January 2010

For quite some time I’ve noticed that church members are leaving the local institutional church and gathering in house churches/simple church. I have wondered why this is so. In the book The Rabbit and the Elephant we find these interesting words written by someone who made that move. Enlightening… “We’ve found great liberty in following the principles of simple church – freedom from politics, from a need to “perform,” and from we-have-always-done-it-this-way tradition. In simple church, we no longer struggle to please people but are now free to march to the Holy Spirit’s drumbeat. Liberated from endless meetings, we have time to get involved in our communities and to reach out to a world that so desperately needs the Lord.”

How can institutional churches do church in such a way her church members don’t get caught up in politics, the need to perform, and the we-have-always-done-it-this-way traditions?

God doesn’t seem to be known for “doing the stuff” anymore, at least in the United States. It seems we’re much more impressed (and brag about “the power of God” more) when there is a high percentage of guests at our weekend services (even if most of those people simply left their prior church disgruntled, drained from years of meaningful service, or deliberately running from the inconvenience of dealing with a broken relationship with another believer), when we reach budget, or when we add a new staff member. We shout it from the mountaintops when the organization grows, the institution has more money in the bank than was expected, or additional staff is added. We are energized when a new staff member is joining the team even if his/her only role is to make sure the growing organization is a well-oiled machine. Their real role in many settings… to help organize the chaos so the church can gather more people who give their tithe so the church can fund the programs that keep the present members coming and new ones checking her out.

Don’t get me wrong… I have no problem with any of this. We should celebrate milestones. But when this is all we have to celebrate, there may be an unfortunate perversion with our paradigm of church. Do one more read of the gospels (any one of them). Take the time to do a quick review of the book of Acts. When Jesus does something that could only be attributed to Him (the gospels) or the body of Christ experiences Jesus doing something through His name (Acts), people believe and faith grows. Miracles are on God’s agenda but they seem to be very low on the totem pole of public discussion in the average church today.

I wonder… If we believed and prayed would God “do the stuff?”

A few paragraphs from http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/enjoying-god/doin-the-stuff-remembering-john-wimber/

John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard church movement, will be remembered for many things, one of which was his unrelenting commitment to “doin’ the stuff,” as he often put it. As John Wimber told the story… he and Carol visited a church early in his spiritual journey, immediately after he had spent considerable time reading the gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. Following the service, John approached the pastor and asked him:

“So, when do we do the stuff?”

“The ‘stuff’,” said the pastor. “What’s the ‘stuff’?”

“You know,” John replied, “the stuff in the Bible, like healing the sick and casting out demons. The stuff!”

“Oh,” replied the pastor. “We don’t do the stuff. We believe they did it back in biblical days, but we don’t do it today.”

With a rather confused look on his face, John could only say: “And I gave up drugs for this?”

A dear friend of mine and one of the people I respect as much as anyone in the world once said to me, “It’s awkward when we put God on the spot in front of other people.” That is, when we request a miracle in a small group meeting or a worship service. I agree. But I would also say that John Wimber was right when he said, “I would rather pray for 1,000 people, even if only one gets healed, than not to pray for any and none gets healed.”

Jesus hasn’t misplaced His authority over all things; we seemed to have lost our aptitude for acknowledging it. And even if God answers the prayer “No” (your request is not in my will so you will not see the response you’ve requested), “Grow” (your request is in my will but this is not the right time, I will answer your prayer in the way you’ve requested it in the future.), or “Go” (your request is in my will right now at the time you prayed it so you’ll see the miracle right now), you can use the way God responds, no, go, or grow, to help your members learn of God’s character. You really can’t go wrong when you “put God on the spot.”

I don’t know that God is going to instantly heal someone in your group who has cancer or if He’ll drop a million dollars in someone’s lap for that new building your church needs or if He’ll bring the wayward daughter home after fasting and prayer. But I’m fairly sure He won’t do “the stuff” unless your group is asking for it and believing God is capable of doing it.

And what if He did? What if God did heal someone in your group or if He did bring the money your church needs through an anonymous donor or if the wayward daughter did roam into a worship gathering and make God the Lord of her life and in that instant was never the same again? How would that affect the transformation you so desperately long to see in your group members?

One final thought… I have the opportunity to do conferences and preach in many churches. Often times I ask this question of those in attendance, “How many of you either have a friend or family member who has experienced a miracle, something that could only have been done through the power of God?” In every instance at least 90% of those in attendance immediately throw their hands in the air. Just sayin’…

I paid the nine bucks necessary to see The Book of Eli this weekend. Sometimes when I walk through the doors of a theater, I wonder if the investment is going to be worth it. This time it was. I left with a deep sense of conviction.

The film’s primary character has one responsibility, to go west with the last copy of the Bible. Along the way he masterfully mutilates and/or exterminates anyone or anything that gets in the way of his mission. Protecting the Word of God until he can deliver it to the God-appointed location is all that Eli lives for.

At one amazing moment in the film, after having to decide between protecting the scriptures and saving a life Eli announces… “I got so caught up with protecting it I forgot to do what it said.”

