On October 31, Scott talked about the Masks We Wear, from Romans 12:9-13. It’s fun to pretend to be something we know we are not in real life. However, pretending to be someone or something we are not must never be a way of life, especially in the church. We tend to hide behind the masks we wear, because if you knew the real me, you wouldn’t like me, and I’m not ready to take the risk of the pain of rejection.
M is for MEETING – we must be connected to one another relationally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually, and this is best done in the context of a small group experience.
A is for ACCOUNTABILITY – we must be connected to other followers of Christ who will hold us accountable for our spiritual life, marriage, and integrity.
S is for SACRIFICE – we know it will cost us something to live out our Christian faith. We live out our faith inside the church and outside in the community.
K is for KNOWLEDGE – we must seek to know all we can about living faithfully as a member of the body of Christ rather than believing that old saying, “ignorance is bliss.”
S is for SALVATION – we must embrace the fact that when we are saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross, we now have a responsibility to act on that faith (to live it out) in front of a lost and dying world.
We showed this video at the beginning of the message:
Below are my notes from Jim Putman’s book called, Church is a Team Sport. Buy this book!
In Church Is a Team Sport, Jim uses the analogy of coaching and teamwork to show how God built Real Life’s team from two couples to over eight thousand people in eight years—all in a northern Idaho town of ten thousand people.
When he started Real Life, he wanted to get back to the primary task of the church—making disciples. Many churches assume they can make disciples incidentally, but Real Life makes disciples intentionally.
Real Life’s vision is to fulfill the Great Commission. Following are some of the unique ways they are accomplishing this vision.
Disciple Making. Their vision to make disciples is the determining factor in everything they do. Most churches make it one of many emphases, hoping disciple making will take place by osmosis. At Real Life, however, if an activity does not contribute to making disciples, it takes a backseat.
A Relational Context. Real Life makes disciples in a relational context. That means making disciples in small groups. They believe that you can’t make disciples in a vacuum such as a class where you just pass on information.
Unity. Disunity in the church drove Jim Putman from the church and the faith of his father. When God led him to start a church, he resolved that unity would be a core value. Real Life focuses on the basic doctrines of the Bible but will not get sidetracked with peripheral issues.
Ministry. Ministry takes place in small groups, but it does not stop there. The church meets the needs of hundreds of needy people every month.
Evangelism. Evangelism is a natural outgrowth of all the things mentioned above. Because people get help in their small group, they naturally tell their friends. Every event sponsored by the church has the purpose of introducing people to Christ and making disciples.
Leadership Development. Because the goal is making disciples, Real Life is always looking for new leaders.
Teamwork. The name of the book hints that a winning team is the defining work of a coach. At Real Life they have one goal—winning. Winning is defined as making disciples who are like Christ. Every player is important.
Innovation. For Real Life innovation is not doing something that no other church has done. It is getting back to the basics and living as disciples. I have been surprised at their willingness to change.
Jim Putman is a coach at heart. He is a leader of people, and they follow him.
Here is a bit about Jim’s call to plant a church…
I hated the idea of church planting. The instant they asked me if I had an interest in planting this new church, those memories flooded my mind, and I rationalized there was no way this was from God. Even if I were to plant a church, I would never do it alone.
I remember thinking, Lord, if you want me to come to this place, you will have to change my heart. I also told God, even if He did change my heart, He would have to do a miracle.
On October 18, 1998, we had our official first service. It was a glorious day—and everything that could go wrong did. We had a single guitar, a bad sound system, ministry equipment that was built by hand, homemade signs, and bulletins that looked amateurish. It may not have looked good, but we had the Lord, each other, big dreams, and most of all, we had a simple biblical plan that was reproducible.
We continued to trust God for our needs. After that first year, we had grown to about five hundred people. We needed three services.
In three years, God had grown His new church from four families to 2,300 people!
We had always done things in small groups, because this was the only place that could provide the care we felt people needed.
We were overwhelmed. The largest church any of us had ever been in was three hundred. None of us had ever done what we were doing. I had never been a senior pastor.
We had a value system that drove everything we did. We believed in relationship and shepherding—in discipling those we won to the Lord.
One of the staff said, “What’s up with you?” I explained I had finally called all the people and now I had to write a sermon. His question: “Why are you doing all of that?” I told him that a pastor is supposed to pastor his people. My co-worker said something that still sticks with me. He said, “No, your job is to make sure people are pastored. You always talk about raising up people to do what you do; now let us do what you do.” Our team realized that we were at a crossroads.
Each team member had to make a decision. I was beat; our staff was exhausted. We had a choice to make. If all we looked at were the numbers, we’d say the success was killing us. But we knew in our hearts this wasn’t success. We were on our way to losing. We were becoming a show.
Since two of our church values were to raise up leaders and to pastor our people, we had to make a decision. If we could not or would not do this anymore, then we had to change our church’s purposes, which we had written on the wall and in our weekly bulletin. It had become obvious that we could not do it the way we had done it anymore.
The next Sunday, as a leadership team we stood in front of our people and explained our dilemma. We outlined the two options, reminded them what we had believed since the beginning, and told them what choice we had made. We would not seek to be like other big churches. We honestly shared our hearts and our convictions, and we let them know we were tired and needed their help if we were to be successful in the next step.
Then, we shared the plan. We would become completely small groups driven. We would spend our money on pastors who could disciple and release, rather than hire people who focused on the worship service. We would de-emphasize the show and focus on shepherding, discipleship, and relationship. We let them know they would have to step up and become ministers, not spectators—after all, this church is called Real Life Ministries (RLM), and we must all be ministers. The people went nuts. They gave us a standing ovation!
We concentrated on building leaders. Instead of merely feeding those who had been Christians for years but had never really grown up, we were going to force those who stuck around to grow up and serve.
We would be taking a chance. We knew that. Most of these men and women had never done anything but sit in a church pew, if they had been in church at all. Most had no training, no history of service, and certainly no experience in church leadership.
A LOOK AT THE EARLY CHURCH – During this time I had been reading the first few chapters of Acts in a new way. I was thinking about what starting a church must have been like for them. In the upper room, on the day of Pentecost, there were 120 people. By the end of the day 3,000 had gathered. What did the disciples do? How did they handle what must have been such utter chaos and confusion?
The early church was organized chaos. As I continued to study, I remember thinking, I see us in here! We can relate to these circumstances. We understand being overwhelmed. It gave me a picture of what we could look like. If God could use green, confused people in the first century, He could do it here and now.
We moved for many reasons. The foyer had come to resemble a mosh pit before and after services. Our children’s ministry could not squeeze one more child in. It could easily take thirty minutes to park and then even longer to get into the building. New and unsaved people were turning around and going home. We watched them in frustration as they circled the parking lot in their cars and left. We wanted to reduce the number of weekly services because our staff was exhausted.
We added one truly new component. We developed a way to track our people’s attendance in services and small groups. We wanted to know that our people were okay. We called it the C.A.R.E. Tool—Caring for All, Reaching Everyone. It took cooperation from our people and a computer system that could track attendance.
People don’t want to be a number. People want to be loved and affirmed and trained. A good shepherd chases the strays because he loves them. If they get away, it won’t be because he simply let them go.
When we first started, we put whoever we could find into leadership. Now, our leaders are coming from within the system. Our apprentices see a model to follow, and they are following and implementing our values. Our most effective small group leaders often became community coaches of six to ten small group leaders. Some have become elders in our church and others have come on staff.
God has indeed worked here at Real Life Ministries. He loves to use people who are clueless so He gets all the credit. It would be foolish to say this story has happened as the result of any one person. God wanted a church here and He acted. He is awesome! He is holy. He is unstoppable. All we can do is hold on and pray.
I believe a change is needed. The average church in America, as it is currently put together, is failing. This book will challenge you to rethink the box you were handed by those who taught you. As a leader, you are God’s coach, and He wants to use you to lead His team to victory. This book will also challenge you to discover a “new” way to find true victory.
