Dilbert on Hard Realities

Sometimes you need a laugh. And sometimes the truth hurts…really hurts.
your boss was saying the same thing

Join Me for a FREE Conference Call: 5 Secrets to a Big Start in 2014

As you probably know, the beginning of the year is the second best opportunity all year to launch more small groups and connect more people.  It’s such a good opportunity…but it’s a shame to see it wasted so often!

Want to learn the 5 Secrets to a Big (GroupLife) Start in 2014?

You’re invited!  Join me for a free 60 minute conference call on Tuesday, December 10th at 11:00 a.m. PST.

I’ll be sharing the 5 Secrets to a Big Start in 2014.

Hope you’ll come along!  Space is limited.  You can RSVP by clicking right here

Don’t Miss Starting Small: A New Book from Ben Reed

starting smallHad a chance to preview Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint, a new book from my friend Ben Reed.  Ben is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN area.

I call Ben a whippersnapper because for someone his age to know what he knows and have the insights he has is pretty remarkable.  I wanted you to hear a little bit about why he wrote Starting Small and why you ought to buy it.

What motivated you to write Starting Small?

I realized that the problems we were facing in the ministry I led were the same ones that I was having conversations about with so many other groups folks from around the country who were wanting to start a groups ministry, or take their current one to the next level. The book was an overflow of the conversations I’ve been having for the past 6 years.

Who did you write it for?  Who do you see really benefitting from the book?

The primary audience for my book is the person who wants to help his/her small group grow, and help people take steps of faith. I think small group leaders, small group pastors, lead pastors, education directors, and small group coaches would benefit from it.

But it would also be a resource that a potential leader/apprentice could read and (hopefully) find helpful.

As an aging whippersnapper, can you give us a preview of a couple key lessons you’ve learned that will really benefit the readers of Starting Small?

One thing that I believe a lot of small group guys miss is what I call “partying monthly.” We have rhythms in so many other areas of life. At work. At home. With our hobbies. With our free time. Rhythms are the result of well-worn disciplines.

So I like to help groups start off developing a rhythm that promotes growth.

We gather weekly and party monthly.

Because, well, for one, Jesus followers tend to be pretty boring people. Which is not reflective of the beautiful God we serve! I love what the Psalmist says:

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy;

then they said among the nations,

“The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us;

we are glad. – Psalm 126:2-3

When our mouths are filled with laughter, others are convinced that God has done great things among us. And the flip-side must also be true. If our mouths aren’t filled with laughter, people become convinced that the God we serve isn’t good. That he doesn’t take delight in loving is people. That the God we proclaim as King is ultimately boring, and eternity will be a dull, lifeless “existence.” That’s not the story I want to tell.

So “partying monthly” is a vital rhythm of small group life.

I’d also say that one thing I’ve found most helpful is strategic “start” times, instead of a constant drip of starting new groups. We launch groups around strategic times through the year, and that’s been a huge win for us.

Thanks Ben!  I’m excited for you and for all the small group leaders that are helped by your wisdom and insight!

Want to add a copy to your personal library?  You can purchase a copy right here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

10 Practices I Need to Learn from Jesus the Small Group Leader

There are a number of things we can know about Jesus the small group leader just by reading the New Testament, particularly the gospels.  And there are at least 10 practices that I need to learn:

  1. Jesus invited men from the crowd who weren’t already connected.  Isn’t this counterintuitive?  How often are we taught to put our time into high capacity leaders from the core?  Curiously, that’s not what Jesus did.  Why do you think that was?  I believe the 12 may have been more connected to the crowd and community than the core.  See also, The 12 Were Not Chosen from the Core and Important Keys to GroupLife at Crowd’s Edge.
  2. Jesus’ group began as a free market small group (net fishing was the affinity!).  Not a bad way to begin.  At least initially, they seemed to invite each other.  See also, An Analysis of the Free Market Small Group System.
  3. Jesus didn’t have an apprentice or co-leader.  Technically, he was leading a turbo group.  See also, Small Group Leaders: Finding, Recruiting and Developing.
  4. Jesus developed his members with this 5 step process: (1) I do, you watch. (2) I do, you help. (3) You do, I help, we talk. (4) You do, I watch, we talk. (5) You do, someone else watches.  See also, Exponential: How to Accomplish the Jesus Mission.
  5. Their curriculum was frequently rehashing what Jesus had just taught on the mountain or by the lake (making Jesus’ group the first sermon-based small group!).  See also, An Analysis of the Sermon Based Small Group System.
  6. Their primary meeting environment was a third place.  Their meetings were as much or more about what happened in between and on the way.
  7. Once he formed the group, Jesus spent more time with the members of his group than anyone else (including his family).  I know this is a challenging and countercultural observation.  And yet…is it near the center of his impact strategy?
  8. Jesus was intentional with his group members, challenging and encouraging them.   He had a preferred future, an end-in-mind for them.  He loved each of them.  He called out their failings and cast vision for what they would become (Matthew 16:18, Matthew 19:28, Matthew 16:23, Matthew 20:20-28).  See also, The End in Mind for My Ideal Group.
  9. Jesus set aside his rights to take care of his members (Philippians 2:3-8).  How often do I take care of me first?  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.
  10. Jesus set aside time with God to recharge and recalibrate.  He operated with clear priorities and understood his need for the power that can only come from time with God (Mark 1:35).  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

I don’t know about you…but looking at this list I am clearly not there.  I want to be.  But I’m not.  Thankfully, I have learned from Paul that I can be thankful I am no longer what I used to be and moving forward to what I will be one day (Philippians 3:12-14).

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

Don’t Miss This New Men’s Study: Manhood Restored

manhood restoredTook the opportunity to preview a new men’s study from LifeWay this week.  Manhood Restored: How the Gospel Makes Men Whole  featuring Eric Mason, the founding and lead pastor of Philadelphia’s Epiphany Fellowship, a “multi-ethnic inner city church dedicated to seeing Jesus Christ’s gospel hit up every area of our lives.”  I recently heard Pastor Mason speak at the RightNow Conference and knew I had to take a look at this study.

A six-session DVD-driven study, Manhood Restored is probably best used as a third or fourth step in the journey.  This is a challenging topic, but Mason is just right in his presentation.  The length is right, coming in at 13 to 20 minutes.  An imposing figure, he captures and holds your attention right out of the gate.  In addition, every segment includes a very compelling testimony from Epiphany members (I think you’ll love the variety and conviction of these men!).

Manhood Restored grapples with some fairly tough topics for men.  Covering man’s problem, God’s solution,  worldview, sexuality, vision and family…Eric Mason exudes confidence and competence.  He delivers a needed message in a challenging manner that can be heard by men who are ready for challenge.

The study guide is fairly robust.  Every session includes

  • a video discussion guide, designed to help the participant follow along and take notes
  • a rich Bible study section provides a “show up” guide that will take members deep into the concept.
  • a wrap up summary emphasizing the main points for takeaway
  • a well-written one-on-one guide for accountability between group members
  • four personal devotional studies every week

The study guide also includes a very basic leader’s guide that isn’t overwhelming, but provides enough for the newest leaders.

I like Manhood Restored.  If you’re looking for a study that will help spiritual walkers become runners, you need to take a good look at this one.  I highly recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. In addition, LifeWay is a regular advertiser on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Latest from Jerry Bridges: True Community

true communityDownloaded True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia yesterday, the newest book from Jerry Bridges.  If you know that name, it may be that you’ve got a 35 year old copy of The Pursuit of Holiness on your bookshelf too!  Bridges is a longtime staff member of The Navigators and has written 10 books, speaks internationally, and serves with their collegiate ministry.

I bought the book because of my pursuit of a better grasp of community.  True Community was written, in part, to answer the questions: “What is biblical community?  And is there biblical basis for using the word community in our Christian context?”

At 176 pages, it’s a short read.  I haven’t finished the book, but I definitely like where it’s going!  Bridges notes in the opening pages that the first mention of koinonia (the Greek word from which we get fellowship) appears in Acts 2:42 and that fellowship is included along with teaching and prayer.  He goes on to observe that it would seem strange to include fellowship “if it meant no more than Christian social activity.”

