My forthcoming book, Starting Small: the Ultimate Small Group Blueprint has been sent off to the publishers, and they’re doing their editing magic.
So I thought I’d get your feedback on the cover.
What do you think?
“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” – God, Genesis 2:18
I was a 22-year-old recent-college-grad, who had all of life in front of me, thought I knew the path in I was headed down, and was fired up about getting married. Also, I was clueless.
Within 3 months, my wife and I would be packing our bags, moving away from what was safe, easy, and comfortable, dealing with broken bones and no money, finding new jobs and a place to live in a city we didn’t know…and figuring it all out as a newly married couple.
I learned a lot in those first few years of marriage. I learned what it was like to live below the poverty line in downtown Louisville. I learned what it was like to make, and enjoy, coffee. I learned what it was like to pull a dual-all-nighter to finish up a couple of term papers.
And though by no stretch of anyone’s imagination do I have married life figured out, there are a few things I wish people had told me before I got married.
It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, finding a healthy balance between work life and home life is difficult. My cell phone is a wonderful tool…and a tool from the devil. Loving my job is amazing…and a curse. Having extra, outside-of-my-job work is a blessing…and a headache. Finding the balance between work life and home life is tough. And maybe that’s because a balance should never be our goal. For me, it’s come down to prioritizing what’s important. While I’m at work, I work. And when I come home, I try (as hard has I can…and I’m better at it some days more than others) to be home. Present. Active. Undistracted. I want to give my family my undivided best.
I’ve never talked with someone who said, “Communication challenges? Nope, we’re good.” Men and women think differently. Process life differently. And communicate differently. Which isn’t a bad thing. But it can become a bad thing if you don’t notice the differences, and work through them. Maybe even consider working through them with someone else, who’s been down the same road you’re headed. I extrovert my thoughts. My wife introverts hers. So as I’m thinking out loud, she’s processing (read: she’s already processed…I’m a little slow, mind you ) internally. And when she shares her thoughts, I’m still trying to process out loud what she’s already moved on from.
This was incredibly frustrating our first year of marriage. I felt un-heard. She felt disrespected. Embracing our differences has made a world of difference. It hasn’t always made things easy, but we’ve embraced our God-given uniqueness.
In the big scheme of things, paint color isn’t a huge deal. Neither is where you’re going to eat or what movie you’re going to see. And though in the moment, “You forgot to get the flour!” seems life-shattering, it isn’t.
Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;
so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out. – Proverbs 17:14
Neither is what car you’re going to buy or what house you’re going to live in. (assuming you’re purchasing within your means, and seeking God in the process) But things like, “Where are we going to go to church?” and “Are we going to join a small group?” are ones that will shape your life. Questions like, “How are we going to intentionally be generous this year?” and “What are our family values?” are ones that will slip right by you. Year after year. Unless you take the bull by the horns and quit ignoring them. “How are we going to spend our money?” and “Where do we want to be in 10 years?” are huge. Choosing moments to come home early from work. Planning a family date night. Surprising your spouse with a little extra money to spend on something they want…those are the kinds of things that seem small, but in the big picture, are huge.
You’re more selfish than you think you are. (tweet that)
As a single person, your free time can revolve around you. And that’s not such a bad thing. You can work on you. Read what you want when you want. Relax when you want where you want. Pursue the hobbies you want when you want. And because you’re single, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s not sinful. But your free time isn’t your own once you get married. To pursue a healthy marriage, look to redeem your free time in light of your spouse. Yes, you still need “me” time. But don’t abuse that.
Anything you wish you knew before you got married?
I’ve been a part of a handful of projects with Lifeway, but none that I’ve been as excited about as this one.
I was one of 4 authors to collaborate on a small group book/study called Engage: A Practical Guide to Evangelism, and I love how it all came together.
Here’s the overview:
The simple truth of the gospel does not change. And while this truth is timeless, we must always evaluate the presentation of that truth to make sure it’s connecting in a culturally relevant way. Engage is a practical study examining the act of sharing your faith. Engage: A Practical Guide to Evangelism answers questions like, How do you begin a conversation about Jesus? What if they have questions you’re not sure how to answer? What do you say if they respond positively or if they reject God’s message?
