From: Tom Jones, Nashville
Brothers and sisters, looks like we have a pretty good group signed up for some discussion. I will start it off with a few thoughts, and look forward to yours. I am sure that we all heard things that we would have questions about but I would encourage us at the beginning to emphasize those things we thought were the most helpful. But certainly feel free to share anything you think it is good for us to hear. I came away from the seminar with two major ideas:
1. One of my convictions which was affirmed, renewed and deepened during the seminar is that we need to give the highest priority to our small groups and be investing a great deal in our small group leaders. I believe they (Real Life Ministries) are on the right track in saying that the role of leaders is to create a relational environment (in small groups) in which discipleship can take place. I would mention several points:
A. In their ministry it starts with talking about their small groups in every service and in such a way that every visitor (as well as every weak member) realizes that this is the heart of what the church is about. I can see the wisdom of this and believe they are worthy of imitation at this point. As I think about it, I think the church would first need to be told that we are starting a fresh emphasis on this and given the Biblical reasons why. They should see how serious we plan to take it.
B. It is obvious they work to make their small group leaders feel cared for (adequately coached), inspired and appreciated. They have a plan for communicating carefully with small group leaders so that they don't feel in the dark and not sure what is coming or what the direction is. I see this as crucial. Small group leaders should hear over and over that they are the front line leaders in our ministries.
C. Small groups are not just places to meet for fellowship and encouragement, but places to plan various ways to reach out and connect with the community. This is what I got from one of the questions I asked in the Q & A. I believe our small groups need that emphasis. Small group leaders would need to be given ideas and coaching to make it happen, and in some cases that just means to learn to release or draw out the ideas that are probably in the members of their groups.
2. The other idea I got was what I guess you would call 'Intentionality.' Things that are done are part of a plan that grows out several key values'and these things are done to intentionally move a person from one phase of discipleship to another. This certainly is similar or drawn from Rick Warren's purpose-driven approach. You don't just do things to do them. You do them because they fit with the plan and the values you have and will develop and support those. (By the way, in the Q & A session, Bob Harrington recommended a book called 'The Simple Church.' The thesis is that the research shows that the churches that are growing the most are usually the church designed around a simple process of discipleship, clearly communicated, which they expect everything they do to fit with and support.)
Jim's idea of the conveyer belt could be misunderstood and could easily begin to sound impersonal and mechanical. But I believe the idea of having 'intentionality' and purpose in using things to move people from one level maturity to another is worthy of our attention.
It seems obvious to me that such intentionality must be worked out with staff and key leaders in a think-tank environment where the core values of the church are first established and then plans made to intentionally develop those values. I don't think this is something we can begin to practice without time to reflect and get on the same page (probably in a retreat setting). The latest pressing issue in the ministry can often keep us from getting this kind of time, but I see it as crucial.
Aside from those two major thoughts, and not because of anything specifically taught by the presenters, I found myself thinking that in order to know the health of the church, we must once again be looking at attendance and involvement and keeping track of trends that we see. We need to know who is attending our small group meetings and who is not. We need to know if the church is growing or is declining. We need to know how many are accepting Jesus and committing to him in baptism, and if we are seeing the right kind of trend. I am not eager at all to return to the focus on numbers that eventually plagued us and took our eyes off of God and his work, but a failure to be in touch with where we really are, can lead to a failure to shepherd and teach as we should. Perhaps we should keep our statistics, talk about what they say, but pray each time we do that we will not get caught in numbers game and miss the heart of what is needed.
Just some beginning thoughts. As you add your own thoughts please be encouraged to comment on the thoughts posed by someone else.
May God through his Spirit bless our time here and move us to toward more productive ministry that helps our people and grows his kingdom.