Blog Posts

What is a Covenant?

So far, when I have been talking with coaches and LifeGroup leaders about writing a covenant, there always seems to be some hesitation, if not direct pushback. From what I can tell, most of the resistance is to the word covenant. It evokes some weightiness and seriousness or it just feels weird.  So I wanted to help us better understand what we are asking from groups and why we would even choose the word covenant.

We chose the word covenant to describe our LifeGroup relationships because it is very different than many of the relationships we are accustomed to having. Most of our current relationships are contractual in nature, meaning our relationships revolve around an exchange of goods or services. In a contractual relationship, the goal is to get the most for the least and overall, the relationship is secondary to this exchanging of goods.

The materialistic and consumerist culture we live in is a breeding ground for contractual relationships and we drift toward treating most, if not all relationships based on the mindset of getting the most benefit for the least effort. Having a contractual disposition is detrimental to the health of our LifeGroups. LifeGroups that have contractual relationships become “me groups,” centered around appeasing my wants and my perceived needs.

A covenant relationship is just the opposite. The primary focus is not on what I can get and how cheap can I get it; the primary focus of a covenant is defining the relationship between parties and the focus is mostly on what I give rather than what I get. It is a commitment to one another. The two best examples of covenants that we are most familiar with is the Jesus’ Covenant with us and the marriage covenant. With both of these covenants, the centerpiece of the agreement is defining the relationship and then out of the relationship flows action, responsibilities and commitments.

So simply put, a LifeGroup Covenant is a LifeGroup DTR (short for "determine the relationship"). We want to define the relationship and out of this relationship will flow our responsibilities and actions toward one another.

So here are the 2 basics of a covenant:

  1. Who are we/who do we want to be? We as a LifeGroup want to be a Jesus-centered family on mission. That simple. We want to as a group all agree with and commit to this.
  2. How are we going to do our being? If we agree to be a Jesus-centered family on mission, what does that look like practically? In our culture and context we are hoping this means that groups are committing to the 3 basic rhythms: Gather together, Grow together and Go together.

So let me connect some dots for you. This campaign ends with a covenant and the focus of the covenant is to define the relationship and how we plan to live out our relationship. We are a Jesus-centered family on mission and we live this out through our rhythms. Our hope and desire is that the outcome of this campaign will be all of our LifeGroups being Jesus-centered family on mission through rhythms.

How to Write a Covenant

  1. Read Chapter 11 in Grassroots Kingdom and explain the covenant as a DTR for your group.
  2. Homework: each person should read and pray through the template on their own, then submit their thoughts and ideas to the group leader.
  3. The group leader should compile all ideas and bring them to Group Time to discuss. (As you take notes, you can use this blank electronic version of the Covenant Template if that's helpful.) The group should discuss each point and work toward an agreement.
  4. Once in agreement, celebrate your covenant with communion.
  5. Finally, submit your final covenant here by filling in the relevant fields. Once submitted, you will get a beautiful, filled out PDF of your covenant to share with your LifeGroup.

As always, ask your coach if you have any questions about the covenant process, and share your group's covenant with them when it is finalized.

Why Go Together?

Fighting the Weirdness with Normalness

“Oh, you’re a pastor, huh?”

The dreaded moment in the process of meeting a neighbor had arrived. Historically, this is the moment when he’ll start acting weird; the moment when he’ll start being very fake careful with his language and the moment when the opportunity for building a real friendship evaporates.

“Yeah. And me and some friends get up at the Kraken on Monday nights. Would you want to join us sometime?”

“You do?” (…awkward pause because a pastor just invited him to a bar…)

“…Yeah man, I’d be into that.”

Thank Jesus for rhythms. Especially the rhythm of going together. For me as a pastor, the way that our LifeGroup goes together is very helpful in letting people know “yeah, no, it’s ok. We’re normal.” We love Jesus, we’d like to get to know you, but no you don’t need to be freaked out.

The Value of a "Third Place"

Going together is a practical way of being church family in the midst of the city outside of our homes and Gatherings. We enjoy restaurants, bars, food and drink as well as each other in a visible setting. In these relaxed environments we both get to know each other in regular normal life and we also get to invite others in to a community environment with a very low energy barrier. Our conversation is peppered with Jesus as we cover a range of topics from our marriages and relationships to our jobs to parenting to sports to local news and movies.

