Thursday, August 07, 2014

A Biblical Understanding of Groups—Part 3

Only in recent years have I come to see the Doctrine of the Trinity as essential to a full understanding of community among the faithful and healthy group formation.   The interaction of Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer—Father, Son, and Spirit—in the Godhead provides fresh insight into God’s expectations for any community of believers.

In Discovering the Other: Asset-Based Approaches for Building Community Together, Cameron Harder points out that although we have been baptized in the Triune name—“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”—we fail to acknowledge it, especially in the way that we function in community.  Harder suggests that  “God’s Trinitarian life is, at least in some ways, the source and model for our human community.” (p. 21).    This suggests some principles for building humanity community (pp. 22ff):

  • Community is built out of conversation.
  • Creative conversation is adjustment to the other.
  • Community is a web of relationships.
  • Difference is at the heart of community.
  • Struggle is normal and necessary in healthy communities.
  • Power multiplies when it is distributed.

These principles certainly apply to the development of a healthy group.  If we are aware of these principles, we will be more intentional in providing a climate in which the Spirit of God can work.


Molly Marshall expresses the process in this way in an article in the Review and Expositor journal: “When the community expresses its life as Imago Trinitatis, certain practices ensue: Generativity, Humility, Hospitality, Diversity.  . . .  Trinitarian life is shared life; it is welcoming of that which is other—even the humanity of the incarnate one.”

The example of the Trinity calls us to the highest and most productive expression of relationship.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A Biblical Understanding of Groups—Part Two

Although Paul was not a systemic theologian or a small group facilitator, his writing in  Ephesians 4:11-12 about the way the Spirit works to create a community of believers provides some ideas about what is necessary for a group to grow in spiritual maturity, service, and unity:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,    to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (NIV)

The various leadership roles in the life of the church have one primary purpose:  “to equip his people.”  Those who are leaders of a group invest themselves in others.  They call out the best in the group members and encourage them to stretch their boundaries as believers.  All of the leadership functions are important and contribute to group development.

The “works of service” are the ministries that believers perform.  These works grow out of one’s relationship to Christ and are not intended to earn salvation but are instead a sign that one is already “in Christ.”  These works of service may be internal to the group—serving sisters and brothers in Christ—or external acts of service to those outside the fellowship. 

Leadership and service help to build Christian community.  We are called to “unity in the faith” by sharing, learning, and service together.  As we work together, we learn more about each other, our experiences in Christ, and the One who has called us.

In this process, we are also being formed as disciples.  We receive “knowledge of the Son of God” and “become mature” as His followers.  Believers challenge and encourage one another in their journeys of discipleship.

All of these are necessary to a healthy, growing group of believers—leadership, ministry, community, and formation.

Monday, August 04, 2014

A Biblical Understanding of Groups—Part One

A person does not need a theological degree to pick up the biblical emphasis on community.  In Genesis, we read that God created humanity for fellowship with God and then created the family unit of the man and woman.  God called Abram out of Ur to father a nation of people.  The children of Israel struggled to be a people who supported one another in their devotion to God.  Christ called to himself a group of disciples so that he might share with them and begin forming them as apostles of the faith.  Through the work of the Spirit, the church—a community of the faithful--came into being after Pentecost.  Paul and his team went about the Mediterranean world planting communities of the faithful.  Finally, out of the scriptures, early Christian scholars perceived the doctrine of the Trinity, a mysterious relationship between Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit that has existed through eternity.

Therefore, it should come as not surprise that the Christian life is not meant to be a solitary pursuit.  Our vertical relationship with God finds expression in a horizontal relationship with other believers.  Although not always an easy task, we are called to learn, share, and work together as the people of God.

This ongoing work takes place in the larger fellowship of our faith community called the church, but more often in a small group setting where we can share openly.  We join together with other believers who are committed to the faith journey and learn what it means to be in fellowship with one another and with God.  This is God’s plan expressed eloquently in Ephesians 4:15-16:

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (NIV)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Time for Fresh Ideas

In a recent blog entitled “Low Wages, Student Debt, and 'The Call:' Financing Seminary Education,” LeAnn Snow Flesher put this entire ongoing discussion in context.  Flesher is not an outsider to theological education but serves as Academic Dean/CAO and Professor of Old Testament at American Baptist Seminary of the West at The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.

I agree with Flesher that at the core of the issue is the changing concept of “church” and what people expect from a faith community.  From my perspective, this has not happened overnight and is the result of several factors.

First, since the 1960s traditional forms of authority have been questioned.  Initially, politicians came under fire (often for good cause—think Richard Nixon), then it was corporations, and then religious leaders (plenty of scandals to go around here). 

Second, the church growth emphasis helped to build a consumer mentality so that people became more concerned about “religious goods and services” than spiritual devotion and formation.  Consumers go where their needs of met, and they decide what their needs are.  Today, it is not unusual for a person to state that he or she is a member of a particular denominational church but attends another faith community on a regular basis—a megachurch, a house church, or a community Bible study group.

