Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What I've learned this month

Lots of neat ideas crossed my radar screen this month - here are some things that really caught my attention...

Some words of wisdom from our Family Ministries Coordinator, Amy Anthony, when asked about how much detail to include in an email -- "One thing I am learning is that it takes a lot of time to get people to understand things (both what we are doing and why we are doing it) and instead of overcommunicating in an email or written form it is better to give them motivation to come and then pray that they come to an understanding once they're there."

An interesting discussion by Mark Howell at Small Group Resources asking "Do Healthy Small Groups Grow and Birth?", "What about Birthing Groups?" and "What is the Most Effective Method for Launching Small Groups? ". The focus of the second article is more 'how can we encourage an environment where birthing is more likely to occur?" rather than trying to force or coerce multiplication of groups.

Chris Forbes at Ministry Marketing Coach answers a number of questions on Church Assimilation. What I particularly liked about this post was the list of questions that Saddleback considered in their strategic planning process which led to their popular CLASS system. I'm very familiar with the outcome of that, but it was very interesting to see the questions that guided the development of the system. (Speaking of assimilation, here's some thoughts on "Sticky Church")

Some innovative uses of technology for ministry. Bill Reichart at Ministry Best Practices pointed out a service called Issuu which allows you to publish a document online in a way that's very flexible and allows readers to interact. You can even embed such a 'magazine' on a blog or web-site. Tim Stevens describes a 90-second video approach to the tricky issue of making announcements in service that they use at Granger, called "The Feed ." The Pyromarketing blog had some ideas on using technology to help people connect in social organizations (well, clubs, actually but draw any inferences from that!)

Speaking of innovation, just today I saw that Granger is making videos of their talks at Innovate 2008 available to watch!

Tim Stevens also summarizes some very key points on "Why People Serve" - in a nutshell:
People choose to serve because...
  1. They see a real need
  2. They have confidence they can do it
  3. There's not someone already doing it
And because of that, we must do three things:
  1. Make the vision clear
  2. Help people determine their strengths and gifts
  3. Always have open roles for people to serve in

Bob Hyatt pointed out an excellent resource on "Preaching in a Postmodern World". It's actually a set of lectures available on iTunes (for free), by Tim Keller. I listened to a few of them in podcast format, and he made some excellent points both on the need for Christ-centered preaching as well as some specific thoughts on how to engage a postmodern audience.

James Higginbotham at Agile Ministry posted his notes from a recent conference by John Maxwell called “How To Be A Real Success” - "Defining Success" and "Real Success". I love the definition given right at the top of the talk:  "Success is knowing my purpose in life."  The other post by James that I really liked was "Church Coordinators are Marketers".

Ed Stetzer had some thought-provoking posts - one was a discussion of "Coaching, Mentoring, and Life-Change", and another (somewhat heavier) was "The Emergent/Emerging Church: A Missiological Perspective".

What did you learn this month?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Review - The Equipping Church

"The Equipping Church: Serving Together to Transform Lives" is an outstanding book by Sue Mallory that addresses the question: "What might your church look like if its members were vital, fully empowered partners in ministry? How can you help them discover and release their full potential? How would their roles change - and yours?" The goal is to help church leaders customize an equipping system and culture in their church.

Mini-review: An excellent book that is a must-read for pastors and church leaders seeking to develop an equipping culture (and systems) in your church, especially those of you dreaming about or involved in making a difference who are yourselves a 'volunteer.'  (Of course I can't stop with just a mini-review, so if you're in this category, please read on!)

The approach taken by Mallory is very practical, with a lot of examples and encouragement, and clear explanation of bibilical principles behind the priest of believers. She also highlights several good examples in each chapter of churches that are doing a good job today at putting these principles into practice. In addition, there are appendices looking at core values of an equipping church, how to change the culture, how to build a system. A key point made is that addressing issues of culture or system alone are insufficient for change, but that when both are understood and developed, lasting and transformational change can occur. The table of contents is...

