Eric Geiger - a Husband, Father, Author, Vice-President of LifeWay Church Resources

04.15.2014

2 Key Words for Pastors This Easter

As your Easter services are quickly approaching, I thought I would share a few thoughts for church leaders around two key words: assimilation and transformation. Though one does not necessarily lead to the other, they are both important.

Assimilation

As you encourage your church members to bring friends to church this weekend, think as much about the Monday morning after Easter. You will hopefully have a list of all the guests who attended for the first time. By God’s grace, you will have a list of people who expressed a desire to know Christ personally. What will you do with these people? What will you have invited the people to do next?

I encourage you to have one “next step” that you clearly communicate to the people who come to your Easter services. Instead of bombarding people during your announcement time with a plethora of things to do, offer them one opportunity to get more connected. You may choose to promo the teaching series you launch or to lovingly nudge people to a “newcomers luncheon.” Whatever the next step is, align all leaders and teams around it. Ensure your first-impression people know this one thing, as well as those who check in the kids and those who interact with guests. Craft your letter or e-mail to guests in a way that points to this one thing. Focus your assimilation energy in one direction for the greatest impact.

Second, and more importantly—transformation.

Transformation

Assimilation and transformation are not the same thing. They are both important, but don’t confuse the two. Don’t get so focused on the important details of assimilation that you forget about transformation. Transformation will not occur because you unveil a great opening illustration or fresh bulletin design. There is nothing wrong with those things, but transformation only occurs through Christ.

Ironically, there is a temptation on Easter weekend, of all weekends, to declare or preach something other than the risen Christ. Many pastors feel this pressure to say something new, something different on Easter. Some have told me, “I feel like I am preaching the same message every Easter and that I need to say something different.”

This would be a devastating mistake.

Back in the day, when the church I served in Miami (Christ Fellowship) still offered “The South Florida Easter Pageant,” an elaborate presentation depicting the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, a couple approached me with concerns about “the performance.” They wanted to know if “the show was going to be different.” I was not sure what they meant, so I asked for clarification.

“Well,” they continued, “we have been Christians for a long time, and the last few years it has been the same show, and we were hoping it would be, well, you know…um, different.”

I said, “He still rises from the dead. I hope that does not disappoint you.”

The couple wrongly viewed the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as elementary, as something they graduated from years ago. In their minds, they needed something more, something new and fresh, something “different.” The last thing the couple needed was a different story. To the contrary, they needed to better understand the Story they inadvertently had dismissed as no longer applicable to their lives.

The apostle Paul reminded believers in Corinth about the importance of the gospel:

Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed for no purpose. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me. (1 Cor. 15:1-8)

The gospel is most important. It is what your people need, not only the new people who come to church this weekend. As you prepare for this weekend, don’t succumb to the temptation to say “something different and new.” Stand firm on the gospel. Preach it with passion and conviction, knowing that it is powerful for transformation (Rom. 1:16). Only Jesus has the power to melt our hearts; thus, there is no transformation apart from the truth of the gospel.

As you prepare for Easter, think both “assimilation” and “transformation,” but don’t confuse the two.

1 Comment
03.27.2014

Who, What, and Where

Yesterday I was talking to a good friend about his next ministry assignment and what is most compelling to him about his next step in vocational ministry. We talked about which is more important to him during this next phase of his life—the who, the what, or the where. Through my years in ministry, I have noticed people describe their commitment or calling to a specific place of ministry differently – often leading with either what, who, or where.

The What:

Some lead with “what” they do, the ministry task they have embraced. “I am called to preach” or “I am called to serve students.” Now, of course, there is biblical precedent for being called to a task. God called Noah to build an ark, Nehemiah to rebuild a wall, and Paul to preach to the Gentiles.

The Who:

Others lead with the “who” they are serving alongside. They speak with affection about the team they are honored to serve alongside or the leader whom they believe will develop them for the future. The location and even the task seem secondary. There is biblical precedent for sensing a call to serve alongside others (Paul and Barnabas, for example).

