November 2008

Last week Kris posted a blogpost that included this video. This spawned some serious questions for those of us who are small group leaders, people in the trenches leading Christ followers who sincerely want to know what the truth is.

I’m wondering… Small group leader, what do you think you should tell a group member when he or she has been willing to and sincerely has “wrestled” with doctrinal issues that are debatable. Unlike homosexuality which we are given a very blatant perspective on in Scripture. issues like Calvinism vs. Arminianism is more perplexing. What do we say to a group member when he/she has journied into these waters but were unable to honestly, down deep in his/her being come to a conclusion? The insinuation of the conversation here is that you must choose one or the other and if you don’t you’ve been unwilling to go the mat, too lazy to wrestle with the issue.

And to make it even more perplexing… The group member may be struggling to come to a conclusion concerning a doctrinal issue that is still being debated within his/her own denomination. This friend is confused realizing that scholars in his/her own religious classification can’t even agree on the issue. Like the denominational leadership, no bottom line is settling into the heart of the group member.  They’re not scholars and they have no passion for becoming one. Most likely, they have never heard of “the law of non-contradiction.” If they did they might ask some interesting questions…

  • Must I wrestle with “the law of non-contradiction” too?
  • Do I have to say I’ve come to a conclusion even if my heart is still struggling with this issue?
  • Do I lie to myself and others and say I believe something even though I don’t so that I fit into someone else’s belief box and become 100% acceptable in my circle of Christian relationship?

What if they say to you…,

  • I can live with the inner tension realizing God can think in dimensions that I cannot and still be content.
  • What if they remind you that Deut. 29:29 points out that God has secrets? Should you push that small group member to come to a doctrinal bottom line?
  • What if they say to you, “I really don’t care about stuff like this.”?

How would you respond to a small group member if he/she were wrestling with a debatable doctrinal issue? Would love to learn from you!

Deut. 29:29
    The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

Check out this provocative discussion with Ravi Zacharias, R.C. Sproul, and Albert Mohler on an issue that is splitting local churches, polarizing denominations, and in some ways being used by God as a course correction for the church.

NEXT Conference banner

What’s NEXT for your church? What’s NEXT for your small group ministry? What’s NEXT for your connecting ministry?

If you haven’t heard about this yet, you’ll want to begin making plans now!! Earlier this summer Serendipity partnered with Saddleback Church to provide FOUR Small Groups Conferences across the country in 2009 with the theme of NEXT.

This will be the most comprehensive, energetic, and practical conference associated with small groups. In addition to awesome speakers like Rick Warren and Erwin McManus, there will also be the top practitioners in the country including Steve Gladen, Lance Witt, Bill Willits, Robert Davis, plus our very own Rick Howerton. And if that wasn’t enough, we’ll also be featuring a rare appearance by Lyman Coleman, the founder of Serendipity!! There will be two tracks to choose from – a START Track and a NEXT Track – plus a completely new opportunity for the small group leaders at your church called Small Group Saturday. This will be almost like a mini-conference within a conference. While you’re busy learning critical principles for small group ministry, your small group leaders can hear some of the top speakers in the country with the opportunity to learn from one of America’s best small group minds. Lyman will teach an exceptional two-part workshop on relational dynamics of small groups. Your group leaders will get immediate tools, tips, and techniques for leading transformational small groups from the foremost authority of the last 40 years.

There’s a ton of other things going on at these conferences in Lake Forest, Houston, Atlanta, and Cincinnati so be sure to visit the website to register or get more information.

Blogging offers the Small Groups Minister an amazing opportunity to connect with her/his small group leaders.

  1. It’s a way to communicate information on an ongoing basis. In fact, instantly. (If your group leaders “subscribe,” each time you post they will receive an e-mail.
  2. A blog allows you to personalize training. Your leaders can go to other blogs and websites but, when they see your picture and see words written by you (or a video of you or a visual you’ve chosen to download and imbed in your blogpost, etc…) someone they know and respect, they are much more prone to consider the information. 3) A blog gives you the opportunity to infuse your leaders with ideas daily which will help to create a small group environment, not just a small group ministry.

