Friday, March 11, 2011

Collegiate Church Collaborative round two

Just spent two days with some great guys who are getting it done in the area of collegiate church planting. We met just outside of Atlanta for a 2 day brainstorming session about how to accelerate Collegiate Church Planting around North America. It was a really fruitful time which you will be hearing more about in the coming days. Each of us believe that planting churches on or near college campuses is strategic not only for reaching college students who happen to be the least reached people group in North America but are also great church planters who are willing to do whatever it takes to get a church off the ground.

Hearing the stories of the starts of these other church plants and returning to the start of MERCYhouse and our own 2020 Network was a good reminder of just how fruitful planting among students can really be. Here are some of the guys who were part of the discussions this past week:

Wieser - Keith is pastor of Resonate Church which is a multi-site church at Washington State University and The University of Idaho.

Ed Traverse - Ed is the pastor of New Life Church at Ohio State University

Tim Lubinus - Tim is Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church who has a collegiate church called Salt Company that ministers on the campus of Iowa State University and has just planted a new collegiate church in Iowa City at The University of Iowa .

Bryan Wiles - Bryan is the pastor of H2O Church in Bowling Green KY who serves the campus of Bowling Green State University.

Proffit - Dave was representing the Aletheia Church and their Network of churches who have planted Collegiate Churches for some time, they started at James Madison University in Virginia.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Master Plan for Evangelism :: Selection

I'm meeting with fellow church planters in our 2020 network every other Tuesday. It's a time when we share the victories and the defeats of church planting in New England. It's a great group of guys that are committed to reestablishing a beachhead for the Gospel in a hard to reach place. This semester we are reading a book called Master Plan for Evangelism by Robert Coleman. It's an older book but contains some of the basics of how Jesus changed the world with a small band of committed followers - perfect for the Pioneer Valley.

The idea in the Selection chapter (ch 1) is that Jesus didn't spend a lot of time with a massive amount of people. He selected a few. Those few were the 12 disciples and within that group, He even chose 3 (Peter, James and John) with whom He spent even more concentrated time. Why did he do that?

He did it because he wanted to start a movement and not an organization. Organizations grow by addition (adding new people to the group and then maintaining). Movements grow by Multiplication (training people who will train others who will train others). It is so easy to fall into "addition" thinking as a pastor because you love to see those numbers grow in your services, small groups, events, whatever.

When you are in the beginning of your church plant, it is easy to focus on a few because you only have a few and you need that few to produce some numerical growth to justify your existence. After you've reached a certain critical mass, it is so natural to shift into addition thinking because numerical growth feels really good for you and for your church and there are some things you can put time and energy and money into to boost those numbers. A little time spent on a lot of people = addition to your church.

I know that we've (MERCYhouse) fallen into an addition paradigm more than a few times over the years and as we stumble into our 12th year as a church I find it continues to be as challenging as ever. So as a pastor, but also as one who really wants to see a movement in this valley, I have to ask myself, "Am I focusing on a few?" Who are my 12? Who are my 3? If I'm not, to begin to pray for who God desires for me to focus my time on.

As a church planting church, one must not weary of this process. You are constantly sending out those who are devoted and trained. One, because these kinds of leaders are needed in a church planting core and Two, because these kinds of leaders are going to gravitate toward a church planting vision. So it is a necessity that you be raising up twice the leadership as a non planting church - enough to send out the door to plant new churches and continue in the ministry of the mother church.

I underestimated the need for this and realize this in the wake of 2 church plants in 2 years. Disciplemaking is the call of every church but is the lifeblood of the church planting church. In the past, I've simply prayed and then initiated with the few that God led me to, or just invested in whoever was at the top of the church org chart. This year I'm trying something a little different. I'm certainly still praying and investing in church leaders, but I'm also leading what I'm calling a bootcamp. It's a group of guys that I meet with on Sunday afternoons. There is homework and accountability and the group environment has a bit more intensity (fines for missing and not being prepared . . .). It's something I experienced with my own mentor long ago as a college student. My hope is that in this environment, I'll be able to encourage all in their walk with Christ, but also see who those are who are movement makers. Devoted and trained and ready to lead others in the same direction.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hot Topic: Dealing with the World

There were a lot of questions about dealing with "the world". This is terminology from the Bible when speaking of everything and everyone on planet earth that is not submitted to Jesus. Things like old friends, some family relationships, movies we watch, things we read, music, websites we surf, certain conversations at work . . .

