Tag: goal

Aiming for 2nd place

At a family dinner last week, I overheard one cousin ask another one this, about her recent dance competition:

Was it one of those competitions where you competed? Like for 1st or 2nd place?

The conversation then proceeded as normal.  She just wondered whether it was a competition with prizes or one where “everyone wins” or one where there are rankings when you’re done.  I get that.  But in the moment, I was struck by two words: 2nd place.

Nobody competes for 2nd place, do they?

If that’s your goal, any good coach would tell you you’ve sold yourself short.  Even if you’re not that good, you always start out competing for the grand prize.  No NFL team says, “We hope to lose the Super Bowl game this year.”  Coaches are honored and revered because they won the Super Bowl, not because they lost it.  Pitchers are remembered because they won the World Series.

Nobody dreams about ‘winning’ second place.

So why in our churches do we think it’s ok to aim for second place in areas like

  • leadership
  • church events
  • Sunday’s music
  • Sunday’s announcements
  • the resources we produce
  • the small groups we lead
  • the trainings we offer
  • the meetings we plan
  • the blogs we write
  • the conversations we have
  • our sermon series
  • our outreach initiatives
  • community impact

Does the Gospel make it ok for us to shoot for second? Because the message is so powerful, are we then given the freedom to not give our best effort to all areas of our life and ministry?  It’s tough to see how God is honored when we put forth half-hearted efforts.  Ever.

So let me be your coach today.  Don’t compete for 2nd place!  Give it all you’ve got!

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:14


Starbucks, Consistency, and Small groups

I have a Starbucks “Black Card.”  It’s supposed to give various perks, one of which, from day 1, was free refills.  Until today.  I asked for a refill, gave the card to the cashier, and she said, “Do you have money loaded on this card?”  I said, “I don’t need money loaded on it…the refill should be free.”  She said, “Nope.  Not on this card it’s not.  You need a different card for the refill to be free.”

Starbucks is supposed to be the king of consistency.  A Hazelnut latte should taste the same in Belgium as it does in coffee mecca (Seattle).  They should look and feel the same wherever you are.  Consistency, and brand management, help people to feel “at home” when they go to a Starbucks that’s not their regular shop.  But when that consistency is broken, and that which used to go along with the Black Card changes, things no longer seem as…well…consistent.

A while back, we had a small group that was really struggling getting people to show up.  They had been meeting for 6 months, and had moved from 18 folks to 8.  The leader and his wife were incredibly gracious hosts, gifted in ministry, lovable, and fully bought into the mission and vision of Grace (our church).  I sat down with the leader to try to troubleshoot.  As I talked with the leader, and other group members, we came to the same conclusion.  Here’s what was happening.

The group leader was gifted in teaching, and had great ease in front of people.  He was also incredibly busy with work.  That deadly combination led him to not work on (or lead his group through) any kind of curriculum (not that every group needs to have a curriculum, but every group should have a plan).  In short, from week to week and month to month, he wasn’t taking his people anywhere.  Instead, he would show up each week and just start throwing out thoughts and questions randomly, relying on his gift of gab and natural ease in leading people.  This led to frustration as the group members never knew how to prepare for their small group time.  They didn’t know what to think through, what to read, or what questions to be prepared to answer.  The group members never knew what to expect, and never knew where the group was headed.  Trust was never built, and the group fizzled out.

While it’s not vital that your group utilize a curriculum, it is vital that you take your group somewhere.  With no understood goal, it’s impossible to know whether you’re “winning” as a small group or not.  If you have no idea where you’re taking your group, now’s the time to figure that out.  Don’t wait another day.  Begin praying now, and talking with your group through it.  Then consistently work to accomplish that goal.

Without consistency, people don’t know what to expect.  Consistency allows trust to be build.  Trust encourages the group to speak truth into each others’ lives.  Speaking truth into each others’ lives spurs growth in godliness.  And a group growing in godliness is a healthy group.

How are you building consistency into your group time, without allowing things to grow stale?


