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I recently got to interview Tim Cooper, director of leader training and resources at North Point Community Church, and organizer of their upcoming small groups conference ReGroup (which is a must-go-to conference for anyone on a church staff or that serves in small group leadership).

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1. Be honest, Tim. It’s your job to put this conference on. If it wasn’t, is this still a conference you’d attend?

Before I was on staff at North Point, I paid to come to several North Point conferences. I’ve always been a fan of the passion and excellence that North Point puts into Community Groups. Now it’s a privilege to get to be a part of putting on a conference so other churches can see our approach. So, yeah, I’d attend.

2. Now that you’re in the third year of hosting re:group, what have you learned? What will be different this year?

We sent a survey to everyone that attended last year and there were several breakouts they specifically requested. Based on some common themes, we’ve added five to this year’s list of breakouts. In particular, Bill Willits is leading a breakout called “Transitioning to a Group Model.” It’s the most requested topic in our survey results, and Bill has a ton of wisdom to bring to the table. I’m really excited for attendees to hear what he has to say.

3. What are you most looking forward to this year at the event?

Two things come to mind. First, we don’t pretend we have all the answers. We still have a ton to learn. So, the oppportunity to interact with other ministry leaders and to hear about their challenges and successes is really exciting. Second—and I think this is related to my first point—I love it when others churches get to meet our team. Most people coming to re:group know who Andy Stanley is, but not many of them know our Groups staff. They’re a collection of humble, wise, and gifted people that care so much about helping groups ministries thrive. Watching other churches interact with our staff is always one of my favorite parts of any conference we do.

4. Why should someone peel back the curtain on North Point’s small group system?

Figuring out how you build or grow a groups ministry at your church is tricky. It’s a real uphill struggle for a lot of churches. At re:group, you won’t just be exposed to our approach to groups ministry; you’ll get a lot of practical information about how to implement and grow a culture of groups. You’ll get to see what it looks like when a thriving church is all-in with groups. That can be great motivation for senior pastors and other leaders trying to create a thriving groups ministry.

Are you going to ReGroup?

 

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When God calls, you’ve got to go.

Well, I guess you don’t have to go. But to not go would be disobedience, and that’s not a choice I’m ready to commit to. So my family and I…we are going. With buckets full of bittersweet joy.

At the end of the month, I will be joining the Saddleback Community Church staff on the groups team!

This is a very bittersweet move for us. We’re leaving behind so many great relationships at Long Hollow. And beyond that, all of our family connections are here in the middle Tennessee area. We’re leaving what we know, who we love, and where we naturally find comfort. We’re leaving behind a culture that’s woven into our DNA. We’re leaving behind our Tennessee roots.

But to be joining Saddleback, and the work God’s already doing through them in both Southern California and around the world, is for us a step towards something that we feel like God’s been preparing us for for a long time.

We never saw our road at Long Hollow as just preparing grounds. We never treated it as such, either. We poured every ounce of our hearts, our lives, our energy, our minds, our bodies, our ideas, our love, our pain, our laughs, our screams, and our tears into the mission God called us to at Long Hollow. We never felt called through Long Hollow. We felt called to Long Hollow.

But at the end of the day, aren’t all experiences training grounds for what’s next? Doesn’t God always use people and places, whether good or bad, to shape our hearts for the next step? Don’t all things work to make us more like Jesus? (Romans 8:28-29)

So we’re moving. With as much excitement as we have fear. With as much eager anticipation as we have sadness.

With boldness we are taking a courageous step of faith.

photo

 

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There’s a lot of talk about what small groups need to look like. How they need to be structured, what they need to study, and where they need to go.

Through all of this, group leaders can become overwhelmed. Group leaders want to have a healthy group, and instead of adding more to their plate, it’s time to start taking things away. There are tasks that are killing your group. And killing you, too.

Let’s quit those together.

10 things a group leader should stop doing

1. Stop talking so much.

Group leaders need to listen way more than they talk. Listen to stories. Listen for pain. Listen for God’s voice in the midst of their group. Instead, most group leaders want to try to impress their group by how much they know and how close to God they are.

But that’s not what group members are looking for. And they’re not impressed.

2. Stop thinking so much.

Just love people and lead them to Jesus. Don’t make it so difficult. When you’re consumed by “planning,” the heart of the group gets lost. If you want to stop your group from sliding off of the hill, stop thinking so much. Let the Spirit prompt you in the moment. Maybe you’ve been relying on your plans and your agenda more than you have on God leading you. Instead of your leadership flowing out of your relationship with God, it’s flowing out of your to-do list.

3. Stop canceling group meeting.

This has got to quit. Let your group know that the weekly meeting is happening, even if it’s just you and your spouse. Don’t cancel because half of the group is out sick. Let this be an opportunity to get to know the other half of your group in a way you can’t when everyone’s there.