I’m afraid that many times we are so caught up in protecting our perspective of a biblical thought that we forget to do those things the Bible says we are to live our lives doing. In fact, it seems in the faith community today, and in many small groups, we are discussing and debating the doctrine found in the Bible more than digging to find out what the scriptures tell us about how to live our lives.

A few thoughts:

1. Debating theology with an unbeliever present will seldom, almost never, lead to the not yet follower of Christ choosing an eternal relationship with Jesus. If you’ve got a pre-Christian in your group ask group members to get together at a time other than the meeting time to discuss doctrinal differences.

2. Debates that lead to disunity are, in almost every instance, “foolish controversies” (Titus 3:9) which we are told to avoid.

3. Biblical truth doesn’t need you to protect it, evidently God’s standing guard over it. (Matthew 5:18)

4. If we are living out the activities motivated by love that Jesus modeled, the world will know that Jesus is God’s Son and the only pathway to God.

P.S. Please know that I am not suggesting that church leadership allow false teaching or that a group leader allow any perspective to be considered truth. I am simply pointing out that small groups should spend their time seeking the truth and concluding how to show the love to the world that Jesus modeled rather than hosting a debate when more than one perspective is brought to the forefront.

P.S.S. The Book of Eli is not rated R for nothin’. It is very violent and is sprinkled with very colorful language. Don’t go see it if your sensitivities are fragile.

In December of 2007 the Barna Group did a nationwide telephone survey among a random sample of 1,005 adults living within the 48 continental states. The poll pointed out that most Americans are very open-minded (maybe confused… you be the judge) about what the church is. When asked which of the following experiences represented “a complete and biblically valid way for someone to experience and express their faith in God,”…

  • 89% stated that engaging in faith activities at home with family was valid and complete
  • 75% said participating in a house church (or simple church according to your terminology) was the real deal.
  • 68% announced that attending a special ministry event, such as a concert or community service activity was valid
  • 54% declared that participating in a ministry that meets at a place of employment was “a complete and biblically valid way for someone to experience and express faith in God.”

How might this information reshape the role of the small group pastor?

The statistics were taken from The Rabbit and the Elephant by Tony and Felicity Dale, George Barna

Summit banner

I’m really excited that we will be hosting The Summit: A Convergence of Small Group Experts.  This an event that might be the first time in history these amazing small group leaders have been on the same stage!!  To make it even better, it’s online so you can participate no matter where you live and it’s FREE.  Our very own Rick Howerton will be moderating this Town Hall styled forum and discussing the history, trends, and future of small group ministry.  We are taking questions so you will have a chance to present any issue you are dealing with to the architects of the modern small group movement and hear them respond and provide solutions they’ve seen work in churches all over the world.

The speakers are 9 of today’s most well-known leaders in small group ministry and the next generation’s rising stars – Lyman Coleman Bill Donahue, Steve Gladen, Randall Neighbour, Carl George, Bill Search, Reid Smith, Greg Bowman, and Eddie Mosley

Be sure to register and plan on taking part in this amazing experience.  If you are a ministry leader, forward the information to all your group members so they can get answers to some of their most pressing questions too!

I have been spending some serious time considering why small groups are more important in this decade than in the prior decade. After this evaluation I am certain that we need to point people to small groups more than ever. Below you’ll find ten reasons why small groups are the primary avenue through which we can guide people to the Jesus we know.

You’ll notice that I use the word “we” when communicating these ten ideas. I do this because we now exist in and have been influenced by the culture in which we live. “We” is not necessarily “You” so please don’t be angry if one of these points is not representative of your ideology or journey. It is my goal for all of us to simply realize why small groups are the primary way for a cynical people/generation to find Christ in the post post-modern era.

  1. We have relational gaps we want and need to fill.
  2. We are open to a few deep relationships but, unlike those who have gone before us, do not care about a massive number of acquaintances.
  3. We more open to dialogue than we are a monologue
  4. We don’t blindly trust the person who does the monologue but we are open to being involved in a healthy dialogue.
  5. The institutional church is suspect but Jesus is an acceptable hero.
  6. Not yet followers of Christ won’t come to Bible Studies but they will get involved in Spiritual Conversations.
  7. We are not so sure the Bible is truth but biblical truth can become known and embraced when people are in relationships with others who are experiencing and testifying that God’s promises are coming to fruition.
  8. Story is more significant than proposition. How our stories connect with God’s story is palatable and transforming. But simply espousing lists of do’s and don’ts found in the Scripture erases God’s love and replaces it with perceived institutional legalism. Small group is the safest environment for revealing our own stories and checking one another when a group member points out God’s rules and the breaking of those guidelines but overlooks God’s grace.
  9. We will tell you what we’re thinking concerning a given topic or issue without being intimidated by group think making it possible for a small group to know of and respond to another group members fears, doubts, and struggles.
  10. We are willing to journey with fellow journiers but are not on board for a dogmatic leader telling us what we should believe. We realize believing is a matter of the heart, not an embracing of ideas that we have not yet wrestled with.