Category Archives: Life Groups

Finding Your Way Back to God Review

Finding Your Way Back to God DVD. Dave and Jon Ferguson. Multnomah Books, 2015.

Not too long ago I received a copy of Dave and Jon Ferguson’s DVD for their book Finding Your Way Back to God. Now I’ll be honest – I love the stuff the Fergusons put out, especially anything related to Exponential. In fact, Exponential is one of my favorite ministry books of all time, I recommend it to so many people! But on the other hand I’m not a huge fan of DVD small group material. Most of it seems cheesy or misses the mark or just doesn’t live up to the hype. Having said that let me give you a quick overview of the DVD.

The DVD is broken down into 5 really short videos – maybe like 5 or 6 minutes each. And each of videos follows along one of their “five awakenings.” These awakenings include:

1-Awakening to Longing This is the feeling that “there’s got to be more.” We all feel the longing for love, purpose and meaning.

2-Awakening to Regret  Regret finds us saying, I wish I could start over. Many people get stuck repeating these first two awakenings.

3-Awakening to Help After repeating what they call they “sorry cycle” of trying to fulfill these longings without God and ending up with regret over and over again, we acknowledge that something has to change.

4-Awakening to Love Jesus is the one who leads us back to God. As we come back to God, we’re ambushed by grace and discover God, loves me deeply after all.

5-Awakening to Life Through following Jesus, we discover “life and have it to the full.” When Jesus offers to His followers, “life and have it to the full,” He uses the word zoe.

Each video explains these longings and has a testimony that goes along with it as well. Here’s a sample of the type of video you will watch (though this is sort of a “trailer” for the videos, it gives you an idea of what each video is like).

So what did I think of the DVD? Its good. Will I end up using it for small groups? Honestly I probably won’t. That is not because the quality is bad or the content is weak, but rather because I’m not sure who this is really created for. Christians won’t find this content too helpful (unless it’s a model for the types of discussions they should have with non-Christians). Non-believers won’t find it too helpful because its overly Christian. The only people that it seems it would be targeting is people who are seekers and may have been going to church for a long time but are not yet Christians. This doesn’t seem like a very large audience – so I’m left a bit confused as who they are really creating this content for.

Nevertheless if this is who you are going to be watching these videos with – then go for it! But I do recommend having the book and the participant guide as well. Discussion will definitely be hard without those resources.

Note: I received this DVD courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.
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Book Review – Slow Church by Christopher Smith and John Pattison

Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus explores what it would look like for the church to embrace the “slow” way of life. The authors explore the possibility of doing slow church by focusing on three areas – ethics, ecology, and economy. By “ethics” they are referring to what it means to be the embodiment of Christ in a particular location. By “ecology” they are referring to their place within God’s mission of reconciliation. By “economy” they are referring to God’s provision to carry out his reconciling work. As the authors tackle each section they give us a sampling of what it looks like to live as a “slow church.” They do not provide “steps” or “instructions” or “how-to-lists” – because that would be characteristic of a “fast” way of doing church, rather they paint pictures with words, give plenty of examples of churches who practice “slow church,” and open up the reader’s imagination as to what God might want to do in each local church community.

Review

Efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control – are four words that nail down the essence of MacDonaldization. These are the same four words that nail down the essence of (many) Mega Churches. Working in a Mega Church I know that many see these four words as “good words” but Smith and Pattison see them as “bad words.” They aren’t qualities that we as a church should strive to achieve. Nevertheless I have seen ministries built around these four concepts. As I see churches strive to achieve these things I can’t help but think to myself – Is this the way that Jesus would have done things? Is this the way that Jesus built his “little flock?” Is a MacDonald-ized (Supersized) church the church that Jesus envisioned? I don’t know. Either way, I know that this is the Church that Jesus loved and died for. Whether it’s a “fast church” or a “slow church” Jesus loves his church. However because Jesus loves his church he desires to see his church flourish. I honestly (along with Smith and Pattison) think that the “fast church” isn’t flourishing. Humans can’t thrive and flourish on a fast food diet – neither can the church thrive and flourish with a “fast church” mentality. Change is needed – the church needs to slough off its industrialized and Macdonald-ized approach to church. It needs to embrace a holistic, interconnected, organic, and local way of life grounded in a grand gospel. Slow Church helps us imagine what it would look like if the church were to do that.

