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Learning Communities

model release: MR1, MR2,MR3, MR4, MR5, MR6, MR7, MR8, MR9, property release: PR 1 | date created: 2007:02:13

There are many resources available today for churches to get direction on structure and systems. They can help you to determine your core values, mission, vision, and a strategy of implementation. Leaders need to be committed to lifelong learning. Leaders need to be readers. While reading does not guarantee you are a leader, you probably will not be the leader you should be if you are not a reader. Be selective about what you read by getting recommendations from others you trust but also, do not be afraid to branch out.

One key to implementation and follow through is being part of a learning community. Join a “small group,” if you will, of other pastors and church leaders. Even if there are not any in your area, you might want to consider beginning one. These groups provide an opportunity to learn, stretch, challenge, and grow together. Prov. 15:22 says, “Plans fall when there is no counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” We know there are benefits from hearing other people’s perspectives and experiences.

We have implemented these learning communities into the Activate program (Pastor Huddles) and we are using them to promote church multiplication (Church Planting Clusters). In the education world these are described as, “a group of people who share common academic goals and attitudes, who meet semi-regularly to collaborate on classwork. Such communities have become the template for a cohort-based, interdisciplinary approach to higher education.” They also can benefit pastors and churches!

First, they provide a place of prayer support. These groups give us a place to not only share our blessings but also our burdens. They need to be a safe place where participants can share their struggles with complete transparency. There are challenges a church leader may be going through and perhaps he does not have anyone in his church with whom he can share. What if he is thinking about getting out of the ministry? What if he is struggling with depression? What if he has a conflict that he does not know how to handle? These groups are meant for people to come alongside one another!

Second, they provide excellent examples of good and bad ideas. We not only learn from what has worked but also from what did not work. How do you get through those times where your credibility has been challenged because of a failed project? What steps need to be taken to reestablish trust in your leadership if it has taken a hit? Remember, just because something worked (or did not work) in one church does not mean it will be successful in your ministry. Know your people, know your culture, and do not feel the need to copycat, although you can learn from one another’s experiences.

Third, learning communities can provide a reality check. We all need a good reality check at times to see if we are looking at the situation correctly. The old adage is true that sometimes you cannot see the forest because of the trees. It is also helpful to get other viewpoints. All of us will, at times, require a reboot on our perspective. These huddles and clusters can enable us to step back and see if emotions, burnout, or even bitterness could be clouding our ability to see things properly.

Fourth, these groups also provide accountability. When meeting on a regular basis we can help one another with implementation and follow through. This can happen by revisiting commitments made from the last meeting and asking each other what kind of progress is being made. Everyone in the group will come prepared to give updates when they realize it is an expectation for all group participants. Accountability and deadlines can be our best friends in putting the knowledge to use that has been gained from the time together.

Fifth, learning communities promote creativity. This “think tank” approach can stimulate ideas that come out of good healthy brainstorming. The use of a good white board can cause new fresh ideas to emerge as we throw out every thought that we can think of and see what sticks. Imitation is highly overrated while innovation is highly underutilized. Creativity is often stifled because we do not have these types of meetings in our regular schedules. We are driven by the daily demanding tasks of ministry and we can easily lose sight of the big picture.

Sixth, new friendships can be discovered and developed. Close friendships cannot be forced but happen naturally when we meet someone and it just clicks. These groups give an excellent forum for this to happen as they discuss vision, burdens, philosophy of ministry, and share each other’s hearts. Before long you are drawn to someone who has a kindred spirit and interests. Or maybe they challenge you to get out of your comfort zone. All of us could use more friends!

Lastly, they remind us that we are not in this alone. It is an encouragement to know that there are others on the same journey as you. They truly understand your struggles, challenges, and opportunities. It is an encouragement to hear from leaders who went through trials and came out the other side still committed and faithful (check out 2 Cor. 11). Remember that two are better than one and that a three-fold cord is not easily broken. There really is strength in numbers.

Find a group or form a group! If you need help with what it might look like or what kind of structure might work feel free to contact me.   Some of our learning communities have decided on a book to read together and then meet monthly to discuss it. Other groups have content given at the meeting that hopefully adds value to their leadership. These groups can even meet via the web through different available programs. It really is not rocket science and is more about taking the time and initiative to follow through.

