Category Archives: Fellowship & Groups

Relationships aren’t Secondary

People_connected_LoopWhen we look at Scripture, we can see that Jesus continually spent time with people.  It wasn’t Plan B for him, it was his whole mission.  He had a desire to be with people and could often be found in small and large gatherings.  Somewhere in our culture, we have lost site of the fact that God works best in and through relationships.  We build programs and we create environments that are designed to ‘reach people’.  However, we have become great at trying to reach people at arms length.  We focus on the big picture without realizing that eternal differences are made one relationship at a time.  We are often so busy in this culture that it becomes very difficult to carve out time to just love on people.  And as a result, organizations are formed, but relationships are distant.  We can’t expect to make a difference in our communities if we aren’t willing to spend time with people in real life, day-to-day environments.

I want to give you four reasons to invest time in cultivating personal relationships.

1. Ministry equals Relationships.  Ministry is the ability to touch people at their needs.  It is simply to discover what is taking place in the lives of people around us and meet them there.  We can’t expect to meet the needs of people around us if we keep our distance from the people around us.  When we love people where they are, that is ministry.  When we demonstrate the love of God by valuing those who are hurt and broken, those who are searching for hope in this world, we can make an eternal difference.  This happens best when we personally invest our lives in the lives of people.  We must work side by side to make a difference for Christ.

2. Discipleship equals Relationships.  We can impart knowledge in many different environments.  However, the ability to share or gain knowledge is not discipleship.  Discipleship is living life together in a way that we not only learn the truth of the Bible, but we also learn how to apply it to our lives on a daily basis.  Proverbs 27:17 tells us that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.  This simple principle teaches us that we are more likely to become who it is God has designed us to be as we spend time in Godly relationships.  He uses other people in our lives to sharpen and shape us for His glory.

3. Life equals Relationships.  Our culture is moving more and more toward a culture of isolation.  We are actually moving away from intimacy and accountability with others and replacing it with a technology substitute.  In this day and age of social media, we can feel like we are connected to people because we see what is taking place in their lives because of Facebook, Twitter and other media.  We also can freely share happenings in our day through these avenues as well.  The result is we feel as though we are connected to people without having any accountability for our actions daily.  The questions we need to ask ourselves is “Who would we turn to if we really had a need?” Is there anyone in your life right now that you can turn to with life’s toughest questions?  Is there anyone you’re close enough to (besides your spouse) that you would feel comfortable talking to about your struggles?  The truth is that God created us to live life in a culture of relationships.  Without these kinds of relationships, we are missing out on a big part of what life designed to be.  We are missing out on the opportunity to experience him in greater ways.  When we come to the end of our lives, we won’t want a bigger portfolio or to have climbed one more rung on the ladder of success, we will look back and view relationships as our biggest assets in life.

4. God loved us so much that He wanted a Relationship with us.  God demonstrated that relationships are important by desiring a relationship with us.  He became one of us, lived here on the earth in bodily form and did not sin.  He went to the cross to pay the price for all of our sins and rose from the dead to create the opportunity for us to have a personal relationship with Him.  That is powerful in itself.  God loved us in spite of who we were, in spite of what we’ve done.  He loved us not because of who we were, but because of who we could become.  He simply asks that we believe in Him.  He made the first step in coming to us in order to have a relationship with us.  Let’s follow His example and make the first step in building relationships with those around us.

Relationships aren’t secondary in our lives, they should be a primary purpose of all that we do.  The only thing in this world that is eternal is people.  So let’s intentionally invest in eternity, by spending time with people.  Let’s work hard at not seeing people for what they’ve done, but who they could become in Christ.  Extend grace when possible and enjoy the opportunity to spend time with those he died to save.  Make room in your schedule to have people in your home, in your activities, in your life.  As you do this, you’ll begin to notice a change not only in your perspective of people, but of what it is God has for you to do while you’re here on this earth.

