5 leadership truths I’ve learned from my children
1. Don’t root your identity in what people think
2. Have fun
At the box where I do Crossfit, we have this concept called “work for the rest.” We do workouts occasionally that are a prescribed amount of time, with a rest, then repeat. So that would look like this:
3 minutes of burpees
1 minute of rest
3 minutes of pull-ups
1 minute of rest
3 minutes of seated row
1 minute of rest
So the idea is that you’d sprint the burpees, pull-ups, and the row because you get to rest immediately afterwards and because you’ve got to sprint again. Our coaches are harping on us the whole workout saying, “Work for the rest!” In other words, work so hard that you have to take the rest. Push yourself so hard that you have to stop at the prescribed time in order to rest. Work so hard that you’re gasping for air, barely able to stand up, not-able-to-talk tired. Don’t get to the 60 seconds of rest and think, “I could’ve done a little more.” You’re getting a rest for a reason! You should need it
There are spiritual implications to this concept, too. Our bodies were created to work. And not just any work. We were created to do significant work. Work that matters here and echoes throughout eternity. Work that serves our families. Our communities. Work that gives back. That makes the world a better place.
But we were also called to rest. Rest replenishes our bodies. Helps us refresh. Allows our life rhythms to breathe. (ultimately, the “rest” that the Bible talks about finds its fulfillment in Jesus, who calls us to “rest” from our works: we don’t have to earn our relationship with God. That’s another post for another day.) It shows our dependence on God, as we rest instead of work, acknowledging He’s the one that is in control.
Did you know that we’re commanded to rest? It’s actually one of the 10 commandments:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. – Exodus 20:8-9
We tend to think of disobedience as breaking the law. Doing something “bad.” But the Bible would say we’re being disobedient if we don’t rest.
Here’s what you need to know when it comes to work and rest.
Work so hard and so well that your body, soul, and spirit are gasping for air because you’ve given all you’ve got. Work so hard that you can’t go on because you need that rest. And while you’re at it, make yourself indispensable. Become a linchpin.
The Apostle Paul says this:
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men – Colossians 3:23
If you knew what you were doing was “for the Lord,” as in you were receiving a direct instruction from God himself, you’d work a little bit differently. You’d put a little more oomph into those “mundane” tasks. You may show up a little earlier. Stay a little later. Put more creativity in. Share more deeply. Lead more passionately. Give more generously.
Go! Go! Go! The rest is coming. [Tweet that]
Work well, and take the rest. Let your body, soul, and spirit recover. Find those things that help your soul replenish. For me, that means a few things:
Through rest, God breathes life back in to me. I need it, too. I give everything I have to my work. Every ounce of my experience, abilities, passion, and life. So I need a fresh wind every single week. I need Rest. Rest gives me energy, stamina, creativity, and the ability to get back up again. It also reminds me, each and every week, that in my rest that I show my dependence on God. I could work. Or I could trust God to do the work He’s promised He will. I remind myself that my body’s not my own. The ministry’s not my own. My family’s not my own.
And after rest, I’m ready to go back out. I strive to rest so well that I’m ready to get back at it.
Just recently, a pastor friend of mine stepped down from his leadership role because he was burned out. He’d gone so hard for so long without taking rest for his soul. The scary part for pastors like us is that if we don’t rest well, we could lose the ministry we’re striving so hard to serve. [Tweet that]
When you don’t rest, you’re not ready for what’s coming. You end up producing less, being less available, and having less capacity. You can’t give your all to what’s coming because you’re still trying to run on empty.
So rest. Rest well. Rest hard. That next 3 minute sprint is coming.
Tomorrow’s coming. That next season is coming. That next project is coming. That next ministry opportunity is coming.
Your family needs you. Your friends need you. Your community needs you. And if you’re a pastor, your church needs you.
Not the tired, burned out, rode-hard-and-hung-up-wet you. They need the fresh, Rested you.
I’m a man. A husband. A father. A pastor. A Millennial. A Jesus follower. A Crossfitter. A coffee guy. A wanna-be tech enthusiast. A Tennessean-born-and-raised-Californian.
Any one of those could be a stereotype. Every one of them is.
Please don’t categorize me. It may help you to process things more quickly, make decisions and move ‘forward.’ But I’m not simply the caricature of any of them. Don’t short circuit me into a stereotype so that you feel more comfortable.
Husbands are dumb. Fathers are absent. Millennials are entitled. Jesus followers are judgmental. Coffee guys are irresponsible with their money. Pastors are narrow minded bigots. Cross fitters have cult like intensity. Men are chauvinists. Californians are skin-deep. Tennesseans are rednecks.
Maybe, just maybe, I’m going to destroy your mold for who you think I am. Because God has created me unique. I’m not a category. I’m not a group. I’m me. With all of my idiosyncrasies, my tendencies toward sin, my quirks, and my gifts. My experiences, both good and bad, have deeply shaped who I am, how I lead, and how I interact with you.
I’m not the dad that used to live in this house. I’m not the husband you saw growing up. I’m not the pastor you watched once on TV. I’m not the Crossfitter who will yell at you because you’re not doing your burpee to standard. And I’m not the bumbling man you see on TV. I’m not a typical Californian…but I do have a little redneck in me. 🙂
I am a husband that loves his wife and a dad that loves his kids. I am a Crossfitter that cares deeply about my own physical health. I love serving other people coffee nearly as much as I enjoy consuming it. I love Jesus with everything I am, but if you’re not also a Jesus follower we can still be friends. I’m not going to boycott you.
