A Conversation with the Group Talk Podcast

Click here to listen to Part 1 of my conversation on the Group Talk Podcast.

Click here to listen to Part 1 of my conversation on the Group Talk Podcast.

I was recently interviewed by Carolyn Taketa (@taketacarolyn) for the podcast she hosts, Group Talk. 

Group Talk is a podcast that is all about leading small group ministry. 

I had a wonderful time talking to Carolyn and we did a part 1 and a part 2 of this conversation. For part 1 this is what Carolyn asked: 

What is the difference between small groups and support groups?

How do we care for the people in our small groups in ways that are healthy without becoming therapists for them?

How do we keep small groups on track for their intended purpose? 


I was eager to share and have a thoughtful conversation with Carolyn. I lead a hybrid team that handles pastoral care and discipleship in our church. It has educated me in far more than any book could on the subject. 

Take a moment to listen to the podcast and even subscribe to it. They have some fantastic guests on. I guess they took a break from the whole "fantastic guest" theme this time around, though! 


One Big Mistake in Dealing With Difficult People

Think of your groups ministry. Somewhere in that context is someone that bugs you. Of course it’s not a pretty thing we talk about as pastors, but everyone has that person. You’re probably picturing them right now. Hold that person in your mind for the next few minutes.

“That guy”

Not too long ago I had a small group member rise up into a leadership position when his leader moved away. Todd was a challenging guy for me to lead. Whether it was the fact that we were polar opposites or just my own fallen nature, he was just someone who rubbed me the wrong way.

And due to a severe case of Murphy’s Law (and a lack of volunteers), I was the one who was to be his closest point of contact.

In one of our meetings, I discovered a situation in which Todd needed some support. He was in conflict with a member of the group, and he wanted me to step in the middle of things and help resolve it. Obviously, I was less than excited about this.

I learned more about the conflict. It was clear that the next step was for Todd to approach this person over a coffee or a meal and attempt to clear things up on his own first. Inserting a third person would have made things much worse, actually.

I thought to myself, “Aha! I’m off the hook!!” I could visualize holding onto my Matthew 18 “Get out of jail free” card. I felt relieved – saved! However, that relief was followed quickly by a pang of guilt. Why was I so happy not to be involved? Where was that feeling coming from? Should a small groups pastor not want to be involved in relational restoration?

The Mistake

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever done the right thing even if the wrong thing was in your heart? The GNT translates Proverbs 16:2 this way: “You may think everything you do is right, but the Lord judges your motives.”

A big mistake we face as ministers is doing what’s best even though our hearts are sour.

What’s the fix? Doing the wrong thing instead? Absolutely not! We’re called to do what’s right and lead well. But even before we do that, we are called to be actively changing our hearts and minds. I’m called to lead Todd well, and I’ll do that best by allowing God to lead me.

In these moments we need to call on God. Romans 12:2 tells us to renew our minds and be transformed. In Ezekiel 36:26 we hear a promise from God to rely on: “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” Scripture is littered with calls and commands of transformation. It is full of stories of God changing the world through changing hearts. That promise is as true today for us as it has always been.

Take Action

Think of the person in your ministry that might be “that guy” or “that gal” that triggers your stubborn heart. It’s in those moments we need to connect with each other, tell the truth, and pray together that God gives us tender, responsive hearts. Let’s maintain doing the “right thing,” but let’s do it while asking God to shape our hearts to celebrate for the right reasons.

This post was originally written for smallgroupnetwork.com on July 20, 2016.

1 Surefire Summer Strategy for Your Groups Ministry

Summer is a challenging time as a group life point person. Many small groups take breaks or alter how often they meet to accommodate changing family schedules. I used to see this as a threat to group life ministry. However, where the world presents a threat, God often presents an opportunity.

Summer is a great time to do things that feel “out of the ordinary” and special. As group life pastors we should lean into this and not away from it. It’s a great time to do things that are out of the ordinary for our small group leaders and members. Summer is a great time to connect, inspire, and plan ahead.

Cluster Coaching is a great way to do that. Cluster coaching refers to a method of meeting with groups of leaders for one-time sessions to connect and exchange information. While a cohort would continue to meet and stay connected, a cluster of leaders would focus on the single meeting; something out of the ordinary!

Send a personal invitation directly from you to your leaders. Ask them to opt in (this is not a venue to force people into). Serve a meal for free and focus on hosting them and making them feel welcome and celebrated.

There are many great reasons to do cluster coaching during the summer. Here are just a few of the potential benefits, and I would recommend structuring your time around these three areas.

Connecting: Of course, we primarily think of connection between the group life pastor and the small group leader. While that is a great goal, an even more fruitful connection can be created between two leaders. Leaders are more prone to share stories with one another, run into each other at church, and lean on each other for guidance and encouragement. Just like the small group networks slogan, “We are better together.”

Sharing Vision: Small group leaders often focus on their own ministry setting. This is ideal, but we all know it can create a challenge when they are less plugged in to the direction the church as a whole is going. Meeting in informal settings like this with leaders is a great opportunity to share the vision and direction of the larger church body. Share upcoming dates, trainings you have planned for the fall, ideas for curriculum, and more. This information is seldom a felt need of small group leaders, but it serves the group to have it.

Hearing Needs: depending how large your ministry is, it can be easy to become disconnected from the needs of the congregation and of your leaders. While your vision for the ministry is an idea that may or may not come to fruition, the needs of your leaders are current realities. Few things matter more than having healthy leaders. The more we can facilitate honest sharing, the more likely we are to know the health and needs of our groups.