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The Small Group Journey

To say that we’ve tried just about every small group approach out there would be accurate.  When our church started, we knew we wanted to have the small groups be the main hub for developing relationships, discipleship, caring for people, reaching the community and engaging people in a real life journey with others.  In the process of making this happen, we have tried a variety of ways manage the small groups systems at our church.  We have had long term groups and short term groups, age graded groups and stage of life groups, interest based groups and gender based groups, book studies and sermon discussion groups, and many other varieties.  We tried appointing people to groups and having people sign up for groups.  We have tried groups that consist of only 2 to 4 people and groups that were just over 20 people.  All of this was in an effort to discover what would work in our community and in the culture that we had been ministering within.  Through all of this, we discovered some things that were true for our church and may prove helpful to you as well.

1.  You can’t force relationships.  We worked really hard assigning people to groups because we wanted to make sure they were with someone.  We discovered that many times we were working against ourselves because we were the ones making the choices for the people in our church.  They had no ownership in the decision.  Because of this group attendance was hit and miss at best and the discussion seldom went past surface level.  We even tried this with 2 to 4 people to create opportunities for one on one discipleship to take place.  But there again, we were the ones matching people up and were in a constant state of frustration when many of the pairs/groups didn’t go well.

2.  Group settings require a forum.  We have discovered that really 6 to 8 people are the smallest forums we want to have healthy discussion and dialogue during the weekly group meeting.  Fewer than this and it often moves into more of a lecture format or very little discussion taking place.  In order to have this as the minimum, we try to sign up 16 to 20 people in each group.  This allows for people to be MIA at times and gives and average weekly meeting of 8 to 14 people. (Special Note: Even though this is a forum, it’s not an open forum for discussing church business or openly criticizing direction, ministries or staff.)

3.  Not everyone fits the stereotype.  Not every empty nester wants to be in an empty nesters group and not every college student wants to spend their time in a college group.  Because of this, we allow people to sign up for whatever group they feel would be most beneficial to them.  An exception to this, of course, would be gender based groups.  We have discovered that having a broad age range within one group often helps to add many different perspectives to the group setting.

4.  Leaders must come from within.  We have discovered that the leaders that excelled in their group are the leaders that had personally grown from being a part of a group within our church and had a heart to help others experience the same thing.  Giving a leadership role to someone who is new to the church is very tempting but often would come back to cause us issues in the future.  Even though new comers may show leadership skills and look like they would be a perfect fit, we discovered that waiting for at least 6 months would allow them to experience groups and us to experience them.  This approach has eliminated some of our frustrations with groups.

5.  Common Ground is essential.  For any group to fully engage those who are in it, there must be some common interest, study or pursuit.  This is why we now have implemented a lot of variety within our groups system.  We do have groups that tend to be age graded, some groups that go through certain books together (i.e. parenting, marriage, finances, etc…), some groups that explore a book of the Bible together, and some groups that are centered around specific interests.  This allows us to engage people where they are and let God work to shape them into He wants them to be.

6.  Change can be good!  Change is essential to any growing organization.  The same is true with groups.  We have found that within our culture, short term groups of 8 to 12 weeks work great.  We then reshuffle the deck and sign up for new groups.  This constant change makes it easier for newer people to jump in, keeps it fresh for people involved in groups, and allows many relationships to be cultivated throughout the church.  Change is also a defining force in our culture.  We know that once we have found “what works” that it will only be temporary, as the culture changes around us.  We continually make adjustments to impact and involve more people.

The truth is you’ll never get to where you want to be if you’re afraid to fail in the process.  We failed many times in our attempts to create healthy group environments within our culture.  But in the process, we learned new truths that helped us get to where we are today.  Don’t wait until you think you have all the answers.  Get started and discover that there is a good chance you weren’t even asking the right questions.  Enjoy the journey.