I called my dad to gloat with the proverbial “I told you so.” Instead of responding the way I anticipated, my dad said something I will never forget: “Jim, I think you should get involved there and let the Lord use your abilities to fix some of the problems rather than point at them.”
That night my father called. “I have been thinking a lot about what you said. Jim, I want to give you an analogy I have been reflecting on. A healthy lake has water coming in and water going out. If no water continuously comes in, then the lake dries up. If a lake has water coming in but no water going out, then the lake floods and kills everything around it.”
You have choices to make, Jim. God is asking you to give. Instead of pointing out all the blemishes on His bride, the church, I believe God wants to use you to help clean her up.”
It’s God’s team, these are God’s people, I thought. As I traded in the mats and ball fields for the church boardrooms, I found something I did not expect. I found people who not only couldn’t play together but didn’t know how to play at all—a losing team. Over the years, it’s been disappointing to see God’s teams (the church) all over the country doing things that a good high school or college coach would never allow on a sports field. Many of God’s teams have created playbooks that were not approved by The Coach, and as a result we have lost more than we should have.
As I listened, I realized that these people, though they loved God, were not a team with a mission. They didn’t have a common view of what winning even was. They were not in agreement about where to go, so they were not going anywhere. As near as I could tell by their conversations and actions, their goal was to keep their people comfortable.
With no vision, the people had stopped moving toward anything meaningful; rather than fighting the enemy, we were fighting each other. I think the worst thing was to see that people just didn’t seem to care anymore. There was this sense of complacency that permeated every aspect of the church.
Some of the coaches I met with had given up altogether and were biding their time, waiting to retire. They were not conquering the enemy, battling in the trenches for the souls of men; they were just surviving. Many a well-meaning pastor told me that I was far too idealistic. They had once been that idealistic, but they had learned what I would learn soon enough—to lower my expectations. Many of the younger ambitious pastors were using their churches as stepping-stones to other, bigger ministries. It was a career for them and they wanted to reach the top.
I heard a lot about the show on the weekend, how to use video projectors, or how to tweak the worship service to really draw a crowd. The buildings I visited were probably full on the weekend, but they were like cemeteries during the week. As I walked away from those many meetings, I once again believed that the team was losing in most places.
George Barna, a Christian pollster who researches the church in America, sheds some light on the matter. His group has found that an incredibly small number of people expect to have an experience with God at church.
SO WHAT IS A CHURCH? – As I am sure you have noticed already, I believe that the church is supposed to be a collection of transformed individuals molded by God into a team.
GOD’S DEFINITION OF A CHURCH – When I say these kinds of things, people ask me how I define the word church. When I speak of church, I mean a body of believers working as individuals and together as a team to achieve the Lord’s goals. God’s plan is to glorify Himself through this team. As individuals we minister wherever we work and live. We use our talents, gifts, and resources to minister in our communities in ways that can be done only as a collective force. Our winning team reaches the world with the message of the gospel and then disciples those who have been won to obedience and replication.
DEFINING TERMS: WHAT IS WINNING? – During a game, coaches and players are constantly looking at the scoreboard. They want to know what the score is because game strategy changes based on that tally. If their team falls behind, they double their efforts and change the game plan. As the clock winds down, those on the losing team become more desperate. The intensity heightens during the last few minutes of the game.
Jesus will always take us as we are, but He will not leave us that way. He will start the process of unmaking what we have become so that He can remake us into something useful for His purposes. God’s plan was to disciple us through the Word, through His Spirit, and with the guidance of His coaches. In this discipleship process, He gives us teachers (coaches) who will help us understand what it means to follow Him. He also gives us His Word as a guidebook so that we can understand the game. He gives us teammates who help us win this game that can only be won as a team. He gives us the Holy Spirit who guides us into His perspective of life and eternity. He gives us His heart to care about what He cares about, his eyes to see what He sees, and His power to do what He would have us do.
So what is winning? Many think winning is about numbers. We want converts, they say. Wrong! Winning is making disciples— converts who are discipled onto God’s team and taught to take part in Christ’s mission. Numbers don’t mean much unless you are counting the number of people being transformed by the Holy Spirit. Disciples are those able to stand up under the pressure of the world. They are able to share their faith unashamed. They are filled with the fruit of the Spirit, which results in increased relationship with others and glory to God.
According to the Barna Research Group, there are about 360,000 churches in America. Current numbers tell us that only 15 percent of these churches are growing, and only 2 to 5 percent of the churches are experiencing new conversion growth.
The statistic that breaks my heart is the one Josh McDowell gives in his book The Last Christian Generation. In it he reveals that 85 percent of kids who come from Christian homes do not have a biblical worldview. Most of them are leaving the faith between ages eighteen and twenty-four, never to return.
We are told to teach those we baptize to obey all that is commanded. First we make converts, secondly we make disciples. So how is the team doing with those who have been converted? How is the church doing with those who are supposed to be Christians? When you look at the statistics for those who do go to church, you will see very little statistical difference between the churched and the unchurched when it comes to giving, the divorce rate, and views on morality. While part of the battle may be getting them to church, the greater task lies in what to do with them once they come to church.
Only 51 percent of pastors questioned had a biblical worldview.
Barna went to people in the congregations of those pastors who did have a biblical worldview and asked the same questions. Less than one in seven had a biblical worldview. In other words, though the pastor believed and taught biblical truths, the congregation did not share those views.
Let’s sum up what we see on the scoreboard. As we look at what is being produced in America’s churches, I see nothing like what was intended by our Lord. American Christians are not on a mission. They look far more like the world than they should. They live the same way and chase the same things. Their marriages and families look the same. They are biblically illiterate and care little about sharing their faith with others. Churches are producing people who do not and cannot share the gospel. You tell me, how are we doing? What’s the score?
HIS TEAM WINS! – In Matthew 16, Jesus tells Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (v. 18). When I compare this statement with the church in America as a whole, I am left with a problem. Since I am a black-and-white kind of guy, I can only come up with two alternatives. Option 1: Jesus is a liar because the gates of hell are prevailing against the church. Or option 2: The church that is being prevailed against isn’t Jesus’s church at all. Jesus did not promise the gates of hell would not prevail against a church but that it would not be able to stop His church.
It is better to have no church in an area than to have a church that makes Jesus look powerless and irrelevant.
Another reason a team might lose is found in 1 Corinthians 9:22–23. Paul makes it clear that he will do whatever it takes short of sin to reach the lost. He says it this way, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
There are many other reasons a team might fail, but let me just mention one more. Some of the coaches of God’s teams have decided that they don’t want to use the Lord’s playbook, the Bible, anymore. They are more interested in hearing the praises of men, culture, politicians, etc., than they are the praises of God.
A coach is expected to lead. It is part of the job. We do not pay for our kids to play in a sport where there is little control and leadership. We don’t want our kids to dictate the pace or the schedule—we want them to learn, to improve.
PLAYER OR COACH? – When I was a player, I had a player’s mind-set. I wanted to compete at the highest level, so I concentrated on acquiring and honing the skills and stamina that I would need to win on the mat or field. My focus was on my position, and I hoped everyone else would carry their own weight. If each part of the team did their job, we would win. When I became a coach, my job was no longer about what position I was going to play; I was no longer going to play a position. My job was to develop people so that they could play their positions or wrestle their weights. It was no longer about what I would do on the mat or field. It was about what I could train the athletes to do in their moment of decision.
There is nothing worse than having a player in a coach’s position.
WHAT IS A COACH? – Just as a coach can hurt the team by not understanding his role, a pastor can hurt the church for the same reason. God has given His coaches a job description in Ephesians 4:11–13.
This passage tells us that the job of a pastor has two parts. First, they are to prepare or equip God’s players to play, or in biblical terminology, to serve one another and reach out to the world. Secondly, pastors are to lead their people to become unified. No team, no matter how great the players, can win if they are not unified. The team must have the same goal, the same language; they must have a common understanding of the part they play; and they must work together to achieve that goal.
Pastors are taught that if they have (1) good preaching, (2) good worship, (3) good children’s ministries, and (4) good location, they will have a big church.
