It was nearly six years ago that I made the decision to quit my job on Capitol Hill to take an unpaid internship as a Protege at National Community Church.
It was a decision that radically altered the trajectory of my life.
If you are interested in vocational ministry or just want to spend a year growing as a leader and follower of Christ, I'd encourage you to check out the Protege Program. It's not just an internship, it's a year long leadership and character development program in which you are paired with a mentor from your chosen department.
I'd especially recommend checking out the Discipleship Team... but then, I'm biased.
Energetic, passionate, committed, relentless: these are just a few of the words that describe Ben Reed.
Ben is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow Baptist Church, a great faith community just outside of Nashville, where he is rethinking and restructuring group life. Before that he served as the groups pastor and then executive pastor for a church plant that grew to over 2000 in weekly attendance.
But more important to me than his impressive resume is that I have the privilege of calling Ben a friend, and I am excited to introduce you to his first book, Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint.
So Ben, for as long as I've known you, you've been a prolific blogger. What made you decide to write a book?
I felt like I had more to say than a series of blog posts could handle. I love blogging, but I was ready to be able to carry a sustained idea a little longer than a blog can.
The value of blogs is that they’re short and to-the-point. My book, though it’s intentionally short (70 pages), is a lot longer than you’d ever want to read on a blog post.
I love writing, and I really make sense of the world as I flesh my thoughts out that way. So the book was as helpful for me as it ever will be for anyone else.
You write about how your love of small group ministry comes out of your own experience in a group and the impact the group had on your life. As I read it, Starting Small is about systematizing that type of experience so that others can have it too. Other than picking up a copy of Starting Small, what advice would you have for folks who are just beginning to lead a small group ministry?
Grab the best leaders you know. Not necessarily the most spiritual, the ones who have been following Jesus the longest, or the ones that know the most Bible, but the best leaders. The ones that people want to follow.
And ask them to journey through life with you in your small group. Invest in them. Help them grow. Let them experience authentic community, see the beauty and power in it, then deploy them to lead as you coach them through the process.
That's good. Find the people with the most leadership capacity, and walk with them until they're spiritually ready... sounds kinda like making disciples.
In Chapter 2 you point out that few of us can name 10 sermons that impacted our lives but that we can almost certainly name 10 people who have invested in us. How can we help our group leaders become not just meeting facilitators but people who are making a significant investment in the lives of the people in their groups?
Help them see that the value of groups is not found in completing a curriculum, checking a box that says you “met,” or in coming to all of the right trainings.
The value of a small group is in people taking steps of faith together.
And when you see groups doing that, celebrate it!
Because what’s celebrated is what’s replicated. So when you “catch” someone doing the right thing, let them, and everyone else, know it.
I love that. Let me say that again in case anyone missed it.
Groups are about people taking steps of faith together, not completing the curriculum, and if you want more people to take steps of faith together, celebrate when it happens.
Okay, I should probably step down off my soapbox now.
In Chapter 3 you talk about the importance of a senior pastor in group life. If he or she is bought in, the congregation will notice. And if he or she isn't, the congregation will notice. What advice would you give to small group directors/pastors at churches where the senior pastor isn't fully invested in small groups?
Find a new church.
No, seriously, your church needs you. Don’t give up! Invite your pastor to join your group. And don’t put the pressure of leadership on them, or expectation that they’d wear their pastor hat every week. Just let them be themselves. Let them be a follower of Jesus on a journey, just like everyone else in the group.
As they see lives changing around them in the group, and as God changes their own life too, their sermon illustrations will change from being generic “I’ve heard a story of a guy that…” to, “In my small group this week…” That’s a powerful shift.
It is. Nothing communicates the value of group life like stories or even just mentions of group life. It's invaluable.
Speaking of sermons and church services, one of my favorite parts of Starting Small is in Chapter 5 where you offer a critique of modern worship services as hyper-individualistic. If you were designing a church service from the ground up, what would you do differently?
I would strategically use Sunday mornings as an on-ramp for community. Link the small group questions to the sermon. Tell the congregation that you realize all questions, concerns, and hang-ups can’t be answered here. And tell people constantly that what’s best for them is not that they’d just sit there and soak in, but that they (no matter where they are on their spiritual journey) can be used by God in huge ways to impact the people God’s brought into their lives.
Ben, thanks for spending a few minutes with us. If you haven't gotten a copy of Starting Small yet, be sure to order one. It would make a great gift for the small group lover in your life.
While you're at it, be sure to keep up with Ben on his blog, Life and Theology, as well as on Twitter.
It's interesting that people who used to be known aren't known anymore. The speakers at conferences like this when I was in my 20s aren't speaking anymore. People come and go.
My grandad's dying words were, "Don't let them forget me." How many of us know our great, great grandparents.