Oh, wait…you, the leader aren’t going to be there? Then it’s a perfect time to give someone else the reigns and help them develop as a leader.

4. Stop meeting every week.

(Hey, it’s my blog. I can contradict myself if I want. :-) ) It might be time to give people a breather. Take a week, or two, off. Recharge for what’s coming. Let people invest in their family. Let people relax. Then come back ready to dive back into small group.

5. Stop sticking with a curriculum even though it’s terrible.

If a curriculum isn’t working for your group, throw that junk away. It’s not worth driving your group into the ground over. You might even put the curriculum down for the night and just study the Scriptures together. Try asking these 3 questions of a text:

a. What does this passage say? (just repeat it in your own words)

b. What does this passage tell me about God?

c. Based on what this passage says, what are you going to do?

6. Stop simply studying together as a group.

Small group life is so much more than just a Bible study. It encompasses doing life together, not just studying together. Serve, pray, go, do, and laugh.

7. Stop viewing group as a 1.5 hour program.

If you want to stop doing something today that will have a huge impact quickly, then stop thinking that your group is relegated to a 1.5 hour meeting once/week. Work it in your schedule to meet with at least one person/week in your group outside of your normal meeting time. At this meeting, just get to know them a little better. Buy them a cup of coffee, and listen.

8. Stop being scared of “obedience.”

Sometimes you’ve just got to push people. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and you’ll probably get pushed back. But small groups help people obey, not just know, the Scriptures.

9. Stop telling people what they have to believe.

Give people space to explore. Push towards obedience, but give people the freedom to explore their relationship with Jesus without feeling like they need to have all of the answers and have all of their life figured out. Let them know it’s really okay to be “in process.”

10. Stop making group boring.

Shake up your routine. Change locations, studies, discussion facilitators, or prayer time. Plan a retreat, or give some practical homework. Or just throw all of that out of the window and play a game with your small group. Routines are good, but they can work against you if you stick closer to those than you do to the mission of your small group: helping people take steps of faith together.

Anything else you’d add, that a group leader should stop doing?

 

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Is your church really safe?

Ben Reed —  April 15, 2014 — 1 Comment

Is your church safe? I don’t mean “we have police officers” and “we have hidden cameras” and “I’m packing heat on my pew.”

Is your church safe for you to be you? Can you be the you that doesn’t have it all figured out? That has more questions than answers, some days? Can you be the you that you are on the inside that nobody else sees? The you that wonders how in the world a God that loves justice could also love you? The you that you’re ashamed of?

Is it safe to for you to bring your doubts?

Fears?

Questions?

Struggles?

Victories?

Insecurities?

Quirks?

Gifts?

Doubts?

Is it safe for you to bring the full force of these and not be shunned?

Not be cast out?

Not be shamed?

Not be laughed at?

Not be marginalized?

Not be made to feel “less than”?

Maybe a bigger question than, “Can you?” is “Do you?”

Do you lead the way in vulnerability? Because if you don’t, they won’t. If your current church environment doesn’t afford you this luxury necessity, create it. If you’re waiting for someone else to give you the permission, you now have it. I’m granting it to you right now. Be you. And when someone else brings their junk, don’t take a step back. Take a step forward towards them and with them. Give grace, mercy, and patience. Give truth in love. Give space for continued exploration.

If we have a Savior that died for us, and was the ultimate example of welcoming sinners, we as the Church should be the most welcoming environment on earth. The safest place to still be “in process.” The place where when you join our community you instantly feel at home. You may not be able to put your finger on it, but our people should feel like your people. Our group, your group. Our home, your home. Our grace, your grace. Your story, our story.

By our posturing, may we, the Church, be certain we’re not telling the world, “Fix your junk before you come in here. Otherwise we will boycott, marginalize, slander, and shun you.”

The safest place you’ll ever find yourself is in a small group community that simultaneously knows and loves you. (Tweet that)

Jesus was a “friend of sinners.” (Matthew 11:18) Are we?

 

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I wish I could forget

Ben Reed —  January 31, 2014 — 3 Comments

Ever said this? I bet you have. There’s something that’s happened to you that you wish you could wipe from your memory forever. You wish it would never pop up when you hear that song. Or visit that restaurant. Or smell that smell or see that movie. You wish you could go back to the time before it ever happened because the reminder is so deeply painful.

I was recently meeting with someone who had been deeply sinned against. He had been hurt by someone else, and he made the statement, “I just wish I could forget that this ever happened.”

Maybe you’ve said something like that.