As a result of a pastor’s “show” mentality, many Christians have come to believe their job is to attend the show.
The Scriptures tell us that we are to be part of a team that works together to achieve God’s purposes. We don’t go to church; we are the church. In a church you are invited to volunteer; on a team you are expected to play a part.
A coach’s job is to make sure everyone understands his obligation to the team. A coach makes sure every player understands what “the Owner” requires. The One who bought us for a price expects us to play. Winning is not gathering a crowd. It’s raising, training, and releasing a team.
THE PAID-PLAYER MENTALITY – Let me point out again that somehow pastors have come to believe that they are the paid players, and the people who attend are the fans. Game day is Sunday and the building is the arena. People in the area will follow the best team in town, so ours better be the best. The elders or board members are the general managers and owners who watch to make sure the people are getting what they pay for.
When the paid-player mentality guides the church, everything becomes a show, and soon they think they have to have a whole cast of paid professionals to create little spectacles for their assigned demographic groups.
They scour the land to steal a great player from another team, while their best players are being scouted as well.
Because the show is so important, they spend most of the week developing the next show and have little time for relationship with the people in the church.
THE POWER OF RELATIONSHIPS – As Real Life grew, we came to a real crossroads. Our small band of leaders and I believed in shepherding our people. We believed in relationship, in real discipleship, but we had grown past our ability to do that successfully in the way we had in the past.
Conversely, if you love your people and help them grow in their relationship with Jesus and find relationships with others on your team, people will put up with less because they know they are loved. If people know they are loved, and have been affected by your mission, they will be more likely to get involved in it.
DITCHING THE SHOW MENTALITY – God’s idea of a coach is one who creates a system that develops people into great players.
However, a good coach develops a way to turn those he gathers and leads into great players. He creates a way to guide them into their position on the team. Every person is a player. Success is creating a team that can work together. Success is finding and developing players who will later become coaches themselves.
When I look at churches filled with people who have come to watch the show and I don’t see any intentional attempt to move people into the discipleship process, it saddens me. A congregation that is informed about the game is not the same as a congregation that is committed to learning how to play the game.
So the goal of a coach is to follow God’s guidance toward creating a team that can win. A winning team is one that reaches the lost and makes disciples who can disciple others. The goal of winning is not to fill stadiums with fans; it’s not about numbers, unless what you are counting is the number of godly disciples. Life change is the goal.
You find out what a person values by how he treats people who can’t add value to the person’s reputation or success.
Great coaches have something special that many knowledgeable leaders lack. The Bible uses a word that I think describes a great coach perfectly—shepherd.
We forget that the devil now sees the one we just baptized as an enemy. This is not like a physical game we might play, where at worst we get hurt accidentally and need medical attention. Satan is not happy about losing that person to Jesus.
We often don’t understand that we just got this new believer into a war they are not equipped to fight. They don’t know the rules, or the weapons available, or even how to use them.
Every player needs to go through a process of learning that will eventually lead him or her to become fully equipped to play the game. The coach’s job is to guide the rookie by creating a climate of shepherding. We teach them and allow them to make mistakes. We must disciple our people. It starts with taking responsibility not just for winning the lost but for shepherding them too. The pastor can’t do this by himself. Part of his job is to create a shepherding environment where everyone is challenged to shepherd others and win the lost.
Jesus gave us the example of a true shepherd when He gave up His life for us. In Acts 20:28, Paul tells the elders to shepherd the flock of which he had made them overseers. He reminds the leaders in that passage that the sheep were purchased by God.
God describes His expectations of a shepherd in Ezekiel 34:2–10:
We see God judging the shepherds because they failed to fulfill their responsibility—they had not fed the sheep but only themselves.
In Ezekiel 34, the sheep were not cared for. When they were hurt, they were not nursed back to health. When they strayed or were lost, the shepherd didn’t look for them. They became food for wild animals. This is what happens in the church when God’s people are not shepherded.
Unfortunately, sheep stink, bite, and wander, and they can be stubborn. Yet God expects shepherds to care for His flock.
Many pastors teach but are not around when the sheep need help. Granted, a pastor can’t do everything, but his responsibility is to make sure all the positions on the team are filled.
Every coach needs to have a game plan for shepherding the hurting and chasing strays. We are often like the hired hand Jesus talks about. When the wolf comes, we run or ignore the plight of the sheep because we don’t really love them.
Sometimes, shepherding means getting dirty. People’s lives are messy, and it takes time for the Lord to clean them up. Too often our lives are so busy that the only people we can see ourselves working with are those who won’t take much time. We don’t think in terms of relationship; we think in terms of information.
Volunteer organizations are unique. People do not have to follow. You can’t hold a paycheck over their head. You don’t have the power to make them do anything. If you want to lead a volunteer organization, you have to understand people will only follow if they want to. They will only follow if they believe you care for them.
Most of us think this means writing better sermons, but you have heard the true statement that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” A leader must be someone who knows his sheep and understands their needs. He leads them, teaches them, and models for them how to serve God and others. There is mutual accountability and trust. The shepherd knows when his sheep have succeeded, and he celebrates with them. He knows when they feel defeated and need encouragement and support. He grieves with them, and when the sheep wander, he does all he can to get them back on track.
When a church becomes a shepherding community, when they care for the needs of others, when they help people beat the habits that have always beaten them, when they dare to be real, others can’t help but notice. They see joy and a change in the person they have always known, and they become interested—even excited. At the very least, they keep watching.
Churches often have stated goals but behaviors that circumvent or work against them. For instance, we might say we want to reach the world, but we do things that keep us from being in contact with the world we want to reach. We plan an outreach, but it is really designed to attract people who already think like us (other believers). We don’t know how to relate to lost folks, so we pray and expect that God will bring them to us.
REACHING OUT WITH BRIDGES – At Real Life we do a variety of special outreach events. We call them bridges. They are designed to meet unsaved people in a place that will allow them to be comfortable.
A good outreach event always bridges people to the next step in the process. We know the goal is to see them become disciples who can disciple others. Our goal at the outreach event is to make sure they are invited into the next step in the process. We must have a process in place to take them to that next step.
However, public displays of emotion can be something many shy away from because of their upbringing, so lighting matters. I believe the darker the better, because it makes people feel alone with God. The more they are made to feel like they are the only ones there, the more they may worship publicly.
Every message must motivate people to action. Every sermon must encourage believers to live an authentic lifestyle of love.
We also have the people who were a part of their conversion baptize them. This promotes what we believe about every person being a player, a priest, a minister, with the purpose of declaring the praises of Him who saved us.
During our worship service, we have something we call directed prayer. It’s a time where we have someone on stage direct the thoughts of those in the service to a particular person or thing.
Most of our decision cards come in after directed prayer and communion and before the message. At first this puzzled me because I wanted the message to inspire people to make decisions. Yet what I’ve found is that when you allow people to spend time with God in worship and prayer, reminding them during communion of what Jesus did for them, the Spirit convicts them and they make decisions.
THE INVITATION – Though many make decisions before the sermon, we believe that an invitation ought to be given every time we get together in a service. We do this in two ways. First, we have a card in every bulletin where people can either write a prayer request or ask to receive a call from a pastor.
Many people come forward after services also. Our staff, elders, and prayer team members pray with them or share God’s plan for their lives with them.
Every week we encourage small group participation, because it’s not God’s plan for them to be loner Christians.
If they don’t come, you know there can only be a few explanations: (1) they found water somewhere else; (2) they were attacked by a wild animal or are sick; or (3) they broke through the fence and are lost.
In our bulletins and on our walls, we advertise different ministries and events for people to check out. These are connecting points where people can find places to serve, places to learn, and places to form relationships.
One of the things we have learned over the years is to use the worship service as a time to promote and praise what you value. If you value service, then praise service. If you value decisions for Jesus, praise those who help people make decisions. If you want people to get connected, then make sure you speak about it often. If you value discipleship, emphasize discipleship. What you value you promote.
