YOU Can Make a Difference as WE Make a Difference Together

American Christians have been conditioned by our cultural surroundings in many ways, and none is more prominent than our shift from communal thinking to individual thinking. We love inspirational and motivational content that revolves around memyself, and I. That’s why we sell so many books about how I can be successful, how can get rich, and how I can be a better master of my own universe.

The Bible, on the other hand, speaks far more of we than of I. Two thousand years ago, Jesus gathered some ordinary misfits into a little community called the church. He trained them as his disciples, died for their sins, rose again and breathed life into them by sending his Holy Spirit. He commissioned them to go forth into every nation and share the gospel.

We usually interpret that commission individualistically. That’s why we have so many books and courses on how I can witness and share my faith. We think of evangelism as an individual enterprise and the church as merely an afterthought.

I even see a bothersome trend in church planting that encourages planters to hold off on planting a church and just “plant the gospel” and hope a church forms. So planters, without the benefit of a gathering community called the church, are winging it individually and getting discouraged after a year of waiting for fruit.

Bad News for Lone Rangers

The fact is, while God indeed chooses, uses, and blesses people in the fruitful telling of the gospel of Jesus, he does so when those individuals are in healthy community. There is no place in the body of Christ for an unattached part, or in the family of God for an estranged sibling.

Are there exceptions? Only in that God give some an apostolic, pioneering gift mix and sends them into the completely uncharted waters of the mission field, but historically these individuals have usually had a supportive church back home rooting and praying for them from a distance.

I think people want to hear about how significant their individual contributions to the world can be, but God calls us to carry out his assignments in groups, in communities called churches. In other words, YOU can make a difference in the world as WE make a difference in the world TOGETHER.

If you’re still waiting to become the rockstar at the top of your evangelical bubble, there are two things you need to know.

  1. You can’t do this by yourself.
  2. You shouldn’t do this for yourself.

It’s never been about you, or about me. It’s about him using us together to reach as many of them as we can before he comes back.

Good News for Eager Believers

This isn’t so much a word of correction as it is a word of encouragement. Have you ever felt helpless as to what to do for a hurting friend? What to say to a lost soul? How to serve an unfortunate person you meet? Here’s a plan: bring them to the community! The whole family can help!

We often miss out on the beauty of the church because we see the church as a place to show up, or an event to attend, or an institution that needs our allegiance and our money. But what if we really valued the church as a community of people on mission together to tell the good news of the cross and resurrection of Christ to the rest of the world?

On a practical level, this sometimes means inviting someone to the weekend worship gathering to observe what your faith is all about. When they do come, they see a body of people, witnessing together to the truth about God in Christ.

It may mean involving them in a small group in a home or a coffee shop. And when that happens, you’ll be involving them in an extension of the life of the local body of believers to which you belong.

It could even mean asking them to serve, in the trenches, alongside you and your church as you serve the community. There is a kinship found when we meet the needs of others together, and people who don’t yet know Jesus need to see our love-in-action.

You don’t have to do this alone. And you shouldn’t try. The church, with all of its faults and imperfections, is God’s chosen institution for telling the redemptive story of Jesus and drawing people into life in his Kingdom. We get to do this together, and we’re always better together!

58 Practices Of a Healthy Church Community

Group HugIt’s impossible for a Pastor or even a church staff to care for the spiritual, emotional, and social needs of every individual and family in a congregation. Expecting them to do so places an unscriptural and undue burden on them and creates unrealistic and bound-to-be-unmet expectations in the minds of church members. I mentioned this in a post I wrote last weekend about how I’m sorry when I let people down. In that post, I raised a question. Who then cares for the individuals within a church family? And I answered it. “The individuals do.”

