What do I mean when I say that we know this objectively and subjectively? Objectively, we can see that there is a significant negative correlation between seminary education and both church health and church growth. (Christian Schwarz, Natural Church Development, p. 23)
When I say that we know subjectively that seminary education is ineffective, I mean that leaders and lay people—like your uncle Harry—have been complaining about the impact of seminary education upon young pastors for years.
Why are seminaries often ineffective in preparing leaders? There are four reasons.
In a nutshell: seminary education often fails to adequately equip high impact leaders because Read the rest of this entry
First, let me explain that I used to love doing one-on-one discipleship and I did it for years. I’ve taught on how to do it across the United States and in other countries. I even co-authored a great one-on-one discipleship book that has sold over 100,000 copies and been translated into a few other languages. (I’m not slamming this as an outsider!)
But then something unexpected happened. I invited a friend of mine named Mark into a one-on-one discipleship relationship. We met for coffee at Barnes and Noble’s and began working through the book Beginning the Journey which Ralph Neighbour and I wrote. It was going great and we were both enjoying it and he said, “Could I invite my friend Brian to join us? He could really use this.” I said, “Sure.” So the next week Brian joined us. Brian loved it and asked if he could invite someone else.
Before I knew it, my one-on-one relationship with Mark had morphed into a mini-group of four and I was startled by how much better everything went. Interaction improved, encouragement multiplied, and learning went to a new level. The group which had been great, got even better. I’m a slow learner and it took me a while to figure it out, but about ten years ago I ditched one-on-one discipleship to do small discipleship groups and have never looked back. Here are three reasons why you should do the same:
Over the past 35 years I have used lots of great books and curriculum in leading small groups and discipleship groups—some of them written by me. Thinking of all of the good material I have used, my favorite small group curriculum now is The Good & Beautiful God, by James Bryan Smith.
My friend small group author Greg Bowman commended the book to me several years ago. Based on Greg’s enthusiastic recommendation I picked up the book and started to read it. As I started into it for some reason I thought, “What’s so great about this?”, and I didn’t make it past the first chapter. Then last year our senior pastors, Hap & Di Leman, gave me and all of our senior leadership team a copy of the book and worked through it with us chapter by chapter over coffee on Wednesday mornings. The book thrilled me and was tremendously helpful in accelerating my spiritual journey.
More recently I went through the book with four other guys in a men’s discipleship group early on Wednesday mornings. The biblical principles in the book again were life changing for me and them. As one of the guys expressed, Read the rest of this entry
My favorite small group curriculum right now, the one I find myself recommending over and over to small group leaders, is Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. I love it. It’s a six-session DVD curriculum on how to connect with God through simple spiritual disciplines.
There are two reasons I love it so much. First, the content is great. Barton makes spiritual practices so accessible and doable. She puts the cookies on a low shelf. In my opinion, the book is kind of a “Spiritual Disciplines for Dummies,” so to speak, which I really appreciate. The second reason I like the DVD curriculum so much is that it minimizes the length of the video segments and maximizes learning and practicing the disciplines. Each session has two short video segments—the first one is on the principles or disciplines themselves and is followed by discussion. The second segment explains how to do a discipline, and then you practice it.
The exercises work! People really encounter God, which is cool and moving.
There are actually three components to the curriculum. First, there is the DVD, which is great and costs just $31.99. Second, there is a “Participant’s Guide,” Read the rest of this entry
For most churches we are just launching a new church year. For the first blog entry of the year I want to focus on the dynamic that my researched revealed as the most important element for a church’s small group system’s health and growth—the effective coaching of your leaders. Coaching is pivotal whether you are overseeing small group leaders, ministry directors, church planters, pastors, or any type of leaders.
How can you be a high impact coach? Here’s my advice based on what I have discovered both through research and my practical experience
- Pray for your leaders. James writes, “You have not because you ask not.” (James 4:2) Jesus declares, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:24) Pray for each of your leaders by name. A couple times a year I give each of my leaders a 3×5 index card and tell them to write down the things they want me to pray for their ministry and their personal life. I also use and really like the PrayerPartner iPhone app.