Every program’s leadership must understand its dual purpose in the context of the goal: winning the world for Jesus, one person at a time, and making disciples in a relational environment.
A ministry in our church is a part of the process or system we use to meet God’s goal.
Programs are a strategy used in the game; they are not the game! Someone with a program mentality is only interested in their own program. They think if they create it, people will come, and when they come, that’s it. Job well done! They are satisfied when someone comes to their programmed event as a spectator.
Every leader in our church understands they are in a shepherding community. They understand they are part of a network of shepherds, all working together to care for the flock. If one of their sheep strays, we will do everything we can to bring them back.
Programs must be about more than just performance. We are instructed to use our gifts and talents to glorify God.
Every coach, no matter what the level, has a two-tiered job to do: (1) develop skilled players that understand their positions and (2) coach them to play well together.
Typically, a high school coach is responsible for overseeing a program that extends from the little kids’ age group to the high school varsity program. He aligns all the coaches throughout the age groups to produce athletes who understand the style of play expected when the athlete hits the varsity program.
A college coach also develops players, but he deals with athletes who already have a skill base developed by past coaches and experiences.
I believe most leaders of churches behave like college coaches, looking for stars that can be plugged in immediately with little or no development. Jesus, on the other hand, taught His future coaches to work like good high school coaches.
Consider the people Jesus chose to follow Him. Almost every disciple was unprepared and unqualified. Jesus loves to use people others would bypass. He loves to develop people to be more than anyone thought they could be so He gets the glory.
If you develop them, they can be great players and eventually great leaders. If you expect to receive skilled players out of the blue, you will usually be disappointed.
If you want to be a great coach, you must look at what great coaches do. The best way to become like them is to watch them, listen to them, and mimic them. Jesus is the best example of what it means to be a great coach. He gave us a picture of real discipleship that works.
When I give this scenario to loving parents and they imagine it happening to their child, it makes their blood boil. Of course they would never stand for such a thing. Why do we react so adversely to this but allow the same type of thing to happen in our churches every week? The people in our pews are struggling with the most important subject there is—salvation. We stand in front of them for forty minutes a week and describe on the big screen what it takes to solve life’s biggest problems. We don’t have time to tutor them, and we don’t raise up people who do. Is it any wonder why our people can’t answer the easiest of biblical questions?
As a teacher, I learned to value small class sizes. A good teacher, in the right setting, can get to know each student. In other words, in a “relational environment,” a teacher can really teach each student. The teacher can discover what learning style a student has, how a new principle applies to a student’s life, and when a student isn’t getting it. A good teacher will also recognize when a child is going through a difficult time outside the classroom and can come alongside the child and help them deal with the life issue immediately.
When dealing with our children, we often hear that character is caught, not taught. Jesus modeled everything from how to deal with enemies to how to deal with sinners.
Few of us have accountability in our relationships. It takes time to build a relationship, especially one that allows others to know us well enough to speak truth to our hearts. I have seen many pastors fall because they hid from those who could help them in times of weakness.
Jesus modeled effective discipleship for us through building relationships. He could call His disciples on the carpet when they got it wrong. He encouraged them and provided a safe place where they could voice their shortcomings and ask for help. He had a small group of men He could really know and thus keep accountable. Once again, real discipleship happens in small groups.
A discipleship environment must include authenticity. Churches can be full of pretentious people trying to make an impression. If everyone is a fake, there can be no accountability. Church relationships are then shallow and superficial. Discipleship must provide a safe place to share your struggles without rejection.
Before people will be real, they must see their leader be real. This doesn’t mean we constantly air our dirty laundry, but we let others know that we struggle, we fall, and we keep trying.
If our goal is to make disciples who can disciple others, we must release them into the field of ministry. Jesus modeled this when He sent out the seventy-two to preach in the area towns. He then brought them back to debrief their experiences.
We learn by doing. The job of a disciple maker is to teach and release so that those being taught can truly learn.
In the same sense, the job of a coach is to provide a place for the athletes to practice what they learn and eventually do it in their own life.
Jesus calls us to follow Him and take up our cross daily. God’s Word tells us to seek after His kingdom and His righteousness, and to stop chasing the things of the world. Instead, some try to take the gospel message and package it in a way that is compatible with the American lifestyle and culture, regardless of whether it’s what God wants. We must reach people where they are, but that doesn’t mean we make it easy for them to stay there.
Pastors are trying their best to preach the gospel but are employing a model for discipleship that doesn’t work. As a result, they are producing the wrong product—church-attending Christians who live like the rest of the world.
The result of the discipleship process in a community is growth. When a church works as a team, they develop people—people who look like Jesus.
THE DEFINITION OF A DISCIPLE – The first question is “What is a disciple?” To answer this, we point them to Matthew 4:18–20
First, a disciple is one who has made Jesus the Lord of his or her life. Jesus said, “Come, and follow me.” He is the leader. We must be committed to being the followers.
Second, a disciple is one who has entered a process of relational discipleship with other maturing Christians. Jesus invited His disciples to be in relationship with Him. It was the primary way He shaped them.
Third, a disciple is one who is becoming Christlike. He or she has begun a process of change that is orchestrated by Jesus. Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you” . . . into something.
Finally, a disciple is one who is committed to the mission of Christ. Jesus said that He would make us into “fishers of men.” When we spend time with Jesus, we start to care about what He cares about.
AN INTENTIONAL PROCESS FOR REPRODUCING DISCIPLESHIP – The second question we are often asked is “What is the reproducible process you use to make disciples?” We call it the Share, Connect, Minister, and Disciple process, or S.C.M.D. for short (see pages 157–58).
Share We call the first stage the Share phase. Share-level people are those who have either not accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior or have accepted Him but have not been connected to other believers.
Connect Once disciples have entered the Connect phase of the process, the leader and the group they connect with will inspire, teach, and model for them what it means to love God and others.
Minister People who are properly connected and have the right heart will eventually start to move into the Ministry phase of discipleship. In this stage they will start to see things as God sees them, because they are connected to Him.
Disciple Finally, the young disciples will move into the last stage of the discipleship process. We call this the Disciple phase. In this stage the disciples learn not only to minister to those around them but to train others to do the same thing.
COACHING PRINCIPLES In wrestling, I had kids at all different levels on my team. My job was to figure out where each guy was and put together a plan to help him attain the next level of his development. I did not train each guy the same way, because what would help one person would hurt another. By the same token, what would help one might bore another to death. A good coach develops a plan that helps each person attain the next level of their development and then helps his coaches understand the process so they can develop the ability to do the same with others.
The team at Real Life created a way to help leaders recognize where people are. The key is to ask questions and listen—to listen to the phrase from the phase. Remember, the phases in the process are Share, Connect, Minister, and Disciple. At each phase of the process, people say things that tell us where they are. Once we know where they are, we as leaders can help get them what they need for growth.
SHARE-LEVEL PEOPLE There are different kinds of Share-level people—the unsaved and the saved. When unsaved people are at the Share level, we know what they need—they need salvation, they need the gospel.
Share-level people who have been believers for a while are a little trickier to understand. They may have “prayed the prayer” years ago and may even know the Bible inside and out and have all the right answers, but they are missing the will of God by not being connected and involved.
CONNECT-LEVEL PEOPLE – Connect-level people are those who have moved into a group led by a Disciple-level person (best-case scenario). They are in a relational environment for the purpose of discipleship.
MINISTRY-LEVEL PEOPLE – Remember, a Ministry-level person is one who has made the transition from “I” to “others.” They will seek to do what they do so that God will be glorified. They are also interested in serving in a ministry for more than what they can get out of it.
DISCIPLE-LEVEL PEOPLE – Before too long, people in the Ministry level will desire to do more than care for a need. They will begin to ask questions like, “Who can I get to help me reach more people in this ministry?” When we as their Disciple-level leader notice Ministry-level people desire to train others, it’s time to help develop a strategy.
Notice that our goal is to raise up those who can make disciples. Disciples learn as they go. They do not have to be perfect to get into the game, because perfection is not possible.
