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image credit: CreationSwap user Tim Mossholder. Edits mine

I’ve been a small groups pastor now for 5 years. Most of my tenure coming at Grace Community Church, and I’m now at Long Hollow.

I love group life. I love recruiting, training, equipping, challenging, scheming, planning, dreaming, and writing. I believe that groups are the heartbeat of a local church, and one of the most beautiful expressions of the authentic Christian life.

But being a groups pastor isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Or if that’s not your thing…it’s not all coffee and bagels. Turns out, this is hard work. but it’s hard work worth every ounce of sweat, every drop of creativity, and every inch of effort you can give.

I’ve had lots of folks tell me that they’d love to get in the small groups space. Some have been high school students ready to jump in to ministry. Others have been guys who are currently in a ministry that they don’t love. Each person has experienced life change through small groups, and would love to invest their lives making that happen. Here are some of the things I’ve told them as a “heads up” before they dabble their toe in the water.

10 Things Nobody Told me about Being a Small Groups Pastor

1. Not everybody will like you.

Especially when you tell them, “I don’t have a small group for you right now.” Or “No, we don’t have that kind of group.” Or, “I’m sorry that small group life is difficult.” Or, “Ouch…she said that in your small group?” because no perfect people are allowed. Or, “No, we won’t have a small group where you teach for 2 hours every week about the coming rapture…about the evils of smoking cigarettes…about how our society is going to Hell because we watch rated R movies…about how all single moms are dirty rotten sinners.” Small group pastors must have tough skin.

2. Small groups are messy. 

If you enjoy coloring in the lines, and having everything neat, pretty, and always on schedule, find another ministry. Small groups are messy and difficult because people are messy and difficult. Small group pastors have to find the beauty in the mess. It’s there, like a diamond hidden among the rough. God’s at work right in the midst of the nastiest junk in people’s lives, and that junk comes out in small groups. Get ready for it.

3. Not all of the staff will be fully supportive.

I naively thought that every staff member would wholly embrace small groups with no explanation, no push-back, no confusion, and with arms wide open. Turns out they’ve got thoughts, questions, and legitimate concerns, too. This isn’t all bad, because it pushes you to answer some hard questions. Just a heads up. Knowing is half the battle, right?

4. Getting life change stories from small groups will be tough.

Mining stories is unbelievable valuable in shifting people’s hearts towards group life. Figuring out the best way to mine those is tough, though. And there’s no one “right” way to do it. Sometimes it’s best to shoot videos, other times to simply send out emails. Other times interviewing on stage is best. But capturing those stories is tough. Get ready for a challenge.

5. If you don’t do anything, nothing will happen.

Small groups ministry doesn’t run on a weekly cycle like student ministry (with Wednesday night programming), children’s ministry, or the worship team (with Sunday morning programming). So if you’re not a self-motivated, self-driven starter, you’ll languish. There are certain times every year where groups are launching, but in between those times, you’ve got to keep the wheels moving. If you don’t, things don’t naturally happen. Community doesn’t bubble up from the ground. Structures don’t naturally form. Schedules and timelines don’t magically happen. Know that if you don’t do anything in the down times, nobody else will.

6. You’d better be awesome at recruiting.

A big chunk of the role of the small groups pastor is in recruiting. Whether you’re recruiting a group leader, a coach, a potential hire, a current staff member, or a small group leadership board, the small groups pastor never gets a day off. Recruiting can and does happen anywhere, anytime. You’d better be good at it. Or learn to be.

7. You’ll have to constantly teach people what small groups are.

You may not be teaching from stage every week, but “teaching” is a key function of the groups pastor. No matter what your culture is, you’ll have to be teaching people the value of healthy community. Teaching people your process for assimilation, your process for discipleship, and your groups structure. You’ll teach new members, existing ones, staff members, and new recruits. Always be on your toes.

8. Small group coaches are vital.

The group leader that’s not coached will not be all he or she coud be. And you, the groups pastor, can’t coach every leader. Unless, of course, you just have 1 or 2 other leaders. If you have more than 2 leaders, recruit a coach. They’ll help you invest time in leaders, give them a support structure, let them have a voice, and ensure they’re being encouraged, corrected, and cared for. Every small group structure has to involve coaches. Or assimilators. Or champions. Or directors. Or advocates. Or whatever you call them.