You will die sooner than you think.
You will be forgotten.
You will only be remembered by the people who know you now.
When we talk about legacy and being known, the power that you have, the moment that you have is now with the people you are with now.
When you see how much time you have left, you get serious about the time you have now.
I told some new parents that as soon as your child is born, you should put a suitcase in the nursery so that you can remember that you're packing their bags from day one.
This is not a new concept. PSalm 90:12 - Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
I'm not sure I know what a heart of wisdom is, but it's probably the opposite of stupid. ANd if you don't want to b e stupid, look at the time you have left in relationships.
When you see how much time you have left, you tend to make what matters matter more.
I think some of us get tired when we start thinking about our time. It makes us feel pressure.
We can talk about all kinds of things with kids, but there are a few things we really want them to walk away with, but you can't make them have those things.
As church leaders, we get confused about what we can and can't do. We think we can force kids into believing or something, but we can't. So we have to focus on the things we can do.
You can't make a kid love God, but you can demonstrate the love of God consistently.
You can't make a kid come to church, but you can make environments that make them want to come to church.
Focus in on the things you can do.
You can't see the immediate results. We're programmed to see what the win is.
You keep doing it because you trust that God is going to do his part.
We get confused between our part and God's part.
I am not God. I am not the Holy Spirit. I cannot change anyone. But I can love a few.
The reason you can't see spiritual growth in a kid's life is because it's spiritual.
The reason you can't measure progress sometimes is because it's so gradual.
My daughter has been an artist since she was two. She painted on the walls, on the tables, on our car. I just remember somewhere along the way the last few years, and her senseless art that didn't make sense started becoming more sophisticated and intricate.
You go back in time to when she was 2 or 3 or 4, I wasn't imagining the end. I had no idea there was a secret to life and legacy, and it's simply what time does over time.
When you look at time, you start seeing what can result if you continue to invest over time.
When you see how much time you have left you tend to value what happens over time.
When you take certain things and put them over time, it makes a difference.
How do you know God loves us? Because He loves us over time. Redepmtion could have happened the day after the garden, but I think he didn't because He wanted to prove he wanted a relationship with us. So he began to pursue a people, even when they rebelled, until finally he sent His Son.
When you take love and put it over time, it's believable.
How do we love? How do we convince people we love them?
The only way we can do it is consistently predictably over time.
We say it this way, "Love over time gives someone a sense of worth."
We're living in a generation of people who don't understand their worth and value, and they need to be known and valued by people who know God so that they know tehir value.
Fun over time equls connection.
Stories over time give connection.
Tribes over time give people a sense of belonging.
When you take something and put it over time, it changes the impact.
When you see how much time you have left, you tend to spend more time with a few.
Inheritance is what you leave for someone, legacy is what you leave in them.
Fame lives for applause, legacy lives to give applause.
Legacy is less about you and more about others, how you spend time with others.
Collectively the time you spend with a few leaves a legacy with them, and you begin to understand the people you are investing in is the greatest gift.
Until a person is known, they can't understand what it means to be loved.
You can't be forgiven by someone who doesn't know you. You're forgiven by people who have history with you.
Leaving a legacy has less to do with sometimes what we think about. Leaving a legacy, I think, has less to do with being magnificent and has more to do with being ordinary. I think it has more to do with being dependable than being remarkable.
A legacy recognizes and understands that you have a limited amount of time, and you'll have to step out of that at some point.
Doin't forget that you only be remembered by the people who know you now.
David and Goliath is all about how we don't know our own strength.
It takes place in 1100 BC. The Israelites are in the highlands in the east in Jerusalem and surrounding areas. And the Philistines are in the coastal plain. And in between is the Shepelah. It's a beautiful area, but the real importance of it is strategic.
So the Philistines begin to march up the Valley of Elah to split the Israelite kingdom in two. So the Israelites camp out on the northern edge of the valley, and the Philistines camp out on the southern edge. And no one wants to be the first to advance because they'd have to be vulnerable in the valley.
So the Philistines send Goliath to challenge an Israelite warrior to settle the stalemate. And David is the only one who volunteers.
Goliath is taunting him, and as the boy gets closer, he continues to mock him. And David says he comes in the name of The Lord Almighty and kills him with a stone in a sling.
I think the way this story has been interpreted in popular culture has completely misinterpreted its meaning.
We call David the underdog. We think it's an upset. David is a kid. Goliath is a mighty warrior. David is a shepherd boy. Goliath has armor, a sword, etc. David had a sling.
But we misunderstand what David had. The stopping power of the stone that flew from David's sling had the stopping power of a 45 caliber bullet.
There is no question that David could kill Goliath. In ancient warfare slingers were routinely devastating to heavy infantry.