Third, the idea of what a church is began to change.  Megachurches provided well-executed and planned worship experiences, preaching focused on personal growth, and dynamic leadership.  People began to discover “the church in the home” and similar organic structures.  Young adults found that spiritual truth cut across denominational lines as well and time and space, so they created the “emerging church” movement.  During this time of revolution, most denominations tried to do the same old thing but put more energy into it with declining results.

Fourth, the leaders of these new forms of church were often self-taught or mentored by other leaders with little or not formal theological education.  They favored “just in time” learning and studied under business and communication leaders as well as experienced ministers.  Results were the primary concern and theological depth was sometimes sacrificed for enthusiasm.

Fifth, social service agencies and social entrepreneurs began tackling problems that the churches once addressed and often did this work in a more effective way.  These creative persons combined business expertise and compassion in order to meet human need.  And they did it outside denominational and congregational structures.

Flesher says, “[T]he church is in trouble; theological education is in trouble.”  She readily admits that this can also be said about U.S. education in general but this is outside the scope of her blog.  She suggests, “It’s time for some entrepreneurial ministerial work! This work cannot be done by one group, but must come from the collect. It must flow out of the grassroots movements if it is going to speak to and meet the needs of the population.”

The conversation is underway and it is one that must include not only academics and denominational leaders but laity, local clergy leaders, and potential students as well.  Welcome to the conversation!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Characteristics of Small Groups

When we think of the work of the apostle Paul, we tend to focus on him alone. In reality, Paul was surrounded by a team of gifted individuals that was continually changing. We know the names of some of them—Barnabas, Luke, Timothy, John Mark, even Priscilla and Aquila. At various points, different individuals became part of the apostolic team led by Paul. The composition of the group evolved and changed over the years. Very often members came on board, made their contribution to the work of encouraging churches in an area, and then attached themselves to a particular church or churches to continue their work apart from Paul. Some were already mature and gifted persons when they joined the Pauline team, but others were nurtured by the apostle and the group.  The group experience was vital to the development of disciples and the spread of the Gospel.

My own experience is that small groups of believers provide an opportunity for individual growth in a number of ways.  This only happens, however, if the groups are intentional and reflect certain characteristics.

When Pinnacle associates lead Disciple Development Coaching© training, we introduce this definition:

“Disciple Development Coaching is a focused, collaborative relationship, resulting in the disciple living out his or her calling more fully.”—Disciple Development Coaching:  Christian Formation for the 21stCentury

This definition certainly informs the basic characteristics of a properly functioning small group. 

First, a good small group is healthy.  A healthy body is one in which all the parts are working together, each doing the part for which it was designed (see Romans 12:3-8).  The term “collaborative” when used in the DDC context is applied primarily to the coach/disciple relationship, but it can also apply to a well-functioning small group.  In such a group, each person is involved and willing shares in discussion, direction, and mutual accountability.

Second, a small group is made of people who are authentic with one another.  This authenticity is built on “relationship,” another part of the DDC definition.  In DDC coaching the relationship is one to one.  In a small group, the relationships are multiplied among the various members of the group.  Just as the coach models authenticity in the coaching conversation, the leader of a small group takes the lead in modeling authenticity, vulnerability and transparency for the group members.  He or she attempts to be open about his or her own struggles while allowing a safe space for the members of the group.

Third, a good small group stays on target.  They know what they are there to accomplish and the leader helps them to stay on track.  In a coaching conversation, the disciple set the agenda, but the coach provides the structure or keeps the conversation “focused.” This is the role of the leader of a small group—to provide the structure that keeps the group on task while encouraging full participation.

Those involved in small groups would do well to assess their status by asking these questions:
  • Are we healthy?  Is everyone involved?
  • Are we developing strong relationships?  Can we be honest with one another?
  • Are we focused?  Are we achieving what we say we want to accomplish?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Unique Coaching Event

Designed specifically for Christian coaches, don't miss this Online Mega Conference, the IMPACT 2014 eSummit. Enjoy over 30 business and practice building sessions from top-notch experts. We kick off the conference with a pre-summit series on Sept 24th. The full conference runs Sept 29-Oct 3, 2014.  I will be leading a pre-session conference on "Creating a Coaching Culture in the Church."

Industry Pioneers & Experts

The conference will feature keynote presentations, panel discussions and sessions from pioneers and experts in the Christian Coaching field. For a full lineup of speakers, visit the Speakers page. Here are some names you may know:
  • Jennifer Britton, MCC – an expert in the areas of Group Coaching and Team Development
  • Gary Collins, PhD. – author of the landmark book, Christian Coaching
  • Jane Creswell, MCC – an innovator and leader in internal corporate coaching
  • Ben Koh, MCC – founder of I Am Life Coach, a leading coach academy in Asia
  • Janice LaVore-Fletcher, PCC – founder and president of Christian Coach Institute
  • Christopher McCluskey, PCC – consider by many to be the father of Christian Coaching
  • Tracy Stevens, MCC - a leader in executive coaching and coach training
  • Tony Stoltzfus – a pioneer in the Christian coaching movement
  • Mary Verstraete, PCC – cofounder and president of the Center for Coaching Excellence

Value-Packed Pricing

We are dedicated to making the eSummit as convenient and affordable as possible.
Value - Sessions are packed with best practices, proven strategies, practical tips, encouragement and fresh ideas that will equip you to improve your coaching practice.
Convenience- No travel required. Since this is an online conference you can join as many sessions as you wish from comfort of your home or current location. The only equipment you would need is a computer, headphones and landline.
Cost - The basic conference fee for a CCN member who signs up by the early bird deadline (Sept. 1) is only $147. Amazing value! You cannot miss this Mega Conference.
Click here for registration information.