Engage is a small group study that helps you:
Here are a few quotes from the book…written in a way that’s easily shareable on Twitter or Facebook, if you’d like.
When we sat down for dinner, I assumed it was going to be a dinner just alike any other. Turns out it would be a dinner like no other.
Rex isn’t a particularly picky eater. He tends to eat whatever we put in front of him. Partly because of his taste buds. And partly because he knows that if he doesn’t eat the dinner my wife and I made, we’re not making him anything else.
This particular night, we were having sweet potato fries as a side. We’d sliced fresh sweet potatoes, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt, and roasted them in the oven. The sweet aroma weaved its way through the house.
When we sat down to eat, Rex ate his meat, but didn’t want to eat the fries. I told him that he needed to eat at least a few of them. So he pushed them around on his plate, wrongly thinking I’d believe he’d eaten them. “I don’t like orange fries,” he said.
The battle began.
“Rex, you just have to eat 4.”
The battle continued.
Then I saw it happening, but I didn’t believe it. I thought he was faking it, because he’d done it before, trying one more time to get out of eating the sweet potato fries. He started retching a little, talking between heaves: “I really don’t like orange fries.”
“Buddy, you’re going to eat 4 before you leave this table.”
Then it happened. At the exact moment I’d decided to get on his level and remind him that he’s not getting anything else for dinner…no dessert…no…and I never finished that last sentence before I saw his supper again. He cried. And I wanted to.
I gently wiped his face and hands, and helped him change out of his clothes. I took his plate to the sink, and told him we’d probably had enough dinner tonight. Me, included.
Then I wiped my face off. My mouth out. My hands off. And I put on a fresh change of clothes, too.
That moment reminded how much Jesus loves me. He loves me enough to take on the mess of my sin. To bear it for me. Because even my best is like a “filthy rag.” (Isaiah 64:6)
He loves me enough to take on the shame of my sin. To look foolish so I don’t eternally have to. (Tweet that)
Every time I’m short with my son I’m reminded again of my stench.
Every time my pride rears it’s ugly head I’m given another glimpse into the dense layers of grace God offers us in Jesus. (Tweet that)
Every time I just care about myself, ignoring the needs of others, I see my stink one more time. Because Jesus doesn’t ignore me. (Tweet that)
Even when I commit the same stupid sin. Again.
Even when I’m less than the husband I should be. Again.
Every time I wallow in my guilt and shame, Jesus comes along and gently wipes my face off. Takes my plate to the sink. And gets me a new change of clothes. He sends me to the living room and says, “It’s ok. That’s enough for tonight. You’re all clean now.”
Once again He affirms His love for me. His love never fails. (Psalm 136:1)
Even when he wears your supper. (Tweet that)
You don’t want your small group to fail. That’s not why you got into this. You want your group to succeed. You want people to grow and thrive in your group.
You want your group to be the one that people can’t wait to show up to. The one they talk to their friends about. The one that, in 10 years, they look back on and say, “That group changed my life.”
You don’t want people to dread your small group every week. To feel like they just have to come. To view it as a waste of time. To be the group of which they say, “Don’t join a small group. Mine is terrible.”
There’s a certain amount of your group’s success that you can’t control. God’s going to choose to bless or not. He’s going to sovereignly inspire group members to engage…or not. His hand of favor will be there…or not.
But there are statements you can make, personally, that will inevitably tank your group. That will guarantee you’ll get nothing out of it, and that you’ll create a terrible experience for the rest of your group. Statements that will destroy community rather than foster it.
1. They need community more than I do. I’m just doing this for them.
You need healthy, authentic community as much as anyone does. You’re never above it, because God’s created you to live dependent on others.