1. Starting the Journey in Helplessness
2. When the Church is Healthy, She Dances
3. Making Systemic Changes Can be Shocking
4. Examining, Poking, and Prodding the Church Culture
5. Checking the Conveyor Belts at the Exits
6. Launching the Vision
7. Discovering Gifts, Talents, and Experience
8. Matching People with Strong Connections
9. Pushing Back a Little
10. Viewing the Vision of Three Equipping Churches
11. Perpetuating the Transformed Vision

Each chapter draws some insight from Ephesians 4:11-13. I thought the paraphrase from The Message quoted in chapter two was particularly interesting: "He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ's body, the church, until we're all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God's Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ."

Personally, the thing I like most about Mallory's book is how her journey and passion to be an encouarger and equipper for ministry had so many similiarities to my own. Sue talks about the desire that grew in her heart to make a difference, an "experiment" in her church for her to become the directory of volunteer ministrires, and her decision to do so as a nonpaid staff (and just how awkward this was for the pastor and the church! She was full-time however.) God's call and her impact did not stop there, but her ministry has really taken off, to the point where she became founding executive director of the Leadership Training Network and is now active nationally in consulting and training.

The scary part? The role of volunteer ministries director came with high expectations but low specifics. She had to define the role and figure out how to meet long range objectives, without much specific guidance. "The church by definition is the greatest gathering of potential servants in the world, but she is also the most notorious vehicle for disappointing, discouraging and even destroying them. Only a small percentage of willing volunteers can succeed without specific training and clear direction - and the church seldom offers either. Addressing this failure became one of my primary goals."

So for any of you out there in the position of helping develop volunteer ministries and leaders, as well as those of you who are passionate about making a big difference in your church despite being a volunteer, "The Equipping Church" is a must read!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Review - Essential Church eBook

Thanks to Bill Reichart for pointing out this one - Church Leadership Books is making a PDF eBook version of "Essential Church: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropoutsavailable for free. All that's needed is your email address, which also signs you up for a Church Leadership Newsletter. The book is by Thom and Sam Rainer - a follow-up to the very popular "Simple Church."

More than two-thirds of young adults between the ages of 18-22 leave the church - that's a disturbingly high figure. The Rainers spoke to those who left, the dechurched. What reasons did they give for leaving?

Top Ten Reasons Church Dropouts Stopped Attending Church

  1. Simply wanted a break from church.
  2. Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical.
  3. Moved to college and stopped attending church.
  4. Work responsibilities prevented me from attending.
  5. Moved too far away from the church to continue attending.
  6. Became too busy though still wanted to attend.
  7. Didn’t feel connected to the people in my church.
  8. Disagreed with the church’s stance on political or social issues.
  9. Chose to spend more time with friends outside the church.
  10. Was only going to church to please others.
The premise of Essential Church is that the reason they leave boils down to this...
Churchgoing students drop out of the church because it is not essential to their lives.

Part 1: Why People Leave the Nonessential Church
  Chapter 1: My Faith is Not My Parents’ Faith
  Chapter 2: Looking for a different kind of community
  Chapter 3: That’s Life! it changes
  Chapter 4: A New Spin on hypocrisy
  Chapter 5: All Eyes on the Main Man
Part 2: How Essential Churches Close the Back Door
  Chapter 6: The Essential church and the Back door
  Chapter 7: Simplify: Getting the Structure Right
  Chapter 8: Deepen: Getting the content Right
  Chapter 9: Expect: Getting the Attitude Right
  Chapter 10: Multiply: Getting the Action Right
Conclusion: Building an Essential Church: A Case Study

The core of the book is on what is needed to reverse the trend. In short, an "Essential Church" focuses on these four critical areas:

       Simplify - Deepen - Expect - Multiple

I thought the book was an excellent combination of research, insight, encouragement, and some practical steps churches should consider if they're serious about reversing the perception that church is irrelevant. It should also be an encouragement and challenge to youth ministry leaders. Whether or not you agree with the steps suggested here and in their earlier book 'Simple Church', I would definitely recommend 'Essential Church'.  (And with this currently available as a free download ... why not?!)

How do we build disciples? (Part 5)

This is the 5th and last in a series of posts looking at the question 'How do we build disciples?'  I'm going to take a shot at integrating the various ideas I've been reading on making disciples, and some implications for the church. 