When you get to know someone, and their story, perceptions change. Nobody is the sum of their caricatures.
If you want to be able to lead people, learn their story.
If you want to be able to speak hope to people, learn their story.
If you want to be able to love people, learn their story.
If you want to be able to change culture, learn people’s stories.
If you’re a Jesus follower, you’re called to love. In fact, that’s how the world knows that we follow Jesus.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35
You cannot truly love someone you do not know.
Every culture and organization has rules. Spoken and unspoken, these rules provide safety, security, and a roadmap through which everybody walks.
Rules aren’t evil. They’re set in place by people with the best of intentions in order to guide the culture towards the vision.
Sometimes, the rules win, and we’re broken by them. Sometimes we win, and the rules are broken by us. [tweet that]
We leaders have a responsibility. Because what they do, others follow, whether positively or negatively.
Followers don’t have the same influence as leaders. Sure, they can break, or follow, the rules. And sure, there are consequences on both sides of either decision.
But it’s leaders that shape a culture’s values by the way they handle rules. [tweet that]
When I was on staff at Grace, I remember one of the “rules” was that we were supposed to follow was when we hosted our connection event. “The best time for this is during the week,” we were told. But if our aim was to connect the maximum number of people, we wanted to offer this event at the time when the maximum number of people were present: during the weekend services. So we broke the rules, hosted it immediately following a weekend service, and doubled the number of people we connected to small groups.
At Saddleback right now, we’re in a church wide small groups campaign. One “rule” we broke was offering a 2nd pickup location for curriculum on our main patio. We didn’t change just for the sake of change. We had the vision in mind: to offer a high level of customer service to people who were starting new small groups.
Leaders shape the rules, while others follow. Which is a great responsibility.
They need to be broken, or bent, or completely rewritten. Maybe they’ve stopped serving their intended purpose. Maybe they’re hindering growth. Maybe it’s time for your culture to move past them. Leaders recognize this, and find a way to mobilize others to shape the rule.
They need to be returned to their original aim. Rules can at times be broken for the wrong reasons, and leaders recognize when this has caused a cultural shift. Leading the way by following the rules can often take as much (or even more) courage as breaking them. And it’s often much less sexy.
But how do you know whether to follow, or break, the rules?
Wisdom understands and sees the vision, and heads towards it despite all costs. Break the rules, keep the rules, but at all costs, let wisdom drive you head first towards the vision. [tweet that]
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown. – Proverbs 4:7-9
Is there a rule you need to break today?
When I was in graduate school, I worked an hourly job as a barista. I loved it, for so many different reasons. The people, the atmosphere, the camaraderie, and the unlimited supply of coffee. I cannot overstate the beauty of that last truth.
A few years later, as I was finishing up school, I took a role on staff at a church. Instead of hourly, I was salaried. No more punching a clock. No more *required* lunch breaks. No more worrying about hitting my *full time* hour mark. A consistent paycheck was a thing of beauty. I wasn’t paid by the hour anymore. Now I was paid regardless of hours. I was paid the same whether I worked 40 hours or 80 hours. I was now being evaluated not based on the time I put in, but by the work I put out. My “grade” was built on the projects I completed. The leaders I recruited. The deadlines I hit. The goals I surpassed.
Being a “doer” by nature, I loved this. I loved tackling new initiatives, writing new curriculums, and building a team to help accomplish it all.
And now I had the flexibility to work from anywhere I chose: the office, a coffee shop, outside, or even my own house. It was amazing.
Until it wasn’t.
Work continued to creep in to family time. What felt like great momentum and progress began to take over my life. I found myself checking emails at any, and all, hours of the night. On my days “off,” I was cranking through writing projects, meeting with leaders, and planning events. And everywhere I turned, I was met with a, “Wow, you’re doing such a great job!”
Encouragement for a job well done is like crack for a “doer’s” soul. It feeds pride, and affirms all of the extra hours devoted, no matter what they cost in the moment.
“Great job!” doesn’t take into consideration the sacrifice that others had to make. It doesn’t factor in the ripple effect that the extra hours during family dinner had. Or the toll that it took when you scheduled a “working lunch” instead of capitalizing on time with your family. “Great job!” feeds the visible, outward-facing side of a completed project. The place where pride loves to hang out.
What I found was that every time I sent an email during family time, I was telling them that work was more important.* I was putting in all kinds of overtime for my job, and slighting the ones I loved the most.
Being in a salaried role, you may not be tracking your hours. But your family is. [Tweet that]
I was tired of putting my family second to my job. Even though my “job” is my calling from God, my priorities were out of whack. My family is my primary calling.
God has placed your family under your care. And if you abdicate your role, you are spurning a gift God has given you. A beautiful, precious, and at times fragile gift. One that’s not easily gained, but in a moment can be lost.
Children are a gift from God. A reward. (Psalm 127:3) And a spouse? “Fathers can give their sons an inheritance of houses and wealth, but only the LORD can give an understanding wife.” (Proverbs 19:14)
My family is my primary calling. And so is yours. It doesn’t matter if you’re a full-time vocational minister or not. If God’s blessed you with a family, that’s your first calling. And it’s your job to guard your time with them, and treat it as the gift it is intended to be in your life.
Here are 5 ways I intentionally guard my time.
1. No more emails buzzing my phone.
When I feel my phone buzz, like Pavlov’s dog I have to check. Until I do, I twitch. So I turned off the buzz, and do you know what happened? I stopped twitching.
