I am not a Pantheist, regardless of what Amazon thinks.
A lady called me a couple of years ago and asked if I was “Allen White.” Naturally, I responded, “Yes.” She went on to say how much she loved my book. At the time, I hadn’t written a book. I explained my confusion. She then asked if I was the Allen White who wrote God Is All. I told her I was not, and we ended our conversation.
Now I was curious. Allen White the Theist (Monotheist, Trinitarian Allen White, to be exact) needed to see what Allen White the Pantheist was up to. I did a search and ordered a copy of God Is All, by Allen White (the Pantheist). It was a small, self-published paperback written by an Allen White from Kentucky. My family lived in Kentucky a few generations back, so who knows, maybe this was a distant cousin. If we traced the family tree back far enough, Pantheist Allen White would probably say we were also related to the tree itself.
I really didn’t think much about Pantheist Allen White until last week. I discovered that Amazon had linked my book, Exponential Groups, to the author profile of one Pantheist Allen White. Great, now my potential audience thinks I’m forming groups with people and chairs and coffee tables as members. Churches will have “home groups” because the home is also a member of the group!
My publisher snapped into action and contacted Amazon ASAP. Theist Allen White’s book was unplugged from Pantheist Allen White’s author profile. Heresy was overted.
Maybe I should have published as “Rudolph,” my first name and also the name of a certain reindeer. <Sigh>
This is my interview with Doug Fields, the author of Intentional Parenting. Doug serves as the Executive Director of HomeWord’s Center for Youth/Family at Azusa Pacific University, co-founder of downloadyouthministry.com, and the author of more than 50 books. He previously served on staff at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA with Rick Warren, and South Coast Community Church (now Mariners Church). Doug is currently a Teaching Pastor at Mariners Church, Irvine, CA with Kenton Beshore.
Intentional Parenting is a resource for Couples, Small Groups, or Classes based on Doug’s 10 Actions for parents as described in the video). The curriculum includes a DVD teaching video, an individual workbook, and a downloadable discussion guide. As of March 2016, we are looking for churches willing to pilot the Intentional Parenting curriculum with groups, classes, or groups of friends. Space is limited to the first 50 churches who register. For more information on the pilot: allenwhite/org/ip-pilot
Please forgive the recording. It did not come out quite as well as I had hoped, but the Doug’s content is solid. So, maybe listen to this and not watch it!
This post is from the archives. Joseph Myers tells me this is the most popular review of his book on Amazon.com. He’s sold over half a million books. I think I helped a little.
My family spends a week each year in a quaint old farmhouse with no television. “Quaint” and “TV” don’t really fit. I always bring a variety of books just in case one of them ends up being a dud. This year I brought a John Grisham novel (it doesn’t matter which one–they’re all the same); In Love and War by James and Sybil Stockdale (Jim Collins just mentioned it one too many times); and The Search to Belong by Joseph Myers (which was on Carl George’s nightstand).
Joe Myers’ book was the first book of the week. I enjoyed his writing style, well, until I actually began to pay attention to what he was saying. Then, it just made me mad. In mid-paragraph I would stop reading to myself and begin to read the book aloud to my wife. “Listen to this guy: Joe Myers says, ‘A church of small groups? Sounded like forced relational hell to me’” (page 10).
“Exactly,” my wife responded.
“You, you can’t say that. I’m the Small Groups Pastor. You can’t say that.” This was a matter of job security. The last thing I needed was bad P.R. from my co-leader and spouse.
I continued to read much like I watch Christian television or slow to see the wreckage of a car accident. With each page turn I anticipated that this guy would finally hang himself. What exactly was he getting at? What was his agenda? Did he envision the church as some sort of YMCA-like gathering place where belonging overshadowed belief?
The more I read, the more irritated I became. Jesus didn’t commission us to go into the world and connect people. Yet, Joe Myers so much as invalidated “fully-devoted followers.” What about Acts 2:42?!!
Just as I was about to write Joe off as one more neo- orthodox, emergent guru, something began to resonate in my thinking. Up to this point, I looked at our congregation and saw many disconnected people who needed to be in a small group. But, when we asked our members to take the Purpose-Driven Health Assessment, we were somewhat baffled by the results. You see the people who were in small groups and the people who were not in small groups rated themselves most highly in the same two categories: Worship and Connectedness. I thought, “Boy, we’re going to have to re-educate our people on what it means to be connected. These people think they’re connected, but they’re not even in a small group. They don’t even know what Connectedness means.”
This book that I loved to hate gave me a key insight: Everyone in our congregation WAS already connected. Maybe not to each other, but they were all connected to somebody: a family, friends, co- workers, neighbors, and other church members. My job changed with one epiphany: I no longer needed to connect the unconnected. I just needed to invited folks to do a 6-week DVD-based Bible study with people they were already connected to. How simple is that?
I’m pleased to say that in our Fall campaign this year, just over 1/3 of our groups were formed exactly this way. Each week a group of friends, co- workers or neighbors are gathering in a home, a break room, even on a train and studying God’s Word.
Thank you, Joe Myers for writing the book that I love to hate.
