Rethinking the Way We Do Church

Photo by Nathan Ansell on Unsplash

COVID-19 has turned the way the church functions upside-down. To reduce the virus spread, many church buildings are closed and have shifted to online services. Is this a good thing or not? Can we truly worship God when we can’t gather together in the usual manner? Are online services much worse than actual services? Should we just bide the time till we can gather together?

I believe this passage speaks to this very issue.

The Israelites returned from exile to their homeland which was destroyed by the Babylonians. The first thing they wanted to do was to rebuild the temple so they can resume their worship service to God. We read at the start:

In early autumn, when the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled in Jerusalem with a unified purpose.

Ezra 3:1

They had a “unified purpose” which was to rebuild the temple. Even though they had fear of the inhabitants around them, they bravely carried on the rebuilding process. They teach us that we must bravely rebuild the church service even it is online or some other vehicle. Moaning and complaining about the current situation will not help. Taking action does.

When the temple foundation was laid, there was a great celebration! I want to focus on these few verses:

…Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid.

But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.

Ezra 3:11b-13

This is a fascinating account. Some were celebrating while others were weeping! How could this be? We are told that some of the older priests who had seen the glory of the previous temple before it was destroyed wept at the sight of the new temple. They knew it could never compare to King Solomon’s temple. Of course it couldn’t! They held on to the past glory and it stopped them from truly worshiping at that moment.

However, the younger people were celebrating because they never experienced worship in a temple before since they were born during the exile. They embraced the new experience.

Even the prophet Zechariah was sent to remind the Israelites not to despise the new temple though it might have been less glorious. We read:

Then another message came to me from the Lord: “Zerubbabel is the one who laid the foundation of this Temple, and he will complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me. Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”

Zechariah 4:8-10

I love that phrase – Do not despise these small beginnings! Why? Because the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. This has serious implications for us today.

With the spread of Covid-19 in our world, many churches are closed and forced to conduct online services. It is a whole new digital landscape for church goers. Just like the Israelites, some mourn the loss of worshiping in a physical church building. Others celebrate the opportunity to worship in whatever manner it may be.

It will never compare to the previous way that church has be run. But the main thing is to focus on the fact that we’re still worshiping God! No one can take away our ability to worship Him. The vehicle of worship may be Zoom, YouTube or Church Online but it doesn’t matter – as long as we worship God in Spirit and in truth. Don’t despise these small beginnings!

You can either be a complainer or a worshiper. You can’t be both at the same time. Don’t let the past determine your present. Face reality head-on. The situation has evolved and we need to adapt. Keep on worshiping God no matter what the situation or method it may be. God rejoices when we worship Him.

Sermon: Better Together

Photo by Wylly Suhendra on Unsplash

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

1 Cor 12:12-21

28 Jan 1986 was the 10th launch of the space shuttle Challenger. And 73 secs into the launch it went horribly wrong, exploding and killing all 7 people on board. Why did it fail? It was due to just ONE small part in the rocket booster – an O-ring. They hadn’t tested it properly at the right temperature (it was very cold the night before) and it disintegrated upon launching, causing the exhaust to leak out and rupture the fuel tank, causing a huge explosion. Just one O-ring malfunctioning can destroy the whole space shuttle. Today I’m speaking about serving together, working together for God. Just like the Challenger disaster, each one of us plays an important role. And when we fail to do our part, just like an O-ring, no matter how insignificant you think it is, it affects the whole body of Christ. 

I would like to pull out some reflections from the passage today in this sermon titled “Better Together”. 

1. Christ is the Head

Firstly, Christ is the Head (v12)

Just like a normal human body, the head contains the brain which is the command center that controls the rest of the body. The rest of the body takes instructions from the head. So what does it mean that Jesus is the head? It means that we only can properly relate to one another when we are properly related to Christ. Conflict in the youth group or church between one another is often a symptom of not having a right relationship with Jesus. The root, the basis of serving must be because we belong to Jesus first. How’s your relationship with Jesus today? Or to take a step back, are you related to Christ the head? Are you part of the body of Christ? Or do you need to receive Jesus as your Lord and Saviour? 

Now, Paul argues against two wrong viewpoints that the Corinthian Christians were preventing them from being “Better Together” in the church. These two views are still prevalent today. Maybe you feel that way too. And if you don’t deal with these faulty attitudes, it will affect the body of Christ.  

2a. Wrong Viewpoint #1: “I don’t belong here.”

The first wrong viewpoint is “I don’t belong here.” (v15-18)

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

Some people didn’t want to serve because they felt so useless. Like they have nothing to offer. It’s an “I can’t do anything” mentality that causes them to just come for church service and then leave. They don’t serve because they don’t feel that they’re good enough. There’s good news! Paul says God has a role for you! He created you in a certain way with certain giftings for a certain purpose. Everyone has a gift to offer. In church, everyone has a role to play. We need you. You do belong here. Because when you find out your gifts and offer it in service, we will be Better Together. If you need to find out your spiritual gifts, there’s questionnaires that I will send to the Cell leaders to work it through with you. I promise you, God has given you a gift that he’s just waiting for you to exercise in faith. And when gifts are exercised, they grow just like working out your muscles at a gym. 

If the first viewpoint concerns having an overly low self esteem, the second viewpoint concerns having an overly high self esteem. It’s an “I don’t need you” attitude.

2b. Wrong viewpoint #2: “I Don’t Need You”

The second wrong viewpoint is “I don’t need you” (v21) 

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

This speaks of pride. It’s the “I can do everything” mentality. It’s the guy who gets the ball and never passes. Paul says that it’s ridiculous to compare different parts of the body when they have different functions. An eye is to see while a hand is write or grab or hold things. We all have different roles just as God has made you and me. We are all unique individuals whom God has specially designed. What would happen in church if we started comparing like this? What if worship says “I don’t need the Music and AV”. What if the ushers say “I don’t need the Admin.” It would be chaos! Church will not survive. We are Better Together.

