's the profound kind of statement that I get paid the big bucks for at National Community Church. And my follow up comment isn't much better. There is no formula I can give you for dealing with the mess. Every mess is different. Every leader is different. And the variables at play in any given situation are endless.

Instead of recommending a formula, let me suggest a posture: be an environmental engineer instead of a compliance inspector.

Compliance inspectors conduct audits and tell you what’s wrong. It’s easy to point out messes and deliver opinions; it’s much harder to be an engineer that creates environments where the mess can be transformed into something good.

Compliance inspectors focus on the problem; engineers focus on the solution.

Compliance inspectors care most about outputs; engineers care most about inputs.

Compliance inspectors write up reports on how well you are following the rules; engineers draw up plans for making environments better.

Engineers look for solutions, and as a small group leader, you are an environmental engineer—you are creating environments that foster spiritual growth. And that sometimes means cleaning up the messes. Sin messes might need to be cleaned—like a hazardous waste spill. Relational messes need to be navigated. Life messes need to be tended—to be cared for.

It’s not the job of the leader to eliminate and eradicate mess from the small group; that’s the job of the Holy Spirit. The job of the leader is to create an environment in which people can best see, engage, and respond to the work of the Holy Spirit. Your job as a leader is to engineer an environment where transformation can happen.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Wesley's Discipleship

John Wesley had a pretty hard-hitting approach to discipleship. In many small groups today, structuring the meeting time around the following questions would be frightening to many members. But if you want to challenge your people to deeper community and more focused discipleship, try these questions:
  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am a better person than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass on what was told to me in confidence?
  4. Can I be trusted?
  5. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habit?
  6. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  7. Did the Bible live in me today?
  8. Do I give God time to speak to me everyday?
  9. Am I enjoying prayer?
  10. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
  11. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  12. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  13. Do I disobey God in anything?
  14. Do I insist on doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  15. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  16. Am I jealous, impure, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
  17. How do I spend my spare time?
  18. Am I proud?
  19. Do I thank God I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
  20. Is there anyone I fear, or dislike, or criticize, or resent? If so, what am I doing about it?
  21. Do I grumble and complain constantly?
  22. Is Christ real to me?

Types of Messes

Small Groups are messy. It seems to me there are three major types of messes that we face when leading people. Categories can be a bit limiting because they always break down, but I think they can also provide some helpful language and distinctions for thinking intentionally and strategically about appropriate ways to respond to the specific mess we are facing.

Sin Messes
Sin messes happen between an individual and God, but they enter into your group experience because people are sinful. You discover someone in your group is having an affair. Or engaged in unethical business practices. Your small group becomes a safe place for people to confess addictions or habits that are destructive.

Several years ago I led a small group that I was convinced was the most perfect group God ever put together. I couldn’t believe it—it was full of young, smart, likable, energetic, and attractive twenty-somethings who seemed eager and hungry to grow in their relationship with God. We had great discussions about the Bible and great community life throughout the week. I was convinced that God could change the world through us. Until I got a phone call from my co-leader. He prefaced the conversation with this: “Are you sitting down?” He proceeded to tell me that two single individuals in the group—one of whom we were raising up as a potential leader—were sleeping together. In fact, they had been living together without our knowing. That was just the beginning. We discovered other mess in the lives of our group members and a lot of it was this very type— sin mess.

Relational Messes
The second type of mess is the kind we encounter most often in group life. It’s relational mess. The kind that happens in the group between two individuals. Or three. Or four. Or between your whole group. It includes the talking messes—you know, like the long talkers, no talkers, off-topic talkers, narcissistic talkers, extra grace required talkers, theologically divisive talkers, weird talkers, trash talkers. It’s the mess of conflict or disagreement or personality clashes. It’s the mess of agreeing to agree on doctrine and agree to disagree over opinion only to learn that you disagree over what’s doctrine and what’s opinion. It’s the mess that predictably and inevitably happens whenever you put more than one person in a room together.

It's the kind of mess that happened to me not too long ago when some individuals in my group really began to open up and share hurts, fears, and disappointments. One individual confessed to the group that they only prayer she had been able to muster recently was, "God, what the hell are you doing?" I was proud to lead a group that created such a safe place for someone to be that vulnerable. Until another person in the group spoke up to condemn the language that had just been used. Relational messes-- the friction that occurs between people-- is the one we face most often in groups.

Life Messes
Then there is life mess. This is the kind of mess that happens to individuals in your group that is totally unrelated to their group experienced but completely affects your group experience. Think of sudden deaths, divorce, cancer, a job loss. It’s the kind of mess that happens because we live in a broken world, and, in healthy groups, when one member suffers, the whole group suffers.

It's the kind of mess that happens in our groups here on Capitol Hill every two or four years. Lost elections-- which result in lost jobs. Sometimes, a group contains those on the left side of the political aisle and those on the right side of the political aisle, and the election cycle can mean significant change for those people. Some lose jobs while others get promoted. It's a challenge for a leader to rejoice with those whose lives are changing for the good and to simultaneously mourn with those who face loss.

Often, these messes are interrelated. Relational messes lead to sin messes. And life messes lead to relational messes. We'll talk next about some ways to address mess when it happens in group.