2. Calendar my Sabbath.
I actually block off time on my calendar for my day off every week. But even this hasn’t always worked. I’d block off the time, but still find a way to squeeze in an hour or two here and there. So in addition to calendaring my day off, I had to actually honor that.
Those are two different, but equally important, tasks.
3. Capture ideas, but don’t act on them.
If you’re like me, inspiration never strikes at the perfect moment. I don’t have the grand idea when I have my computer open. I have it when I’m almost asleep at night. Or when I’m in the middle of a meeting. Or…on my day off.
So I started working out this thing with my wife, where I’d tell her exactly what I’m doing: I’m jotting down an idea so I won’t forget it.
Because if I don’t capture that idea, I’ll be haunted by it, not able to think about anything else until I record it.
Quick. Easy. Done. Back to my family.
4. Take pictures, but don’t post them.
This was a big one. Because I’d take my phone out of my pocket to capture a moment, then when I went to post it to Instagram I’d get sucked in to the web of social media. Then I’d remember that email I had to send. Then I’d text a co-worker. By the time I’d blinked, an hour had passed.
So now I just use my camera app, take the picture, then post later.
It’s an easy step, and one that keeps me engaged with my family.
5. Get up early.
When I need to get extra work done, just like you do, I get up extra early. If a sacrifice has to be made, I’m going to be the one to make it, not my family. I’ll work when it’s inconvenient for me. My wife and kids aren’t naturally up at 4 am.
6. Be present.
When I’m with my family, I work hard to be with my family. It sounds simple, but removing distractions so that I can live life in the moment with those I love communicates loads of value.
I’m still not perfect at this. It’s a work in progress. But I’m continuing to take steps in the right direction. Oftentimes, it’s 2 steps forward, then 1 step backwards. But I’m moving in the right direction.
At least, I think I am. You’re probably better off asking my wife, though.
*There are times when emails and phone calls need to be taken on a day off. I get it. Emergencies happen. I’m talking more about patterns of behavior here, not one-offs.
This is an excerpt from my book, Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint. It’s more than an excerpt, too. It’s the entirety of chapter 2, my favorite chapter. This is the part of the book that I love the most, it was the easiest to write (because it was an overflow of so much of what I teach and live), and it’s the part I come back to most because it’s so foundational to everything I do.
My book’s on sale this week! Pick up a copy for yourself, or someone you’d like to invest in spiritually! Pick it up HERE.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
I don’t think it was ever stated, but growing up, I was made to believe that the Sunday morning worship experience was the most important aspect of my walk with Jesus—that if I missed a Sunday, I’d probably be struck by lightning. This was unintentional, for sure.
It’s just too easy for church leadership to slip into this mindset. Every Sunday morning is coming, whether you like it or not. So significant energy has to go into making sure Sunday happens. From sermon preparation to ensuring our worship team is going to be ready, from making sure the gathering room is clean to being sure we have offering buckets in the right spot to cones in the parking lot, it all has to be ready for the collective gathering of a larger group of people.
And without the Sunday morning experience, you won’t have an (gasp!) offering. So Sunday mornings have to happen. And they’re unbelievably important to our faith.
Without relational connection, the church isn’t the church. The church isn’t a building to be occupied by people once a week. You don’t believe that, and neither do I. The church is us, the people. We are the ones for whom Christ died. Not our buildings. Not our hymnals. Not our pews. It’s the people who are the church. And without relational connection, you don’t have a church.
At one level, my church experience growing up was good. I’m so thrilled that I grew up in a church that taught the gospel. My childhood church believed in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The people shared this message with others. But at another level, it didn’t work. My growth as a disciple happened outside of the scope of the normal way of doing life in my local church. My experience left me with more knowledge, but at the end of the day, the church was just a show. Not something that I actively participated in, but something I observed. I was a soaker—a sponge, entering the doors ready to be filled with water, rather than simultaneously emptying my sponge and soaking it back up.
It was after my junior year of high school that my spiritual life began to rocket forward. Every Friday night, a group of us guys would get together to study the Scriptures, pray together, actively engage in conversations about Jesus, hold one another accountable for our growth, and top it off with late-night runs to Waffle House. And occasionally throw rolls of toilet paper on the neighbor’s trees. Thankfully, I’ve grown since then. Kind of.
It was incredibly freeing and life-giving. At no other point in my spiritual life had my opinion been truly valued like with that group. At no other point had I been listened to rather than preached at. At no other point had I felt so closely connected relationally to people headed in the same direction as me. If it hadn’t been for that small group, I would in no way be who I am today.
We were living out Acts 2:42-46: “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.”
For me, church never felt like Acts 2:42-26. Never. It was when I lived this out in the context of healthy relationships that I grew and became a disciple. Spiritual growth is so much more than information transfer.
If your church views spiritual growth as a process that happens simply through watching a show, it may not be Jesus followers that you’re creating. Without healthy relationships, you can’t fully honor God. Let’s look at some of the “one anothers” found in Scripture:
– Be devoted to one another. (Romans 12:10)
– Live in harmony with one another. (Romans 12:16)
– Love one another. (Romans 13:8)
– Be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50)
– Wait for one another when you come together to eat. (1 Corinthians 11:33)
– Serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
And it’s really hard to do this in a corporate worship setting. It’s really difficult to “be devoted” to someone else when you’re looking at the back of their heads and listening to someone else talk. It’s even more difficult to “serve one another” that way. Unless, of course, they need their hair brushed. Just the back part of it.