So what is the best process for building disciples? After reading quite a bit on various approaches and methods for discipleship, I can now definitively say... I don't know!  But I've been starting to see that once again, principles are more important to understand than trying to find a cookie-cutter approach. What I can conclude is that any effective process for discipleship must be TRIM --
  • Transformational
  • Relational
  • Intentional
  • Missional
Transformational - disciple making is about transforming lives: Irreligious people coming to faith in Christ, becoming a brand new person in Christ, and serving Christ in a way that itself changes lives. Tranformation must occur on several levels. The mind must be transformed, so that our old core values are replaced with biblical values. Being a disciple is being a learner, but it takes more than learning. What we do and how we spend our time must also be transformed - to follow Christ takes action, commitment, and time.

Relational - studying alone isn't sufficient for building disciples. Everything about Jesus' ministry and the nature of the body of Christ screams relationship. The trade-off is that more people means greater multiplication (ideally), while fewer people deepen the experience and increase the chance that multiplication will actually occur. Disciple making probably best occurs in groups of size 3 to 12, although a larger group of 12-20 may form a productive group that allows friendships to form, teaching and ministry to occur, and may be the seedbed from which a triad may form which is more intentional about discipleship.

Intentional - a key reason why many Church programs fail to produce any disciples, fail to see transformed lives, is that they are simply not very intentional in doing so. It's tremendously easy to be satisfied with friendship, fellowship, a comfortable group of people to support us and affirm what we already know - it's something else completely for iron to sharpen iron, to challenge, hold accountable, and unconditionally love one another. It's messy! Churches stressing one-on-one discipleship see this work because they are highly intentional. Churches using a small group for discipleship will see true disciples built only if the group is intentional about producing such.

Missional - if a process or model is not producing people who are about the business of God, continuing Christ's ministry to reconcile people to God, making other disciples and teaching them to obey all He has commanded... you're not producing disciples. Effective discipleship must never forget that its purpose is one with the mission of Christ and His church.

What then do we do with discipleship in our church? Start with evaluating how your current process is doing - think about what you expect to see in a 'disciple' then ask how well your current system is producing these. Ask if your process is bloated or TRIM. Are they transformational, producing life change? Is your approach relational? Is the system intentional about building these disciples? Are the 'disciples' produced carrying out the mission of Christ and His church? Ok, now consider whether your system has enough going for it that it can be improved. Perhaps you're relying on small groups for discipleship and they're relational, with life change happening, but you're not seeing any real disciples made. Are your small group leaders themselves disciples? (If not, the chance they can reproduce disciples is small) If so, work with them to be more intentional, perhaps via a change in curriculum or expectations. What if your current system is far from TRIM? Is it providing some other purpose aligned with the vision of your church? Perhaps it's doing a great job of providing teaching or fellowship or care. Maybe it's time to consider supplementing that process with a new one more geared for building disciples, whether one-on-one discipling, triads, or community service teams. Any discipleship approach should foster multiplication, and be intentional in seeking this, but to some degree multiplication is more of a result of success than something you can force. There's more than one approach to discipleship that can work - don't give up on finding one that makes sense in your church!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How do we build disciples? (Part 4)

This is the 4th in a series of posts looking at the question 'How do we build disciples?'  Here we look at a summary of discipleship models used by churches effective at making disciples. The next post will wrap up the series with some principles derived from this study.

I found a new book to go on my must-read list - "Growing True Disciples: New Strategies for Producing Genuine Followers of Christ " by George Barna. (Good news for me that it's required for an upcoming course at Rockbridge Seminary)  Barna takes a look at the need for discipleship, biblical examples of discipleship, and presents the results of a study in which he examined discipleship approaches in many churches and identified five churches/five models that were particularly effective.