Our method for raising up people is through small groups. In those small groups, our leaders have access to people. They can start to know them well enough to really teach them, and they can see their talents and walk beside them as they develop them.
Notice a few things. First, Disciple-level people see the need to grow a ministry they are passionate about. Second, they notice that the ministry could expand if they had help. Third, they notice the gifts and passions of someone else who could play a part in the ministry. Fourth, they are willing to invest in another who they see needs to be trained.
CATCH AND RELEASE: THE KEY TO GROWTH – We have all heard the saying, “If you give someone a fish, you feed them for a day; if you teach them to fish, they will feed themselves for life.” The main objective of discipleship is to bring everyone to the Disciple level where they have learned to minister with another purpose: to train others to do the same things they have been taught to do.
A WORD OF CAUTION – As we put this plan together, it was never our intention to build a comprehensive process for discipleship. People are so different, as are their needs, backgrounds, and leadership and learning styles. Our goal was to try to put together a process that would give people a place to start. Our heart is to see people discipled.
THE FUNNEL CHART – Our church has put together this chart that attempts to lay out our entire strategy for others to see and understand. The 101 (Share Level) Class teaches them what we believe about salvation, basic theology, church structure, and philosophy. The 201 (Connect Level) Class gets them connected if they are not already. It teaches them the basics of discipleship, what a disciple is, and where they are in the discipleship process. The 301 (Ministry Level) Class explains what a leader in our church is expected to do. The job description and expectations of a leader are clearly explained. We have all our leaders go through the 301 every year. The 401 (Disciple Level) Class teaches ministry skill sets to our leaders as well as deeper spiritual and theological truths. As we discover weaknesses, we create new classes that we add to the 401 Class list. Every road leads to a small group where our people learn to actually live out the truths that our classes teach. They become small churches within the church.
As we walked back to the locker room, some of my teammates came running over, laughing and shoving each other. They wanted to know where we were going for pizza. I wanted to smack them! But then I realized they were the guys who never got to play. They were the ones who sat on the bench, along for the ride. Sure, they were bummed not to get another weekday off of school, but it occurred to me: those on the bench have little at stake in how the team does. Their heart and soul are not as involved; they are spectators in uniforms.
They don’t care when the team loses because it wasn’t something they invested in, and I don’t mean just financially. They don’t participate in any ministry; they haven’t invested their personal time physically or emotionally. They have put forth no effort caring for others. They have nothing at stake!
This is often how many churches deal with their people. Many of God’s coaches have no playbook to give the potential players that may come to their teams. They let people do what they want or, just as bad, they let them do nothing, just sit and watch the coach perform.
IT STARTS WITH THE COACHING STAFF – When we first started conferences at Real Life, we thought that the reason most churches failed was their methodology. We found instead that the first problem was a lack of unity in the leadership.
FROM THE STAFF TO THE PLAYERS – Once the leadership is on the same page, it is essential that you put together an official playbook all the players can read and understand. In our church it is the 101–201–301–401 classes. We took the names from Saddleback Church in California and changed the content to fit who we are.
Church life is the same. If the leadership of a church has agreed upon a system but cannot get the players to run by the plan, that team cannot win. People choose a church based primarily on the one that meets their needs. They come with expectations and demands. Many have come from other churches that ran a different system or no system at all. They may not bring you their playbook, but they definitely run by their own set of understandings and expectations.
Once again, the leadership must intentionally bring the team together. A good coach must have a way to bring the new players on board and keep the existing players inspired—all going the same direction. There must be a common language, a common goal.
We start with a Joining the Team class that is offered every month. Our 101 class is designed as an overview of our playbook.
We share with them that Jesus also tells His future team that the message will not be delivered powerfully or effectively if the team will not work together (see John 17).
We tell them, “At Real Life, people must agree to this playbook and our unique execution of the plays if they want to be involved on the field with this team.” They must sign a covenant and agree to the code of conduct given to us by God in his ultimate playbook, the Bible.
After our people attend the 101 class, the next step is the 201 class. This class explains the discipleship process to people who more than likely have not understood what a disciple is.
At Real Life, every leader including myself, our staff, and our elders must take our 301 (Ministry-level) class every year. Our new leaders will take it as they take on leadership responsibility, and our existing leadership is brought back to the fundamentals of our team by repeating the class yearly.
The goal is not to come up with something new but to commit to the things that have made us a winning church.
Every year a good coach takes his team through the fundamentals again.
If your church is like ours, some of your people grew up on other teams. We are not naïve enough to believe that one class will undo all of the habits and beliefs people hold.
At Real Life we take our leaders through ongoing training, our 401 (Disciple-level) classes. Our goal is to continue their education by teaching skill sets they will need to pastor and lead their individual groups. These classes may teach them to defend the Scriptures, help them learn to facilitate a group more effectively, train them in entry-level counseling, or cover things like hospital visitation.
Obviously, classes alone are not enough. One of the other things we do is preach a series on RLM’s goals every year. The goals are then taught in our small groups with curriculum that corresponds with the sermon series.
Every week I remind those who come how important it is to be connected in a small group. It is the place we get pastored and discipled. We also show a video of the previous week’s baptisms in each service. It’s one more way we remind our people why we exist: to reach the world for Jesus.
To further honor and inform our leaders, I send out a leadership email that shares upcoming events and points of interest. They have earned the right to know before anyone else because of their service.
The job of a leadership team in a church is to guide the team to a God-glorifying, biblical vision. The job of a coaching staff is to make sure that everyone is running the same play at the same time and that everyone knows the goal of the team and is able to state the goals effectively.
Each believer has a function that is essential to the success of the mission. We must be unified to win, just as a team of talented individuals cannot win without teamwork.
It sounds simple, but there’s a problem. We have an enemy seeking to push each individual to the top. Pride is the ally of the enemy.
The first is accountability. A leader who has free rein to do what he wishes is in a dangerous situation. Power without accountability corrupts.
Second, many leaders working together can see more than one can alone. Some pastors have elderships where they surround themselves with those who see things the way they do or those who will give in when pushed. This is foolish. Scripture tells us multiple counselors give wisdom.
Third, when the congregation knows there is a team working together for their best interests, it gives them a sense of security, much like a child with two parents who love and respect each other and the child. Multiple leaders provide the church with stability.
Finally, with a joint leadership team you are promoting what you value by your example.
SERMON CLUB – Every week at RLM, a good portion of the staff meet with me in Sermon Club. We generally work on the sermon a few weeks out. Doing that allows time for our other ministries to find or develop dramas, videos, or props that will help drive the message home.
Sermon Club is my answer to several problems related to preaching.
1. My goal is to prepare disciples who can disciple others. Sermon Club gives my staff, some of whom are future preachers, a chance to see how a sermon is created.
2. Sermon Club is an answer to my sermon preparation problem. How can I create good sermons in less time so that I can spend more time with the flock and have more time to disciple future leaders?
3. These meetings also give me an opportunity to hear about the cares and concerns of people from the congregation.
4. Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects to this method is the varying perspectives. Individuals share what they think would be the best way for me to speak to people in their demographic and ministry groups.
5. A coach must make the team feel valued. These meetings are a great place for me to reinforce to the team that their opinions are important and can make a difference.
6. By the end of Sermon Club, we have created something we worked on together. I’ve modeled teamwork and I let the congregation know that we came up with this message together so they don’t give me too much credit.
I was in the office working on the next sermon series, tired as usual, when one of my close friends and staff members came in to see how I was doing. I told him I was tired, and he asked if he could share something with me. He said some things I didn’t really want to hear. He shared that I was not living out my own philosophy when it came to preaching. He asked why I wasn’t raising up people to do what I was doing. He told me I was losing my joy, and I was at risk for burnout.
I believed in the philosophy of raising people up, but my actions weren’t reflecting it. I needed to live what I believe.
I decided to make some changes. I went to my staff and asked some of them to start team teaching with me.