Cluster Coaching is just one way to do something special for leaders that moves the ministry forward. Consider the many other ways you can celebrate leaders and have a meaningful connection with them. For all the work they have done in these last ministry seasons, they deserve that and much more!

This post was originally written for smallgroupnetwork.com on June 27, 2016.

So you feel like an impostor...

So you feel like an impostor? 

Maybe you think you're just lucky to be here. Perhaps you feel like the vetting team that hired you made a mistake. You might believe that no one should ACTUALLY be taking you seriously. 

If any of the above feel true to you, then you're having an encounter with Impostor Syndrome. 

Here's how Amy Cuddy, popular TED talker & researcher, defines Impostor Syndrome: 

Impostorism causes us to overthink and second-guess. It makes us fixate on how we think others are judging us (in these fixations, we’re usually wrong), then fixate some more on how those judgments might poison our interactions. We’re scattered—worrying that we underprepared, obsessing about what we should be doing, mentally reviewing what we said five seconds earlier, fretting about what people think of us and what that will mean for us tomorrow.
— Amy Cuddy, Presence

Sound familiar? If you're feeling this way in your current role this could sound eerily familiar. You know, the whole horoscope phenomenon. 

If it is the case, please take a step away from the ledge. 

Impostor Syndrome (and it's various different namesakes) has been studied since the 1980's. I have read reports that somewhere between 40 - 70% of people experience this mindset at some point in time. Women and minorities seem to experience it more. And generally speaking, the bigger the things are that you are doing the more likely it will be that you will feel like a phony inside - at least at times. 

I am by no means immune to this. The phrase that often floats into my train of thought is, "I have no clue what I'm doing." It's interesting how correct that feels in the moment, but how completely absurd it looks when I type it out and see it in front of me. 

Find reality. Don't fixate on false phoniness. 

  1. Check it out - Cuddy defines Impostor Syndrome as fixating on what others think of us. Don't waste your time on guesswork - check it out! Find a trusted friend in your workplace and ask them the questions you're already obsessing over. 
  2. Watch your language - What are your go-to statements when you're feeling like a fake? Write them down and examine them. Keep the truth and ditch the rest. Chang "I have no clue what I'm doing" to "I'm feeling unsure and could use some support." Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:8 to focus in on the good and true. 
  3. Remind yourself - How did you get here? Who were the people who built into you and released you to do your best work? Think about them because you might trust their judgment more than yours sometimes. 
  4. You've got status - You might feel crummy, but remember that you're actually reconciled and presented "without blemish and free from accusation" (Col 1:22). God accepts you in spite of your limitations. He loves you separate from your skills. He would want you to do the same. 


Staying on Course

If you are leading a small groups ministry, odds are you don’t have a problem dreaming big. A compelling vision of where we want our church or ministry to be is what keeps us invested when our day-to-day work can feel like herding cats!

The challenge arises when we start looking at just how we will bring that vision to reality. How long will culture change take at my church? How do I raise relational equity with my leaders? What should I be thinking from a staffing perspective? How do I make sure my leaders are growing? Each element of a thriving ministry comes with its own difficulties that can blow us off course.

Imagine you are a pilot flying from my hometown of Chicago to California. In empty space it would be easy enough. Just aim the plane towards your destination and be on your way. In reality though there are many factors to deal with. You would have to adjust for weather, fuel, passenger comfort, etc. There’s a core factor so important and omnipresent that it can be easy to forget. As a pilot you need to have constant awareness of crosswinds. 

If you’re heading to California and there’s a north crosswind you don’t account for, you could end up closer to Canada. Now imagine your plane is your small groups ministry and your vision of transformational communities is your destination. What crosswinds are you experiencing? What resistance exists in your current context? What are the external factors that might take you off course? There are several things to keep in mind about crosswinds.

1. Lean into the wind. Pilots dealing with a heavy crosswind need to steer into the wind in order to stay on course. What are the 1-3 things that are most likely to cause drift? What few things might keep your ministry from achieving its mission and vision? If you aren’t sitting down with your team to talk openly, honestly, and frequently about those things then you’re ensuring they’ll keep you off course.

2. Whoever said flight would be easy? I live close to O’Hare International Airport. I have become accustomed to looking up at any time and seeing a half dozen airplanes somewhere in the sky. My two little boys love to point up and find them when they hear them. It is easy to look up and marvel at how effortlessly they seem to glide through the sky. However, I’ve been up close and personal having a seat next to the engine on my most recent flight. A lot of effort, planning, repair, and fine-tuning go into each of those flights. The same is true of your groups ministry and mine. Each one comes with challenges even if they look perfect from the outside.

3. Crosswinds aren’t bad even if they make things harder. Whenever you are changing culture you will find resistance. Keep in mind, too, that any sort of transformation implies a big change, so we as Christians should be especially familiar with the system shock that change can create. If you’re like me then your brain can easily make the jump from “this makes things hard” to “this is bad,” which is probably not true. It might be time for you to perform a heart check. Are there areas in your ministry in which resistance has turned to resentment? What are you doing to combat that? Keep in mind Christ’s words in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I hope these thoughts give you encouragement. Above all else I hope they help you stay on course and realize you are not alone in the pursuit of transformational communities.  

This post was originally written for smallgroupnetwork.com and posted on May 24, 2016.