I must admit that certain roles in church are less prominent (admin or logistics compared to worship) but prominence is not equal to importance. Learn to appreciate each other’s differences and to work together. We are Better Together.

Let’s pray. 

“Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for creating each one of us so special and so different. We thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve in the body of Christ. Help us to have the right attitudes as we serve you and one another. Help us to recognise the gifts you have given us and to exercise them faithfully. Help us not to be proud of ourselves but to embrace others in humility. In Jesus’ name AMEN.”

 

Discussion Questions:

1. Are you likely to feel “I don’t belong here” or “I don’t need you”? How can you change this attitude?

2. If you are not sure of your spiritual gifts, you can find out by doing these online tests. 

https://mintools.com/spiritual-gifts-test.htm (shorter)

https://www.freeshapetest.com/ (longer more complete)

How to Make Smooth Leadership Transitions

Moses then summoned Joshua and in front of everyone said, ‘Be strong! Be courageous! – Slide 3

Leadership has always been an interesting topic for me. Does the Bible talk about it? I think it does. There are many leadership lessons in the life of Moses and Joshua. In this post, I’ll specifically discuss about Leadership Transition – How do you transition effectively from the current leader to the next leader?

I’ve seen churches or ministries fall apart when the current leader steps down because the transition is weak or even absent.  I’ve seen the bitter fruits of a lack of clear succession planning. I’ve seen irresponsible leaders leaving “time bombs” for the next leader to pick up to their own peril. But I’ve seen when good transitions take place, the whole organisation soars to greater heights.

Let us look at this poignant passage:

Then Moses said to the Lord, “O Lord, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

The Lord replied, “Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him. Present him to Eleazar the priest before the whole community, and publicly commission him to lead the people. Transfer some of your authority to him so the whole community of Israel will obey him. When direction from the Lord is needed, Joshua will stand before Eleazar the priest, who will use the Urim—one of the sacred lots cast before the Lord —to determine his will. This is how Joshua and the rest of the community of Israel will determine everything they should do.”

So Moses did as the Lord commanded. He presented Joshua to Eleazar the priest and the whole community. Moses laid his hands on him and commissioned him to lead the people, just as the Lord had commanded through Moses.

Numbers 27:15-23

We can draw 4 key steps from God’s instructions to Moses.

1. Ask God for a Leader (v15-17)

The first step to seek God’s will. Moses did not just assume or push his own agenda of who to take over. Even though Joshua was a clear candidate, being his assistant for many years. Moses prayed to God for the right person for the work ahead. If you facing a leadership transition, don’t just rely on portfolios or the general consensus. Ask God. Ask God, the creator of all human beings, to show you a person who can guide and shepherd the community. I believe God will answer us if we don’t harbour biases. Leave the choice to God. Don’t delay, don’t grumble. Trust God.

2. Publicly Commission the Leader (v18-19)

Next, once God has shown you the next leader,  publicly commission them. It wasn’t a hidden affair but Moses made it known to the High Priests and the people. Once God has shown you the next leader clearly, introduce the person to the whole community (both the leaders and the people). Make sure all know of the fact. No one should be able to say that they didn’t know about it and therefore will not submit. It should be a formal commissioning event with the laying on of hands. We pray and support the next leader together and ask for God’s help.

3. Transfer some Authority to the Next Leader (v20)

Next, Moses transferred some authority to Joshua “so the whole community of Israel will obey him”. If you give a person with a position but no authority, people will not respect her (I’m assuming it’s a she). He remains just a figurehead or puppet for the current leader. You don’t want that. You have to let people recognise and adjust to her authority. Give her some authority and responsibilities even before you pass the reins over so that the people will get used to her leadership. Neither do you want to give all your authority even before you transit. That’s irresponsible. The next leader is new and is still learning. You want to slowly release your authority as she grows. This is opportune time to move to the next step.

4. Prepare the Next Leader (v21)

Moses taught Joshua how to seek God’s direction for the community by approaching the High Priest. Similarly, the current leader must teach the next leader what to do. How to make good decisions. How to shepherd the people. How to avoid leadership pitfalls (no “time bombs”!). In Kungfu movies, the Master normally keeps one secret fighting technique so that the student cannot overcome him. That’s not how we work. We want to teach them all we know and set them up for success. All this smooths the leadership transition process in a God-honouring and people-respecting manner.

Try applying this leadership transition lesson to your own church, ministry or organisation.

Book Summary: Walking with the Risen Christ

Image result for walking with the risen christWalking with the Risen Christ: A Primer for Healthy Small Groups (Tan Soo-Inn, 2017)

1. The risen Christ is the focus of our group meetings

  • The opening prayer should be addressed to God and include a request for the Lord to help the group to be aware of His presence
  • Worship with singing should be directed to the Lord
  • All components of the meeting should be done with openness to what Jesus is saying to us

2. The risen Christ speaks to us through the Word

  • A study guide and/or study Bible can help us to understand a passage accurately
  • If you use a study guide, do not feel obliged to answer every question in a given chapter. The Bible study leader can select what are the key questions that need to be addressed in a given meeting. The idea is to give adequate time for understanding, listening and application.
  • The study should conclude by asking how we need to live in response to what the Lord has said to us through the study. When appropriate, specific plans can be shared with the group, providing accountability and encouragement.

3. The risen Christ encourages us to be honest with Him and with each other

  • The group must be told that honest sharing and loving listening is integral to the life of the group. This also means that the group must promise to keep confidential what is shared in the group and to obtain permission if they want to share what they heard in the group to those outside.
  • The group leader and the more mature members of the group must lead by example. They must demonstrate openness and honesty in their sharing
  • Subdividing the group by gender and/or into smaller groups will help people to open up.

