Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

This year I have a lot to be thankful about - so from me and my family to you and yours, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving Day. But for some, I know you're struggling today, wanting to be thankful but filled with pain or anger. "I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving." - here in Psalm 69 David gives thanks in the midst of one of the roughest times in his life- in the miry depths where he says "I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God."

If you're in that place right now, I encourage you to read this Psalm. I also want to share a song called "Yet I Will Praise". Some of the lyrics are:

"Even when my heart is torn
I will praise (trust) You Lord

Even when I feel deserted I will praise You Lord
Even in the darkest valley I will praise You Lord
When my world is shattered and it seems all hope is gone
Yet I will praise You Lord"

"And I will not forget that you hung on a cross
Lord you bled and
died for me

And if I have to suffer
I know that you've been there
And I know that you're here now"

Friday, November 21, 2008

Review - Creating Community

I just finished reading an excellent resource for those involved in small group ministry - "Creating Community - 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Culture" by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits. Creating Community is an excellent blend of vision, motivation, encouragement, and some extremely practical ideas. Whether you are a pastor or a small group director/coach/leader, this book is definitely worth reading. Best of all, it's not just theory - the principles have been put in practice and shown to be highly effective at North Point Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

Stanley and Willits start off making the case why people need (and often crave) community. Leaders need clarity. Churches need strategy. Connection needs simplicity. Processes need reality. The book is very well written, practical and concise. The appendix has several useful items, including a groups director job description, a description of the role of a group leader, and a sample group covenant.

Below is a summary of some of the key points in the book, teaching that caught my attention...

Clarify the Goal
- What do you want people to become?
- What do you want them to do?
- Where do you want them to go?

Define Spiritual Maturity
- Intimacy with God
- Community with Insiders
- Influence with Outsiders

One key feature of the North Point Model is that they actually use closed groups. The key reason is to put a greater emphasis on community and give it time to develop, typically 18-24 months. At that point they will multiply. Along with this they have GroupLink and Starter Groups that allow other ways for groups to form other than multiplication. North Point's well known Foyer - Living Room - Kitchen model is described and explained as well.

Train Less for More  (reduced frequency and distilled content has greater impact)
- Think Life Change
- Cultivate Relationships
- Promote Participation
- Replace Yourself
- Provide Care
- Multiply Influence

These six essentials form the basis of everything they teach, just the need to know info, not the everything they could know. In new leader orientation they introduce all six. These are reviewed during one-on-one meetings with coaches. During the semi-annual training events just one is covered in detail, allowing for leaders to see all six in detail over a three year period.  Leaders huddle with their coaches about 3x/year (March/Aug/Nov), and one-on-one 3x to 4x per year.  There are annual retreats in the Spring and Fall.

Their approach is very clear and well thought-out. The principles and examples will help you decide which aspects are right for your church. If you're involved with small group ministry, do yourself (and your group members) a favor and read Creating Community - 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Culture.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Confusion is not always bad

It's been a very busy week, and one in which I wasn't able to do several things as well as I wanted to. In times like these, I try to evaluate what I'm doing to see which things need to be the highest priorities, if there's something I need to cut, or if there is an approach I'm taking that isn't going to see the outcome I hope for. Sometimes this type of introspection can leave me more confused than when I started! :)

I was so encouraged this week by a post by Pastor Steven Furtick called "I used to hate to be confused...". In it he describes how lately he is instead learning to love the feeling. Steven writes...

"When I’m confused about something, it’s:
  • a portal to a deeper understanding of the character of God
  • a precursor to greater faith
  • a great occasion to humble myself and seek the wisdom of others
  • a sign that my God is elevating me to another level, and my current mindset isn’t adequate for the place God wants to take me next
  • a birthplace for innovative and breakthrough concepts
"You can either avoid confusion because it makes you feel vulnerable-and miss the chance to upgrade your paradigm - Or lean into your confusion, admitting you don’t have the answers, and watch God expand your thinking and grow your soul."

If that's the case, even a fraction of the times I'm confused, I can learn to love to be confused too!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Delegation - It is Not about You

Often we see delegation as a necessary evil, something that can help us reduce our workload. Of course we want things done right, so we're eager to farm out the tedious and basic tasks. However, there's so much more to, and like so much else, it turns out to be about people and relationships.

My current course at Rockbridge Seminary is on Building a Small Group Ministry. We were asked to study and comment on Exodus 18:13-27. That's the passage where Moses' father-in-law Jethro points out he is overworked and need to delegate the task of being a judge to leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. If you've not read it, go and read it now, I'll wait... the passage is a wonderful demonstration of the benefits of delegation and having teams. And yet as I look at this particular passage with fresh eyes today, there's something even more powerful at work here.

Most people see this as promoting delegation as a solution to the problem of Moses being overworked. I see this as promoting the development of leaders as a means of vastly improving the sharing and understanding of vision, and of helping people to grow in an exponential fashion! It's easy to see Moses' problem, he is worn out. But this is also very much the people's problem: "they stood around him [doing nothing] from morning until evening". Here we see a potential army of people who see themselves merely as recipients of ministry from the sole leader. (Does this sound familiar??) The solution is to turn the audience into an army.

For those leaders of ten and fifty, what impact will it have in their lives to be challenged and empowered to hear disputes of people? When they are taught the word of God, how much more will they listen, now that they are directly responsible for applying His word to life? Those who actually do well at this and display God's wisdom may become leaders of hundreds or even thousands. The average person who diligently hears and applies God's word now can aspire to become a leader of ten. By bringing the difficult cases up the chain to Moses, you get accountability and even greater teaching opportunities! The growth potential for the people is amazing. In addition to this, the person hungry for more of God's word need not spend all day (or wait to have a dispute) to have access to the head honcho. Instead he'll have a relationship with someone who has a span of care of five to ten leaders - someone who is committed to helping them learn and make the best decisions possible. For 5000 people you get 655 leaders - that's 13% of the people, and everyone else is within a span of care of ten. It's hard to imagine a better biblical example of the case for small group coaches and team-based ministry.

And oh, as a side benefit, Moses can get home earlier for dinner with his family!

Election Day

Here in the USA it's election day, and I'll join the crowd in encouraging everyone to get out and vote. But there's something else very important you need to do today...

If you are an American you have a civic duty to vote.

If you're a follower of Christ, you have another duty - to pray. Our citizenship is not here on earth but in heaven (Php 3:20). So my prayer today? That God will usher in the candidate whose election will lead to the greatest glory for God, for the expansion of His kingdom, whether that is through the person's greatness or incompetence, whether it's through prosperity for our nation or whether for hard times that draw people to Him.

I don't think my prayer will be a popular one today, but my confidence is in God, not man.

Thanks for reading! I have two bonus tips for you!

First, in the next election look for "early voting" centers if your area has them. I actually voted last week and the place was empty, no lines at all! 
Second, if you like coffee, be sure to go to Starbucks and tell them you voted, to get a free tall coffee.