March 2009

Jesus taught the disciples to pray. Shouldn’t we do the same?

 I’ve been in ministry for 34 years now. An unforgettable ministry conversation took place one afternoon after our Sunday gathering of Christ-followers. One of the small group leaders at our church was speaking with me about the growth he was seeing in his small group members. I was already on the edge of my seat but when he told me about one of the members who had prayed aloud for the very first time the week prior I was trounced on by a dancing heart. I’ve got to tell you, my internals were on the move. And as I was driving home that day, my tear ducts got into the game. You see, the “first time out-louder” the small group leader was telling me about has a fantastic wife and two incredible sons. During my drive home that afternoon I realized that these young boys were going to grow up in a home where dad prayed for them at the dinner table, by their beds, on vacation, etc… The list could go on and on. And those kids will do with their own children what they have seen their dad do. Because a small group leader took the time and strategically was teaching his small group members to pray aloud a mountain of believers for generations to come will know what it means to be prayed for by godly, caring parents and as those children realize that God is real and alive they will want to know about His Son Jesus and will most likely choose a relationship with Him.

 It is vital that small group leaders teach those in our groups how to pray.

 Below you’ll find a simple step-by-step process that will help you as you teach small group members how to pray aloud.

 LEVEL ONE: The Leader prays and models conversational prayer. The term “conversational” is important. Exhibiting a preacher voice, speaking in old English terms, or sounding as though you’ve swallowed a pile of “o pity me’s” will only confuse the  small group member who longs to have an authentic relationship with Jesus.

 LEVEL TWO: The Leader asks for volunteers and sees who emerges after it has been modeled for a couple of weeks.

 LEVEL THREE: The Leader calls on two people to pray who have been volunteering and then the leader closes in prayer.

 LEVEL FOUR: The Leader leads the group to “Complete the Sentence.” This could be a sentence like, “God, this is ______, I want to thank you for________, or God, would you help with ________.” The leader lets everyone know that if you prefer to pray silently to God instead of out loud, just let the group know by squeezing the hand of the person next to you (if the group is that close) or say the word ‘Amen’ to indicate you are going to pray silently.

 LEVEL FIVE: The group grows to the place where they can pray conversationally as a group using this method: A prayer request is shared and the group spends time praying “sentence prayers” about that specific request before moving on to the next prayer request.”

 You probably noticed that these are baby steps moving toward full-fledged paragraph prayers. In time, this will come naturally.

One of the great things about being a small groups guy is getting to know some of the leaders in the small group movement. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend time with and pick the brain of one of those people, Bill Search the Small Group Pastor (and author of Simple Small Groups, a fantastic read by the way) at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He offers his small groups five options for childcare. I think these may help many of us. Here they are…

 Option 1:

The Community Group host leader arranges for childcare at the home where the group is meeting. The childcare provider can be a teenage child of the host or one of the participants or a responsible friend or neighbor. The group pays for the childcare. (This is not an education program for children, but there is that potential if a simple curriculum is used and the childcare provider is willing to lead.)

 Option 2:

The Community Group involves children in the group process. The group can begin with a simple prayer time and/or object lesson during which the children are present and involved. Then the children and two of the adults move to a different area of the home. The adults rotate turns caring for and continuing the lesson for the children while the rest of the adults resume their study.

 Option 3:

The Community group provides childcare by rotating group members. Older children (11 and up) provide support.

 Option 4:

Each parent is responsible for caring for their own children. There is no childcare at the group.

 Option 5:

All of the children meet at a house nearby with a babysitter. Parents drop their children off before the group and retrieve their children after the group session is finished.

 Consider having all the group members help pay for childcare, thereby sharing the financial burden.

 If you’d like to know more about small groups come join us for the Exponential Conference in April.

Team Evangelism is extraordinarily potent in a post-modern world. The post-modern thinker is unapologetically hesitant to believe the Bible is truth, is cynical when hearing a preacher’s monologue but welcomes dialogue, and longs for a few close relationships. In order for many post-modern’s to consider Christ they must first see Christ lifestyle lived out in an authentic Christian community.

