Escaping the Straitjacket of Conventional Thinking

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How limited is your thinking? When you stop long enough to examine how your ministry is designed…particularly the assumptions that it is based on…how limited is your thinking? Need an example? Try these statements on for size:

  • “New groups must begin with a qualified leader and an apprentice.” I remember hearing Jim Dethmer talk about how new groups were formed at Willow Creek in 1991 and those were his words. I wonder how many small group ministries operate with this underlying assumption?
  • “New leaders have to have already gone through the curriculum in an existing group or attend the special all-day training.” This is the essence of the system in order to use The Truth Project curriculum.
  • “Only church members can lead a group. To become a member you have to go through our 15 week schedule of core classes.” Whether yours is a one hour class, a four hour class, or a 15 week class…you need to be sure you understand what you gain (and what you lose) by establishing that hoop.
  • “Members of new groups make a 18 to 24 month commitment and the group is closed to new members.” This is one of the basic ideas of North Point’s small group system and has always led me to wonder about missed connection opportunities. Asking your newest attendees to join a closed group seems sure to make it harder for the friends of the newest people to connect.
  • “Our groups are semester based. Members make a 13 week commitment to their group and may choose a new group at the beginning of the next semester.”

[quote]These are just five of many, many underlying assumptions that drive (or hinder) small group ministries. Sometime in the past a set of assumptions were adopted, many times intentionally, other times they’ve just drifted into place. They remain in place…mostly unexamined…and some of them are absolutely preventing exponential ministry. What if that’s true about your small group ministry? Could it be true?

I know most of us badly want to have the greatest impact, on the largest number of people, for the longest period of time. We’ve committed to the vision of life in community. We believe wholeheartedly that life-change happens in community. We’d never knowingly do things that would prevent a full-scale assault on the schemes of the evil one. And yet, it is a great challenge to slow down long enough to fully examine the assumptions that drive the way we do what we do.

One of the books that has shaped my thinking in the last two years is Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management. Sounds like business…I know. But much like Jim Collins’ Good to Great, The Future of Management is packed with thinking that help you seriously examine why you do what you do. It is the reason Hamel is speaking at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit this week.

One of the lines from Hamel’s book that grabbed my attention is that “to escape the straitjacket of conventional thinking, you have to be able to distinguish between beliefs that describe the world as it is, and beliefs that describe the world as it is and must forever remain (p. 131, The Future of Management).”

I believe we would all benefit by slowing down long enough to think about our ministries this way. We need to slow down long enough to carefully identify the things that are true about discipleship and must forever remain…and be unafraid to try new possibilities that will help us “escape the straitjacket of conventional thinking.”

Can you think of other assumptions or practices that may be limiting our thinking in small group land?

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