Tag Archives: small groups

God-Imaging Christ Followers

In his book, Disciple, (Crossway) pastor and author Bill Clem plows new ground for those of us who seek to fulfill Jesus’ command to go and make disciples. Clem begins with the premise that we have all been created by God to his image-bearers: “…God created man both to image God and to be in relationship with others (with both God and humans).” (p. 17)  That may not be a new idea to most. Clem continues: “A person who is spiritually dead, separated by sin from oneness with God, is a distorted image bearer, and though there may be ways in which God is seen, the image portrayed will be seriously impaired and distorted.” (p. 18) Still haven’t seen anything new? Keep reading!

“To see Jesus on the story of God means that we look at everything God has done, including every person God has put into his script, and we discover how all image God like Jesus did.” (p. 38) “Our value in God’s eyes is not determined by what we can do above and beyond his design for us but in the inherent nature of how we function in relationship to him, to others, and his creation. It is our relationships that truly bear the image of God.” (p. 60) “We started by saying everyone images God on mission to one degree of distortion or another. If this is true, then being on mission may not be about what help you can offer as much as about partnering with unbelieving image bearers already imaging (although distorted) the God they don’t know.” (p. 72).

I take that to mean that as I serve on committees in my community, interact with city leaders and officials, or join community service groups (that may or may not be connected to my church) that the members of all of these groups were created as image bearers of God (even if they don’t acknowledge it) and they are carrying out God’s mission even if their image-bearing is distorted. So when I join them in what God is already doing through them in my community, the labor of my efforts bear the image of God and so do my relationships with these fellow image-bearers! That was new to me.

From this starting point Clem explores several implications for the Christ-follower. Here are several chapter headings:

4. Identity distortions

5. Worship

6. Worship Distortions

7. Community

8. Community Distortions

9. Mission

10. Mission Distortions

The final two chapters (11. The Plan & 12. Multiplication) are the nuts and bolts of establishing transformational discipleship relationships in your life and in your church. It’s an extremely helpful book. One that has challenged me to re-tool my worn and weary method of discipleship for something much more profound and foundational. I found this statement on pp. 65-66 to be extremely challenging for me personally: “…if someone is oriented toward imaging God, then the disciple-making process will be more transformational than an informational set of verses and lessons.” “…I don’t see how teaching people that they are image bearers of God and asking the question, “How will this action or attitude image or distort the God of the Bible?” could be more basic to the nature of living as followers of Jesus. This perspective has tone our baseline (1 John 2.6).”

Second Chair leaders: If you lead a men’s ministry or small group ministry I would encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Clem’s book and explore ways that you can implement these concepts in your ministry. If you do, let me know about your plans. It would be great to dialogue with you. If you are a small group leader this book could be helpful for you although the average small group may find the content and the assignment sections following each chapter to be deeper than most other small group materials. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing!)

Josh Harris’ “Dug Down Deep!”

Quick – what comes to mind when you hear the word “theology?” For most of us we think of academic, complicated, dry, commentary. You won’t think of any of those words while reading “Dug Down Deep” by Joshua Harris. In fact, it may take you a little while to realize that you are actually reading a theology book.

“Dug Down Deep” is a systematic theology for a new generation of Christ-followers. This is no Berkhoff, or Erickson, or even Grudem-like book (nothing wrong with any of those three – I actually own and use systematics by all three). Harris approaches theology as a narrative. As you learn more about the author’s life, his father’s life, and even the church where he serves you will also learn about salvation, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, justification, atonement, and much more.

Harris states theological concepts in very clear and understandable terms:

“When we study the doctrine of God, there should be a sense of awe in our hearts. We should be like children with a telescope under a starry night sky. Then we will be filled with amazement that Someone so great – so transcendant can be known and seen by us. We will rightly feel small and insignificant as we realize how great and powerful the God we’re beholding really is. The more you learn of who God truly is, the more incredible his invitation to know him becomes.” (p. 51)

As a second chair leader with responsibilities for small groups, discipleship,  and adult ministries I found  the Reflection and Study Guide found in the back of each copy of “Dug Gown Deep” to be a great feature. It’s a resource that could be very useful for personal or small group study. I’m considering using it with a men’s small group that I am currently forming.

I especially recommend “Dug Down Deep” for those who think they have no interest in theology or those who think that theology is too difficult (or uninteresting) for them. “Dug Down Deep” will challenge that thinking and open up a new world of appreciation for biblical theology. Along the way the reader will come to know and love God in a richer and fuller way.

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.”

I Am A Follower

It is rare when a book comes along that is truly transformational. Leonard Sweet’s I Am A Follower is one such book.

Sweet is part prophet (both foretelling and forthtelling), part annoying eccentric, part wise sage, and part poet. You can’t read Sweet without a reaction and that is certainly true in this current volume. The main subtitle is: The Way, The Truth, and Life of Following Jesus. The tiny subtitle of I Am A Follower is: It’s Never Been about Leading. That should tell you a lot abut what you will read between the covers of this book.

