Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Involving the Teaching Team

This is Part 4 of a behind the scenes look at the development of National Community Church's "From Garden to City" Bible reading plan. It's step-by-step through our process of developing our church-wide reading plan with the hopes that there are some transferable principles. Today, we talk about involving the teaching team and the creative team.

Since we had determined that we would be preaching through our reading plan at our weekend services, we needed to serve the teaching team well. After inserting books into our unique liturgical calendar and creating a rough draft, we decided it was time to bring in the NCC teaching team and creative team to get their thoughts and perspectives.

We went offsite to the National Gallery of Art for an afternoon and presented the draft. Arduously and meticulously, we went through the calendar, the themes, and the books associated with each. Honestly, this is where things got tough. Good discussions about the underlying philosophies and theologies of the plan itself, about the wisdom of starting with the books of Job and Jeremiah, and about the best ways to group things together.

After hearing the preferences of the teaching team and the ideas of the creative team, we had a better sense of workable liturgical calendar and of where the teaching team wanted which books. So Team D went back to the coffeehouse and cranked out the next draft. And then started to crunch numbers...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Categorizing the Books

This is Part 3 of a behind the scenes look at the development of National Community Church's "From Garden to City" Bible reading plan. It's step-by-step through our process of developing our church-wide reading plan with the hopes that there are some transferable principles. Today, we give an inside look at our process for organizing books of the Bible into liturgical categories.

After developing a skeleton liturgical calendar, the NCC Discipleship Team started categorizing the books of the Bible according to theme. Each book could be categorized in a number of different ways, so things stayed rather fluid while we looked for all the ways we could incorporate different books and themes into the various liturgical rhythms we set forth for the year. This took a couple of different tries. We started by grouping books together that made sense. Then we matched it with our liturgical calendar.

Practically, Team D sat at various coffeehouses around the DC area and hashed through several iterations and possible categorizations. We consumed lots of caffeine, discussed lots of variations, and scratched out a number of drafts.

We came up with the following ideas:

  • Lent/Reflection/Repentance/Tears- Job, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Mark
  • Miracles- John, Numbers, Joshua, 1 Kings, 2 Kings
  • Pentecost/Expansion of the Church/Mission and Doctrine- Acts, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Peter, 2 Peter
  • Atonement/Salvation- Leviticus, Matthew, Romans, Hebrews
  • Advent- Isaiah, Luke
  • New Beginnings- Genesis, Exodus, Revelation
  • Relationships- Ruth, Song of Solomon, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Philemon
...and so forth... you get the idea.

We then generated a draft plan. The next step was to present the draft plan to the NCC Teaching Team and Creative Team.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Understanding Your Unique Liturgical Calendar

This is Part 2 of a behind the scenes look at the development of National Community Church's "From Garden to City" Bible reading plan. It's step-by-step through our process of developing our church-wide reading plan with the hopes that there are some transferable principles. Today, we talk through understanding your church's unique liturgical calendar.

One of the problems with a lot of reading plans is that they don’t mesh well with the natural rhythms and seasons of people’s lives. We find ourselves reading Israeli war history during Easter or being confused in Revelation during Christmas. We decided to develop a plan that tracks with our unique liturgical calendar at NCC.

“Liturgical” might be a foreign word to some of us. Liturgy is a word used to describe systematic orders and processes of worship. Liturgical churches are those that generally follow a prescribed order of worship, prayers, and readings. The Liturgical calendar is a way of ordering the year around the life of Christ, typically beginning in Advent.

Start/Stop Time
First, you must determine your start and stop time. We chose to start our liturgical year on Ash Wednesday. Starting or stopping anything at NCC around the Christmas holidays and New Years is ridiculous. Unlike most churches, the Sunday before Christmas may be the least attended service of the year. For us, Lent has become a season of focused prayer, reflection, and new goal setting. So we decided to run our plan from Lent to Lent. Which actually makes it about 3 weeks longer than an actual year.

Consider The Traditional Liturgical Calendar
Second, familiarize yourself with the traditional liturgical calendar. I feel kinda silly stating the obvious here, but there is much to be learned from church history. Often we who would consider ourselves to be evangelicals have no sense of sacred time. Most churches have several hundred years of experience on helping people order their lives around Scripture in a meaningful and theologically practical way, so look to the lectionary for help.

Pick up Ancient-Future Time or Circle of the Seasons for an overview and to pick up ideas.