The Where:

Others lead with the “where”—the location they believe the Lord has called them to. They speak of a calling to a specific city or community. Their passion for the location is so strong that the ministry task is a mere detail, one that can change without any loss of worth or identity. There is biblical precedent for a commitment to a specific location (Paul’s call to Macedonia, for example).

A few thoughts:

  • I find that the longer someone is in ministry, the more the “who” and the “where” matters. When one first enters vocational ministry, the “what” seems really attractive. Over time, you long to serve alongside like-minded brothers and sisters in a community you would give your life for even if your role evolves and changes.
  • If you are honored to find yourself in a ministry role where you are passionate about all three—the what, the who, and the where—you are incredibly blessed. Ministry is most fulfilling when you are passionate about the what, the who, and the where. Loving what you do, with whom you do it, and where you do it is an amazing ministry sweet spot.
  • There is great danger in being only a “what,” “who,” or “where” leader. “What” only leaders often love what they do more than the people they serve or the people they serve alongside. Ministry can easily become about them and the opportunity to utilize their gifts. “Who” only leaders can drift into valuing the relationships more than valuing the health of the ministry. “Where” only leaders can lose focus on important ministry functions while simply loving where they serve.

May the Lord be gracious to us and give us a deep passion for all three – the who we serve alongside, the community in which we serve, and the task He has given us.

4 Comments
03.26.2014

Center Your Student Ministry on the Gospel

The largest, most-educated generation in history is rising. The Milennials are the future leaders of our organizations and churches and the shapers of culture. For some this might be scary. But isn’t it an opportunity? Imagine if this powerful, passionate, cause-oriented generation was transformed by the gospel of Jesus. Jason Gaston, student pastor at the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, talks about the importance of centering student ministry on the gospel and creating a plan to do it well.

Check out more church leadership videos at MinistryGrid.com

Leave a Comment
03.19.2014

Feeding the Anemic Church – Ephesians 4

A church without well-trained people is anemic. A church without leaders being developed is weak. Ephesians 4:11-13 lays out God’s plan for the health of the church: pastors aren’t called to “do all the ministry” but to train and equip believers for service and ministry. When leaders make the “training of the saints” their holy cause, the effect is a mature body — measured by the stature of Christ. A church without such training resembles what this video depicts.

Check out more church leadership videos at MinistryGrid.com

1 Comment
03.11.2014

Trade-Offs on Where Your Groups Meet

Michael Porter has famously said that strategy is about making choices, about making trade-off decisions. As an example, IKEA is known for making the trade-off decision of offering great prices over offering great service. It is not that they de-value service, but they have chosen to value “low cost” more. This strategic choice impacts organizational behavior, as any good strategy does. In their physical stores, they have chosen a self-service model over a highly staffed model with sales associates interacting with customers on every aisle. They understood the “trade-offs” and made a strategic choice that has deep implications for the company.

Church leaders make strategic choices too. And often we need to do a better job understanding the implications of our choices.

One of the trade-off decisions is where a church’s small groups will meet. Will the groups primarily be off-campus or will they be on-campus?

Yesterday I blogged about the practical benefits of on-campus groups, and today I will offer four practical benefits of off-campus groups. I want to re-state that I am not passionate about one approach being better than the other. I am, however, passionate for biblical community and for leaders thinking wisely about the ministries they steward.

Four practical benefits of “off-campus” groups

1. A less expensive structure: One of the primary reasons more and more groups will meet off-campus is that less and less churches will spend significant resources building large “educational wings” for adult groups. These churches will strategically choose to take advantage of square footage that is already being heated/cooled and already being paid for on a home mortgage.

2. More volunteers for kids and students: Some churches continue to struggle with enough volunteers to invest properly in the kids and students each week. Churches that utilize off-campus groups free up a good number of leaders for the kids and student ministries.

3. Easier entry for someone who doesn’t go to church: While on-campus groups provide an easier step for someone who attends worship services, off-campus groups provide an easier step for someone who doesn’t attend church. Each summer Kaye leads a women’s group in our neighborhood, and each summer we are so encouraged by folks who come who don’t go to church anywhere but are interested in attending a Bible study.