There is a real tension when helping a new Christian sort through this stuff. On one hand, there are parts of their lives that they need to flee from because they are destructive. Verses like the following come to mind:

1 Corinthians 15:33
33Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character."

1 Corinthians 6:18a
18Flee from sexual immorality.

On the other hand, there will never be a more opportune time for a new Christian to share their faith. It is likely that they will never have more friendships with preChristians than they do in the first few months after becoming a Christian. So how do you navigate this tension in the area of relationships as well as everything else that makes up the world.

Here is a helpful scripture for making these choices:

John 17
14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Jesus paints a pretty grim picture of his disciple's relationship with the world. He says they will be hated by the world just as Jesus was. That doesn't sound like too good of news seeing as how Jesus ended up hanging on a cross. You'd think that his next instructions would be to run away as fast as you can. Build a compound in Montana and only listen to Michael W. Smith music from the 80s.

This isn't what He says. He lets them know that even though they are not of the world, they are still staying around for a while. He then lets them know how they and all of the Christ followers after them are going to make it in such a hostile environment. If anyone would know, Jesus former occupant of heaven, would know about such an unnatural existence.

First he prays for the disciples protection - protection from the evil one. The reason that the environment is hostile is because of what is going on in the supernatural realm. That in that realm there is an enemy and he is out to get every Christian. The Apostle Peter describes it this way:

8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8,9)

This real enemy is no one to be afraid of but is to be taken seriously and in that seriousness we should pray for ourselves and others that we won't be "devoured" by him . It's also a reminder that people are not the enemy. The Apostle Paul says it this way:

11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:11,12)

This keeps us from falling into an us vs. them mentality when dealing with the world and keeps our alert vigilance aimed in the right direction - at the face of evil.

Jesus also mentions another means for living in the world - truth. He prays that God would sanctify (set apart, make holy) his disciples with the truth of his word. Again, Jesus makes it clear that it is not ones distance from the "bad people" that keeps them holy but prayer and exposure to the truth of God's word.

So when it comes to interacting with the world, the goal is to develop a good spiritual skin. A skin that is a boundary to be sure but is also permeable and can let some things in. What it lets in will be different for each Christian and will even change as he or she becomes more mature.

The job of the disciplemaker is to walk with the young Christian as they develop this skin. You should pray for them what Jesus prayed for His disciples (for protection for the evil one) and help them navigate their decisions about what to block out and let in by searching the scriptures for guidance. Never give them a extrabiblical list of dos and don'ts but help them search the truth and allow it to make them a holy person in an unholy world.

Hot Topic: Is Jesus the Only Way

Our last two wrap-up sessions in the leadership class involved some of the hot button issues that shepherds face when walking with new Christians. Here is what ended up on the dry erase board after a few minutes of brainstorming:

Sexuality (Stance, dating, transformation)
Jesus is the Only way
Spiritual Disciplines
Stewardship (time, resources, $$)
Sloth/laziness vs Workaholism
Partying/College Culture/Non-Christian friends
Habitual Sin (addiction)
Use of media
Navigating Culture
Authority of the Bible
The Creepy Church

We've dealt with some of these in earlier posts like Sloth, Stewardship, Spiritual Disciplines. Let's look at a few that we haven't like the question of the exclusivity of Jesus.

This is a tough one for many people. Our culture values tolerance and what they mean by that is recognizing all truth claims (especially religious ones) as equally valid which means that all truth claims are equally invalid. The resulting belief is that we really can't know anything for sure (which is a truth claim right?) so the best we can do is adopt truth for ourselves and keep our noses out of everyone elses business.

This is incompatible with orthodox Christian belief not to mention orthodox Islamic and Jewish belief as well. Any committed adherent to any of the world's religions cannot accept that everybody's belief is equal in validity.
So how can Christians make exclusive claims about Jesus?

This takes us to the Bible. Many hot button conversations (sex, money, salvation, etc. ) will require a foundational conversation about the Bible. Do I believe that the Bible is true? Is it inspired by God? If it is, then I must interact with it as an authoritative document and it is required of me to read it, interpret what it is saying, and obey it. If not, then I'm stuck with figuring out my own reality based on my own experiences.