A Creepy Email

I received an email today from a store that I shopped at just a couple of weeks ago.  For the record, I never logged in and told them what I purchased.  This email was sent unsolicited 2 weeks after the purchase.  Here’s the email:

Picture 1

I’ve got two thoughts from this:

1. Nothing is private. Not that we can hide anything from God anyway (see Psalm 139:7-13 for further proof of that), but anytime you use your credit card, that information can be tracked.  Any time you post a picture on Facebook, it’s there permanently.  Any blog post I write is public information, and is representative of me.  I can continue to feel weird about this, or I can wisely use social media and blogging to my advantage.  I choose the latter.

So, be careful what you place online.  It is “tracked” by those you lead and by those you are doing life with.  It is a representative of you, whether you like it or not, and will continue to represent you in the future.  It’s public and permanent.  Make sure that, when you post something online, you ask yourself the question, “Will I be proud of this in 5 years?”

2. Polling those you lead is important. At some level, I feel valued by this organization (represented in the email above).  I feel like I have a voice with them.  They give me the freedom, in my response, to say that I hated what I bought…or that I loved it.  I strangely feel empowered, and that my voice counts for something.  If I say that I hated it, they really may rethink putting that item on the shelf again (or I could be fooling myself, but for argument’s sake, please let me feel important right now).

If you’re a leader, make yourself vulnerable.  Ask, “Is this working?” and be ready and willing to change things if they’re not functioning like they should (i.e., accomplishing the “end” goal).  Asking for opinions shows that you care what others think, but if you open the door, be ready to walk through it.  Making changes based on feedback shows that you value others’ thoughts and the effectiveness of the organization as a whole.  Asking for feedback and making no changes is a slap to the face of those who shared their thoughts.

As a Christian, and a leader, both of these points resonate with me.  I need to be careful with the way that I live my life, and ready and willing to change our system (see my post about that here) when it’s not making disciples of Christ.

How do they resonate with you?


Gospel-focused small groups

Like I said in the last post, I fully believe in our system of creating followers of Christ. However, I would be ready to throw it out today if the system were the problem.  I never want to be so connected to community groups, and the way that we do them at Grace Community Church, that I am unwilling to abandon them in favor of true discipleship.  My goal in ministry, in a broad stroke, is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)  My goal is not to start 5,000 community groups and train 10,000 leaders to host a group in their home.  I want to make passionate disciples of Christ!  Right now, the way that I do that is to start new community groups, shepherd our current community group leaders, and recruit new leaders.  Though these activities may seem mundane, I believe that true growth in godliness happens best in the context of community.  So, I willfully and joyfully take on the administrative burden and the difficulties that go along with assimilating people into group life at Grace.

Why are we not making disciples more quickly at Grace?  There are a variety of reason.  Here are five:

1.  Not everybody who hears the Gospel becomes a disciple the first time they hear it.  I know that I sure didn’t!  Did you?  Then why should I expect vastly different results from those in our community groups?  God didn’t give up on me when I rejected His call.  Instead, He continue to pursue me.

2. The devil is real!  “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)  Satan loves to distort the Gospel, remind us that it’s not relevant to us today, and snatch it from our hearts before it has the chance to take root.  In short, he’s vying for the worship of our hearts, and this is true whether the Truth is coming from the pulpit or from a couch in somebody’s living room in a small group setting.

3.  I need to take it upon myself to apply the Gospel to my life every day.  CJ Mahaney, in The Cross Centered Life, says it well,”If there’s anything in life we should be passionate about, it’s the gospel. And I don’t mean passionate only about sharing it with others; I mean passionate in thinking about the gospel, reflecting upon it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look at the world and all of life” (15).

4.  Our group leaders need to take it upon themselves to ask difficult questions that drive their group back to the Gospel.  “How are you living out the Gospel today?  How are you more like Christ today than you were 12 months ago?  What part does the Gospel play in your everyday life?  What is the Gospel?  Why did Jesus have to die?  How is the truth that you are a sinner saved by grace affecting the way you parent your children, or love your spouse, or work at your job, or serve in your church?”

5.  Group leaders need to be reminded that they are the shepherd leaders of their group, and as such, should concern themselves greatly with the eternal state of the souls in their group.

Based on that, here are 5 things I resolve to do:

1.  I will not give up on people.

2.  I will create an atmosphere of openness and vulnerability in our groups.  It is only when group leaders, and group members, are open and honest about their struggles, that the more reluctant folks will feel the freedom to open up their lives, and the struggles they are facing.