            Thousands of pre-Christians have been ambushed by Christian community.
They were simply going about their daily routines when a group of genuine Christians welcomed them into their inner circle. Once they arrived they found out there was a whole new way of living that was captivating, exhilarating, and life giving.

            When pre-Christians see believers living life in honest Christian community fascination becomes curiosity, curiosity evolves into understanding, understanding leads to spiritual awareness. Spiritual awareness leads to Jesus. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

            Team Evangelism is simply this… Letting unbelievers do life with a small group of authentic Christians, Christians doing life together, really.

            You must first build a relationship with a pre-Christian.

Building a relationship with someone should be natural and getting someone to hang out with a group of your Christian friends is not that difficult if you’ve tilled the ground well. First off, find out what activities you and the people you want to get to know have in common. If you both golf, golf, shop, shop. If they’re movie buffs (this is a great start for many of us as we have a conversation piece for the after the movie discussion) get to a movie together.

Secondly, invite them to your home to do something relaxing that is low pressure. Welcoming someone to your home tells them you enjoy their company and would like to get to know them better. Play cards, watch a sporting event, etc…

Invite the pre-Christian to join you and your group in a non-aggressive activity. When you and your Christian friends are getting together for a non-intimidating activity, invite the unbelieving individual or couple. You may need to do this for quite some time. When you feel that there is a meaningful connection between most group members and the pre-Christians…

Invite them to your Small Group meeting. Some have asked, “What should we be careful about in our discussions when an unbeliever joins us in the group meeting?” Absolutely, nothing. In fact, being transparent with unbelievers in the room may be what takes them to the real Jesus. Joel Comiskey in his book, How to Lead a Great Cell Group Meeting So People Want to Come, says this. “Transparent sharing in the small group reveals to non-Christians that believers are indeed not perfect – just forgiven. One of Satan’s chief tactics is legalistic deception, trying to convince people that God requires unreachable standards and that only “good” people enter heaven. Small-group evangelism corrects that misconception. Open sharing gives unbelievers a new sense of hope as they realize Christians have weaknesses and struggles too.” He follows his statements with a word from Jay Firebaugh (Cell Church magazine, Summer 1999, 11). Jay gives us these words of wisdom, “So when an unbeliever shows up in your cell, do everything the same (except pray silently that the Holy Spirit will reveal to the visitor his or her need for Jesus). If you carry on your gathering as usual, with Jesus in the midst of the group, the nonbelievers will witness the reality of a true relationship with Christ.”

At the appropriate time, tell the curious onlooker how to cross the line into a relationship with Jesus. If the group is praying for God to reveal His love for them and they are seeing Him at work in the lives of the group members, in most instances,  there will come a time when it is right to tell someone how to become a follower of Jesus. Don’t miss this opportunity. Be prepared to tell them how you moved from knowing about Jesus to knowing Jesus then offer them the opportunity to do the same.


abtg12_mainpicRemembering some Korean missionaries I worked alongside for a time, I looked up some background on the G12 methodology that they employed in disciple-making. While I know there is some controversy regarding the implemention of this missional strategy, I also can’t help but be impressed with the emphasis that G12ers place upon evangelism and discipleship. Here are just a few of the practices they utilize that can be helpful as we consider our small groups:

• The corporate mission which is synonymous with the personal mission, is to win people to Christ, make them disciples and enable them to become fathers of multitudes.

• Everyone can be a leader and should be developed into one, in fulfillment of Christ’s calling to be a disciple-maker.

• Everyone is mentored so that, in turn, he can mentor others.

• Long term relationships are encouraged. Members are committed to each other and each other’s success for as long as possible.

Not a bad start huh? Let me know what you think about G12 and the similar practices you might be following as a small group leader. Here’s a link to some more info about the movement: : Again, this is not an overall endorsement but a recognition that these missionaries I knew were doing some good work by implementing some key principles of multiplication and reproducibility cross-culturally.

