October 2008

I’ve experienced a wonderful time of healing old wounds over the past two years, largely the result of deeply redemptive community. One of the paradigm changes for me was moving away from times of isolation and into moments of solitude. You see I wrongly believed those two concepts were essentially the same—that both expressed the idea of being utterly alone. What I came to see was that I had lived most of my life diving in and out of isolation, purposefully shutting myself (and my heart) off from others…most often out of shame.

When I began my journey into real community with the guys at Serendipity, Ron Keck introduced me to the idea that Jesus rejected the shame and embraced the pain of the cross but too often we do just the opposite, we reject the pain and embrace the shame. Because I had no real connection to my heart and had no concept of redemptive community, the idea of others seeing sin in my life was too painful to bear, so I ran to isolation in an effort to hide (not the first man to do that) and avoid the discomfort of disclosure.

There is nothing redemptive about isolation. It’s merely an attempt to go unseen while making the necessary penance, or allowing enough time for the shame to subside. When I choose to embrace shame and reject pain, I am held captive by the lies that I will not be accepted, I will receive condemnation, or I will disappoint those I care about. However, when I choose to embrace the pain and reject shame instead (as Jesus did), I find freedom and healing. Though there may be some pain in expressing mistakes made and seeking forgiveness and restitution, the enemy has no hold on me when secrets are revealed. And rather than the condemnation I so feared, I am greeted with understanding and encouragement from those closest to me who choose to love me through the challenges and continually remind me who I truly am—a restored son of the sovereign Lord!

This freedom allows me to leave the false security of isolation and move into moments of solitude, where I can seek deeper intimacy with God rather than hiding from him. These moments are so rewarding as God, a loving and engaged Father, speaks into my innermost being with Truth and Beauty and Love.

This has been my experience and I would love to hear some ways you have learned the difference between isolation and solitude. What experiences from your journey can you share? How has the Father been inviting you to move from isolation to solitude? How did this come to you? Was it like me when you were brought into true community or did you experience this in a more individual setting?

If you’re a church planter, you know how difficult training small group leaders can be. Getting everyone together is nearly impossible, not to mention how busy your schedule is. If you need to help your leaders know how to plan a meeting in a matter of minutes, there is a way.

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend small group leader training. That’s right. Even though I train small group leaders myself I still attend the training others are doing. I learn an immense amount of information and add new tools to my own small group leader tool box every time I do.

 This weekend I learned from one of the best, Russ Robinson. I had seen Russ from a distance as I had attended Willow Creek Association small group conferences for years but had never had a chance to get up close and personal with him. I am indebted to First Baptist Church, Weston Florida and the Florida Baptist Convention for making that possible. Friday night before Saturday’s training event a cluster of people the size of a small group gathered around a table for dinner. For over two hours Russ answered questions. The questions ranged from handling awkward small group meeting moments to how to, with wisdom and sensitivity to the church a pastor leads, move your church toward change. Having been a small group leader, a small group pastor, an elder, a senior pastor, and presently a layman (Russ is a successful attorney) giving his life to his local church, Willow Creek Community Church, he has perspectives and understandings few will ever acquire. Not only is he one of the most diverse church leaders in the training world today, Russ is also an author having co-authored three small group books, Building a Church of Small Groups: Place Where No One Stands Alone,  Walking the Small Group Tightrope: Meeting the Challenges Every Group Faces, and The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry: A Troubleshooting Guide for Church Leaders. All three of these outstanding books were co-authored with Bill Donahue. Russ loves small groups (Watch the video and hear him tell why he loves them so much.)!

 Russ has one of the most concise and effective ways to plan a meeting of anyone I’ve seen. He suggests that, when planning your meeting, you focus on goals over content. In order to do so, when preparing for the meeting, simply answer four questions, each related to a different aspect of the human experience, Head, Heart, Hands, Homework.  After answering these four questions determine what you will do to accomplish what has been determined.

During the training event, Russ gave us time to answer these questions. We chose a passage of scripture and were asked to prepare for a small group meeting. In three minutes almost everyone in the room had created a small group meeting that would be transforming. That’s right, in three minutes you could create the best meeting you’ve ever had by answering four simple questions. What are these four amazing questions? Here you go…

 Head: What do I want my group to know?  

Heart: What do I want my group to feel?

Hands: What do I want my group to do?

Homework: What do I want my group to plan?

 Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you!

P.S. If you’re a church planter and want to find out how to do small groups effectively and also hear from some of the most highly renowned church planters and small groups leaders in the country, come join us at Exponential, April 20 – 23, 2009 in Orlando, Florida.

