Where a sphere of ministry is primarily focused on relationships, that ministry tends to have an organic emphasis. So, in regard to small groups, it’s not so much a matter whether the ministry will be organic, but how much structure will the leader of the ministry provide. It’s a matter of how intentional the landscaping is going to be.
Will it fall to one extreme, where the tops of the shrubs are clipped with the assistance of a level and every last weed is sniped with Round Up? Will it fall to the other extreme, where everything is allowed to grow “naturally,” even if that means grass is growing into the mulch and the roses aren’t being pruned? Or will you find a balance between the two, keeping trees trimmed, the grass mowed and fertilized, and the flowerbeds looking generally nice?
I use this metaphor, in regards to small groups ministry, to refer to training and developing leaders, keeping tabs on how many groups you have and who is attending them, having a voice in the curriculum small groups use, and aligning all your small groups around a common vision. I know that some people think the more natural and organic a ministry is, the better it is. But this, I think, is an over reaction to strictly programmed ministry, which is different than structured ministry.
As I write, our church has over 95 leaders and over 50 groups. So, as the pastor responsible for this ministry, I simply don’t have the time to opt for the OCD method of leadership. But I have found that having some basic structures in place has been very beneficial, in five ways in particular.
1. A structure for shepherding – Each of our elders is assigned to shepherd some small group leaders and their groups (they also shepherd members who are not in a small group). If something comes up in a small group discussion beyond the leader’s pay grade – an extreme sin issue or a marriage in trouble – that leader has an elder to call right away, who can step into that situation. I know of at least one drowning marriage that was pulled into a life raft in the past few months. Without a shepherding structure in place, I’m not sure what would have happened.
2. Leadership development – Many of our small group leaders have the potential of being future elders, deacons, or other ministry leaders. Most groups have someone else who could lead a group of their own. But without structures that provide a development path, it would be much harder to recognize when people are ready for a role with more responsibility.
3. A place to plug new people in – This is obvious, perhaps, but important enough to be stated. How are you going to welcome new people into a rich community experience within your church if you don’t have a well-structured, yet simple path to join a small group?
4. Developing a church planting culture – Our church has an aggressive church planting goal, but I don’t believe we will be able to develop a church planting culture until we develop a small group planting culture. I don’t mean small group splits. I mean where a group of 10-12 send off 2-4 to start a new group, so that the many people in our church who don’t have a group will have one available for them to join. If we can get that happening in our small groups ministry, people will be more willing to send and be sent for church plants – at least that’s my hope.
5. Healthier conflict resolution – Sometimes small groups dissolve, which can result in relational tension. If your small groups ministry is disorganized, when the inevitable relational fallout happens, you will not be able to deal with it competently, or in a way that helps people feel shepherded. But with our structures in place, I was able to guide the people left over who wanted to be in a group – whether to join up with another group, start a new group, or keep going with a different leader.
You might be able to experience these benefits with a few small groups, but if your ministry grows, you will reach the point where you can’t keep track of all the details yourself anymore. That’s when you need simple structures to do a lot of the work for you.
More and more these days, we are hearing that successful pastors, especially church planters, need to be entrepreneurial. But what does that mean exactly? What does it not mean?
Renowned business leader, Peter Drucker, says an entrepreneur is simply a person who looks for changes, and then methodically exploits them. It’s about what you do – not your personality. This means any pastor can become more entrepreneurial.
In his book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Drucker lists seven ways entrepreneurs innovate based on changes they see around them. I have slightly rephrased them in order to apply them to the ministry context.
1. Capitalize on the unexpected success or failure
I faced one particular unexpected failure in my first year as a junior high pastor. My goal was to obliterate the dichotomy of “fun and games” youth ministries and “bible preaching” ones. I was going to do expository preaching and put on big, fun events.
My surprising failure, however, was that no matter how big the event I ran, only about half my students showed up. Bigger wasn’t better.
In response, I decided to “go small” through Bible studies, informal small group gatherings, and after school hangouts. It worked, and I experienced two fantastic results: a closer-knit student community and less administrative pressures. Win, win.
2. Close the gap on an incongruity
An incongruity means that there is a void between a current reality and what ought to be true. In ministry terms, it often means that people who need to be reached aren’t being reached.
The textbook example is the 10/40 Window. That only 10% of missionaries were going to the area that contained 90% of unbelievers was a huge incongruity.
Who’s not being reached in your community? What communities are not being reached around you? These opportunities represent areas to expand your gospel reach.
3. Fulfill a process need
A “process need” is an opportunity to make a difficult process smoother or less complicated.
Can you help released prisoners reacclimate to society? Can you help refugees start over in a world that is foreign to them? Can you help widows and widowers, or divorcees cope with life on their own? Can you start a free or extremely inexpensive day care or preschool for working single parents?
Anywhere that people need help getting from point A to point B is an opportunity to minister with the the gospel.
4. Adapt to “out of the blue” changes in church structure
The New Calvinism, its conferences, and church planting networks are restructuring how churches affiliate themselves. Independent, non-denominational churches don’t have to be entirely independent anymore.
In a local church context, for example, if your church is growing at an unexpected rate, your leadership structure will need to adapt if you want to keep up.
Whenever you adapt your ministry structure, it is essential to keep your innovation simple. Complicated changes to the structure often cause the whole thing to collapse.
5. Recognize changes in demographics
Demographics changes are not high on Drucker’s list of innovative strategies, but for ministry purposes it might be one of the easiest to capitalize on. What could be simpler than aiming your gospel efforts at places where more people are going? The fastest growing cities and the expanding parts of your suburbs are great places to aim church planting efforts.
