Quotebook: Following Jesus Entirely

long pathWhat do those who follow Jesus’ do?  I love this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship:

“Those who follow Jesus’ commandment entirely, who let Jesus’ yoke rest on them without resistance, will find the burden they must bear to be light. In the gentle pressure of this yoke they will receive the strength to walk the right path without becoming weary.…Where will the call to discipleship lead those who follow it? What decisions and painful separations will it entail? We must take this question to him who alone knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows where the path will lead. But we know that it will be a path full of mercy beyond measure. Discipleship is joy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Image by Neil Wellons

Thinking Thursday: Tracy Chevalier: Finding the story inside the painting

girl with a peal earingWhen Tracy Chevalier looks at paintings, she imagines the stories behind them: How did the painter meet his model? What would explain that look in her eye? Why is that man … blushing? She shares three stories inspired by portraits, including the one that led to her best-selling novel “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”

Image by TED

Sole Proprietor? Or a Builder of a Great Team?

sole proprietorMore and more I’m finding myself talking about the importance of a great team in building a thriving small group ministry. Another way I’m saying it is that thriving small group ministries are never built by sole proprietors.
Thriving Small Group Ministries Are Never Built by Sole Proprietors
The truth is whether you are averaging 100 adults in your worship service or 1000 adults (or even 10,000 adults), you cannot build a thriving small group ministry alone. Thriving small group ministries are never built by sole proprietors. See also, 10 Principles for Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.
This is true for two principal reasons:
First, developing a healthy span of care demands that you build an effective coaching structure. Once you have more than about ten groups, even a high capacity sole proprietor will struggle to provide appropriate care for group leaders. Only by learning how to identify, recruit and develop (i.e., care for) a team of coaches will a sole proprietor be able to begin building a thriving small group ministry. See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
Second, every church has high capacity people who are passionate about community and not shaped to be a coach. Learning to shape serving opportunities for this group of people will allow the small group pastor to focus more and more attention on the things that cannot be delegated. See also, Rethinking the Role of the Small Group Pastor.
Which are you? Sole Proprietor? Or a Builder of a Great Team?
So…are you a sole proprietor? Are you building a great team? Do you want to build a great team but maybe not sure where to start? If that’s you, why not let me help you? Sometimes the fresh eyes of a trusted outsider makes all the difference. You can find out how to schedule a coaching call right here.
P.S. I’m on the lookout for a couple of great players for my team at Canyon Ridge. If you’ve got a heart for couples or men I might have an opportunity you’ll want to check out. Click here for the full scoop on the Couples Pastor opening on my team. We’re still a few months away on the Men’s Pastor opening but you can Email me for the scoop.

Think Twice–and Think Again–Before You Approve the New Menu Item

menuI think it’s fair to say that most of us have complained at one time or another about the cluttered belong and become menu that we’ve inherited. “Whose bright idea was it to let the Precepts class begin in the first place!” “If only they never began approving classroom space for those ABFs back in the day!” “With everything else going on around here, I wish we didn’t have to compete with adult Sunday school classes for small group sign-ups!”  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

Sound familiar? It should, because if you can’t admit to some of these same feelings it may be that you’re in denial.

And before you get all worked up, I will readily admit to my share of pent up frustration. We are in this together. But today, I want to get you thinking about the other side of the equation. You see, while you can do something about your bloated belong and become menu, it’s easier to become an expert at the skills necessary to only allow the right additions from here on out.