For our LifeGroup, we’ve had two primary rhythms that have worked well in going together. For about a year and a half we’ve had some number of guys who meet together on Monday nights at a bar to enjoy each other, enjoy a beer and as a welcome place to invite friends in. Through this rhythm we’ve seen a number of guys who have hopped in and stayed for a while only to bounce out after a time. We’ve also seen a few guys move from Monday night at the bar into a growing relationship with Jesus and involvement in all aspects of our LifeGroup.

A number of months back, we started a new go together rhythm where one couple in our LifeGroup has opened their home to have backyard movie nights every other Friday when the weather is nice. This has been a super hospitable environment to invite in friends who don’t know about Jesus at all and start building relationship with them.

When it Doesn't Work...

I want to mention that we’ve tried a number of other go together rhythms that have not worked or lasted. Don’t feel tons of pressure that you have to nail it on the first try. My biggest encouragement would be pray, find something that works and is sustainable for at least a couple folks in your group and just get after it until it catches on. It’ll probably take a while. It almost definitely won’t work for everyone in the group. And in the long run Jesus will use it to help your group experience more shared life as family and give your group an easy on ramp for mission and inviting in new folks.

Why Gather Together?

Hebrews 10:25 (HCSB):
...not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Acts 2:42 (HCSB):
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.

Acts 20:7 (ESV):
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

More than Preaching & Music

Many Christians have no meaningful vision for why the church gathers. We tend to think of Sundays as merely preaching and music.

Church gatherings, as with many spiritual things, have the surface dimension that we see, and then there is stuff that is behind the surface. If all we see is music and sermons and frustrated parents who spent the whole morning just trying to get the kids into clothes and arrive on time, then we have to wonder if it is worth it.

A church gathering is not just a time of listening to a lecture and singing songs that connect us to God. It is meant to be more than that. It is meant to be a formational environment with depth that goes beyond what meets the eye.

It’s not just a sermon. It’s an act of refuting the story imposed upon the people of God six days a week by orienting and reorienting ourselves around the story of grace.

We aren’t just singing songs, but people who are vastly different than one another – mothers and father, young and old, men and women, black and white, rich and poor – are joining their many voices into one voice and declaring something together. We are gathering in a local place to remember that one day, all tribes and tongues will gather together and sing with one voice to Jesus.

We aren’t just coming together to receive spiritual goods and services. We are involved in a rhythm that informs our lives about what we value. It shapes us. It involves us. It reminds us.

Like a Family Meal

It’s not only the content we receive every week that is so formative; it’s the act of being together and making God’s family our priority. It’s similar to a family that gathers every evening for a meal. The value is not just in the food or the specifics of conversation. The act of coming together repeatedly is a demonstration of love and commitment.

It is a formative act to prioritize gathering with the greater church body. It reinforces in us the ultimate importance of what God is doing on the earth.

Where Preference Goes to Die

A Sunday gathering is an experience specifically organized against the idolatry of personal preference. Our participation is good, not just because God says to do it — although that’s reason enough — but because it is abundantly good for us to hear our singular voice be lost in sea of other voices, all singing the same true things about our God. We like the sound of our own voices far too much, and the subtle reminder that we exist, as a community, for God is much needed. Church gatherings, properly understood, take our “selfie” tendencies and redirect the lens of our lives to the God who rightly deserves the focus. We set our preferences aside to come together as one family, marveling in how our differences can be reconciled through the cross of Christ.

Consistently gathering together confronts and stunts our spiritual autonomy and individualism.

Do it Together

We want LifeGroups to make participating in a Sunday Gathering together a weekly rhythm as a way to reinforce the value of coming together as God’s people. It’s a way to see one another, worship together, potentially serve together or go out to eat together afterwards.

Gathering participation is a means of grace into your life. Don’t forfeit it.

What Are Rhythms?

A Problem Named Netflix

About six months into marriage, my wife and I spotted a problem. The problem was named Netflix. We realized that instead of spending quality time with each other, we were spending most of our time staring at our TV. So we came up with a solution. “Starting now,” we said, “we’re going to spend way more quality time with each other.” Three months after our decision, we had another problem: nothing had changed. This happened primarily because we’re sinfully lazy, but also because we had no concrete method to accompany our solution. Just saying “we’re going to spend more time together,” wasn’t enough.