Sweet identifies (and I think, correctly) that for the past 3-4 decades the church in N. America has suffered from an obsession with leadership.  How many books, seminars, conferences, articles, sermons, have we heard, taught, written, or preached on the subject of leadership? I myself was a charter subscriber to Leadership Journal 35 years ago. I have embraced a mantra of creating “More disciples, more leaders, and more churches.” Everywhere you turn in the church today there is cult of celebrity around ‘successful’ leaders. And have you noticed that “successful” always means “bigger”? Always.

“One of the greatest myths about leadership is that bigger is always better. I predict that future societies will recognize the fallacy of this myth and that the three mantras for the society will be these:

  • Live more with less.
  • Make little large.
  • Upscale by downsizing.”     (p. 151)

I found that much of Sweet had to say resonated with my own recent personal pilgrimage. Over the past several years I have intentionally pursued the title of Executive Pastor. I have skills and experience that would seem to indicate that I could perform XP functions with ease. Recently I came to realize that the greater role would be to do something less! (I think this fits with Sweet’s second point above.) I am now working to spend more of my time in discipleship coaching rather than ministry administration. I will be investing in men and women to coach them to become better equipped to carry out their ministries and to grow as followers of Jesus. I don’t really see this as a diminished role – except where it would appear on an organizational chart! My desire is to return to my original ordination charge, “…to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

If you are a church leader at any level you should read this book. If you are a Christ follower at any stage in your journey you should read this book! I believe that this would make a great book for group study for church staff, board, small groups, or even couples together. I just finished reading I Am A Follower and I plan to read it again.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Review Blogger 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.”

Generous Justice

A century ago the conservative “fundamental” believers in the church came to believe that social ministries were at best a distraction from the spiritual ministry of the church if not a sign that these more liberal believers in the church had traded the true Gospel for a watered-down social gospel. This divide continued well into the 1980’s and 90’s but has recently shown signs of reversal.  Through a variety voices a new commitment to “seek justice” is emerging in churches. Timothy Keller is one of those voices.

Keller’s Generous Justice is a brief volume (189 pages) that serves as a clarion call to followers of Jesus to extend grace and justice to those in our communities who are impoverished and oppressed. In this book Keller presents a thorough and balanced study of scripture to support that call. “Like Isaiah, Jesus taught that a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart.” (p. 51).  In other words, if you don’t care about the poor your spiritual health is in serious trouble!

Especially helpful are two chapters (5 & 6) that provide a strong argument for why we should do justice (Chpt 5) and how we should do justice (Chpt 6). Ministry leaders will find these two chapters to be immensely helpful in shaping and clarifying their own journey of doing justice. Second chair leaders will be able to tap into a good resource to use when coaching and mentoring. There is also good material here for small groups to wrestle with.

I personally found the final chapter – Peace, Beauty, and Justice – to be the most helpful and motivating. As one who has used the simple word “Shalom” to sign off on most of my correspondence for the past 30 years, Keller’s description of four forms of shalom breathed new life into my use of the term. He identifies physical, emotional, social, and spiritual shalom. (p. 174).

Why should you read Generous Justice? Consider Keller’s final sentence: “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.” (p 189). The rest of the book serves as his basis for making that claim. Read it to find out if you agree or disagree with his. conclusion.

For a more extensive review of Generous Justice be sure to check out joelws.com

Are You Living the Cross Centered Life?

In his book, Living the Cross Centered Life, C.J. Mahaney reminds us the words of Paul that the cross is the only essential tenet of our faith (1 Corinthians 15.1,3). And he suggests that we face constant temptation to move away from that essential in three common areas: subjectivism, legalism, and condemnation. (p. 16). Mahaney writes:

“The message Paul had for Timothy is the same message God has for you. You need to rediscover the truth. They key to joy, to growth, to passion isn’t hiding from you. It’s right before your eyes.

It’s the gospel.” (p. 30)

Through the rest of this little book Mahaney does his best to help us come face-to-face with the purity of the Gospel and to fall in love with the reality of the grace of the Gospel.

“For when you’re deeply aware of your sin, and of what an affront it is to God’s holiness, and of how impossible it is for him to respond to this sin with anything other that furious wrath – you can only be overwhelmed with how amazing grace is.

Only those who are truly aware of their sin can truly cherish grace.” (p. 88).

In those two sentences Mahaney seems to identify the great challenge of our age: the absence of sin. As a concept, sin has been identified as a leftover from the dark ages that no longer applies to contemporary life. Perhaps a few quaint religious types still believe in sin but not the more intelligent masses. Mahaney is correct then that one will not love the gospel (or “cherish grace”) apart from an awareness of their sin.

The intellectually honest seeker of God will consider the entire gospel narrative that begins with creation, then the fall, followed by God’s relentless pursuit of mankind to reconcile and restore them to himself in that relationship that existed in creation!  In that context the harsh reality of the cross where “Jesus does’t just feel forsaken; he is forsaken” (p. 94) challenges the assertion that sin is just a quaint, outdated concept.  Jesus didn’t go to the cross because of a concept.

I appreciate Mahaney’s challenge on p. 109: “Let the cross always be the treasure of your heart, your best and highest thought…and your passionate preoccupation.”