Goliath was predicating his strategy on David coming to him. So David takes this devastating weapon to this guy who has 100 pounds of armor.
So we've got the lumbering giant versus the nimble kid with superior technology and the Spirit of The Lord, and we call David the underdog?
Isaiah 16 says that if you look on the heart, David is the favorite.
I think we make this mistake all of the time. I think we radically underestimate the power of the heart. When I was writing my book, I bacame taken with the story of the town of Lishambaugh.
During WWII the Vichy government collaborated with the Nazis. And teh whole country goes along with this except for this little town.
And the pastor of the church in this little town stands up and says to his congregation that we're not going to do anything that is contrary to the Gospel.
So the Vichy government passes all of these laws, and the people of the town ignore them. And the word gets out around France that there's this town that's not going along with the program.
So Jews begin to show up, and the pastor goes to camps and negotiates for the release of Jewish children. And it's estimated that by the end of the war thousands of Jews were saved by this town.
The kids write one of the senior French ministers a letter that basically says, "We have Jews, and if you try to get them, we won't let you."
It's an extraordinary story.
But I think that way of telling the story is inaccurate. The people of the town simply had the right perspective on where true power really lies. Yes, the Nazis were a powerful army. But the people of the town knew that they were up in the mountains and inaccessible for half of the year. And you could see them coming. ANd the local police were friendly.
Couldn't the Nazis have come in and wiped them out? Yes, but they had more important things to worry about.
But the most important weapon the town had was history. The Huegenots in the town had been horrifically persecuted by the Catholic Church in the 18th Century.
During that process they learned how to band together, how to be strong, most of all they learned the power of their own faith. And what happened? God protectd them.
So along come the Nazis and they're like, "We've seen worse."
There's a wonderful quote from the pastor's wife in the winter of 1941, the first time a Jewish refugee came and asked for help. She said, "I never thought to say no. I never thought it would be dangerous. Nobody did."
The Huegenots of this town were not the only committed Christians in France. There were many others. But why was this village the only one that did anything?
The others didn't understand how powerful their faith made them.
We do that all of the time. We underestimate the power of our own faith, and it has real world consequences.
How many Jews would have been spared the horrors of the Holocaust if others had done this?
We not only underestimate David, we misunderstand Goliath.
Someone leads Goliath down the mountain. Why does he need that?
Then we read a mention of how slowly he moves.
Why does it take him so long to figure out what David is up to? He's insulted. Shouldn't he be at the very least worried that something is up?
Then Goliath says that David comes at him with sticks. It's not sticks, it's one stick.
It sounds like Goliath is suffering from acromegaly. It's caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland. It causes people to grow exceptionally large, but it can also cause compression of the optic nerves and cause significant eyesight problems.
Think about that in explaining Goliath's behavoir. He can't make it down the mountain on his own. He can't really see David.
What the Israelites saw from high on that ridge was an intimidating giant, but they didn't understand that what made him an intimidating giant was also the source of his greatest weakness.
We need to remember two things:
1. That giants are not always what they seem.
2. That someone who is nimble, with superior technology, and armed with the Spirit of The Lord is not an underdog.
The Bible can make you well instead of crazy.
Leaders learn leadership and then they go out into reality. You're the one that has to do it. And there's a gap between what you know it should look like and what it does.
The worst thing we can die with is potential. Not a lack of performance but with untapped potential.
How do we know our identity from which to lead?
One of your realities is how you think, behave, feel, perform, etc.
But you also have to do it with a bunch of other wackos.
The personal and interpersonal space of reality is where leadership happens and where identity happens.
What you learn from some Christians is that identity is a proposition.
You hear you have to find your identity in Christ, but how do you do that?
Leaders who begin leading and do not understand that the completion process of finding your identity is a process that God takes people through, they fail to enter into this experience and feel that they ought to already be there, but you've still got a difficult board of elders or crazy person or difficult context.
And you're trying to find out who you are in all of this.
I want to take us from theory through reality to our identity.
If you think you can skip reality and just go operate in your identity, you are in for a big shock.
It's going to affect you in three areas:
Clinical - depression, etc.
That is a path that is forged in reality. We're going to talk about the boundaries that leaders need to have to find their identity. It is possible to get to the end of your life and never find it.
The Bible is a story about propositions. God has secured a calling for you in leadership. He comes into our world and tells us that we have an identity of a future reality. But he secures a promised land out there and says, "You've got to go possess it."
It's in that journey of the possession that you become possessed by the identity that God has for you.
God is perfecting those he has perfected. I'm going to talk a bit about this path and specific boundaries.
Our identity is something that has to be realized and not only understood cognitively but known in your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Not only is it a spiritual identity, but it manifests in the physical world.
