One of the most exciting parts of leading a community of people is bringing everyone together around a collective goal. Leading people on mission is a gift that requires much stewardship and an understanding of the dynamics of how people work together. Although this offers many opportunities to see team members thrive in their individual giftings, a question remains: how do we navigate the complexities of bringing a community of people to deeper levels of faith when each person is at a different place on their journey?
Author Jean Vanier states in his book From Brokenness to Community:
“Then Jesus calls his friends into community with others who have been chosen for the same path. This is when all the problems begin! We see the disciples squabbling among themselves, wondering who is the greatest, the most important among them! Community is a wonderful place, it is life-giving; but it is also a place of pain because it is a place of truth and growth – the revelation of our pride, our fear, and our brokenness.” (1992,10)
Vanier goes on to explain how bringing people together in community does not create problems but instead reveals them. When people come together in communion, it is a place where the ego goes to die, sin is revealed, and in turn resurrection occurs.
Community can be a scary place.
It can be even more intimidating when you’re one of the leaders trying to guide others to a place of openness and transformation. The beautiful piece of this is that as leaders we do not need to appear to have it all together. In fact, Jesus calls us to lower ourselves, not to elevate (Phil 2:6-8). Leading in the way of transparency and not from the way of “climbing up the social ladder” enables others to do the same. It takes away the competition. It provides a space of belonging and one where everyone can come forth on their own individual journeys to navigate the unknown waters together. Vanier states, “To be in communion with someone means to walk with them.” If we walk with one another then we will not only help others reach deeper levels of growth, but in turn we will be participants in God’s sanctifying work, not merely observers.
When you belong to a community that walks in openness, you are making the choice to step into transformation. Community reveals the dark places in our hearts and calls us forth to look in the mirror at who we are becoming. Are we becoming like the world around us? Or will we relinquish our jealousy, greed, anger and judgment in order to become more like Christ?
When these become our guiding questions, leading others in their journey no longer becomes about managing differences but instead embracing life together. It is a way other than our own and it is a way to experience freedom and wholeness as one body.
Making it real
When I was newly married and first entering my coaching ministry, I was encouraged by my wife to create a small group with some other guys with whom I wanted to do life together. So, I contacted some guys and we started meeting on a weekly basis to do some kind of Bible study. As time moved forward, we shared some really great times together: lunches, backpacking trips. couple’s date nights and various other outings. Those relationships that started over two decades ago still continue today. Even though our lives and our zip codes have changed, the bond still remains.
Whether you are starting a small group or ministry team, it is important to create a culture where people feel safe. A culture that makes people feel valued. A culture with purpose. Here are 5 questions that can help you learn and apply ways to build authentic and lasting community with the people in your circles.
5 Questions for reflection
- How can we encourage our team or community members to not “climb the social ladder” but instead lower themselves?
- As a leader, are there ways you separate yourself from the group you are leading?
- What groups have you been a part of that challenge you to live authentically?
- What did you learn from that experience?
- What principles can you bring into this group?
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1 (1992, 10)
2 (Vanier, 1992, 30)
3 (Vanier, 1992, 16)
Coaching people to apply what they are learning on their spiritual journey is an important way to help established disciples take their next steps of ongoing growth. Obedience is not a popular concept in our current cultural climate, yet it is an essential aspect of a growing disciple. What we are often doing is “re-discipling disciples”. Here’s what I mean:
A man who was recently divorced was in a small small group I once led. He was still very much embedded in his friend group. As he took steps on his journey of faith, he eventually saw those relationships for what they were: some were life-giving, but others were not so much. One of the most difficult relationships he had was with his father. Over time, this relationship greatly improved. His relationships with his children improved. The role the small group took in his life was strategic: it helped put skin to his faith, support when needed, and lots of loving care.
Groups, when effective, can help established Christians grow into mature disciples who make disciples.
While there are lots of group formats to follow, there is one that is commonly used in the Disciple Making Movements Community which is conducive to a coach-approach. That means it helps people move from reflection to action by asking questions and listening for the Holy Spirit.
3 Thirds Groups – see https://teamexpansion.org/what-is-a-3-thirds-group/
A three-thirds group is just what it sounds like: a group format that’s structured into three segments.
- Looking Back: this first segment gives group members the opportunity to provide care and support for one another based on what’s happening in their individual lives. It also provides accountability for the goals each person set for themselves.
- Looking Up: this second segment directs the group to “look up” to the Holy Spirit for direction, guidance, and revelation for the group’s journey through a passage of Scripture. What is the Spirit saying? What can we learn from this about God? About ourselves?
- Looking Forward: this last segment offers the opportunity to look ahead and explore how each person can apply what they have learned or discovered.
This group format is designed in such a way that each group member is discovering more about God and themselves, growing in the process, and learning to make disciples.
Reflection Questions for the groups you envision:
- What is the purpose of our groups?
- What is the fruit of our groups?
- What can we tweak or re-envision for our groups?
- Brainstorm some ideas that would make a difference in the next 3-6 months?
- What is a practical step we can take to move towards that?