If I believe that the Bible is true, then I must believe that Jesus is the exclusive gateway to God. This is made abundantly clear throughout the New Testament. Here are two examples:

John 14:6

6Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

1 John 5:11,12

11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

But what if someone says, they don't believe the Bible? It's so old or corrupted or they've been reading too many Dan Brown novels. One approach is to talk about how we got the Bible that we have today and why we can trust it. There is strong evidence for believing that the Bible we have today is an accurate transmission of the original writings and that those that wrote the Bible were eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Here is the short list of evidences:

1. The writers themselves are adamant about being eyewitnesses (1John 1 and Luke 1)
2. We have over 25,000 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament and when compared they all say the same thing and do not reveal corruption especially on theological matters
3. The entire New Testament is quoted in the works of the "church fathers" which are the generation of church leaders after the original Apostles. They too affirm the writings of the New Testament that we have in our Bible
4. The Bible is the most well attested document of antiquity both in number of manuscripts in existence but also in the age of those manuscripts. No document has copies of manuscripts that are so close to the original. See the oldest complete Bible and the oldest Bible fragment
5. Very small band of uneducated, unorganized, powerless, persecuted people started a movement that took over the Roman empire within 2 decades before it became the official religion of the Roman empire. Their message seemed to change them and the people with whom they came in contact
6. Almost the entire group of the original progenitors of the Gospel message who were contemporaries of Jesus died as martyrs. We have no example in the course of human history of people dying for something they know is a lie.

But what if after all of this, a person is not persuaded that the Bible is an authoritative book? This is no time to draw a line in the sand and tell people to call back when they get their head on straight. One of the most important things to understand about the Bible is that it is self-authenticating.

What I mean by that is that as people read it, the Holy Spirit speaks it supernaturally into the person's life. They begin to hear the voice of God through his written word and are often convinced through experience (not thinking) that God's word is true and can be trusted. The practical end of this is that we should encourage everyone who is interested in the Bible, regardless of their views on the Bible, to study it and then let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Session Seven: Small Group Leadership 101

Reflection Questions: What was it like for you to attend your first small group? Why did you go? What was the result of becoming a part of one?

Making disciples is most fruitful when the follower of Christ is connected to a small group of people who are pursuing the same life in Christ as they are. This is also often where one connects with a person who is interested in being mentored in their spiritual life.

The overarching concept for understanding small group leadership is “hospitality”. Peter writes in 1Peter 4:9 to “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling”. The Greek word translated hospitality is “philoxenos” and means to love the alien or stranger. It’s the opposite of a word often associated with Christians, xenophobic, which means fear of the stranger.

Christian culture overall should be a place where those who are new and on the outside are given special attention and helped to move inward toward meaningful relationships in the family of God. This is never more true than in the small group.

When a new person arrives it is a big deal. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to take the step of walking into a new setting where who knows what is going on. While we don’t want to overwhelm the person, we do want to make them feel welcome and do everything we can to connect with them.

The basics are speaking to them, getting to know them, introducing them to others, sitting by them. You want to tactfully explain what is going on as the evening unfolds so that they don’t feel awkward or out of place. If at all possible, getting their information and if appropriate scheduling a follow-up meeting with them in the next few days. When meeting with the person, perhaps even bringing one of your small group members along to also connect and learn more about how you are following up with new people. This is the heart of building a small group.

Reflection Question: What makes a good small group?

There are as many answers to this question as there are people in small groups. Some groups are built around fellowship, some around Bible study, some around prayer, some around worship. We, at MERCYhouse, try to build our groups around the five devotions of our church (worship, word, prayer, mission, church).

The schedule for the evening reflects our desire to devote ourselves to these five things:

Hospitality (30 minutes)

You may notice that I put a time on each of these elements. One of the things to remember as a small group leader is to plan your evening in such a way that you will be respecting people’s time. If you tell them it will be 2 hours then follow through on that promise.

I love Bible study so my tendency as a small group leader is to go way over in the Bible study portion of the evening. In one of our groups, it was getting out of hand and people were complaining to me that they needed to get out on time so they could get to bed or study. What I noticed was that when I finished the official content of the evening on time, those same people stayed for another hour to hang out. Whether they actually need to leave or not, the respecting of time will help build the community that you are trying to foster in your group.

So what is the hospitality part of the group time? This starts before people even walk in. The space where you are hosting needs to be clean, uncluttered, and smell good. We live in a 1950’s house with a big dog in our mud room and my wife always lights some candles before people show up for a gathering. There is something about smell that either invites or repels people when they come into a space. When you live in a space, you don’t notice the same things that an outsider would. Do your best to put yourself in their place.

In addition to the aesthetics, you also want to provide some food and drink. Whether it is a full meal or just snacks and lemonade, food helps people socialize by putting them at ease. For some reason, hiding behind a coffee cup helps most Americans to feel more confident in social settings. Make sure that when people arrive, all the preparation has been done so that you can focus on relating and helping others to relate with each other.

