Review: Discovering Our Spiritual Identity

Looked over a copy of Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for the Beloved by Trevor Hudson this week.  New from InterVarsity Press, this will be a good addition to your recommended list if you’re looking for ways to “live out…[your] spiritual identity as God’s beloved.”

There are a number of aspects to really love about Discovering Our Spiritual Identity.  First, as Dallas Willard puts it in the forward, “Trevor Hudson states with utter simplicity and clarity the profound truths of Jesus Christ, about how we can live well and beautifully, no matter what our circumstances.”  If you’re like me and you’re looking for “easy to wrap your mind around”…you’ll appreciate the simplicity here.

Second, the practical exercises included in each chapter are the kind of holy experiment that can be done alone and then discussed with a group of fellow travelers.  Alternatively, they can be used as a kind of journal entry that will allow healthy interaction with the content.  Discovering Our Spiritual Identity is much more than a reading assignment.  It really is a set of 16 very practical steps that can be taken in a spiritual journey.

Third, each chapter concludes with a set of questions appropriate for a group or interaction with a spiritual director or partner.  While this would be a challenging interaction for some small groups (there is no leaders guide and the subject matter will require a level of maturity not always found in every group), many groups will find it just the thing to help them take essential next steps in spiritual growth.

I can imagine that many, many of the participants in our congregations would greatly benefit from interacting with the ideas and practices in this book.  Beginning with drawing a new picture of God and continuing on through sections on spiritual friendship, solitude and silence, and offering encouraging words, this is a workbook experience that has the potential to powerfully impact and redirect spiritual status quo.

If there is a concern about the book it is simply that without a leader’s guide it’s application will be limited to individuals/groups that have the required level of maturity.  At the same time, there will be many will find in Discovering Our Spiritual Identity a trajectory altering experience.

New Here?

New to MarkHowellLive.com?  With almost 500 articles, there’s a lot here and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on anything.  Let me take a moment and show you around!

First, if you’re looking for a certain topic (i.e., church-wide campaigns, small group curriculum, small group strategy or leader tips), take a look at my archives.  I’ve created an archive short-cut on the menu bar at the top of the page.  Or, if you know the title (or part of it) of the article you’re looking for, use the Google search feature in the sidebar to the right.  It’s fast and very accurate.

Second, take a moment and subscribe to my blog.  It’s FREE and you can choose from 3 ways to have the content delivered fresh (by email, RSS, or a twice monthly e-newsletter).  Click here to get started.

Third, if you’re wondering who I am and need a little more info about what I do, you can check out my “about page.”

Finally, if you’re looking for personalized church-wide campaign coaching, strategic consulting, or a speaker for your upcoming retreat or staff development meeting…you can find out about consulting and speaking right here.

Accelerate GroupLife in 2011: T – 5 Weeks

Are you ready for a year that might double the number of people connected?  How about triple it?  There really are things you can do that will exponentially impact grouplife at your church (and in your community), but they’re only rarely accidental.

Most of the big system-wide moves in small group ministry are the result of planning and preparation.  In the first post in this series we talked about beginning to develop an annual calendar for 2011, specifically nailing down a date (or dates) for a small group connection in late January/early February, and starting the process of selecting the right curriculum for that connection.  If you need to get caught up, you can read the first post right here.

This Week’s Assignment

Like last week, there are two things you can do right now that will help generate more excitement and enthusiasm for your connection event. Continue Reading…

The Second Key to GroupLife at Crowd’s Edge

The second key to grouplife at Crowd’s Edge is to make it easy for those closest to the edge to say yes…to a number of opportunities (for an understanding of my term, crowd’s edge, see A Road Map to Crowd’s Edge).

It’s important to recognize right here that there will always be people who are eager to point out the problems and challenges of anything outside the boundaries of the status quo.  Remember, there is no problem-free.  Every solution has it’s own set of problems.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.