One of my closest friends is the small groups pastor at First Baptist Church, Smyrna, Tennessee, Eddie Mosley. He’s our guest blogger today. Check out one of his posts. He created this specifically for the small group leaders at his church.:

We have all been there. in life, in sports, in career, in relationships, we all move through this process. When we are new to something, most (not all, there are those risky jumpers who take life by the horns and run. :-)) but most of us step slowly and move in a little deeper as time goes by….that is the subject for today… how to develop someone to take your place in ministry. Saddleback includes this idea in their training series ”Don’t Lead Alone”

We have put together a 3 minute video to help you understand how to implement the Crawl-Walk-Run

I learned this apprenticing thing long ago from a man named Peddidle Kelly. Peddidle was my first manager when I was in retail. He taught me things like: lack of communication causes wars and always try to work yourself out of a job because one day you will want to move on and someone here needs to know what you know. Little did I know that 30 years later my ministry position would live or die on his words – apprentice and communicate!!!

Who are you apprenticing? Why not try these three simple steps over the next two or three months?

Eddie is a fantastic trainer (he’ll be leading sessions at all four Saddleback Small Group Conferences in 2009) and is also an outstanding church consultant. You may want to give him a call.
Creating a blog is not hard to do. Just go to It will walk you through the process. If you’re like me and it’s a bit more challenging for you, just ask a teenager in your church to help you out. They’ll have you up and running in just a few hours. And it’s FREE!!!


As I continue my transition to Stateside living, I’ve been looking for more ways to incorporate some of the principles and practices that were effective for Kingdom expansion overseas. One of the growing trends in church-planting circles is called “Business as Missions” or BAM.

Here’s a link to a good article about BAM that you can read:

Question: What principles that BAMers use do you think can be utilized by our Small Groups to transform our communities for Christ here in the U.S.?

I’d love to hear your ideas!

Have you seen the new commercial for the iPhone? The commercial was made to showcase the new feature, Shazam, that allows users to find the name of the artist and/or song that’s been escaping them. So now, for those of you who have the iPhone, you no longer have to wait until you get to a computer, or find a friend that can help, or get lucky enough to hear the song introduced on the radio. If you have the iPhone, Shazam can release you from such anxiety. The commercial ends, proudly, by boasting of the iPhone, “… Solving life’s dilemmas one app at a time.”

I’m not bashing the iPhone. Far from it. I wish I had one. But I saw this commercial a couple of times before it hit me that, although certainly tongue and cheek, the guys at Apple have captured a piece of Americana-psyche. (And admittedly, what bothers me most is that it’s true. How many times have I become totally distracted while trying to remember the name of a movie, or an actor, or a song.) They have also identified one of THE problems that plague us. That plague you as a small-group leader, pastor, or other leader. That is, we are not a serious people.

I guess it’s true that we’ve always been disposed to absent-minded pursuits. It would seem naive to think that we’ve only recently become distraction-obsessive. What apps like Shazam have done is open the flood gates to the trivial and mundane. So now it’s almost constantly—and if iPhone has any say in it, completely—available. So now, disciplines like evangelism, meditation, Scripture memory, relationship, and prayer can be put on permanent hold by the un-disciplined. Dilemmas like the lost, the brokenhearted, the addicted, and the poor are put on a list, with equal footing, that includes “Who sings this?” and “Wasn’t that the guy in Dawson Creek?” and “What else has Daniel Craig been in?”

Jesus said that He has come to give us not only life, but life in abundance. I think the iPhone may make that same claim, don’t you think. It reminds me of a funny moment in a Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. novel—“So who right, professor?” Of course we know. We don’t even have to ask that question. But for so many, these subtle messages are so potent. For these “life’s dilemmas” has become the stuff of trivial substance that invites passivity and abdication. The small-group space absolutely must be a place for the serious. In no way does that mean that it should be void of mirth and moments of levity. But it must be communicated that the stakes of life are indeed very high. The ammo is live. The bullets are real. Knowing who sings “Unwritten” doesn’t help in these matters of weight.


Sometimes a book title blindsides me. This one did. Let’s see if the title of this book ambushes your imagination like it did mine…. Simple Small Groups. Having read every book on small groups I can get my hands on, I’m pretty numb to new book titles. I’m even more concerned that the next book on small groups will be more of the same old, same old, another tweaking of Carl George’s, meta-model. Not this time. I grabbed the book immediately and I wasn’t disappointed with the intent or the content. Bill Search, the team leader for Community Groups at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky (by the way… this is a church averaging 18,000 in attendance each weekend), has composed an symphony, a strategy that gets all the instruments of small group life in sync with one another. And you don’t need to hold a doctorate in small group leadership in order to conduct the band. The outcome (if all Bill suggests is as functional as he says it is and I believe it’s possible since it is so SIMPLE) has to be amazing!