We would love to hear from you: have you ever been part of a small group where you experienced major growth as a disciple? What did that look like?
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In a post-Christian context, one of the challenges when connecting with people is discerning where to start. In our efforts to relate, serve, and ultimately build trust, sometimes we inadvertently do more damage than good. It can happen in subtle ways through words and actions that are intended to build bridges but, instead, create deep divides that are challenging to navigate.
Have you said something that was received with a surprised look, hurt, or even anger? I know I have. Fortunately, when this happens I have people around me that make me aware and those on the receiving end have been kind enough to forgive. There are times, though, when things are said that are offensive and insensitive that can lead to rifts in relationship if not quickly addressed. That’s what I would like to address here.
How to build relationships with people who have a different view than you
Listen – Listen to understand so that you learn where a person is coming from. This is easier said than done. Before you form a judgment – stop, remain curious and ask questions. When you feel the urge to share your own thought or relatable story, decide instead to listen and understand.
Empathize – If there is one thing that followers of Jesus need to lead the way in, it is the art of empathy. With the ability to put yourself in another person’s position, you can earn the right to ask questions. The only way to do this is by getting into the muck and mire of people’s lives. Watch Brene Brown on Empathy.
Nurture Trust – This is vital. Until you have implemented the first two, listening and empathizing, you will find it challenging to build trust. Nurturing trust is not a one-time event, but a repeatable process that needs to be reinforced.
In fact, the divisive nature in society has inspired some young leaders to create a toolkit focused on helping people create respectful conversations on various topics that are delicate in our society (politics, climate, gender, sexuality, etc.) and introduce tools that will allow people of various viewpoints to have healthy dialogue.
What to do when you have something to say
Contextualize your message. Paul was astute at relating to people from different worldviews than his own. Think of what he encountered throughout his ministry: navigating cross-cultural barriers, paradigms that were contrary to his, and an array of theological assumptions. A favorite example is when he encountered the “unknown God” (1) in Acts 17:22-23
So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.
Reflect on these questions to assess how you can adapt your approach
- What values do I need to hold true to?
- What issues are non-negotiables for me? Really?
- What issues am I willing to let go?
- What am I unwilling to risk in this conversation?
- How can I create a win-win for this conversation?
- What should I look for to determine if people are uncomfortable?
- What will I do when I encounter a sensitive topic?
- What possible subjects will this person find potentially offensive?
- How can I share what I need to share in a way that it can be heard?
- Who else could I include?
1 The Unknown God or Agnostos Theos (Ancient Greek: Ἄγνωστος Θεός) is a theory by Eduard Norden first published in 1913 that proposes, based on the Christian Apostle Paul ‘s Areopagus speech in Acts 17 :23, that in addition to the twelve main gods and the innumerable lesser deities, ancient Greeks worshipped a deity they called “Agnostos Theos”; that is: “Unknown God”, which Norden called “Un-Greek”.
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What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is “awareness that arises in the moment without judgment”. As Christian leaders it is imperative that we enter into conversations and remain in a mindful space for the benefit of the people we lead. When we can achieve that, we have the opportunity to nurture a place of refuge for our teams.
Is mindfulness a secular or non-Christian practice?
A common misperception of mindfulness is that you, as the coach, “empty” your mind. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a Christian leader myself, I want to help you shift your understanding of mindfulness to a focus on “stilling the mind.”
An important place where mindfulness “flows” into Cristian leadership is in the “stillness” that it creates: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Invite God into those places when you lack wisdom, peace, discernment, calmness, and confidence.
Mindfulness integrates seamlessly with Christian leadership. Here are some of the personal benefits that come with mindfulness that, incidentally, are scientifically verified.
Benefits of mindfulness:
- Decreases stress, anxiety, rumination, worry, depression, and pain
- Increases well-being and emotional regulation
- Guides us into being fully present (able to listen vs. lost in thought)
Practicing mindfulness with those you lead
A leader I was working with was sharing his journey of helping a church staff member navigate a challenging season. The staff member’s performance was not what he was accustomed to: flourishing ministry, empowered teams, and supportive colleagues. Instead, his reputation was suffering. As the lead pastor shared some of the difficult decisions he was struggling through, I offered to “hold space” (establishing a place of refuge) for him. This gave him an opportunity to sit quietly and discern what God wanted to say. Rather than chastisement – he felt empowered. I paused for a moment during our prayer and in silence asked the Holy Spirit to comfort, encourage and clarify what my friend needed to do in this uncomfortable situation.
Mindfulness facilitates a heightened level of sensitivity and discernment to identify moments to pause and “hold space” for clients. Building your mindfulness ability is just like developing any other habit: you need to focus on a certain muscle group, system in your body, or skill you want to master. Focus and consistent practice and exercise will accelerate your development.
7 habits to nurture mindfulness*:
- Breathe – take 3-5 deep breaths. Focus on opening your chest and expanding your belly on the intake, pause briefly, and exhale through your nose.
- Pray – find a quiet place, clear your mind, and pray.
- Walk – take a walk around the block.
- Practice – take the opportunity to stay present in the various conversations you have throughout the day.