Here are a few ways to make it easy to say yes:

  • You can make it easy for them to imagine hosting a small group by choosing a study topic that makes sense…to their friends.  One of the least appreciated opportunities of a church-wide campaign is for a Crowd’s Edger to invite neighbors or friends to participate.  What makes that possible?  Two things: (1) Selecting a topic that makes sense to both the host and their friends (i.e., from the easy end of the Easy/Hard Continuum), (2) Casting a compelling vision.  Only your senior pastor will get the attention of the folks at Crowd’s Edge. Continue Reading…

Important Keys to GroupLife at Crowd’s Edge

Kathy asked a great question yesterday about GroupLife Is Different at Crowd’s Edge (a post I wrote recently).  Here’s her question:

Working the edge sounds very exciting.  I am interested in the practical approach you take to capture these folks.  How do you recruit?  How do you train?  How do you monitor?  Can you point me in the direction of more specifics on how to pull this off?  Thanks!

To begin with…great questions!  Love that you’re excited about the potential of working at the edges of your congregation and even the crowd.  It really is where life is most carbonated.

In order to answer your questions, I need to point you to several keys.  At the same time, it’s more information than I can fit in one post…so follow along and I’ll build the idea as simply as I can.  Here we go: Continue Reading…

Small Group Life — Lifeway’s Engaging and Affordable Curriculum Line

I wrote about Lifeway’s Small Group Life curriculum series a while back when it was a new product. Now entering its second year, the series offers a number of key advantages:

  • Affordable pricing (a full year’s curriculum can cost as little as $14 per person)
  • Subscription model similar to that of a Sunday School quarterly
  • Easy preparation
  • Each study can be used as a 6 or a 12 week study (each session is designed to be divided into two)
  • Free downloadable lesson ideas for kids
  • Free downloadable videos for each session online
  • Leader’s Notes are embedded in each study and Leader’s Guide is included in every study guide
  • Family devotional ideas are included

The study guides in the series are called episodes and are part of a year-long pattern that follows Lifeway’s adult ministry strategy of connect, grow, serve, and go.

Barbarians, the fall 2010 offering, is a good example of the engaging nature of the series.  Based on the idea that “over the past two thousand years, Christianity has moved away from its renegade roots to something more comfortable–housetrained conformists who have grown soft through carefully constructed lives veiled with the order of the routine and the mundane,” this study is designed to help group members take steps back into the passionate self-abandonment of the original tribe.

Barbarians’ 6 thematic topics are:

  • The Barbarian Creed
  • Jesus the Barbarian
  • Beat of the Barbarian Heart
  • The Barbarian Call to Action
  • Barbarian Blind Spots
  • The Barbarian in Community

Barbarians is an engaging study and part of a sustainable model.  If you’re looking for a reliable curriculum to give your groups access to, this is a product you’ll want to check out.  You can find out more right here.

Accelerate GroupLife in 2011: 6 Weeks

Ready for all 2011 could be?  I’m putting a kind of countdown series together over the next 6 weeks to give you some ideas about how to make 2011 a grouplife year to remember.  If you’re just getting started…here’s what I’d be thinking about.  If you’re already firing on all cylinders…here are a few ideas that might help you tweak your 2011 plan.

The first thing I do is begin putting together a calendar for the whole year.  To make sure you’re thinking strategically about the whole year, take a look at my article, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.  A key here is to recognize that there are best times to do certain things.  Unlike the idea that there’s always room for jello…there really are times that maximize the impact potential of a church-wide campaign or a small group connection. Continue Reading…

Chazown: A Great New Free Resource from LifeChurch.tv

Ran into a friend from LifeChurch.tv yesterday at the Small Group Trader day of the Right Now conference.  He made sure to tell me about a new resource available that goes along with Chazown: Define Your Vision. Pursue Your Passion. Live Your Life on Purpose, Craig Groeschel’s engaging book by the same title.

The idea behind Chazown is an exciting one.  The title of the book and resource is based on the the Hebrew word for vision, and it’s what God had in mind for you when you were created.  Each of us is a masterpiece, placed on earth for a unique purpose that’s solely ours to fulfill.  Finding your chazown is the point of the resource.

In addition to the web-based interactive assessments, there is a 6 session downloadable DVD-driven small group curriculum.  As is so much of what LifeChurch.tv produces, the online resources at Chazown.com are free.

Chazown was a great read, very thought-provoking and inspiring when I first picked it up.  Now with the tools and resources available for personal and group use…it will only be more engaging.  You can take a look right here.

By the way, Robert Davis is the Small Group Pastor at LifeChurch.tv’s Northwest Oklahoma City campus.  If you follow him on twitter, maybe it’ll make him tweet a little more regularly!