You wish you could forget

  • that relationship
  • what she did to you
  • how he treated you.
  • when your dad left.
  • when you failed at ___.
  • when you quit ______.
  • the pain of divorce.
  • when you started your addiction.
  • when he hit you.
  • when you got fired.
  • when you had to ask my kids to forgive me.
  • the time he sinned against you.
  • the time he sinned against you again.
  • the time he sinned against you again and again.

It would be easier to just forget this pain, wouldn’t it?

But remembering the pain of someone hurting you allows you to love them in a way you couldn’t otherwise. It gives you the chance to offer grace where it is not deserved. Forgiveness where it hasn’t been earned. And it encourages you to seek God in a way you wouldn’t otherwise, being forced to lean on Him for support in a fuller way than you may have without the pain.

God doesn’t let us fully forget. Because by leaning more fully on God, and offering more grace, love, and forgiveness, we become more like Jesus.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. – the Apostle Paul, Romans 8:28-29

 

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How do preschoolers tell the Christmas story?

My church sat down with some recently.

I think you’ll enjoy their…retelling.

A Kids’ History of Christmas from Long Hollow Creative on Vimeo.

 

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change-flickr-david-reece

image credit: grist.org

Growing up, I played sports a lot, but golf was the game that stuck. On the other side of being able to regularly play competitive sports because of “life,” golf continues to be a sport I’m able to play, and not embarrass myself.

While playing competitively, I took lessons from a handful of coaches over the years, each of whom had their strengths, and taught me a different aspect of the game.

But one thing was constant with each coach and each lesson I took.

After changing my swing, even just a little bit, I always got worse.

Always.

There was never once where my coach would shift my grip, or adjust my posture, or shorten my backswing, where I would go out the next day and fire the round of my life.

Not. Even. Once.

I’d hit one or two good shots. And 75 bad ones.

Then the next round I’d hit 3 or 4 good shots.

Followed by another coaching lesson change.

Followed by a mere 1 or 2 good shots.

Over time, those 75 bad shots became less bad. And the 1 or 2 good shots became 8 or 10.

The positive effects of a swing change were never instantly felt. Even though I was making changes for the better.

Some times, when things got tough and I didn’t want to keep fighting through the difficult change, I’d revert back to old habits. In the heat of the moment, it made things easier. But never did it help in the long run.

If I went back to old habits, it would feel good, but I was no better off.

Organizational change

Organizational change is no different. It’s just on a larger scale. With more zeros on the end.

You know the changes that need to be made in your organization. Changes that will help move things forward. Changes that will open the door for new growth. Changes that will get the right people on your team.

Changes that will help position you for a bigger community impact. Changes that will lead you into the next phase of development.

But when you try to implement those changes, your organization will take a couple of steps backwards before it take steps forward.

My context for organizational change is the local church. Maybe yours is the non-profit board you sit on. Or the company you work for. Or the small group you lead. Or the running club you’ve joined.

When the change process begins, there’s a tension that exists between what “was” and what “could be.”

What “was” represents what

  • isn’t that bad 
  • isn’t completely broken
  • is “safe”
  • is comfortable
  • is known
  • is controllable

What “could be” represents what

  • is difficult
  • is painful
  • doesn’t instantly make you feel good
  • causes us to swallow our pride
  • stretches us
  • isn’t controllable
  • could fail
  • is unknown

But you know what change needs to happen. You see things differently. You see a preferred future, with more growth, more impact, more products (or ideas, depending on your industry), and more lives changed. That’s why you’re there!

Quit complaining about things being tough! Without difficulties, there’d be no need for leadership. And you’d be out of a job. [Tweet that!]

Don’t let the regressive, two-step backwards process of change keep you from moving forward. Going back to old habits, to what feels comfortable and easy and well-worn, isn’t what’s good for you and your organization. Even though it’s more comfortable at the time.

Aim for what could be, and don’t stop until you get there. [Tweet that!]

Even if you get burned. Even if you fail. Even if it’s difficult. And trust me…it will be.

If you give up on the first few steps backwards, you’ll never realize the growth that change can bring. [Tweet that!]

I’m rooting for ya.

 

Don’t give up and be helpless in times of trouble. – Proverbs 24:10

 

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If you’re married, or ever been in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, you know that men and women communicate differently.

And I bet you’ve had an argument discussion that went something like this.

 

 

 

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Running from pigs

Ben Reed —  December 13, 2012 — 2 Comments

Why is it that when you place a seemingly innocuous quote on top of a cool picture, the quote instantly becomes cooler? Deeper? Moving?

I don’t know, but I’m willing to give it a try.

But I don’t want to take this too seriously. Unless, of course, you mean going over-the-top serious. In which case…yes, please!