  1. Learn to think steps, not programs. This is a foundational understanding made clear in 7 Practices of Effective Ministry. Do not miss this. A program (i.e., Precepts, AWANA, Celebrate Recovery, etc.) may be a step, but it may actually be designed or positioned as a destination. If it doesn’t foster movement in the direction you want people to go and instead serves as a destination that gathers proponents, fans, and advocates, it is likely a program and not helping to make mature disciples. See also, Think Steps, Not Programs.
  2. Develop a clear way of articulating your philosophy of ministry. For example, “We want to provide next steps for every Ridger and first steps for their friends. We want to develop sequential and tailored next steps that are manageable (easy to take), easy to spot (obvious), and only lead in the right direction (strategic). In order to maximize the number of people taking these next steps, we want to make it easy to choose the right one by only featuring the step that is the best way to get from here to there.” See also, How to Design First Steps and Next Steps.
  3. Learn to clearly define the win for every step. This is no small thing. When every step in your strategy is required to have a clearly defined win, it becomes much easier to determine whether it truly is the best way to do what you are claiming it is designed to do. See also, Clue #4 When Designing Your Small Group Ministry.
  4. Learn to say “no” with grace and patient determination. You have acquired an educated opinion about the best way to do help unconnected people become mature disciples. It most likely did not develop overnight. In fact, it may have developed over many years. The people who hear “no” do not yet share your opinion or your philosophy of ministry. Even when they assure you that they too are only interested in the best way to do what they want to do, they will almost always struggle to see it any other way. See also, A Smörgåsbord of Destinations vs. Sequential and Tailored Next Steps.
  5. Never forget that one day someone will question what you allowed to be added to the menu. It is always easier to to allow the wrong thing than eliminate it. Let it be said about you that the things you allowed to be included on the menu were truly the best way to help unconnected people become mature disciples.

Here’s the thing. To some extent, we get to be architects and stewards of the pathway that leads from crowd to core. I believe that one day, just like in the story Jesus tells in Matthew 25, our efforts will be reviewed by the King. May all of us hear “well done.”

Image by Basheer Tome


The 4 Best Small Group Ministry Lessons I’ve Learned This Year

lesson mistakeEvery once in a while I like to jot down the most recent lessons I’ve learned. Sometimes they amount to relearning the same lessons. I love the line that “Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.” Maybe you can learn something from mine!

  1. Not everything can be learned. Many things can be learned, but not everything. For example, I believe you can learn to be a better recruiter, but some of what comes naturally to some people can never really be learned by those who have a different wiring. I have found that one of the most important skills a small group pastor needs is the ability to identify, recruit and develop high capacity volunteers for key roles. Expecting someone who doesn’t have those skills to do the job that needs to be done is almost always a waste of time. Better to find the right person and help the wrong person find a new role. See also, 7 Skills Every Small Group Pastor Needs.
  2. No matter the church size, paying staff to do ministry is a bad idea. Ephesians 4 makes it fairly clear that the role of a pastor is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. While this doesn’t mean a pastor will never directly pray with someone or visit someone in the hospital, it does mean that their primary role is to recruit and train (equip) a team of people who will do the work of the ministry. It is not always the case, but if the natural inclination of a pastor is to do the work of the ministry, they may be more fruitful in another vocation (while they may be quite fulfilled in ministry). See also, Rethinking the Role of the Small Group Pastor.
  3. Never confuse delegation or empowerment with a blind eye. ‘Trust, but verify,” was one of Ronald Reagan’s famous maxims. A product of the Cold War era, it is no less valid today. I am a determined believer in the priesthood of the believer and I am convinced that involving high capacity leaders is one key to building a thriving small group ministry. At the same time, I retain a set of capabilities (and so do you) that may only be delegated away with great care. When it comes to vision and mission, short of my senior pastor, I cannot assume that just anyone can deliver. It will always be an “I do, you watch. You do, I watch” maneuver. See also, Are You Playing to Play? Or Playing to Win?
  4. It is always easier to allow the wrong thing than eliminate it. Have a menu item that you wish you could eliminate? Maybe a program that’s not bad but it gets in the way of making a next step obvious (by cluttering the menu)? The truth is, at some point in the past that menu item (Precepts, BSF, Discipleship Pathway, etc.) seemed like a good addition to someone and it was added. Or maybe someone volunteered to serve as a small group coach and despite misgivings, no one said “No.” It is always easier to allow the wrong thing than eliminate it. The best practice is to become an expert at saying “No” in the very beginning. It won’t be fun and it won’t be easy. But it will pay off in the long run. See also, A Smörgåsbord of Destinations vs. Sequential and Tailored Next Steps.