My brain ay be getting it but not really getting it.
The brain begins to form circuitry and wiring basically through attention. Leaders who succeed have to have a vision. People who have a specific goal and vision are something like 80-90% more apt to bring those to fruition.
It is the attention to what you focus on that will bring it to reality. What your brain is always asking is "Who am I? What do I do? How do I do that?"
Your brain has to attend to what is relevant, inhibit everything else, and keep a working memory.
Leadership identity is like that.
When Steve Jobs went back to Apple, nobody used it. Steve Jobs went back there and finds out there's 30 something versions of the Mac. He streamlines it to four, a personal and professional version of laptops and desktops.
In your identity formation, can you ask yourself the question, what is it that I have got to be attending to, in myself and in my mission. Do I know what we're about. Do I know what I've got to focus on in the short, mid, and long term.
If everything is important, nothing is important.
The Bible tells us over and over that we've got to be single-minded.
The leaders who make it put structures in their life to help them.
As soon as you start focusing on where it is you're headed, every circumstance in your life will be interpreted in terms of that vision, short term and long term.
People do the best when they're doing what they're good at. But the only way to find that out is to get in the game.
2. Positive Emotional Climate
Identity is only built in a positive emotional climate. If you traumatize the brain... you have two brains, one of them is knowledge, goodness, creativity, etc. You have a second brain. It's called the lower brain. Basically, that brain exists to protect you when under threat. It basically turns up the juice on reacting instead of thinking. Fight or flight.
God has said over and over that you've got to be learning who you are in Him. It's called grace. It's called support. It's called healing.
1 Thess 5: To help the weak, encourage the faint-hearted, confront the unruly, to be patient with all of them.
I want you to be out there trying and failing and succeeding and not having anyone beat you up for it, including yourself.
Some of you come from backgrounds where your brain is in a fight or flight mode, and you can't even begin to think about what you might want to do because you're under constant threat. You must get out of Egypt and go to a new place where there is a positive emotional climate where there is both grace and truth
Absence of entitlement. When the Bible says we shouldn't think more highly of ourselves than we ought, it's not just grandiosity, it's self-crippling doubt.
James says that God will generously give wisdom without finding fault, because He understands that proposition is not realization. God does not see the journey as a fault. But the law will never perfect us.
When your brain finds itself in that positive emotional climate, literal chemicals are released that propel you.
The only ones that God finds fault with are the ones that get off the path and reject him.
You need people to walk through the process with you.
The brain works on:
A baby that is not connected with will have literal black holes in the brain where it did not form.
You have to have people walking down the field of life with you.
One of my favorite studies was taking monkeys, putting them in a cage, scaring the living daylights out of them. So they measure the stress level and get a baseline stress level.
Then they did one thing. They didn't reduce the stress levels. Same elder board. Same team, same family of origin. Here's what they did. They put the monkey's buddy in the cage and closed the door.
So here's my question to you, who's your monkey?
Being a control freak is part of the human design. God has designed your brain so that it loves to have control. But you were designed to be a control freak over one thing: yourself. We worry about everything in life you can't control.
Teams that win the Super Bowl do 3 things:
Hold onto the football (no turnovers)
Follow the rules (no penalties)
I want you to forget that you are in Potiphar's prison, because you can't control that. You might be able to do some things to influence.
You can only control you. You take all of this.
Everything about goal orientation and formation, what makes people realize their goals? Desire? No, people want things they can't achieve.
The number one factor that influences whether you achieve a goal is whether you believe you can.
We must start with faith, but faith without works is dead.
I grew up very deeply immersed in Christian subculture. I was that girl in youth group.
It was shocking for me to watch the attrition as I came out of high school. Barna estimates that 80% of the kids who are reared in church will be disengaged from the local church by the time they're 29.
Respondents citing "no religion" were the only group that grew in every state. 73% of the "nones" grew up in religious homes.
The church is losing 50,000 people/month.
I believe that primarily what we are seeing in explosive church growth is 1) babies are born or 2) transfer growth. We're not adding to the Kingdom, just reshuffling the deck.
Half of all evangelical churches in America reported not adding a single person through conversion.
It appears the church is not making disciples.
We need to move from attraction to deployment.
I'm not going to talk philosophy of attractional vs. missional today.
If we pop out of our little, tiny Christian bubble, attractional just isn't a wise approach to building the church anymore. We are in a culture that is declaring they are clearly not going to come to church anymore. Building a church around an attractional model just isn't practical anymore.
An attractional church is just going to attract Christians. Here's the problem. Without any new buyin from the next two generations, the American church is going to be dead.
Besides all of that, Jesus actually never told us to start a church. He told us to become and make disciples. Church is actually just the outcome of a bunch of believers living on mission together. Incarnational living creates disciples, and disciples together create the church.