4. The risen Christ wants to carry our burdens and encourages us to carry each other’s burdens

  • Group members can begin to learn to share their lives with a simple exercise that can be done at the beginning of each meeting – every member shares one joy and one struggle he or she has experienced since the last time the group met
  • To bear each other’s burdens, group members will be encouraged to connect with one another outside official meeting times.
  • Some burdens may need resources from outside the group.

5. The risen Christ invites others to Himself through us

  • The leaders and members of the group must state upfront and often that loving visitors and making them feel welcome is a key part of the life of the group.
  • Assign someone to help introduce a visitor to the members of the group and to the activities of the group. This may be the member who invited the newcomer or someone else designated for the purpose. He should sit with the guest, helping her understand the activities of the group.
  • Invite the newcomer to contribute to the life of the group in ways that are comfortable for them.

6. The risen Christ calls us to witness for Him in the world

  • The group must be told that the group exists not just for the members but also to witness for Christ to a fallen world
  • The group should always be praying and thinking about how they can share the gospel with those who do not know Christ. They could maintain a list of people they hope to see come to follow Christ that the group prays for on a regular basis
  • The group should be thinking and praying about how they can witness to the gospel through deeds.
  • Ministry must be an outflow off a real relationship with Christ. Therefor the group’s walk with the risen Christ must be kept fresh

7. The risen Christ meets with us over meals

  • Where possible, start a meeting with a main meal like lunch or dinner.
  • If the host needs help with providing food, members can help to contribute dishes or financially. They should also help lay the table and clean up after the meeting.
  • In some sense, all meals are sacramental and in thanking God for the food we remember Christ and His provision of life.

5 Reflections on 5 Months of Ministry

It’s been 5 months already working in church. It’s passed by so fast. I’ve been on 5 camp/retreats. Wow! Some time of reflection is definitely in order. In this post, I like to explore how my expectations of ministry life during bible school compares to reality. This may be interesting to the lay person who wonders what pastoral life is like or for the bible school student who’s ready to enter ministry. I’m far from being an expert, but rather a beginner who wants to share his experience.

Lesson #1: Bible school only teaches you how to make high-quality bricks not build a beautiful house.

I thought I was ready to ROCK and ROLL after bible school but it couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s so much stuff they don’t teach. Using my analogy, Bible school only tells you how to make good material (brick, sand, cement). All the theology lessons give you a solid foundation which is really crucial (a.k.a. how to make great bricks). But they don’t tell you how to draw a blueprint, how to work with contractor or workers, how to handle conflicts, how to transform a house to a home, how to budget costs. You could have the best Christology, hermeneutics and homiletics and still have no idea what you’re doing. In other words, giving you high-quality bricks doesn’t guarantee you can build a high-quality house! The key is to keep on learning new skills.

Lesson #2: Don’t Give Up Too Fast

Linked to the first point, don’t give up too fast. It takes time to get good at something. It takes time to get to know people. It takes time to prepare and preach a good sermon. It takes time to know how to program. I admit that I get impatient when things move too slow. And in the midst of these challenges, you may feel that you’re not cut out for this. That the problems seem insurmountable. Listen – it takes time to be good. I read an interesting line from Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: “If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (“what can the world offer me?”) and instead adopt the craftsmen mindset (“what can I offer the world?”)” What does he mean? When passion is flagging because you’re not good at something is not a reason to quit. Get good at whatever skills you need to do your job well and the passion will come. It’s a paradigm shift! In the words of Bishop Dale Bronner: “Don’t kill yourself, skill yourself.” Get good at your work and you’ll love it.

Lesson #3: Watch Your Interior Life
It’s possible to go through the motions of church without having any spiritual life. People may think your charisma equals a strong spiritual life. Not so! It like those props that you see being used for skits. From the front the scenery looks so real but take a walk to the back and you’ll see it’s just a thin piece of cardboard. You may look good from the front but there’s nothing to show for it on the inside. You may cover the lack of a spiritual life through being busy for the Lord. But some day the cracks will show. You get angry over a simple thing. You choose the selfish option that benefits you. You become critical and judgmental. This facade of a spiritual life may fool people but you can never – I repeat – never, fool God. He sees into all our hearts. If you need to reclaim your first love, do it (Rev 2:4). You have to watch your interior spiritual life closely.

Lesson #4: Working in Church isn’t that much Different
If you think working in church must be like a second version of heaven, think again. We aren’t angels, but sinners redeemed by God’s grace. There are conflicts, struggles, challenges and even politics too. Where there are humans, there is humanness. That’s why some who come in with unrealistic expectations get terribly shocked and scarred. Another thing – churches can’t close for a week like companies can. They got to keep their doors open 52 weeks in a year. It can be tiring.

Lesson #5: Lead and Love your People
This is key in any setting that greatly relies on volunteers. While churches do have paid staff, we cannot survive without the help of volunteers. That’s where the greatest test of leadership lies. Will they follow you? I wrote about this in a previous post – Leadership: Rise and Fall. As John Maxwell said, “If no one is following you, you’re just taking a walk in the park.” There has to be a balance between leading and loving your people. Like a shepherd, at times you need to care for the sheep while at other times, you’re pulling them away from danger. Leading with a firm hand is also a loving act. The shepherd often sees what the sheep cannot see. A good shepherd leads and love the sheep. I realised that the subtle desire to remain popular and liked would cause me to stop leading them. I would love them and give in to what they want but not lead them to where they need to go.   