The Five Models presented by Barna, along with effective discipling churches that use these models, are:
Competencies Model (Pantego Bible Church, www.pantego.org ). Ft. Worth, TX.  David Daniels
Missional Model (Fellowship Bible Church, www.fbclr.com ). Little Rock, AR. Robert Lewis
Neighborhood Model (Perimeter Church, www.perimeter.org ). Duluth, GA. Randy Pope
Worldview Model (Fellowship Bible Church North, www.fbcnorth.org ). Plano, TX. Jeff Jones
Lecture-Lab Model (North Coast Church, www.northcoastchurch.com ). Vista, CA. Larry Osborne

The "Competencies" model looks at ten core beliefs, ten core practices, ten core values, taking a very systematic approach to learning. Lessons are applied as well via local community ministries and connection groups / home groups. Personal assessment is key. The missional model blends aspects of compentencies (six core qualities) with some worldview teaching along with small groups and specialty classes. The mission of the church is the mission of discipleship. At the heart of the Neighborhood model are geographically-close small groups, along with a discipleship curriculum which is written by the church. Direct modeling of evangelism is also important. In the worldview model, a significant investment in discipleship and teaching occurs over a 2-year small group process, imparting biblical wisdom that transforms lives. In the lecture-lab model, related content is delivered both in sermons/lecture and in small groups/lab. Small groups are the key venue for learning, reinforcing and putting into practice what is heard.

Barna then goes on beyond describing these models, and puts together a composite, or "Best-Of" model that looks for the best of each approach, and highly recommends not copying a program or a template, but rather which looks for principles. He also points out that the senior pastor must be an outspoken proponent of discipleship - and all ministry programs must be tied to discipleship outcomes. Barna also recommends reducing the number of programs so as to increase focus on discipleship. Some of the specific techniques or practices which Barna recommends a church consider include: the use of personal development plans, disciples built not in one venue but in small groups, mid-size groups, worship services, and in teams doing community service.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How do we build disciples? (Part 3)

This is the 3rd in a series of posts looking at the question 'How do we build disciples?'  In Parts 1 and 2 we looked at the pro's and con's of 1-on-1 and triad approaches to disciple making. Here we look at the use of small groups to build disciples.

Bill Donahue's Leading Life-Changing Small Groups is an excellent resource for leading small groups that make a difference. He states, "In the simplest form, a disciple is an apprentice to Jesus." Discipleship is about being like Jesus, doing what He would do if He were here. The book is definitely geared toward seeing change happen in the lives of small group members, not just transfer of knowledge or group hugs.

In a book by Campus Crusade, "Make Your Mark", Chapter 8 discusses a Biblical Pattern for Small Group Discipleship. It points out that small groups are not the only way to build disciples, but are a very good way used by Jesus. The goal is to see a developing group of Spirit-filled Christians who are obedient to God's word and are actively involved in helping to fulfill the Great Commission. How did Jesus turn a group of a dozen untrained men and disciple them to become disciples who took the good news throughout the world? "Make Your Mark" suggests...

1. He selected a few potentially responsible men (Mark 3:13,14)
2. He spent time with them (John 15:27).
3. He required commitment from His disciples (Matthew 16:24; Luke 14:25-35).
4. He taught them in the context of real life experiences (Luke 5:17-26).
5. To fulfill His last command to reach the world we start with our own location and move out from there (Acts 1:8).
6. To practically help fulfill His last command of building multiplying disciples, we have the small group.

After laying out this plan the author does caution: "Please note that your total spiritual development does not take place in a Discipleship Group. In addition to the Discipleship Group, you need the influence of your personal study of the Word, earnest consistent prayer and the input and fellowship of your church in order to develop spiritually."

Here at Calvary, our vision path considers small groups to be a crucial part of our strategy for developing fully-devoted followers of Christ. We believe that life change happens as personal relationships are developed and people participate in a close knit group that is providing encouragement, discipleship, and accountability. Some key convictions for our small groups ministry:
  • Life-change happens best in small groups
  • Strong relationships are built when people “do life” together in a small group
  • People’s emotional, physical, and spiritual needs are best met by those who know them and love them
  • Every group deserves a shepherd leader who loves them, and is equipped to help them grow
Are you seeing significant disciple making occur in your small group(s)?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

How do we build disciples? (Part 2)

This is the 2nd in a series of posts looking at the question 'How do we build disciples?'  In Part 1 we looked at a view that Jesus' approach of making disciples differs from what is seen after his resurrection among the early church. In this post, we'll look at the view that the best approach is multiplication: heavily investing in the lives of a few others who will in turn disciple others.