The New Testament is stuffed with pertinent verses about how relationships within the body of Christ should work. We often refer to these as the “one another” passages of the Bible. According to Carl George, there are at least 58 of these “one another” challenges in the New Testament. Just read through them…

  1. “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
  2. “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
  3. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
  4. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
  5. “…Love one another…” (John 13:35)
  6. “…Love one another…” (John 15:12)
  7. “…Love one another” (John 15:17)
  8. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
  9. “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
  10. “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
  11. “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
  12. “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
  13. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
  14. “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
  15. “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
  16. “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
  17. “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
  18. “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
  19. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
  20. “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
  21. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)
  22. “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)
  23. “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
  24. “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
  25. “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
  26. “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
  27. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
  28. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
  29. “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)30. “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
  30. “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
  31. “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
  32. “Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
  33. “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
  34. “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
  35. “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
  36. “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
  37. “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)
  38. “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
  39. “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)
  40. “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
  41. “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
  42. “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
  43. “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
  44. “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
  45. “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
  46. “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)
  47. “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
  48. “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)
  49. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
  50. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
  51. “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)
  52. “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)
  53. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
  54. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
  55. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
  56. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
  57. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
  58. “…Love one another.” (II John 5)

As I said in the previous post, new believers need the care and leadership of others within the church, but as a believer grows, they begin to “own the mission” of “being the church” (or at least this is the expected path of growth and progress). Just imagine with me for a second what it would look like for a Spirit-filled church to practice even half of the one another’s on a consistent basis.

And how? How can people care for others at this level when they only see each other at church on Sunday? And that is part of the problem! We often never move beyond spectator status in the weekend service. We need to go deeper with God and with each other. I think the church becomes family as we get closer in proximity to each other, do life with each other, and relate to each other beyond Sunday’s service.

  • At the weekend gathering, we practice the one another’s very briefly and with many people.
  • In small groups, we practice the one another’s more in depth, with fewer people, and outside the service and even the group meeting.
  • One-on-one, over coffee, playing golf, or serving in a soup line with close friends, we practice the one another’s even more in depth with just one or two people.

It is the role of church leaders to try to create a church structure that opens up the capacity for the one another’s to happen, but ministry leaders can only do so much. The whole body, however, when it is fitly framed together, grows up into a mature family.

Go love one another deeply, from the heart. (It’s #46.)

photo credit: super.heavy

How to Bring Joy to Your City

The City of Vancouver
photo credit: ecstaticist

I love that part of the story of the early church in which God allows persecution to scatter the Christians from Jerusalem like ants. The Bible says that everywhere they went, they preached the gospel (see Acts chapter 8). Phillip, in particular, headed to a city in Samaria and became the earliest cross-cultural missionary. When he preached there, the citizens listened and embraced Jesus. The Bible sums it up by saying, “So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:8 NLT)

I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading Acts and other sources of early church history. I’ve found this theme to be recurring. The apostles enter a city and preach Jesus against the backdrop of creation and the story of God. People embrace Jesus and the city takes on new life.

The other reaction that happens is riots break out and people get upset, but it’s usually the established religious leadership, feeling threatened by the dethroning power of this new gospel, that stir up the crowds. As I’ve looked over the stories, from Samaria to Athens all the way to Rome, I see some recurring themes.

  • The apostles establish trust and common ground, often hearing local leaders in the synagogue before engaging.
  • They start with the story of creation (with Gentiles) and with Abraham (with Jews).
  • As they present the gospel, their message is accompanied by signs and wonders, especially with the Jews.
  • Some respond by embracing Jesus. Others reject the gospel. Everyone is free to decide without coercion.
  • Churches are formed as disciple-making, disciple-maturing, and disciple-multiplying centers.
  • Cities and cultures are transformed as people are influenced with the gospel.
  • The gospel travels beyond that city into the surrounding territories and to new fields.

As I try to learn from the early church and make application to where my church and your church exist today, I think we often bring about reactions other than joy in our cities. Sometimes we ignore the city by taking up the best land, paying no taxes, and keeping to ourselves as though we’re better than everything around us. Sometimes we imitate the city and lose any distinction as a community of Christian believers with a new, biblical code. And often, we irritate the city by shouting at all the nonbelievers who, to our dismay, don’t act like believers.

I think there’s still a way to capture the essence of apostolic mission, which infiltrates cities with the gospel as new believers develop a sense of mission in every realm in which they live. From within political structures, schools and education boards, workplaces, social services, and other realms of city life, the gospel earns a hearing and makes a difference. And in the end, great joy comes to the city.