Book Summary: 3-2-1 Following Jesus in Threes (Tan Soo-Inn, 2013)

Summary:

  • Three friends meeting two hours one time a month over a meal.
  • Friends are important (Eccl 4:9-12, Jesus and disciples)

4 kinds of groupings:

  • Public
  • Social
  • Personal
  • Intimate (321)

Triad is a good number for discipleship, spiritual formation, mission

What spiritual friends do:

  • Loving (accept and forgive)
  • Supporting (empathise and encourage)
  • Challenging (teach, rebuke, cheer)

Disciplines of spiritual friendships:

  • Listening
  • Sharing (5 levels of communication – cliche, info, idea and opinion, feelings, self disclosure)
  • Discernment

Components of a 3-2-1 meeting:

  • Eat a Meal
  • Share Life by Conversations
  • Pray together (ACTS format)

Further components:

  • Confession
  • Decision making (help decide and be accountable)
  • Vocational discernment (General call, Specific call, Immediate responsibility)

What happens:

  • Eat in a quiet place
  • Connect by sharing a major life event that happened since they last met
  • Check in with one joy and one struggle (Life with God, Work, Family, Church) *main part*
  • Get help on any life area
  • Study together
  • Pray together
  • Set a date for next meeting

Life cycle of triad:

  • Conviction
  • Accountability (let church know)
  • Prayer (ask God who to join triad)
  • Invite (commit to 2 meetings first)
  • Run first meeting
  • Call for commitment (agree to a written covenant of commitment, edification, acceptance, biblical authority, confidentiality, transparency)
  • Periodic review (every 6 months, 1 year renew)
  • End well (last meeting recount highlight of group and thanksgiving)

FAQ

  • Prefer same gender
  • Not married couples together
  • No need to be same age range but same maturity
  • 321 can’t replace other groups like cell
  • Can be 432!

What’s Up with all the Fancy Garments?

I’ve always wondered what’s up with all the fancy clothes worn by pastors or priests during church ceremonies. It seems like a relic from ancient times when they had no fashion sense. An example from the Russian Orthodox:

Related image

Churches that are more liturgical from the high church tradition tend to have this kind of robes for their clergy. Where did this idea come from? Is it even relevant in our times of torn jeans and straightcut blazers? If we look into the Old Testament, God gave Moses specific instructions how to make the garments for the priests and Levites. It took skill and wisdom to craft one. It might have looked something like this in the past:

Image result for high priest dressingWhy was it so elaborate (not to mention gaudy)? Though we can explore the words of the turban, the inscriptions on the ephod or the colour of the robe, I shall highlight a general purpose that God mentioned to Moses.

Next, have your brother Aaron brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, to serve Me as priests. Make holy garments for your brother Aaron to give him dignity and splendor.

Exodus 28:1-2

Did you catch it? God told Moses that the purpose was to “give him dignity and splendor.” Another translation says “glory and beauty”. In order to set up the tabernacle and order the services, the priests had to be consecrated. They had to wear specific garments that God ordered. An important lesson: You need to worship God in the way He prescribes, not the way you think He wants. It sets the priest apart from the usual dressing of the common people. Seeing the priest in his glorious garb evokes a sense of reverence and importance as we come before God. That might be one reason for God to emphasise this unusual dressing as they come to serve him as God’s representatives to his people. Don’t lose the awe of God.

Next time, as we see the intricacies and beauty of these gowns, may we gain more reverence of the God who is wholly Other and different from us. May we tremble in the holy mystery that the God who transcends all descriptions comes to live within each us when we put our faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Book Summary: 8 Habits of Effective Small Group Leaders

Image result for 8 Habits of Effective Small Group Leaders Dave Earley8 Habits of Effective Small Group Leaders (Dave Earley, 2001)

1. DREAM: Dream of leading a healthy, growing, multiplying group

The value of having a dream

  • Increases potential
  • Aids accomplishment
  • Focuses direction and channels energy
  • Increases the value of the group
  • Positively predicts the future
  • Motivates leaders to keep going

 

Three dreams of a highly effective group

  • Group health: God is present. Health barriers are pride, sin and unresolved conflict.
  • Group growth in numbers: Healthy cells grow. Growth barriers are 1) limited physical space, 2) lack of spiritual life, 3) lack of intentional outreach, 4) failure to maintain contact with the members, 5) no social activities to bond and invite new people, 6) failure of leader to share responsibilities with apprentices.
  • Group multiplication: Develop new leaders and groups. Multiplication barriers are 1) failure to have and mentor apprentices, 2) failure to plan to multiply.

 

2. PRAY: Pray for group members daily

Reasons effective cell leaders pray for their members daily

  • Most important task of a leader
  • Saves time
  • Pray is omnipresent and omnipotent
  • Makes everything better
  • Gives needed insight
  • Our greatest spiritual weapon
  • God blesses us when we pray for others

 

Tips for highly effective prayer

  • Have a set time and amount of time for prayer
  • Have a usual place for prayer
  • Have a plan for prayer (e.g. ACTS)
  • Have a place for recording requests and answers
  • Ask God to direct you to appropriate Scriptures
  • Season your intercession with thanksgiving for each member
  • Mix fasting with prayer for greater effectiveness
  • Pray through all possible elements of the small group meeting prior to the meeting time
  • Pray for your apprentices (s) and the future groups to grow out of your current group
  • Pray for God’s grace to help you live all 8 habits, especially this one

 

3. INVITE: Invite new people to visit the group weekly

Reasons why inviting is essential

  • People must connect with you before they can connect with God
  • If your group has no guests, it will experience no growth
  • If you invite, they will come (family, friends, coworkers or students, neighbours, church contacts who are unconnected or new)
  • Inviting stops declining numbers. People leave when drop out, move out of church or country or group, start a new group.
  • Numerical growth builds excitement and morale
  • Inviting builds spiritual ownership of the group

 

Mistakes to avoid in inviting

  • Failing to saturate the situation in prayer
  • Failure to keep them saying “yes”. Build a bridge of small “yes” to build up to invite to your group.
  • Giving up too soon. Keep building relationship and inviting.
  • Failing to understand the principle of “Six to stick”. It takes about 6 contacts (times) by leader to fix the group in person’s mind.
  • Failing to pray for and capitalise on opportunities
  • Failing to win the three victories. 1) Win them to you, 2) win them to your group/church, 3) win them to Christ.
  • Trying to be a solo inviter
  • Failing to capitalise on the seasons of the soul. People more open during 1) death, 2) move to new place, 3) divorce, 4) marriage, 5) family problem, 6) major illness, 7) birth of a child.
  • Using inappropriate levels of pressure. The better the car, the less pressure from salesperson!