3.  I will apply the Gospel to my life every day.  I need to preach to myself, reminding myself that I am a sinner saved by grace, that Christ died to free me from my sin, and that Satan wants to destroy the Gospel in my life.

4.  I will develop Gospel questions to put into group leaders hands that help them have intentional, Gospel-focused  discussions that are laid back enough that everybody feels comfortable asking even the most “simple” questions (though these tend to turn out to be some of the most profound questions).

5.  I will pray for all of my group leaders, that they will shepherd their group in a way that honors God and holds high the banner of the Gospel.

Are your groups structured so that basic Gospel questions and concerns can be brought to the table?  Or are you so laid back that the Gospel is never discussed?  Or are you so “holy” that you jump to “deeper” questions (as if there is anything more life-changing and “deeper” than the Gospel!)   Are you group leaders ready and willing to ask these questions?

Do you or your group leaders make the mistake of assuming that, just because a person is attending your church and frequents your small groups, he or she is saved?  How are you giving your group members the freedom to explore faith?

How are you living out the Gospel today?


Is your system working?

I’ve been in my current ministry position now for a little over a year. Our church is structured around a three-fold strategy of creating followers of Christ: Gather, Commit, and Serve:

As we GATHER to celebrate Jesus and encounter biblical principles, COMMIT to one another in community groups, and SERVE by using the gifts God has given us to invest in the lives of others, we will grow in our passion for God, our compassion for God’s people, and our effectiveness in God’s work of developing growing followers.

That’s our system, and my role in the system is to facilitate, oversee, and help to develop community groups. I completely believe in our system, the simplicity of it (and the simplicity of what it means to be a be a follower of Christ), and am committed to it wholeheartedly. However, I’m always evaluating it, and specifically, the role of community groups in creating authentic community that fosters growth in godliness.

About two months ago, I was counseling a young man who had lots of questions about his next step in life. Basically, his question was, “What do I do next?” He needed help in thinking through future career options, future spouse options, financial next-steps, etc. He thought that his problem was that he struggled with change, and was afraid to take big steps. Over the course of only a few weeks, we determined that his problem was much greater. The next big step that he needed to take, the one that would determine the course of his life forever, was to become a follower of Christ. I told him that this decision would not necessarily make his life ‘easier.’ It would also not lay out in detail his exact next step. However, he would be resting his future in the hands of the One who created the universe (Genesis 1), who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17), and whose hand cannot be stayed (Daniel 4:35). So, this young man decided to place his faith in Christ!

That’s great news, right? I should be rejoicing, right?

I am, but I’m also saddened.

This man has been in one of our community groups for over a year. He has sat in a group every week, and still was troubled by the question, “What is the gospel?” This man is very intelligent, and can easily comprehend difficult, abstract concepts, but still had the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” and “What does it mean to repent?” He didn’t know why we needed a sacrifice for our sins, and that Christ had offered himself as our perfect lamb.

If he was just a semi-regular Sunday morning attender, I could feel okay about this. But he’s there every single week, and is one of the most faithful members of his small group.

This bothers me. How could someone be plugged into what I thought was a disciple-producing ministry here at GCC and still have these questions? Let me reiterate that it was not for a lack of intellectual comprehension that this man did not know. He had simply not been asked the fundamental questions of the gospel and had the chance to interact with the Truth.

Is this an isolated issue, or pervasive? Is it a problem with the curriculum that we’re using? Is it a problem with the way that I communicate with my leaders? Is it our system? Is it a leadership training issue? Is it something that needs to be communicated more from the stage?

I realize that this post leaves me quite vulnerable as the leader of the small groups here at our church. But I want to be honest and say that this bothers me. I want to make sure that each of our group leaders is having gospel-centered discussions, both within the weekly group meeting and outside of it. So right now, I’m working through some ideas to ensure, as much as is humanly possible, that difficult questions are being asked, fundamental gospel concepts are being discussed and applied to life, and that those who attend our community groups have the chance to chew on and digest the great, life-changing truths of the gospel.

Is the goal of your ‘system’ discipleship? If not, what is the goal of your ‘system’? Is that goal being met? If it’s not being met, how willing are you to scrap the ‘system’ in favor of the goal?

Next post, I’ll fill you in on what I think the problem is. I actually think I may have nailed the issue. We’ll see.


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