Greg Ogden is the author of several outstanding books on discipleship, including "Discipleship Essentials" which has a great definition of discipling: "Discipling is an intentional relationship in which we walk alongside other disciples in order to encourage, equp and challenge one another in love to grow toward maturity in Christ. This includes equipping the disciple to teach others as well". Ogden has a summary PDF on his web site entitled: "Making Disciples Jesus Way: A Few at a Time." The thesis of this approach is given as: "The church urgently needs to recapture its original mission of making disciples of Jesus by creating intimate, relational environments of multiplication and transformation." Ogden goes on to say:
Jesus made it crystal clear that there is to be a singular product which He equates with the mission of the church—“Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Every church’s mission is the same. There is only one mission: making disciples of Jesus. We may prefer to express it in a fresh, contemporary way, such as “to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ”, but it will still just be a restatement of the Great Commission.
He describes an approach that is similar to what some would see in the advice Paul gives to Timothy, to invest in the live of another person who will be faithful and able to teach others. The twist is that Ogden specifically recommends groups of 3-4 rather than pairs.  "Disciples are made in small, reproducible groups of 3 or 4 (triads or quads) that cultivate an environment of transformation and multiplication." The advantages he sites for the use of triads or quads compared to a strictly 1:1 relationship are:

1. Shift of unnatural burden on the discipler, to a group process
2. Shift from hierarchy to peer relationship, a come-alongside mutual journey
3. Shift from dialogue to dynamic interchange
4. Shift from limited input to wisdom in numbers
5. Shift from addition to multiplication

For more thoughts on this approach, you can read some lecture notes on 'Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time." (I'm currently reading his book "Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God") I would be interested in feedback from anyone with experience with the triad/quad approach to discipleship, either positive or negative.

Friday, September 19, 2008

How do we build disciples? (Part 1)

In my last post on "Small Groups - What are they good for?" I raised several questions such as: How to best build disciples? What does it actually mean to be a disciple? What do we mean by discipleship as a purpose of the church? These questions come from a suggestion earlier that small groups may not be the best vehicle for creating disciples, and that nothing beat "one-on-one then reproduce", an approach some see as taught by Jesus as well as Paul -> Timothy -> reliable other men.  I want to present a few posts each describing a different solution to the question of how to make disciples. This first post looks at a view that would disagree, claiming that Jesus approach to building disciples is not one we can or should mimic.

In pondering these questions I came across a very interesting article "Discipleship: Its Definitions and Dangers" by Bob Deffinbaugh. Let me quote two key paragraphs:
"In the last decade, discipleship has become a popular subject in Christian circles. The great difficulty is that when we use this term we frequently mean something entirely different from that denoted by the biblical term. For instance, we hear much talk about discipling others or being discipled. Being in close proximity to a great seminary, I have seen many young and enthusiastic theologs come and go. Very frequently, they will go to the pastor of their church and ask to be discipled, just like Paul ‘discipled’ Timothy. A friend of mine and fellow-laborer in the ministry used to respond to such a request, “And just how did Paul disciple Timothy?”
This is precisely the problem. We almost completely fail to grasp the biblical concept of discipleship. It is interesting that we never find the term ‘disciple’ used with reference to the relationship between Paul and Timothy.194 As a matter of fact, we find the two primary terms for discipleship195 employed very frequently in the Gospels, sporadically in the book of Acts, and almost never in the rest of the New Testament. Did Paul really disciple Timothy, and if so, how? Most of the young men who desire to be discipled, and I say this seriously, ask more of me than does my wife. It is because of this lack of clarity as to what discipleship really is, and how it is done that we shall devote several lessons to its study. What was so important in the life and ministry of our Lord should be very clear to us today who wish to be known as His disciples."
He then closes with this comment: "Let us not seek to disciple others, so much as to be disciples ourselves. Let us not seek to become disciples of men but rather followers of God."  Learning to feed yourself, and following God, not man. Now that's an important point to keep in mind in thinking about the goal of a discipling relationship. For the rest of the argument by Bob Deffinbaugh, you'll have to listen to his sermon "Discipleship in Ephesians: What happened to the term 'Disciple'?" which expands on what discipleship looks like and why the model seen in the gospels differs from what is presented in the epistles.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Small Groups - What are they good for?