Managing Your Time

“I don’t have enough time.”  I have heard this often in coaching leaders.  In reality, everyone has the same amount of time.  How we chose to use it is up to each one of us but those choices are not always easy.  I have come to realize that when I consider the tasks before me, I have three choices.

First, there are those things I need to do.  These are the things that are of primary importance.  One of these is my relationship with God.  Another is my relationship with family. Everything else is negotiable.  Those things that I need to do are usually those things that I am gifted to do.  This does not mean that they are easy to accomplish.  They may take work, but I have the skills to do them or I can acquire those skills.  These are usually the activities that bring me the most sense of fulfillment.

For example, I have just finished the manuscript for my first e-book.  Since it is based on my experience, ideas, and interpretations, I was the person to do it.  Did it take time, energy, and effort?  You bet.  It also brought a sense of satisfaction and completion.

Second, there are those things others can do.  Some of these are things that are others’ responsibility and I need to leave them alone to do them.  Other tasks are things that I am not really equipped to do and will probably not be able to acquire the skills to do, so I ask for the help of competent people.  And then there are those things that I can delegate to others, perhaps encouraging and equipping them as they do the tasks.

With the manuscript, I found a number of people who could help and were uniquely equipped to do so.  I found a copy editor to read my manuscript for errors and syntax problems.  Several friends in ministry reviewed the manuscript and gave me feedback and suggestions for improvement.  Finally, a very competent associate set the book up for publication.

Finally, there are those things that nobody needs to do.  These are projects that might have looked important at one time, but they are really not necessary and no one is going to miss them if they are not done.  In the past, I often felt some guilt about starting something and leaving it incomplete.  I realize now that sometimes the sense of urgency to do a task is fleeting and the desire or need is no longer there.  I have also come to understand that if someone does not come alongside to help get the task done, maybe it lacks real traction or significance.

I had another publication idea, but my passion for it has ebbed and those who might have been part of the writing have not shown interest, so perhaps it is not something that I need to do.  Of course, someone else may come along and pick it up and run with it and I would certainly bless that effort.

Choices about those things that I should do, the things that others should do, and the things that no one should do are not easy.  Guilt, frustration, and a sense of failure often conspire to make those choices difficult, but making those choices makes life much easier.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why Most Churches are Good but Not Great

In Good to Great, Jim Collins and his team sought out companies that moved from being good at what they were doing to becoming truly great.  They pointed out that “Good is the enemy of the great.”  In other words, people will praise your organization for providing quality but not exceptional products (or programs or services).  People have been abused so long by organizations that they are satisfied with good but not exceptional service.   They don’t expect anything to be “great.”   Why take the risk to move to the next level when you already have acceptable results?

I have thought recently about how many good churches there are.  These congregations provide solid preaching, well-planned worship, comprehensive Christian education, competent pastoral care, and helpful ministries, but they are not exceptional.  They are shackled by their own expectations of what church ought to be and limited in their Kingdom vision.  What keeps them from being great?

Good churches are satisfied with the acceptable rather than the exceptional. They do what is necessary to “cover all the bases” so that the community will think well of them but they rarely are willing to go to the next level and provide something that is truly exceptional. 

Good churches tend to major on minor issues. They are very concerned that things be done correctly whether those things are important or not.  They major on minors.

Good churches value security over service.  They have a low level of risk tolerance, so they are unwilling to try anything that may result in criticism from within the congregation or from the outside community.

Good churches are more concerned about maintenance than mission.  They would rather take care of what they already have than reach out to embrace the unfamiliar, fearing embarrassment or uncertainty and possible inconvenience.

Good churches would rather invest in programs than in people.  They have the mindset that the right program will answer all their problems, so they sell their members on programs rather than asking members what they need in order to fulfill God’s calling in their lives.

Good churches prefer to stay with the familiar rather than embrace innovation.  When one is innovative, there is always the possibility of failure and good churches cannot tolerate failure.

Good churches are too easily distracted.  Every immediate difficulty becomes a major problem, so they take their eyes off what is best and simply settle for maintaining what is good.  They are unwilling to “stay the course.”

My friend Bo Prosser has noted, “Very few churches will thrive in the 21st century because we are too nice to sweat, too proud to cry, too stubborn to change, too sophisticated to laugh, and too busy to celebrate.”   Just being good will not further the work of the Kingdom of God.  Unless we loosen up and respond to the leadership of the Spirit of God, we will always be good churches but never great ones.

This post originally appeared Feburary 28, 2013