9. Get a team of supporters. Now.

Build a base of people who understand and support your vision. They don’t have to be small group leaders themselves, but they need to be strong leaders who buy what you’re selling. Vision leaks, and you want others leaking your vision across the landscape of your local church. Know who your friends are. And give them insider information.

10. This is the most fun job in the whole church.

It’s messy. It’s difficult. It’s frustrating. But at the end of the day, your role exists to help people find God’s beautiful gift of community. You get the chance to create environments where people are free to explore faith, and experience church in a transparently safe way. It’s an amazing ride.

Are you a small groups pastor? Know one?

What did I leave out?

 

 

Can I tell you something about yourself?

You know a complainer.

The guy that, no matter what happens, no matter how good or bad a situation, he’s going to find a way to be upset about something. The girl that is constantly down on whatever you, or anyone else, does.

image credit: CreationSwap user Alan Belcher

They’re good at tearing people down, discouraging an entire team, and slowing growth.

Here’s the reality: there is always something to complain about.

Life is often exceedingly difficult. Organizations are often in decline. Things seemingly couldn’t get worse.

If we’re honest with ourselves, “complainers” put words to the thoughts racing through our heads. But there’s a difference in having a thought and acting on it. A difference in having a thought and fleshing that out for everyone to join in with you. A difference in keeping a thought to yourself and recruiting others to moan with you. *

No matter where you are in life, you’ll find complainers.

  • At family gatherings.
  • At church.
  • At the water cooler at work.
  • At conferences.
  • On vacation.
  • On Facebook.
  • By text message
  • By email
  • By phone calls
  • By twitter updates.

Brothers don’t shake hands

Complainers need a hug. They need to be told that it’s going to be okay. They need to be reminded that God is in control, and that he’s a good, loving, kind God.

But they don’t need to be put in the role of director, no matter the size or structure of your organization. In fact, it’s incredibly dangerous for your organization if these people are put into director roles.

5 Dangers of a Complaining Team Member

1. They’ll drag the whole team down with them.

Before you know it, your organization will be full of doubting, complaining naysayers who see nothing but doom and gloom. Complainers are great recruiters.

2. They compromise your vision.

They ratchet up the negative aspect of the vision God’s placed in your heart, and if you’re not careful, you are pulled into the vortex of their negativity, and your once-clear vision becomes muddied.

3. They’ll not perform their job well.

They’ll be focused on the difficult parts of their job, and be distracted from the good, positive aspects.

4. They’ll not help your organization move forward.

Stuck on past failures and current challenges, they’ll not be challenged to press forward and find new, innovative solutions.

5. They’re never satisfied.

As soon as something goes their way, they’ve found another situation to complain about. They’re toxic even in the best of times. Nothing you can do will satiate their desire for more complaints. Everything you do fuels their fire.

Nip complaining in the bud. It’s a heart issue, reflective of a heart that doesn’t rest soundly in the goodness and power of God. And it’ll rot your team from the inside out.

Don’t let complainers be directors.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” – Philippians 2:14-15

* I’m not naive. I can be honest when personal, and organizational, change needs to happen. I’m not contending that you should mask all problems with a smile. I’m making the argument that constant complainers are toxic.

* image credit: CreationSwap user Alan Belcher

 

Photo Credit: Creative Commons User: Pavement Pieces

I love a good competition. Whether we’re talking about sports, board games, or racing to the car, I love the rush of adrenaline you get when the heat is on.

But when it comes to an organization, competition can be healthy or unhealthy. Unhealthy team competition says, “If you win, I lose. If I win, you lose.” Healthy team competition says, “I want to continually improve…because I see you continually getting better. If you win, I win. If you and I win, WE win.”

Many teams, unfortunately, operate on the “win/lose” spectrum of competition.

How do you know if you’re on that kind of team? Here is a test. Check any of the following that apply

  • I get frustrated when another team member “takes” my leader.
  • I have no concern for who I recruit for my team…it doesn’t matter what other team they serve on or what their other commitments are.
  • I have never suggested a leader to be a part of another team…I’ve only recruited for my own.
  • I have said this: “I can’t believe how much budget money the _____ team gets. We need more money than they do because we’re having an impact with ______.”
  • I better have a conversation with that new guy. He’s solid, and I don’t want _____ to snatch him up first.
  • I have said this: “I know you’re helping out with the ______ team, but you’re better than that. If you want, we can give you a more important role with us.”
  • I have thought this: “If I sit down with _____ to recruit them to leadership, I’m only thinking positions on my team. I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to think and recruit for other teams.”
  • I have thought this: “It doesn’t matter how a person is gifted or what their passions are…we have a need on our team, and this person could fill it.”