What is the purpose of small groups? How good are they at actually building disciples? If not, what is? Are they best suited for connecting people to God, to each other, or both?

This week I read an extremely thought provoking post by Bill Reichart called "Should you put small groups out of their misery?" Bill was discussing a post by Brian Jones with an even stronger title: "Why churches should euthanize their small groups". The original post by Brian doesn't seem to be online any more, although you can find on other blogs discussion of that post and related posts. Brian Jones is a big proponent of discipleship, of the mission of the church to make disciples, and is respectful of those who have tried hard to make small groups work. He just thinks that small groups are terrible at making disciples and don't work.
Small groups are things that trick us into believing we’re serious about making disciples. The problem is 90% of small groups never produce one single disciple, ever. They help Christians make shallow friendships for sure. They’re great at helping Christians feel a tenuous connection to their local church. And they do a bang-up job of teaching Christians how to act like other Christians in the evangelical Christian subculture. But when it comes to creating the kind of holistic disciples Jesus envisioned, the jury’s decision came back a long time ago – small groups just aren't working.
Bill Reichart of Vine Community Church finds some points in common, agreeing that they don't do a very good job of developing disciples. Indeed they are still committed to small groups but have altered their expectations. He thinks they are a doorway into connection and relationship within the church, a catalyst for service into the community, and an excellent fishing pond from which discipleship can be birthed. What instead? "Intentional and relational driven discipleship must be happening throughout the DNA of the church in order for people to grow."

Wow... food for thought! Let me be clear - I'm a huge proponent of small groups. They have been such a huge blessing for me and I've seen tremendous life-change and discipleship occur that I can't imagine not being in a small group. I'm also a (new) small groups coach and am trying to help other small group leaders get a handle on helping others become fully devoted followers of Christ. These two articles raise a number of great questions, more than I can address in this post. (Though I will come back to the question of discipleship soon.)  I asked my small group for their reaction to Jones' article. Here's what came up...
  • Small groups are definitely of great value to us
  • The fellowship and relationships formed in small groups are a big factor
  • Discussions among those serious about their faith are challenging and helpful
  • They help new people in a church connect in a powerful way
  • We really enjoy serving together as a group, within both church and community
  • Each of us have had rough spots in our lives where a small group was there for us
  • What do people think work better for building disciples if not small groups? 
Some questions to think about:  How to best build disciples? What does it actually mean to be a disciple? Are people referring to discipleship as a purpose (spiritual growth, becoming Christ-like) or as a journey for the whole person encompassing mission, ministry and all that God has called us to be? Is the immediate goal of a small group connection, friendship, intimacy, or discipleship?
Any thoughts? Small groups - what are they good for?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembrance, August '08 Round-up and Book Giveaway

It's been a busy month - again I read more good posts than I had time to blog about, so today includes some links to outstanding blog entries from August 2008. Also, I can't look at the date and not pause to reflect on the memory of Sept 11th.

Two posts by Perry Noble that were home runs were about dealing with tension in the room, and looking at weight issues.

Chris Forbes at Ministry Marketing Coach helped me better understand communicating with the millenial generation.

Jason Curlee highlighted a video clip that demonstrates some extreme determination.

Carlos' "Ragamuffin Soul" blog is always raw and fresh - this short post cracked me up.

Sharon Hodde's post on listening vs judging others had me catching myself in a few phrases I use when listening (or not listening) to people. (Her RSS feed for She Worships has changed, I thought for a while that Sharon had gotten quiet.)

Digital @ Leadership Network had a pair of really beneficial posts on church website strategy. Tony Steward asks the question who is your web site for? And Dean Peters specifically cautioned against having a web site that tries to serve too many targets at once.

Kem Meyer of GCC has this great snapshot of failing to communicate by overcommunicating. She also gave some excellent tips on how to provide alternatives to the e-Newsletter for getting the word out about your ministry.

At Ministry Best Practices Bill Reichart gave a short but powerful tip on creating a small groups culture, as well as a thought-provoking discussion of relevance for a church. Then, in an impressive show of diversity, he gave us a nice Facebook primer.