 

Suggestions for what to say and when to say it

  • Comments that will whet their appetite
    • We have a wonderful group
    • God is answering our prayers
    • People in our group really love each other
    • Almost everyone in our group is (single) like you
    • We could use a (sharp thinker) in the group like you
    • We would love to have you join us
  • Statements that plant the seed
    • You will like it
    • You will fit right in
    • We will love to see you walk in the door
  • Questions that drop the bait
    • Do you have a group you meet with weekly to study the Bible?
    • Our group meets at such and such a place at such and such a time. Why don’t you come?
    • Let me personally invite you to ome. We would love to have you join us. Do you think you can come?
  • Declarations that show the power of the group
    • We have been praying for your (job, mother)
    • When people visit once they almost always like it and come back
  • Answers to their concerns
    • You don’t have to know anything about the Bible to come
  • You don’t have to read/pray/sing aloud unless you want to
  • You don’t need to dress up
  • All the kids meet in another room and have their own story. They love it
  • If you come and really don’t like it, we won’t make you come back every week
  • It’s a singles group, but people are there to meet God, not just find dates
  • It’s ok if you come in a little late.

 

4. CONTACT: Contact group members regularly

Reasons for contacting cell members regularly

  • Contacting helps your group grow
  • Contacting increases your average weekly attendance
  • Contacting helps a shepherd know the state of his or her flock
  • Contacting communicates care

 

Suggestions that make contacting powerful

  • Ask them, “How may I pray for you?”
  • Ask them, “What do you want God to do about that?”
  • Say, “Let’s pray right now.” Then pray for them right then, aloud
  • Ask, “Do you want to pray?”

 

Suggestions for what to talk about as part of a regular contact

  • What are you up to this week?
  • How are your kids doing?
  • Do you like your job?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how stressful was your week?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • How were you saved?
  • When were you baptised?
  • What do you like most about out church?
  • What do you like best about our small group?
  • What in your life would you like to be different 5 or 10 years from now?
  • What area do you think God wants you to grow in this month?
  • What are the things everyone says you are really good at?
  • Have you ever thought of leading a group?

 

The most important time to make a contact

  • Soon after a first visit to your cell group
  • Weekly for the first few weeks
  • After they have shared in the group that they are going through a trial
  • After a tense moment in the group

 

Secrets used by effective contactors

  • View the time you spend contacting as ministry time
  • Pray for Spirit-led direction as to what to say
  • Pray about who God wants you to contact that week
  • Be positive about God, your church and your cell group
  • Be considerate of their time and schedule. If they are busy, be brief.
  • Be sensitive to their mood
  • Have a place to record your contacts
  • Keep things that are shared in confidence, confidential
  • Be consistent, see that everyone is contacted
  • If they have shared a need with you, close the contact by praying for them
  • Use your apprentices and small group members to share the contacting load
  • Have a regular time scheduled each week for contacting

 

5. PREPARE: Prepare for the group meeting

Why prepare?

  • Gives God room to work
  • Increases confidence and faith
  • Builds credibility
  • Increases quality
  • Reinforces the value of group life
  • Secret of success tomorrow

 

What to prepare

  • Prepare yourself
    • Do I have any sin to confess?
    • Am I allowing the Spirit to be dominant in my life?
    • Do I have a heart grateful for the opportunity to lead a group?
    • Am I willing to apply the Word in my daily life?
    • Are there any relationships I need to make right?
  • Prepare the atmosphere
    • The place, clean, comfortable and spacious
    • The music, quiet as people come in and for worship
    • The snack, help people feel comfortable

 

Prepare the agenda for the meeting

Welcome (10-15 mins)

  • Snack
  • Greeting: Handshake or hug 
  • Icebreaker: Getting acquainted, Spiritually acquainted, Affirmation, Going deeper

Worship (10-15 mins)

  • Singing 
  • Thanksgiving
  • Praise prayers

Word (30-45 mins)

  • Introduction questions
  • Interaction discussion questions
  • Application questions

Witness

  • Pray for each other
  • Pray for people we are inviting to group or church, list names
  • Plan to contact absentees, can assign
  • Plan next social activity
  • Promotion of church activities
  • Prayer for the church and church leaders

 

Secrets to shorten prep time

  • Train and use your apprentices to lead meeting elements, esp. Icebreaker and prayer
  • Follow a plan
  • Shorten word discussion prep time by following a prewritten plan
  • Use resources provided by church or lesson guides

 

6. MENTOR: Mentor apprentice leaders

Mentoring is:

  • Cooperating with God in raising up an apprentice to become a highly effective small group leader
  • Following the example of Jesus and Paul (2 Tim 2:2)
  • A great way to love others
  • The means for multiplying yourself
  • The way one ordinary person can reach thousands
  • The heart of disciple making
  • A way to maintain godly accountability
  • Letting go of ministry in order to let others minister
  • Saying “No” to the urgent in order to say “Yes” to the potential of the important
  • The most lasting part of small group leadership

 

7 steps for raising up multiplying leaders and reproducing reproducers

  1. Demonstrate what you hope to reproduce (display 8 habits)
  2. Discover potential leaders
    1. See who has a heart for work
    2. Pray for God to provide
    3. Look for Compatibility, Character, Competency
    4. Look for people of FAITH – Faithful, Available, Initiative, Teachable, Honest
  3. Deepen your relationship with potential leaders
    1. Pray and play together
  4. Describe the vision
  5. Determine the commitment to be made
    1. Explain your commitment to them:
      1. Set the PACE (Pray, Available, Contact, Example)
      2. Train them to lead a meeting
      3. Train them to live 8 habits
    2. Explain their commitment as apprentice leader
      1. Be equipped by meeting with you and the small group coach
      2. Fulfill role by practicing 8 habits for 6 months
      3. To mentor others, they raise up apprentices also
  6. Develop them
    1. Model, mentor, motivate, multiply
  7. Deploy them