Bill simply states that a small group should give attention to three things… Connect, Change, and Cultivate. He defines each: “Connecting is growing a sense of connection with an identified group of people. Changing is the spiritual and relational renovation that transforms us into the likeness of Christ. Cultivating is the missional lifestyle. He then goes on to tell you how you and your group can make all three of these things happen in… simple terms.

If you’re a traditional small groups aficionado like myself you’ll be stretched as Bill gives permission for groups to feel no pressure to become intimate friends. A few excerpts… “… we don’t have to share the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves to truly connect.” and “If I could change one thing about small groups as they are currently practiced, it would be the expectations that members will become close friends.” Just maybe Bill has raised reality above idealism. You need to get the book and decide for yourself. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I would really like to hear from you. If you’ve read the book and have opinions, please post them here. Or maybe you’re concerned about the ideas that are revealed in the two sentences from Simple Small Groups I’ve quoted. I would really like to know if you agree or disagree with his assumption concerning small groups and intimacy.

There’s nothing quite as exhilerating as being in a small group when every person is completely sold out to the other group members yet are honored as important individuals. That is, each person is singing her/his part, all the parts are equally important, and the song is in tune. At this point a group will experience it’s own group personality, being one without losing ones self. At this point the group will exhibit life-giving synergy. This kind of synergy can only be experienced when each person in the group is moving forward in his/her own personal journey toward deeper levels of connection, what I call “emotional evolution.” 


Most of us have had the unsettling feeling, almost panic, of entering a new small group for the first time. If you haven’t been the new guy or girl in an already established group, you most likely have had the experience of being at the first meeting of a newly formed group. You’ve experienced the first group meeting jitters (for some… anxiety). It is painfully obvious early on that the goal of deep connectedness cannot be reached immediately.


God made us in such a way that progressive intimacy is part of our makeup. The term progressive intimacy simply means that our level of intimacy with one another is progressive, moving from minute to amazingly deep over a period of time.  Each of us goes through various stages. So that you can understand the process your group members are progressing through I’ve outlined my perception of this process below.


Stage One… Invitation (honored to be part of the group)

Stage Two… Expectation (prior to first meeting emotions arise concerning possibilities for group experience and group relationships.)

Stage Three… Intimidation (new people, new surroundings, need to be loved and accepted overwhelmed by what seems to be the depth of spiritual lifestyles of others)

Stage Four… Inhibition (inhibited because people still don’t know if this is a safe haven or a dangerous relational jungle)

Stage Five… Exploration (exploring their place in the group)

Stage Six… Evaluation (Mental exercise asking questions vital to the individual. Who am I in this group? Do I really fit in? Are these people really accepting me? Do I really accept them?)

Stage Seven… Actualization (An accepting of my role in this group, the people in this group, the leader of the group, etc…) This group does have the shared goal, like passion, and sincerity of heart to see God act that I do.)

Stage Eight… Reconciliation (I know and accept my place in this community of believers, trust them to know my needs and respond, trust them to keep conversations confidential. We are Christian community with like goals and callings. I am reconciled to living the principles espoused in the group covenant.) 

Stage Nine… Exhibition (Because I have learned this is a safe environment and because I have concluded that I am accepted here and that I am a person of worth to these people, and because deep in my heart I realize I am part of this community, I can exhibit the real me.)

Stage Ten… Elation (there is no place I’d rather be. Being me is fun, exciting, and relaxing. I am elated to spend time in this environment.)

 Please know, the length of time an individual is in each of these stages will differ from person to person. Also, some people will skip various stages and move directly to the next. Some will get stuck in a stage and never choose to move forward unless prompted to do so by a life experience, conversation/conversations with a group member, or a planned activity like a retreat or the group being on mission together. And others will go forward then some experience (someone breaks a confidence, attacks them publicly or behind his/her back, etc…) with a group member or the entire group will force them backward and it will be necessity for them to relive prior stages.