Without smaller communities, sitting in circles, not rows, it’s nearly impossible to obey God in all things. Don’t believe me? Then try this experiment. Read this verse, then I’ll toss an activity your way. “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
Now, this coming Sunday morning, I want you to try to bear someone else’s burdens. And if you have a small group that meets on Sunday morning, that doesn’t count. Try to “bear one another’s burdens” while your pastor is preaching. Or while you’re walking in to the service. Or while you’re singing. Or while you’re filling up your cup of coffee. Even though my “burden” may be a second cup of coffee, I’m not sure that is what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the churches at Galatia.
In fact, Paul is talking about overcoming something. Maybe it’s their sin. Maybe it’s the sin of someone else. But sharing someone’s burdens refers to helping walk someone back to the road of health and growth and grace. The burden of sin isn’t one we’re equipped to handle on our own. And to boil that down to “I’ll pray for you” is to weaken this command. It would be like filling someone’s coffee cup up with decaf. It takes the power right out of a good cup of coffee.
If you want to help people grow spiritually, get them doing life together. Not just getting together to watch a movie or hang out. Not just getting together to pray. Not just getting together to study the Bible. Not even just getting them together to serve. “Doing life together” encompasses so much more. How much more, you ask?
Let’s walk through an exercise. Name 10 sermons you’ve heard in your life that have shaped you.
Sermon Title Scripture References Significant Takeaway
I doubt you could name ten. I can remember just a couple of sermons that impacted me in life-altering ways. In the moment, I walk out of so many sermons thinking, “Wow! That was amazing!” but then I don’t apply the truth I’ve heard. Or I just simply forget it by the time my stomach growls for a Sunday afternoon lunch.
Now name 10 people that have invested in your life.
Name How you’re different because of them
Much easier, wasn’t it? It’s easier because people are much more memorable than ideas. And people help us contextualize truth, rather than keeping truth at an intellectual arms-length. When we sit in an auditorium and listen to a preacher proclaim truth, it’s easy to think, “I know someone who needs to hear this.” Or, “That’s a strong truth” without ever applying it.
Small groups are vital to the health of a local church. This reality is best understood when we put the why before the what. I love Sunday morning corporate worship. It energizes me to worship with other believers, and be challenged by good, solid preaching. But corporate gatherings alone will dry me up, spiritually. I need small group life. The times in my life when I was most alive spiritually have been the times when I was concurrently living life in honest, transparent community, not hiding behind a mask. Which is all-too-easy to do when you’re in a corporate setting. Hiding is much tougher when you’re living life with others.
1. It’s easy to hide in a large gathering. It’s tougher to hide in a small group. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. Which, let’s be honest, we’d prefer. Hiding is, at least in the short term, safer, easier, and a lot less messy. But for our spiritual growth, hiding is dangerous. And healing is found in confession with other like-minded believers.
2. It’s too easy to be passive during a sermon. Sermons are primarily about soaking in information. It’s a passive activity, for the most part. But we need to engage with the Scriptures while we engage with others. Good small groups don’t allow the passive person to remain that way. Healthy small groups are more intentional about engagement.
3. There is little to no accountability in corporate worship. If you, in your heart, commit to some area of obedience during a sermon, who is going to help you follow through with that? Our hearts are weak and our wills easily swayed, so we need others to walk alongside us. Follow-through is much easier in a small group than in a corporate setting, as we have people praying for our particular needs in smaller groups.
4. We’re prone to think we matter too little in corporate worship. In a room full of people, we are tempted to think that, in the big scheme of things, we really don’t matter. Unfortunately, we can fall into the trap of believing that our perspective, our gifts, our struggles, and our victories don’t carry much weight. Small groups remind us that we are loved, cared for, and bring culture-shaping gifts to the table that God intends to use.
5. We’re prone to think we matter too much in corporate worship. In a corporate setting, the other side of the coin is that we think our problems are the only ones that matter, that nobody really understands our struggles. Nobody could possibly know our pain. Nobody could remotely grasp our situation. Small groups remind us that others have problems like we do. .
6. We’re prone to think, “They need to hear this” in corporate worship. Don’t lie. You’ve thought that. You’ve heard a sermon and said, “Oh man, I sure wish _____ was here. She needs to hear this.” How arrogant are we when our only thought is how God could be speaking to someone else, instead of to us directly? Small groups challenge us to apply Truth personally. Small groups don’t let us get away with, “they need this.”
7. We’re prone to think, “This is only for me” in corporate worship. When we’re not thinking, “This is only for them,” we can easily think, “This is only for me.” We’re good at making the world revolve around us, especially when it comes to feeling sorry for ourselves. Small groups keep us from cycling into destructive self-pity and loathing. They help us think rightly about ourselves and God, reminding us that we’re only a part of the whole, and that other people are dealing with “life,” too. We’re told to “encourage one another daily” because our hearts are prone to being deceived by sin (Hebrews 3:13). We’ve got to have others to help us think rightly.
8. In a large gathering, when we cry, there’s nobody to ask us, “What’s going on?” If you cry in a large gathering/worship service, it’s easy for people to walk right by you, assuming someone else will stop and pray for you. But they don’t know your story. They don’t understand where the tears are coming from. They don’t know what they’d say. They don’t want to get too involved in your mess.
