Monday, June 29, 2009


There are three questions that help us understand who the ministers are, and where the ministry happens. The three questions are:

1. What is the church? Answer: People. It is not a building, a program, or an institution, it is a people. It is the ekklesia - the "called out ones." Wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, He is in the midst. It doesn't get more "church" than that!

2. Who are the ministers? Answer: People. The people are the ministers; the pastor is the ad-minister. Every person whom God has called, has been called for a purpose. There are good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. Pastors are given to the church to prepare the saints for the work of ministry.

3. Where does the ministry happen? Answer: Wherever the people are. If the people are the church, and the people are the ministers, then wherever the people are is where the ministry happens. This theo-logical extension of questions 1. and 2. means that the ministry might happen in an office, a neighborhood, a restaurant, a home, a car, or wherever the body of Christ (regenerated people) are present.

The atomized church carries the greatest possibilities for transforming the spiritual landscape. In fact, the potential is staggering. A church of 100 people can either conduct a) a few centralized ministries (for example, a weeknight children's program "at" the "church"), b) a dozen decentralized ministries (for example, small groups), or c)....if everyone is clear that they are a minister....a hundred atomized personal ministries. The personal ministries will be as varied as the people who carry them out. We will no longer go to church. We will be the church.

Thus far, CTK represents the evolution of a) to b)....from centralized, attractional ministry to decentralized, relational, ministry. We have chosen small groups to be the point of emphasis instead of the Sunday service. We have said, "Every person needs to be in a small group, because every person in a small group has a ministry, and that is to every other person in the group." This is progress. The shift has helped us to break from three restrictive and limited ideas; 1) that the pastor is the minister, 2) that the church building is the place of ministry, and 3) that Sunday morning is the time for ministry. By convening groups of 2-10 people in homes and restaurants for friendship, growth, encouragement and outreach we have moved away from pastor-centrality, facility-centrality and Sunday-centrality. We have shifted from primary care (by a professional) to mutual care (by one another). In the process we have shifted our mentality about the weekend service, to be a convention of cells rather than congregation. Instead of trying to attract followers, we have been attempting to attract leaders. Our pastors have moved from working in the ministry to working on the ministry, in support of small group leaders.

The next step in our evolution is from b) to c), from a decentralized to atomized ministry. The small group has proven to be a great training ground for people to be the ministers. The danger, frankly, if we stay at b) is that the small group will become the new, albeit smaller, fortress, and that once again the arrows will turn in. The small group could become the new "place" where ministry happens. The small group leader will become the new "minister." Wednesday night (or Tuesday or Thursday) will be the new time. Instead of going to the people, we will ask the people to come to us, only now instead of asking people to come "to church" we will be asking them to come "to group." While we like the idea of them coming through the "side door" (group) better than the "front door" (weekend service) we like even better the idea of us going out through those doors and going to them.

Monday, June 22, 2009


A truth that will keep you sane as a spiritual leader: We have responsibility to people, not for people. Mark Waltz, in his book Lasting Impressions, does a nice job describing the difference:

• When I'm responsible to people, I understand they have a choice. When I'm responsible for people, I think I should decide for them.

• When I'm responsible to people, I know they must figure out their next step. When I'm responsible for people, I try to tell them what their next step is.

• When I'm responsible to people, I allow them to bear the brunt of the consequences for their own chosen actions. When I'm responsible for people, I assume the guilt, or worse the shame, for them.

• When I'm responsible to people, I engage in their journey, offering encouragement and teaching. When I'm responsible for people I try to direct their journey, never allowing them to wrestle, mess up or make a wrong turn.

• When I'm responsible to people, I talk to God on their behalf. When I'm responsible for people, I talk to people a lot on God's behalf.

One of the most basic boundaries we can maintain is our skin. I am responsible for everything inside my skin. You are responsible for everything inside your skin. It is a fundamental demarcation between "me" and "you." Sometimes pastors feel like they have to have all the answers, solve all the problems and make everything right...for everyone. If you are one of these, my heart goes out to you today. It is a very frustrating thing to feel responsible for the thoughts and actions of other people. It is quite liberating to know that I only have a responsibility to other people - to love them, to be honest with them, to be a friend and support. What's going on inside them is "all theirs."