So if our primary goal is just to attract people to church first, we might end up with a full sanctuary and no discipleship. Discipleship isn't attractive at first blush.
Isaiah 53:1-3 Jesus wasn't fancy or beautiful. He never faked anyone out with flash but no substance. Jesus was familiar with pain, which means that Jesus was familiar to people in pain.
I often try to imagine Jesus walking through some of our sanctuaries designed to attract and impress, and I just can't get my head around it.
Who can believe our message of this poor, humble servant leader who saved our world by dying for it? A bit too much of it screams, "We're cool. We're edgy."
A national worship leader friend of mine was saying we've gone to the limits of what is new or cool. We've reached our attractional threshold, and it's still not holding.
Young adults said community was the top thing that would attract them to or keep them in the Church. Number two was social justice. Number three was depth. Number four was mentorship.
It's interesting what this tells us. It tells us that at least the next generation is malnourished from spiritual soda pop, and what they actually want is wine.
I'm afraid that in this attempt to attract with all of this cultural relevance, we've become irrelevant. It's like when your parents try to be cool. We don't actually want our parents to be cool. We want them to be parents. We don't want them to shift around with every little thing. We want them to be there when everything stops being alternative and emergent and awesome. Parents aren't always trying to coddle us and make us feel good. They tell us to get our butts out of bed and do our chores.
Parents are preparing us to become adults.
Rather than imagining the church as a landing zone, perhaps we should see it as a launching pad. We're not here to build a big church but to make a bunch of disciples who grow up and become adults.
Who cares what our churches look like? Who cares if the pastor wears pleated dockers. I don't care if you wore a banana clip on purpose. These are last place details.
Here's the question. Are people's lives being transformed? That's it.
Here's how you answer that: Are they living on mission in their real lives?
20-45% of Americans actually attend church ever on a given weekend, and only 6% of churches grew last year. What they tell us is that the way to reach our communities is our people, living on mission, deployed. That's the way we are going to reconnect with our communities and our cities.
Practically, people aren't going to come to us, but Biblically, even if they did, disciples go where they are sent.
We say one thing, but we structure around our true values. Shifting from attracting to deploying may require some deep changes.
We're going to have to endorse some new norms and change our definition of success. Whatever we think is success is the way we are going to be leading our people.
So when folks stop living off the church campus but on mission in fuzzy ways: dinner with their neighbors, poker nights, book clubs, these start feeling a little nebulous to church leaders. These things are the engine of incarnational living.
When we moved into our neighborhood several years ago, we set out on neighborhood domination. We moved in with our friends and said, "We are going to love these people so hard. They're not going to know what hit them." So we just started having our neighbors in. In the driveway. Brandon started a card night with the guys.
One of my neighbors I really liked. It was like the early stages of dating. She had been in my house a few times. When this happens, I tend to hold back my Christian card because I know people have spiritual baggage. But I had a friend with me who knew me well and she outed me.
And so my friend, her face fell. And I just asked her how she felt. And she told me, "I feel unsafe with you now."
I think about the way we have invited people into our lives for a long time. I grew up in a paradigm that was worth based. First of all, you need to believe... like I do. We need to get that piece grounded. Then you can belong with us. Then it moves over into this toxic community, into the maintenance phase. Behave. Don't get weird. Don't go off the rails.
I wonder what would happen if we started putting new language in front of our community. What if we communicated that people belong, in our homes, where we are, in our homes, in our schools. We say, "I love you. You're not my project. There are no strings attached."
What happens is that if you create this space of safety for long enough, people will believe. There are a thousand conversations between. They will believe because we have shown them Jesus.
And if I can add this on just because I never did like the maintenance phase of believe. So I wonder if collectively we stopped saying, "We're going to behave." And started saying, "We're going to become like Jesus."
The number 1 reason people stopped coming to church was life change. Schedules got busy. They had kids, whatever.
What if we created margin for busyness and taught people that the 1000 small things that people do to connect with folks, that's important. That three hours invested in a family in the community is no less valuable than the three hours on Sunday.
The reason our people cannot live on mission is perhaps not because they don't want to but because they don't have time.
It is very, very difficult to live incarnationally and not make disciples, but it is shockingly easy to do church and not make disciples.
Sacrificial service, especially to the poor, is central to discipleship. Nothing our church has ever done has transformed our people more than serving the poor.
How can we possibly lead a movement to the margins when our business model holds church attendance as the bullseye. If we're not moving people out into prophetic living, our model is unbiblical.
Serving the poor draws the unchurched. We have people serve with us 10 times before they ever come to church. We can invite people into justice more easily than into the inner workings of our family. It's the foundation of Christian obedience.