The NEXT Conference at Saddleback Church a few weekends ago was full of highlights – Lyman Coleman training small group leaders again, Bill Search teaching on recruiting techniques for ministries of different sizes, Steve Gladen explaining the Saddleback model, a personal discussion with Reid Smith and the amazing work Christ Fellowship is doing with small groups. One thing I can’t shake out of my head is the session taught by Erwin McManus. He had one quote in particular that deeply connected with me.

“You can’t dream for the future if you are stuck lamenting the past”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “erwin mcmanus – destiny“, posted with vodpod

That phrase has been processing inside me for nearly a week and the implications are staggering. For the better part of 30 years, I’ve been busy not so much lamenting my past but trying to interpret my past. It’s almost impossible to move forward when you don’t know where you’ve come from! How can I dream and live the life God is calling me into when I’ve no idea of who I really am…when there is little to no self awareness? This isn’t some psychological mumbo-jumbo, this is being present with yourself so that you might be present with God. Augustine says it well,

How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self? Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.

Thankfully, God is unyielding in His wild pursuit so that I may know Him deeply and intimately. I’ve been on a journey with the Serendipity team and through them along with the Holy Spirit and other mentors, I’ve learned to connect the dots of my past in order to embrace the dreams, the future, and the crucial role in the Larger Story that I’ve been invited to enter into.

What does this have to do with small group leaders? As Ron Keck appropriately asserts, “You can only invite someone on a journey you’ve been on yourself.” As small group leaders, it’s vital for us to be on an expedition of the heart so that we are able to invite our group into this wonderfully redemptive journey. Many of our group members will be stuck lamenting their past and it is our calling to invite them into something more! Now I am NOT advocating we minimize a wound – it’s so important to allow someone to lament the loss of a relationship, dream, job, etc., but we must not allow them to end their journey there. Calling them into a great adventure and inviting them to dream again is a heroic and noble responsibility and an offer than often can only come from a deep fellowship.

My challenge for you, and me, is to make sure you are on a journey so that you can offer this invitation to others in your community. Here are some questions to ask yourself and God that might help you map out where you are and begin to call others into the adventure:

  1. When was the last time you were moved deeply by a song, piece of art, movie, or…moment?
  2. What are your deepest dreams and who have you shared these with?
  3. What are the messes in your life?
  4. Who is it that you are becoming?
  5. Honest love that laments wounds and hurts is different from a business-like love that makes happiness and mutual benefit its center. What false beliefs or forces have encouraged you to keep your honest thoughts away from God?

I would love for you to share some of the ways you have helped invite group members into the journey? Click here and leave a reply!!

Most church plants have no option… they’ll be doing small groups. They don’t have the space to have any other kinds of adult classes on Sunday morning and even if they did, they need every person who makes up the church to set-up, tear-down, be sound technicians, musicians, greeters, etc… In most church plants the only ministries a church can offer adults will be worship and small groups. 

If the church is going to flourish it’s vital that these first small groups have the right DNA, the DNA that will be passed on from one generation of small groups to the next. 

There are some aspects of that DNA that must be in place and must be kept in place. These are principles from Acts 2:42 – 47. When these are working together God will do amazing things. A quick list… 

  • The Bible being recognized and studied as words coming from God
  • Friendships that are built on the principles of biblical Christian community which means those in the group are one body. When one person suffers everyone else feels their pain (and responds to comfort the one who is suffering) and when another has something to celebrate everyone senses their joy and celebrates with them.
  • Recognizing Jesus as the centerpiece of group life and helping one another grow to become more and more like Him.
  • Potent prayer, group prayer that anticipates God is going to respond to our requests.
  • Meeting one another’s needs no matter what the cost is to those who make up a particular group.

 It doesn’t matter what kind of small group system the church planter has determined to propagate. It doesn’t matter if the church is doing open or closed groups, using curriculum or discussing the Sunday sermon, is involved in a 40 day campaign or simply meeting at the coffee shop with a few other believers for spiritual conversations, if these components are not part of group life, the groups will not reach optimal effectiveness.

