Tag Archives: small groups

Are You Taking the Summer Off?

I write this on the final day of Spring 2017. Summer makes it’s entrance today around 9:30pm. With it comes hope of warm sunny days, vacations, and lots of time spent outside. It would be easy to get caught up in the celebration of summer while ignoring the reality of fall lurking just around the corner. We want to make room for kayaking, hiking, road trips, and back-yard barbecues. But a successful fall hinges on a productive summer. Taking time to establish some SMART goals and corresponding steps during this season will help prepare you for the next one.

For example, at Journey Church we launched fifteen Journey Groups (small groups) with 150 adults in September 2016. Journey Groups are essential to accomplishing our mission of “Helping people take the next in their spiritual Journey.” By September 2017 we hope to launch five more groups (for a total of 20 groups) reaching 200 adults. This goal is Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-sensitive. Several steps are required to successfully accomplish this goal. Here’s a sampling of some of those steps:

  • Evaluate each existing group with individual group leaders.
  • Determine each leaders commitment to lead this fall.
  • Obtain names of apprentice leaders who are ready to lead their own group.
  • Recruit new leaders.
  • Schedule and communicate leader’s training sessions.
  • Establish and promote the Journey Groups schedule.

What additional steps would you recommend?
What’s your SMART goal for this fall?

Take a few minutes today to begin thinking through your goals for fall and the steps you will take this summer to achieve those goals. Then go outside and enjoy the summer sun!

(Summer is a great time to get some coaching! Imagine how investing time in getting coached will pay dividends this fall. Contact me here and let’s start the conversation.)

 

God Wants You To Be Holy

Every once in a while you hear about a book that someone reads every year. Screwtape Letters, Elements of Style, My Utmost for His Highest, or The Complete Calvin and Hobbs.  The Hole In Our Holiness will certainly make the annual reading list for thousands who take following Jesus seriously.

Kevin DeYoung makes the case for a holiness deficit in the N. American church with three penetrating questions:

1) In Romans 16.9 Paul writes, “Your obedience is known to all.” DeYoung asks, “Is this even what you want to be known for? (p. 12)

2) Based on Rev 21-22 heaven is a holy place. DeYoung asks, “If you dislike a holy God now, why would you want to be with him forever?…..You would not be happy there if your are not holy here.” (p. 15)

3) Are we Great Commission Christians? “The Great Commission is about holiness. God wants the world to know Jesus, believe in Jesus, and obey Jesus.” (p. 16)

What follows is a thoughtful book on our responsibility and the necessity of our cooperation in the pursuit of holiness and the inherent perils in that pursuit. He addresses the importance of understanding the gradation of sin: “When we can no longer see the different gradations among sins and sinners and sinful nations, we have not succeeded in respecting our own badness; we have  cheapened God’s goodness.” (p. 72). When we get complacent in the pursuit of holiness DeYoung warns “…some Christians are stalled out in their sanctification for simple lack of effort. …. And they need to fight, strive, and make every effort to work out all that God is working in them.” (p. 90)

Chapter 7 is an important and profound treatment of the doctrine of our union with Christ. This chapter alone is worth the modest price of this fine book! Here’s just one example of DeYoung’s pointed and powerful writing: “In effect God says to us, ‘Because you believe in Christ, by the Holy Spirit I have joined you to Christ. When he died, you died. When he rose, you rose. He’s in heaven, so you’re in heaven. He’s holy, so you’re holy. Your position right now, objectively and factually, is as a holy, beloved child of God, dead to sin, alive to righteousness, and seated in my holy heaven – now live like it.” (p. 105). That will preach! And it will provide great encouragement to those who struggle to live up to their calling every day.

Toward the end of the book DeYoung clearly identifies the importance of personal holiness: “We think that relevance and relate-ability are the secrets to spiritual  success. And yet, in truth, a dying world needs you to be with God more than it needs you to be “with it.” That’s true for me as a pastor and true for you as a mother, father, brother, sister, child, grandparent, friend, Bible study leader, computer programmer, bank teller, barista, or CEO. Your friends and family, your colleagues and kids – they don’t need you to do miracles or transform civilization. They need you to be holy.” (p. 145).