6. Recognize changes in perception, mood, and meaning
Today there are “I hate religion” folks and “I love Jesus, but I don’t like the church” folks. The homosexual agenda is having an impact inside, as well as outside, the church. Moreover, the mood of the church is extremely influenced by politics right now.
The entrepreneurial pastor will not complain and moan about these trends. Instead, he’ll consider what new opportunities for the gospel have been opened by these trends. Is there a way to communicate the gospel message in a way that answers their objections? Is there a way to show how Jesus has already provided what these people are looking for?
7. Apply new knowledge
According to Drucker, this is the “super-star” source for entrepreneurial innovation. It’s the new, hot thing that gets the buzz, but it’s also the most capricious and volatile.
And, to be honest, churches are exceptionally slow to change. Only a handful are on the cutting edge of cultural trends.
Social networking and social media is the “new knowledge” making its way into churches. Many pastors are tweeting, blogging, and friending, and lots are doing so in ways that are magnifying their word ministry. Many churches are using Facebook, or even installing their own social network.
But when the social media craze dies down, will these pastors be able to pull a Jack, and nimbly jump over the social media candlestick to next big thing? Or will they drag their feet and get burned? My advice is, if you happen upon a “new knowledge” opportunity, go after it. But don’t spend your time looking for it.
You don’t need an MBA or an extroverted personality
These strategies for innovation in ministry can be applied without smuggling a business model into your church. When the gospel is what you are spreading, you are acting more like a missiologist than a manager.
Furthermore, being an entrepreneurial pastor has more to do with making calculated ministry decisions for the sake of spreading the gospel, and less to do with having an extroverted, risk-taker personality.
Many preachers are like a light switch when it comes to passion, it’s either flipped on or off, either talking or yelling. To more effectively use passion in your preaching, think of it as a dimmer switch with various levels of passion and smooth transitions from one to the other.
Calvin Miller, in his book Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition, points out six ways to preach with passion, each with its own spot on the dimmer switch:
Ask yourself how [the six purveyors of passion] must be used in your preaching to convince your audience that you feel strongly about your subject. Consider how these six elements of passion might be used to connote how you want your audience to feel the resurrection Let us take the account of John 20:1-2, 11, 16-17.
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was dark” (John 20:1a).
They said nothing as they walked. Silence. Aching silence. Heavy, breaking, agonizing silence. He was dead – dead – dead.
“Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance” (John 20:1b).
Tears, hot, cutting, desperate. He was not there.
“But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb” (John 20:11).
“So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2).
They have taken the Lord!
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabonni!’ (which means Teacher)” (John 20:16).
Mary cried out at this point. The volume must keep pace.
“So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved…” (John 20:2)
Mary came running (let the rhetoric pick up speed).
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
This is but a tiny model of the aspects of passion but is valid in all the rhetorical aspects that compose passion. Use each aspect only when the text or your feeling about it connotes passion.
But anywhere you suspect that you’re saying things louder than you feel them, then you need to rein in your rhetoric with conservative humanity and let the other aspects of passion show their stuff. But getting loud and staying loud is neither true humanity nor good homiletics.
What I appreciate most about Miller’s model for passion is that it takes its cues from the text. It is not so much a response to a disinterested audience - I’m losing them, I better whip up some passion to get their attention back – but a response to the passage. When you respond with passion to what the passage says, your congregation will respond to God’s word, not to you. Which I think is the goal of preaching in the first place.
If your priorities in ministry are out of whack, there is no better place for you to turn than Acts 6:1-6. The pastor’s single priority is a triune priority. We are to shepherd God's flock as prophets, priests, and kings. One priority in the three, three priorities in one.
In Acts 6, the apostles model this triune shepherding priority for us.
The apostles had an issue to deal with. The Greek widows were not receiving portions of food, and the Hebrew widows were. “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” (6:1). Even in the early days of the church, we see conflict between those who participated in the Old Covenant, and those who didn’t.
As the apostles deal with this issue, they also fulfill their role as prophets, priests, and kings.
The apostles as prophets
This role is clear throughout the NT, and especially the beginning of Acts. Peter and the other apostles teach, and the young Christian community devoted themselves to their teaching (Acts 2:42).
In Acts 6, the apostles declare that their word ministry is the most important thing they do, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (6:2).
So as they confront this issue of favoritism, they do not forsake their main responsibility of teaching.
The apostles as priests
We see the apostles’ commitment to priestly ministry in two ways.
The first was to ensure that the widows were cared for by appointing men “to this duty” (6:3). Caring for widows is ministry of mercy and compassion, a priestly ministry.
But it is not as if the apostles wanted to sit in their study, sport their tweed jackets, and puff their pipes without being bothered by the flock. They were fully committed to priestly ministry themselves, too.
We see this in the second priestly ministry the apostles committed, the ministry of prayer: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4).
The apostles as kings
Lastly, we see the apostles as exemplary kings in these verses.
It’s not explicit on the face the passage, but it is abundantly clear nevertheless. Take note of all the “kingly” actions the apostles take:
1. They held a congregational meeting: “And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples” (6:2).
2. They delegated fixing the problem to men who are qualified: “…men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty” (6:3).
3. They even delegated the task of choosing the delegates! “Therefore, brothers [i.e., the full number the disciples], pick out from among you seven men…” (6:3).
4. They ordained the newly founded deaconate: “These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them” (6:6).
A apostles were prototypical prophets, priests, and kings.
A complete pastor – a shepherd – will serve as a prophet, a priest, and a king.
A prophet/priest shepherd will never lead the flock to greener pastures.
A priest/king shepherd will starve the sheep in the midst of a lot of activity.
A prophet/king shepherd will be effective and efficient, but he won’t care for the flock.
Most pastors are strong in one slot, decent in another, and weak in the third. But wherever you are weak, strive to serve your flock in that area, and let Christ be strong in your weakness.