Developing a Prayer Team – Part 2

Earlier this week  I posted about developing a prayer ministry at our church.  I want to continue to share some of the thought process for this ministry.  God has gifted the whole body of Christ to be able to minister to each other.  We as pastors can share the load of ministering to those around us by investing in a group of people who truly care about people.  We can help them know how best to minister to others and give them tools to accomplish this.  As we build this kind of ministry, we can allow God to work through the process in a way that only He can.  Below are the guidelines and principles of this prayer ministry that we have at our church:

Guidelines and Principles

1.   Realize the serious nature of what is happening when someone responds to an invitation.

 

2. Realize that the enemy and human flesh are interested in interfering with what the Holy Spirit is doing during an invitation

 

3.      Always be spiritually prepared to minister.

a.      You should be in unity with those in authority

b.      You should be living a life honoring to God.

c.      You should be meeting with God daily through personal devotions.

d.      You should be available to be led by the Holy Spirit.   

 

4.      Be physically ready.

a.    Breath mints may be a good idea. 

b. Speak pleasantly and remember to smile as someone comes to you. 

c.   Don’t act “spooky” or “super spiritual”.  People are looking for someone real to talk to. 

d.   Don’t be shocked by what you are told or what you see.

 

5.    Always wear your “identification lanyard”. This is what will allow people to know that you have been authorized by the Church to minister to people.

 

6.      Always treat each person with respect and love. Do not be overly “mushy”. 

         

7.    If at all possible, Men minister to men and Women minister to women. There may be exceptions as allowed by the Pastoral Staff.

 

8.   You must know how to guide someone to accept Christ as Savior and how to help them rededicate their lives. 

 

9.    Allow people the freedom to pray alone in the altar if they desire to do so. (Note: if someone is praying in the altar for an extended amount of time, go to them and ask if there is any way you can pray for them.  The Holy Spirit will prompt you and guide you through this.)

 

10.Always ask the person for permission to pray for them. (Is there a way I can pray with you today? Would it be ok if I prayed for you?)

 

11.You should never argue or debate with anyone in the altar area. In fact arguments and debates are seldom fruitful.  Present the truth of God and pray for the person.

 

12.Remove people to the prayer room who need salvation, extended prayer or who are becoming a disturbance to the public service.  (There will be times when you won’t be able to minister effectively due to the music at the altar and may need to go to the prayer room to minister.)

 

13.Give the person your undivided attention.  Realize this is not a time for a life history to be given to you.  Keep the conversational part only to the specifics of their need.

 

14.Without interrogating a person, ask questions to discover their need.

 

15.Don’t give advice or counsel outside spiritual areas. You are a prayer team member not a lawyer or professional counselor.

 

16.Don’t share your problems. This adds more weight to their burden and draws their attention to you instead of Jesus.

 

17.Don’t preach to them—pray with them!

 

18.You need to learn when “not” to pray for someone.  (We don’t pray selfish prayers for people.  We always pray God’s will to be done.)

 

19.You are to be the leader in the conversation. If a friend accompanies the person you are praying with, do not let them take over the situation. The person has come forward to be helped by the church—help them. 

 

20.Obtain information that will be needed for follow-up.

 

21.Always seek the direction of those leading you if a situation arises with which you are not prepared to handle.

 

22.You should demonstrate respect for those leading your team and ministry. If asked to do something, know that your pastors have asked you to do it and there is a good reason.

 

23.Always point them to Jesus. He is the Savior, Healer, and Deliverer.

 

24.Your goal is prayer and ministry that will honor Jesus.

 

25.Remember: You will be blessed for allowing the Holy Spirit to use you.

These guidelines are useful in establishing a clear understanding of how God can use team members as they are open to Him.  It also helps them know how to prepare to minister as well as worship God as they are His hands and feet.  This ministry is still new to our church, but I look forward to seeing what God is going to do as a result of many being prepared to be used by Him.