Some great ideas from Greg Gilbert on helping to foster change when you're not in charge (ie. some useful tips for the rest of us).

Nelson Searcy had some interesting comments about "Where There is Slack there is Lack" with respect to the Volunteer Ministry System, as well as some ideas on increasing the number of small groups in your church from his book "Activate."

Mark Howell of Small Group Resources had a great discussion on whether the grow-and-birth is a model appropriate for healthy groups.

Phew, that's a lot! (Maybe I should just blog about these more often?)  I'll finish with some very interesting YouTube video links about the Large Hadron Collider, a huge particle acceleator that is just coming online. You can either go for the Large Hadron Rap (I'm not kidding) or a more technical yet accessible look at the science and rationale behind this amazing scientific device.

Finally a reminder that I'm looking to give away a free copy of Matt Batterson's book "Wild Goose Chase".  Yesterday I reviewed this excellent book - so leave a comment in the review post or here and I'll pick someone randomly for this.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Review - Wild Goose Chase

I recently pointed out a new book by Mark Batterson, author of "In the Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day". I thought the title of his first book was unusual, but his new one is ever better: "Wild Goose Chase" - not quite what you would expect for a book describing a life committed to following the Holy Spirit!? Is it worth reading?

I was fortunate to get a review copy this weekend and can now answer quite definitely... yes! The subtitle itself gives a great clue as to the focus of this book - "Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God". Not a theological treatise, nor a how-to manual for the spirit-filled life, Wild Goose Chase is a heart-to-heart chat from a pastor who loves God, dreams big, learns from failure. This pastor has found in following the Holy Spirit a life of adventure that not only makes us more alive, but honors God and gives Him the chance to shine in our lives.

The book spends some times discussing various barriers that can cage us in and prevent us from going on a Wild Goose Chase. There include:

The Cage of Responsibility
The Cage of Routine
The Cage of Assumptions
The Cage of Guilt
The Cage of Failure
The Cage of Fear

Each of these cages can prevent us from living the kind of life God wants us to live - prevent us from a dream or a ministry that transforms lives. I shared some background on Mark and the book in a recent post. Rather than try too hard to explain the book in this review, let me share a few of my favorite quotes...

"Some of us live as if we expect God to say, 'Well thought, good and faithful servant!' or 'Well said, good and faithful servant.' God isn't going to say either of those things. There is only one commendation, and it is the by-product of God-ordained passions: 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'" Right after this he notes that the book following the gospels is not the "Book of Thoughts", but the "Book of Acts".
Like the disciples who didn't just live an exciting post-Pentecost, but turned the world upside down, so can we. "Wild Good Chase is an invitation to be part of something that is bigger than you and more important than you. Are you in?"

"Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death."
At about 174 pages, Wild Goose Chase (Mark Batterson, Multnomah Books, 2008) is a very easy read which I highly recommend.

You can get it at Amazon for about $11, or... maybe get one for free?! I was sent a spare copy of the book to give away on this blog, so if you're interested, just respond in a comments to this review and I'll select someone at random in the next week and send them a free copy!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Dance Will Go On

A while back I talked about the tragic death of the daughter of Steven Curtis Chapman. Recently he added a new chapter to that story, or more accurately, a new verse to his song.

On Aug 6 Steven and his family appeared on the Good Morning America show to talk about that painful loss. Also, he has written a new fourth verse for his song "Yours". It's hard to express how amazing it is to see the strong faith of their family in the midst of their suffering, and that new verse is a real inspiration of hope. Also, at a live performance recently, Chapman changed the last line of his hit song, Cindarella. Have you ever listened to a version of a song where before you even hit the play button you just knew you were going to cry? I did, and I was right. Check out the lyrics to the new verse of Yours, listen and watch this version of Yours on YouTube, or check out Cindarella with the revised ending. I can't even imagine trying to sing this song about a little girl after losing your daughter... God bless Steven and his family.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Quiet Hero

I was speaking to a new believer last week and got to ask how they came to attend our church. One of their friends, a very quiet guy, noticed that this person was having a rather rough time and feeling low. He asked a very simple question: "Would you mind if I asked some friends of mine to pray for you? I won't give them your name or any details, but we do pray for each other regularly as a small group." The answer was "Sure! I can use all the prayers I can get right now. This seeker immediately had two thoughts - first: there's something distinctly different about this guy, I wish I were more like him. Second, I need to get myself to his church. A very short time later this person came, found acceptance and love in a way that was hard to imagine, came to 101 class and made a decision to follow Christ that has transformed their life.