I'm pretty much the only one of the four kids in our family who is still deeply connected to the church. I asked my sister not too long ago, what was it for you that you finally just kinda walked. She said, "You know, Jen. I just couldn't play the game anymore."
And what I want to tell you leaders, "Nor should we." With so many of our people under our leadership playing church, let me tell you, it's not our responsibility to babysit spoiled, entitled Christians. The more attractional you are, the more you'll have to do that. We don't have time to mess around. This is it. The earth is dying, people are suffering, and people are lonely
This is urgent mission. We are here to make disciples who will make disciples, because everything else is a waste of time. I believe that you will get more done with a small number of committed disciples than a stadium full of indugled, first world Christians.
If our goal is to raise disciples up and send them out, then leaders, let us please stop disparaging those who actually leave. If we are doing our jobs, then people are going to go further and further and further, because that is how God expands the Kingdom.
So if our folks leave us to plant another church or live missionally somewhere or start some sort of faith community then what we should do is anoint them with oil and send them out with our highest blessings.
We get confused about this in American Christianity. This is not about our little micro-kingdoms. If people launch out, that should be a thrill and joy to us. We've got to resist that impulse to feel left behind, and nothing could validate our ministries more than that.
With 40% of the dechurched stating mistrust and lack of faith in their pastors, I'm not saying it's earned, but it's their perception, so it's their reality. I wonder if churches built on a powerful personality will struggle to reach the cynical.
You don't have to be the main attraction. This is a wonderful time to start sharing teaching responsibilities. Decentralize a bit, things that make us uncomfortable as leaders. We don't have to attract people with a charming personality or outrageous charisma. That feels disingenous and scares people.
The more vulnerable and simple and approachable as a leader, the more you are living in your own skin, the more you are being honest about your own life, struggles and questions, the more likely you are to raise up disciples who are like that.
That is the sort of community that can change an entire city.
You string enough of those communities together, and we can change the entire world.
I'm proud of you for leading the church. It's a hard job, and there are a lot of days I want to walk away from it, just like you do. But I'm just not okay with being a part of a generation where the Church died on my watch.
So may you and I as leaders be simple, ordinary Christ followers, not fixated on building awesome churches but on building disciples who are ready to say, "Here I am, send me."
It's Catalyst time again, and if you've been a reader for any length of time, you know that I take a lot of notes at Catalyst. In an effort to absorb more of the content for myself this year, I'll actually be taking a few, fewer notes, but I think you'll still find them useful.
For those of you who have never heard of Catalyst, it is the leading faith-based conference for young leaders and attempts to draw on the best practicies not only from the church but from the business and non-profit world.
If you don't know what living missionally is... we'll have to get to that another time.
But for those of you who do, I just had another one of those experiences that reminded me that it's a lot easier to talk about living missionally than it is to actually live missionally.
I'm right in the middle of preparing a talk for our small group leaders about missional discipleship and making our small groups missional when I get a phone call from a friend who volunteers with the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center.
My heart sank as I thought to myself, "How can I get out of this?" The last thing that I want to do right now is spend the next six hours trying to figure out housing for a pregnant teenager or put my severely limited pastoral skills to the test as I try to walk through a situation so difficult I can barely comprehend it with someone who I have almost nothing in common.
Turns out she just need to get in touch with a housemate of mine and didn't have his number, but reflecting on the situation reminded me once again that it's a lot easier and a lot more fun to teach people about living missionally than it is to actually go out and do it.
You are best advantaged as a leader when you spend time with people who think differently than you.
When I was young, Charlie Renfro mentored me, and he thought big. He kept coming in and asking me, "What you working on big?"
Programming Culture, Ministry Environments
There is a way in which your church is nothing but a series of environments. Every single week your environments are being evaluated.
If you have not clarified the win in every single environment, your people will come up with their own definition of a win.
One point of clarification: We are unapologetically an attractional model. We will do anything to attract people because I have never seen an empty seat make a profession of faith in Christ. I think it's very much a New Testament model. So people say, "You're appealing to a consumer mentality." And I say, "Yes, I am, because every human I have met is a consumer." But before you get all spiritual, that's what Jesus did. They did not follow Jesus because of his teaching. You don't. They certainly didn't. He attracted crowds because he healed them. Yes, there were some moving moments and people listened, but the thing that attracted the crowd was the miracles. If I could do in the moment miracles, I would, but I can't, so we have moving lights and a band. I don't care. I don't apologize, whatever it takes to get people to come and come back. The win in my service is that an unchurched man between the ages of 25 and 55 comes, likes it enough to leave and come back next week with a friend.
Ultimately, we want people to fall in love with Jesus, but you can't make people fall in love. All you can do is arrange the date.