Similarly, a lot of us say things like “I want our LifeGroup to really become family with one another,” but often struggle to put concrete steps around that idea. And as a result, we often don’t see much growth.

Not Rules, but Help

Rhythms are designed to help out with that. They’re not rules that we add to the bible (that’s what the folks in Galatians got in trouble for); they’re simply some suggested concrete steps to help actualize your plan of helping your LifeGroup be a Jesus-centered family on mission together.

The rhythms we’ve detailed in the Grassroots Kingdom book are as follows:

  • Gather together. Attend a Sunday Gathering together with your LifeGroup. This is something you all are doing already (hopefully), so it’s not an addition to your schedule–just an opportunity to do it together. Some LifeGroups may even want to serve together at the Gathering and/or grab a meal together afterwards.
  • Grow together. This is the intentional time of training once-a-week where your LifeGroup catches up with each other, discusses the sermon, confesses to one another, and prays together.
  • Go together. Since the goal of LifeGroup is to represent Jesus and be on mission, it’s helpful to have a more neutral place that will be non-threatening to outsiders. Some people you build relationships with may be uncomfortable attending a Gathering or coming to your house to talk about the bible, but would be totally comfortable grabbing dinner or a drink with your LifeGroup.

More to Come

Over the next few days, we’re going to unpack each of these rhythms in more detail, but in the meantime, try not to be overwhelmed. The goal is not so much to add more things to your schedule as it is to help all of us reorient and refocus our schedules in a way that leverages it all for the kingdom of God. And if the bible is true (which it is), it’s all worth it.

Why Church Membership Matters

There is a mountain of confusion about church membership and what it means for many American Christians. Some don’t believe it’s helpful or necessary, while other churches have “membership” rolls that far exceed the actual people who are plugged into their church body. These churches have lists full of people who decided to be a “member” 10 years ago by way of ceremony only, never having actually belonged to a group of believers or fulfilled any sort of membership responsibilities. Of course, these experiences only fuel the idea that church membership is, at best, meaningless.

So why does church membership matter? There are many reasons, but we will focus on two: 1) It is biblically important, and 2) It is good for the church and for you.

 1) Membership is Biblically Important

Although there is not in depth detail on the specific topic of church membership in the New Testament, there is much evidence pointing to its importance and vitality.

For example, Hebrews 13:17 states:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

If there is no such thing as belonging to a specific local church body, then to which leaders are we to be responsible to? Do we submit to any random church leader in our city that may or may not be biblically faithful?

From the opposite side, Scripture gives clear instructions to elders to specifically care for, lead, and shepherd “the flock of God among you” (1 Pet 5.1-5). The metaphor is shepherding, which of course implies a shepherd overseeing and protecting a specific and defined group of sheep. If there were no such thing as defined church membership, to whom would elders be responsible to God for?

Lastly, the New Testament concept of church discipline laid out in Matthew 18 would have no functionality whatsoever without a definite account of who is and is not a member.

2) Membership is Good for the Church and for You

Beyond the biblical evidence for the importance of church membership, there are practical benefits galore. Choosing to commit to a specific church body allows the believer to treat church as a family with warts, struggles and all—as opposed to seeing the church as a pick-and-choose buffet that I will most certainly leave if things get too difficult. It allows for the long-term growth that can only come from being committed to the same group of people for an extended period of time—people that know your flaws, weaknesses, and struggles as much as you know theirs.

Church membership gives us the opportunity to belong to one another and practice the myriad of “one another” commands we see littered throughout the New Testament. Membership allows us the similar benefits of deep sanctification and belonging that marriage allows. It teaches us that commitment, even to an (of course) imperfect church is far better for our souls than treating church like a buffet line.

Practicals of Membership at Midtown

At Midtown we take membership seriously. We have at least 2 events each year (Family Meetings) specifically designed to encourage, train, and support our members. In addition, missionary members receive extra attention, care and oversight from our pastors through regular member check ups, as well as the added benefit of officially belonging to, committing to, and serving our church family as we all make disciples together.