 If you would like to know more about church planting and small groups come join us at the Exponential Conference in April.

I sometimes complain. I wish I made more money. I wish I had a nicer set of golf clubs. I wish I could get that sports car I’ve always dreamed of. I wish I was home more. I wish someone would pay for my cell phone. I wish ministry was easier. I wish more people knew my name. (I have to admit… This list could go on ad nausea.)

There’s one common word in the paragraph above… “I.” It seems “I” has a way of keeping many of us from experiencing the adventure and thrill of ministry more than anyone or anything else. Self-centered ministry, if given space to grow, darkens the heart so much that we become unable to see when we’ve accomplished fulfilling ministry.

 Last weekend God ambushed me. Through the life of a man I’ve never met I came face-to-face with my own self-absorption. I and a few others attended the funeral of a co-worker’s father. To get to the church we exited a major Tennessee highway and zig-zagged our way another 10 or so miles through the Tennessee foothills. The final stretch of this short journey put us on an obviously overused road that led us into “the valley.” The place of worship that had served generations of Tennesseans was stunning. That small country church lingered patiently in the crevice of two of God’s beautifully designed mountains. On the side of one of those hills was a garden of headstones. Between some of the gravestones a tent had been erected, a hole had been dug. The body of Brother Fred Copeland would join the family members who had gone before him in a few hours.

 As we entered the church building the ushers handed each of us an 8.5 by 5.5 piece of paper. The words that had been penned on one side of a slice of paper the size of a notepad had broken the dam that had held back the tears of many of his friends, family, and parishioners. Six short paragraphs unveiled his character, integrity, the purity of his heart and the passion with which he accepted God’s expectations of him, requirements he accomplished for 73 years. A few excerpts…

 Fred Copeland was born March 28, 1918. Fred accepted Christ as his Savior at 17 years of age. The Lord called him to preach a few months later. On October 10, 1936, he rode a horse 8 miles to preach his first sermon.

 He worked at various jobs: farming, logging, etc. making 50 – 75 cents a day (for 10 hours a day). He worked for the CNOPTP Railroad in Oakdale for 7 years, as well as for the Morgan County School Board as a bus driver for over 26 years.

 Fred served in our Lord’s ministry for 73 years. He pastored 12 churches, three of them more than one time.

 In spite of not owning a car, he pastored churches for many years requiring him to walk or hitch hike several miles to preach. In the 1930’s and 1940’s many churches only had services once or twice a month. Therefore, he often pastored 2 or 3 churches at the same time. His salary comprised of whatever the offering (or passing the hat) brought. One church he pastored was 40 miles away. To get there, he walked to Harriman, paid 15 cents to ride the bus to Kingston, and then rode the rest of the way with one of the deacons (where he also spent the night). They had services Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. He would receive a love offering usually, around $2.00. One Sunday there were 15 people present and 3 of them accepted Christ as their Savior. Records at one church indicate they paid him $5.00 a week. One week he received $3.00 in cash and $2.00 in produce, which was a bucket of eggs that he carried as he walked home. While pastoring Pine Orchard (1948-52) he baptized 74 people – 25 at one time.

 I never knew the man but during the funeral service I too wiped the tears from my eyes. I have processed why and have come to this conclusion… He’s one of my heroes. It seems that anyone who is who I want to become is one of my heroes. I can only hope that I’ll never again “wish” for something God has not yet given me. I can only pray that I never again long for comfort more than I yearn to do God’s will. I can only beg God and my closest friends to remind me that it’s not about making a name for myself, it’s about making Jesus famous.

There’s a difference between a calling and a career. I’m afraid I sometimes forget. I don’t believe Brother Copeland ever did. Brother Copeland was 91 years old when he was set free from the confines of his earthly body. I’m pretty sure his reward is great in heaven. Actually, I’m certain of it… “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Mark 10:29-31