Small groups don’t allow tears to go unchecked. If you cry in a small group, everybody notices. And everybody cares. Tears become everyone’s problem, not just someone else’s. If you’re in pain, it becomes everyone’s problem, because everyone’s been praying for you, meeting with you, and growing with you. In other words, you have a relationship with them.
9. No food is allowed in most worship gatherings. There’s a sign outside of the worship center in the church building where I’m on staff that says, “No food or drink allowed.” Just because I “get it” doesn’t mean I have to like it. Thankfully, we eat well in our small group, which I’m convinced is a God-honoring activity. I can’t help but think of this key verse: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). Nothing helps a relationship form like a full belly.
10. “Be quiet while the pastor is preaching!” Small groups give you time to have deep, life-stirring conversations with people. Conversations that, if you tried to have them during a sermon in a worship service, people would look at you like you were crazy. They may even call security. And write blog posts about you.
Corporate worship services don’t lend themselves to discussions that help with understanding and application. Small groups ask hard questions and allow for discovery. Learning isn’t simply about transferring information. It’s about interacting with that information. Learning involves poking and prodding and finding the holes, then overlaying it on your life to see where and how things need to change.
11. Convictions can go unchecked in corporate worship. When the Spirit moves in small group, you’ve got time to slow down. But not so in a corporate worship service. When you’re convicted in a room full of people, it’s easy to slough it off, attributing it to the burrito you ate for dinner the night before.
In a small group, though, you have a chance to share those areas of your life that still need to grow. And you get to do it in a safe environment where people love you and have your best interests at heart. Then next week, they’re going to ask you about it. Not because they have to. But because they want to because they care.
12. It’s rare to pray for specific needs in a corporate worship setting. Small groups pray for the specific needs of their group members. Not just generic, “God, thank you for what you’re going to do here in this place” kind of prayers, but authentic pleading before God for others. Your needs are brought before God by others.
It’s life-giving when you hear others praying for you. When you hear others begging God to show up in your life: where you work, in your home, and in your relationships. Have you ever heard someone verbally pray for you, specifically? If so, then you know what it’s like to feel genuinely loved.
But small groups don’t do everything well. Setting realistic expectations is important, so that we don’t hope for something small groups can never give us.
One of the reasons that people get so frustrated with small group life is because they step in expecting something that small groups never promise to provide. Maybe they expect to get another sermon, like they did on Sunday morning. Maybe they expect to be constantly “fed.” Maybe they expect to have to do no work. Maybe they want a “deep” Bible study. Maybe they want a seminary classroom-style experience.
Those qualities that a small group does well are summed in 1 Thessalonians 5:14: “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
Using this verse, we can break down the important qualities of a healthy small group.
1. “Brothers:” Small groups help people “belong.” It is absolutely essential in our walks with Christ that we have brothers and sisters to whom we belong. This belonging is the foundation for the rest of the verse, and the foundation for living life in community as well.
We may prefer people to enter our churches who already believe, and have already begun to behave like good little Christians. But our culture today doesn’t value believing and behaving first. Our culture values belonging before they believe. They want to know they’re a part of something before they’ll fully believe in it.
“Church” isn’t merely a sermon factory. It isn’t merely a place that cranks out information for us to download, increasing our knowledge about God. It’s not just a place where church leaders tell people what to do and what not to do. It’s an opportunity to help people experience what being loved really means, despite pain and confusion and the junk of life. It is a chance to show love to people who have never been truly loved. Church is a place to give grace to those who have never experienced it. It’s a chance for us to worship God together, to pray together, and to serve together.
2. “Warn those who are idle:” We’re not talking about an “idol.” The word here is “idle.” We are to speak truth and hope into the lives of people who are stuck. Who can forget that living life as a Jesus follower is one of action. One of serving and loving and giving and going. Some of us need to quit planning and start doing.
Small groups are a breeding ground for personal ministry. When they’re running efficiently, then everybody contributes. Everybody has a role. And everybody feels valued because of the contribution they’re making.
Part of the responsibility of a small group leader is to help group members realize the work God’s called them to, as well as their unique contribution in the Kingdom. (Ephesians 4:12) One way this is accomplished is through turning people loose to use their gifts, rather than hoarding all of the responsibility of ministry. We’ll talk about this later, but for now, know that a vital responsibility of the group leader is not in doing everything necessary to help a group succeed. It’s in sharing the responsibilities necessary (hosting, facilitating, communication, scheduling, researching curriculum, finding and meeting needs), and in so doing, equipping people to exercise their ministry muscles.
3. “Encourage the timid:” Fear is a reality for us in many different seasons of life. It grips our hearts and keeps us in bondage. Fear is one of the key reasons why we need other people. We need others to encourage us to take steps of faith. We need to know that others have our backs when we might fail.
Our journey of faith is too difficult to do on our own. Much too difficult. And yet, we sometimes push back on the very encouragement we need. Strange and twisted, no? Sometimes, I just want to give up. My body’s tired and my mind is mush. I’d rather throw in the towel for the day. But when I press through, I find potential that I didn’t know existed. “When you feel like you’ve used every ounce of energy you possess, you’ve still got extra reserve you can draw on,” my coach once told me. Turns out he was right.
Encouragement communicates, “I believe in you,” and everyone needs to hear it. They need to know that someone else sees the same vision they do. Someone else believes they can close that gap. Someone else believes they can produce more, and become the better version of themselves that God intended. Those you lead can’t continue to do what God’s called them to do without a timely word of encouragement. Genuine encouragement is a gift you can give daily. Turns out it’s a biblical principle: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).