From the opening pages, True Community is presented in a way that is both easy to read and digest.  In each of the first few chapters I found myself thinking that this is going to be something that will shape our ministry conversations in the coming days.  We’re always looking for material that will equip our small group coaches and leaders.  This book definitely will be one that ends up on our pathway for leadership development.

There is a lot to love about True Community.  Deeply biblical, Bridges has skillfully referenced scriptures that enhance understanding and will help you see community in a new light.  Packed with great quotes from other works on the topic, your copy will no doubt receive a thorough marking and highlighting.  I found myself imagining the talks I’ll be developing in the coming year to help my team grasp this important concept.

In addition, a helpful set of discussion questions is included at the end of each chapter, making True Community an excellent resource for small group study.  Whether it’s used by coaching huddles or individual groups looking for a topical study, the included questions go a long way toward making this an excellent choice.

If you’re on the hunt for a better understanding of community, I highly recommend True Community.  I’m already challenged and strengthened in my pursuit, and I’m sure you will be too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

5 Assumptions That Set Small Group Coaching Up to #Fail

“Small group coaching does not work.”  If I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a million times.  In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard it…I’d be a millionaire!

Ever said it yourself?

I’ve discovered there are five assumptions that set small group coaching up to #fail.  Wonder if you have any of these?

5 Assumptions that Set Small Group Coaching Up to #Fail:

  1. Expressing a desire to be a coach is enough.  Not!  Just like taking volunteers to lead a group you assemble, taking volunteers to be a coach is incredibly risky.  Harmful below-the-waterline motivations are very common (I estimate more than half the time!).  Power and prestige hunting posers are very common.  Much safer and more effective to decide who to recruit and accept no substitutes.  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  2. Warm and willing is better than nothing.  Not!  Similar to assumption #1, warm and willing candidates won’t get the job done.  They are happy to say “yes” to coaching but don’t have the stature to pull it off.  Settling for 30-fold leaders when a 60-fold or 100-fold is required dooms most coaching structures.  See also, Recruiting Coaches: When Not to Compromise.
  3. It’s mostly about accounting.  Not!  If the primary responsibilities are about keeping score (members and meetings), you’ve missed the point.  Coaching is about “doing to and for the leader what you want the leader to do to and for the members of their group.”  Coaching is about caring, not counting.  See also, Who Makes the Best Coach? and 5 GroupLife Dots You May Not Be Connecting.
  4. Low expectations reinforce commitment.  Not!  Minimal or low expectations don’t engage 100-fold players.  Busy and over-committed high capacity people will only say “yes” to trajectory altering assignments.  If the span of care you’ve created calls for two hours a week, you dare not minimize the commitment.  Asking for a big commitment is the only way to get high capacity leaders in the game.  Anything less cheapens the deal.  See also, 5 Honest Thoughts about Small Group Ministry and Top 10 DNA Markers of Churches with Thriving Small Group Cultures.
  5. High capacity players don’t need attention and care.  Not!  If whatever you want to happen at the member level must happen to the leader first, it follows that whatever you want to happen at the leader level, must happen to the coach first.  Capacity does not determine their need for investment and care.  Paying attention to their needs and interests.  Taking the time to know about their families and jobs and interests pays huge dividends and will often keep them engaged in the mission for years.  See also, Life-Change at the Member-Level.

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

External Change > Internal Change = Irrelevance

Yesterday I was remembering a talk that Gary Hamel gave at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.  Knowing his flair for language and keen insights into organizational design, I was anticipating quite a stir.  And I was not disappointed.  It was a talk that generated a lot of interaction.

As many of you know, I am a big fan of Gary Hamel.  If you haven’t read The Future of Management, you’re clearly missing out on one of the best books on innovation and strategy I know of.

One line in particular from the talk and the blog post is at the heart of a critical issue for many of our organizations.  Wonder why so much of what you’re trying seems irrelevant?  Take a moment to ponder Hamel’s line:

“Organizations lose their relevance when the rate of internal change lags the pace of external change. And that’s the problem that besets many churches today (Gary Hamel, Organized Religion’s ‘Management Problem’).”