4. More relational time: Groups that meet off-campus do provide more time for interaction and conversation. And because it is more difficult for a new person to just show up at a house, the groups are more likely to lean toward “closed” even if they are not officially “closed.” This means it is easier for the discussions to go to a deeper place because the make-up of the group is not constantly changing.

While a wise leader wants to maximize the strengths of the strategy that has been chosen, Thursday I will offer some thoughts on minimizing the downside to your groups approach.

For resources on groups, whether they meet on-campus or off-campus, check out groupsmatter.com

 

1 Comment
02.27.2014

Simple Church Epilogue Part 3

It has been nearly eight years since Simple Church was first released. Now after eight years of discussions and observations with church leaders, I have been posting a series of blog posts on the five most significant lessons learned from Simple Church. Here they are:

1)    Churches drift.

2)    Thinking “process” is a mammoth shift.

3)    Simple is reproducible.

Whether you are part of the growing “multi-site church movement” or a church leader who wants to see your church reproduce, there are at least two essential questions that must be answered before making this critical move. (1) Is your church healthy? The question is about health, not perfection. A church must be healthy before reproduction occurs because churches reproduce what they are. (2) Is your church reproducible? If the second campus or new church is designed to be a similar church in a different location, then the church strategy and programming should be reproducible.

Some complex churches have moved into multiple locations and the following scenario has occurred. The new campus does not offer all the programming the original church offers. Some love the simplicity of the new campus. They are drawn to the entrepreneurial spirit and streamlined approach. However, others who know the church for its menu of programs continually struggle because the new campus does not offer them all the programming the original church does. Tension threatens to become disunity. At best, wise and strong leaders are able to navigate the tension. But the two campuses just do not feel the same. Only the message and/or the name are similar. The vision, the philosophy, and the approach feel very different.

Churches that are able to move quickly to multiple campuses have a simple and clear vision with reproducible programming and systems. Simplicity aides in the ability to reproduce.

4) Simple is wise stewardship.

The economic landscape in America has changed dramatically since the release of Simple Church. While the financial forecasts vary, most agree that our current generation will long be marked by the “new economy.” Some churches have been required to make significant cuts during the economic downturn. With potentially fewer resources, churches must finance what is absolutely essential. For the essential to be excellent, the non-essential may need to be starved.

Churches committed to a simple process for discipleship are enabled for wise stewardship because they are committed only to funding what is essential to their mission. Complex churches tend to be very fat; they tend to finance multiple directions, programs that are inward, ministries that do not add much value, and fluff.

5) Simple helps create space for mission.

For years, I have heard moaning from pastors: “Our folks don’t have relationships with people who are not Christian.” Perhaps one of the reasons is that the church invites members to be at the facility several nights every week. Perhaps our church people do not know lost people because our churches have kept people at the church building, thereby nullifying their opportunities to engage deeply in relationships with lost people. Leaders often guilt people into coming to the church, removing them from the world. Churches with minimal programming help their people live among the world as missionaries by not asking them to live at the church but to live as the church.

When churches offer less programming, they create space for their members to know their neighbors, serve in the community, and be more plugged into their kids’ schools, etc.

1 Comment
02.25.2014

Simple Church Epilogue Part 2

It has been nearly eight years since Simple Church was first released. Now after eight years of discussions and observations with church leaders, I am offering a series of blog posts on the five most significant lessons learned since then. The last post was about the proclivity for churches to drift. The second lesson is this:

2) Thinking “process” is a mammoth shift.

We never intended for Simple Church to be considered a church model. The book opened with “This is not a church model.” There are so many unaddressed issues (intentionally so) that prevent the book from being a comprehensive church model. We are not comfortable with or capable of suggesting an all-encompassing church model. The proclivity of leaders to look for another church model is a sign of the church’s shallowness and not its maturity.

Based on our research and on Scripture, we are convinced that all churches, regardless of the model they choose, should have a process for making disciples. If a church is not clear on their discipleship process, people will move in a multitude of directions. Process is essential.