Mark Your Church’s Rhythms
Next, look at your church’s unique rhythm. At NCC, we typically use Lent to talk about very hard-hitting topics and themes revolving around repentance, reflection, and forgiveness. Between Easter and Pentecost we tend to talk about the power of life in Christ. We utilize Pentecost Sunday to talk about the Holy Spirit. In the summer, we tend towards a series that allows for topical sermons that are tied by theme but don’t necessarily build on one another to accommodate the incessant comings and goings of NCCers and tourists. In August, we focus on missions. November is a time to talk about thankfulness and gratitude, Christmas is a time to talk about Jesus’ birth, January is a time to talk about new beginnings, and February is a time to talk about relationships. We don’t follow this exact pattern every year, but we found these to be dominant themes that emerged.

What is your church’s unique rhythm? What topics do you talk about when? And why?

Once you’ve established some sense of your unique liturgical rhythms and calendar, you can start to categorize books and passages accordingly.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Three Things We Must Do

When Jesus called his disciples in Mark 3, he did so for three purposes: "so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons." (Mark 3:14-15)

To be with him. To send them out to preach. To have authority to cast out demons.

As we read through the Bible together at National Community Church, I find myself reading through certain passages multiple times wearing different hats-- as Heather Zempel, a follower of Christ; as a teaching pastor mining the text for truth that must be communicated to our church; as a discipleship pastor yearning for encouragement to give to my leaders; etc. This week, I had my discipleship pastor hat on as I read Mark 3 and was struck by the simultaneous simplicity and difficulty of Jesus' purposes for his disciples. To be with him. To preach. To cast out demons.

How are we doing in those three areas? I'll be talking about this at our Leadership Summit tonight.

Friday, March 26, 2010

From Garden to City: Purpose

This is Part 1 of a behind the scenes look at the development of National Community Church's "From Garden to City" Bible reading plan. It's step-by-step through our process of developing our church-wide reading plan with the hopes that there are some transferable principles. Today, we explore the issue of determining the purpose of your reading plan.

Step 1: Establish Your Purpose
Our Bible reading initiative really emerged out of the heart and experience of our lead pastor, Mark Batterson. In 2009, he was challenged by a quote from J. I. Packer to read through the entire Bible from cover to cover, and he convinced his teenage son to join him in the challenge. That experience of diving into the Word daily, getting a 30,000-ft perspective, and doing it in the context of community led him to take our entire church through the experience.

I think the first thing you have to determine when creating and customizing a Bible reading plan for your church is to determine the purpose. Why are you doing it? Is it coming out of your own experience or does it just sound like a good idea? Does the whole church participate? What about children? Students? Does everyone read the same thing at the same time? Answering these kinds of questions will help you determine where to go next.

We started by first gathering our lead team and thinking through why we wanted NCCers to read through the Bible in a year. When our lead team first started brainstorming the idea of taking the entire church through the Bible in one year, we cited three goals: 1) to help NCCers establish a daily reading rhythm, 2) to get all of NCC on the same page at the same time, and 3) to help NCCers understand the major themes of Scripture.

These goals then led to specific ways of tackling the reading plan. For instance, since we wanted everyone on the same page at the same time, we decided to give participants a specific reading plan as opposed to just telling them to follow any plan. Since we wanted to help NCCers discover and understand major themes, we decided to base our weekend teaching in the weekly readings. Since we wanted to help NCCers establish a daily rhythm, we decided to utilize a blog to share devotional thoughts and allow for discussion to occur daily.

Your purposes will help you narrow your focus. If your primary goal is just to help folks establish a daily rhythm, you may not need to give them one specific plan but let them choose the one that they think would be best for them. If your primary goal is to help participants learn the chronological story of the Bible, then you will develop a different plan from someone who wants people to understand the different genres of Biblical writing.

After establishing our purpose, we then considered our liturgical year.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

From Garden to City Update

As you might be aware, our church has embarked on a church-wide, through-the-Bible reading plan that we are calling From Garden to City. It's running from Lent 2010 to Lent 2011. Each day, we are reading between 2 and 5 chapters of Scripture. The books are arranged to follow a modified NCC liturgical calendar of sorts. And our weekend messages track with the weekly readings.

I. am. loving. it.

And so is everyone I've been talking to.

In the coming days, I'm going to launch a series of behind the scenes how-to posts. I think most Bible reading plans fail because 1) there is no community or accountability and 2) the reading schedules don't make sense. I think they work much better when they emerge from and synchronize more organically with the life rhythms of individual local churches. I'll blog about how we put our reading plan together and share some thoughts on how you can do the same for your own church or small group.