It has been several months since I attended a small groups conference sponsored by Saddleback, but I took an opportunity today to look back at some of the ideas that I thought were most “counter-(church)cultural.” Here’s one that sticks out:

Good Enough, not Perfection

Our small-group ministry strives to be effective, not excellent. We’ve made our biggest strides by pulling the trigger on ideas at the right moment, not by over-thinking every possible scenario that could go wrong. I love the passage of Scripture found in Ecclesiastes 11:4: “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done” (NLT). We don’t make excellence an idol, and we are not idle because we’re waiting for perfection! God wants us to be good stewards of our resources, not good stoppers of every idea.

You can read more about it in this article: http://smallgroups.com/articles/2008/thesaddlebacksmallgroupdifference.html

Have you found this principle to be true in your own small group life? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

As a small group leader myself, I know your struggle with getting groups to go beyond meetings and living in true Christian community. For eight and a half years I’ve been traveling to churches of all sizes talking with church planters, small group leaders, small group coaches, and small group pastors I’ve found myself scratching my head more times than not. I’ve found myself pondering the reason groups exist. All over the country groups and churches are struggling to see the kind of intimacy and connection that we all long for, what I want to call spiritual intimacy. This is an intimacy that goes beyond meeting needs, beyond deep friendships, beyond contemplative moments in group time. Spiritual intimacy catapults beyond all of these things and lands in the realm of the supernatural, in the realm of not the mystical, but the mystifying miraculous things believers experience when a bond that could never be obtained independent of the Jesus that brought them together exist. It is beyond comprehension which means it is beyond definition but it is something we have all experienced. It is a feeling facilitated by God Himself that transforms individuals, churches, and cultures.

This kind of intimacy recognizes the Holy Spirit as the primary member of the group, allowing Him to flow through each attendee during the group meeting empowering the group to literally set aside the curriculum when the Creator creates “moments.” This kind of intimacy recognizes Bible study, not as scientific investigation processed in intellectualism but as a faith journey bathed in the reality that faith is reality and only when a faith reality is the foundation of Bible study will we begin to live our lives by faith.

True Christian community is known when your tear stain is on my shirt and mine on yours, it’s your chuckle ringing in my ears and the thought of your laughter in mine, it’s lunch, on you, it’s your time when my life is too much for me to handle alone, it’s your confession and my pledge of confidentiality and visa versa.

In essence, it’s the freedom to be me, to say all the things I need to say, to ask you to carry me when I can’t carry myself and my carrying you when your load is too heavy, while enjoying a lifetime of intimate friendship, evangelizing together and saying goodbye for the last time knowing it’s been the run of a lifetime.

I would say that my journey over these last eight years have proven one thing to me. If we’re not careful we’re building programs, not people, and small groups in their purest form are about every individual experiencing Christ and one another through true Christian community.

The Serendipity by LifeWay definition of a small group reads … “A group of unwilling to settle for anything less than redemptive community.” I have found that there are five practices that are key to having the level of Christian community mentioned above.

Practice 1 … Diversity and Uniformity

  • In the churches and groups I’m speaking of I’ve seen Saddleback Sam seated next to Poverty Polly. Athletic Art is partying with Nerdy Nick and Intellectual Irv is honored to spend time with Blue Collar Bob. These groups are diverse because they elevate spiritual gifts, the resources each individual is able to make available to other group members, and God-given personality types, above social status and financial stability.
  • And these groups are uniform in that they are all after the same goal, creating Christian community that is unifying and transforming. They are brought together through a common purpose.

Practice 2 … Affirm Each Other

  • In these groups affirmation flowed as easily as surface conversation. It seemed when someone was suffering everyone was affirming, when someone had dug into the pit of low self-esteem the entire group jumped on the affirmation bandwagon, when there a new ability was noted the group celebrated with the individual, and when any group member accomplished even some minor goal, the group couldn’t keep from responding with words of affirmation.

Practice 3 … Sharing Common Possessions

  • The following words are found in the book of Acts … Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:45-47
  • Groups that reach the deepest level of Christian community do not see their possessions as their own. Each individual in the group understands that what they have God has given them, and that those things need to be available to anyone in the Body of Christ who is in need, especially those people in their small group. When a small group leader has created an environment where people can share what they need and the group then responds by, if necessary, selling their own possessions to meet that need, the group’s bond will be amazingly tight..