During the Great Awakening, there were two famous preachers: George Whitefield and John Wesley. Most would say Whitefield was the superior orator. He was known as the phenomenal communicator of his day. But years later, as historians would compare the impact of Whitefield’s ministry to Wesley’s, they discovered Wesley was much more effective.

Whitefield showed up and preached. He did so well and faithfully. But his ministry was confined to the preaching of the Word, which we firmly believe is absolutely essential. Wesley, though, was committed to more than just the event where he would proclaim the message. He worked hard on developing a process that moved people to classes, organized people in groups, and then challenged them to engage the world. Wesley did not just preach. He cared about what happened after; he cared about implementing a discipleship process. Wesley understood process. That process became known as Methodism.

Here are some recent observations related to designing a process in your church:

View discipleship as the whole process.

People have often asked, “Where does discipleship fit into the process?” The question reveals a faulty definition of discipleship because the question is typically about curriculum or learning environments. We have often equated discipleship with information. Discipleship is not about information. It is about transformation. The end result of discipleship is not knowledge but obedience. When you design a process for discipleship, view discipleship as the whole process.

Be careful not to over-program early in your discipleship process.

A mistake we have seen played out multiple times is when church leaders craft (or borrow) a new vision or mission statement and quickly throw all their existing programs under the new statement. The old just gets baptized with new nomenclature.

Church leaders find a new statement and dump all their existing programs into the new statement. It is painful to observe after we wrote a book proclaiming the need to program minimally around a discipleship process. The problem with the re-categorization approach is that if leaders just place everything they are doing under a new phrase, they have not really designed a process for spiritual transformation. They have merely re-organized programs.

A major consequence embedded in haphazard re-categorization is that church leaders will unintentionally hold people early in the articulated discipleship process. Because people only have so much time, over-programming early in a discipleship process prevents people from moving to steps placed deeper in the process.

For example, imagine XYZ church articulates that in their discipleship process they desire to move people from large worship environments to places of biblical community to places of mission engagement. Perhaps they say, “Our vision is to exalt, encourage, and engage.” But XYZ church merely re-categorizes all their programming under their new statement. They place Sunday morning worship services and Sunday night worship services under “exalt.” Under “encourage,” they place Sunday school, discipleship groups, home prayer groups, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, and a plethora of other things. Each week in their worship services, the leaders compete for time to promote their “encourage” programs.

Do you see the problem? If someone actually went to all of the programs promoted, the individual would be at six different things each week. And he or she still has not served nor engaged unbelievers outside the church. Over-programming early in your process competes with your process. Over-programming hampers the body by complicating the lives of church members to the point that there is no margin for service or mission.

Mission must be deeply embedded in your process.

We are concerned that some church processes end with the church. In other words, the end result of some discipleship processes in the church is the church itself. If your discipleship process sounds like, “Come to our church, get connected, and help us do church better,” you need to repent of too shallow a vision for discipleship. Surely the end result of discipleship is not your church merely doing church better.

3 Comments
02.24.2014

Simple Church Epilogue Part 1

Almost eight years have passed since the initial release of Simple Church, and to say that we are overwhelmed with the response would be a vast understatement. Our shock with the response is not a statement of humility (unfortunately) but the reality of the nature of the book. Let’s be honest—it was a nerdy research project. The research was extensive and the results were noteworthy; therefore, a book followed. But research books don’t tend to make anyone’s “favorite books” list.

Not only is the book a research-based book, but it is also loaded with “insider language.” Meaning we wrote the book for pastors and church leaders. The book is filled with the kinds of conversations we have during consultations, staff meetings, and strategy sessions with church leaders. We never thought regular godly church people would read the book or have the book given to them by a pastor in their church.

The book is far from perfect. It is definitely not infallible or inerrant. It is incomplete and incomprehensive. We simply reported on what we discovered in the research. Now after eight years of discussions and observations with church leaders, I am going to offer a series of blog posts on the five most significant lessons learned since Simple Church released. Here’s the first:

Churches drift.

We drift away from the core message of the Christian faith—the gospel. We move away from the essence of the Christian faith—the good news that our holy God rescued us from our sins by placing Himself on a cross in our place to secure our salvation. We drift away from the core mission of the church—making disciples. We add so many extras to the essence of who we are. We drift.