So if you have people in your LifeGroup that are not yet members, encourage them to come to the next Midtown Class. You can find the next session on our Upcoming Events page. Let them know that officially plugging in to a local church body is not only good for the church—it’s good for them and their continued maturity.

How to Use Recovery as a Resource

We want Recovery to be a helpful resource for you as a LifeGroup Leader, to the extent that we have designed and tweaked the ministry to supplement and serve LifeGroups as much as possible.

The analogy that we use is that LifeGroups are like our highway. They are what we want everyone in—the way we do life and biblical community together. Recovery is like a rest stop—an intentional atmosphere to help by adding some intentional focus and support when certain issues feel unbeatable. However, when you are taking a road trip, the goal is not to pull off at the rest stop and stay there forever. In the same way, the goal of Recovery is to help get people in a healthier place so that they can transition back onto the highway of LifeGroups. This is why it is designed as a cycle that only lasts for a few months, happening twice a year.

Because of this philosophy, we desire to keep Recovery and LifeGroups strongly linked. Every week at Recovery we encourage people to get into LifeGroups if they are not already. We encourage them to be honest & transparent about what is going on with them in LifeGroup if they aren’t already. We encourage them to choose a sponsor (a Christian friend who will go through the personal inventories with them) from their LifeGroup to keep that connection strong.

In light of this, here are some ways you can use Recovery as a resource:

  • Have conversations with your group about Recovery. Make sure your people know that it is available and that it is helpful. Ask if anyone is feeling led to go. If anyone has been in the past, ask them to share some of what Jesus taught them.
  • Approach specific people you think would be greatly helped by it. If there is anyone you think would benefit from it, tell them!
  • If anyone does choose to go, see if they’d like someone from LifeGroup to go with them. A lot of times people may want some support and accountability, and we welcome friends who are there to support someone. This also keeps the connection to LifeGroup strong.
  • Consistently ask anyone who attends what they are learning, how Jesus is growing them, etc. Because Recovery is an environment specifically designed to open up deep areas of life, it is sometimes the case that people will be more honest and transparent about what they are struggling with at Recovery than they have been with LifeGroup. There is much power in being fully known and deeply loved by others in light of the gospel, and many are blessed by this experience. The challenge with this, of course, is that Recovery is not the highway. The relationships formed in Recovery are not designed to be permanent relationships like the relationships in LifeGroups are. We constantly encourage people at Recovery to make sure they are being as transparent with their LifeGroup as they are at Recovery, and to think of the experience like training wheels to continue to use in their permanent relationships with their LifeGroup. Many times people just don’t know the right time to open up and lay out their deepest fears and secrets, so asking them about it gives them opportunities to do so. Don’t think you are pestering them by doing this…you are serving them!
  • If you ever feel like it would benefit your group to go through Recovery together, that is an option. You can come on Monday nights to Recovery and be a part of the big group for worship and teaching, and then break off into your own group to discuss when we separate into small groups. For help or questions about this, contact Brandon Clements.

We desire Recovery to come alongside and serve you guys well as you are leading on the front lines of making disciples in our city, so let us know if you have any questions about how this ministry can be a resource for you as a leader.

Happy/Sad: Thoughts from a Multiplying LifeGroup

Last Wednesday night my LifeGroup got together for our last meeting before we multiplied and formed two new LifeGroups. We grilled some delicious burgers, did our normal 30-60 minutes of goofing around, and then all circled up. We wanted to celebrate all that Jesus had done in our LifeGroup over the past year or so. It was truly amazing…

  • One guy talked about beginning LifeGroup with the thought that he was "getting his stuff together" and "getting right with God," and ended up discovering more about grace than he ever knew existed.
  • Two couples new to Columbia talked about the difficulties of being married and not knowing anyone outside of their family. LifeGroup helped them not only develop friendships, but meaningful relationships who helped them work through marriage issues.
  • One of our single girls said how much she loved getting a front-row seat to observe what Jesus-centered marriages looked like. She explained how incredible that was and how welcomed she felt as a single girl in a mostly-married LifeGroup.
  • One couple (that has only been around for a couple months) talked about being overwhelmed at first, but then amazed by the amount of honesty in our LifeGroup. They quickly realized that this was a safe place for them to be honest as well.
  • One couple talked about how it had been a rough year with some major health issues, and how Jesus had used our LifeGroup to serve them by doing everyday things for them like cleaning their house and setting up a schedule to bring them dinner once a week.
  • One guy talked about how Jesus has continued to redeem his broken view of family through our LifeGroup becoming his family.
  • I talked about the pressures of feeling like I needed to be a saint since I'm a pastor. I shared how comforting and humbling it was to have a group of guys who I could confess anything to, and they wouldn't look at me any differently because of it.
  • And one girl, when trying to put into words how LifeGroup had been over the past year, finally said "I think 'life-changing' is the best way to say it."