Developing a Prayer Team – Part 1

It’s a privilege to be able to come and worship God through singing and it’s amazing to hear the word of God presented in a relevant way each week.  But the most important part of a worship service, as we give ourselves to God, is when we respond to the worship and do something with what we have heard.  That’s why I believe the invitation is the most important part of the church service because it is our chance to respond to what God has revealed to us.  

Many are moving away from having this as a part of their service for a variety of reasons from not capitalizing on emotional responses to the message, to not wanting ‘seekers’ to feel uncomfortable or pressured.  But if we close the door to the freedom of the Spirit we actually hinder the growth of our people and the movement of God.  Because I do value the ‘invitation’ or ‘altar call’ portion of the service, I recently was able to develop a Prayer Team that is available to help minister during this time and continue throughout the week.  Some of this ministry is described below:

Overview of Ministry

The purpose of this team is to pray with, direct, and love people.  It is to show comfort and consideration to others.  Having a burden to help people is one thing. Actually acting on that burden is something else. John 12:8 says there will always be people who are hurting and who need help and encouragement. That’s why this ministry is being formed.  We will be available for people to seek us out during the invitation.  But we won’t just wait for others to seek us out; but rather seek them out. Pray for, look for, and act on opportunities to comfort others. If we don’t, who will?

What will you do on this team? You will…

  • Lead people into a personal relationship with Christ.
    • With new salvations we make sure they understand what they prayed and believe, reinforce and encourage them, invite them to meet the pastor and sign up for the next baptism. Move them towards the next session to introduce our church. (We will follow the New Believer Process to accomplish this.)
    • Give guidance to those who receive Christ at the altar
  • Support those who want to rededicate or strengthen their walk with the Lord
    • When someone comes forward to rededicate their life, always explore whether they have had an initial dedication. (Is there a time in your life when you made Jesus the Lord and Savior of your life?)
  • Pray for the prayer needs of those who come forward for prayer
    • With prayer needs, we let people talk for a few minutes but then ask them to be specific as to how we can pray for them. We ask our prayer team not to give counsel but to offer prayer. Many times people will ask important questions like “Should I quit my job?” Our role is not to make decisions for people but to pray with them as they make the decision. Afterwards, they’re invited to a small group if they’re not in one.
    • If someone comes forward asking for the elders/pastors to pray over them for healing (according to James 5:13-16), direct them to one of the pastors.
  • Equip others by presenting opportunities for them to grow in their faith (directing to small groups, quiet times, missions, etc)
  • Help those in the prayer ministry understand what they believe, and how they can most effectively help others
  • Encourage those who have matured in the prayer ministry to step out as soul winners
  • Work with People interested in membership
    • If someone comes forward and wants to become a member of the church, start here:
      • Has there been a time when you accepted Jesus as your Savior? … If yes, explore that with them
      • If no, present the gospel … If yes, explore and then sign them up for the next session to ‘Introduce our church‘.
  • Direct people to resources or counseling (we have a handout available in the prayer room to help with this: You can use this as a guide for creating your own: Prayer Team Reference Guide)
  • Pray throughout the services

Follow Up after Sunday

It’s important to fill out a Decision Card on each person you speak with so that you can continue to pray for those requests through the week.  Additionally, the team that serves on Sunday will need to do a follow up phone call at the first part of the week to anyone they counseled.  Also, there will be a letter or email sent out from Pastor/Staff on Tuesday to these people letting them know we’re praying for them and reinforcing the decision that was made.

Requirements to serve on this ministry team:

  1. Must have a personal relationship with God that is being maintained through daily times with Him.
  2. Must be an active member of our Church who has been baptized by immersion and completed the Membership group.
  3. Must be trustworthy, knowledgeable and personal.
  4. Must have a Pastor’s heart. (caring, loving, concerned, bold)

Committing to Serve in this Ministry

Taking the first step to join this ministry might be the hardest part. It’s easy to allow your flesh to refuse to be used by God because of fear: fear that you don’t think you’re ready, fear that you’re not good enough, or fear that you don’t know enough.  I want you to remember that the disciples were ordinary men, but they were available.  If you are available and you want to grow, God will use you. When we face a situation that creates fear in our hearts, we need to remind ourselves of how great our God is and pray that He will grant us courage to overcome our fear.