This accomplished several goals: the congregation got used to hearing another perspective, and they saw that I approved of the person speaking with me; it saved my voice; it allowed others to see that these guys could answer questions and pastor them as well as I could; and it allowed my staff the opportunity to speak in front of large crowds.
When we started training leadership from other churches, we thought we’d find the biggest need would be new methodology. We were wrong. The greatest need was for unity.
William Wallace asked the clans to unite, but all they would do was squabble. They had the ability to take their country back from the British tyrant Longshanks, but they didn’t.
The job of the leader is to unite the clans, the team members. A good coach unites his team leaders with a common vision, but he also must bring his team together into a relationship that resembles godly, loving, nurturing, Christian fellowship. Relationships are like ropes that tie people together. The more ropes, the more stable you’ll be on the side of the mountain you are climbing.
Bickering among team leadership or staff will destroy a team.
When there is strife between brothers, God won’t accept a sacrifice, let alone bless the church. How can we expect to win or go forward if God isn’t blessing us?
As disciples, our job is not only to transfer information about the definition of love but also to model love in our actions. People need living models of what love looks like.
If Christian leaders, supposedly committed to Jesus and to His ways, empowered by the Holy Spirit, cannot stay in relationships, then what hope do our new believers have?
GOD’S LEADERS NEED ENCOURAGEMENT – Encouragement is another reason relationships are a must for God’s leaders. We are in a spiritual fight.
Pastors are often expected to be people who have already arrived instead of fellow travelers. Many times the congregation does not feel that way, but somehow the pastor believes they do.
These fears cause people to live in the dark. The devil loves the dark because he can play with our minds there.
My sociology teacher told me Christianity was responsible for the Inquisition, the Crusades, and many other evils in the world. Biology taught me that I was the product of a natural process of evolution. Philosophy taught me there were many roads to heaven, and it was my choice, because I was the ultimate decider of truth. I came away believing God was a crutch for broken people, and since I wasn’t broken, I didn’t need Him, if He existed at all.
I will never forget what he said. “Son, you are not an intellectual. What you are saying is foolish. An intellectual is one who studies both sides of the issue, then makes an informed decision. You have not studied the claims you have just made. You’re merely quoting other men who have not studied the claims that someone else made to them.”
My father replied, “Jim, you are a coward. You have made some big claims. Back them up! If you study this subject and find I am wrong, fine. I will accept that and respect you for doing the research. But if you do not study, I will think you are afraid.”
Unity mattered to me. One of the arguments I would use on Christians before I became one was, “You people can’t even get along with each other. If Jesus said He came to bring peace, then He must be a liar.” Non-Christians notice church splits, angry words, and denominational differences. I used to say, “If Jesus can’t keep His word down here, how can I believe He has something better after I die?”
There are many issues we can highlight that fit into the same discussion: eternal security, eschatology, the gifts of the Spirit, and more. Can you be saved, no matter what side of the debate you take on these issues? If the answer is yes, let’s concentrate on things we can agree on and get the work of the church done.
The goal of Scripture was not to get Christians to fight each other.
Though we allow differing opinions without judging someone’s salvation, this doesn’t mean that as a church we don’t set policy for our people to adhere to as members of the team. In our 101 class, I make the statement that we will not allow non-salvation issues to become something that divides the team.
Though you can believe different things about non-salvation issues, the unity and the direction of the church must be preserved.
When a different coach teaches something that is not heresy but is different from what we teach, we say, “That is great for that team, but our team has a playbook, and we stick to it so we can be unified.”
As a leader, never give a false picture of another’s view or make someone appear to be stupid. Give an accurate, balanced account of both sides. It is best to allow someone you respect, but who differs with you on a subject, to share his or her perspective.
Spirit-filled Christians should fight only the fights that God wants them to fight. We don’t fight because we love to, only because we have to. One fruit of the Spirit is peace.
Remember, the goal of God’s team is to win. We win when we attack the culture with our thinking, energy, resources, and abilities. The goal: to take territory from the enemy. The objective: souls restored to their Creator. God’s team, the church, is not just hiding out from the enemy. In coach’s language, we are trying to build the program. We are trying to recruit new players for the team.
Jesus makes it clear that we are to look out for and care for the hurting. Scripture tells us that pure and undefiled religion is to care for the widows and orphans. Jesus said that to care for the least is to care for Him.
REACHING YOUR COMMUNITIES – I have four recommendations for church leaders who want to reach their communities. These recommendations come from my own experience at Real Life.
First, pray that God will reveal to you how He would have you reach the area where you live.
Second, vision-cast as a leader the idea that God has given you a mission and every person is an important part of it.
Third, as you do this, people will start to share those dreams with you and the leadership. New ideas for outreach will rise to the top. Your job is to figure out which are Spirit-led ideas.
Fourth, you must take the ideas that are given and discern if the need is real or imagined.
Remember, the job of a coach is to get other gifted people to play the positions they are gifted for. If the coach is busy playing all the positions, he won’t have time for anything new.
As you start to reach out in your community, remember that the end goal is to bridge your people to the discipleship process. If all you do is move people from the world to the church service, you have fallen short of discipling those you attracted.
Your job is to make sure that a process is developed that takes people from the world all the way to maturity through relationship and service.
If we have the “we have arrived” attitude, it won’t be long before we become complacent. Worse yet, we may begin the downward spiral of self-destruction; pride comes before a fall.
An accurate and honest assessment encourages better leadership. In order to improve, constructive criticism is essential. When we accept our faults correctly, as something that can be changed, rather than seeing ourselves as complete failures, we are able to grow.
A TEST IN PERCEPTION – Not long ago we developed a test for individuals to figure out where they were weak so they could improve. This test evaluates people in eighteen areas of leadership competency. We call it The Summit. The Summit is not an evaluation you give yourself; rather, it is the result of feedback from those who know you best: your co-workers, those you lead, your friends, your family, and your spouse; some may even go to the elders of the church.
We see why the devil works against God’s plan for resolution so aggressively. He doesn’t want God’s team to improve. He likes bitter roots to grow up in hearts and in churches. He hates unity; he loves factions and splits. He wants us to self-destruct in the locker room before we hit the field!
PROMOTING HONESTY AND RESOLUTION – If a culture of resolution is to be created, it starts with the leader. The leader must lead the way by dealing with issues immediately, lovingly, and truthfully. The leader must also allow others to confront him or her.
Before changing an organization, some of us need to become coaches who can be followed.
Change takes time, especially if you serve in an older church. A rapid change could cause a church split or worse, even if the newfound truth is what the church needs. It’s important to get the rest of the leaders on board so they will understand why change is needed.
He needs to include these leaders and allow them to be a part of the change.
Before you attempt to change a church, you must have God’s help. Prayer is essential to implementing change in the church.
To implement change you must eat, sleep, and drink the vision.
Be sure to include your whole leadership team when it comes to the creation of a new plan. It is essential that they know why you need to change.
Don’t forget to count the cost of the plan to your congregation. Be ready for those who will disagree. Take your ideas to the next level of leadership and then to the congregation.
If you’ve done all you can to change the church, but there’s a significant number of leaders opposed to the direction you feel led to take, be careful. God’s reputation is at stake, and when Christians fight, it causes unbelievers to reject Jesus.
Of course, change can’t be implemented when a leadership is divided in purpose and direction.
Some allow those with money to control what happens because of fear of lost income. Remember, it’s God’s church and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Do what is right and He will provide.
I want to be able to say like Paul, I have fought the fight, I have finished the race, and now I have a crown waiting for me. Let’s give our all on the field and teach those who follow us to do the same.
Coach then said something that has stayed with me over the years: “Most people will never be great at anything. They have no desire to do more than just get by. They will never even try to do something great, because they don’t care about anything enough to put it all out there. Others like the idea of being great, in your case becoming an All-American. They like the thought of the glory, they like the idea of wearing a national champion letterman’s jacket, and they also like the thought of being interviewed for the paper or on television. Many of you like the dream, but I know that not many of you will do what it takes to be great. It will take too much sacrifice.
