Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Loud Minority

 


What is the Loud Minority? It’s that small cohort of people in your church that becomes entangled and enraged about something that doesn’t really matter. But to them, that something matters a whole lot.

The Loud Minority is well-intentioned. They have a good heart. They want to see the church do the right thing. But they have become distracted from the mission, and instead have latched their attention on a minor issue.

Every church has a Loud Minority. And they can become instantly enthralled in the most random of issues: church aesthetics, minor doctrines, mask-wearing, politics, personnel changes, small funds, or programs that died off years ago. And the worst part is that fixing their issue doesn’t solve anything, because they always find another minor thing to be upset about!

The Apostle Paul dealt with the Loud Minority too. And most likely, the problems you are dealing with can’t even shake a stick at the pettiness he put up with. Just read his letters; he was constantly dealing with the most petty, unimportant things.

People who were enraged that new Christ-followers weren’t being circumcised (Acts 15:1-5). 
People who were offended when others ate the wrong kind of meat (Romans 14:2-3). 
People who refused to share a room with persons of another culture (Galatians 2:11-14). 
People disputing that women who took off their head coverings during worship were arousing (1 Corinthians 11:13-16). 
People who thought the pastor shouldn’t be compensated for gospel work (1 Corinthians 9:3-12).

Oh, and let’s not forget the most awkward HR conversation in all of church history. Imagine the day Paul sat down with his pastoral protege, Timothy, and asked him to be circumcised so he wouldn’t offend the Loud Minority (Acts 16:3).

We can learn some lessons about how to deal with the Loud Minority from Paul’s career. He warns us to be discerning enough to recognize whether a complaint is important or just the barking of “dogs” (Philippians 2:3). He urges us leaders to be patient with them (1 Thessalonians 5:14), “putting up” with them while “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). He instructs us to walk in love, going out of our way to avoid offending someone’s personal conscience (Romans 14:15-21).

But he also tells us this: never allow the Loud Minority to distract you from the mission. The Loud Minority “has an unhealthy interest in controversies and verbal disputes,” and we are instructed to “keep away from all that.” (1 Timothy 6:4,11)

Remember this when the Loud Minority is in your ear: they are the minority. Most of your stakeholders have your back. The worst thing you can do when the Loud Minority is barking is to take your eyes off of the mission. Do this, and maybe the Loud Minority will decide to join the Missional Majority.

“But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23–26, NET)

Monday, November 2, 2020

Six COVID-Friendly Ways to Meet as a Small Group


Chances are COVID-19 has disrupted the “community life” of your group. It’s hard enough getting everyone together with busy schedules and family commitments; now you are having to figure out how to mitigate the spread of a deadly virus too! 


It’s also highly likely your group has been going in circles discussing everyone’s comfort level with meeting physically. I hope you are doing something to stop the potential spread of COVID-19 as you meet. Perhaps you’ve been meeting outdoors. That’s a great option! But now that the weather is cooling around the country, and daylight is fleeting earlier in the evening, this option is fleeting.

As you discuss meeting options with your group, here are six COVID-mindful ways to meet:

1. “Outdoor Meeting” model. This option is best, doctors tell us. But as said above the cooling weather and fleeting daylight may force your group to find a different model.

2. “Half Group” model. Few of us have a living room large enough accommodate social distancing for our entire group. Expanding our home isn’t a feasible option, but shrinking the size of people meeting is. There are a couple different ways to do this. One way is to have the men gather one week, then women the next. This works well for groups with children, as the kids can stay home with the parent not attending that week. Another way to do this is by randomly breaking the group into two and meeting in different homes, then switching people around the next meeting.

3. “Reserve a Room” model. Our church allows small groups to reserve a larger room in the church building. If this is an option for you, that would allow your group members to spread out and social distance.

4. “Double Date” model. One of the groups at our church has six couples with young children. For a season they didn’t meet altogether; instead they went on “double dates” separately (usually in their own homes over dinner). For every group meeting, a couple was paired with different couple. Here's the key: instead of just hanging out they planned very intentional conversation about their relationships, spiritual walk, and daily life.

5. “Hybrid Model” model. Your group members may be at different comfort levels. Some may be very open to meeting physically, while others are very hesitant getting together. This could potentially drive the group apart if certain group members are consistently sitting out. In the “hybrid model,” a group alternates with meeting in-person with meeting virtually. This way the group can maintain face-to-face interaction and still keep more cautious members in the group.

6. “Video Chat” model. Many groups have started meeting virtually rather than in-person to avoid spreading COVID-19. There are several options available, including Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime, and Skype.

Be sure to discuss these options, and any other creative solutions you come up with, with the rest of your group. Consensus and healthy discussion is key to keeping your group connected during a very disruptive time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Unity

 


There’s a lot to fight about these days. Mask-wearing, the economy, the presidential election, racial protests, recent Supreme Court decisions, religious freedom – all points of disagreement right now. It feels like all of us have been thrown into a giant crockpot, with these ingredients of contention piled on top. Toss in a dash of social media, a pinch of self-quarantine, two teaspoons of recession and a quarter cup of working from home. This soup is going to be awful!

More than ever before, the people within our churches are at odds with one another. Good Christian folks who, just a few months ago, saw eye-to-eye on most things. But now they are strongly opposed to one another.