It’s a short trip from holiness to legalism and we are often either very eager to make that trip or take just 1 or 2 wrong turns and end up at a destination that is not where we intended to go. What DeYoung writes in The Hole In Our Holiness can be very prescriptive and preventative in keeping us on the road to holiness. Don’t miss the last paragraph. It might be the most powerful paragraph in the entire book!

As a coach and second chair leader I recommend this book to all who want their lives to reflect the reality of their union with Jesus Christ. Personally, I found this short book to be filled with balanced and accurate interpretations of what the Bible teaches on the topic of personal holiness. The thoughtful reader will find plenty of encouragement and challenging motivation from it. And if you don’t have a book that you read annually, I would encourage you to make The Hole In Our Holiness that book.

Why Holiness Matters

First-time author, (and current seminarian) Tyler Braun takes an impassioned stand for a new approach to biblical holiness in “Why Holiness Matters – We’ve Lost Our Way But We Can Get it Back” (Moody, 2012). His main thought is: “Holiness is not new behaviors. It is new affections.” (p. 12)

Written by a millennial creative for millennials, Tyler shares his compelling personal story of his holiness journey. It is a story that most readers – millennials or not – will be able to relate to on many levels. How many of us have chased some degree of personal holiness by pursuing new habits (disciplines) that are supposed to (we hope) give birth to holiness? It only takes a few days to discover that we lack the holiness to maintain those disciplines. After a few false starts we usually just give up trying. Little did we know that giving up was just the place we need to be! What we really need is not more studies, more small groups, more classes, or more sermons – we need hearts that are turned toward Jesus. He is the source of our holiness.

“A relationship with Jesus that begins with anything other than the penetrating love he has for us becomes a duty-filled, contractual relationship. We begin to think of all the blessings we’ll receive when we do what we believe he desires. But a relationship with Jesus that begins with his love and fills our hearts and lives, becomes a relationship of affection. We do what we believe he desires because we love him, not for any prosperity or blessing that might come our way.” (p. 69)

I believe that Tyler has hit a home run (an analogy that he will appreciate) on his first at bat! “Why Holiness Matters” is a book that has all of the potential of becoming a classic – a clearly stated fundamental shift in status quo thinking; numerous quotes – from sentences to full paragraphs – that will be quoted and referred to in other blogs, books, articles, sermons, etc.; a compelling story that connects the reader with the author; and a desire by the reader to re-read the book.

Here is a sampling of the quotes that I think will be used heavily in other works:

“Holiness is not an outcome of perfect living, sin management, rule following, or right doctrine.” (p. 135)

“The holiest of lives would no longer make sense if God did not exist.” (p. 135)

“Holiness begins in us by following Jesus and allowing him to apprehend us through his love, not for the sake of wealth, strength, or power, but for the sake of becoming a reflection (the imago Dei) of who he is.” (p. 158)

I highly recommend reading and re-reading “Why Holiness Matters.”

You can read more about Tyler Braun and Why Holiness Matters on his blog:  manofdepravity.com

 

the Anxious Christian

I was eager to read “the Anxious Christian” by Rhett Smith. I’ve heard him speak live and have read many of his blog posts. I think his has a lot of important and helpful things to say about faith and living whole and healthy lives – spiritually, emotionally, and physically. And beside, with Jon Acuff writing the forward you know that there had to be some witty stuff that you could use in your next blog or sermon!

I also wanted to learn more about the intersection of anxiety and faith. Like you, I have a personal reason to want to learn more about how to nurture and respond to anxious people. Much of what Rhett had to say was helpful in that regard. He proposed a new way of looking at anxiety. Rather than the all-too-familiar response of well-meaning Christians that anxiety is a sign of spiritual immaturity, Rhett suggests that God may use anxiety to cause us to trust him more! His development of this concept alone is worth getting your hands on this book.