Can you see where denial may enter in?  I was in a meeting this week where I suggested that it was unreasonable to expect that adults would give you 3 hours of their time on Sunday mornings in a culture where few watch a one hour television program in 60 minutes.  “Most do what I do,” I said.  “They TIVO the show and watch it in 42 minutes.”  And yet…many of our organizations are designed to meet the needs of people 50 to 100 years ago.

“Organizations lose their relevance when the rate of internal change lags the pace of external change.”  How’s your organization doing?  Got any relevance issues?

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

P.S.  Want a sample of the kinds of things he talked about at Willow Creek?  Hamel talked about the experience of speaking at the Leadership Summit in his Wall Street Journal blog, Management 2.0.  You can read the article right here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

3 Prerequisite Convictions for Senior Pastors Who Experience Authentic Community

Last week I challenged senior pastors with a bold statement.  I said, “If you want authentic community to flourish in your church, it begins with you.  It must begin with you.”  See my post, Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You.

Although I included a simple example of how it could begin with the senior pastor, I had a great question from a very respected source.  He asked:

“How do you help pastors overcome the fear of authenticity and desire for self protection/preservation?”

An important and complex question.  At its core, I believe the answer is this simple:  The road to overcoming the fear of authenticity and desire for self protection/preservation is taken one courageous step at a time.  I don’t believe there is any substitute.

I do believe there are 3 prerequisite convictions for senior pastors who want authentic community.

3 Preliminary Convictions

  1. A preliminary step is the senior pastor’s conviction that life-change really does happen best in the midst of life-on-life relationship.  As long as there is there is the remnant of hope that life-change is likely to happen in rows there will be resistance. See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.
  2. Another foundational conviction is that whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.  Isn’t it logical to conclude that it would be folly to assume that there would be much happening at the member level that hadn’t already been experienced by the senior pastor?
  3. Finally, shouldn’t it be every senior pastor’s ambition to be able to say, “Follow me as I follow Christ”?  Shouldn’t their conviction be that they must lead to authentic community?   See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader and 10 Commandments of Small Group Ministry.

Easy?  No.  Consequence free?  Not hardly.  Essential?  Absolutely.

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

New from Beth Moore: Sacred Secrets

sacred secrets squareI’ve been waiting and I bet you’ve been waiting too.  Maybe even impatiently waiting…for the newest Beth Moore study.  Well, wait no more!  It’s out and it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Sacred Secrets is a 5 (or 6) session study and it’s a little different than you might be used to experiencing.  With video captured from a Living Proof Live event in Greensboro, North Carolina, this has some of the feel of being at a Friday night, Saturday morning conference.  In fact, it could be used for a weekend retreat, although the study journal is primarily designed to be used over the 5 week period.

Sacred Secrets finds its theme verse in Psalm 51:6: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”  The topic is very compelling and will be a powerful experience for many.  The opening session cracks open the doorway to an intriguing and quite powerful idea; that although “the world is obsessed with telling secrets for the sake of sensationalism, not all hidden things are poisonous and dark. Some secrets are forgiven, some are covered, and some are kept between you and God (from the jacket).”

The Sacred Secrets Study Journal includes a viewer guide (designed to help guide the participant through each of video sessions) as well as a journal section to independently work through the teaching through the week.  Each journal section includes word studies, stimulating questions and scripture passages to take participants deeper into the topic.

I loved Beth’s closing paragraph in the introduction to the study journal:

“My prayer is that you will go beyond what can be accomplished at an event and walk forward into a relationship with Christ that is exceedingly more intimate and rewarding.  May God invite you to embrace a while new journey, with Him in the secret places where He longs for you to find him.”

I can confidently tell you this: however you make this study available, whether at a weekend retreat or a short-term Bible study, there is a powerful impact that is built-in.  In fact, I’ll go a little further.  This is life-changing stuff and will no doubt alter some trajectories.  Personally…I can’t wait to see what it does!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. In addition, LifeWay is a regular sponsor of MarkHowellLive.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”