Living the Cross Centered Life is a volume that should be part of your library and should be re-read annually.


Average Joe

Since my name is Joe I was intrigued by the title of this book and requested a copy through Watermark’s Blogging for Books program. I’m glad I did. Troy Meeder does a great job weaving real-life stories (several from his own life) about everyday, ordinary men who make an extra-ordinary impact on the lives of those around them. In a real sense, these men are heroes for today – not because of their profession or popularity – but because of their single-minded commitment to core values of honesty, integrity, and loyalty.

Average Joe is a book that all men (and especially second chair leaders) should read. If they do, they will read stories about men who work with power tools for a living, men who can navigate s small vessel through storms, men who defend liberty on the battlefield, and men who sit high in the saddle. All of these men define what it means to be a friend and brother. These are not the stories of the successful leaders of high corporations or enormous churches. These are the men you see every day in your neighborhood, riding the bus, or sitting in from to you at church. Many of them have pretty remarkable stories of what it means to lead successfully – often two or three steps behind the man or woman with the title and the corner office. Men who are living lives of “normalcy and ‘never enough’.”

I was pleased to see a brief study guide included in the book that will help small groups of men discuss these ideas and encourage one another in their pursuit of honesty, integrity, and loyalty. These are values that seem to be universally appreciated by men and so often appear in our literary heroes. However, they also seem to be universally absent in our pop-culture heroes (i.e., celebrities). That may be the main reason that this book will resonate with men. It would be a good book to use in a men’s small group or with some friends. It’s only 148 pages long so it is a pretty accessible book – even for most men.

Meeder does a good job relating these stories to the character of God and how he values (based on the biblical narrative) the ‘average Joe’s’ of this world. If you struggle with feeling ‘good enough’ for God, this book may help give you some insights to challenge that concept. If you are a second chair leader who struggles with being the guy two steps outside of the spotlight this book may help to correct your thinking and empower you to serve with a renewed sense of worth and passion.

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.”

Church Diversity

I only know Scott Williams from a distance but due to the wonders of the internet I feel like I’ve known him for years. He has a great story – one that continues to be written. In Church Diversity Scott shares much of his story with his readers. Central to that story are the complexities of the lack of diversity in the vast number of American churches. It is a point that is worth making and worth fighting to change.

I serve on a denominational board (Converge Worldwide) where we have worked hard to address the lack of diversity among our ranks. The makeup of our current board may be its most diverse ever. But with only one notable exception all of our upper level leaders are white males. The same holds true for regional directors. I’m also on a sub-committee that is planning our next national event. We are deeply committed to highlighting the diversity that exists in our churches throughout the event. But while this will celebrate diversity on one level it will not directly increase the diversity in our member churches. That is where Church Diversity comes in  –  or could.

Scott Williams very intentionally and methodically pokes a stick in the eye of the church on this topic. And he doesn’t just call out churches that are predominately white in their make-up. In chapter 3 Williams writes: “This is a wake-up call for the traditional ethnic churches, such as black, Indian, Asian, and Hispanic. The arguments that “we must remain separate because it’s about the community” or “it’s the only piece of culture that we have left” are not valid arguments. They are incongruent with who Jesus is and what the gospel is all about. Is your church preserving culture of some people or presenting the gospel to all people?”

Later Williams asks why churches use the Great Commission to justify international missions but so often fail to pursue the Great Commission (especially the ‘all nations’ part) in their own churches. He refers to this as the Great Omission.

Throughout his book Williams quotes heavily from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for good reason. Dr. King addressed the racial disparity in the church decades ago. And while we would like to believe that the ethnic diversity within our churches has changed dramatically over the past 60 years, Williams argues that it has not. To make his point he re-prints a letter written in 1954 by Dr. King and provides commentary along the way. It is a letter worth reading and re-reading.

One of the primary strengths of Williams’ book are the challenges that he presents at the end of each chapter. They  are a kind of gut-check for personal diversity that takes the information in each chapter and asks, “So what are you going to do about this?” Another strength are the video links with each chapter that would enable the book to be used for a group study.

This book is not going to be for everyone. There will be some who see diversity as a non-issue, or a cultural issue, or even as a liberal issue that doesn’t apply to the church. There are those who may still cling to a “separate but equal” approach to church. “They have their church and we have our church. What’s the problem?” To that comment I would have to reply that if that’s your position then you are the problem. When it comes to diversity in the church we can do better. We must do better.

Second chair leaders can advance diversity within the church by advocating for and championing this cause with the rest of the staff and church. When you are looking for additional paid or volunteer staff be intentional about contacting people who are not members of the majority ethnic group in your church. Some key, high visibility positions like usher, greeter, or choir member are a good place to start. But your church leadership (pastors, staff, elders, deacons) should also reflect diversity. This may be harder to achieve but be persistent. Nominate those who will bring diversity to your leadership team. Make sure your website and publications include photos that reflect the diversity in your church – or the diversity that you want to see.

What specific, intentional steps are you taking to bring diversity to your church?