Every day God gives us opportunities to create meaningful moments where we can reach out and comfort others–close friends, relatives, or complete strangers.  We often miss those opportunities because we fail to open ourselves to those “God moments” each day.  By serving in this ministry, you will not only be able to minister during the invitation, but you will become more aware of other opportunities (“God moments”) daily.

It’s my prayer that this has been helpful to you.


Imagine Your Community without your Church …

English: Christmas Eve morning Church Street D...

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I had someone pose a question to me not to long ago that has really caused me to have a different perspective on church.  The question was actually very simple at face value.  They simply asked, “If your church were to shut its’ doors today, would anyone outside of your church know it?”  I have to admit that as I have rolled that question through my mind, it has a little bit of a sting to it.  As far as on site ministry, it can seem like we’re having a lot of success with our people (which is important).  But in addition to that I’ve started to look for ways to have success off site as well.

Scripture teaches us that we are to be the light of the world.  If this is the case, then it should be noticable when a church closes its’ doors.  It should at least be darker around us. If its’ not, we’re not really letting our light shine into the world around us.  I have begun to be intentional in developing opportunities for our church to be ‘In’ the community.  Below are just a few of the ways we have started to do this:

1.  All of our small groups have at least one night each season set aside for Servant Evangelism.  We give them suggestions to choose from as well as guidance on how to get the most out of it.

2.  Churchwide, we have started planning ‘One Day’ events for the spring and fall of the year.  These are designed to do simple projects throughout the community.  These projects are things like FREE car washes, Prayerwalking & Neighborhood canvasing, block parties, kite day at a local park, host a car show, Handing out bottled water, yard work, Nursing Home projects, minor maintenance and more.  Our goal is to involve as many people as possible from the church and others from outside the church as well.

3.  Churchwide, we have at least 4 Big Days a year that we rally our people around to reach those who are out of church and/or in need of a Savior.  Generally there is one each quarter. First quarter is great for Friend Days or a similar type event.  Second quarter has Easter, which is a great opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.  Third quarter is good for Back to Church Sunday (check out outreach.com) or a Harvest Day.  Fourth quarter has Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Christmas Eve is a great opportunity because so many Holiday Believers will be looking for a place to go.  All of these days are promoted in our commmunities using invite cards, postcard mailer, door hangers, radio (traffic spots work great), banners and other creative promotions.

4.  We challenge our members and regular attenders to have invite cards in their wallets or purses at all times to be able to invite people to come with them to church on a daily basis.

It’s not enough to tell people to come to us.  We realize that scripture actually has told us to ‘Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations’ (Matt 28:18-20). It is our responsibility to “Go” into our communities and beyond.  This is not dependant on some calling to foreign, national, state or other missions.  God did not leave this as an optional area of service.  He has told each and everyone of us that ‘as we are going’ through each day of our lives, we should be the light in this world and intentionally be the church where we are.

The question I ask myself often is ‘What will you do to be part of the mission to see people come to know Him personally?’  I follow that up with this question: ‘If you don’t, who will?’


Food fills an empty soul

Bread rolls

At times when people are hurting or have experienced a loss, providing a meal can help take some of the weight off of those involved in the situation.  Many times this allows an individual not to have to worry about what their family or friends are going to eat as they may be in and out of their house during this time.  When we meet the basic physical needs of people, it often allows us to minister to them spiritually.  When you examine scripture, you find that Jesus often addressed a physical need before he addressed a spiritual need.  We can follow His example.  As we do this simple act of care, we can often help with more than this simple physical need.