2. They need to hear this.
Be careful that as you’re preparing for your small group that you don’t work your way through the material making notes about who in your group needs to hear a given truth…an not including your own name. Pride comes before the fall, my friend. (Proverbs 16:18)
3. I don’t have anything to give.
There may be weeks occasionally that you are empty and dry. But God’s given you gifts that are perfectly suited to lead your group. Don’t spit on God’s grace in your life by feigning a false, self-deprecating humility.
4. I don’t have time for this.
You are busy. So am I. You and I don’t have time to avoid community. The busier we are, the more we need others speaking truth and hope into our lives. When you say this, you place yourself over and above your group members, pridefully believing your life is more important than theirs.
5. Someone else will call them.
Don’t assume that someone else is going to call and encourage your group members. Or visit them in the hospital. Or call them after a new job interview. Or text them after a test. They’re not going to. You need to do the work of shepherding that’s vital for a group leader.
6. What they need is a ‘perfect’ leader. I probably shouldn’t confess my sins here.
Perfection in a small group leader isn’t what’s needed. And in fact, group members will connect with you more over your struggles and difficult times than they ever will with you through your victories. Be open and honest when you mess up.
7. Because I’m the leader I should probably talk more.
No. No. No. The best group leaders listen way more than they talk. Listening, and giving an appropriate (rather than a forced, canned, expected) response is much more honoring, respectful, and helpful. “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.” – Proverbs 18:13
8. Curriculum? Pssht! I got this!
Don’t think that curriculum is evil. It’s not. It provides a backdrop for your group to have a conversation about truth. It’s not the end-all-be-all for your group. But it helps keep you on track and moving forward. Don’t think you’re “too good” for a focused study.
Stop it. Quit thinking too narrowly about the Gospel. Too weakly about it. Too shallowly about the power of the Gospel to change lives. Stop it.
What other statements would you include that would destroy a small group?
There are all kinds of things that people say leadership is. Ways they sum it up. Retweetable quotes. Instagram-inspired sunset-in-the-background-laden thick-fonted quotes. Ones that make you go, “Wow…that’s good.”
But at the end of the day, leadership is about making decisions. Yes, it involves a lot/ But at the end of the day, leaders make decisions. Lots of them. Every single day.
Every leader must make a lot of good decisions. They also make a lot of decisions that don’t turn out as well.
In other words, good leaders make both good decisions and bad decisions. And so do bad leaders.
So what is it that distinguishes a good leader from a bad one? (let’s not talk about character issues here…that’s another issue for another day)
It’s true that good decisions will earn you more respect, and help push the ball forward faster, than bad decisions will. But there’s a factor in making decisions that, if overlooked, will leave you taking a walk in the park rather than leading people.
What separates a good leader from a bad one? Relationships. (Tweet that)
Leadership is a relationship between those desiring to lead…and those who have the choice to follow or not.
And it’s not just about being chummy with everyone you lead. Relationships are vital in two different ways, and they parallel how to be a terrible leader. They also happen to correspond with two different animals.
1. Make decisions like a rabbit.
Rabbits never stay around to fight. At least not the rabbits I’ve run in to. When I get within 5 feet of them, they tuck their little cotton tail and hop away. They let other people do the fighting…they do the running.
As a leader, this looks like building leadership relationships purely on friendship, and making no decisions. Landing on nothing. Letting everyone else make the decisions for you. Putting your head down and running away. Assume everyone else wants to eat you, make no decisions, and lead out of fear. (Tweet that)
2. Make decisions like a bull.
Bulls don’t just stay around and fight. They don’t consult the other cows, either. They just charge.
In leadership, this looks like putting your head down and charging through everything. Assuming leadership relationships are purely top-down in-charge with no-respect for others’ gifts, time, talents, or other responsibilities. Put your head down, stomp your hoof in the dirt, and charge. (Tweet that)
But there’s a better way.
Leading with others in mind means you value collaboration. You value others’ gifts. Passions. Responsibilities. You allow people to use their expertise. You know you aren’t always be the smartest person in the room. You lean on others, because you weren’t created to be all things. God hasn’t gifted you with everything.
