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Dallas Willard on the Greatest Issue Facing the World

earchThink about the implications of this sentence from Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship:

“The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”

How might we embed this understanding in our leadership development experiences? What would have to be true about our small group systems if we want every member of our groups to become this kind of disciple?

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Quotebook: Dallas Willard on How to Become Like Christ

follow pathwayIf it is true that “whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first” there can be no question about what must happen to the leaders in your small group ministry.  And by extension, there can be little debate about the role of a coach.

And if the role of the coach is to do to and for (and with) the leader whatever you want the leader to do to and for (and with) their members, the question must be asked…what is it that we want to happen in the lives of the members of our groups?  My argument?  We want the members of our groups to become like Christ.  How?  By following Jesus in the overall style of life He chose for Himself.

I love the clarifying simplicity of this line from Dallas Willard’s, The Spirit of the Disciplines:

“My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing — by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.” (The Spirit of the Disciplines, ix)

Father in Heaven…let us all seek to follow Jesus in the overall style of life He chose for Himself.

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What to Do If You Discover You Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy

StrategyYesterday I posted 5 Signs You May Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy.  And of course, I immediately had questions about what to do if you discover that you have a bad disciple-making strategy.  Maybe you wondered the same thing!

Here’s my recommendation:

Rethink your design

If you discover that you have a bad disciple-making design (based on your results), then it’s time to rethink the way you are making disciples.

3 foundational assumptions

  1. It is what it is.  In the words of Andy Stanley, “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  Your results are not a fluke.  They are directly related to the design.  Don’t like your results?  Change the design and remember that design incorporates just about everything (i.e., the way you recruit and train leaders, the way it’s promoted, the way you actually make disciples, any and all structure that plays a part, etc.).
  2. What got you here won’t get you there.  Albert Einstein noted that “the significant problems that we face will not be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”  Translation?  Your current strategy or design might very well have been effective at an earlier date.  Times change. Organizations become more complex over time. What works in one season won’t necessarily always work.  Getting to there will almost always require more than a tweak.
  3. There is no problem-free.  Every system, solution or strategy comes with a set of problems and there are no exceptions.  There is no problem-free.  Wise leaders simply make a list of the problems that come with each strategy and choose the set of problems they would rather have.

10 principles that will guide the work that is ahead.

  1. Begin with the end in mind.  Describing in vivid detail a picture of the preferred future is essential.  Make no compromise and take no shortcut.  As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
  2. Diagnose the present with uncompromising honesty.  If you begin with the end in mind, brutal honesty about the here and now is another essential.  See also, Brutal Honesty about Your Present.
  3. Clarify what you will call a win.  According to Peter Drucker, very few things are as important as determining what you will call success.  See also, Clarifying the Win in Your Small Group Ministry.
  4. Think steps, not programs.  Design easy, obvious and strategic steps that lead to the preferred future and only to the preferred future.  See also, Think Steps, Not Programs.
  5. Narrow the focus (to eliminate all but the best steps).  There is no room for turning a blind eye to the inadequacies of yesterday’s solutions.  See also, Small Group Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.
  6. Allocate resources to the critical growth path.  Choosing a preferred future is one thing.  Allocating finite resources to get to the preferred future is what demonstrates conviction.  Budget, key staff and volunteers, space, promotional bandwidth, and senior pastor attention are just a few of the most important resources.  See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  7. Commit to the long haul.  The journey to build a thriving small group ministry is not a short sprint.  It is a marathon.  If you want to arrive at the finish line, you must commit to the long haul.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run.
  8. Keep one eye on the preferred future.  Maintaining focus on the end in mind, using preferred future language to cast vision for the promised land is a non-negotiable.  It will be tempting along the way to settle for something less than a thriving small group ministry.  Only by rehearsing again and again what it will be like will the steadfast pursuit continue.
  9. Keep the other eye on the very next milestone.  Milestones that are clearly visible in the near future enable your team to stay focused and encouraged.  Milestones could be quantitative (a number of groups or a percentage connected statistic).  Milestones can also be qualitative with a little effort (capturing life-change stories or monitoring feedback cards).  The objectives that must be accomplished to reach the next milestone are the kind of things that keep teams focused.  See also, Are We There Yet? Milestones that Lead to the Preferred Future.
  10. Celebration is expected.  A culture of celebration is a must have.  Celebrate milestones reached and wins experienced.

Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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5 Signs You May Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy

signsYou may want to argue with me, but I think there are certain signs that indicate clearly whether you have a bad disciple-making strategy.  With me?  Isn’t obvious that certain results or a lack of results would indicate a bad disciple-making strategy?  Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  If you don’t like the results, you must change the design.

I love this line from Winston Churchill.  “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”  If you don’t like your results, change the strategy.

See where I’m going?  Can you go there?  Here are five signs you may have a bad disciple-making design:

5 Signs You Have a Bad Disciple-Making Design

  1. You don’t have enough adults being discipled.  You pray for it.  You talk about it.  You promote it.  But it just doesn’t happen.  Sign-ups for your disciple-making effort fall far short of projections and expectations, and another season comes and goes.  Doesn’t the number of people entering the pipeline determine the number coming out?  See also, Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?
  2. You have plenty of adults being discipled…but you are rarely producing disciple makers.  Real disciples make disciples.  If all you’re making is more knowledgable consumers, you have a bad disciple-making strategy.  You can have a steady stream of people completing the curriculum, but if you rarely see disciples become disciple-makers it is time to take a serious look at your results.  See also, 4 Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples and Lagging Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples.
  3. You have plenty of adults who have been discipled…but you still never have enough people serving.  Results are the true test.  If your strategy is making disciples you will be producing a steady stream of other-centered men and women.  Rather than a shortage of volunteers, you will have a surplus.  It will become easier and easier to fill ministry positions with volunteers who are fruitful and fulfilled, obviously in the right seats on the bus.
  4. You have plenty of adults who have been discipled…but you aren’t developing a culture of generosity.  Struggling to grow your annual budget?  There may be no clearer indication that you have a bad strategy for making disciples.  If your disciple-making design isn’t producing a culture of generosity, shouldn’t very loud alarm bells be going off?
  5. You have plenty of adults who have been through your discipleship pathway…but what you are producing barely resembles Jesus.  If you’re graduating men and women in number from your discipleship pathway, but your graduates aren’t really exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit or ending up fully mature in Christ, isn’t that an indication that your strategy is ineffective?  If your pathway graduates are still drinking milk and not ready for meat, isn’t that a signal that you’re producing something less than complete?

See also, 6 Essential Questions about Making Disciples and Small Group MinistryHow to Make Disciples in Small Groups and 5 Essential Ingredients of Groups that Make Disciples.

What do you do if you see these signs?  I detail what to do if you discover a bad disciple-making strategy right here.

What do you think? Have a question? Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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How to Make Disciples in Small Groups

light at the endI don’t know about you, but I’m determined to build a thriving small group ministry that makes disciples.  That is the light at the end of the tunnel for me.  It is the end in mind.  It’s not just to connect unconnected people.  That’s important, but only a beginning.  My objective is to make disciples.  And I suspect–since you are still along on this journey with me–that is your objective too!  See also, How to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry and 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

And if your objective is to make disciples…you must know what it is you are trying to make (i.e., What is a disciple?).  Once you know that little detail, you will be able to lay out a path that leads to that preferred future.

With me?

And to that end, I love this paragraph from Dallas Willard.  In my mind it informs what it is that I need to do in laying out the path.

As a disciple of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. This is the crucial idea. That means how to live within the range of God’s effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another important way of putting this is to say that I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live life if he were I (emphasis mine) I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner in which he did all that he did.  How to Be a Disciple

Still with me?  This sets up a fairly clear understanding of the things that will have to be true about a small group ministry that will make disciples.

  1. It defines what I must do as I develop coaches.  I will need do to and for my coaches the things that will help them learn to live their lives as Jesus would live their lives.  See also, The Most Important Contribution of a Small Group Pastor.
  2. It defines what our coaches must do to and for the leaders they are discipling.  See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Leaders.
  3. It defines what our small group leaders must do to and for the members they are discipling.  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

What do you think?  Have a question? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Lagging Indicators of Effective Disciple-Making Small Group Ministries

economic chartIn the world of economics, “lagging indicators are indicators that usually change after the economy as a whole does.”  For example, changes in the unemployment rate are lagging indicators that lag changes in the economy.  As the economy improves, more jobs are added and the unemployment rate decreases.  The Consumer Confidence Index and the Dow Jones Transportation Average are other examples of lagging indicators.  Their movement, up or down, trails changes in the economy.