4. “Help the weak:” When small groups rally around people in their group, or others in their community, there’s a deeper level of relationship than is found in most other areas of life. Helping the weak is something that healthy groups do well, especially when we realize that we can use our pain to help others.
The church that decentralizes pastoral care is a healthy church. Instead of viewing care as something that has to be done by the paid staff, these churches empower members to take on significant responsibilities. Pastoral care is best when it’s done by people who do life together, because there’s a deep relationship involved.
5. “Be patient with everyone:” We’re all at different points in our spiritual journeys. And at various points, each of us can be a difficult person. Whether we’re walking through a mess ourselves, helping others deal with a mess, or trying to figure out what God’s got next for us, we need others to be patient with us . . . and we need to learn to be patient with others. Just like God’s patient with us. It’s impossible to practice patience on your own. Being that we’re all broken sinners, small groups give us a great chance to exercise patience with one another.
Notice one key component of all of these biblical commands: They involve being active. None of these commands can be accomplished while you’re passive. None can be accomplished if you just look at group life as a sponge, expecting that following Jesus is about sitting around. If you go to a small group expecting to sit and soak, then you will dry up. If you go expecting to give deeply of yourself, then you will be filled.
This active nature of small groups is one of the most important reasons why small groups are critical to the health of every local church. Let me illustrate this point with a story. I played city-league basketball growing up. I wasn’t that great. I was a scrawny white kid. But I was quick, and a decent shooter.
We played games on Saturday mornings at a local elementary school gymnasium. Overall, it wasn’t a bad place to play. Plenty of seating. It was heated and cooled. And generally, it was clean. Generally.
Taking a look at the gym floor, you’d assume everything was fine. You could tell it had been used by decades of kids playing ball. The freshly veneered surface wasn’t new, but it was acceptable. But there was a spot.
And if you were to take me to that gym today, I could close my eyes and walk to the spot. It was about 6 feet out from the basket on the side closest to the door. It was dead. Everybody playing knew the spot was there, but in the heat of a game, usually once or twice, the guy with the ball would forget about the spot, and go up for a layup with nothing in their hands. Running down the court at full speed, the ball that was once bouncing right back to the hand would bound no more, falling like a bowling ball to the gym floor and making the player look like a fool.
If only the maintenance crew had peeled back the hardwood and exposed the subfloor, it would’ve been a problem easily remedied. It wouldn’t have cost a ton of money to fix the problem. But instead of fixing the underlying issue, maintenance decided to paint right over the spot and pretend it wasn’t there. Just below the surface was this ugly hole, hidden by a freshly painted, freshly lacquered surface.
We do the same things spiritually, don’t we? We put on beautiful masks to cover over a dark part of our story. We put a fresh coat of paint over the pain to tell the world we’re perfectly fine. We slather on fresh lacquer and cover up something that we’d rather others not know is there.
We forget that God can repair and restore what’s broken. We forget that God’s in the active business of reconciling all things to Himself. And though that reconciliation might not look like we hope it will look, in time we’ll grow to see the beauty. We’ll experience God’s love, forgiveness, and grace. We’ll become new.
It’s in this active process of restoring you and giving you hope that God will breath hope into someone else, too. But not if you paint over your issues. Instead of healing, you’ll cover over rotting wood. You will let the time bomb tick, while it’s waiting to explode in the heat of battle. When you need the foundation of your life to hold the strongest, you’ll find it crumbling as you live life in hiding.
You’ve got plenty of mess and pain and disappointments and frustrations. You have plenty of unmet expectations, unmet desires, and unreached potentials. So do I. Quit acting like you don’t have problems. We’re born without a mask. So let’s quit putting a mask on. Be real and honest with someone. I’ll start: I deal with insecurity. Not every day, but I have to battle against my flesh and remind myself that I’m loved by the King of Kings. I care too much what people think and what they say. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” doesn’t ring true with me. Names hurt. Words injure. And I battle with caring too much how others respond to my leadership.
Why small groups? Because this level of authenticity just doesn’t happen in corporate gatherings. It takes intentionality and significant relationships. It takes meeting together regularly. It takes an active, not a passive, faith.
Get after it. Be active in a small group.
What do you want your small group to look like? How many people? What will you study?
What will the goal of your small group be? Paint a picture of the person you want to produce.
Who will you invite to be a part of your small group? Have you prayed for them? If not, stop what you’re doing. And go pray.
My family and I just made a massive move across the United States, from Nashville to California. From the syrupy sweet Southern US culture to the fast-paced, always-sunny Southern California.
To say that Nashville is different that Orange County would be the understatement of the century.
But we’re adjusting. Slowly, but surely, we’re building healthy relationships, finding our rhythm, and figuring out where to get the oil changed.
Coming on staff at Saddleback has already been an amazing adventure. I’ve learned more here than I’ve learned in the same amount of time in any other place. The learning curve is steep, and the amount of content, strategy, and intentionality runs deep in this place. I love it. It’s such a great fit for me in how God’s wired me for ministry.
Even though I feel like I’m just trying to keep my head above water most days.
I’ve learned a few things about leadership since I’ve been here. I can tell this is a place where I’ll continue to learn in every season of life and ministry.
This is a little nugget I’ve picked up on as I’ve spent time around leadership. In other words, don’t just do an event. Help people to take the next step in their faith journey. Don’t just host a marriage conference. Recruit small group hosts and ministry leaders. Don’t just give out resources…use them to draw people into ministry. Don’t just host a family missions event…use it to help people step in to a small group.