A Personal Note

I believe that I have embraced (or at least have tried to embrace) a holistic, interconnected, organic, and local way of living out the gospel. Of course, being a fallen human being, I am tempted to Macdonaldize my ministry. I am tempted to value efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control over and above relationship and God’s sovereignty. However Jesus helps me to recognize my sin and repent of such things. One area in which the Lord has been helping me to do that has been in the area of discipleship. I want people to grow in Christ, I desperately want that. I want the college students I work with to grow into a Christ-centered community of missional disciples. But my temptation has been to try to systematize that growth. However as I read this book I came to realize that much like a political revolutionary I wanted, no I demanded, instant change. However (as the authors say) “unlike human revolutionaries, who demand instant change, God is not impatient.” I am impatient – I want growth to happen now – on my time and my conditions. As this book has forced me to rethink how people grow I have come to realize that God’s primary means of growing people is through the slow process of intentional one on one and small group relationships. Spiritual Growth takes time and effort, it’s a slow process, it’s a messy process, its a relational process, and I am certainly not in control of it. Spiritual Growth cannot be “Macdonaldized” – it’s a slow and organic process.

(Note: I received this book courtesy of IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)

Can the Church as We Know it Survive?

In a recent blogpost Neil Cole contrasts two (very different) Non-Western Churches:

When the communists took over the nation they arrested the church leaders (like Nee) and seized all church property. The indigenous expressions of simple churches meeting in homes not only survived…they thrived. The Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse-Tung sought to eliminate all religion from society in China but instead mobilized the church and it grew from about 2 million Christians in 1949 to over 60 million. It is estimated today that there may be upwards of 80 million Christians in China.

Contrast this with the church of Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church was dependent upon three things: holy buildings, holy men in robes, and holy services performed by those men in those buildings. When the communists took over in Russia they seized all the buildings and arrested or compromised all the leaders of the church. The church was devastated.

He goes on to ask the question – which structure most reflects the way we do church in America? Are we dependent on buildings, holy men, and holy services performed by those men? Could we survive the arrest of our church leaders and seizure of church property? Are we more like the Chinese church or the Russian Orthodox Church?

Cathedral Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow

Without a doubt the American church is going to face ongoing persecution in the future. However it wouldn’t even take any real persecution to dismantle most churches, just a few legal changes (especially to tax law) could cause the church as we know it to implode, or more likely to become unsustainable.

The problem is that the western church concentrated all our people, resources and ideas into a few large groups. This is bad investment 101 – don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Much like the Russian Orthodox church, who put all of their energy and resources into holy buildings, holy men in robes, and holy services performed in those building the western church is liable to experience real devastation if (when) persecution or legal action is taken against the church as we know it.

In the future, most churches will not be able to sustain the model we are running on. This will, lead many churches into times of intense suffering and hardship. There are only two types of churches that will be able to survive those times. The only churches that will survive are the churches that are large enough to sustain themselves without all the tax benefits that the government offers to non-profits and religious institutions and those churches that are small enough not to need those benefits. When clergy stop getting tax benefits, many pastors in small churches will not be able to get by economically. When churches lose tax benefits on their properties, many churches will no longer be able to afford their mortgages. Either you will have to be large enough to generate enough capital to pay your mortgage or you will need to be small enough not to require funds to pay a mortage (i.e. because you don’t own any property). Either way tt’s a bleak future for the church as we know it.

The church will need to learn to survive without the government’s help. The church will need to learn to survive under government opposition. Non-Western churches have much to offer us in learning how to do both of those things.

However we aren’t there yet. We aren’t facing those difficulties yet, and it may be many years before we get to that point. However, its my own personal belief, that the church needs to prepare itself for that day. One of the best ways to get ready for that time is to emphasize the importance of what some have called “cell communities” or “small groups” or “community groups.” These small communities seem to be the essential building block of the church in the non-west. We have much to learn from our non-western brothers and sisters. They are clued in to the many strength of these sorts of communities.