Lagging indicators are useful for economists because they confirm the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of earlier strategies and actions.

Can you see where this is going?  Might there be lagging indicators that validate or invalidate the effectiveness of small group ministry disciple-making strategies and structures?  I believe there are a few that we should be tracking.

Lagging Indicators of Effective Disciple-Making Strategies and Structures

This is a very preliminary list, but doesn’t it make sense that the following lagging indicators would be in evidence?

  • Growing evidence of a biblical worldview.  As more and more disciples are made, wouldn’t biblical principles infiltrate ordinary conversation among small group members?
  • A growing culture of generosity.  Couldn’t you compare the giving levels of small group members with the giving levels of those not in a group?
  • An others first mentality.  Doesn’t it make sense that a Philippians 2 attitude would begin to be in evidence?  With some work it should be possible to quantify a decrease in taking the best seat and an increase in setting aside what is due?
  • An abundance of ministry volunteers.  Wouldn’t every ministry have a surplus of committed volunteers?  Doesn’t the perennial shortage of ministry volunteers indicate an ineffective disciple-making strategy?
  • A pervasive attitude of humility.  If there was an effective disciple-making strategy, wouldn’t a growing percentage of small group members acknowledge that they have not yet arrived and readily recognize that they are not yet what they will be?
  • A persistent determination to clear up damaged relationships.  Don’t you imagine that an effective disciple-making strategy would greatly reduce the presence of petty grievances, malicious gossip, and barely covered ill will?
  • An increasing willingness to follow spiritual leadership.  Wouldn’t stubborn refusal to submit to spiritual authority steadily diminish when there is an effective disciple-making strategy?

Admittedly, in a growing church spiritual immaturity will always be present.  But in a church with an effective disciple-making strategy, there should also be the presence of an encouraging set of lagging indicators.

See also, Four Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples and 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

What do you think?  Have one to add? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

6 Essential Questions about Making Disciples and Small Group Ministry

problemsWrestling with questions like, “Are we really making disciples?”  Or maybe, “Where are the mature disciples?”  I want to suggest that while those are valid questions, they might not be the most helpful questions.  In addition, asking the right questions is essential if you want to discover discover the best solutions.

W. Edwards Deming said, “If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”   Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

The questions you ask determine whether you arrive at the discovery you seek.  The questions you ask determine whether you arrive at the best solution.

6 essential questions about making disciples and small group ministry

  1. What is a disciple?  This is a foundational question.  The answer to this question will inform what your next questions should be.  I find two Dallas Willard quotes helpful on this.  First, “As a disciple I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I.”   Not a bad definition.  And second, “A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.”  That is a very good end in mind, don’t you think?
  2. What is the best way to help the largest number of people to take a first step toward becoming a disciple (or a better disciple)?  When this is not the second question, or an early question, it’s easy to be led in a direction that does not scale (i.e., one-on-one discipleship, triad discipleship or groups with high entry requirements).  When you think steps, not programs, you determine to create steps that are easy, obvious, and strategic.  Let me add that the very best followup question is, “What would have to be true for that option to work?”  See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium?
  3. How might we build a pathway that would help the largest number of people take next steps toward becoming better disciples?  A pathway is a series of next steps that lead in the direction of the destination.  I love Andy Stanley’s line, “Path, not intent, determines destination.”  Again, an excellent followup question is, “What would have to be true for that option to work?”  See also, 5 Main Causes of “Failure to Thrive” in Small Group Ministries.
  4. What are we not doing about making disciples that we should start doing right away?  Isn’t this an obvious question?  The absence of a sense of urgency about making disciples should make our dashboard light up with flashing lights and piercing alarms.  See also, Beware of the Lure of the Status Quo.
  5. What should we immediately stop doing in order to allow for the emergence of a better pathway?  Perpetuating an ineffective status quo is standing in the way of a better way.  Peter Drucker pointed out that, “The first step in a growth policy is not to decide where and how to grow.  It is to decide what to abandon.”  See also, Growth’s Counterintuitive First Step.
  6. What are the obstacles that keep the most people from taking a step toward becoming a better disciple?  This question is only slightly different than #5, but it is an important difference.  Designing an effective pathway requires the elimination of obstacles, barriers and stumbling blocks at the entrance and along the way (i.e., the first step is hidden or hard to find, the next step menu includes too many choices, etc.).  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

See also, Four Questions that Evaluate Small Group Model Effectiveness and Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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5 Essential Ingredients of Groups that Make Disciples

Essential IngredientsYesterday I asked the question, “What have you designed your groups to make?”  Answering my own question, I said, “Our small groups are designed to make followers of Jesus.”  And I must admit that my answer begs the question, “what kind of group will make disciples or followers of Jesus?”  See also, What Have You Designed Your Groups to Make?