In the midst of all this, I felt myself getting sad. I was sad because these relationships had become so important to me over the past year, and I couldn't imagine half of them being in a different LifeGroup. We had gotten so close, and I didn't want that to change.

But then I got really happy. For a lot of reasons… 

  • Because there are more guys out there who will go from "getting his act together" to discovering grace.
  • Because there are more couples who will go from feeling like they have no friends in Columbia to having meaningful relationships where they can work through issues in their marriage.
  • Because there are more single girls who will get to have front-row seats to Jesus-centered marriages.
  • Because there are more couples who will be overwhelmed, and then amazed by how vulnerable they can be with other people.
  • Because there are more couples struggling that will get to have a LifeGroup clean their house and cook them dinner.
  • Because there are more guys who will have Jesus redeem their broken view of family through LifeGroup.
  • Because I will still need a group of guys who I can confess anything to, and they won't look at me any differently.
  • Because more people will have their life changed through Jesus-centered communities.

Kids and LifeGroups | Pt. 2

We encourage all LifeGroups to adopt weekly and monthly rhythms to ensure that we are doing life together. Rhythms are intentionally doing things together with regularity and gospel intentionality. Rhythms are practical ways we are going to be involved in one another’s lives. We encourage groups to start with three basic intentional rhythms: 1) Gather Together—attend a gathering together, 2) Grow Together—group time for intentional training, and 3) Go Together—a social gathering in a non-threatening environment to invite people into your community. So how do we involve our kids these basic rhythms?

Gather Together:

Ideally the group chooses one of the Gatherings to attend together. Of course, kids should attend Kidtown while adults attend the Gathering. We also encourage groups to plan to eat or hang out before or after the Gathering. This mealtime is a great time to involve kid-friendly discussion about the sermon and Kidtown materials. In addition to the questions from the Kidtown Homelinks, here are some of the questions I ask my three-year-old:

  • How was Kidtown?
  • What friends were there? Who were your teachers?
  • What did Mr. Bailey talk about today?
  • Is there anyone from Kidtown that we can pray for this week?

Grow Together:

LifeGroups are more than a once-a-week meeting, but we do highly value our group time and every group should commit to a regular weekly meeting for this purpose. Group time is focused on intentional training to push each other toward Jesus. A typical group time will involve four elements: catching up on life, discussing the sermon, reviewing the group’s mission and rhythms and engaging the heart through confession and prayer.

Because of the intentionality and focus needed during group time, this is not the best environment to be supervising kids. We encourage every group to talk about childcare for group time and to come up with a group plan. This is a group discussion, not just a families-with-kids discussion, because it is a group issue. Childcare options can vary because each group needs to make a plan that works best for them. Listed below are five examples of how different groups have handled childcare during group time:

  • Group A: Everyone arranges childcare for their own families, unless it is a baby (babies usually mean under 1, still nursing, and/or not able to walk). Babies are welcome at group time, and any given week there are one to five babies present during our group time.
  • Group B: Families in a group pitch in to hire a babysitter to keep the kids during group time. Depending on the number of kids and the size of the home the group meets in, this could happen at the same house as group time or at a nearby group member’s home.
  • Group C: Two or three adults from the group rotate pouring into kids while the rest of the group has intentional time. The group could eat a meal together, and then the adults watching the kids could take them upstairs to hang out. This would give everyone time with each other’s kids, and also give single people and couples without kids opportunities to disciple kids in a way that they would not have otherwise.
  • Group D: 1st week: All together—bring your kids and let’s party. 2nd week: Women take the kids and hang out at someone’s house, a restaurant or a park, and the guys prioritize to be there that week for intentional group time (flexible for the women: if they need to miss a week this is the one to miss). 3rd week: Reverse roles from the 2nd week. 4th week: Get two people from within the group (on a rotating basis) to keep the kids while the group has an intentional time all together (or people can get their own childcare if they so desire).
  • Group E: The older kids in the group (including a few middle or high school students) view it as their responsibility to watch and take care of the younger kids while the adults meet.