We all know how important unity is among fellow Christ-followers. God’s intention is not for friends to remain “unsplit.” He wants us to remain unified. We all know that we should seek to understand one another’s point of view. We all know that we should deescalate rather than escalate an issue. We all know we should talk rather than bark. Why is it so hard to be united?

For most of us, dealing with conflict in a healthy way is not natural. We haven’t seen it modeled well. But you know what is natural for most of us?

Eating people. Instead of handling our conflict healthily, we are eating each other.

Knowing the world is filled with cannibals, the Apostle Paul wrote this:

… if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:15, NET)

Sarcasm, passive-aggressive statements, social media rants, replaying conversations in our head… this is how we devour people. Somebody always walks away with bite marks up and down their arm. But this behavior is also unhealthy for the “consumer.” Whenever we gobble up people we disagree with, we are unintentionally proving that we do not value them or their ideas. Eventually we end up surrounded by people who think just like us. That’s a dangerously ignorant place to be.

Thankfully the same writer who warned us about biting and devouring each other also offered us some better advice:

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, putting up with one another in love,
making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2–3, NET)

A part of me wishes I had never come across those two verses. Because now I’m accountable to follow them! I’m called to put up with people. I’m called to make “every effort” to maintain unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ. That is a high bar! To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever fulfilled that command. Can you think of a time when you made “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” between yourself and someone you disagree with strongly?

When conflict arises, we have two options: we can eat people we disagree with, or we can make every effort to maintain unity. Imagine a world where the followers of Jesus are known to be people who are ferocious about unity amongst themselves. They have different opinions, they disagree with each other on various issues, and they have controversial conversations, but they always leave one another with a smile and a wave, still friends. Imagine a world in which the people of God are known as a people who refuse to eat each other, and instead insist on making every effort to maintain unity.

I’m determined to be that kind of person. I hope you’ll join me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Small Group Leader, You are a Pastor



Small group leader, you are a pastor.

I tell group leaders this all the time. I’m not always sure they believe me. Or perhaps they think I’m trying to validate them or make them feel important, but I don’t really it. But if you lead a small group, I have an announcement for you: YOU ARE A PASTOR.

Maybe you’re still skeptical. “Thanks for the encouragement. It’s cute. But pastors are seminary-trained professional Christians. They preach, administer sacraments, have ministerial status from the IRS, and receive a paycheck from a church. None of that applies to me. You surely don’t really think I’m a pastor.”

Oh, but I do. And I expect you to take this seriously.

In fact, most of the pastors in the early centuries of the church did the same stuff you do as a small group leader. They had people over to their home regularly - not random people, but a small core of individuals or families who were committed to the group. They ate food, sang together, shared scripture, and prayed together. Then they spent hours in dialogue about the mission of God and the teachings of Jesus, and what that meant for them.

As they met in each other’s homes they were devoted to one another (Rom. 12:1). This means they accepted each other (Rom. 15:7), were patient with each other (Eph. 4:2), honored each other (Rom. 12:10), forgave each other (Eph. 4:32), instructed each other (Rome. 15:14), carried each other's burdens (Gal. 6:2), encouraged each other (1 Thess. 4:18), prayed for each other (James 5:16), confessed sin with each other (James 5:16), and spurred each other towards love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).

That sounds like the kind of stuff that happens with your small group. 
Or it should.

And the people who led these small groups - these gospel communities or house churches - were pastors.

Most of these pastors were employed elsewhere; they didn’t receive a paycheck from their group. They didn’t have a church office. They didn’t have a seminary degree. (They could read Greek, but that’s only because it was their native tongue.) Truth be told, none of those things are required to be a pastor.

Let’s cut to the chase. What are pastors supposed to do?

First let’s talk qualifications. Pastors are expected to be mature and trustworthy, faithful to their family, hospitable, and display blameless character (Titus 1:5-9). If you can commit to this Christ-like lifestyle, you can be a good pastor.

Next, let’s talk responsibilities. Pastors are required to be in disciple-making relationships with their people. That means the people in this group are being equipped to do ministry and make disciples as they mature into fully devoted followers of Jesus (Eph. 4:11-16). If you are willing to lead and equip your group this way, you can be a great pastor.

Finally, let’s talk roles. This is surprising to some, but the word “pastor” never occurs in your New Testament. It’s written that way in English, but the title is translated from three different Greek words: Shepherd, Overseer, and Elder. These three terms sum up the job description of an excellent pastor. A shepherd knows his flock, cares for their souls, and equips them for ministry. An overseer monitors the health of his/her people (Acts 20:28), manages the group (1 Tim. 3:1-5), and leads (Philip. 1:1). An elder exhibits model character (Titus 1:5-9) and offers spiritual guidance (1 Tim. 4:11-16).


Good pastors live Christ-like personal lives.
Great pastors equip and lead.
Excellent pastors exercise shepherding, oversight, and eldership.



It’s time to pastor

As a pastor who leads dozens of pastors, I am humbled to partner in ministry with you. I don’t know your group very well, but you can. I can’t shepherd your group, but you can. I can’t lead your group, but you can. I can’t have real, individual conversations with each person in your group about their place in the mission of God, but you can. In short, I cannot pastor your small group. Only you can do that.


Take time to meditate on or memorize the following texts. Pastoring is an awesome opportunity and an enormous responsibility.

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:28–31, ESV)


“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:5–9, NIV)


“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:1–4, ESV)


“It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16, NET)