As we work through these issues in the context of a new church plant that gathers in a movie theater and scatters all week long, we’ve developed a bit of a philosophy about how we want to transform northwest Arkansas in a positive way. Specifically, we want to…

  • Plant a church that makes the good news both visible and audible to our community.
  • Scatter throughout the community as small groups that grow spiritually and serve practically.
  • Live the gospel, love people, and share Jesus as individuals.
  • Bring down the cultural barriers that keep ethnicities separated on Sunday mornings.
  • Partner with the city’s governmental leaders to address real issues that affect local residents.
  • Partner with local charitable organizations, Christian or not, that address problems like hunger and homelessness.
  • Partner with local schools to improve education, minister to teachers, and help hurting families.
  • Partner with other local churches in kingdom-focused projects.
  • Multiply as individuals, as small groups, and as a church through new worship services, venues, locations, and autonomous daughter church plants.
  • Minister to the hurting, the broken, the mentally ill and emotionally unhealthy through counseling and recovery ministries.
  • Support families, not by replacing parents as disciplers, but by supplementing and aiding parents in the discipleship process.

Is there more? Sure. This is not some to-do list or official statement we’ve adopted. And it’s not comprehensive. It’s just a list of priorities that I, as Lead Pastor, am thinking through continually.

I love northwest Arkansas with my whole heart. I loved living in Kentucky, and I definitely loved the humidity-free beach culture of southern California. But the Bentonville-Rogers area is my city. It’s my home. and I want to bring great joy to every neighbor I possibly can.

Today, after the morning service was over, a single Mom came to let me know that after struggling to feel at home in any church setting, she and her daughter agreed they had found a home at Grace Hills. I love that! That’s the joy of just one person who finds life in the gospel and in a church family. May that joy spread and not stop spreading until Jesus comes again!

8 Reasons to Take a Sunday to Serve Outside the Church Walls

Ella ServingWe called ours We Love NWA because that’s how people refer to our community. Whatever you call it, we’re glad we took a weekend away from having a worship service in our theater to serve our neighbors. We’re not the first, by any means to have a weekend to “be” the church instead of “doing” church. Other churches have cancelled their regular weekend worship time to go serve in various capacities. But why?

As we geared up for our big weekend, contacted local charitable organizations, and signed up volunteers, we kept the conversation going among our leadership about why we were doing this to begin with. Ultimately, we decided the concept reflected the culture of our church very well, and would accomplish some big goals for us. Let me clarify first, however, the reasons we ruled out:

  • We will not do this simply to attract attention. Attention is valuable, but is never the big goal.
  • We will not do this to “get people to come to church.” It wasn’t about serving in hopes of the return favor of a visit.
  • We will not do this to “take a break” from worship. If this isn’t worship, nothing is.

Instead, taking a Sunday to serve outside the walls might be a good idea because…

  1. It’s what Jesus did and would do, if He were physically still among us. He would love and serve people in tangible ways.
  2. It’s a break for people who devote time “within the walls” to be free to go outside the walls, which is where our bigger focus lies.
  3. It’s an introduction to serving, and we heard repeatedly, “I’d like to do this more often, not just on this Sunday.” Bullseye!
  4. It gives us a chance to practice “with reach.” That is, we can serve alongside non-members and even non-believers, creating community so that people can belong, even before they believe.
  5. It’s a bonding time for the people serving together on a project.
  6. It’s a way to communicate that “giving” involves more than the offering plate. It also involves our time and talents.
  7. It blesses people around us, earning the church a bit of trust for the hearing of the gospel when the door opens.
  8. It’s fun. This wasn’t our primary motive, but it was certainly fun!

This was our first experience with this kind of project. All in all, 108 volunteers gave 371 hours to eight different community service projects. That thrills me, and it made a definite, visible impact on our community and helped us to build relationships with local agency leaders. Would we do it again? Absolutely! And we will, next year!


Doing Discipleship Post-Resurrection Style

Sermon on the MountI’ve heard plenty of talk about discipleship and multiplication recently, and it usually goes something like this…

If you want to make disciples the way Jesus wants, you have to do it the way Jesus did it. And Jesus, in His earthly ministry, chose only a few people, weeded out those who weren’t true followers, and avoided letting crowds follow him. Therefore, discipleship is one-on-one, takes a year and a half, and doesn’t involve seeing masses of people come to know Him.