Practice 4 … Confess Sin to One Another

  • James wrote … confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:16
  • Confessing sin to one another is the ultimate act of vulnerability. But when a small group can, in a healthy fashion reveal their moral struggles, and the rest of the group pray for and hold one another accountable, a deep connection exists. This won’t happen early on in group life but should be a goal group leaders shoot for. A quick caution … Don’t rush this kind of activity. Jumping the gun on this one may cause you to shoot your own group in the foot. This will happen in time, on time.

Practice 5 … Evangelize and Multiply in Your Group

  • Groups that thrive must have goals that go beyond themselves. A group with an inward bent will become stagnant and die. But groups that are constantly and consistently reaching out to unbelievers and are excited about multiplying have an energy that is uncharacteristic of groups focused only on self. In order to keep a group in the adventure of making a difference in the world that group must keep their eyes and hearts on others.
  • Pastor … the only way your groups will begin living in this realm of Christian community will be if you mention and model, mention in your sermons what is discussed above then model what is noted, followed by mentioning in your sermons how that went for you.

I pray your groups can be more than gatherings. I pray they become ridiculously radical. When that happens you, your group and all the groups you birth in the future will make an amazing difference in the world and ultimately the Kingdom.


Early in our pioneering days as cross-cultural workers in Central Asia, we were led to a passage of Scripture that transformed our outlook on how we would reach out to our new community. In Luke 10, the Bible says:

After this, the Lord appointed 70 others, and He sent them ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place where He Himself was about to go. He told them: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. Now go; I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves. Don’t carry a money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals; don’t greet anyone along the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. (verses 1-6)

From that passage, we began to implement the MOP strategy or “Man of Peace” (I guess we could have called it SOP, but that means something else in the southeastern part of the States ☺). Though guys tended to be the key influencers in this culture, it became clear soon enough that God had prepared the hearts of many women who turned out to be “Women of Peace” so we decided to go with the gender-neutral “POP” plan for “Person of Peace.” Not only did it sound better, but it was a better indicator of what God was doing. Once we began spending more concentrated time with these POPs, Kingdom things really started to happen!

Now we find ourselves back in our home culture, in a new city and neighborhood. Not surprisingly, the Word challenges us just as much in this context as it did overseas to look for those in whose hearts the Father has already begun a work, those we call POPs. We all have limited time, and a limited ability to develop relationships. While we certainly want to cast the net broadly, it’s important to remember that the Holy Spirit is at work in drawing people to God and placing us in just the right places at just the right times for a God event to take place. I’ll be praying that each of our small groups is able to come up with a POP plan in the coming weeks, watching for those who are already ripe for spiritual conversation!

He likes Jesus...
He likes Jesus?!

A few weeks ago I received a link to an NPR story about Bill Maher and what he thinks about Jesus. You may know Bill from his HBO show Real Time or his new film Religulous (Did you catch the insinuation of this new term? It seems to be a mix between the term “religious” and “ridiculous.”) And that’s right where Maher seems to land when it comes to religion.

The article states… “In his new film, Religulous — a satirical documentary in which Maher travels to religious sites around the world, ranging from the Vatican and Jerusalem to a Muslim gay bar in Amsterdam and a Christian theme park in Orlando, Fla. — he describes religion as “dangerous.” He goes on to say that… “the idea of a personal god who responds to prayer, who performs miracles and battles evil in an active way, is the result of “a long, 2,000-year-old game of Telephone.”

Sounds like Bill has a problem with all belief systems that have God in their ideology, including Christianity. But does he? The article continues… “The message of Jesus,” on the other hand, “is not only beautiful but revolutionary,” Maher stresses. “The idea that the meek shall inherit the earth, and that the poor and the powerless have just as much dignity as the powerful and the rich, that was a very new idea at the time — and it has not gone out of style.”

The article goes on… “The shame, Maher argues, is that that message gets lost amid what he describes as “the magic tricks and the bells and whistles and the nonsense” of organized religion.”

I want to ask you a question. Do you think most people who are hesitant about church and/or joining a small group have the same concerns as Bill Maher? If so, why do you think they are so disturbed by “organized religion?” I would really like to hear your comments.

In this season of transition, challenge small-group members to intensify their devotional lives. Challenge them to pay attention to the world around them; asking God what He is revealing. Consider giving some time during this week’s small-group meeting to a discussion about these moments and experiences.

A third kind of contemplative prayer is meditation upon the creation. Now, this is no infantile pantheism, but a majestic monotheism in which the great creator of the universe shows us something of his glory through his creation. The heavens do indeed declare the glory of God and the firmament does show forth his handiwork (Ps. 19:1). Evelyn Underhill recommends, “… begin with that first form of contemplation which the old mystics sometimes called ‘the discovery of God in his creatures.’ from Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline).

Next Page »