According to Scott Sunquist (Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary) these communities are the “strongest organizational unit in world history” – here are the reasons why this is so:

  1. It is a remorseless self-multiplier.
  2. It is exceptionally difficult to destroy.
  3. It can preserve its intensify of local life while vast organizations quickly wither when they are weakened at the center.
  4. It can defy the power of governments.
  5. It is the appropriate lever for praying open any status quo.

It really sounds to me as though “cell communities” (simple churches, small groups, community groups, missional communities, call it what you will) are going to be vital to the future of the church in the west, especially in the US. If this is true – are we preparing for the future?

A Leadership Night with Alan Fadling

Yesterday night Rocky Peak had its end of the year Life Group leader gathering. It was a night filled with worship, testimonies as to what God had done in Life Group, and some encouraging words on “rest” from Alan Fadling.

In case you don’t know him Alan Fadling is author of An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest, which was honored with an “Award of Merit” by Christianity Today under the category “Spirituality.” The book has been getting rave reviews by some heavy hitting authors/pastors. I (who am not a heavy hitting author/pastor) liked it a whole lot as well! Also, on a more personal note, many many years ago Alan was the College Pastor at Rocky Peak! How crazy is that!

Anyway here are some highlights of what he talked about last night:

  • As leaders we often lead on empty… What if leadership was leading from overflow? What if it is just sharing what is overflowing from me? That doesn’t happen when you live life in a hurry.
  • Hurry is a disordered soul.
  • We want God to answer quickly, we want him to do things fast… but God has a bias towards relationship, and he knows that sometimes when he gives us what we want when we want it we are quick to run off.
  • Work is certainly a gift from God, but so is rest.
  • I am not what I do… that is not my identity. My identity is “beloved of God.” That identity is true of me whether I am at work or at rest.
  • In the Bible rest comes first, work flows out of that.
  • One thing that you need to understand is how much Jesus treasures your friendship.
  • The more I thank, the more I remember how graced my life is.

There were many more highlights from last night, but those are just a few. If you are interested in what he has to say, I recomend that you pick up his book An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest. Whether you are a pastor, college ministry leader, or don’t do “ministry” at all, there is much to draw from this book.

Free EBook – Uncovered by Rod Tucker

Let’s be honest for a minute – on a scale of 1 to 10 – how honest and open do you think you are? How honest are you with yourself? Your own sins, your own baggage, your own issues, etc. How honest are you with other? Do you feel like you can share your mistakes, your shortcomings, and your junk with people at church? How does our lack of being honest with ourselves and our fear of being honest with other people hurt our relationships? These are all the sorts of the questions Rod Tucker addresses in Uncovered.

I will be writing a full review of Rod Tucker’s book uncovered. As a bonus for you the reader I bestowing you some awesome things!

April 7th – Get a Free Download of “Uncovered: The Truth about Honesty and Community” by Rod Tucker

April 8th-13th – Get “Uncovered: The Truth about Honesty and Community” by Rod Tucker for only $2.99

You are going to click on a banner like the one below – so get ready to jump on this deal on April 7th!

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(P.S. This might be an awesome book for your Life Group to study together!)

Give them the Tools they Need!

Today would like to hit on one aspect of the small group coach-leader relationship: equipping. If you are a small group coach you probably know building a relationship with your leaders is super important but you don’t necessarily want to get stuck there. Pastor Bill Donahue from Willow Creek makes this point when he says that “It is easy to make the mistake of turning the coach-leader relationship into nothing more than a deep friendship.” I definitely agree with him. Because it is so easy to do that we need to maintain a healthy balance between shepherding and equipping.

Equipping can be a hard thing. In fact thinking about equipping can be a bit intimidating. After all its not like we are small group experts. Nor do we have access to unlimited resources. Often times it’s hard enough to find where to start the equipping process. So today would like to offer you a few ideas about tools you can use to equip your leaders.