If you’re arguing that the model of true discipleship is found in Jesus’ earthly ministry, you’re forgetting a few vital facts.

  • Jesus invited, accepted, and received tons of people who weren’t counted among the twelve.
  • Jesus was very intentionally laying the foundation for the church, which really took off after his earthly ministry was over, and now serves as God’s “plan A” for the discipling of the nations.
  • Jesus’ earthly ministry was not the end of His ministry. He was alive and well on Pentecost where He proceeded to add 3,000 souls to the church, all at once.
  • Jesus was alive and well when He empowered the first missionary movements under Paul which put whole towns in uproar and eventually disturbed Rome, the capital of ancient culture.
  • Jesus inspired the epistles, which provided structure for a young and rapidly spreading church.
  • When Jesus talked about the future of the kingdom, He compared it to a mustard seed becoming the largest tree in the garden and a tiny bit of leaven which would spread to fill the earth.
  • Jesus spent a lot of time with a few people, but then commissioned those people to tell the whole planet about Him, empowered them by sending the Holy Spirit, and promised that they would do even “greater works” than He had done (in my interpretation, referencing the great commission).

So what can we learn from Jesus’ earthly ministry? Let me be clear – there is nothing wrong, and everything right about spending a great deal of time with a few people whom we are mentoring. But to dogmatically proclaim this as THE way Jesus wants discipleship done is to ignore the rest of the New Testament, to minimize the role of the larger church community, and to reduce the level of faith we place in the Comforter who is fully capable of growing new believers into mature followers.

In other words, to argue that Jesus’ earthly ministry is the ultimate model for disciple-making is to focus only on His pre-resurrection ministry. But we serve a risen Savior who is in the world today. And it seems He has been doing some pretty big things since He sent His original posse of twelve to turn the world upside down.

Keep doing one-on-one discipleship. It’s vital. But don’t knock big movements that seek for the larger church context to occupy a central role in the discipling of the nations.

6 Goals of An Effective Small Group Ministry

CommunityWe haven’t officially launched our small group ministry at Grace Hills yet. I’ve done plenty of reading, researching, and consulting the minds of some of the nation’s foremost small groups thinkers.

What I’ve discovered is that there is a broad variety of approaches to small group ministry, many tempered by the experiences of individual churches. I’m sure the same will be true of us. We will adapt our approach over time as we learn what works and what doesn’t. I do know, however, at least six key foundational principles that we will live by as we craft the DNA of our church’s community life…

We will grow larger (in our corporate worship) and smaller (through small groups) at the same time.

You may have heard this statement before. I first heard it from Pastor Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church. The reason I re-state it here is that it not only speaks to the different nature of our two primary gathering-types – it also suggests a very simple church structure. We aren’t going to try to make disciples using Sunday night discipleship ministries, Wednesday night prayer meetings, and Sunday School. We’re keeping it simple. We grow larger as we gather corporately and smaller as we gather in small communities.

We will balance the five purposes in group and individual life (worship, evangelism, ministry, fellowship, discipleship).

There is a strong trend today toward “missional communities.” I like it. I especially love some of the stories I’ve heard of missional communities (formerly known as small groups) making a huge impact on their surrounding cultures and communities. But if the great commission and the great commandment give us five prime objectives (or purposes) then I want our small groups to be arenas for growth in all five of those purposes.

We want our groups to grow in all five purposes, practicing them weekly. But we also want individuals to be able to gauge their own growth in each of the five areas as well, and to be able to measure that growth in the context of a small group community for the purpose of encouragement and accountability.

We will empower people to lead from their potential before they are trained experts.

We aren’t looking for Bible scholars who have earned seminary doctorates to lead small groups. Instead, we’re looking for people who are faithful, available, and teachable and who want to grow as leaders. In fact, we aren’t looking for small group leaders alone, although we do want to make room for those with the gift of teaching. We also want hosts who simply know how to serve brownies, press the play button on a DVD player, and love on people.