Drift is always bad. You don’t drift into physical fitness or spiritual growth. And churches do not drift into spiritual health or kingdom advancement. We drift away from those things, not toward them. And drift never corrects itself.

In relation to Simple Church, there are two common drifts in churches. The two drifts are closely related; if the first drift is occurring in your church, the second is present as well.

We drift toward complexity.

During the research behind Simple Church and in many subsequent consultations, church leaders have confessed, “I feel like a program manager. God called me into ministry because I wanted to see people transformed into the image of Christ, because I wanted to serve His church, because He gave me a passion to make disciples. But now, I just manage programs.”

There are staff teams that spend hours in meetings every week managing the church calendar. Some churches confess they feel guilty if something is not on the calendar. The calendar, in some settings, justifies the existence of the church and of her leaders.

They move in a myriad of directions never realizing the full potential of a team rallying around a singular mission. They jump from new initiative to new initiative or new vision to new vision before any of them actually takes root in the life of the church. Many churches attempt an overabundance of activities, events, and programs. Thus, they offer them all with mediocrity as their energy and resources are spread thinly and evenly across a massive menu of “stuff.”

We drift off mission.

If a church is complicated, she will not have the energy or the resources available to be highly engaged in mission. The church will spend her time existing for herself, setting up systems for herself, and communicating to herself.

We drift toward complexity. We drift away from mission. The two are related. When you are complex, you tend to be inward. There is so much to manage at the church building; there is little time to think strategically about the community. There is minimal energy to serve those in the community. At the same time, when you drift off mission, you will naturally become complex and complicated. Something else will dominate your time if the mission of God does not stir your heart.

4 Comments
12.10.2013

Two Days a Year in Small Group

The board game Monopoly was used in a fascinating way in World War II. As a nod to the Geneva Convention, Germans allowed organizations like the Red Cross to deliver care packages to prisoners of war, and these packages were allowed to contain items, including board games. The British devised a plan to take advantage of this by hiding things such as a file, a compass, and the local currency. But most importantly, the games contained a map. No matter how effective the escape kits were, if the POWs didn’t know where to go or which areas were occupied, they would most likely be recaptured. The captives needed updated information that would allow them to escape within a tight window of opportunity.

The window of opportunity churches have to accomplish the critical mission of teaching and training disciples through their groups is also tight. Regardless of ministry approach, the average group meets for about an hour a week for study. Considering vacations, potential bad weather days, and group breaks, at best the people meet for group Bible study 48 hours or less a year. That’s two days.

Two Days.

Clearly discipleship is not limited to those two days. Community must not be confined to the study time. But those two days of meeting around the Bible must not be squandered. Those two days must be maximized. If you only have two days a year to study in groups, it is wise to have a discipleship plan that intentionally guides people to greater maturity in Christ.

The most common and essential element in a wise discipleship study plan is the Word. Studies must be rooted in Scripture, and over time people must be exposed to the totality of the Word. Studies must also be focused on Jesus because only He transforms the heart. The starting point for a discipleship plan may vary based on the group/class, but all studies must get people to the text and to Jesus.

At LifeWay, we offer three distinct ongoing Bible studies for groups. With Bible Studies for Life, we start with real-life issues that people face everyday, we bring the Scripture to bear on those issues, and over time we expose people to the whole counsel of the Word. With The Gospel Project, we start with a systematic plan to show people how all Scripture points to Jesus. With Explore the Bible, we start with a plan to walk people through all the books of the Bible.

A pastor might say, “One sounds like practical theology, one sounds like systematic theology, and one sounds like biblical theology.” Three different approaches, but each one helps people encounter the Living Word (Jesus) and the written Word.

Monopoly source:
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/01/how-monopoly-games-helped-allied-pows-escape-during-world-war-ii/266996/
http://www.theguardian.com/uk/the-northerner/2013/jan/08/history-monopoly-waddingtons-victor-watson-stalag-prisoners-of-war
http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/monopolys-hidden-maps-wwii-pows-escape/story?id=8605905

3 Comments