There are some pretty good discussion questions at the end of each chapter that can guide the reader into taking some positive steps toward implementing helpful habits and actions in their lives. They could also be beneficial to a family our group that read the book together. A few times I felt that the material got a little too clinical but overall it was very accessible and practical.

Smith focuses on anxiety that rises up from a point of embarrassment about an inability to perform or function at a certain level. (“I can’t do that! I’ll fail!” He uses his personal experience of stuttering as an example.) That is a very common point of origin but I was hoping to see something about anxiety that rises from a point of fear that something is going to go wrong that is completely out the control of the individual. (“What if something bad happens?”) I wanted to know how I can encourage that person and help give them hope.

I would recommend “the Anxious Christian” for most people. You may be a teacher, a church staff member, or the spouse or parent or friend of an anxious person. Or you may be that anxious person, yourself. “the Anxious Christian” is worth the read. I found his approach and advice to be very thoughtful, balanced, and practical – something that is not easy to do with this subject.

Chazown

Craig Groeschel defines “Chazown” as: “dream” or “revelation” or “vision.” He asserts that we all need vision to  do what God has created us to do. He identifies four things that vision brings to our lives: focus, endurance, peace, and passion (p.12). Beginning with the end in mind, Groeschel takes the reader on a journey of discovering their personal Chazown.

Part field guide, part workbook, Chazown is a practical manual for developing and identifying God’s vision for your life. Along the way you will do some writing as you wrestle with a variety of clarifying exercises the author presents. As you walk through these 76 short chapters you will refer back  to those exercises and further clarify and modify them.

At about the half-way point of the book Groeschel identifies five spokes of your personal Chazown as:

1. Your relationship with God

2. Your relationship with people

3. Your financial health

4. Your physical health

5. Your life’s work

A brief self-inventory on page 106 helps you consider one of two options. You can either focus on one of the five spokes and develop an action plan to address it or you can develop action plans on all five spokes. A section is devoted to each spoke. If you are going to just look at one at a time then this is where you skip ahead to that specific section. (You can always come back to the other sections!)

I believe that most people will find Chazown to be helpful – especially if they feel that something is missing in their lives and they are looking for direction and meaning. This is not a book that you just read and then set aside. There is a fair amount of work that one must do to fully benefit from it. There are tons of additional resources located at http://www.chazown.com that will help you. You might find the 4-session group guideline included in the back of the book to be the best way for you to process what you’ve read. But whether you make this journey alone or with others, Chazown will help you bring clarity and direction to your life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Gospel of Yes

Mike Glenn makes a significant contribution toward bringing clarity back to a simple Gospel message that has been buried by confusion and clutter in recent decades. How many of us have come to understand the Gospel as “the Gospel plus?” Plus a dress code, plus a list of do’s and don’ts, plus a certain translation of the Bible. Enough already!

Glenn begins our journey toward a simpler Gospel with words like these found on p. 12:

“When you accept the “yes” of Christ’s redemptive grace and respond with the “yes” of faith, everything finds its rightful place. Your life finds order, meaning, and the right fit in your community. Finally you can relax in who God created you to be. If a decision before you doesn’t serve your “yes” in Christ, then the response is ‘no.'”

A few pages later Glenn adds: “”Saying ‘yes’ allows you to focus on what matters.” (p. 17)

Somewhere along the way we began defining God’s love and grace and the heart of the Gospel in negative terms. Certainly God is against some things. The same things we are all against. Things like stealing, lying, murder, adultery, etc. Those are terribly destructive behaviors that God (and all of us) should be against. But  this fascination with defining the Gospel in negative terms has been destructive, too.

“For far too many of us, Christianity has been narrowed down to sin management. Sure, we all want to get to heaven. But under the sin-management paradigm, getting to heaven is no longer about Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and his invitation to follow him in new life. The focus on sin makes getting to heaven a matter of keeping score.” (p. 26)

Hang around church for more than just a few years and you will know all about keeping score. I’ve had people hand me a bulletin from the church they visited while they were on vacation so that I would know that they went to church. Have to keep that perfect attendance streak intact! We are consumed with avoiding wrong behavior and we excel at letting people know what we are against!