When we talk about evangelism, building relationships, transforming lives... it's not rocket science. More often than you might think it takes something as simple as "Would you mind if I prayed for you?"

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Completed my first course at Rockbridge Seminary

I recently wrapped up my first online course at Rockbridge Seminary. How was it? In a word... awesome! This was their Touchstone course, called "Developing the Focused Life". While it sounds like a fluffy intro course, I found it to be extremely interesting and challenging. Through the course we took a close look at the concept of a calling, and how God beckons every one of us to a life of purpose and significance in Christ. We put together a timeline of our lives that explored what God has been doing to help us grow in Christ and prepare us for ministry.

A key expectation that was blown away was the idea that online education is like a correspondence course: you read the material, answer questions to be graded by a professor you don't know, with zero interaction with other students who happen to be taking the course. Instead, I found the course to be highly interactive - the sharing and discussion with other students was wonderful. We got to share ideas, fears, passions in a supportive environment, and found out that we weren't alone in what we were facing, or in how God was grabbing hold of our lives - and we made some good friends in the process. Ages ranged from about 22 to 62, including several executives, full-time and volunteer ministry leaders, men and women, and a fresh college graduate. In my many years of undergraduate and graduate study I've never had such beneficial and thought-provoking interactions with other students in a class than in this first online course.

One thing that makes Rockbridge unique is competency-guided learning, in which students develop a portfolio of church-based ministry projects in several areas that build up practical skills in ministry, worship, discipleship, evangelism, and fellowship. I'm pursuing a Masters' of Ministry Leadership degree, and can't wait to take more courses at Rockbridge. While it's not something I strongly considered until very recently, I would highly recommend anyone serious about their faith and ministry to consider seminary - it's not just for those headed into 'full-time ministry', but it is something that would be beneficial for any Christian who wants to be more grounded in their faith and who wants to see life transformation through their ministry.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Women at Calvary

Last night the Women@Calvary kicked off the Fall with a marvelous dinner and time of vision sharing by the leaders of this ministry. Almost 100 ladies were able to attend (which is no small feat in a church with average adult attendance around 350!)  They laughed, they cried, they made new friends, they ate chocolate! What more could you ask for?!

The evening really was awesome; I'm so glad the women got to do this, and I think it bodes well for what God will do in their midst this year! Since this is a blog on ministry, let me share a little extra from the guys' perspective. I had the privilege of helping with table service. Behind the scenes was interesting. Seven guys dressed up like they knew what they were doing were in fact utterly clueless. We all assumed someone else had a plan. None of us did (seriously!)  So ten minutes before we started, I got to witness a marvelous explosion of SHAPE into action. I and another greeter-type took command of the door, welcoming and escorting the ladies to the venue. Two guys with hospitality gifts filled the water glasses and mingled around putting people at ease. An admin-gifted man whipped out some paper and said "Ok, here's how we'll do this" - then he charted out a map of the twelve tables and gave the system for numbering seats. One leader-type took 'point' of this waitstaff and became our liaison to the kitchen. Someone with the gift of helps saw we had the tables covered, took off his shirt and dove into the kitchen to man the vegetable station. Another 'helps' guy started filling a dozen pitchers with ice and water, and kept 'em coming. In the kitchen a dear friend from my small group was doing an amazing job as chef and did not disappoint! Once we were fiinally serving the gifts of encouragement kicked in, kicking up attention to the guests a notch and making sure they felt special. The key speaker had to cancel, but the leaders in charge jumped in and spoke, and really touched some hearts! After the event several women (Martha personalities) had brought change of clothes and immediately dove into the task of clean-up. I'm very proud of everyone involved - it was a great display of servant hearts and unity, toward a goal of displaying one of Calvary's core values: "You are loved!"