- Gratitude – journal a list of things you are thankful for.
- Read – read a book for pleasure that is not related to your work.
- Meditate – find a passage of scripture that resonates and focus on it during breaks from work.
*Neuroscience supports the notion that if you can break a certain line of thinking for 90 seconds you can interrupt the thought
Reflection Questions to Enhance Your Mindfulness As a Christian Leader
- Describe those times when you remain fully present.
- What is happening when you allow your mind to wander?
- What is/are the triggers?
- When you realize your mind is elsewhere, how have you gotten back on track?
- Decide on one or more of the habits from the list above that you will adopt.
October 17 is right around the corner, and you know what that means… Our 5 Discipleship Coach Habits Webinar is finally launching! After putting a lot of time and effort into creating this training approach to disciple making, we are so excited to finally begin this journey with anyone who feels ready to take the next step in their discipleship coaching. The cohort launches on October 17, 2022 from 10am-3pm PST.
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What do birds have to do with making disciples that make disciples? Bear with me for a minute–I promise there’s a connection.
You may have heard of the term “imprinting”. Famous zoologist Konrad Lorenz famously describes the process of imprinting occurring when an animal forms an attachment to the first thing it lays its eyes upon after hatching (McLeod, 2018). This is most often associated with geese when the farmer becomes its “parent”.
If the gosling is not parented by a goose, then the farmer will take the place of the parent. Because of this, the gosling will never learn how to fly. The farmer is imprinted upon the bird, thus preventing the goose from learning how to become what it was created to be.
Let’s go back to the beginning: what do birds have to do with making disciples that make disciples? Maybe you already see the connection. When a Christian begins the process of discipling a new believer, they run the risk of imprinting themselves onto the young disciple. The one who is new in faith may begin to follow everything their discipler is doing and begin to look more and more like them. This poses a danger to the developing believer because it takes away the focus of Christ and replaces it with the one who is leading.
This is not always done on purpose. Yet without maturity and discernment, a disciple maker may end up creating mini versions of themselves instead of creating followers of Christ. This prevents disciples from maturing into who they were created to be. We are not meant to be like those around us, but we are meant to become more like Christ. So how do we avoid this process of imprinting?
Whose imprint are you leaving on the newest disciples in the ministry you lead?
In the church where I grew up, there were two influential leaders under whom the church flourished. Skyline Wesleyan Church was planted by Orval Butcher. He planted a thriving church and pastored the families that were drawn to this “Christ-centered family church.” Pastor Butcher was a people’s pastor. The church grew under his leadership to over 1,0000, which is quite an accomplishment given the personal nature of his ministry. His successor was Pastor John Maxwell. Many have read his books or heard John speak and been inspired by his ministry. John’s mantra is “everything rises and falls on leadership”.
Imagine being under the leadership of two very influential church leadership and discipleship models. Regardless of the other models you’ve experienced throughout your faith journey, the imprint on your mind and spirit remains to this day. The models of Skyline Wesleyan Church gave me someone to look up to, emulate and aspire to be like as a follower of Jesus and as a leader. At some point along my journey, I needed to discover and (eventually did) lean into who I was as a follower of Jesus apart from the models that left their imprint on me.
How do we imprint Jesus on the newest followers?
We must first always point people towards holiness. We must pursue and model the life of Christ in every aspect, to the point that nothing in ourselves is taking the throne, or, keeping with the imprinting analogy, the “first gaze”. One of the truest ways to disciple a young believer is to show them who Christ is. That requires continually bringing them back to scripture and modeling a life of holy living. 1 Peter 1:16 states: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” As we take on the disciple maker role, it is important to be reminded that others are always watching. So we must ask ourselves who they are seeing: us or Christ?
Secondly, it is important to look at who has been discipling us and where our influence is coming from. Has there been anyone upon whom we have “imprinted” when we were young in our faith? Looking back and reflecting upon our own discipleship journey can help us become more aware of the pitfalls we find ourselves in. We often repeat what was imprinted on us, thus creating a pattern – healthy or unhealthy.
Lastly, when we disciple, we must help people see for themselves who they were created to be. If we are faithful in our leadership, stripping away our own biases, then we must allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in the formational process. Our job is simply pointing people towards Jesus and allowing Him to work in the transformation towards becoming more like Him.
Church models, whether prevailing or micro, may not be as critical here as long as leaders don’t create a dependency on their leadership. What matters when a person enters a large group gathering versus a small group gathering is the direction they are pointed. Are they walking towards Christ, or are they emulating another individual?
Following are reflection questions to help you discern the imprint you and your church community are making on the newest disciples.
Whose image are you imprinting when you disciple a new believer?
How can we challenge church leaders to make disciples without making mini followers of ourselves?
What role do small groups and formational communities play in your disciple making process?
October 17 is right around the corner, and you know what that means… Our 5 Discipleship Coach Habits Webinar is finally launching! After putting a lot of time and effort into creating this training approach to disciple making, we are so excited to finally begin this journey with anyone who feels ready to take the next step in their discipleship coaching. The cohort launches on October 17, 2022 from 10am-3pmPST.
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