Small group leader… Know where each of your group members are living and help them move through the stages of “emotional evolution.” It will be worth it!


imagesSome of the visions from Election Night are memorable. Others incredibly moving and weighty. I remember hearing the word “pathos” for the first time while sitting in a college seminar. As I recollect, the professor struggled to define the word, finally settling in lowest, common-denominator style on “suffering.” A dictionary I found defines the word pathos in the following way: A quality, as of an experience or a work of art, that arouses feelings of pity, sympathy, tenderness, or sorrow.

Pathos shakes us. It stirs us. It stands, confrontively, between us and indifference.

Over the years, however, I have come to understand pathos as a profound sense of feeling, or being alive. It’s emotion—any emotion—at the deepest levels of our being. This could of course include profound joy or profound sadness; from the deepest sense of loss to the most euphoric sense of victory. Pathos shakes us. It stirs us. It stands, confrontively, between us and indifference. I would add that, like so many things we take for granted, that the ability to feel at this level is most certainly a gift from God.

As I have grown older I’ve come to appreciate more and more my conversations with my mother. During a recent conversation about life, family, and parenting she told me that a parent is only “as happy as the saddest child.” The comment struck a chord that did more for me than so much formal education and reading ever could. What she described was pathos.

As small group leaders and pastors perhaps we could step back reflect on this understanding of pathos and how it applies to us in these roles. Scripture tells us, “rejoice with those that rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Pathos may embody the deepest sense of commitment and community.

With the election taking place tomorrow I find myself asking this question… What is the truth? It seems like the news media has teams of people who do nothing but inform us when a candidate is telling the complete truth and when they are not. The obvious inference is that they are lying to us. But they’d say they’re simply “spinning.” Candidates and their teams use “spin” when making statements to the press, in speeches, and when asked direct questions, leaving all of us screaming… “What is the real truth!?”


One person defined spin as, To provide an interpretation of (a statement or event, for example), especially in a way meant to sway public opinion.” My definition would be more like, “Half truths or all out lies that keep us from finding out what really happened or what you’re really thinking or believe.”


Some techniques of spin are (as seen in Wikipedia):

  • Selectively presenting facts and quotes that support one’s position. That is, giving half of the story so that the real story is never exposed. Some people call this “cherry picking.”
  • Non-denial denial – a statement that seems direct, clearcut and unambiguous at first hearing, but when carefully parsed is revealed not to be a denial at all, and is thus not untruthful. It is a case in which words that are literally true are used to convey a false impression. As in the infamous statement made by Bill Clinton when he was physically involved with Monica Lewinsky. He announced, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” It later transpired that the truth of the statement hinged on Clinton’s use of a narrow legal definition of “sexual relations” which had been agreed upon for the purposes of the case – that sex is defined in many legal codes as a person making physical contact with another person’s sex organs. While President Clinton and Miss Lewsinsky had been physical in many other ways he hadn’t made contact with these specific areas.
  • Phrasing in a way that assumes unproven truths
  • Euphemisms to disguise or promote one’s agenda

Spin has become so much a part of our culture that Bill O’Reilly, host of The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News announces that his show is a “The No Spin Zone.” Mr. O’Reilly allows no spin and will drive hard to get to the truth if anyone tries to spin the facts.


Spin is a dangerous thing as it misleads and keeps you from knowing the real truth. But it happens in small groups all the time (especially in men’s accountability groups) and is very, very dangerous because, when someone is caught “spinning” the trust factor in that group is greatly diminished.


Small Groups must be no spin zones. Leaders, here are a few tips that may make your group a “No Spin Zone.”


  1. Create an environment of grace. Remind the group consistently that God always forgives and then tell how and when He has forgiven you.
  2. Model complete honesty yourself.
  3. When you catch yourself “spinning” (which most of us have a tendency to do) immediately say, “Okay, okay, let me tell you the whole story.” Then do it. You’ll be respected for it.
  4. Ask group members to tell the last 10%. Bill Hybels once did a talk in which he stated that many people give 90% of the story but don’t tell the last 10%, the parts that make them look bad or reveal who they really are.
  5. Praise group members when they are so transparent it causes the cringe factor to fill the room. In most environments the cringe factor is sensed at the moment someone tells all. As you praise those who tell all others will note that this is honorable and appropriate.
  6. Consistently remind the group that, when they are together they are in a no spin zone.  

Small group leader… If you can make your small group a No Spin Zone you’ll create an environment where people can be set free.


    “…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