With that in mind, we stood back and asked the question, "What's an irresistable ministry environment for middle schoolers, high schoolers, young adults, small groups, etc." And then we asked more generally the question, "What's an irresistable ministry environment in general.
Here's the three we came up with. You might not like our three. You may not care about our three. I don't care. I just want to prod you to go home and come up with your own with your team. Every single ministry environment you create is being evaluated. You know why people don't come back to your church? They didn't think there was something worth coming back for. You owe it to your staff and you owe it to your team, because in your staff you have created some sort of environmental or programming culture.
- An appealing setting
- Setting - the physical environment
- Settings create first impressions.
- An uncomfortable or distracting setting can derail ministry before it begins.
You have worked in your church for so long there are things you do not see anymore. We have to figure out how to get fresh eyes on our ministry environments so we see our physical environments how outsiders see them.
- Every physical environment communicates something.
There are no neutral environments. A pastor friend of mine put Harleys in the lobby. The guys stuck around and hung out.
You walk in this room you feel like you're in a concert hall.
- Clean - We were expecting you, and we're glad you're here. Your campus, if it's not clean, it communicates we weren't expecting anybody new.
- Organized - We're serious about what we're doing. The eMyth, the first book I took my staff through, it's a book on franchising, "A business that looks orderly says to your customer that your people know what they are doing."
- Safe - Communicates that you value other people's children as you value your own.
- Design, decor, and attention to detail communicates what and who you value most.
When you walk through the halls of this church, you get the impression this church values children. We want parents to think we love little Johnny. Johnny doesn't notice any of that stuff. Johnny only cares whether there are goldfish. If there are goldfish, he's in.
I visited a really large church four years ago. It had a great auditorium. I talked them into giving me a tour of the children's area. It was awful.
- Design, decor, and attention to detail communicates whether or not you are expecting guests.
You need a parking lot attendant. I don't are how big or small your church is. It communicates you were expecting guests.
- Periodically, we all need fresh eyes on our ministry environments.
There are two kinds of people in the world. People who see a mess and people do not see a mess. And you are one or the other. If you do not see a mess, you need someone who does. When you go home, look in the backseat of your car, and if you'd have to move a bunch of stuff around for someone to sit there, you might need someone else's eyes on your ministry environments.
- Are your ministry settings appealing to your target audience?
- Does the design, decor, and attention to detail of your environments reflect what and who is most important to you?
- What's starting to look tired?
- An Engaging Presentation
- Engaging presentations are central to the success of our mission
- Presenting the gospel is a primary responsibility of the church.
- "Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" is the unique responsibility of the Church.
- To engage is to capture one's attention. It's not just what you say. We're all speaking truth. You have to present it in an interesting way.
- Information doesn't have to be unique or new, the presentation has to be good. You don't go to a restaurant and get upset because they don't have unique meats.
- Generally speaking, it's the presentation that makes information interesting.
David beats Goliath every time. There are always 10 commandments. And they have the book at home. You have to make it interesting. You don't have to come up with unique information. You shouldn't come up with unique information
An audience's attention span is directly related to the the interest of the presentation.
The reason comedians are funny is that they don't say anything unique. They just say common things in a funny way.
- Engaging presentations require engaging presenters or an engaging means of presentations.
We look for great presenters and great content creators. We have people who are great at presenters but cannot create good content. We have people who are great content creators but are not good presenters. We take people we're not even sure we want around children... that's an exaggeration, give them a script, and they love getting up there and teaching kids. We have teachers who are great content creators but don't want to present because they do it all week long.
If we want great presentations, we've got to find great presenters. If you're in charge of the children's ministry, you might not be a great presenter, you just have to find one. No matter what it takes, if someone gets up in front of a group of kids, we want them to love the Bible more not less. Typically youth ministries teach what three things: The Bible is boring, God is boring, Church is boring.
Every Sunday we spend millions and billions of dollars on creating services, but we're undermining our mission by not having engaging messages.
If you are the senior leader of the church and you're not an engaging communicator, you have to find them. You don't have to talk all of the time. That's a model. Don't spend one more day of your life boring people with a book that has the potential to change your life.
The churches making a difference are the ones that have decided it's not about a personality, it's about getting it done.
- Is your culture characterized by a relentless commitment to engaging presentations at every level of the organization?
- Does your system allow you to put your best presenters in your most strategic presentation environments?
- Are your presenters evaluted and coached?
- Does your system create opportunites for your best content creators to partner with your presenters?
- Helpful Content
It's not just was it true, was it helpful?
- Helpful = Useful
- Helpful content is content that directly addresses thinking and living.
Every message should help someone think differently or live differently.
- Content should be stage-of-life specific.
All Scripture is equally inspired, but it is not all equally relevant to every age and stage of life.
