Dear Daddy

While I was at the conference this weekend, I decided it would be cool to email my daughters to show them a little love. Here's what I got back in response from my 4-year-old. My wife typed it word for word while Jama dictated:

I love you so much and I love you very much and I am sorry I cried last night. I love you so much and I hope when you come back I can hug you. And I love you very much and miss you very much. I hope when you come back you will read us the golden gate bridge book. And I hope you have fun with your friend. And I love you, because I miss you alot and um I hope we have fun only us girls we can go get a movie from the library tomorrow, And I love you very much and I hope you don't spank us when you come home.

And I love you so beary much and I hope you have fun with your friend. I love you so much and you give me joy, I hope you have a good time with your friend. I hope you are not scared, and I love you and miss you.

Love Jama





Ancient-Future Group Life Conference Main Session 2

This session had some incredible worship. It really was a good time. After that, this guy named Will Miller went up on stage. I'm still not really sure what he does for a living. I think he said he is a comedian/psychologist/consultant/something else. This guy was hilarious. I had a couple of gut-busters during his talk.

He did have some good points to pass on to us, though. From the social sciences perspective, he told us that what people really need is to be connected in community. It helps with anxiety and depression. It's interesting in light of my last post, that even though there are a few basic tenets of some branches of psychology with which I disagree, psychology and sociology both point to the incredible benefits to mental and emotional health of being in a small group. In other words, having close relationships with other human beings helps with the crap of life that can cause anxiety and depression. So here we have a science once again confirming what the Bible says. Pretty cool.

Main takeaway: Life happens. Be in a LifeGroup.




Ancient-Future Group Life Conference Breakout Sessions 3 and 4

Well, we started today in our various breakout sessions and will end the day all together in the main auditorium. The campus is absolutely beautiful. Here are my main takeaways from the sessions:

Guiding a Group to Spiritual Maturity

Scott Vaudrey

This was my least favorite session. The psychological influence was heavier and more discernable in this session. I suppose this kind of rubs me the wrong way, in that I don't want to see groups become therapy groups. Everyone's got a problem, everyone's got to share it, and we need to create a safe atmosphere where people can people can feel accepted. To me, being accepted is not equivalent to growing into spiritual maturity. I define spiritual maturity this way:

You've grown in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to the point where you can be used to disciple others that are going on toward spiritual maturity.

I suppose spiritual maturity could be defined by 1 Timothy 3 as well.

Now don't get me wrong; people should feel safe enough in a small group to be able to share their struggles, to get people to pray for them, and to be there for them. But should a small group's emphasis be on the people in the group, or on Jesus? I want the point of a small group to be to get to know Christ on a deeper and more intimate level. I want people to know the life-changing truths of the Bible. I want people's lives changed because of these truths. In light of all this, we must keep in mind that it's the Truth that sets people free, not psychological theory. I guess I just don't want to leave people with this impression:

The Savior can only go so far, but after that, you might need a psychologist.

I know, I know, this might actually get a few comments from some random readers. I guess the question is, can something physiologically go wrong with a person's brain, affecting their personalities and their quality of life? Sure. Can we prescribe medicine for this stuff? Probably. But my thinking on it is, mathematical science is a pretty exact science. Biology and medical science is also a pretty exact science. But when it comes down to knowing what's going on in the deepest parts of a human being, I'm not so sure we as humans are equipped enough to understand deep spiritual problems. We must not ascribe spiritual problems (i.e. sin) to psychological underpinnings (your childhood was bad, that's why you do this or that). Jesus Christ is the Hope of the world, not Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung. The church needs to be really careful about this kind of stuff.