Two Hours

For the past two weeks, I've been declaring my need for 2 hours of alone time. I don't need much. In fact, I only need about a couple hours every six months. Or so I think.

I'm a big believer in Mark Batterson's formula Change of Pace + Change of Place = Change of Perspective. Jesus rose early in the morning and escaped into the wilderness to pray. Moses set up a tent for communion with God outside the camp. Sometimes, we need to remove ourselves from our environments of ministry in order to effectively do ministry. It's not really about alone's about getting more God time.

We won't drift into it. We won't often find that the meetings on our calendar have miraculously parted to give us focused time. We've got to prioritize it. And we've got to crave it.

Random ramblings from the cubicle in the library where I am seeking a couple of days with God...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Growing the Team

Just thought I'd share a little window into the daily workings of Team D (Discipleship) at NCC. I think growing the team is one of the most important responsibilities I have. Growing the team in terms of depth...not numerical strength.

I'm young at this leadership thing, but right now, I'm motivated by the following convictions:

1. Our most important job is to become leaders worth following. Thus, our primary responsibility is to lead ourselves well.
2. Spiritual growth is something we must pursue intentionally and strategically; we don't drift into it.
3. God is more concerned about the state of my heart and the growth of my character than in the state of my skills and the growth of my ministry.
4. Change of Pace + Change of Place = Change of Perspective (I've stolen this one from Mark Batterson)

Once a month, I try to get our team away from the office for a working retreat. Sometimes, we go all day. Sometimes, we go for a couple of hours. It's not perfect, and there are a lot of months we miss. But I'm making it a goal to be much more intentional about it. Here's just a sneak peak at what we did at our March offsite last week:
  • Spent the first hour in prayer and study. I told our team to read the book of Titus and let the Holy Spirit encourage them and convict them through the book.
  • Spent the next hour at lunch. Discussed Titus. I asked each team member to consider the responsibilities and expectations listed for leaders in Titus and to share the one they were currently struggling with the most. We heard an update from John Hasler on his trip to Berlin.
  • Hour 3- I asked each team member, "Looking forward to the next two months...if you do nothing else, what three things must you do?" We pulled out the calendar and set goals and deadlines for upcoming events and projects. We brainstormed next steps for Garden to City resources.
For whatever its worth, my answer to the Titus question was "quick-tempered." I've been struggling with that, and the Team D guys had some great questions to help me think through the pressures and stresses in my life that might be contributing and how I can pursue growth in and through that. I'm so appreciative for a team where the leader can confess their sin and struggles and receive prayer, encouragement, and support.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tears of Exile

We are teaching through the Bible-- From Garden to City-- at NCC this year. This week, I was up to bat with the book of Jeremiah. The message of Jeremiah is that idolatry will always enslave us and exile us, but God’s plan is to redeem us and restore us. God wants our hearts so much that he will go to extremes unfathomable to the human mind to win them.

Watch it here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah

We are finishing out our reading of Jeremiah at NCC this weekend. Such a tough book. Here are a few raw, unfiltered observations, reflections, and reactions from my reading of the book.
  • It’s a jumbled mess of poetry, prophecy, history, and biography that follows no chronological order or intuitive organizational structure and yet communicates one very specific message loudly and clearly-- God wants our hearts and will go to extreme measures to win them.
  • I'm reminded that God is not simply a bigger version of us. He is completely other, wholly righteous, and unreasonably good.
  • Sunday School might have been more fun if they had given gold stars for memorizing Jeremiah 10:5, "their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field."
  • God will send us into temporary exile in order to save us from eternal exile.
  • Idolatry is deadly. We all practice it. And it will always enslave us and exile us.
  • Some prophets preached a positive message that people wanted to hear. But it was a lie. Half the truth is no truth at all. And a Gospel of comfort will result in no Gospel and no comfort.
  • God will scandalize our religious systems and beliefs to make us people of pure faith.
  • Jesus exiled himself from heaven in order to redeem us from our exile and restore us to relationship with him.
  • The remedy to idolatry is to be overwhelmed by the majesty and and greatness of God.
  • Our idols will be smashed only when we place them under the weight of God's glory.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

It's Protege Season

It's application time for the 2010-2011 NCC Protege Program.

