The “Why” before the “What”

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.

 


Starting Small Book Cover

Chapter 2

The Why before the What

“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.”

Hebrews 10:24-25

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.

10 life-changing sermons

Sermon Title                    Scripture References                    Significant Takeaway

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.

 

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.

10 life-changing people

Name                                   How you’re different because of them

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.

 

 

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.

Questions:

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.

 

Pain hurts: a reflection on our miscarriage

I originally posted this 2 years ago. My wife and I are coming up on the 2-year mark for this portion of our stories, but with the massive changes in our lives recently (I’m now on staff at Long Hollow), I wanted to share this again. Just so you know, this was, and is, a painful part of our story.

 

It wasn’t just a miscarriage. It didn’t feel like we were “losing a pregnancy.” It felt like we were losing a baby.

Those are the words I’ve uttered countless times to countless people. As the news eked in through little spurts of information from multiple ultrasounds and blood tests, what we feared became a reality. “It’s not a viable pregnancy” didn’t make the pain or reality disappear. It didn’t make the baby growing inside my wife any less of a human.

Earlier this year, my wife experienced the most pain we’ve experienced in our marriage. My wife processed it out loud on my blog HERE.

Though the pain wasn’t as visceral for me, it was no less real. Through the process, I learned some valuable lessons.

Lessons I learned through a miscarriage

Every life is a gift.

I value my own life, and especially the life of my won, so much more now. It’s so much more valuable.

Every life is miracle.

Seeing that this whole pregnancy/birthing process doesn’t just happen automatically has really helped me see how each and every birth is a great miracle.

Experiencing a miscarriage is a real loss.

Not that I didn’t understand this from a theological, academic standpoint. But going through it myself, experiencing that loss, has given me a greater understanding of how to minister to people who are experiencing this. We had talked about the difficulty of miscarriages in seminary. But it was all theory. And I know that someone doesn’t have to go through every difficulty before they can help someone else. But there’s a different weight, a different level of help, that you give once you’ve experienced the exact pain that another person is experiencing.

There’s no “getting over” this.

I dont’ think it’s possible to really “get over” this loss. You can move on. You can grow. But to think that you can “get over” this as if it never really happened is foolish. Anytime you experience significant pain, the answer in coping is learning how to deal with life differently, because life has been altered.

My wife and I are doing well. We’ve grown because of this. Grown in ways we probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

We’ve still not had the joy of getting pregnant again. Maybe God will see fit for us to head back down that path. But maybe not.

Regardless, we’re trusting Him.

*photo credit Creation Swap user: Joe Cavazos

 

 

Measuring what matters in small groups

Screen Shot 2012-11-19 at 10.13.39 AM

I attended the ReGroup conference at North Point this year. I decided to post some of the notes. To see all of them, click HERE.

Introduction

How do we know if our ministries are working? Is it stories or is it statistics? Yes. Stories and statistics are not mutually exclusive. The measurements that we track help us tell the story of our ministry…about what has happened, what is happening, or what will happen. They help us know if we are “winning.” Measurements matter, so we measure what matters.

I. Where stories and statistics intersect

A. “Story” people and “statistics” people

  1. Stories engage the heart
  2. Statistics engage the head.
B. As a church, we are both organism and organization.
  1. Organism without organization is chaos
  2. Organization without organism is lifeless

II. Involve the right people

A. Establishing measurements must be a collaborative effort.

B. Establishing measurements requires diverse perspectives.

  1. Ministry involvement offers the perspective of ownership.
  2. Manager involvement offers the perspective of oversight.

III. Leverage best practices

A. Tie to the strategic

  1. Vision (life is better connected, which is why they measure “connection”), mission (to lead people into a growing relationship with Christ, which is why they send out a survey 2x/year to people in groups), and strategy (to create environments where people can grow, which is why they track the number of groups and the number of people in groups) must drive all measurements
  2. For each area of the organization, measurements must be developed around a clear win and critical factors of success. They measure 4 things: group participation, leader apprentice (for future growth), leader retention, and leader training
B. Tips on the tactical
  1. If you can’t or won’t change something, then don’t ask for feedback
  2. When relevant, use rations 100% of the time. This makes it easy to compare over time.
  3. Track over time to establish targets. You have got to have trends.
  4. Don’t marry your metrics.

IV. Follow up the right way

A. We don’t make decisions based on measurements alone.
B. We do…
  1. Open conversations. We believe the best, and don’t assume the worst.
  2. Start explorations
  3. Plan ahead…use numbers to look forward
  4. Benchmark standards
  5. Celebrate success. Don’t just focus on gaps.