 

3 ways to birth a new group

  • Multiply: Two groups of equal size multiply from a parent group
  • Launch: A core group from a parent group launches a new group
  • Plant: One person from a parent group plants a new group while others remain
  • Use one Sunday every 4 months to enlist all church attendees into groups

 

Mentoring suggestions

  • Never do ministry alone
  • Take full advantage of all the training opportunities your church offers
  • Be constantly on the lookout for new leaders
  • Talk of leadership as a privilege not a burden
  • Don’t put yourself on a pedestal
  • Give responsibilities before you ask someone to consider being a leader
  • Always consult with those above you before you give any titles
  • Realise that failing to mentor will always mean  failing to multiply
  • Do not release leaders until they have a good chance of success
  • As you move through the group cycle, have your ministry role decrease and your apprentice’s role increase
  • Give lavish affirmation and encouragement to apprentices each step of the way

 

Multiplying suggestions

  • Talk about multiplying early and often
  • Talk about multiplying in positive terms (not breaking/splitting/dividing)
  • Talk about multiplying in terms of the big picture (reach out to more people)
  • Pray about the best method and the best timing for multiplying
  • Set a date for multiplying
  • Celebrate the new birth

 

7. FELLOWSHIP: Plan group fellowship activities

Power of social gatherings for fellowship

  • Social gatherings increase excitement, interest and involvement
  • Social gatherings attract new people
  • Social gatherings allow more opportunities to practice real fellowship
  • Social gatherings can create opportunities to obey the ‘one another’ commands
  • Create opportunities for further discipleship
  • Help knit new people to the group and the church (need 7 friends in 7 wks to stay)

 

Suggestions for effectively using social gatherings and fellowship activities

  • Think ‘togetherness’
  • Use variety
  • Use the power of food
  • Do not do all the work yourself, delegate
  • Plan ahead and inform early (have average of one activity/month)
  • Combine activities with group meetings
  • Relax, have fun, and enjoy each other

 

8. GROW: Be committed to personal growth

Insights into personal growth

  • Expected of us by God (2 Pet 3:18)
  • Fountainhead of group change and growth
  • Prevents decline
  • Something you must do yourself
  • Key to staying sharp and effective
  • Life-long process, not a short-term commitment (Phil 3:12-14)
  • Occuring in 4 key areas of life (Mind, physical, spiritual, social)
  • Product of daily habits

 

10 commandments of personal growth

  • Make the choice to be an ever-growing person
  • Focus your activities and set some goals (SMART)
  • Gather any needed tools (read good books etc)
  • Develop a plan that fits you
  • Schedule the needed time 
  • Sow before you hope to reap
  • Make yourself accountable
  • Share what you learn with others (Research and teach)
  • Associate with growing people
  • Put what you learn into practice

 

9. The 8 habits for leaders of leaders

Small group ministry structure

 

Level of leadership

Title of leader Span of oversight

1

Small group leader

10 group members

2

Coach

Up to 6 small group leaders

3

Director

Up to 6 coaches

4 Small group pastor

Up to 6 directors

 

Applying the 8 habits to leaders of leaders

  • Dream: Of healthy group and to multiply
  • Pray: Pray for people under them
  • Invite: look out for new leaders to coach
  • Contact: Contact people assigned to you or in church
  • Prepare
    • Coach attend SGL meeting and give feedback, focus on positive
    • See each leader’s weekly goals
    • Ask about progress on personal growth
    • Give leader training
    • Keeps them informed on church activities
    • Discuss about apprentice and multiplication dates
    • Gives advice on practical things
    • Prays with leader
  • Mentor: Creates multiplication and prepares church for greater harvest
  • Grow: Help them set up a growth plan
  • Fellowship

 

10. Becoming an 8 habits church

Suggestions 

  • Prepare for change: Need to meet people to share vision. The bigger the change, the more prep time and persuasion needed
  • Have the senior pastor lead the charge: Lead a small group, coach them, study it, use pulpit to promote
  • Build on what is already there
  • Start where you are and use the 8 habits to develop highly effective leaders, coaches etc.
  • Cast the vision: Nehemiah principle vision cast every 30 days
  • Recognise, reward (give them books, spend time, buy lunch, brag publicly, send them cards)  and Require (sign a covenant to 8 habits each year)
  • Promote group life: Small group leaders rally, small group Sunday (sermon, drama, testimonies, commissioning prayer, give group leaders shirts, recognise multiplying groups and new leaders, tables for people to sign up, catalogue of new groups offered), place info in bulletin, discuss importance of small groups with every new member, have a connection center to sign people up, having banners, giving t-shirts to 8 habits leaders, highlight an 8 habits leader and group each week
  • Model (always try to lead at least one group)
  • Pray

Book Summary: How to lead a great cell group meeting

Image result for How to lead a great cell group meeting (Joel Comiskey

How to lead a great cell group meeting (Joel Comiskey, 2001)

Definition of cell group: A group of people (4-15), who meet regularly for the purpose of spiritual edification and evangelistic outreach (with the goal of multiplication), who are committed to participate in the functions of the local church.

Cells need: Upward focus (knowing God), Inward focus (knowing each other), Outward focus (reaching out to those who don’t know Jesus), Forward focus (raising up new leaders)

 

1. Prepare yourself

Cell leadership begins with heart preparation. A heart that is pure before God is the only foundation for leading a cell meeting. Without a heart for God, the meeting consists of only dry routines and rituals.

  • Stop preparing cell details at least ½ hour before the meeting starts in order to spend time with God.
  • Prioritise your daily devotional life in order to hear from God. Don’t let the urgent crowd out what is important. Spend time with God.
  • Depend on God more than techniques. Be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading.