Honestly, I hope this is helpful. I’ve learned much more in the last year, but these are the most important lessons. I’ve relearned all of them. They are not new. At the same time, every one of them ought to be on a post-it stuck to my laptop screen.

And they ought to be on yours too.

Image by Herman Yung

Hoping for Problem-Free

hopeWhat are the decisions you know you need to make but you just can’t bring yourself to do it?  Do you know the list by heart?  Is it a long list?  What’s keeping you from pulling the trigger?  Still searching for a problem-free solution?

I’ve made the case for a long time now that the pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than anything else.  That the belief that there might be a problem-free solution–just around the corner–causes more boards, more teams, and more leaders to push the pause button that anything else.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.

I’m coming to believe there might be another explanation.  What is it?  There is certainly a temptation to hope that the issue will just resolve itself some other way.  That’s not what I’m thinking about.

I’m actually more and more convinced that we don’t make the decisions that we need to make because we lack the courage we need to make them. At times we try to disguise our lack of courage with the garb of caring for people and not wanting to disappoint. Other times we attempt to disguise our lack of courage by asking for a pause in decisions as we “seek wisdom.”

I believe that hoping for problem-free is an emotional state that must be overcome in order to truly build anything significant.

Sometimes we finally overcome it when we learn to say the last 10 percent (Several years ago Bill Hybels shared the idea that we often say only 90 percent of what needs to be said and withhold the final 10 percent because that’s where the tough stuff and the true gold resides).

And sometimes we finally overcome this emotional state when we acknowledge the reality that the pursuit of problem-free is putting off a solution that will eliminate obstacles for unreached or unconnected people.

Are you free? Or are you still hoping for problem-free?

Image by Trina Alexander

Thinking Thursday: Andrew Stanton: The clues to a great story

Andrew StantonNo matter your role, at some point and in some way, what you do is about the ability to tell a story. Whether you are recruiting a coach or trying to inspire your senior pastor to talk about the life-changing qualities of a small group…you need to learn to be a better storyteller. And so do I.

Filmmaker Andrew Stanton (“Toy Story,” “WALL-E”) shares what he knows about storytelling — starting at the end and working back to the beginning. Contains graphic language … (Note: this talk is not available for download.)

Warning: There is a word you may not use often in the punch line of the opening joke. You will probably laugh out loud…but you may not want anyone to see you!

By the way, I first heard parts of this TED talk on TED Radio. You can check out that broadcast right here.

Image by TED.com

Quotebook: Changing or Losing

change and losingSometimes I hear a great quote and can almost think of nothing else until I write down exactly what was said. This happened on Monday while sitting in on a staff meeting at a church where I am consulting. The staff was reading a book together and commenting one by one on what they had found most important or most powerful.

As usual, I had my notebook out and was jotting down key ideas as I heard them.

And then I heard this line:

“A person either hates losing enough to change or he hates changing enough to lose.”

I quickly wrote down the line (or as best I could remember it). I also began trying to see the title and the name of the book they were reading! Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life by Orrin Woodward. I googled the part of the phrase I remembered along with the author’s name and there was the whole quote! Perfect.

I don’t know about you, but I believe this line reflects the real choice we make. Of course, you have to have clearly defined what you will call success or clarified the win, but once you do the line captures perfectly the choice:

“A person either hates losing enough to change or he hates changing enough to lose.”

Great line, don’t you think? By the way, I ordered the book yesterday and can’t wait to read it.

Image by Craig Sunter

Missed It by That Much!

maxwellsmart_missed_it_by_that_muchGet Smart was one of our favorite television shows when I was in elementary school.  Maxwell Smart, agent 86, was always almost getting it right and saying, “Missed it by that much.”

He came very close to getting it right, or at least in his mind he was very close.

It was a great show. We loved it. It was very funny.

I thought about Maxwell Smart saying “missed it by that much” today as I listened to several small group leaders describe the small group connection event where they were chosen as leaders. I have to admit I cringed a little as they described things that weren’t part of the original design of the strategy.