Conclusion

The church is people and every one of them has a story. Our measurements must always be complemented with the stories of the people they represent. But stories, like numbers, can be manipulated. Therefore, it is not one or the other. We must walk the path between the ditches of the lifeless, organization-only mentality and the chaotic, organism-only approach. This is wise and skillful leadership; this is where sustainable growth is found. What you manage shows what you value.

 

A New Leadership Development Pathway

We’ve constructed a new leadership development pathway for our small group leaders at Grace Community Church.

I talked about it on a guest post I wrote for Matt Steen right HERE.

Here’s a video that I put together for our leaders, with help from Dustin York and Brian Coleman. *Make sure you watch about the 1:50 -2:05 mark for a cool effect that we incorporated.

 

Strategic Changes

 

*credit, iStockPhoto user 06Photo

Chip and Dan Heath, in their book Switch, referred to the idea of “scripting the step” as you’re walking yourself, or anybody, through the difficult process of change.

We (at Grace Community Church) made some strategic, but very practical, changes to help people “script the step,” and more easily move towards authentic, Gospel-centered community  in small groups. I wrote about some changes we made, and they’re over on Mark Howell’s blog today.

Head on over and check it out HERE.

And while you’re at it, track along with Mark on Twitter and Facebook.

 

The art of the spoken word

Over the past few months, I’ve had the chance to preach at my church, Grace Community Church, three times.

And I’ve loved it. Each time, though, I’ve learned quite a few things. Some about myself. Some about the art of preaching. You can read what I’ve learned HERE and HERE.

Well, this past Sunday was no exception.

5 Observations about Preaching

1. It’s incredibly easy to get distracted.

I notice every single person that stands up to leave. Every one. And I try oh so hard to not get distracted by them. Remember that next time you get up in the middle of a sermon.

2. To preach well, you have to give of yourself.

When I preach, I pour myself, my life, my personality, my research, my stories, my heart and my mind into the craft. And this past Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching 3 times. It was a beautiful exhaustion.

3. Beware the death blow.

Want to know how to deal a crushing blow to a pastor? Right after they say ‘Amen,’ find them in the hallway and tell them which part(s) of their message were a disaster. They’ll love you for it. And by love, I mean…watch out, because they may swing at you.  Preachers should elicit feedback, but it’s okay to wait a day or two.

4. If you want to get better, you’ve got to work at it.

I work to get better every single time. I evaluate what I said and how I said it so that next time I can communicate more effectively. And, hopefully, I’m improving.

5. Preaching is an unbelievably incredible motivational tool.

I talk so much about the importance of community. In fact, that’s what my sermon was about on Sunday. And I talk so much about community that I can almost forget how powerful the public, spoken word can be in someone’s life. We saw people taking steps of faith in droves on Sunday, as they took a step towards community by signing up for small groups.

Question: Has God worked in your life through hearing someone preach?

 

 

No more excuses

I saw this sign at a local food chain yesterday:

Last time I checked, being “sold out” meant you were selling things…which was good for business.  Right?

And if business is going so well that you’re selling out of supplies, shouldn’t you be looking for more suppliers?

I’m convinced that many people are just hunting for excuses to not do what they need to do.  Even when all of the signs are pointing in the same direction.  It’s easier to find excuses than it is to do the hard work required to be successful.

There’s rarely anything magical about success.

It’s more often about hard work, even when nobody else is looking, than it is about you being in the right place at the right time. (before you comment, know that I’m not taking God out of this equation at all.  He’s sovereign, and chooses what He wants to do…but I don’t think that God rewards laziness.)

Don’t let a lack of supplies become your excuse.

Don’t let a lack of volunteers become your excuse.

Don’t let a shortage of financial resources become your excuse.

Don’t let a hater’s discouragement become your excuse.

Don’t let, “We’ve never done it like that before” become your excuse.

Do the hard work, even when it’s not fun.

In the end, it’s worth it.

 

The thing about cloth diapers

Did you know that studies show that toddlers who wear cloth underwear tend to potty train faster than those that wear disposable pull-ups?

I have a two year-old now, and we’re in the middle of potty training. And 9 times out of 10, we have cloth on him. Because we’re ready to be done with this stage!

Do you know why children who wear cloth underwear train so much faster?

Because when they go to the bathroom, they feel the discomfort. It’s not immediately wicked away by a disposable diaper.  They feel the same discomfort you’d feel if you wet your pants right now.

It’s not a pleasant feeling.

Discomfort is a great motivator

Discomfort is a great motivator for a child to not pee their pants. Because they instantly feel the discomfort, and until someone changes their pants, they remain in that discomfort.

It’s as if part of their growth comes through pain.  And part of their immaturity is allowed to hang around if they are never exposed to that difficulty.  In other words, their difficulty is wasted (no pun intended) because they don’t feel it.