Worship (15 minutes)

If we go directly from chit chat about the Red Sox to Bible study, the time usually feels very pragmatic and self-centered. Most of us need a moment to remember why we are there and Who it is that we’ve come to relate with as we are relating with our brothers and sisters in Christ. A moment of worship helps us move from the horizontal to the vertical.

This can be done in a number of ways. The most common is singing. If you or someone in your group can sing and perhaps play an instrument, this can be a great way to shift to an upward focus. This can also be done by reading something from the Bible and having a moment of silent meditation. If you have a knack for creative worship, try different ways of helping people express things to each other and to God using some sort of artistic media. Regardless of what you do, the goal is the shift to the vertical.

Bible Study (30 minutes)

For Bible study to be this short, people need to come prepared. People need to understand what they are signing up for at the beginning of the semester and need to enter into a covenant (agreement with group and God) regarding their commitment to preparation. When leading a Bible study discussion, I try to work through the following framework:

Content: What does the passage say?
Principle: What does the passage mean?
Application: How do I apply the principle to my own life?

I think of it like an hour glass. The content is more general which then narrows down to one or two principles which are truths that are true for all people at all times in all places. Then things open back up again as we discuss the multiple ways that people will apply these truths in their own lives.

Take for instance the following scripture from Matthew 5:

29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

If we don’t do some content work and figure out that Jesus is using a figure of speech known as hyperbole we may end up with a small group known for its maimed members. After we’ve sorted that out, we are ready to move to principle. What does Jesus mean by this figure of speech? We are then able to discuss the truth of radical amputation of sin. That Jesus doesn’t ask us to wean ourselves off of sin when we discover it. He asks us to repent, to turn completely away from it like an alcoholic going sober.

After we’ve clarified our principle, we then open the conversation up to the many applications that could come out of this truth. For one person, it’s cutting off a relationship. For another, it’s getting rid of the TV. It is very important at this juncture, that the leader be sharing vulnerably how they have put this truth into practice or plan to. In addition, when the next week rolls around, you are also asking how the application went since you last met so that everyone knows that you aren’t just studying the Bible for the Bible’s sake but are doing so in pursuit of God and transformation that He brings through encountering Him through the word.

Prayer (30 minutes)

If you have a large group, it’s better to split people into groups of 3 or 4 for prayer time. You can also make this time the majority of your application for your Bible study. For example, you send people to their prayer groups to discuss the question, “What do I need to radically amputate from my life”. After a brief discussion of this, you now have some things to pray for each other in addition to Aunt Millie’s hip replacement.

You also want to encourage folks to pray for people in their sphere of relationships who are not Christians. Have people share a few names of those they come in contact with on a regular basis and encourage the whole prayer group to pray for these people during the week. Asking God to work in them and work through the speech and actions of the prayer group member to bring these people the gospel (see Colossians 4:2-6)

It is also helpful to encourage people in the group to be praying for these requests at times other than small group night. You can do this with a reminder email to your group that gives a brief recount of the requests from the group and encourage people to give any updates that are available by emailing back.

Open ended time (?)

Making people feel comfortable to stay around after the official group time is over is another great way to build community in your group. This is always some of the best time of conversation with group members. It’s a great time for both light hearted craziness or serious discussions and prayer in a corner of the house.


Sometimes we think that what makes people stick in a small group is that everything is done for them and all they have to do is come and enjoy the evening. The opposite is actually true. If people don’t feel vested in the group within a few weeks, they will probably not stick for long and they certainly won’t be moving toward leadership.

As a group leader, you want to be thinking of jobs that you can hand off to every member in the group. Here are a few examples:

1. Bring Food
2. Help set-up the meeting space
3. Give rides to fellow group members
4. Send out emails or make phone calls
5. Lead worship
6. Lead a prayer group
7. Make a short presentation on a topic related to Bible study
8. Lead a Bible study
9. Plan and lead a get together
10. Plan and lead a service project
11. Invite people to come to the group
12. Participate in serving on a Sunday morning
13. Mentor a new Christian

When handing off jobs to people, you want to be thinking in the following categories:

Recruit: Don’t just make blanket announcements about jobs that need to get done. Pull the person aside or meet with them outside of group time and ask them to take on a role in the group. Follow Jesus’ example of going to individuals and asking them to take on a particular role.

Train: Even if it’s only five minutes of instruction, tell them what your vision is for the particular job that you’d like them to do and practical tips for how to execute the job.