The Protégé Program is a year-long intensive spiritual growth, leadership development, and ministry immersion experience at National Community Church. As an NCC Protégé, you will be given the opportunity to learn from some of the most innovative thinkers and creators in ministry, participate in the day to day activities of church staff culture, stretch yourself as a leader, and lay a firm foundation for a life-long pursuit of the passion and vision that God has placed on your life.

NCC Proteges will choose one ministry area— discipleship, media, missions/outreach, children/youth, worship, coffeehouse ministry, college ministry, or church planter in residence—in which they will specifically focus their ministry efforts during the year and for which they will receive special training.

NCC Proteges will gain experience in the following areas:
  • Attend Learning Labs- make new discoveries in leadership development, spiritual growth, and ministry methods from members of the NCC teaching team.
  • Develop a Spiritual Growth Plan
  • Develop a Leadership Development Plan
  • Serve on the Alpha Team
  • Lead small groups and ministries
  • Participate in an NCC missions experience
  • Serve at weekend worship gatherings, outreach projects and leadership development events
  • Build community with fellow members of your Protégé class through weekly study, prayer, and reflection groups
  • Be mentored by your ministry-focus department leader
  • Attend leadership development conferences with the NCC team
The Protégé Program is a training and proving ground for emerging church leaders. During your Protégé year, you will accumulate valuable experience, mentors, and knowledge that will prepare you for stepping into the next phase of your God-given calling.

If you would like more information on becoming an NCC Protégé, download the application, check out our FAQ or send an email to me.

I love all of our Proteges, but I'm especially partial to those seeking to serve in the Discipleship department. Let me know if you are interested!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Learn as Much as You Can

Whenever a brand new small group pastor asks me where to begin in establishing a small group program at their church, I encourage them to first learn as much as they can from the people they will serve. And then I tell them to read as much as they can from others who have been leading groups for a long time.

Here are the books I'm currently recommending for those starting out or re-thinking what they are doing:

Making Small Groups Work (Cloud and Townsend)
Building a Church of Small Groups (Donahue and Robinson)
Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry (Donahue and Robinson)
Simple Small Groups (Bill Search)
Growing True Disciples (George Barna)

It's also helpful to look at specific models:

Creating Community (Stanley- closed group model)
Activate (Searcy- semester-based model)
The Connecting Church (Frazee- neighborhood model)
Dog Training, Fly Fishing, and Sharing Christ in the 21st Century (Haggard- free market model)
Sticky Church (Larry Osborne- sermon-based model)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

My Favorite Little Girls

Okay, I recognize this is only of interest to about two of my readers (hi Mom and sister) but I'm just so excited about these little girls. Since I was heading to Knoxville to hang out with the students at The Walk, I decided to take a side trip to Nashville to visit my nieces.

This is my new little niece, Sarah Kate McClure. 2 months.

And this is Sarah Kate and big sister Ruthie. This spunky 2-year old enjoys playing with play-doh, can count to ten (and past with a little help), and can do the "Hot Dog" dance from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. She is very talented.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Walk

Last week, I had the honor of speaking at The Walk- the collegiate ministry at Sevier Heights Baptist Church and near the University of Tennessee. I avoided the fact that I actually went to Louisiana State University as I feared it would damage my credibility.

I love The Walk's head dude Tim Miller-- his heart, his authenticity, his sense of humor. He's been a tremendous encouragement to me personally, and it was a joy to watch him up close and personal on his turf doing his ministry.

Tim asked me to speak in their "Hitched" series. He spoke to the girls about men and how to be godly wives. And he asked me to speak to the men about girls and how to be godly husbands. You can check it out here or here.

Job 34-36

As you probably know, we are reading through the Bible together at NCC. Each day, a member of our team provides blog commentary on the passage for the day. Today, I tackled Job 34-36. Sometimes, I just don't know what to do with certain parts of Scripture.

Does anyone know what to do with this Elihu kid? For five uninterrupted chapters, he spouts his opinion...some of which seems good while the rest seems no better than contributions of the three “friends.” We learned a couple days ago that Elihu had not yet spoken in deference to the older men. But once he realized they had no solution or satisfactory conclusion for the problem of Job, he entered his voice into the debate.

On one hand, Elihu displays the idealistic and passionate, though sometimes ignorant and arrogant, voice of youth-- throwing rebukes left and right (while many of his statements seem to echo what the three friends have already said), chastising Job (even though he knows nothing more about the situation than the other friends), and claiming to speak on behalf of God himself (even though-- SPOILER ALERT-- God seems to ignore Elihu in the next chapter when He finally begins to talk).