Don’t Waste the Pain

The exact same thing can happen in our lives.

Difficulties have the chance to grow us.  To help us take steps of faith towards God.  Or, we can move so quickly past them that we waste them.

If you never feel the sting of defeat, the pain of losing someone you love, the failure of your plans, the loss of a job, a bad decision, rejection, heartache, or just the dark side of the soul…then you can’t grow through the pain.  Difficulty incubates growth.

Some of the greatest times of growth in my life have come on the heels of great failure.

I don’t know what you’re going through right now.  But I know something about your struggles.  You can act like the pain’s not there.

Or you can acknowledge it, feel it, invite others into it, and grow through it.

God allows difficulties to fall on us because He’s interested in our growth.  Because without pain, growth ekes.

Don’t waste pain.  Let God use it for good.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

 

 

 

The commitment

I have a small group that I am a part of that meets every week.  And I’m going to have to miss it soon.

I’m going out of town, and there’s no way I can make it back in time.  And that really bothers me.  Even though it’s only the 3rd time I’ve missed the group in 2 years.

Because I made a commitment to the group.

When I joined, I committed to being there every week.  The people in my group aren’t imposing any guilt on me for missing.  They’re not upset.  The group will carry on without me, no problem.  Somebody else will lead the discussion that night.  Somebody else will take up the prayer requests.  Somebody else will make sure the group keeps moving forward.  The group isn’t dependent on me.

But I’m bummed I can’t be there.

I’m missing out on

  • a dynamic discussion
  • a broken-hearted request
  • a cry for help
  • an opportunity to praise God for His goodness
  • a belly laugh
  • a good meal
  • catching up on life
  • sharing my own difficulties
  • sharing my own triumphs
  • doing life with friends
  • praying for a friend
  • being prayed over

You may not like my small group (I wrote about it HERE).  But I do.  These guys challenge, encourage, and equip me to do what God’s calling me to do.  Their influence in my life is beyond measuring.

To get the most out of your small group, you’ve got to make a significant commitment. Otherwise, a small group is just a Bible study.  A group of acquaintances.  An I-have-to-go-to-that-again? meeting.  A burden.  A time-waster.  Something that takes you away from what you really want to do.  A place of forced community.

Make the commitment to the folks in your small group.  They’ll be glad you did.

And so will you.

Have you ever made the level of commitment necessary to really invest in a small group?

Have you ever seen someone not make that commitment, and burn out quickly?

 

It’s time to fail

Maybe it’s about time you failed.

(image by ArtMoth.com)

I remember when I didn’t make the varsity baseball team in high school.  I was crushed.  But through that, I ended up quitting baseball to pursue golf, a sport I turned out to be pretty good at.

In seminary, I absolutely bombed a paper that I thought was one of my better projects.  Through that, I worked hard to refine my writing, and in the process, found a great love of writing.

The first small group my wife and I were a part of (in Louisville, KY) was an abysmal failure.  I didn’t want that to happen to us, or anyone else, again.  Now I’m a small groups pastor.

The New Testament Church was led by a guy named Peter.  Don’t forget that he had an epic fail, where his pride was kicked in the teeth.  He thought he was ready to die for Jesus.  He wasn’t (John 13:37-38).  His pride would even need to be kicked again a little later. (Galatians 2:11-21) And it needed to be in order for God to use Peter.

Why you need to fail

It’s through failure that we learn what we’re not that great at. Here’s a shocker: you’re not great at everything.  God’s gifted each person uniquely…you included.  We may not always find that gifting on our first shot.  Be open to other ideas than what you’ve always thought or been told.  Maybe your failure is a good indication that you need to try something else.

It’s through failure that we find out which ideas aren’t the best. Failure becomes a way of culling out the ideas, projects, programs, and directions that needed to go.

It’s through failure that we are motivated. Who wants to fail twice?  Failure pushes you to work harder, more efficiently, and lean more heavily on others.  Failure is a great deterrent to future failure.

It’s through failure that God comforts us. It’s hard to experience comfort without some level of failure. (see Lamentations 3:16-23)

It’s through failure that our pride is sucker-punched. If you were as awesome as you thought you were, you’d not have failed.  As John Ortberg says, “There is a God, and it is not you.”

As valuable as failure is, I still find myself consistently praying, “Lord, please help this _______ to go really well.”  Or, “Lord, you want this __________ to succeed more than I do…”  Or, “Lord, help this idea to not fall flat on its face.”

Maybe I should start praying, “Lord, maybe this needs to flop.  You know best.  Help me grow in the process.  Chip away the parts of me that don’t look like You.  Grow your Church.  Knock down my pride.  Renew my faith in Your plan.”

Is there an area of your leadership or your life that needs to fail?

Have you seen God grow you more through failure or through success?