After hearing an encouraging account this past week of a small group leader boldly asking a member of their group if they were ready to invite Jesus to be their Lord and Savior and then reading Mark 8:34-38 in my quiet time this morning, I was reminded of the challenge to be willing to ask those who have been put in our sphere of influence the TOUGH questions. TOUGH questions that may change someone’s eternal destiny, TOUGH questions that might save a marriage, TOUGH questions that might keep someone from making a terrible choice. In the passage I referenced above, Jesus made it very clear: If you want to follow me, you have to lay down your life. No sugar coating just the plain hard truth. As a small group leader, you have been given the privilege to challenge the people in your group. Remember too, that your group members are also looking to be stretched and challenged or they wouldn’t be there. So don’t back down if you feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to ask the TOUGH question! And remember it’s ok if you are rejected. Far more people rejected Jesus and his teaching than received it and the same will be true in our lives. Bottom line: as followers of Jesus we have ALL been called to make disciples. Asking TOUGH questions is a key aspect of discipleship so keep asking (in love) despite the response that you get. Oh, and if you are wondering how the person responded to making God their Lord & Savior, they said YES!
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After 6+ years of trying to help develop a healthy small group ministry at our church, I think I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of what small groups can be. I have also been right in the center of life change and life drain in my own personal group experiences. While I have many thoughts to share about the value of grouplife, my recent thoughts have been steered in this direction: Group health seems to be like a bell curve with test scores. Some groups bomb, some groups are off the charts the other way, but most groups are just good or average. So what then are the defining characteristics of groups that are great?
Here is what I have stumbled upon. 5 defining essentials. All 5 are needed or a group will never reach its full redemptive potential. All 5 were present in Jesus’ small group which was about one thing: making disciples (becoming fishers of men). At Oakbrook, small groups reflect this same mission: friends spurring one another on to become like Jesus so the world may come to know Him. Here are the 5:
1. GREAT Leadership
2. GREAT Vision
3. GREAT Community
4. GREAT Discipleship
5. GREAT Mission
Challenging to pull ALL of these off? Extremely. It rarely happens. But unless you do, your group will never be great. Good, yes, but not great. Jesus’ group was great and we are called to strive for the same greatness so the world will come to know Him!
I will unpack these 5 essentials in a series of short posts in the days ahead.
We’ve probably all heard the concept of shepherd leadership. But do we really think about what this means? Do we lead like shepherds? Jesus does.
Shepherds guide their sheep…they never drive them. In fact, if you try and drive a group of sheep they will scatter…..the way to move a group of sheep is to lead them in the direction you want them to go.
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording over those entrusted you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of glory that will never fade away.” 1 Peter 5:2-4
We are called to lead like shepherds. But remember, the life of a shepherd yields little glory. Sheep are very frustrating to lead! But that does not mean we stop leading like a shepherd. It is so easy for us as leaders to put tasks before people and when we do, we stop leading and begin ‘driving’ people in the direction we want them to go. We begin looking at people as the objects that help us achieve our goals rather than people we are called to love and serve. Just like sheep, when we ‘drive’ people rather than ‘love’ people they will scatter.
Leaders, are YOU leading like a shepherd? Or are the people you are leading scattering in many different directions? May we all strive to lead like Jesus….the Great Shepherd.
When Paul wrote about ‘ecclesia’ (the church) meeting in homes all across the landscape, he was not thinking strategically about how these small groups were a strategy to grow the church or reach the lost. Small groups were not a focus of the early church. They were the church! There were no church buildings nor was the church recognized with any official status. The church was a movement of small groups meeting in individual’s homes. Somehow today, small groups are viewed as a program or just one of the ways to help the church assimilate people and disciple people. In very few cases are small groups actually viewed as the church or as ‘ecclesia’.
I think it is fascinating to think that the small group was the paradigm or perspective of how the church was to function or how early Christians thought about church. It’s also interesting to consider that the Scriptures do not outline for us just what a church gathering should look like or how church gatherings were to be structured. You just don’t find this.
But what you do find is a lot of writing about how Christians are to relate to each other. Love God, love one another, serve one another, encourage one another, care for one another……..and it can only be within the context of community that we do this.
Group life is ‘ecclesia’!
“We have 175 small groups in our church.” “45% of our congregation is in a small group.” “The small group I lead meets every other week and we have an 80% attendance rate.” “We had 300 people show up at the church picnic.” In our feeble attempts to measure community, I am pretty confident that we have given answers and heard answers similar to those just stated. I have heard of small group pastors that were fired because their effectiveness was matched to these types of bottom line measurements.
This leads us to an important question: How do we measure success in community? Can you take a bottom line approach? Is a numerical measurement of how many people are connected a valid way to assess the health of what is really happening?
Joe Myers, in his book ‘Organic Community’, believes that the answer to this question is found by asking ourselves what we are hoping for. I agree. If we simply want everyone in a group, then a bottom line approach may work. But if we want to create spaces where people find authentic connection and learn to become disciples of Christ, a bottom line measurement will not help us out.
Authentic connection and spiritual growth cannot be measured by the presence or lack of presence in any one space. For example, the fact that you or I are in a small group does not mean that we are experiencing authentic connection or spiritual growth. Or if you or I go to a weekend retreat, does that qualify us for now being connected into the life of our church? Of course not.
So how can we measure community? Here is what I have found to be true, feel free to disagree. In order to measure community we must first identify what it is we are hoping to achieve through our connecting efforts. Once that is accomplished, we then measure our efforts through story. Here is what I mean. At Oakbrook Church (my home), we want small groups to pursue 3 things: Intimacy with Christ, Community with Insiders, & Influence with Outsiders. Every small group leader is coached to go after these 3 ideals with their group. With these 3 purposes of group life now known, we can measure our effectiveness through the use of story. In other words, we ask group members if these 3 values are being pursued. The stories we hear allow us to measure the effectiveness of our communities. Make sense?
Here is a great example of the power of story as a measurement tool for life. Our church was challenged to grow in generosity towards others and as we did that we were encouraged to share our experiences on our church blog. Look up ‘Salt Packet’ stories and read through all the comments. Story is powerful and life changing.
Bottom line measurements offer some value but in the context of community what we are measuring is life and we simply cannot measure life with statistics. We measure life through story.
“Shared stories may not fit neat and tidy into a chart or on the back of a Sunday bulletin, but we grow to trust them as a powerful way to measure whether what we are hoping for is taking place. Shared stories are the easiest way to ensure what is important is taken into account. Story helps us measure the life of our communities.” (Joe Myers – Organic Community p.80)
Question: What are the most effective measuring tools you have used to measure community? The Community Channel wants to know!