As I look back on that day, I learned a very important lesson. Greatness costs, sometimes more than we want it to. Coach was wrong. We ended up with only twenty-three when it was all over, but all twenty-three won the national team title.
Now I look back, and I know that I learned what it means to put everything you have into something and to see others do the same. But now I also feel kind of silly. I was willing to work that hard for a crown that would not last. I was willing to commit myself to something that very few would care about later.
As the ceremony below was being ignored, I gathered the guys and asked them why they were not paying attention to the old guys who were being honored below. They said things like, “We don’t know them” and “We don’t care.” I asked them why they were working so hard for something that future young wrestlers, just like them, would not care about either.
I then asked them what they were going to do with their lives that future generations would respect, unlike what was going on below.
We all like the idea of winning but aren’t willing to commit to the lifestyle.
As I watch God’s players, I often wonder, “What is their mission? Do they have one at all?” They show up for the team meeting and cheer with the crowd, yet they have no intention of finishing what they started. They like hanging around the team, being associated with the players, but will never do what it takes to win.
First, people leave because they were never really committed to the team and the mission in the first place. It was a good idea, but it was a conditional commitment. They were not committed to the coach as the authority, rule maker, and expert, and they had not decided that a wrestler was really what they were. In the spiritual realm, many have not really accepted the spiritual reality that Jesus is Lord, that the Word is the rulebook, and that there is a war going on. They go to church but are not part of the church. They believe in Christ but are not Christians. They like the idea but are not committed to the lifestyle.
Second, people leave because of an unwillingness to sacrifice personal desires to attain the goal. A good example for a wrestler would be food. Some wrestlers are not willing to give up what they want to eat for what they should eat so that they and the team can win. Nothing great happens, in sports or in the church, without great discipline.
Third, people leave because they are unwilling to do what they don’t want to do. There are times when you must push yourself beyond your comfort zone. You must run when you don’t want to. You must lift when you don’t want to. You must keep going though every part of you says stop. How many Christians are willing to expend a similar amount of effort for God?
Fourth, people leave because the going gets tough. I watched wrestlers who had won championships in high school quit because they could not immediately win in college. They did not see losing as a lesson that if learned well could propel them to greatness. Christians too can learn from their failures, but often they walk off God’s team, despondent and forever defeated.
God honors commitment. God doesn’t always use the most talented, but He does use the most committed.
In this battle we are in, we don’t have the option of quitting. How can we quit, knowing what Jesus has done? How can we quit when we have peered into the spiritual world and know people are at risk of going to hell?
I will never forget the time Coach Owen walked up to a junior high wrestler who was incorrectly doing the move just demonstrated. He kindly tried to correct the kid, but the boy would have none of it. I could not believe what I was hearing. This kid told Coach Owen that he did not do it that way. He had a way of doing things that worked for him. He wasn’t going to change, even though he was absolutely wrong. That kid had the opportunity to be coached by a person who had shaped national champions, but he would not listen because he thought he knew better. The kid’s explanation was that it had worked on all the little kids he had wrestled. Coach tried to explain to him that it would not work on an experienced, older wrestler. The kid refused to listen, so Coach just moved away to work with someone who would listen.
I believe God gives us those who can help us if we are willing to learn and listen. God wants His team to take new ground, which means we will have to learn and grow.
He is looking for coaches who will stick around no matter what. In 2 Chronicles 16:9, Scripture tells us, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” He doesn’t need excessive talent. He likes to use little people to do big things.
The church world recognizes that biblical literacy is at new lows. We recognize that few have a biblical worldview, and few know what to do about it. The old way of teaching the Bible is less effective as our culture becomes more visual—more story driven.
We are using Orality as the basis for teaching in our small groups. Orality is a method of using stories as the main vehicle for teaching the Bible in the discipleship process.
All of our people can tell a Bible story and ask good questions. It leads to better participation and better learning.
Last week and this week are closely linked together because we’re talking about attendance or gathering at church being one of the essentials in the Christian life. Ken talked about Hebrews 10:19-25, the LETTUCE passages regarding this New and Living Way:
19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Life groups and Sunday School classes are an essential part of church. In a broad sense, these groups and classes are a way to share life together as we travel together on this journey toward Christian maturity. Baptists have discovered that if you want the church to grow, and the gospel to spread, a small groups ministry is the key.
So, this begs the question: what should be the purpose of a small group ministry? Believe it or not, the purpose of a small groups ministry is the same as the church—to make and develop disciples of Christ by reflecting and living out the Great Commandment. Here is Luke 10:27: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” These two greatest commandments emphasize three areas that make a strong foundation to any church, small group, or individual Christian: spiritual growth, learning, and serving.
For these three things to happen, it is essential that you show up. Growth, learning, and serving don’t just happen by reading a book, or by accident, or by individual resolve and determination. These happen, and are carried out, in the context of Christian community.
From the very beginning, God called to himself a people; starting with one man and his family that God blessed into a great nation. Ever since Abraham, God has emphasized the community. God doesn’t want rouge individualism, that’s more of an American characteristic. God wants his people gathered as a community of faith; to worship, to live life, to share with and support, to encourage and lift up, to admonish and correct, all in the context of community. For a community to be a community, it is essential that we show up.
Consider the challenge of Hebrew 10:24, “to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” THAT will not happen by accident. We need others to guide us on this journey. Left to ourselves, we will drift away, and eventually crash and burn. We cannot be an obedient Christian on our own.
Consider this homework assignment: do a word study on all the “one another” passages in the New Testament and see if any of them can be accomplished by staying at home, or even by sitting in a place like this, looking at the back of someone else’s head. It is said that Christianity is best living in circles, not rows. Rows will separate us and allow us to hide from one another, while circles invite everyone into participation.
Let’s get back to the Great Commandment and how small groups attendance is essential:
To love God with all our heart and soul is to love Him with passion, with priority, and with trust. We can’t go out into the world and work at our jobs, and deal with the family, and at the same time keep our passion for God without help.
Think about it, we can’t be bombarded by media, and ads, and strange noises in our car, and keep God first in our priorities. We can’t listen to the news, and to the politicians, and worry about paying our bills, while naturally keeping our trust in God.
We need to see the example of others and receive their encouragement. We need others who know us who can remind us how God has taken care of our needs in the past, so he will take care of us in the future. A small group can provide all of this in a way a large congregation can’t.
To love God with all our mind is to learn about Him through his Word, and to see the world from His perspective. The best preacher in the world is still limited by the fact that sermons have NO interaction.
With a small group, people can ask questions, give illustrations, even express doubts, and know that other people are listening. Loving God with our mind is taking biblical truths and applying them to our lives. While good preachers add application to their sermons, it’s also important to have a fellow believer who can look at our particular situation on a personal level and speak directly into our lives.
To love Him with all our strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves are related. Small groups should be a place where we can freely “love our neighbor,” whether through prayer or meeting a physical need. Small groups also provide encouragement and a place of rest so members can love God with all their strength OUTSIDE the group. When members serve God as a group or as individuals, the small group can be a place to recharge and share how God is working in their lives.
God knows we are fragile and fallen creatures who need constant reminders of what we are supposed to do. Obedience tends to leak out of our buckets.
A small group is a key tool to help us stay focused. Regularly meeting with a committed group of believers allows us to reinforce the core of what we believe so we can live it out, learn more about God, and maintain the strength to serve others. Small groups are the best and most effective way to make and develop disciples of Christ.
King’s Grant Baptist is about building the Kingdom through making disciples, which means helping you to become a devoted follower of Jesus. Small groups are the key in your spiritual growth process. Here, I am going to share some positive benefits in becoming involved in a small group; yep, you actually get something out of being in a small group.
I am going to finish this message by helping us to better understand GROUPS…
G – Gain knowledge and Growth toward maturity.
Gain Knowledge – You will understand the Bible better in a community of faith.