If you checked any of the above boxes, you have a “win/lose” mindset that is detrimental to your organization’s overall success. And it’s time to shift to a win/win mindset.

Win/win is not simply a personality trait. It’s also not that the person who strives for win/win in an organization is afraid of conflict. Teams that strive for win/win know that a win for another team in an organization is a win for the everyone. Your win is our win. Your loss is our loss.

How do you make this transition with your organization?

Shifting to a Win/Win Mindset

1. Quit viewing your team as a silo.

Instead, begin to view your team as a part of the whole organization, with everybody contributing to the overall health. If the organization is simply one silo, then every “win” means the whole silo “wins.” Every “loss” means the whole silo “loses.”

2. Meet with other team leaders to find out their needs.

Gather multiple team leaders together and find out what needs they have. I recently met with our church’s small groups team, and we shared with each other the leadership holes we each have. It’s important for us to know cross-ministry leadership roles so that when we’re recruiting a potential leader, we each have in the back of our mind, “College ministry needs 5 new leaders, adult small groups needs 2, elementary groups needs 4, etc..” We’re on the lookout for potential leaders in multiple areas, not just our own. Our team operates on the win/win principle.

3. Listen for gifts and passions.

As you recruit leaders, listen for their gifts and passions. Finding the best fit for a leader is more important than fitting them somewhere on my team simply because we have a need. If I sit with a leader and recruit them for college, instead of preschool, it’s not that college “wins” and preschool “loses.” College “wins” and our organization “wins” because when college ministry is better, we’re all better.

 4. Intentionally invest in another team, expecting nothing in return.

Once you’ve listened to the needs present in other teams, you are aware of the holes that they have. Don’t just sit on that information…send some leaders and resources their way! Be generous. If you’re thinking “win/win,” then you’ll trust that if another team takes a step forward, that doesn’t force you to take a step backwards. It helps the whole organization progress.

5. Congratulate another team member on his or her accomplishment.

Instead of festering over how she’s succeeding, genuinely congratulate her. Be excited for the steps forward she and her team are taking. When you create an environment of mutual encouragement, you’re less likely to look for areas to undercut other team members.

When everybody on the team understands the win/win concept, you have a better chance of experiencing forward momentum. Without it, expect backbiting and disunity to dominate.

What kind of team are you on right now?

 

 

The con panna

Ben Reed —  August 23, 2011 — Leave a comment

When I was in graduate school, I worked at a coffee shop.

There, I developed a great love for coffee.  Good coffee.  Coffee that’s handpicked, handcrafted, and consumed at just the right temperature.  Coffee that’s paired with the right pastry, in the right season, at the right…heck, who am I kidding?  I’ll drink coffee anytime.

My all-time favorite hand-crafted masterpiece was the con panna.

photo via Justin Mcintosh

Con Panna means “with cream,” and it’s a simple drink to make.  Grab a canister of whip cream.  Then pull 2 (or, if you’re feeling extra frisky, make it 3) shots of espresso.  As soon as the shots are done brewing, transfer the shots to your demitasse cup, then top with whip cream.  It’s heaven. In a cup.

Most coffee shops, though, won’t have this drink listed on the menu.  They’ll have the traditional cappuccinos, lattes, and cafe mochas.  But no con panna.  And it’s not that they don’t know how to make it.  It’s just not a huge seller in America.  Most people in America want something with a little less kick…a little smoother and creamier.  They’re not looking for something with so much punch.

But if you want to be super cool, just order a con panna next time you’re at your local coffee shop. The barista will look at you with eyes that say, (*read the following with an Italian gangster accent)

How do you know about the con panna?

Then you’ll look back with eyes that say,

Hey! I know my stuff!

To which his eyes will respond,

A’right. A’right. I didn’t know. I’ll give ya a little respect.

To which your eyes will respond,

Don’t mess it up. I might mess you up.