Healthy leaders are committed to being a part of a learning community!

Help Is Available

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Where do you go and whom do you call when you need help as a leader? Is there something out there that can help our church to grow and be more effective in reaching lost people with the gospel? The answer is yes, and the great news is that it is not a one size fits all. There are many consulting groups (can be cost prohibitive), coaches available (much more affordable), great resources, and even denominational programs (we prefer calling ours a process). Where can I look or whom could I call?

First, there are some excellent resources out there that lead you through processes that will enable you to think through improving your ministry. One such resource is Advanced Strategic Planning by Dr. Aubrey Malphurs. This helps you to prayerfully consider what kind of church you are, what kind you desire to be, and what process will you use to get to that preferred future. What will that look like? Malphurs defines vision as, “a clear, challenging picture from the heart of what we must be (future).” He challenges us to “See it clearly, say it continually, and share it creatively.”

Malpurs has two more books that have been a tremendous help to me. Being Leaders and Building Leaders, which is co-authored by Will Mancini. The second book has the sub-title of “Blueprints for developing leadership at every level of your church.” These books have some excellent tools that will help you better evaluate your leadership and your church. He is always giving direction in how to establish your core values, establish your mission, develop a vision for your church, and then implement a strategy to accomplish God’s purpose for your church.

Second, consider the Activate program we have through DiscipleGuide. Even though there is a waiting list, the process is helping pastors to be a part of a learning community. These “huddles” meet regularly and are led by a coach who walks the path of church revitalization and health with each participant. You make this journey with your own small group as you learn how to evaluate where your congregation is, recruit a leadership team within your church, and then work together to see your preferred future become a reality.

This is what the website says about Activate, “Is there hope for the local church that is plateaued or is on the decline? Yes! However, struggling churches that turn their ministries around and begin to experience growth and life-change do not do so by accident. An intentional process of evaluation and plan of action must occur…Activate is a total church process that can help put declining churches on the road to health and growth.” You can contact them through email; info@discipleguide.org, or by phone; 1-800-333-1442.

Third, there are some other excellent tools that can be utilized such as one by Dr Hal Seed at www.pastormentor.com where you can enroll at whatever level you are comfortable with. The eBooks are only $4.99 each and are well worth the small investment. He has different levels of programs available to help pastors and give them tools to help them in their ministries. All the way from signing up for his emails, to being able to watch his systems training videos, to being coached and mentored directly by Hal.

Systems are what help you maintain and capitalize on the momentum you have gained through your relationship building. Hal has training on eBooks along with video training on these systems: assimilation, finances, outreach, small groups, spiritual growth, ministry placement, worship planning, and more. In the trainings he also gives insights and helps about personal matters, health, family, time management and much much more. These materials are the best investment I have ever made toward being a better leader in the local church.

Fourth, connect with some other ministry leader, pastor, conference or consultant you have an affinity with. Make sure someone is mentoring you. The best definition I know of a mentor is by Dynamic Church Planting International; “A mentor is someone who has been where you want to go and is willing to help you get there.” There has never been a time in the history of the church where more resources and tools were available. We are without excuse in reaching out and asking for help.

Here are a couple of pointers to consider as you look to the best approach for you and your church.

  1. The worst action is inaction. Whatever you decide to do, please make sure that doing nothing is not an option!
  2. Pray about whom you could contact and talk to about helping. Be sensitive to God’s direction because it is His church.
  3. Look for a process that reinforces implementation. Accountability is a good thing and will keep you on task.
  4. Trainings are great but learning communities, “huddles”, will remove the temptation of going to the training, filling out the notebook, and placing it on the shelf never to be visited again.
  5. Get your church leadership on board. There must be an ability and a willingness of leaders in the church to evaluate and act upon the evaluation.

There are church structures that inhibit this process. Listen to what is said in Building Leaders, “For example, a committee selects a young man as committee chairman. The committee, however, does not function as an actual ministry team. The committee members may make decisions about ‘ministry,’ but they are not doing ministry. While committees may be important and necessary, and while leadership is about decision making, a church with too much decision-making structure inhibits leader development because there is more ‘talk’ than ‘walk.’”