Have you ever listened to a message from the Bible at a worship service and wanted to stop the speaker and say, “But what about?” or “I don’t understand!” If so, then a small group is for you. The message that is taught in our worship service is one-way communication. You listen while the speaker speaks. It’s fine for imparting knowledge, but not as effective for personal application as a small group. In a small group setting, you can ask questions, participate in a discussion of the text, and hear others share their insights and illustrations of the truth you are trying to grasp. The Bible must be applied to your own personal situations and that happens best in small groups.
Growth Toward Maturity – You will grow spiritually faster in a group than when you are alone.
We have been “predestined to become conformed to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29). Spiritual growth involves life change. Life change is optimized in the context of a small group. 2 Timothy 2:22 teaches that we are to “run after” godly character and “run away” from the passions of youth. This verse instructs us not to do this alone but “with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.” God wants us to stop “trying” and start “training.” It’s always easier to exercise physically or spiritually in a group than alone (1 Timothy 4:7b).
R – Relationships
Experiences – You will begin to really feel like part of God’s family.
We believe it is imperative that as a church grows larger, it should also grow smaller at the same time. It should be the desire of growing churches to provide a small group for everyone that wants to get connected. In a society that is increasingly mobile and where families are fragmented, small groups can provide a family atmosphere where no one needs to stand alone.
Encouragement – You will receive customized care.
Each member of a small group provides care for the other members of the group (1 Corinthians 12:25). The group leader oversees the pastoral care of the group through the sub-group leaders. The group, rather than church staff, becomes the first line of resources. This is accomplished as believers in the group see themselves as contributors and not just consumers, givers and not just attenders.
O – Opportunities.
Example – You will be a New Testament Christian.
The early church met as a large group for corporate worship at the temple and then as small groups from house to house (Acts 2:46; 5:42; 20:20; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). The New Testament is very clear about how God intended for His people to meet in small groups so they could experience authentic biblical community. The New Testament is also very clear to point out that these were communities with a purpose. They used these small groups to fulfill the Great Commission in a Great Commandment way. They weren’t an end in themselves.
Evangelism – You will have a natural way to share Christ with friends, neighbors, classmates, relatives, and co-workers.
It may be that some of your friends who don’t know the Lord wouldn’t be caught dead in a church. They have a preconceived idea and just the thought makes them defensive. But those same people may be open to an invitation to a casual Bible discussion in a home or office setting. In a small group, your unbelieving friend can ask questions and express honest doubts without feeling “put on the spot”. When your friend sees the love and warmth and honesty of your group, it will make him more receptive to the good news (John 13:35; Acts 5:42).
U – I’ll come back to this one at the end…
P – Prayer will become more meaningful to you.
Many people are hesitant to pray in front of others, especially in a large church. In a small group of 6-12, you will learn to participate in prayer by having a conversation together with God. No one is pressured to pray, but as you become comfortable, you’ll be able to pray sentence prayers and join in. There are many promises in the Bible related to group prayer. In praying together with a few others, we are drawn together, and we find answers to the needs in our lives (Matthew 18:19).
S – Support, Skills, and Service.
Support – You don’t have to go through struggles alone.
It’s not only possible but also probable that you could walk into and out of a large group event with hurts, heartaches, and soul-searching questions but never connect with someone that will show an interest in you or identify with your difficulty. In a small group setting the principle of “commonality” is often experienced. Many of us think our struggles are unique to us, but in a small group we find out that personal problems are universal. It’s exciting to find out that the members of your group have not only struggled with common problems but have found common solutions in God’s Word (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Skills – You will develop leadership skills in a small group.
Many people are scared of the word “leadership.” John Maxwell says, “Leadership is just influence.” Most believers would say without reservation that they want to influence their world for Christ. They would love to be used by God to lead someone to Christ and see that person grow up spiritually and reproduce himself. Acts 4:13 says “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” These men had obtained the confidence they needed to lead others to the Savior because they had been discipled in Jesus’ group. Discipleship ultimately produces leadership skills in you. One day you will be discipling a small group of believers.
Service – You’ll have a place to discover and use your spiritual gifts.
When people are born into their physical family, they are given natural talents, but when they are born into the family of God they are given spiritual gifts. These gifts are God-given abilities that enable believers to effectively serve one another. Attending a spiritual gift workshop and taking a gift assessment is a vital step in discovering your gift mix, but it is the members of your group that provide confirmation of your gift after watching you in action. People that have no arena in which to exercise their gifts struggle to identify them. A neighborhood group is a wonderful place to steward the gifts God has sovereignly given you (1 Peter 4:10, 11).
So, these past two weeks at King’s Grant have been about the importance of attendance @ Church. After all this time and teaching, perhaps you now see that your attendance in corporate worship (and some sort of small group) is way more than numbers on a spreadsheet. We are talking about the God’s people moving closer toward conforming to the image of Christ, growing into full maturity.
So, what is missing in the outline? Look at your notes. What blank is left out? U = YOU.
I suppose, there may be really just one question left to ask regarding attendance in a small group: “How are you doing with that?” Are you doing all you can to take advantage of spiritual growth opportunities? Or are you just happy to be where you are? Your staff can’t make you desire spiritual growth or maturity. We can’t make you practice hospitality. We can’t make you invite others into our community, faith, and love here at King’s Grant. I suppose it all comes back to another question, “Are you here because of what you get out of the community, or what you can give back to others?” THIS is the difference between being a consumer and being a contributor.
Are you ready to move toward something greater than where you find yourself right now? What will it take to get you out of a row and into a group? What are the barriers that prevent you from getting into a small group? What is holding you back? Are there fears? Issues of time? Not enough Bible knowledge to get into a group with those long-time believers?
Think of it this way, you don’t refuse to go to college because other people know more than you. That’s the whole point of college. You go there to learn new things, experience community, and grow toward proficiency in your profession. Is not your salvation the most important thing ever? Then why do we accept the lie that ignorance is bliss? The more you get involved, the more you realize you have a lifetime of learning ahead of you.
I see a barrier that one day, King’s Grant will have to address: space. We can’t get everyone into a Sunday School class, so, who in our classes is willing to say that space and seats will no longer limit the growth of King’s Grant Baptist Church? Would there ever be a time when half of the people in your class will say, “We are going to meet in homes, to free up space for our classes here on campus to reach people not yet connected”?
Who is ready to start something in your home, using the Life Group model, asking questions about the preacher’s message and text, then seeking to apply the Scripture to real life? THAT is community life. THAT is what Life Groups are about. Not a teacher, then don’t try to be one; allow the Holy Spirit to guide your group. When you run across something you don’t know how to answer, just say, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Then come talk to me about it.
Attendance @Church – one of the Essentials in the Christian life. If you need to talk about how to get this part of your life straightened out, I’d love to talk with you about it.
May the Spirit of God move in your soul to take seriously the command to Love God and Love People in a community of faith.
Here’s an Insightful Idea:
Most churches only have pre-set kinds of groups which come from the leadership. But when you’re dealing with tens of thousands, how do you find enough niches to fit each individual? Breaking the large church into effective small groups is a constant challenge.
They developed the concept of Free Market Small Groups to deal with the challenges inherent in small group formation, emphasizing trust in God’s working, mentorship, and empowering their members. In the Free Market system of small groups, the members who host small groups choose the topic of study, when and where to meet, and what their group does. The Church does not dictate what the small groups will be and doesn’t create a complicated structure and meeting agenda for these groups.
The Free Market idea works because the group members are more passionate about their group. The group leaders are interested and experienced in the focus of the group, and are enthusiastic about inviting others to join their group. The group members and leaders may naturally have more contacts in the areas of their interest and have more success in asking new people to come. Additionally, when members are interested and engaged in the group, they are less likely to become burned out.
This Free Market structure for small groups also allows for the ebb and flow of the seasons, life schedules, and individual interests. The small groups can take breaks that coincide with school calendars, for instance. The sessions run much like school semesters, taking December off, and then restarting again in January. Rather than running small groups the entire summer, the session is shorter, just about a month long.
[ From Rich Birch, Unreasonable Churches ]
Take a look at some questions that will help small groups dig into a passage, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead and direct the conversation – The Bible App Initiative www.kgbc.us/questions