Let’s do this together. I’ll prime the pump. You fill in what you think could be the stirring quote on top of this photo. Even if the quote doesn’t exactly match the tone of the photo. Make it a good one!

I’ll pick a winner, and post it to Pinterest. Because that’s where the majority of these kinds of pictures end up, right?

Here’s the pic, by itself:

photo-7

Here it is, with a couple of different “sayings.”

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 9.19.52 AMScreen Shot 2012-12-13 at 9.23.35 AM

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 9.18.46 AM

 

 

 

 

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My friend, Margaret Feinberg [www.margaretfeinberg.com], has a new book and 7-session DVD Bible study called Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God [www.margaretfeinberg.com/wonderstruck] (releasing Christmas Day). She describes it as “a personal invitation for you to toss back the covers, climb out of bed, and drink in the fullness of life.” I say that as long as that drink is coffee, we’re good. :)

I’ve enjoyed Margaret’s stuff. She has a way of writing that captures my head and my heart. That stirs me to love God, and the beauty He possesses, unlike most present-day writers. Margaret has a way of crafting language that can help you fall in love with your King all over again. In this book, she succeeds at helping you see the wonder of God in your own story.

Wonderstruck Cover Art Image

I recently received the insider’s scoop about Margaret’s new book. Here are some highlights from the interview:

Where did the inspiration for the Wonderstruck book and Bible study come from? 

Have you ever had one of those seasons where everything goes wrong, and when you think it can’t get worse, it somehow finds a way? My husband, Leif, and I had just gone through one of the roughest years of our lives. In the aftermath, as we processed the pain and loss, I had an unexplainable desire in my heart. I began praying for the wonder of God. In essence, I said, “God reveal yourself, your whole self to me. I want to know you as Wonderful. I want to know you as I’ve never known you before and see you in places I’ve never recognized you before.” God did not disappoint. 

What do you mean by “the wonder of God”? 

Sometimes talking or writing about wonder feels like tying kite strings to clouds. It’s ethereal, and you can never quite get a grip on it. But if you look in the dictionary, the two main definitions of wonder are: “being filled with admiration, amazement, or awe” and “to think or speculate curiously.” 

Those definitions come together beautifully in our relationship with God. That’s why I define the wonder of God as those moments of spiritual awakening that create a desire to know God more.

In other words, the wonder of God isn’t about an emotional experience or having some cool story to tell your friends, but the wonder of God makes us want more of God—to go deeper and further than we’ve ever been before. 

Why do you think we so easily lose the wonder? 

It’s amazing how quickly we can grow numb to the wonder of God in our lives. I think there are a variety of reasons. Paying bills. Getting that degree. Providing for a family. Raising kids. Caring for aging parents. The list goes on. 

All too often we find ourselves head down, pushing ahead, just trying to get through. Somewhere along the way, a gap begins to develop between God and us. A drifting takes place. We’re not only less aware of God’s presence in our lives, we’re less expectant. And so even when God does show up, we miss him. We pass by unaware. We’re spiritually asleep and we don’t even know it. 

Yet I believe that as followers of Jesus we’re meant to live wonderstruck. We’re invited to live on the edge of our seats in wild expectation of what God might do next. I want to live with this kind of divine expectation, that wide awake spiritual hunger, searching for God in how ever he may want to reveal himself. 

Why you do you encourage people to pray for wonder? 

This is an incredibly powerful prayer, because praying for wonder invites us to change the posture with which we live our lives. When we pray for wonder, we’re asking God to expand our capacity to see and savor the divine gifts all around and take us deeper in our journey with Christ and in the Scripture than we’ve ever been. A prayer for wonder essentially says, “God, I want more of you! Take my breath away!” And leaves us living expectant for how God will answer.  

What do you hope people will gain from the Wonderstruck book and Bible study?

My hope is that you will be awakened to the imminent presence of God in your life. We do not serve a God who is far off, but One who is near, ever present, and intimately involved in the most minute details of our lives. I think we can so easily forget this. 

So my prayer has been that you will begin seeing God in unexpected ways right in the midst of your routine, that your passion for God will be reignited, and you’ll find the Scripture coming alive in a whole new way. 

Follow Margaret’s snarky, funny, and inspirational posts on Twitter [www.twitter.com/mafeinberg], Facebook [www.facebook.com/margaretfeinberg], or her blog [www.margaretfeinberg.com]. You can learn more about this great book by visiting www.margaretfeinberg.com/wonderstruck where she’s offering some crazy promos right now with up to $300 of free stuff.You can snag it for $7.95 ($14.99 retail) on Barnes & Noble [http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wonder-struck-margaret-feinberg/1110904808?ean=9781617950889] if you like to get good things on the cheap. If you don’t, go ahead and buy it for full price at your local bookstore.

 

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