Go Together:

We want groups to be on mission together and build relationships with people who do not know Jesus. This rhythm (called a Third Place) is a social gathering in a non-threatening environment where we can be family in front of others. This rhythm should be a welcoming environment to invite people into community.

For my group, we tend to have missional rhythms that involve kids and some that do not. If you are planning ways to involve your kids on mission here are two good questions to ask: “What are my children already doing?” and “How can I involve my community in those activities?” Here are a couple of the missional, social rhythms that our group uses to involve kids:

  • Many of the women in our group get together with other moms during the week to hang out and eat a meal. This is a great environment to invite new mothers and kids into.
  • We host cookouts at our homes, and we have even done one at the local park. Having a cookout outdoors is a great way for all of us to be in one spot with all the kids and still have room to invite more families.
  • We eat three times a day every day, so we try our best to use meals as an opportunity for mission by inviting both members of our LifeGroup and people we are building with to join us for dinner. In fact, this is such a rhythm in my family that I recently had this conversation with my three-year-old Zoe as we are sitting down for family dinner:

Zoe: “Who’s eating with us?” 
Me: “Oh. No one tonight. It’s just us as a family.”
Zoe: “But, Dad, I want to see friends.”

This is a simple conversation, and I think two quick conclusions can be drawn. One, I have a very social daughter. Two, Zoe is recognizing a pattern. We do life with other people and seek to practice hospitality as Scripture commands us. We eat with people and plan ways to hang out with people. She is seeing the value we as a family put on community and mission and, by God’s grace, it will impact her for the rest of her life.

Learning how to do life on mission together with our children and involve them in our communities is essential. Neglecting this will be to the detriment of our families, our church and those around us. So let’s disciple our kids together, as a family, and in doing so put the gospel on display for everyone around us.

Kids and LifeGroups | Pt. 1

The goal of LifeGroups is to help people take the next step toward Jesus, making disciples in the context of everyday, ordinary life. If the goal is discipleship in the context of everyday, ordinary life, then my kids have to be part of the plan because they are part of my everyday, ordinary life.

My LifeGroup can't know me if they don't know my family.

Therefore, my kids are a part of my LifeGroup. In fact, in total we have 14 kids who are a part of our LifeGroup. They have to be. My LifeGroup can’t know me if they don’t know my family. I want my group to help raise my kids. I want my group to make me a better parent by seeing where I don’t apply the gospel to my parenting. Integrating kids into the rhythms of our group is beneficial for the kids and for us adults. My kids develop relationships with other Christians who have a real, active relationship with Jesus…I get support and help in shepherding my kids…and, hopefully, others in my group get a model of how the gospel changes parenting.

Ultimately, I am responsible for raising my kids in the Lord, and a large part of that includes allowing them to learn what Christian community is all about.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

- Deuteronomy 6:4-7

The most effective discipleship happens through modeling.

Discipleship is not just the transferring of knowledge. Yes, we want to teach our kids about Jesus and the Bible. The most effective discipleship, however, happens through modeling. Kids get to observe and see the impact of Jesus on our lives. They learn how to be missionaries from us. They learn how to talk about Jesus in everyday life.

My kids are going to learn from me how (and if) Jesus impacts my everyday life. They will see if a relationship with Jesus is worth pursuing. My wife and I are the primary model in their lives for understanding who God is and how we relate to him. The good news about LifeGroup is that we don’t have to be alone in this journey. We have a support system, a team of people to help and encourage us in discipling our kids.

Christian Community is the best way for your kid to live life. Including your kids in ministry is a part of being a good parent.