 

2. How to structure a meeting

A proven small group strategy will help the cell leader gather people from the initial welcome time to the closing prayer. While the Holy Spirit might guide the cell meeting in unexpected ways, He expects the cell leader to have a plan.

  • Great cell meetings follow a predictable but not legalistic pattern:
    • Welcome (relationship building) 15 mins
      • Do an icebreaker
      • Get members more comfortable together
    • Worship (entering the presence of God) 20 mins
      • Make sure everyone has a song sheet
      • Pick the songs before the meeting
      • Mix praise and prayer
      • Don’t need instruments
    • Word (applying God’s Word to our lives) 40 mins
      • Can use materials for study, adjust it for your group
      • If using Scripture for Sunday, interact with God’s Word not the sermon
      • Use last 10 min to ask for specific prayer items and pray
    • Works (reaching out to others) 15 mins
      • Pray for non-Christians friends and family to invite
      • Decide on the next outreach event for the cell
      • Prepare a social project
      • Plan for future multiplication
    • Measure the meetings by:
      • Were the people edified (built up)?
      • Was Christ glorified?

 

3. Facilitating others

Cell group facilitation supports group members by empowering them to exercise their spiritual muscles, apply the Word of God to their lives, and minister to one another.

  • Facilitators refuse to preach and teach
    • It is not a mini-service where you preach a sermon
    • Leader talks only 30% of time, members 70%
  • Facilitators empower others
    • Encourage members to share
    • Listen actively
    • Summarise comments of group
  • Facilitators need coaching
    • Periodically meet with a pastor in charge for coaching
  • Facilitators learn while leading
    • You don’t need to know everything before you lead
    • If you don’t know the answer, say that you’ll look into it and get back.
  • Two essential qualities for facilitators are:
    • Sincere love for God
    • Sincere love for others

 

4. Practicing Transparency

Great cell leaders don’t hide their souls behind superiority and superficiality. They share honestly and intimately, starting a chain reaction among the members.

  • Model transparency in order for members to do the same
    • Leader can ask for prayer in an area of weakness or struggle
    • Leader can talk about their dreams and plans honestly
  • The Biblical mandate to confess our faults to one another often takes place in the cell
    • Maintain strict confidentiality in the group
    • Carry one another’s burdens
  • Aim for transformation rather than information
    • Transparency without transformation is superficial
    • Hold each other accountable in applying God’s Word
  • Guide the group into deeper levels of communication
    • Level one – small talk
    • Level two – information or facts
    • Level three – ideas and opinions
    • Level four – feelings (dreams, hopes, fear, failures)
    • Guide the group to deeper maturity by creating a safe climate
  • Find a mentor who will help you live honestly before God and others
    • Find 1 or 2 close friends with whom you can meet regularly to share your weaknesses and trials. Pray for each other.

 

5. Asking stimulating questions

A leader can prepare questions that draw out participation and stimulate lively discussion. Well-designed questions turn dry and boring meetings into creative interaction.

  • Open questions are preferable to closed questions
    • For observation and interpretation, can use closed questions
    • For application, use open questions
  • Apply the Bible through application questions
    • “Share your experience about…”
    • “How do you think God wants to use this in your life?”
    • For every two observe/interpret qn, have one application qn throughout not just at the end
  • Aim at transformation rather than information
    • Ask about last week’s application if anything significant happened
    • Wait for their response to show you’re serious about life change
  • Explain the passage clearly in order to apply it
    • Leader can start lesson with general context and explanation
  • Limit the number of questions to three to five
    • Don’t overload them, leave time for prayer
    • For ongoing open cell group, don’t use study guide since visitors can drop in anytime.
    • Better to use study guide for huddle meeting between supervisor and cell leaders

 

6. Listening ears

Great cell leaders prioritise listening to others, knowing that everyone has a story that needs to be heard. Go has given us two ears and only one mouth for a reason. The small group environment is perfectly suited for active listening to occur.

  • The member’s response takes priority over your own
  • Practice active listening (truly hearing what the person is saying)
    • Don’t think of a response while people speaking
  • Listen to what is not said (gestures, etc.)
    • When someone answers a qn, respond with a smile, nod or offer to help
    • Keep an open body posture, lean forward, nod and smile, eye contact with quiet person
  • Listen to feedback from the members about your leadership
    • Ask them how to improve
    • Learn how to paraphrase member’s answers to check understanding
  • Refuse to answer your own questions
    • Give members time to think and respond
    • Don’t be afraid of silence
  • Ask the group for additional responses after one person has shared
  • Limit advice giving in the group (instead practice empathetic listening)
    • Learn how to just listen and affirm person
    • Empathise with person, don’t jump to advice

 

7. An encouraging tongue

A small group leader must choose words that encourage (Prov 18:20)

  • Great communication encourages others to participate
    • Never totally reject an idea but affirm the person even if you don’t agree. Explore the good in it.
    • For wrong answer, you can rephrase question or ask others what they think
  • Don’t allow certain people to dominate the meeting. Learn how to deal with those who talk too much.
    • Sit next to talker to give less eye contact
    • Call on other people to give their opinions
    • Redirect conversation away from talker when they pause
    • Talk directly to the person about the purpose of small group. If problem persists, talk to your supervisor.
    • Ask talker to help make the meeting more participatory
    • Clarify the rule that no one is allowed to speak a second time until everyone has a chance to speak for the first time
  • Conflict is normal and natural in a small group. Learn how to deal with it.
    • Welcome differences of opinion as it can improve your understanding each other’s views
  • Communication tips
    • Start showing care the moment member enters the room
    • Respond enthusiastically to people throughout the meeting
    • Pray for your members during the week and tell them you’re praying
    • Ask questions about their personal life
    • Be aware of any physical needs and seek to meet them
    • Share part of your own life with them
    • Contact them outside of cell group

 

8. Reaching out to non-Christians

Cell leaders need hands that reach out and point others to Jesus. Such hands help cell members reach out together and warmly welcome the hurting and disillusioned into the group.