After they begin executing the role, give them feedback about how they are doing. It’s here where people are most receptive to training, when they are trying something new on for size and wanting to learn how to do it better.

Appreciate: Write them a note, thank them in front of the group, etc. Make sure people know that you appreciate the work that they do for the group. Reward the kinds of speech and action that you want to make up the culture of your small group.

Session Six: Fishing for Humans

So we’ve got all this great content to pass on to a new follower of Jesus. Now what? Well, we have to actually go meet someone and cultivate that relationship in such a way that we can move from an acquaintance to a mentoring relationship. Sounds daunting, but it has to happen for any sort of disciple making to get done.

When Jesus himself gave the disciples a formal invitation to join his ministry he told them if they followed him that he would make them “fishers of men” (see Matthew 4:19). Anyone who has taken on the life of the disciple has been invited to do so by another disciple. For me, it was when I was a college student.

I had been attending a weekly worship/Bible study gathering for a few weeks and had been leading a few songs for the singing time. I had been a Christian all of six months. Tom Westbrook, who was a college pastor at one of the local churches near campus, spotted me right away.

Seeing that I was young and dumb but hungry, he went fishing. We had chatted a few times before and he knew that I liked him and respected him at some level. He walked up to me after one of the meetings and asked me to meet him at his office on the following Tuesday to talk about going deeper in the Bible and learning more how to grow in Christ. I said I would and then asked a friend of mine from my dorm (Kevin) to come with me.

We walked into Tom’s office the following Tuesday and he handed us Bibles and he started teaching us from the Gospel of John. Then he gave us homework for the following week and when we returned he stepped up the pace considerably. He asked us what we had gotten from our study and we looked at him with blank faces and mumbled a few unintelligible phrases that amounted to “The Bible” “Jesus” “Be a better person”. He went on a mini rant, sort of like a football coach, about how weak our study habits were and our need to step it up.

It was a perfect approach for me (son of a football coach) and Kevin (former high school hero on the basketball and tennis courts). We went home the following week and dug into the Bible like never before. Staying up late nights talking about the truths that we were finding as we studied. Then we would show up again on Tuesday and get shot down (in love of course) for not really getting the full picture of what we were studying.

It was more than Tuesday afternoons. We also found ourselves in Tom’s house, spending time with his wife Jill and their two boys. We helped him with some landscaping in his yard and ate meals at their dinner table. We were around when they would discipline their children and even during a few marital squabbles.

We were then asked to teach Bible studies of our own and help lead out in a student worship service. I would travel with Tom when he would speak at youth retreats and be his sidekick, helping with video and audio or doing some music or leading a small part of the retreat. Both through formal instruction and just living life together, Tom made me a disciple.

There isn’t anything that I do today as a Christian man, husband, father, pastor that doesn’t have this guy’s fingerprints on it in some way. He is still a person that I often call when I am up against the wall and unable to sort out my life alone. I would not be doing what I am doing and growing in Christ as I have been these last 20 years if Tom had not fished me out of that crowd that night. Everyone needs to be fished for, invested in, and sent out to do the same thing. So how do you do it?

Reflection Question: What older/more mature Christians took initiative in your life? How did they go about it? What was the result?

There's a story in the first chapter of the book of John (John 1:35-42) that seems so insignificant. You may even wonder why it's there. It's (soon to be disciples of Jesus) John and Andrew. They've been hanging out with John the Baptist which incidentally had to be a weird ride. John tips them off that the whole reason he has been in ministry has just walked by in a robe and sandals.

John and Andrew abruptly start stalking Jesus until He gets the hibbee jibbees and turns around to inquire why they are intruding on His personal space. They are understandably nervous, having never met a Messiah before and they say to Jesus that they only want to see where He lives. His answer to them is to "Come and See."

Jesus is no idiot (a gross understatement I know). He knows what these guys are up to and could have gone into a red letter discourse that would have made your head spin, but He doesn't. He simply lets them come up close and personal. The scripture says they then spent the day with Him. Can you imagine? Spending the day with the Godman. We're hard pressed to find a regular old human who would be willing to spend the day with us much less want to. By the end of the day, Andrew is so stoked over his hang out time that he can't wait to go fishing for his brother Simon (soon to be Peter). Jesus has successfully begun to fish for men and did it through the ministry of hanging out.

When we came here to plant a church in 1999, we had been trained to market our vision for the start-up of a new church. The idea was to do a publicity blitz with slick post cards and news ads. It would cost thousands but was supposed to bring in a sizable crowd for our launch service. Before we could really get launched with this strategy, most of our start-up money was cut for one reason or another. Because of this, our "strategy" had to shift to the ministry of hanging out.