We have a growing number of young parents in our church family, and when kids come along, the question inevitably arises: “Can we still do this with kids? Can we be a part of communities that change the world now that we have the challenging task of keeping these little humans alive?” The answer to that is, of course, yes you can. And not only that, but, for the good of your kids, you must. Just like Christian community is the best way for you to live life, it is also the best way for your kids to live life. The way you approach LifeGroup will reveal to your kids the importance of community, what it means to see all of life as mission and how to develop interdependent relationships. Your decisions are actively teaching your kids what is important about life and what is not significant enough to make the cut. It isn’t that you have to pick between your family and doing ministry—you include your family in ministry and mission. Including your kids in ministry is part of being a good parent.

Build with Those Who Want to Build

As LifeGroup leaders and members, what do you do when there are a few in your group who are not committed to being a Jesus-Centered Family on Mission? There are usually 3 fairly distinct levels of commitment from participants of a group. Keep in mind that the level of commitment by any member of your group can change at any moment. It would be wise not to place a permanent label on any group participant.

There are usually 3 fairly distinct levels of commitment from participants of a group:

DEVOTED COMMITMENT:

In most groups, some people will want to actively share life and be on mission with the group. They'll participate in all the rhythms of your community because they are willing to sacrifice and make time for the others. They are devoted, are a blessing to the whole group, and make their group leaders life more enjoyable.

CASUAL COMMITMENT:

Some are only casually committed and will mainly only show up at the designated weekly meeting time without actually “doing life“ with the members of the group.  They simply are not willing to make the lifestyle changes that are necessary to participate actively in community throughout the week. They don’t see the privilege of being in an intimate community that is making disciples together as being worthy of the necessary sacrifices. They will often give you a wide range of reasons and excuses explaining why they aren’t available for anything more than attendance at the weekly meeting.

NO COMMITMENT:

Sadly, some will rarely ever show up for the designated weekly meeting. They simply do not think the prize is worth the sacrifice. They might offer up an excuse buffet for their lack of participation, or simply run away and ignore phone calls, texts, and emails altogether.

Jesus spent most of his time with his most devoted followers.

As a group leader/member, it is wise to invest your time and energy in building relationships with the people who want to build. The amount of time you invest in people should be directly correlated to their commitment level. Invite everyone to everything, but give more time to the people who want to actually be community on mission. This will allow you to establish a culture of gospel community amongst the people who are actually willing to work towards it. The worst thing you can do is to devote most of your time to the least committed people. This will cause the committed members to suffer because the group can’t get going as a truly biblical community that is on mission to make disciples. As always, Jesus is a good example here. He spent most of his time with his most committed followers, the 12. He frequently invited others to spend time with him and would teach them, but Jesus always set the standard of commitment high. He didn’t allow the less committed to distract the whole group. Instead, he called the less committed to repent and follow him as a fully devoted follower.

Jesus always set a high standard of commitment. 

So, as a group leader or member, get going with the people who are interested. Build with the folks who want to build. Even if you only have 2 or 3 people/couples who truly want to establish a Jesus-centered family that is on mission, that’s enough to get started. Don’t wait for the others to change, just get going with the ones who already want it. And along the way, be consistent in encouraging the less committed folks to hop in with you. The hope is that the Holy Spirit inspires those who have been more resistant, and over time they begin to join in because they are seeing gospel community play out in front of their eyes. Pray that they will quickly become more committed as The Spirit does work in their hearts.  This will also be much more encouraging for you because instead of the majority of your energy and focus going towards people who are resistant to your leadership, you will be investing where you are likely to see the most fruit.

How to Welcome Someone Into Your LifeGroup

Let’s say someone came to one of your Gatherings. The speaker made an announcement along the lines of, “we believe the church isn’t a once a week service, it’s a group of people who daily live out the gospel in their community. The way we do this at Midtown is through LifeGroups. So sign up for a LifeGroup!” The person accepted the challenge, signed up for a group, and is now placed in yours! So what’s next? Here are a few pointers on how to be welcoming and inviting to your new LifeGroup member.

Phone Calls are Always Better

It’s so easy for people to miss an email, or read it only to be distracted and forget a few minutes later. So, with us wanting to be as hospitable and inviting to new folks as possible, it’s best to start with a phone call. If they don’t answer, leave a message. It’d probably be a great idea to combo a phone call with an email as well, as long as the phone call happens. Don’t write someone off as not responding to your invite if you haven’t called them.