Your next step is just as important as the current one. (Tweet that)
Learning the culture, values, and language of an organization is often the difference between successfully transitioning into an organization and staying back on the starting line. Taking the time and space to on-board well is one of the keys to building a solid foundation. For me, I’ve done this by listening, studying, and reading. By buying cups of coffee for staffers, church members, and small group hosts. By listening WAY more than I talk.
They help you grab the real values of an organization. Relationships help you understand how things REALLY get done. They help you feel at home, like you’re a part of a family. They help you learn what people do intuitively that needs to be made known. Relationships help you move further, faster.
Without relationships, you’ll shrivel on the vine. (Tweet that)
Understanding how you’re going to accomplish your core values is key. Your strategy is unique to your local congregation, your organization, your business, or your family. Understand your strategy and relentlessly work it.
The cultural demographic in Southern California is just the slightest bit different than the one in Nashville, TN. Understanding the people you’re trying to reach is vital to progress and growth. Know what they value, where they go, and how they spend their free time.
Without a knowledge of your city’s culture, you’ll never move forward. (Tweet that)
I have heard Saddleback’s story dozens of times since I’ve been here. And every time I hear it, I feel more and more like this is my home church. That Saddleback’s story is my story.
Stories, not programs, inspire people. (Tweet that)
If you’re married and/or have children, your primary calling is to your family. Giving your family your second best is never okay. “Killing it” in ministry but not investing time and energy into your family is not okay.
Pastor: if you lose your family, we all lose. (Tweet that)
It doesn’t matter what part of the country you serve. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the church world, the business world, or volunteering in your community. Cynicism can eat an organization from the inside out. Cynicism callouses your heart towards growth and change, and keeps you from believing God’s best about your organization and the people you’re called to lead.
Run, don’t walk, from cynicism. It’ll steal your heart. (Tweet that)
You want to be a better leader, in life and in your small group. I know you do.
Nobody that reads, watches instructional videos, and seeks to grow in their faith says, “I want to put this work in…so that my leadership capacity decreases.” Nobody.
This is one of the best talks on small group leadership that I have ever heard. My friend John Morgan (blog, Twitter, Facebook) gave the talk at a leadership rally I held for small group leaders at Long Hollow Baptist Church. Whether you’re on a church staff, a small group leader, or not, this video will help you become a better leader.
(the video’s long, but worth carving 35 minutes out for)
In case you missed them, here are the 8 keys:
1. Vision – what is my small group going to look like?
Without vision, you’re not going to accomplish anything. (Tweet that)
2. Attitude – if your attitude is bad, your life will be bad.
Your attitude in how you respond to problems is the determining factor in your life. And your attitude shifts others’ attitudes, whether positively or negatively.
A negative attitude is one of the primary causes of failure. (Tweet that)
If you’re not fired up about your group, nobody else will be.
3. Confidence – improvement comes from self-improvement.
If you want your group to grow, you need to grow. Be “selfish” with your own personal spiritual growth. If you don’t believe in yourself, don’t expect anyone else to. (Tweet that)
4. Environment – you can motivate others by having faith in them.
Believe that the Holy Spirit changes lives, and create environments where that can happen best. (Tweet that)
5. Seek – learn from those with the knowledge and how-to that you lack.
Who has time to read? You do! “There’s no such thing as a time management problem. There are only priority management problems.” (Tweet that)
6. Bravery – faith is tested in the moments of difficulty.
Fear regret more than you fear failure. If we remembered people for their failures, Christopher Columbus would be the guy that didn’t find India.
You owe it to your small group to be brave. (Tweet that)
7. Initiative – develop habits of taking action before they’re ready.
Don’t wait until your group is “ready” for their next step. Push now. Don’t wait until the church does a small groups push to get people into group life. Take the initiative now. Invite people to join your group.
It’s a shame that sales people do a better job than the Church. (Tweet that)
8. Habits: can you create your vision with your current habits?
Your habits create your reality. Everyone of you is happy with where your life is, and where your group is. If you weren’t you’d be changing your habits and standards. Your small group is as good as you want it to be. (Tweet that)
I’ve talked with a number of men and women in ministry, and I’ve noticed an alarming problem. It’s often felt but rarely talked about. Just below the surface, it affects daily interactions, vision casting, and strategic planning. It affects how we relate to God and how we relate to others.
I call it post-traumatic-church-disorder.
It may not be a professional diagnoses, but it’s a real issue.
You’ve heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, right?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. – mayoclinic.org
PTSD happens after a terrifying event. PTCD, however, happens after a traumatic, stressful, chaotic, terrifying, painful experience or season in a local church. It can happen after events that our society would deem abusive (physical, sexual, verbal) and/or traumatic. PTCD cuts deeply. If there’s a place where your spiritual, emotional, and physical life should be safe, it is in a local church.The safety net you should feel by being there erodes. Finding abuse and traumatic events where a wall of safety and health should exist carves deep wounds on your soul. You may begin to deal with this issue after having been in an local church that is filled with one, or more, of the following features characterizing its leadership (whether paid staff, volunteer leadership, or elders):
Church staff/leadership teams can have these attitudes and behaviors creep in over time. And you’d be foolish to think that one person that’s dominated by one of these traits doesn’t seep its way into other staff members and into the church at large.