Friday, June 12, 2009


I was in a meeting with pastors, talking about small groups. I made the statement that I thought small groups were all about love. A pastor asked, "Doesn't that say the wrong thing, asking people to be in a small group so that they will be loved?" I answered, "I'm not asking people to be in a small group so that they can be loved. I'm asking them to be in a small group so that they can love. The person in the small group is the lover, not the lovee." The mission of Christ the King Community Church is to create an authentic Christian community that effectively reaches out to unchurched people in love, acceptance and forgiveness, so that they may experience the joy of salvation and a purposeful life of discipleship. That mission applies as much or more to the small group as to the Worship Center. We are here to "reach out effectively in love."

Of course, people do need to be loved. And you, of course, are a person. I'm not sure there's anything necessarily wrong with putting yourself in a position where you can get what you need. Searching for love is perfectly natural. But searching TO love is perfectly supernatural. We are calling people to put themselves in a position to supernaturally fulfill the one-another commands of scripture. But this can only happen if group participants all come prepared to give themselves as a blessing to the others in the group. Giovanni Francesco Bernardone (St. Francis) offered up a prayer along these lines: "Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

Of course if everyone in a group comes prepared to be a lover, the likelihood is great that everyone in the group is going to end up being a lovee, as well. But the rationale is deeper than utilitarianism. Spiritual veterans like St. Francis will tell you that you can only get what you give. We're called to be a river, not a reservoir. As you arrive at your group meeting, your prayer should be, "Lord, help me to love the people in my group well." Undoubtedly you will have needs in your own life (for encouragement, for insight, for understanding), but if you fixate on those needs you will be having a natural group experience, not a supernatural one. Get the arrows pointed out. When the arrows are pointed out it aligns with the heart of God and he is pleased to bless that. If you will be a lover, instead of a lovee, you'll find that the more you are a blessing, the more you will be blessed. He'll get it to you if he can get it through you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Church consultant Lyle Schaller says that one of the questions he likes to ask when he enters a church to observe is, "What year is it?" Is it 1958? It was in the church in which I grew up. Is it 1972? 1980? There is a tendency for churches to get stuck in a certain era, and not stay current with culture. We need new wineskins for the wine. So what year is it at CTK? I would say about 1995. At least that's my assessment of our overall musical scene. We are doing a mostly rock/pop style with a full band. It is a big sound, suited for big songs. Top worship songs from 1995 included Shout to the Lord and Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.

1995 was a memorable year for me, because it was the year that I began to attend CTK in Bellingham. In many ways that era defined the culture I exported to Skagit Valley in 1999, where CTK was new to many people. The early adopters have since handed the culture and music off to many other newbies in dozens of worship centers, and in some cases there are grandchildren and great-grandchildren now carrying the culture. While 1995 is not that far in the distant past, there has been a lot happen in our culture in the past 15 years (like the internet). There has been an explosion of media, as people who once were consumers of information have now become producers of information through vlogs, blogs and tweets. TV channels have gone from dozens to hundreds. Cell phones have become ubiquitous. The news cycle is 24 hours a day. The need to sort through the clutter has produced a new verb: Google ("Let me google that").

Modernity is giving rise to "alternative" approaches. Some call it post-modernism, but I prefer the word pre-modernism. There is a hunger for life "as it used to be," with less clutter and less noise. In the world of "now" less is more and better is bigger. Clarity has become the new creativity. The modern music scene has caught on. An indicator? The results of the recent American Idol competition. It came down to two contestants: Kris Allen, a funky, straight-ahead balladeer with a lot of "space" in his music, and Adam Lambert, a "glam" rocker with a big voice whose presentations were over the top. Clearly, Adam was the bigger talent. Kris won easily. It's not 1995 anymore.

The pendulum tends to swing when it comes to culture. Following loud eras, things get softer. Following softer eras, things get louder. Such may be the case in worship as well. Shout to the Lord followed I Love Your Lord. What will follow Shout to the Lord? I'm not sure yet, but I believe we are in a softer era. If you close your eyes during commercials, you will notice an obvious understatement in the music bed nowadays. Popular movie soundtracks are also employing a variety of independent, alternative and eclectic artists (my favorite example is the soundtrack for the movie Juno). There is not as much instrumentation in this music; maybe one or two instruments, maybe a harmonica or a mandolin. The chord structures are simple. Percussion is more an accent, than a driving force. It doesn't have to blow your hair back to be cool any more.

I don't get to a lot of concerts, but I recently went to a Third Day concert. Third Day is a classic band from the nineties, noted for songs like God of Wonders and Your Love Oh Lord. The best part of the concert? When lead singer Mac Powell showed up in the middle of the crowd, took requests, and played them "unplugged." It was real. It was informal. It was tasty. It was 2009. I walked out saying, "That was cool." I'm anxious to see our "next generation" of worship leaders take us into the present. I'll know we're current when an unchurched person walks out and says, "Wow, that was cool"....the same thing I said in 1995.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Why small groups? It all comes back to love.

