Neptune Pool. Photo courtesy of Karen Daniel

Just recently I had the opportunity to extend a trip associated with my role here for a few days to enjoy that virtual Eden that is California. My wife and I spent a couple of days in Disneyland, of course, but also took a couple of days to drive up to central California where we experienced Cambria and San Simeon for the first, and hopefully not the last, time. While there we toured the Hearst Castle—basically, the West Coast equivalent of the Biltmore Mansion. This incredible manor, built by media mogul William Randolph Hearst, has an incredibly rich history and story. During the tour and in subsequent conversations I’ve picked up on several leadership lessons that can be gleaned.

Partnership. For such a special project Hearst had to seek out the most gifted architect of the day. He found Julia Morgan. Julia completed hundreds of projects in her life but is probably most famous for her role with Hearst. The Hearst Castle took 15 years to complete and it necessitated a give-and-take partnership between visionary and builder, each most likely at times serving these roles alternately. There were probably moments of tension and exasperation, but in the final analysis both were well aware that they had crossed the Rubicon into the point of no return. As we say, they were “in it.” This sort of devotion comes right out of Acts 2 and is foundational to redemptive community.

Beauty Is Worth The Wait. There are little details everywhere you look on the tour we were on. The indoor pool Hearst referred to as the Roman Baths has thousands of tiles made of 22 karat gold. The marble implemented in creating the outdoor pool was imported from Italy. The art collection amassed painstakingly over the course of a lifetime. The story behind the furniture and paintings in the guest houses. Like a true redemptive community, not only was the resulting beauty worth the wait, but it remained a work in progress until Hearst’s death. True beauty is the work of a lifetime.

Work In Progress. The house sits atop  hill that’s 5 miles away from the coast. I mean it’s way up there—practically above the clouds. These circumstances required that the work site become a small-city where builders could actually live, supplies stored, and materials warehoused. In many of the pictures we saw it is an absolute mess. But in order to get where he wanted to be, Hearst and Morgan had to tolerate—dare I say encourage—the mess on the way to the destination.

Willing to Scrap. The outdoor pool, known as Neptune Pool (pictured), was originally designed to accommodate Hearts’s family and a few others. After it was completed, however, it was decided to scrap the whole thing to make it bigger—and grander. Similarly, the Casa Grande originally had just one spire. Because of the threat of earthquakes, all construction utilized re-enforced, fortified concrete making any sort of “re-do” a task of Ruthian proportions. But for all practical purposes they tore down the entire house so they could build in a second spire … just because. Taking this in I remember concluding, when creating something significant we’ve got to be willing to scrap our original plan if the occasion calls for it. To be a great builder often requires our willingness to scrap what we’ve already built.

Become Art Collectors. In the case of William Hearst, collecting art was a zillion-dollar habit that included roaming the entire planet in a quest for the most beautiful, rare, and wonderful finds. In our case, the “art” we collect translates into the stories being told and lived in and through group life. As a group member we must be willing to contribute the “art” that results from our own lives. As leaders we must become art collectors in the same sense.

Yeah It May Be Hard But ….
Not once on the tour did I hear the guide refer to a moment when something wasn’t done because it was too hard. (Disclaimer: Seeming endless resources does contribute in this case.) Hearst had a zoo on site. (He owned a polar bear.) He made substantial changes in construction and planning as a result of art acquisitions. Building on the hill posed enormous challenges given the technology of the day. Instead of seeing the obstacles, he chose instead to “live” in a yet-to-be-seen reality and plot every push of the fly-wheel in that direction—sometimes in small, hand-carved increments. I would refer to this as a form of romanticism. The process of building true redemptive community may be hard, but …

The journey to redemptive community may be daunting—moreso if we choose to look at all the reasons we shouldn’t be able to do it—but this only provides the impetus to look beyond the challenges and directly into what God is going to do. We must work together in community with the various architects God has brought into our lives, willing to scrap and re-direct with each new piece of “art” we fortunate enough to encounter. But in the end we’re building not only something beautiful, but something to stand the test of time.

Our small group is taking a break this summer. I’m spending some time re-reading some books that have greatly affected my own small group leadership. This week I am diving headlong into a book every small group pastor/leader should read, Biblical Foundations for Small Group Ministry by Gareth Weldon Icenogle. I came upon the following paragraph. I’m using these 161 words to evaluate my own small group leadership. I came up lacking but now know some areas that need serious attention.

 “Small group leadership is about becoming the whole person God wants each person to be. It is about becoming vulnerable to help others become more open, to help others change for the better, to hold others in the group accountable to improve their lives and lifestyles. Small group leadership is about the freedom to show emotion and share feelings; it is about drawing close to others in the group. Small group leadership is about developing and nurturing the freedom to see, touch and embrace. Small group leadership is about helping the group resolve their conflicts. It is about calling the group back into covenant relationship with God. Small group leadership is about building a stronger sense of family in the midst of broken relationships. It is about giving up control and about giving away resources. Small group leadership is about creating a home for others, empowering others to live their own lives, and equipping them to go away and help others.”

Our church plant has seen her share of disasters. But no matter how big the church, small group leaders can “be the church” better than any people I know.

 I was driving home after a day’s work… My cell phone rang… I answered.., “Hello, Rick Howerton.” She spoke… “Hi Pastor, I’m on my way home from work. I just got a call from my daughter, she came home from school and found her dad…. She thinks he’s dead.” Her broken tones evolved into uncontrollable wailing. “I’ll be right there” I told her. I called her small group leader immediately. He and his wife beat me to the house. Husband’s gone, no hope for resuscitation. Tragedy, but astoundingly effective small group leaders carried the day and are still doing so months later.

 A quick follow-up story…  When our church gathered yesterday I had a conversation with the small group leader, the one who “beat me to the house.” He concreted in my heart of hearts that he is one of the thousands of heroes in the small group community, the small group leader. It seems that the young girl who found her dad lifeless on that disastrous afternoon was going to be forced to be without a father on “Dad’s Day” at her elementary school. All the other kids would have a dad to eat lunch with them but she would be alone. When the small group leader heard about her situation he made a decision. He would take off work and be her dad for the day. He did just that. He told me that, as he turned the corner to go her room he saw her beautiful eyes. She was peeking around the door frame anticipating his arrival.

 You know… We often talk about kids who can’t understand or embrace the love of God the Father because they were without a loving father in the home they grew up in. While the small group leader will never be able to replace this young lady’s dad, he is most certainly teaching her about the love of God her ultimate Father.

 Small group leaders… You are my heroes!!!

If you’ve got a story about a small group leader that has made a difference in your life or someone else’s I’d love to hear it. Please use the comment box to tell us about a small group leader who is your hero.

 For more information on small groups and church planting join me at Exponential Conference in April.

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.

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 www.wordpress.com. 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!!!

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!

If people are going to join your small groups they’ve gotta know about them and you’ve got to connect with the heartbeat of the future small group member. Some people will consider small groups if you touch their warm fuzzy places, others if you can turn on the laughter, other people will consider if you energize them through creativity. I found this video on youtube (I dare you to go to youtube and type in “small groups.” You’ll be jazzed when you see how much stuff is there!).

Check out this animated celebrity small group. This is too cool!

There is a lot of stuff about small groups not only on youtube but on other blogs. You might want to check some of these out. They range from small group company blogs who give answers to small group questions to churches with small group blogs.

Saddleback Small Group Blog

Big Ideas About Small Groups

Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles

Broadway Church, Boise, Idaho

SmallGroups.com with Dan Lentz

Small Groups Guy

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