Meet with Them Sometime During their First Week

One great way to welcome someone into your life (and LifeGroup) is to go out and grab lunch with them sometime during the week of their first LifeGroup. You can meet with them before their first meeting to highlight what your group does and what their expectations are for a LifeGroup, or after the first LifeGroup meeting once they’ve had a chance to meet you. Either way, the main point is to make them feel welcome and get to know them personally. It may be difficult for some people to talk about themselves amongst ten people they don’t know.

Make Sure They Are Invited to Your "Third Place"

We recommend our LifeGroups having three “places” to hangout each week. And don’t worry; it’s not as much time commitment as you think.

The first hangout time is your weekly group meeting. The second is at a Sunday gathering. The third is a regular “rhythm” that your LifeGroup has to invite others to. This can be a weekly lunch, happy hour, or a farmer's market. We call this your “Third Place”, and it’s a great and easy way invite people into your LifeGroup without inviting them to your weekly meeting, which can be intimidating.

For the newest member of your group, your Third Place can be a low pressure, fun place where they can just hang out and get to know everyone a little bit better.

WHO IS YOUR GROUP REALLY FOR?

If you believe that you group exists for you and your family, then you will evaluate the success and failure of your group very differently than if you believe your group exists for Jesus and his glory.

Here are some lists to help you analyze whether you believe your LifeGroup exists for you or for Jesus and his kingdom:

My Group is For Me

LifeGroup is a refuge from the world.

I gravitate towards what is easiest and most comfortable.

I evaluate the groups value by how much I perceive to be getting from it.

I resist/resent being asked to change my current life patterns.

If I am busy, then I should not be expected to make time to build with others in the group.

I value my current relationships too much to welcome outsiders because they could mess them up.

Our group will not send people out to plant new groups because we want to stay together.

Group rhythms are good if they fit easily into my life and enhance what is already there.

My Group is for Jesus

LifeGroup is a gospel weapon to engage the world.

I value comfort, but not at the expense of being on mission together.

I evaluate the groups value by how much we are re-orienting our lives to be on mission together.

I expect to change my life patterns in order to build with others.

If I am too busy for church family then I assume I have filled my time with things that Jesus has not truly called me to do.

I value my current relationships so I want outsiders to benefit from them as well.

Our group loves each other but values the advancement of the kingdom more, so we send members out to plant new groups.

Group rhythms are good if they help us share life and provide non-threatening environments to invite outsiders into.

HOW TO LOVE DIFFICULT PEOPLE

Difficult People Exist

Think of 5 difficult people in your life.

Now take a second and question…

What are some of the characteristics that make them difficult? What is your normal response? Do you think your response is biblical?

The truth, whether we like it or not, is that difficult people exist. Why? Because we live in a fallen and broken world, full of fallen and broken people (Rom. 5:12). People are looking to idols to satisfy their longings. They are starving for acceptance, approval, and satisfaction.

Everyone is Difficult

We become difficult when we do not find our acceptance, approval and satisfaction in Jesus. We look for it in other ways and we will use or crush people to get what we want.

So what does this mean? You guessed it, everyone is difficult. And by everyone I mean… everyone. You, me, your pastor, your BFF, and even your favorite barista. Everyone. Because of the sinful state of our flesh, we automatically run to idols instead of Jesus (Rom. 3:10-12).

Jesus Loves Difficult People

The good news is, you are difficult and defiant and Jesus loves you.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

-1 John 4:10

We are not loved by God because we deserve it or because we have earned it. It is by his grace, in spite of our difficulties and our sin. We are loved because He is our Father, though all of us are sinful, prideful, and arrogant. You are so difficult that it cost Jesus his life. The gospel assaults our self-righteous perspective.

Love Begets Love

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 

-1 John 4:9, 11

We are called to love others in that same manor we are loved by God. Not with a “this sucks but I’ll do it anyway” mindset, but with the love of Jesus Christ.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 

-1 John 3:16

Loving others as Jesus loved means giving to people what they need, when they need it, no matter the cost to us. When we love like Jesus, we die to ourselves. Sacrificial love is putting another’s needs above our own (yes, even the needs of difficult people).

So how do you love difficult people? Take yourself out of the equation. It’s much more about showing the love of Jesus to others than it is about harnessing your skill to work with difficult people.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 

-Philippians 2:1-4