What kind of group will make disciples…or followers of Jesus?

We could also ask, “What would have to be true about a group for it to make followers of Jesus?”

Good questions…don’t you think?

I’m sure there are more than these 5, but I don’t believe you can actually make followers of Jesus without these.  See what you think.

5 essential ingredients of groups that make followers of Jesus:

  1. The presence of a person who can say, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).”  How far ahead must they be?  A step or two.  Note: This person (or these people) may not need to be the leader of the group.  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader and Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.
  2. A curriculum focused on learning to be like Jesus.  The end in mind is being like Jesus, not knowing about Jesus.  Note: This probably means that someone more knowledgeable has laid out a pathway designed to help groups wisely choose what to study.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #3: Leaders and Members Know Best What to Study.
  3. An unforced and unassuming intentionality pervades every gathering.  Groups that make authentic followers seem to operate independently of agenda.  Talking about scripture is a naturally occurring element, but so is every other aspect of life.   When appearance trumps authenticity the group produces Pharisaism.
  4. An “in but not of” culture makes inclusion natural and unforced.  Any hint of exclusivity or artificiality negates the work being done.  Learning to be like Jesus is a practical impossibility in isolation.  See also, An “In” but Not “Of” M.O.
  5. An “others first attitude” deeply saturates every aspect of the group.  Becoming like Jesus by definition assumes setting aside more and more of your own personal interests.  See also, A Willingness to Set Aside Your Own Interests.

What do you think?  Have one to add? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Anthony Georgeff

What Have You Designed Your Groups to Make?

What have you designed your small groups to make?

This is an ongoing discussion right now…at least in my world.  It’s framed differently from one conversation to another and the frame itself manufactures slightly different answers…most of them a little vague.

What have you designed your groups to make?  Acquaintances?  Friends?  Fully devoted followers?  Disciples?  Followers?

You might prefer, “What are your groups designed to do?”  In which case you might answer “make disciples” or “make disciples who make disciples.”

I’d rather answer this one, “What have you designed your groups to make?”  My answer?  I say, “Our small groups are designed to make followers of Jesus.”  At least, that’s what I say.

Honestly, I’m challenged by something Dallas Willard said when describing a follower or disciple of Jesus:

Disciples of Jesus are those who are with him, learning to be like him. That is, they are learning to lead their life, their actual existence, as he would lead their life if he were they.” (Renovation of the Heart, 241)

Dallas Willard went on to say:

A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.”

Question: Have I really designed my small groups to make that kind of follower?

And when I read these lines I’m reminded again that, according to Andy Stanley, my “ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results I’m currently experiencing.”

And if my groups aren’t really designed to make that kind of follower…what would have to be true for my groups to begin producing followers who “effortlessly do what Jesus would do if Jesus were them?”  See also, Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change, Groups of  All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change, and 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

What have you designed your groups to make?

How would you answer that question?

What do you think?  Have one to add? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

What’s Better? Rows or Circles?

rowsTurns out I can’t get enough of the idea that circles are better than rows…for most things.  It’s that important.  At least to me.

If you’ve been along for much of this journey, you’ve probably read many of these.  If you’re a newer member or infrequent attendee, you might just want to dive in and get the full treatment today!

Here are my top 10 posts on the idea that circles are better than rows:

  1. Disciples are rarely made in rows.
  2. Quotebook: Life-Change, Circles and Rows.
  3. Andy Stanley on Creating a Culture That’s All About Circles.
  4. The Primary Activity of the Early Church.
  5. Top 10 Signs Your Ministry Might Be Schizophrenic.
  6. An Inadequate Explanation for the 1st Century
  7. 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry
  8. 3 Prerequisite Convictions of Senior Pastors Who Experience Authentic Community
  9. How Do You Best Utilize Gifted Teachers in a Church OF Small Group?
  10. Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Needs a Reboot

Image by Steve Chilton

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