I’ve just started reading Community is Messy: The Perils and Promise of Small Group Ministry. I promised to have a review out about a week ago, but I’m finding I just can’t rush through this book. It must be savored. Heather approaches the topic in such a unique way, I’ve decided to take my time and allow it to challenge my presuppositions of group life.
Right out the gate, Heather points out how the early church was a mess. We have the biblical evidence to prove it. Granted, they were new at this, but after 2,000 years, I don’t know whether the church has improved so much. The only exception is we might be better at hiding or avoiding our messes.
For many pastors, mess equals failure. This book challenges that notion, in fact, mess might just equal progress.
Thank you, Heather, for writing this open and honest book on group life. I will continue to savor it and will have a review out in due time.
When you look at the success of groups at Saddleback Church, it would be easy, though cynical, to assume that you can only achieve that number of groups if they are an inch deep and a mile wide. After observing and participating in the ministry of Saddleback for the last 18 years, I have discovered that Saddleback is both deep and wide.
They cast a broad net to recruit small group H.O.S.T.s and to connect their members into groups. Today, Saddleback has over 3,500 small groups with more folks in groups than in their weekend services. This is due in large part to their small group champion, Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church. A God-given idea and Pastor Rick’s influence produced 2,000 new group hosts in their first 40 Days of Purpose campaign. His influence is huge in connecting people into groups. But, connecting and sustaining are two different animals.
Steve Gladen in Small Groups with Purpose outlines a success story not just for retaining numbers, but for life transformation and leadership development. Having run many successful church-wide campaigns myself, I know that it’s easy to create a spike in groups during a campaign, but helping those groups to continue is another animal. In this book, Steve Gladen outlines a powerful strategy for gaining and maintaining momentum.
Coaching and training are Saddleback’s keys to effective group leaders. Steve presents a unique coaching strategy. Community Leaders, rather than coaches, serve 20-25 groups leaders. This system works due to a key insight: not every group leader needs the same level of coaching. By determining whether the group is new, growing, mature or stubborn, community leaders offer an appropriate level of care. This is good news for churches who have yet to develop a healthy coaching structure, in that, existing groups have learned how to get along good enough without a coach. New coaches can focus on new leaders, and essentially serve existing leaders by benign neglect.
In the book, Steve Gladen articulates a proven strategy for starting and sustaining new leaders. At Saddleback, H.O.S.T.s start with the experience of leading a group for six weeks, then they are introduced to training. After leading for a few weeks, the training is more meaningful to the new leaders and can be directly applied to their group. Churches often make the mistake of over-training before a leader even starts to lead. If the prospective leader can survive the training, then they can lead a group. In my opinion, over-training actually reflects more of the small group pastor’s insecurity and need for control rather than adequately preparing members to lead. Community Leaders provide the help that new leaders need at Saddleback. Having someone in the new leader’s life is far more significant than endless hours of training up front.
Another outstanding strength of Saddleback’s training system is the intentional, on-going training pathway. Once leaders have completed Leadership Training 1, they receive care from their Community Leader and are offered on-going training that is appropriate to their skills and experience. The genius of this system is that all of the leaders start Leadership Training 2 with the third module, Health, then proceed to future modules based on their needs and experience as a leader. Custom, just-in-time training is key to serving new leaders and keeping their interest and participation in training. Cookie cutter, “one size fits all” training is a relic of the past. No small group pastor should blame their leaders for not attending training. If you’re not scratching where they itch, it’s on you.
Balancing the five biblical purposes produces healthy group members. While many churches develop groups that specialize in fellowship or Bible study, these types of groups focus on meeting the needs of the group members, but don’t necessarily produce well-rounded disciples. Then, you wonder why groups are unwilling to help in starting new groups or won’t reach out to others. It’s all about them. Why do they need to create any discomfort for themselves?
The Health Assessment helps both groups and individuals to identify their strengths and growth areas. More importantly, the Health Plan helps them create appropriate next steps for their growth. Whether the members are ready to crawl, walk or run, growth is determined at their own place and pace. No one expects a baby to get up and start running. No one should expect a mature adult to revert to crawling either.
Balancing the five biblical purposes is key. While most groups and group members will be strong in fellowship and discipleship, they will more than likely be weak in worship, ministry and evangelism. Rather than creating a group of comfortable, Bible eggheads, balancing the purposes challenges the group to think beyond itself and to get everyone’s gifts in the game of reaching out and serving others. Groups that grow inward will cease to grow both numerically and spiritually. The mere accumulation of knowledge is actually a waste of everyone’s time if they don’t seek to apply God’s Word in practical ways and to support each other in the transition.
The best part of Small Groups with Purpose is that the model Steve Gladen presents is scalable. The system that helps Saddleback effectively care for thousands of groups and tens of thousands of group members will also help a church with a handful of groups and a few dozen members. In my work at Lifetogether and Purpose-Driven coaching hundreds of pastors across the country, I have seen these principles work in churches of all sizes, in all regions of North America, and in practically every Christian denomination. Whether your church has 40 members or 40,000, the principles offered in this book will help your church grow both numerically and spiritually.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and Baker Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”