I recently had small group leaders over to my house and I shared with them this equation:
1. We want everyone to be loved. God created us for this very purpose, to love and be loved. We want everyone to have this experience.

2. What this really means is that we want everyone to be known. A person feels unloved to the extent that they feel unknown. Until a person is fully known there is always a question in their mind, "I wonder if people would still love me, if they knew me?" We want people to find that the answer is, "Yes."

3. Being known means finding a place and time for being known. In our modern, impersonal world there are not as many ways that you can become known, or know others. There is an abundance of superficiality, even in relationships. This means we must be more intentional about seeing that such places and times exist.

4. The small group is a place and time for being known (loved). It may not be the only place where people can become known and loved, but it is a proven place. We have chosen small groups as our "Plan A" because they are scriptural, strategic and scalable.

5. This makes the small group meeting the most important meeting we have. I am convinced that for many people what they need is not a sermon, but a friend. If I have a choice to invite a lost person to a) our worship service, or b) our small group, I choose b). There is no more important convention of CTK than the small group that meets in Jesus' name. There are things that a person will get in a small group that they will never get by looking at the back of someone's head in a worship service.

6. Which makes the small group leader the most important leader we have. Our Ministry Directors are in place to support the small group leader. Our pastors are in place to support our ministry directors who support the small group leaders. There is no more important leader in our story than the leader who will convene 2-10 people in Jesus name for friendship, growth, encouragement and outreach.

7. Because the small group leader is taking responsibility to see that people are loved. It's easy to say "we want everyone to be loved." The small group leader takes responsibility to see that it happens. This is what leaders do: they see what needs to be done and they do what needs to be done.

When you break it down, the best groups are about love, bottom line. In fact, I regularly tell small group leaders, "If you don’t know what to do in your group, just love everyone." That sounds pretty simple, but it's actually hard to do consistently. For this reason we must pray, "God help me to love the people in my group.” That is a prayer that should be prayed throughout the week, but then intensified prior to and during the group meeting. God will answer that prayer. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.


The worst groups I've ever been in have been informational. The best groups that I have ever been in have been relational. Let me explain.

In my experience, the best small groups I've ever been in were a heart trip, not a head trip. When a group becomes about information (what we're learning, what we're studying) it tends to be dry and impersonal. The participants, instead of relating to each other, relate to the material, as a third party. This is not community in the deepest sense. It is a shared experience, but not the experience of sharing. Instead of syncing up our lives around Christ, we are simply syncing up our thinking around the material we are studying. It's the difference between going on a trip, and staying at home and reading the map.

In an information group, the book being studied can actually get in the way of relationship. The book can even be the screen people hide behind. If at any point a participant feels they might have to reveal who they really are, they just point their nose back into the text and say, "I really like what the author says here." Then they just read the words from the text, smile glibly, and wait for the next person to talk...about what they like about the text. Presto. Off the hook. After a few months of being a group like this, unless you are a studious type (maybe 5% of the population), you are ready to quit. Your impulse toward community starts screaming inside, "Would somebody please get real!" Your head hurts as you walk out the door following one of these group meetings. But even worse, your heart hurts. You never get to open up the text of your life.

I met with a friend recently who attends another church. It just so happened that our meeting took place the same night as his small group Bible Study. He confessed, "I'm glad I didn't have to go to my Bible Study tonight." He told me about how the group he was in was supposed to spend 30 minutes in fellowship, 30 minutes in Bible Study, and 30 minutes in sharing and prayer. But over time the group had started to spend about 10 minutes in fellowship, over an hour in Bible Study, and about 10 minutes in sharing and prayer. He told me, "There are many weeks when Christ has been doing some awesome things in my life, and I never get to share that." There was a sadness on his face as he said that to me. I don't think you want to skimp on the relational aspects of your group. If you are going to skimp, skimp on the informational aspects. Informational is nice; relationship is needed.

One of the reason why we don't use the phrase Bible Study, and instead say Bible Discussion, is that we don't want to have groups be about the map. We want groups to be about the journey. The word of God is powerful and profitable, but as James makes clear, it's a mirror, and it's greatest value comes when we actually apply what we learn....when we put it into practice. Small groups work best when the emphasis is on application. For most people, the gap holding them back is not the gap between what they know and what they don't know, it's the gap between what they know and what they're living.

Some view small groups as an extension of the Christian Education department of the church. I do not. I view small groups as an extension of the Pastoral Care department of the church.