Category Archives: Structure

Pragmatic Theology

Jesus left his followers with the commission to, “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  That’s a pretty tall order in itself.  It’s even harder when you wrestle with the two parts that you need to get right.  There’s teaching and there’s obeying (application).

Jesus says it another way in a parable:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Matthew 7:24-27

Once again, there are two important parts to teaching and theology – the “hearing” and the “putting into practice.”  You’re not built on a rock until you’ve done both with God’s words.

Here’s the dilemma for any pastor, teacher, or anyone who’s doing their best disciple others toward Jesus: where do you put the emphasis?  Some fill heads well with Bible knowledge, but might not produce people who act more like Jesus at the end of the day.  Others cut to the point of smiling more and being at peace, but it might not have much integrity in the gospel truths we find alone in Jesus.  “Balance” sounds like the easy answer, but every time I prepare and share a message, I’m making intentional choices to emphasize the teaching to some extent and the application to another.  Balance might not even be the right answer!

Think about this… Continue reading

Total Church Book Review

Just finished Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.  I thought it was a great read.

The paradigm these authors represent is that everything in the Christian life has to be done in community.

What they present is in fact more “radical” than just making sure you’re in a weekly small group or Bible study.  Theology, Parenting, Apologetics, Evangelism, Church Planting, Pastoral Care – all of these things happen in collaboration in a side-by-side relationship with other people following Jesus.

My favorite example came from evangelism.  Instead of just talking out key issues together, doing key issues together is key.  Possibly the best outreach content is giving people the opportunity to observe or experience the love and sacrifice going on within the family of Christ.  Yes, words still need to be shared, but what they see would be as powerful as the words… not to mention that it would help the words make sense!  One-on-one personal outreach is not the most effective route.

In short, church is not another thing to juggle in your busy life, it’s a community that juggles everyday life together.

Why Triad’s for Discipleship?

Greg Ogden’s book, Transforming Discipleship, is an outstanding look at Biblical models of discipleship, followed by a contemporary “triad” model that condenses the Biblical approach.  His “triad” proscription is the perfect complement to the discipleship taking place in small group setting.  My only critique is that his specific systems and curriculum suggestions take away much of the organic nature these relationships could have.

Ogden encourages same-sex triads.  He emphasizes triads because pairs foster hierarchy/dependency, and limit interaction/varying perspectives.  He encourages these relationships to be same-sex, due to the intimate nature that is fostered.

Ogden boasts a 75% multiplication rate for triads, while pairs rarely multiply.  Page 137 is a nice diagram showing how one disciple who disciples another to disciple another every year will bypass and blow away an evangelist’s reach in 12 years even if they reach a new soul daily.

Three ingredients that need to take place in the triads to make them transforming environments include: 1) Transparent Trust (Safety and Affirmation fosters Confession and therefore Repentance), 2) God’s Truth (Corrects, Directs, Trains), and 3) Mutual Accountability (Support and Challenge).

Group Planting?

Is there such a thing as Small Group Planting?

Typically, small groups are multiplied by 1) an apprentice leader being sent out from an existing group, 2) an apprentice leader staying with the existing group while the original leader gets sent out, 3) sub-grouping (hosting smaller groups within a growing mid-sized group), or 4) an apprentice group (often called “turbo groups”) spending a short season together for the purpose of disbanding with each member founding a new group.

I am an advocate for all four, but have been brainstorming with a peer (Joe McFadden) for other possible outlets.  I have found myself Pastoring at a Church (Brooklife) that is experiencing a rapid season of growth.  I and other group leaders at my church have invested nine months of hard work toward apprenticeship and multiplication, but appear to have come up a bit short.  If of our Fall registration is as I anticipate, in a matter of weeks, our handful of new groups will be quickly overwhelmed; and most of our existing groups will be filled to the brim.

What about group planting?  The Apostle Paul parachuted into some regions with the gospel, and left as early as three weeks later with a church in place.  Theses churches needed ongoing coaching, but they were functional churches.  If you can plant a working church in three weeks, I’m pretty sure we could do the same with groups.

In my final month at a prior church, we planted a group.  There was a clear pocket of people where community and formation could occur (aka, small group).  However, no one was ready to take the lead.  After some dialog with each potential group member, I volunteered to the lead the group for three weeks, on faith that God would raise up a leadership solution by the end of that time.  God did, and now over a year later, I’ve received word several states away that this group has been thriving well and are praising God for what they share together.

I am still trusting God for new leaders and new groups to emerge this month.  If they don’t come in from other sources, I think Joe and I may be called to roll up our sleeves and plant a few groups.

Xenos Conference Video Debrief #4 – Brian on Committed Churches

Xenos Conference Video Debrief #3 – Joe and Phil on New People in Groups

Summer Small Groups

Summer is coming and it’s time to get our groups ready.  Do we keep meeting or take a break?  Do we do the same thing as always, or play it low key?  If we keep meeting, will anyone show up?

Here’s some observations I’ve gained over the years to help you wade through the decisions.

  1. Keep meeting unless there is a reason not to.  If everyone is available and interested, keep meeting like you normally would.  Groups are made-up of relationships.  Relationships shouldn’t stop with season changes.  I suggest projecting a tentative schedule, asking members to forecast their availability, and make cancellations to the schedule based on what you hear back. 
  2. Mix up the format, but keep the spiritual direction.  It’s summer in Wisconsin, and we’ve got to make the most of it while it lasts!  Do some things with the group that you can’t during the rest of the year – picnics, tail-gates, days at the lake, camping trips, etc…  You’re looking for atmospheres that enhance the relationships.  However, in the midst of all the fun, don’t neglect the spiritual direction.  Even if you’re not doing a formal study or discussion, plan a few choice spiritual topics to insert into your times together.  If you lose your sense of spiritual direction by just doing socials, it’s tough to get it back in the Fall.
  3. If you take a break, don’t go cold-turkey.  If you survey the group members, and find that there are too many conflicts to continue the regular schedule, don’t kiss the summer goodbye altogether.  At the bare minimum, I suggest meeting through mid-to-late June on the regular schedule, taking July and August off with one really well planned party during that window, and then resuming the first or second week of September.  By my observation, most groups that have taken a two-three month summer break never regain their momentum – they tend to limp through the Fall and Winter, and die the following Spring. 
  4. If your group started in the spring, you can’t take a break.  If you haven’t been meeting as a group for at least four months, you don’t have enough momentum to take a break at all.  Even if more than half the group can’t make it, I suggest keeping the gatherings rolling.
  5. Prep for the Fall.  No matter what you choose to do with the group, the nature of doing summer House Groups is likely to offer some lighter down-time for your leadership role.  I’ve found it helpful to use this downtime to prep for the Fall.  Grab a new study guide to preview, or exegete a book of the Bible you’d like to take the group through.  Strengthen some relational ties with people you’d like to invite to the group.  Pray through the direction of your group and consider revisions that would help you align the group more toward God’s goals for their lives.