  • Your Past Experiences: If you are reading this you probably have been doing small groups for quite some time now. Thus you probably have a lot of stories of small groups that went really well and of small groups that didn’t go so well. Also you know what worked and didn’t work in those small groups. So I would begin by having your leaders think through what is working and what isn’t working in their own small group. Then I would relate that to your own experiences. In addition to that, you have probably experienced a lot of the situations that your leaders are going through in their own small group. Whether it is someone breaking up in the small group, a fight with parents, or some sort of addiction; you have probably encountered it, thus you can speak wisdom out of your own experience with that issue.
  • Wisdom from Other Leaders: Hopefully you have a bunch of wise leaders around you. Whether it is the other coaches or a pastor, or even other small group leaders; there is always something to gain from others. As you work to cultivate community within the leadership, you will begin to be encouraged by what is going on in the other groups. Also you will learn from the other leaders’ experiences. In addition to learning from the experiences of other leaders don’t be afraid to ask your director or pastor about any specific issue that might come up.
  • Books or Articles: Personally this is my favorite way to resource. I love reading. And by love I mean LOOOOOVE!  I know reading isn’t for everyone, therefore giving people articles to read won’t always work, however as you read books and articles you will gain wisdom from that author and you will be able to impart that wisdom to your leader. If you are looking for a book/article on a specific topic feel free to ask me, I will do my best to look it up for you.

Discuss:

  • What other sorts of tools have you turned to in order to equip the people that you lead?

Living an Unhurried Life – Prayer

I recently picked up a book by Alan Fadling, called An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rythms of Work and Rest. I picked it up upon the recommendation of Paul Jensen, the executive director of the Leadership Institute, whom Alan is the director of a ministry within that ministry.  Its kind of cool actually, many years ago Alan Fadling used to be the college pastor at the church that I am now the college director for. Things have really come full circle, Alan is coming to our college ministry to lead a half-day spiritual retreat. I don’t actually know Alan, but I do know Paul, and if he has the same kind of heart that Paul has then I know we are in for a real treat. But I digress….

In this book Alan calls us to find a balance between our sense of calling and our call to rest. He has a chapter on productivity, and he says that being unhurried doesn’t mean that you lack productivity. He also has a chapter on spiritual practices for living an unhurried life. This chapter is great. I got a taste of a few of these practices in my class with Paul Jensen at Fuller. He also talks about how living an unhurried life allows us to care well for others. Today though I want to pull out an excerpt on his chapter on being “unhurried enough to pray.”

Check out what Alan has to say on prayer:

Some of us are paid in Christian leadership roles. Others volunteer our time to serve. As a leader myself, I think about Jesus’ rhythm of ministry and prayer. What is inviting to me? What resistance rises up within me. For example, to what degree do I see prayer as a strategic activity of leaders in general and of my leadership responsibilities in particular…. One of the single most fruitful activities in which a leader can engage in is praying. Praying for the people God has entrusted to our care.

As a paid Christian Leader, I ask myself whether prayer is legitimate work during office hours or whether I should do it only “on my own time.” Do I see the office as the place where I do the important stuff, where I deal with paperwork, prepare messages, run the institution, plan the events, keep appointments, talk on the phone, and get things done? Is it at all possible that our office hours could reflect the kind of time that the early church leadership spent together sharing in the word, praying, and enjoying fellowship? And is it possible that I might do every task or conduct every meeting in a spirit of prayer? (106-107)

He brings up some very important points. I honestly find myself using my office hours for “office type things.” But is that all that my job consists of? Shouldn’t prayer be a part of my “job?” What about spending time alone with Jesus? I think the same type of questions could be asked about leading a Life Group: Should our pre-meetings simply be a time where we assign tasks and plan out the night? Or should we spend that time praying? Perhaps we need to engage in prayerful planning… These are all the type of questions I don’t have answers to. But I do know that Paul calls us to pray unceasingly, which probably means that everything we do must be infused with a prayerful heart and attitude.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What do you think the role of prayer is in leadership?
  • Does the way you actually lead reflect your beliefs about prayer?
  • What steps could you take to help your belief and actions match up?

An Unhurried Life