Leading with others in mind also means you value making decisions collectively, but you know you are the one on whom the buck falls. You take responsibility, make a decision, and move forward. (Tweet that) You know that, though you’re not the smartest, you must make a decision. You are the leader. You must move things forward. You don’t lead out of fear.
Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense,
but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.
Without counsel plans fail,
but with many advisers they succeed.
To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
and a word in season, how good it is!
- Proverbs 15:21-23
There are common themes to leadership. When your team is comprised of volunteers the value of these guidelines is amplified.
For the last 2 years I have had the privilege of working with a team of 100+ church volunteers each week. From a friendly smile to helping someone find a seat, we work to provide a warm and welcoming environment where people feel like they belong. Keeping volunteers engaged is crucial, and this is what I am learning from the experience.
You cannot over-appreciate your people. It must be genuine and frequent. Write thank you notes, give them a shout out on Facebook, and tell them you are grateful for their servant hearts. Volunteers work hard without compensation. They need to know you see and value their contribution. Acts of appreciation don’t have to be grand. Most of the time volunteers shy away from the spotlight. A simple handshake and a short conversation letting them know you care goes a long way.
Never ask your people to do something you are not willing to do. Sometimes you need to get in the trenches and get your hands dirty. Everyone has their strengths, and it’s best to place people in a role that plays to their natural abilities. But that doesn’t exclude you from jumping in to fill the gaps. If your people see you hesitating to fill a need, they will follow suit and lose respect for your leadership. There is no task that is beneath you. After all, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. And they walked around all day in sandals.
You can’t do everything. This was my biggest area of growth. Even if you are capable in each role on your team, you can’t do everything. And chances are people on your team fulfill these roles better than you. That’s why you are the leader. It’s important that you’re competent and willing to jump in when needed, but you need to let your team serve. Volunteering is a blessing to the one serving as much as to those being served. Don’t rob your team of a blessing.
You learn more from your team than they do from you. It’s simple math really. There is one of you and many of them. Many people can teach one person a whole lot more than that one person can teach many people. A few of my college professors might disagree, but I’m still paying off student loans so their vote doesn’t count. Odds are there are some wise people on your team whose insight can equip you. Just because they’re volunteers doesn’t mean they aren’t experienced or educated. Perhaps even more so than you.
Working with a team of volunteers presents its own set of unique challenges. However, it’s also a rewarding experience that’ll touch your heart and grow your leadership skills.
Do you work with volunteers? Any words of wisdom you’d add?
Our church will never grow.
Those were the words I heard over the phone from a pastor. “Because of the town where we’re at, and with it being pretty rural, our church isn’t ever really going to grow.”
It felt like the punchline to a joke that wasn’t funny. I unintentionally let an awkward silence hang over the airways while I caught my breath, hoping he’d fill the silence with, “Oh, you know I’m kidding.” He didn’t.
We were in the middle of a conversation about small groups, and how small groups can be a growth engine for your church as they help connect people into life-giving, discipleship-making relationships. I was trying to help him see how small groups can be an environment for people not just inside of the church building to connect and grow, but for those still on the outside. A chance for skeptics to “kick the tires,” if you will, not in an argumentative you-better-convince-me-intellectually kind of way, but in a way where they see the church in action. Where they watch love. Watch grace. Watch forgiveness. Watch confession. Watch growth.
Small groups are the Church. Alive. (Tweet that)
Small groups are ideal environments to invite your friends.
But he wasn’t buying it. And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Our church will never grow.
Basically I was being told, “Evangelism won’t work for us. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is for everyone else. Because of where we live, we’re off the hook. Jesus couldn’t have meant us when he commanded
us them to make disciples of all nations. No way. No how.” (Tweet that)
to shape your community and grow your congregation, get out of the ministry. (Tweet that) Do something else. Anything else. The Gospel is too important to waste. Too powerful to keep confined to a small box.
Pastors, your community needs you. (Tweet that) It needs you to believe that there’s hope in the Gospel. There’s healing to be found in surrender. That marriages can be reconciled. That change is possible.