I’ve shared the beauty of this drink with a lot of folks who frequent coffee shops.  You know what every one of them tells me?  “I am going to order that drink next time I go!”  Why?

Because everyone wants to feel like an insider.

There’s something about us that wants to feel like we have a leg-up on others.  That we’re a step ahead.  We know a bit more.  We are in a bit deeper.  We’re just a little bit more awesome than the rest of the people in this coffee shop.

You might spin that thought and think that it’s related to pride.  But I don’t think it is.  I think it’s a reflection of our desire to learn, grow, change, and improve.  And when it comes to leading people, this is an invaluable quality to overlook.

In leading people, help them feel like they’re insiders.

  • Let them know what’s coming next…before it comes.
  • Run an idea by them before it’s announced publicly.
  • Ask for their input in prep for your next event.
  • Tell them an idea you’ve been sitting on but haven’t fleshed out.
  • Ask them to lead in an area that you haven’t yet explored as an organization.
  • Encourage them to bring their ideas to the table…and then act on some of them.

The more knowledge you give people, the more valued they feel.

The more knowledge you give people, the more they feel like a vital part of the organization.

The more knowledge you give people, the more they will give of themselves.

The more knowledge you give people, the better results your entire team will experience.

Try it.

Question:

Have you ever had a con panna?  Do you even like coffee?

 

I posted this on Twitter the other day:

Church politics are stupid.

It was based on a conversation I had with a guy about his past experiences with local churches.  He had been burned many times, and still carries some of those wounds.  It wasn’t based on anything that’s happening in the church where I serve on staff.

I’m all about challenging my system.  And I’d encourage you to continually evaluate the effectiveness of your system, too.  Tweak it, hack it up, throw it out.  Make your system do what you want it to do.  Criticize it.  Mock it.  Stomp on it.

But if you’re a leader in your organization, don’t do it on Twitter.

Why not?

6 reasons to not use Twitter to bash your organization

1. It’s too easy. For me, wisdom doesn’t roll off of my tongue.  Stupidity does.  If I’m going to say something that’s dumb, it’s going to be because I don’t think before I speak.  I just rattle off something without putting diligent thought to my words.  Twitter makes it incredibly easy to post whatever you’re thinking.  It’s as easy as a text message.  And though that’s one of the beauties of social media, it can be one of the uglies when you don’t think before you update. (Which makes me so thankful that social media wasn’t a big deal when I was in high school…because I would have publicly said some dumb things)

2. There’s little accountability. You can fire off an update and then just let it ride.  Although there’s the false sense of accountability because Twitter operates on the public sphere, it’s not really accountability.  Because you can always wriggle your way out of what you said.  “Oh, that was just what I said on Twitter…”  And an @reply or a direct message (for you Facebook users, a wall post or a message) is much more easily ignored than a coworker sitting across the table from you.

3. All of the right voices don’t hear it. As much as we Twitterers would like to think, the whole world hasn’t adopted social media.  Though it’s changed the landscape of information sharing, not everybody has bought in.  And even for people who have bought in, there are varying levels of involvement.  Some people check it once/week.  Others check it once/hour.  Lots and lots of information is shared…and lots and lots of information is never read.  If you’ve got some scathing criticism to say about your organization, there are other key leaders who need to hear that…not just your friend from 2nd grade.

4. You’re limited to 140 characters. How would you feel if your boss came into your staff meeting and said, “Can’t believe the decisions our finance team is making! Hope they enjoy getting fired…” and then walked out of the room?  You’d want a little more explanation, right?  You want more than 140 characters to help you understand where you went wrong, and possible solutions to the problem.  There’s too much left up to interpretation when criticisms come through Twitter.

5. You have little control over the conversation. If criticisms are introduced in person, they can be immediately addressed and explained in person.  If they are introduced via Twitter, your words are stewed over, conversed, and twisted before you can ever fully explain yourself.  It could be days before you are able to sit down with those you criticized, and in the meantime, your words have taken on a life of their own.

6. It could get you fired. Read the story about the Cisco employee HERE.

If you feel the need to be critical of an organization you don’t work for, that’s a different story.  I’ve done that…and it’s worked out well.  Read my story HERE.

But if you work for, or are a leader in an organization, and you feel the need to be critical, that’s fine…just don’t do it on Twitter.