Well, enough of my rant. Session 4 was pretty cool. It was all about finding and developing small group leaders. My one big takeaway was this: Make your leaders feel like they are part of something big. This last week I shared at our LifeGroup Fall Kickoff event. All of the small groups were invited to come to the school where we meet for dessert, fellowship, and just kind of talking about this small group thing. One of the things I shared was the picture that you see at the right. I think this week I'm going to follow up with all my leaders by sending them a copy of this picture and just a few words from me. Something like this might do:
"I shared at the kickoff that God is doing some incredible stuff through New Life. The airplane is an excellent picture of where New Life is right now. Well I want you to know that God is doing these big things through you. You are an integral part of the extraordinary life change that is occurring at New Life. We just wanted to say thank you for being a part of something big. Keep looking to God and dreaming big things for New Life."
That might work.

Ancient-Future Group Life Conference Breakouts 1 and 2

In the afternoon at this conference, we had two breakout sessions. My first one was about coaching life-changing small group leaders. One of my big takeaways was the first essential skill of being a LifeGroup coach: Modeling: Pursue Christlikeness.

In this breakout I was challenged to "take the time and trouble to keep myself spiritually fit." Just this week the though ran across my mind, I'm way too busy. Honestly, I'm surprised I had time to think that. Seriously. I need to make sure I spend time regularly in the Word, not just random 5 or 10 minute spots here and there. To disciple, you have to be discipled.

The other challenge I received was that I need to model "Spirit-filled leadership." I do spend time praying for all my groups, but can anyone really pray too much? I doubt it. Little prayer, little power; much prayer, much power. If we want LifeGroups to be a powerful, an integral ministry at New Life, we need to pray for it constantly.

The next session was "Promoting Growth in Your Leaders" with Mike Hurt. This guy was really good and down to earth. I remember that he articulated a LOT of the same frustrations I had with leading and coaching, especially coaching. Here's the good stuff from that session:

Every leader needs three things from a coach:

1.) Know them personally - This is key. When entering a coaching relationship, we need to concentrate a ton of time on just this. You will not get into the actual "coaching" of the leader for his/her group until this critical personal relationship is established. It just doesn't work any other way. So I guess the first key to just to get to know someone very closely. It will take time.

2.) Encourage them spiritually - "How can I pray for you?" Share with them what God is teaching you. People like to follow godly people. I've personally learned in my own experience that people will eventually respond to stuff like this. "I'm praying for your group specifically this week. What do you want me to pray for?"

3.) Equip them - Everyone needs real world tools. And each leader will have different skills. What one leader needs another may not. What that means for general training sessions for leaders is that you may have to get creative to equip each leader in their own individual needs. If you are doing a training session on something in particular that you know one leader does NOT need, have that particular leader do the training session, then you can also see if that leader could end up being a good coach.




Ancient-Future Group Life Conference - 1 and 2

Today I'm at Willow Creek's Small Group conference, and so far I'm liking it. The first speaker was Scot McKnight, author of The Jesus Creed. He was a pretty insightful and funny speaker. Some of the highlights I got from his talk were:

1.) In one sense, Jesus introduced a new "creed" into the Jewish culture. It used to be that Jewish people would recite the verse from Deuteronomy that says, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord, He is One [interesting communal reference]. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." Jesus also introduced, "And the second command is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself." We should have BOTH at the forefronts of our minds, not just the first.

2.) Create an atmosphere where Christ's Presence is experienced.

3.) Pharisees: If you're clean, you can eat with me.
Jesus: If you eat with Me, I'll make you clean.

4.) Jesus hung with the wrong people.

5.) Allow people to ask the tough questions; you don't have to have an answer, just create a community where people feel comfortable to pose the tough questions.

The second session was a dialoque with Bill Donahue and Henry Cloud. Here's what I picked up:

You're not responsible for others' growth, just responsible to create an atmosphere where people can grow. God will bring the growth.

Five essential practices:

1.) Safety

2.) Be authentic (you don't have to be deep to be real. We don't want people to hide.)

3.) Offer Help

4.) Provide Care-Be careful not to offer the quick fix. Be there. Listen. Soft eyes. Soft heart. Compassion.

5.) Encourage growth - move people toward spiritual growth. Encourage to take risks.

Sitting in that second session, I realized how absolutely critical small groups are. I wonder if we can even do church the MOST effectively without small groups. I sincerely doubt it.