- Get your leaders together. While it’s very effective to meet with leaders one-on-one, it’s also more time consuming. Read the rest of this entry
Aside from taking time with God and staying vitally connected to him, I’m convinced the most important dimension of my leadership is making disciples of Jesus who will in turn make other disciples. This is at the heart of the great commission, of life transformation, leadership mobilization, and church health and growth.
There are two key dimensions to making disciples who make disciples, the “who” and the “how.” The first one, picking who you are going to invest in, I addressed in my last blog post. This post is about the “how” of disciple-making. A lot could be said about this; I’m just going to share a few really practical tips from my own experience.
- Meet weekly for 90 minutes. I like forming discipleship groups with four or five people in them. We meet weekly for nine to ten months. This can be done at almost anytime in the day. Usually with men, we are meeting early in the morning for one and a half hours over breakfast or coffee before the work day starts.
Raising up other leaders lightens your load and multiplies your impact.
Although it tremendously eases our work load down the road, the reason why we often hesitate to invest in potential new leaders is because it increases the amount of our work this week. It’s easier right now to do things myself. It takes time to invest in others and involve them in ministry and leading. But if we don’t invest in potential leaders now, our work load will grow as our influence grows.
Jesus’ life demonstrates the power of investing time and attention in others. He poured his energy into a very unimpressive handful of people and through them changed the world. Are you following his example and strategically investing in future leaders?
You might be thinking, But how do I do this? What does this look like? Read the rest of this entry
I’m a small group enthusiast and always will be, but the longer I have done ministry the more convinced I have become that the heart of it all is making disciples who make more disciples of Jesus.
Last Sunday my wife Vicki and I took a group of our pastoral interns and visited a church that does an amazing job of making disciples—La Viña Communidad Cristiana of Mundelein, IL. A few years back La Viña was a small, struggling church with 45 people, 5 men, 10 women and 30 children. The pastor Homero Garcia almost quit. But inspired by Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-8, he decided to give the church one more year.
Providentially in that year, the pastor was himself discipled by a Brazilian seminary student who became a part of their church. After making prayer and discipleship central in the church, in the intervening years it has grown to become a vibrant congregation of over 500 people that has planted a half a dozen daughter churches.
What has been key to their growth? Two things: intentional life-on-life discipleship and a clear pathway for spiritual growth. Read the rest of this entry
A big part of this is mini-groups. I love small groups and I also love mini-groups. What is a mini-group? It’s two to four guys or two to four gals meeting together and holding each other accountable, praying for each other and encouraging each other.
Right now I meet with two other guys over lunch each Thursday. (One of them is in my small group, the other is someone else I want to invest in.) We all pack lunches and meet in one of the guys’ offices that is central to the three of us. It’s cheap, convenient, and private enough to let ministry flow. In the past I have met guys for breakfast at McDonald’s or even late at night after our little kids were in bed.
In small groups we get personal, but in mini-groups we can get even more intimate and say what is really going on in our lives. I like having three or four guys rather than just two. There is more strength and wisdom, and the group can meet even if one of us misses.
We always ask each other when we start, “What do you need for us to ask you every week?” Different guys need different questions. Are you taking time with God? Are you looking at internet pornography? Are you taking time with your wife and kids? Are you working on your doctoral dissertation?
We meet for a set amount of time. “Let’s try this for two months.” Then we adjust and recommit. Others can join us if they are really wanting to grow and willing for others to be honest with them and direct. If they don’t really want to be held accountable it ruins things. Don’t do mini-group with people who don’t genuinely want to grow.
If I am meeting with new Christians I use the booklet that Ralph Neighbour and I wrote called Beginning the Journey. If not it’s less structured.
I use our church’s recommended questions, though we don’t use all the questions every week. We each have these on a business-sized card in our wallets.
What has been the best part of your week? the hardest?
Did you read your Bible and pray daily?
Have you prayed for and served your unchurched friends?
Have you made progress on your personal goals?
What known sins have you committed?
Are you keeping any secrets (from us or from loved ones)?
What would you like prayer for?
Do you encourage mini-groups in your small group? What have you learned about these accountability groups? What questions do you have?