We have 7 things we try to teach to our middle school and high school students. That's what every camp and every group and everything does.
You don't have time to teach the whole Bible. You will die first, and people will leave your church. You would have to teach such large chunks of it you wouldn't get anything out of it. Ask what people need to know. If you want to teach verse by verse, fine, but it's got to be helpful.
- Information that does not address a felt need is perceived as irrelevant.
It may not be irrelevant, but if it does not touch on a felt need, it seems irrelevant.
- Information that isn't perceived as useful is perceived as irrelevant.
- Is your content helpful?
- Do your content creators and communicators understand that the goals are renewed minds and changed behaviors?
- Is your content age and stage-of-life specific?
Of every enviornment, program, and production, ask:
- Was the context appealing?
- Was the presentation engaging?
- Was the content helpful?
You have to define the win.
AS: Leaning into what your strengths are means you have to give stuff away. How has what you do or don't do changed over the years?
CG: I really believe that the more effective you want to become as a leader, the fewer things you do. In the early years, I was the only staff member, so I did everything. It was the greatest day when someone else cared if the toilet overflowed.
I wanted to do everything and kept my hands in it. For example, we were the campus pastors at the pastors we preached at for too long. People kept trying to free me up until finally I listened.
If I ask you about your church or organization and you can tell me everything, you're probably leading ineffectively.
AS: Someone asked me what my most important leadership lesson is. Recognizing my strengths and delegating my weaknesses. I wish I had done that earlier. I think there was a lot of guilt there. If I don't want to take out the trash, no one should take it out. But when I learned to delegate what I didn't like and wasn't good at.
I used to do all of our small group training because I wanted to get it started right because it was central to what we did. There is something to putting your time into those central place.
The hardest thing for me was giving up the senior pastor of our largest campus pastor role.
CG: It's not that we're not leading, we're leading through people, and that's even harder.
AS: Then you become the custodian of culture. You're not doing a lot, but you pay attention to where things are going wrong.
CG: And you might sense those problems before someone else does.
AS: But I can't go in and re-own the responsibility. I'll go to one of our churches and something will bother me. I'll go to the senior leader and ask if something bothered him. If it bothers him, then it doesn't have to bother me. But if it doesn't bother him, if I think it's a four and everyone else thinks its an 8, then I have to do some retooling and some re-vision cast.
CG: How has your week changed?
AS: As your church grows and your family changes stage, you have to change your schedule.
I used to preach 2-3 times on Sunday and at 1 of our evening services. I generally take Monday off. I might start back in on Monday afternoon. Tuesday is staff meetings all day. It's almost 100% staff. I used to have lots of lunches, I don't do that. I exercise M, W, F. That's important. Our health is part of our ministry. If you're the point leader, your physical health is part of our ministry. Wednesday is nothing but a study day. Thursday is a study day. Friday is the day I will schedule time I want to spend time with, elders, friends, a few people who want to meet. Saturday, my brain is starting to lean into speaking. We have never done anything on Saturday night for 20 years if I'm preaching on Sunday.
CG: I've been to counseling two different times for being a workaholic. I've found a managable schedule now. It changes with the
Saturday, all day soccer games and kids stuff, 1-2 services saturday night, so I get to the church by 2:30 . Saturday is family night at the church, so my whole family comes. The family parties on while I preach. I want them to associate being at church having a lot of fun.
I usually preach on Sundays twice, but if I like the video on Saturday night, I'll let it run on Sunday.
I have two set meetings on Mondays. I do all of the paperwork and everything with my assistant on Monday, and then I shift into sermon prep on Monday afternoon.
Tuesday is full on message prep all day.
By Wednesday I'm finishing up the message and I go into do our videos, and every week I go in and do a bunch of videos for campuses, churches, etc.
Every day I try to leave by 3:45 to go to the gym. Ministry is never, ever done, so if I put an artificial barrier on my day, it forces me to be efficient. I believe I get more done. I'm home by 5:15 every night.
Thursday is the day I meet with whomever I want to.
Friday is usually my day off.
We meet Monday mornings with our key leaders, and we meet with our board or key leaders as needed throughout the year.
That's the template, so people ask, "When are you a pastor?" This guy ended his life, and I called his wife. There was a guy struggling with his marriage.
You can't get too big to just pastor people.
AS: I primarily pastor my staff. We probably feel the weight to pastor a similar amount of people as a single site, single congregation pastor. It's just that we have larger staff.
CG: I was raised that the church come first, but I've found that I have to keep myself spiritually healthy and my marriage healthy.
AS: I used to ask Sandra every now and again, just, "How am I doing?"
CG: I ask Amy all of the time, "What are the three things I do that are the biggest blessing to you? What are the three things I do that could use work?"