A website that I have found to be helpful in coordinating meals for people is www.takethemameal.com. This simplifies the communication and organization of providing for people during times of sorrow and times of celebration.  Very useful, I hope you find it helpful.

For more ideas on Care Ministry click here.


Care is essential to any growing ministry.

English: A specialist cardiology stethoscope.

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It’s important that as a church we show up for people when they are hurting, mourning, sick and celebrating.  There is no better time to have an impact on someones life or family than being there for them during these times of change.  Often it’s not even a matter of what you do to provide care, it’s just the fact that you show up and are there during this time in their life.  People need to know that they’re not ‘doing life’ alone.  Showing up during a time of need conveys the message that “We’re here with you and we’ll go through this together.”

Below is a breakdown of some simple Care Ministry Guidelines that I have developed and found useful in helping people minister.  I’ve also found that instead of creating an entirely separate care ministry for this that it works well within an existing ministry that the whole of the church is involved in.  We do this through our small groups system and have found it to be very effective.

Group Care Ministry Overview:

The purpose of this ministry is to provide genuine heart-felt care to the people of Oasis during both times of celebration and trials of life.

  • We learn about a need in someone’s life either by conversation with someone in the church or through our communications cards on Sunday Morning.  Additionally, ministry team leaders may discover additional care needs by working with their teams.
  • Care needs will be met through groups.  The care plan provided will run through the duration of groups and through sign up of the next round of groups (up until they launch again).
  • Often times group leaders will either know or become aware of a care need from the group.  They may also find out about a care need from their Coach.  Once this need is known, the following can be a basic guideline for the needed response.
  • Church Staff may respond to care needs.  This will be determined at each instance, but would not take the place of the Group caring for the need.

Group Care Ministry Action Plan:

 

OCCURANCE OUR RESPONSE
1 Illness that is temporarily debilitating Notify Group of current need
  • Provide Food according to plan and needs
Send Card/Letter from Group or Group Leader
Phone call
2 Hospital Stay Notify Group of current need
  • Set up Visit by member(s) of group
  • Take Care Package
  • Identify Needs during visit
Church Staff Response
  • To Be Determined at each instance
3 Upon Return from Hospital Notify Group of current need
  • Provide Food according to plan and needs
  • Identify Needs during visit
Send Card/Letter from Group Leader
Phone Call
4 Death within household Notify Group of current need
  • Line up food to be provided
  • Send Card/Letter from Group or Group Leader
  • Phone Call
Church Staff Response
  • Pastor Visit & Counseling provided as needed
  • Attend Funeral
5 Death of Parent Send Card/Letter from Group or Group Leader
Phone Call
If possible have at least one member of group attend funeral.  Also one member of the church staff will likely attend the funeral.
6 Layoff/Job Loss Notify Group of current need
  • Provide at least one meal to household
Phone call from Group Leader
Send Card/Letter from Group or Group Leader
7 Financial Problems Alert Pastors to this need
8 Marital Problems Alert Pastors to this need

Food Provision Plan:

  • Food is provided to help alleviate a portion the pressure of daily needs during this time.  This is an opportunity to meet a basic need.
  • Typical length of food provision is one week or less.  (If it is seen to be necessary to provide for a longer period, discuss with your Group Coach before proceeding.)
  • For one time provision, you can have different members of the team provide different portions (i.e. sides, deserts, main dish, etc.)
  • For longer provision, break your team into nights and assign accordingly.  You may find it helpful to provide on an every other night basis. (i.e. Monday, Wednesday, Friday)  This would allow your team to provide only 3 larger meals and leftovers could be used on other nights.
  • You may also consider paper product needs (i.e. paper plates, cups, etc.)

Hospital Care Package (Contains):

  • Can be a snack, inspirational book, crossword or puzzle book, etc…

If you are in the process of developing a care ministry, I’ve discovered that simpler is often best.  Don’t over complicate this process of care or you could plan the “care” right out of your system.  My prayer is that this post is useful as you develop your ministry.


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