We will align the whole church family with sermon-based small groups.

We will grow deeper in the Word together as a church. We will raise our faith and our generosity together as a church. We will concentrate on particular disciplines, doctrines, and biblical topics together as a church family. How can we do this as we grow larger? By utilizing small groups, through which we’re growing smaller at the same time. We will stay on the same page, initiate campaigns, and stick with one another throughout the church family.

On a practical note, every sermon I preach has been whittled down from an over-abundance of material. As I’m preparing the message for Sunday, I will also be simultaneously preparing a discussion sheet and a short teaching video for distribution over the internet and by DVD to group hosts for the following week’s discussion.

We will grow by creating entry points for new groups, not by disrupting community life.

Yes, I believe in multiplication. But I also see that some leaders will naturally draw a larger number of people to themselves and I don’t want to penalize that kind of leadership by forcing cell division where it doesn’t naturally occur. So our approach will not be to divide existing groups at a certain growth point. Rather we will create a culture of multiplication within the church that constantly challenges people to be receptive to God’s calling to go and host new groups. And we will heavily utilize entry points such as sermon series’, holidays, campaigns, and our life matters classes to continually be birthing new groups.

We will cultivate disciples rather than creating passive spectators.

I want us to communicate, out of the gates, that small groups are more than a Bible study. They are a time for mutual sharpening and challenging. Groups will be challenged, trained, and assisted in moving outside the walls of a single home to love and serve a community. They will also be challenged to do ministry within the group, taking care of needs that often go unmet in the larger gathering.

I don’t know it all. In fact, small groups is probably my weakest area of leadership right now, so I’m going to lean heavily on some leaders whom God will provide us as well as some of the sharpest small groups thinkers I know such as Steve Gladen, Ron Wilbur, Brett Eastman, Mark Howell, Ben Reed, Larry Osborne, and Rick Howerton, all of whom have helped me with advice so far in planting Grace Hills.

I’m open to learning, but as I’ve studied various models and approaches, these six goals align well with the core values from which we are planning on launching a robust small group ministry. What did I miss?

Small Groups With Purpose: How to Create Healthy Communities

Small Groups With Purpose: How To Create Healthy CommunitiesThere are, in every industry, certain books that serve as cornerstones – manuals of the trade, if you will. If you want to fix a car, you buy a Chilton’s Guide. If you’re working in any psychology-related field, you need a DSM-IV manual. And if you’re in small group ministry, ministry leadership, or you simply want your own small group to thrive, you need to have the new industry standard manual, Small Groups with Purpose: How to Create Healthy Communities.

Steve Gladen, Pastor of Small Groups and Spiritual Maturity at Saddleback Church since 1998, has just released the very book I’ve been hoping for. He addresses the biblical foundations of community, group life, discipleship, and how small groups relate to the larger church context. According to Gladen, “A healthy small group is a community of people who challenge each other to become all that God destined them to become.” That is certainly the goal, but as Steve points out, “unless you know what the target is, you can’t hit it.”

But this book doesn’t stop with the foundation, Steve continues onward to help any church leader build an entire small group ministry. He presents the spiritual growth assessment tools and paradigm graphics that have shaped Saddleback’s small group ministry to number well over 4,500 groups and 30,000 people. He covers the five purposes and demonstrates how each can be woven into the fabric of small group life.

Good books answer good questions, anticipating the needs of the reader in advance. Steve devotes the latter part of his book to doing just that. Should you use Sunday School or small groups? How can you recruit more group hosts? What do you do with kids? How do you practice the purpose of worship in the setting of a small group? These are the kinds of questions I’ve asked repeatedly and answers are sometimes tough to find. Steve Gladen provides them and answers many more pertinent questions as well.

Small Groups with Purpose is written by the industry’s thought leader on the subject, but it’s written for leaders at every level. I would put in at the top of my list of “must have” resources for beginning group leaders, Pastors, and everyone in between who is or hopes to be involved in small group ministry. Now that it’s on the market, it’s indispensable. Get it. Read it. Mark it up, and apply it so that you can begin creating healthy communities today!

Grab a Copy