Piano_1024x768So another Catalyst event has come and gone. Every year I’m amazed at the energy behind this event. Of course given the level of excellence in all areas there’s no reason to be amazed I don’t guess. I was there to find out what sort of reception our new small group resource, Small Group Life, was going to receive. It was very positive. Those I spoke with were excited about Small Group Life‘s missional bent and streamlined experience—not to mention the price. That was all great to hear. (By the way, become a fan on Facebook and enter to win some cool stuff for your group—including a group retreat to North Carolina or New Mexico.)

The list of presenters at Catalyst 2009 was as strong as ever. I had an opportunity to hear Mitch Albom and Tony Dungy. Malcolm Gladwell was his usual intriguing self. I managed to catch most of Rob Bell’s time, too. But the most interesting thing I heard came from Shane Hipp. Shane was only on the platform for about 20 minutes. Or at least it seemed very short to me. He talked about the medium of the message, but what I thought was most profound was his description of his recent visit to a museum during which he observed a security guard posted at a rare painting. The guard wore a gun and uniform. He was equipped with several devices as well. The painting was sealed in an air-tight frame, protected from both the light and the air. It was only available to be viewed a specific times of the day by small groups of 5 or so at a time. The art was firmly secured to its metal moorings making it for the most part impossible to be removed—a virtual hortus conclusus—and the guard’s job was to protect the beauty enclosed behind the 2-inch thick glass.

And then he went outside the museum where a gardener was working in a flower bed. The garden was open and vulnerable to the elements. If it was hot, then the plants had to find a way to sustain themselves. During the cold the flowers he care for must endure. There were no boundaries to the garden so the gardener’s art availed itself even to the reckless, inconsiderate, and ill-intentioned. It could be trampled or even destroyed. The gardener can diminish risk, but he can’t totally remove risk and danger. The gardener’s job is to create an environment in which the garden can flourish. The gardener is all about exposing beauty for the world.

It occurred to Shane that were the skills required to be a guard suddenly placed in the role of gardener then the garden would surely die. He concluded with this question to the leaders on hand at Catalyst 2009: Are you a guard or a gardener?

I think we all know where Shane is headed, but for my part I’d have to say that this is another context where we must resist the urge to think in either/or propositional positions. Just like we are charged both to take care of the orphans and widows AND keep ourselves unstained by the world at once, we must also simultaneously play the roles of guard and gardener. And, yeah, it can be tricky and, yeah, the process might not ever be a tidy one. Go too light on the guard duty and you get something like what is described in Isaiah 5:5-7. Not enough gardener and you get the same: death. But does this have application to small-group leadership in the same way? Initially I thought so. But after thinking about it I wonder if small group leadership requires more of one than the other. Regardless, I thought Hipp’s Catalyst presentation was something for consideration.

Attending conferences is in my job description. Trainers lead training sessions and most training sessions happen at conferences. Almost every conference I attend has an evaluation attendees fill out at the end of the event. The conference directors want to know what they have done well and what they can do better. I’ve evaluated ad-nausea. I mean… I’ve given my humble critique to at least a hundred conferences. I’m beginning to know what a good conference looks like.

 A good conference focuses on no more than a couple of areas of expertise, has one key note speaker who really knows that space, a couple of really great breakout sessions, and opportunities for attendees to network with their ministry peers, people leading the same ministry they are leading. That’s a good conference. But I’ve also seen what a GREAT conference looks like. A GREAT conference will have a laser-like aim at one area of ministry, will have multiple legendary personalities who are the best of the best leading plenary and breakout sessions, will give attendees the opportunity to choose from a plethora of break-out sessions led by people who are not just talking about it but doing it and doing it well. When attending a GREAT conference attendees get to network with ministers from some of the best churches in the country and around the world because a GREAT conference draws church leaders who dream the biggest of dreams and want to be around people just like them.

 Imagine attending a conference where you could spend meaningful time with Steve Gladen (Small Groups Pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA., senior pastor, Rick Warren), Bill Willits (Small Groups Pastor, North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, senior pastor, Andy Stanley), Bill Search (Small Groups Pastor, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, senior pastor Dave Stone), Lyman Coleman (the man many consider to be the father of the small group movement in the U.S. as we know it today and the man who birthed Serendipity House). And at that same conference you could choose one of two paths. One path would be for you if you were a first time attendee wanting to find out how to do Purpose Driven Small Groups (the Saddleback Church model that has more people involved in groups than she does in weekend worship services). You could take that path. But, if you have “been there, done that” you could choose path number two which will be led by Bill Willetts and friends. And just to add spice to the already amazing meal that’s being dished out there was an unusually impressive amount of breakout sessions to choose from led by church leaders others welcome in to keynote at their churches. Then… on the last day of the conference you could invite your small group leaders to join you for sessions led by the same great people, sessions that will inspire and educate your team. And just to make it possible to attend, there were four locations to choose from.

 Dude… That’s a GREAT conference. One of the greatest and most influential churches in the world is hosting just that conference. Check out the NEXT Saddleback Small Group Conference by clicking on the word NEXT.

 See you there!