What occurred to me is that least little deviation from the design of a strategy can take you quite a distance from the intended outcome. Just little tiny deviations. Worse, what might seem like a small deviation may actually be a very significant strategic departure. Like when I discovered a former consulting church had “tweaked” the small group connection strategy and were essentially calling a group fair a connection.  Instead of starting new groups they were simply adding new members to existing groups.

Missed it by that much! Adding members to existing groups treads water. Starting new groups is the best way to grow the total number of people connected. See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups.

There are a number of strategic elements that only have to be tweaked slightly to lead to a much different and far less powerful outcome. If you’re finding a strategy is just not working (or just not working anymore), you may need to go back and look again at the original design. It could be that your tweaks have caused you to “miss it by that much.” See also, 5 Totally Obvious Reasons Small Group Ministries Fail and 5 Obscure but Important Reasons Small Group Ministries Fail.

7 Skills Every Small Group Pastor Needs

sevenWhat skills must every small group pastor have in their skill set? I’ve written about the 5 habits I’d look for if I was hiring a small group pastor.  This is really a different thing. There is a set of skills every small group pastor must have in their skill set.

7 Skills Every Small Group Pastor Needs

  • Relationship Builder: This is really not a position for monks or hermits. A small group pastor need not be a raging extrovert, but they do need to be a relationship builder (which may be true of both introverts and extroverts).  The task of building a thriving small group ministry cannot be done alone. It takes an army and a master relationship builder in the lead role is a powerful advantage.
  • Identifier of High Capacity Leaders: In order to build a thriving small group ministry you must have an effective coaching structure. Once you have more than 10 groups, caring for small group leaders will become increasingly difficult without engaging a growing band of high capacity leaders (who can each care for 5 to 10 small group leaders). Span of care issues keep many small group ministries from thriving. Identifying high capacity leaders is a full time job in a thriving small group ministry and can only rarely be delegated. See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
  • Recruiter of High Capacity Leaders: It is not enough to be able to spot high capacity leaders; recruiting them is an essential skill. Skillful recruiting can be developed and there is an art to it. It is my conviction that high capacity leaders are always busy people, wear many hats and will only occasionally volunteer for your ministry. If you want to build an effective small group coaching structure, you must become a skillful recruiter. See also, How to Recruit a Small Group Coach: My Secret Formula.
  • Developer of Leaders: Although some leader development may be delegated, there is no avoiding the need for this skill. Because whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups must happen first in the lives of the leaders of your groups (and because this informs what you must do to and for (and with) your coaches), some of the most important leader development must be done by the small group pastor. Small group pastors without this skill will struggle to build an effective coaching structure. See also, The One Thing Every Small Group Pastor Must Do for Small Group Leaders and Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Small Group Leaders.
  • Strategic Thinker: You may have your doubts that this skill is essential, but I am convinced that the most effective small group pastors think strategically and in fact are students of the craft. Next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends that are easy, obvious and strategic isn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon. To the contrary, a crowded belong and become menu is the ministry equivalent of the second law of thermodynamics (In an isolated system, natural processes are spontaneous when they lead to an increase in disorder, or entropy).
  • Story Teller and Hero Maker: In many cases, the small group pastor has the greatest potential to know the best stories about life-change and be close enough to the action to identify the heroic actions of ordinary people. When the small group pastor is skilled at identifying great stories and making heroes and willing to pass those along to the senior pastor on a regular basis…you have the recipe for a powerful collaboration.  See also, 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of New Groups and 5 Things Every New Small Group Pastor Needs to Know on Day 1.
  • Behind the Scenes Producer: If the senior pastor must be the small group champion (and this is the case in all thriving small group ministries), the small group pastor must be a skilled behind the scenes producer. The role of a Hollywood movie producer might provide clarifying insight. “He shepherds the production from start to finish. In a typical arrangement, the producer develops an idea or script with a writer and secures the necessary rights. He often hires the director, supervises casting, and assembles a crew. Additionally, the producer oversees the budget and then coordinates the postproduction work—everything from editing, to commissioning music, to encouraging the film’s stars to plug the movie on talk shows.” The key? The producer plays a critical role but is almost entirely behind the scenes…until they accept the Oscar. See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

Image by Melanie Hughes

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