We set-up a table at Umass and met a few folks. Invited them to a start-up meeting and from there engaged in the ministry of hanging out. Some of those folks became Christians. Some, who were already Christians, grew immensely. All of them started doing the same in their own circles of influence. The result has been a church that has been planted in a place where most church plants have failed. While we've definitely spent money, it's been mostly on staff who spend lots of time cultivating relationships and encouraging others to do the same. Our biggest challenge is passing that vision on to each generation of MERCYhousers.

This hanging out ministry is so simple and yet so hard. It's simple because all you need is a living/growing/transforming relationship with Christ. You need not worry about having a huge storehouse of pat answers to spring on your unsuspecting victims at a moment’s notice. You only need Christ like love for the people you are hanging out with and your own story about walking with Christ.

It's hard because it takes a huge investment of time and energy and sometimes other resources as well. People are, well, messy, and there is no getting around it. It is so tempting (and yes it is a temptation to sin) to close the door on new relationships and hang out with only those who are safe and encouraging. Thank God Jesus didn't do that. He chose to risk and to be inconvenienced and give his whole day to a bunch of punks from Galilee. Come to think of it, gave His whole life to a bunch of punks from planet earth. It’s your turn to follow in His steps and do the same.

So start off by just engaging in relationships and loving people. Meet people on Sunday mornings and invite them to come to lunch with you and your friends. Ask someone from your midweek small group to meet up for coffee. As you are relating, ask the Lord to reveal to you who you could invest in to help them find Christ and/or grow in following Him. As Jesus tells his own disciples (see John 4) “the fields are ripe for harvest”. There is no shortage of people needing shepherding, only a shortage of shepherds willing to walk alongside people for the purpose of spurring them on in their spiritual growth.

Reflection question: Are you better at listening or talking?

The basics of initiating

You may be reading this and thinking, “I’m just not very good initiating conversations with people”. A lot of us aren’t, but we can’t let that get in the way. The basics of initiating with people include asking good questions and listening.
Here are a few basics:

1. Ask an open-ended question instead of something that could be answered by a yes or no or one word response?

Here are four suggestions for more productive questions from

a) Ask questions that elicit detail. These are often "What?" questions.

b) For example, "What did you finally decide about relocating?" or "What did you do on your trip to Mexico?" will usually stimulate detailed responses. Questions that don't require detail, such as "How are your plans coming along?" and "How was your trip?" can be answered with a mere "Good, thanks."

c) Ask open questions that require more than a Yes or No. These are the "Wh" and "H" questions beginning with What, Why, Where, and How. These work better than "closed questions" that limit the response, such as "Did you like the movie?" Instead, "What did you like about the movie?" draws out a more interesting and detailed response.

d) Ask some questions that are a little bit surprising or "edgy." These are not meant to put the person on the hot seat, or to make them uncomfortable, but to stimulate and get a lively response instead of a routine response. "What's the most exciting/challenging thing that's happening with you at this time?" is such an edgy question. Predictable questions usually evoke predictable responses, such as "What did you learn in school today?" "Oh, not much."

e) Use some "If?" questions such as "If you had the means to pursue your dream occupation, what would it be?" Or "If you could have dinner with a famous person, whom would you choose?" Such questions break out of the routine and add some fresh energy to the conversation. By the way, don't ask others any question you yourself would not want to be asked. Also, be prepared to answer the very "If?" questions you ask. The other converser may say, "Let me think about that for a minute. Meanwhile, you go first."

2. Ask people about their interests. Once you find out what a person’s job or major or hobby is, get them talking about those things that interest them. They will feel most comfortable talking about something that they know a lot about.

3. Don’t just ask the questions, contribute some of your own thoughts but make sure the focus of the conversation is the person you are engaging unless they start asking you back and show some interest in getting to know you.

4. Encourage. The Bible is full of exhortations for our conversation to be something that builds others up (see Ephesians 4:29 for starters). Recognize, with specificity, positive things that people do and positive character traits that people possess.

5. Be aware of nonverbal cues: reasonable eye contact, leaning in to listen, nodding your head, asking clarifying questions. These kinds of things let people know that you are listening and that you care about them.

6. The most important thing to remember is to just jump in. You will never hone your relating skills more than when you are, well, relating. Anybody can do these basics and once we jump in the Holy Spirit is there to empower and guide us through it all.