Join Me as an Advocate for Crowd’s Edge

Ever said, “I can’t find enough leaders?”  How about, “My group leaders are constantly coming to me, looking for more members?”  Ever asked this question: “How come when we do a church-wide campaign, even an outreach focused campaign, none of our leaders invite neighbors or friends?”

Can I let you in on an important truth?  All of these statements and questions are symptoms of a core-to-crowd grouplife strategy.  You know…the idea that by investing in the core, by focusing on ideas like apprenticing new leaders,  they’ll learn to invest and invite unconnected people.

It sounds logical.  It even sounds biblical.  But it just doesn’t happen.  Investing in the core, in the “usual suspects,” almost never produces sufficient new leaders to take care of the need in the congregation (let alone the growing need along the edges of the crowd).  Investing in the core almost never produces an outward focused mentality.  It almost always does the reverse.  Instead, it produces an inward focus.

Crowd-To-Core Breaks the Cycle

Can I tell you one more thing?  The x-factor really is near the edge (not in the core).  If you want to find more leaders, if you want leaders that naturally fill their own group, if you want leaders that actually know people outside the core…you need to learn to recruit from further out.  GroupLife is different near crowd’s edge.

See, when I learn to recruit leaders from near the edge, a number of things begin to change:

  • Genuinely new leaders are open to coaching
  • While the “usual suspects” have grown closer and closer to group members already in the core, new leaders from the edges of the congregation still have plenty of connections outside the congregation.
  • It becomes easier to identify the number of leaders that can help connect the congregation and begin to transform the community.

Is it neat and tidy?  No.  It’s messy.  It’s full of problems.  And nothing is ever as easy as it sounds.  But you know what?  Every solution has problems.  That’s why I always say, “There is no problem-free.  You can only choose the set of problems you’d rather have.”  For my money…I’d always rather have the problems associated with helping new leaders from the edge take next steps spiritually while they help connect their friends from the crowd (and even the community).

One last note?  Identifying new leaders from the edge is not only messy and full of problems…it probably also feels a lot like it did for Paul working ever further away from the home base of Jerusalem.

Want things to be different in your grouplife effort?  You’ve got to do different things if you want different results.  After all, “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).”  Want different?  Move out closer to the edge.

GroupLife Is Different at Crowd’s Edge

Some things are hard to describe…but you know it when you see it.  Or taste it. When you sense it…or don’t sense it.  If you’ve ever taken a drink from a perfectly calibrated soft drink dispenser you know it when it hits your tongue.  You actually know it when you put the cup to your lips…because the fizz is already tickling your nose.  On the other hand, if you’ve ever taken a drink from a bottle of coke that has lost its fizz…you also know what I’m talking about.

Not long after I left 10 year old Fellowship of The Woodlands (now Woodlands Church) and arrived at a landmark Southern California church…I began to sense that their carbonation was gone.  It felt flat, but I had trouble describing it until I stumbled across the metaphor.  I went out and bought two 2 liters, uncapped one and put both of them on the edge of my desk…where they sat for about a year.  “What’s up with the coke bottles?” launched many discussions about carbonation and churches.

I think the same thing is true in many small groups and small group systems.  You know a good group when you’re in one.  You can almost taste it.  It’s like it’s carbonated.  And then there are times when it really is pretty flat.  No zip.  Not the business.

Want in on the bubbles?  You might need to step out of the comfort of  the core and try grouplife at the edge of the crowd.  At Crowd’s Edge it can be about real change.  At Crowd’s Edge is can be about discovering real truth.  At Crowd’s Edge it can be about real life, with eternity in the balance.

While telling the story of two coke bottles I often described castaways on an island where a pallet of coke syrup washed up.  They knew what it was.  They drank it.  It was sweet.  It was tasty.  It was a change from their usual  water.  But it wasn’t the real thing.  Not really.  And then one day a pallet of the real thing washed up.  I wondered if they’d even like it.  It had the familiar essence of the syrup, but it was different.  It had the bite of carbonation.  It was dangerous by comparison.

And I wondered if you could get so used to just the syrup that you’d reject the real thing.  I wondered if people could be so accustomed to the sweetness of the syrup that they’d reject the bite of the real the thing.

Is your group the real thing?  Or has the co2 left the building?  What about your small group system?  Are you working with the whole formula?  Or have you gotten used to the syrup?