One bad apple spoils the bunch, and one bad staffer can spoil the team. (Tweet that)
These prideful character traits can destroy staff and church morale quicker than just about anything else.
It doesn’t take long for PTCD to set in. Just a season or two of a self-serving, manipulative, controlling leadership in your life can move your heart to a dark place. Trust is built over time, but is torn down in a moment. (Tweet that) Fortunately or not, our view of the local church greatly impacts our view of God.
How do you know if you’re suffering from PTCD? Here are some markers.
Be careful that PTCD doesn’t wreck your heart. It can. And it will. Satan would love nothing more than to keep you from Church by convincing you Church is worth keeping from. (Tweet that) By couching “Church” in the category of pain, frustration, and uselessness, you’ll sideline yourself when the Church needs you and your voice.
Here’s how you can guard your heart from growing distant and calloused:
Start here. End here. And fill every moment with asking God to guard you from bitterness, inaction, and callousness. It realigns your heart with what pleases, and what breaks, the heart of God.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Remind yourself of who the Church is.
The Church is the bride of Christ. It’s the one for whom Christ suffered and died. And remember this…Jesus had to suffer and die because the Church isn’t perfect. We’re a bunch of messed up sinners who continue to do battle against our flesh. Church leaders are sinners being redeemed, too. The Church isn’t perfect, but its Redeemer is. And He loves his bride. (Ephesians 5:21-33)
Help make better decisions
Instead of complaining, speak in to the life and leadership of your local church. If you see things differently, that just might be a gift you could give. When you see a different path, point it out. When you see disunity, expose it. When you see poor, abusive leadership, blow the whistle. Terrible leadership begets terrible leadership unless you speak up.
Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools,
or they will become wise in their own estimation. – Proverbs 26:5
Keep serving. Give of yourself until it hurts. Give of yourself until it costs you something. This will help curb your tendency of thinking that your local church only exists for you. Yes, we’re broken. Yes, we’re imperfect. But the Church is better when you serve. And as you serve, you become a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem.
Don’t go at it alone
Don’t be so foolish that you think you can work through PTCD on your own. (Tweet that) Masking over problems doesn’t make them go away. Find someone you can be open, honest, and transparent with. You need an outside perspective in order to biblically, helpfully, and healthily walk through this issue.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
Don’t give up on the local church. She is the bride of Christ, as broken and twisted as she sometimes can be. She’s worth fighting for.
She’s redemption in process. (Tweet that)
*que sad music*
Oh gosh. Wow. How do I say this?
I didn’t think this day would come. I mean, I really liked you. We clicked. We laughed. We cried.
*eye contact ceases*
For a while, this was really good. But…well…it’s me, not you.
*insert awkward silence*
I’ve changed. I guess.
*que sweaty palms*
This just isn’t working out.
I’m just not in love with you any more.
But I still like you. But not like I used to. And I know someone else that you could see.
*que the ugly crying*
Ever felt like you wanted to break up with your small group? Know it’s time to move on? Maybe your schedule changed. Maybe you added baseball practice on the same night as your small group. Maybe Thursday nights aren’t the same for your family as they were a year ago. Maybe you’ve started taking a night class.
Maybe you know it’s time for you to lead a group of your own.
Maybe the group isn’t accomplishing what it needs to accomplish, and you’re ready to be more intentional with your spiritual growth.
Break-ups are never easy. But the quicker you rip off the band-aid, the less painful the whole process becomes. If you wait years to do what you know you need to do today, you’ll cause undue pressure on you and your group.
If it’s time to break up, here are some pointers.
If you don’t have the guts to break up in person, you’re a coward. The gravity of this decision necessitates an in-person conversation. Your group loves you, and you will greatly devalue their love, and their impact on your life, if you just stop showing up and assume that they get it. You owe it to your group leader, and to the group, to be clear and forthright. An email, or a text, or just abandoning your group with no explanation isn’t the way to go.
If you’re going to break up with your group, go mano-a-mano.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. – Jesus, Matthew 18:15
(the principle application is when your brother has sinned against you, but whether he has sinned against you or not, difficult and sensitive conversations like this are best handled in person)
If there was something that bothered you about the group, be honest about it. Help the group leader know what could be done to improve the group. Choose how honest you want to be in front of the whole group. Don’t go out scorched earth. For the group leader.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. – Paul, Ephesians 4:15
Your group wasn’t all bad, was it? Did God do ANYTHING? Then encourage your group leader by helping them see how God used them. We all need encouragement, daily. Leaders especially. Most group leaders consistently wonder if what they’re doing is making any sort of an impact in people’s lives, and if God is doing anything. You leaving the group feeds their fears and insecurities, so help reassure them and assuage their debilitating fears.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. – Paul, Hebrews 3:13
Don’t wait a year to do this. Don’t wait months to do it. If you know you need to break up with your group, prolonging the inevitable makes things more difficult when the time comes. It’s going to be a hard conversation, but it’ll only get more difficult with time. Call your group leader today and schedule a coffee meeting.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. – Jesus, Matthew 5:23-24
(the principle here being that if there’s something between you and your brother, there’s something between you and God. Take care of it immediately.)
There’s hardly a better way to break it to your group leader that you’re leaving…to start a new group. There’s hardly a better confirmation of God’s work in and through your current group than for you to take the step of faith to start a new one. Don’t just leave. Leave FOR something. Don’t abandon community.
“[Don’t neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some…” (Hebrews 10:25)
Ever had to break up with your group?