“Simply not doing wrong isn’t enough. Being against sin isn’t the same as being for Christ.” (p. 27)

But ask the typical co-worker, neighbor, or unchurched relative to describe the Christians they know and odds are that they will begin with a list of things they think that Christians are against: drinking, dancing, same-sex marriage, movies, public schools, voting democrat!

“We have concluded that avoiding hell is more important that following Christ in any practical, daily, risky way. So we shut ourselves off from the world and the God who created it. This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is such a shock to many Christians. We assumed Jesus would come to earth and say “no.” We never expect him to preach “yes.” But his message should not come as a surprise. He came, he said, to preach the message of his Father, and his Father has been saying “yes” all along. The champions of our faith – Abraham, David, Mary, and all the rest – are simply those who heard and believed the “yes” of God in Jesus. They heard the same “yes” that God spoke to call creation itself to life.

And we are invited to hear that same “yes” today.” (p. 34)

Glenn takes these basic concepts and applies them in various ways. He addresses the “yes” in creation, in the cross, and in the resurrection. He challenges his readers to consider the “yes” of forgiveness, of authentic relationships, of simplicity, and more.  If reading these excerpts from “The Gospel of Yes” have grabbed your attention then I would encourage you to read the rest of the book. There’s a simple discussion guide included in the back of the book that covers the 15 chapters in 7 sessions. “The Gospel of Yes” could be read individually, used in a small group, or with your church staff or leadership group. It is a book that should be read by all those who seek to follow Jesus and those who have grown weary of keeping score.

Man Alive!

Are you a mentor? Are you a men’s small group leader? Do you disciple men? Here’s a really good book to check out if you lead or are involved in ministry to men. Patrick Morely has been producing resources for men and men’s ministries for years. This latest book from Morley may be his best to date.

In eight chapters and just 184 pages Morley lays out a model for an 8-week study – ideally with a small group of men. In chapters2-8 he zooms in on a separate “primal need” that I think most men will identify with:

2- To feel like I don’t have to go through life alone.

3 – To believe – really believe-that God knows. loves. and cares about me personally.

4-To believe that my life has a purpose – that my life is not random.

5-To break free from the destructive behaviors that keep dragging me down.

6-To satisfy my soul’s thirst for transience, awe, and communion.

7- To love and be loved without reservation.

8-To make a contribution and leave the world a better place.

Each chapter includes a few questions for reflection and discussion.

I personally found chapter 8 – “How A Man Makes His Mark” – to be interesting and helpful. Morley describes the final ‘primal need’ like this:

“Every man feels a deep need to make a difference, to make his life count, and to leave the world a better place. Yet in the crush of daily duties, this powerful need often gets misdirected or ignored.” (p. 164.)

Morely adds this observation:

“I’d say that 90% of Christian men don’t go much further than professing faith. They’re saved but stuck – inside the stadium but not in the game. Their lives seem pointless, and they hate it.” (p. 165)

I’ve seen this so many times. Men going through the motions of being a Christian. They go to church most Sundays but don’t become engaged in the worship or the message. They don’t sing and barely remember a single point of the message by the time they pull out of the parking lot. They’re not in a small group and they don’t have any real friends in the church. They attempt to find meaning and significance in their work, their hobbies, or through their favorite professional sports team.

At the age of 55 I look ahead to the next 10-12 years of full-time ministry. I’m not content to go through the motions of life and ministry for those years. I want desperately to make a difference for the Kingdom. I want to see men transformed by the Gospel so that their lives have meaning and significance. I want to see men become the men they really want to be – better husbands, better dads, better men.  That’s why I lead 3 separate men’s groups, am coaching 3 men, and am working to develop a full-throttle men’s ministry team. I believe that introducing me to “Man Alive” will help me accomplish those goals.

Check out the Man Alive website for more resources.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”