Healthy churches are willing to look outside of themselves and learn from other churches and ministries!

Lets Get Connected

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We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Our giftedness is partially by design (the way we are created) and partially developed (the skills we learn). We are born with certain talents given by God’s grace to everyone but we also receive spiritual gifts when we are born again. Particular personality types describing us as a lion, an otter, a golden retriever, or a beaver have also defined our uniqueness. You can learn more through tools such as DISC profile, Briggs-Myers, Strength Finders, and others.

Interestingly, as you look at these tools and observe people you begin to notice two primary types of people: relational and task. Usually there is a combination of the two in each of us but it is good to know if you are primarily relationship oriented or task oriented. Ask yourself if you naturally focus on the “whom” you are dealing with or the “what” that needs to be accomplished. Another way of analyzing your primary nature is asking if you enjoy “conversation” more or “completion” of the task.

The task-oriented individual, if not careful, can become a hostage to tangible things such as meetings, appointments, projects, schedules, and budgets. They want to make sure that every “i” is dotted and every “t’ is crossed. These people are doers and they will get the job done but the danger is they may not give proper priority to the intangibles. They can become so focused on the goal that they will walk right by people and not even notice they are there.

These (the task-oriented) are the lions (king of the jungle) and beavers (busy workers) that have been described as driven and competent. These are the Marthas who are busy in the kitchen wanting to make sure they are the consummate hostess to their guests. In all of their activity they can lose sight of the important relationships in their lives. The person who is primarily relational is all about the journey and the fun along the way while the task-oriented individual is all about getting to the destination, quickly!

We cannot forget that God is all about relationships. Yes, there are tasks that need to be done and accomplished but not at the expense of relationships.

Bill Hybels has defined community as:

  • knowing and being known
  • loving and being loved
  • serving and being served
  • celebrating and being celebrated.

People may come to a church for a lot of different reasons but they usually stay because they are loved.

In 1980, Win Arn spoke about a relational principle, “It takes six to stick!” He said that people must develop six meaningful relationships within six months if they are going to stick at the church. This is 2016 and people probably are not going to stay around that long waiting for relationships to develop.

Hal Seed, pastor of New Song in Oceanside, CA, expresses it this way, “Someone must recognize my face if this is going to be my place.”  Guests need to find at least one meaningful relationship in the first three weeks!

Assimilation is the system that follows up on your guests and it must include enough meaningful and personal touches for someone to remember your guests when they return. If you tell someone, “See you next week!” then you need to be looking out for him or her when they return.

Everyone loves to be remembered and as Hybels has said so well about community, “Knowing and being known!” There is nothing like going back and seeing a smiling welcoming face that you recognize and they recognize you!

This is why connection groups are so important to the health of your church. These are the small groups, Sunday School classes, Bible studies or other mechanism where people can get plugged into the life of the church. This is the circulation system of the church, which sustains the growth of new families when they come your way. Remember, it is systems that enable you to maintain and care for the people that come your way because of all the relational effort you have put into getting to know them.

Hal Seed describes three aspects on the importance and purpose of connection (small) groups.

  • First, from a practical standpoint, your small group system is your connecting system. That is why I love calling them “connection” groups. Their purpose is to “enfold people into meaningful relationships.” This gives everyone a group of people to do life with that they know are making the journey with them. It reminds us that we are not in this alone and we have others to do life and ministry with.
  • Second, from a spiritual growth standpoint, connection groups are your primary discipleship engine. Whatever structure you have, (time, day of the week, location, etc.) you will need to have clarity about how and what these groups study. There are several excellent resources (Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladden; Sticky Church by Larry Osborne; and others) on small groups that you could read and then adapt it to your ministry context and what works best for you.
  • Third, from a pragmatic standpoint, it can be your front line for crisis care. Growing churches struggle and pastors burn out when he is the primary (often the only) caregiver. Connection groups accept the responsibility of making sure they are the first responders to the needs of their group. Others can be called in but they have the pulse of those in the group and are usually the first to be notified when crisis hits anyone in their group. This adds to the definition of community: loving and being loved, serving and being served.

Healthy churches have a circulation system (connection groups) that clearly describes the path for new people to become connected to the church family!