  • Effective evangelism cultivates the natural friendships and relationships that God has placed in our lives
    • 70-90% follow Jesus by relational evangelism
    • Intentionally become friends with non-Christians and develop relationships. Best is to meet a need before discussing spiritual issues
    • Often non-Christian rather join a cell group than church service
    • Keep inviting your friends. On average, person needs to hear the Gospel 7 times before he responds
  • Cell evangelism is team-oriented rather than individual-oriented
    • Each member identifies one non-Christian contact and seeks to build relationship with them.
    • Invite contact in their life first then the cell group.
    • Keep praying as a group and create a harvest event to invite contact
    • Talk about the benefits of the group and re-invite your friend again to group
  • Non-Christians are attracted to special cell events (e.g. cell dinner, video, picnic etc.)
  • Transparent sharing within the cell often wins others to Christ
    • When non-Christians come, do cell meeting the same way so they will witness the reality of true relationship with Jesus.
  • Prayer is the most effective tool to win non-Christians to Christ
    • Leave one empty chair during group meeting to represent lost friend. Gather round chair and pray for that person in their life.
    • Pair up as group members to pray daily for each other’s lost friends
    • Walk in pairs through targeted community, praying for salvation to come to each home as you walk

 

9. Moving through the stages of life

Knowing which steps to take will help the small group leader chart the journey, knowing that a predictable road lies ahead.

  • Small groups normally pass through four stages
  • The initial forming stage is a time to get to know members of the group
    • Strategy: To clarify purpose, direction and goals. Above all, the leader must model transparency by sharing openly and honestly
    • Activities: Icebreakers, vision casting and social times (e.g. refreshment, picnic) Goal is relationship building not bible study or missions
  • The storming stage is characterised by conflict as the members form deeper relationships
    • Strategy: To display empathy, understanding, openness, flexibility. To model ministry, while preparing members for greater involvement
    • Activities: Dynamic worship, in-depth sharing during lesson time, fervent prayer. Goal is for group ownership
  • During the performing stage, the solidified group is better prepared to reach out to others
    • Strategy: To release others to minister. Leader must spot, train, or make sure potential leaders receive training and release future leaders. Leader directs the group less during this stage, encouraging others to lead parts of the group
    • Activities: Outreach events which might include evangelistic dinners, videos, picnics. Works time is given more attention. A group that doesn’t reach out dies a painful death.
  • The reforming stage is a time to give birth to another group and start the process over again
    • Strategy: To make final preparations for a new leader to guide the daughter group. The leader must allow the new facilitator to guide the entire cell group in preparation for leading his own group.
    • Activities: Leader talks to the group frequently about the importance of new birth. Fervent prayer is offered in the Works time for the new cell group. Hold a celebration party in the parent cell group right before the birth of the daughter cell.
    • Involve the whole group in decision process to multiply. When will the new group begin, who will lead the new group, who will leave existing group to become core members of new group?
    • When you have a trained leader, you can multiply your cell group already. Take 1-3 people to form new group.

 

10. Eyes that see the details

Cell leaders see the smaller details (refreshments, temperature etc.) as well as the larger issues (cell lesson, multiplication, etc) To really see the details requires thoughtful reflection before and after the meeting.

  • The home atmosphere plays an important role in attracting and maintaining cell members
    • God will bless the home where you meet (2 Sam 6:10-12)
    • Make sure it is clean, tidy and remove distractions.
  • Arrange the seating in a circle
    • Everyone must see each other’s face.
    • Leader is part of the circle and not a separate level.
    • Sit in a close circle together for intimacy and closeness
  • Make sure there’s sufficient light in the room
  • Provide song sheets for everyone in the group
  • Have simple refreshments
    • Usually meeting from 7.30-9pm, fellowship till 9.30pm.
    • Leader use fellowship time for personal chats and greet visitors
  • Children are an essential part of the cell group and must receive ministry
    • Allow children to stay for icebreaker and worship. Then have a personalized bible lesson for kids by one of the members who rotate in teaching.
    • If several children, pray for an adult of teenage to lead a children’s cell group at the same time in another room.
  • Prevent distractions by preparing for them
    • Switch off TV, radio, phone etc.
  • Start on time and close on time
    • Agree on expectations about starting on time.
    • Begin on time regardless of latecomers. Sends signal that every part of the meeting is important and using the time well. Leader must set example.
    • Meetings should not last longer than 1.5 hours

 

Should You Be a Generalist or a Specialist?

From The New Paper article.

I hardly read sports news. Especially local football. But I came across an interesting story of a local teen, Nur Adam, who went to train at the famous Genk football academy in Europe. He normally played in certain positions but at the academy he was shocked that all the players were ambipedal (versatile in both feet) and could play any position. He said, “What surprised me was that all of them can play any position… It’s good to be versatile because coaches like players who can play any position.” These young players weren’t specialist yet so at the training phase learnt all the skills needed. Oh, and Nur Adam also mentioned hard working was key no matter what you do.

It got me thinking about ministry too. Should we be a generalist or a specialist? Should we just do youth work only? Should we do a bit of everything? I think in the early phase of our ministry, it is important to learn all the skills needed and expose ourselves to all areas of ministry. Thus the pastor (coach) can easily put us into different roles when needed. Later on in our ministry, we may realise our gifting in certain areas and choose to specialise. I think that those with a pastoral calling to the ordained ministry should be a generalist while those who prefer to be a church staff worker can afford to specialise early. Based on church size, it would be easier to be a generalist in a smaller church where ministry portfolio is broader and a specialist in a larger church where the portfolio is narrower but deeper. Oh, and hard work is essential.

Where is God calling to be and how will you prepare yourself for effective ministry?