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Small Group Leadership by Michael Mack - 4M ago

“Where are you?”

The obvious answer to that question is a physical one … but there’s a much more vital spiritual answer.

“Where are you?” is the simple, three-word question God asked Adam (Genesis 3:9) after he and his wife had committed the first sin. The question, while seemingly simple, is deep and full of theological implications. It’s the question I believe God still asks Christ-followers today … if we are listening.

Like Adam and Eve, we have chosen to listen to the wrong voice. We have fallen for the lie implied by the serpent’s question, ““Did God really say … ?” We question God’s authority, and the authority of his Word, and we disobey him. We go our own way rather than his way. We desire what we don’t have rather than being satisfied with what God has given us and trusting him to provide all we really need. We fall short. We sin. We separate ourselves from his loving presence.

But don’t forget. God comes looking for us. He continually draws lost people back to him. He seeks and saves that which has been lost. But he doesn’t force us to do what we don’t want to do. He loves us too much. He’ll never take away our free will—it’s such an important part of how he created us. So sometimes, like the dad in the parable of the lost son (Matthew 15:11-32), he waits for us to come to our senses and head back home to our Father.

God comes looking for us. He continually draws lost people back to him. He seeks and saves that which has been lost.
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Imagine the dad in that story as he waits in his house for his son to return. Picture the tears running down his cheeks. Hear the impassioned words he cries out to a son who is too far away to hear: My son, oh my son … where are you?

That’s a picture of our loving, Father.

I’m currently using a study on my Bible app based on Kyle Idleman’s book, AHA: The God Moment That Changes Everything. “AHA is a spiritual experience that brings about supernatural change,” says Idleman in the first devotional reading. AHA involves three ingredients: an Awakening, Honesty, and Action. We see these ingredients in the lost son’s turnaround, and we can see it in our own if we pay attention.

Today, I’m sitting with God’s question for me: Where are you? I’m considering specific areas of my life where I’ve run away from God or where I’ve been hiding. I’m seeking to be brutally honest and humble as I consider my current spiritual location and I’m looking for where I need to take action.

Some of us may need to step out of the pig trough of our sin—that place where we have become comfortable even though we know how messy it is—and make a difficult journey back home. At the same time, as leaders, we are called by our Father to come alongside those who are still far away from him. “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation….as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20).

As leaders, we are called by our Father to come alongside those who are still far away from him.
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The spiritual life of leaders is probably my favorite topic to write and speak about, although I’m certainly not a perfect model. But I believe it’s vital to how we lead and what kind of impact we can make. (If you want to read more on this topic, see my books, Leading from the Heart: A Group Leader’s Guide to a Passionate Ministry and World’s Greatest Small Group: 7 Powerful Traits of a Life-Changing Leader. It’s also the topic of Chapter 2, “A Healthy Group Has a Healthy, Overflowing Leader,” in Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health That Make Groups Flourish, and Chapter 1, “Change the leader of Your Group,” in The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership.)

“Where are you?” is not a question of condemnation from God. It’s a question he asks in his grace and his unmerited love for us. He seeks us—as he seeks our friends and family members and neighbors and co-workers who are still far from him—so that we may have an abiding relationship with him now and for eternity.

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Apparently, my Nativity scene—and yours—are all wrong. So are many of our favorite Christmas songs.

Jesus was probably born on the ground-floor or courtyard of a home, not a barn. The wise men were not present at his birth, and we don’t know for sure there were three of them. Jesus’ birth likely occurred in the spring, not in December. No mention of Mary riding a donkey in the biblical narrative. No innkeeper is mentioned either. Probably no star over the place where Jesus was born. And, of course, no little drummer boy either.

Writers and teachers have been quick to correct these factual errors for years, but our culture continues to perpetuate the misconceptions.

It’s funny what can distract us from the true meaning of Christmas.

Each of these misconceptions is a distinction without a real difference.

Yes, it’s important to get facts correct in the retelling of a story, especially one as important as this one. Which is why it’s so critical that people read the Bible to understand what really happened.

But let’s not major in minors. Let’s not get so caught up in the minutia that we miss the meaning of the most life-changing event ever to occur in human history. God took on human flesh in the form of a baby. He experienced all the things we do. He can identify with our pain. He empathizes with us. He understands. Because he became one of us. He came to us to redeem us from our sins.

Let's not get so caught up in the minutia that we miss the meaning of the most life-changing event ever to occur in human history.
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I won’t be correcting anyone’s misconceptions this Christmas. I’ll sing the songs. I’ll gaze in amazement at the Christmas creche with the star above and with shepherds and wise men, and even little drummer boys, all worshipping together.

Because that’s why Jesus was born—to live and to die for all of us—and that depiction at the manger is a picture of Heaven. All who believe in him, people from every age and culture, will be gathered together, this time around a throne rather than a feeding trough, worshipping our Lord and Savior and King.

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People talk and sing a lot about joy, especially at this time of year, but as you look around, is there much joy to be found?

Most people in the world find joy in sentiment and circumstances and stuff, but the Christian has a different sort of joy—a godly joy.

Let’s look at some of the songs of the season and use them to compare the world’s definition with the Christian’s definition of joy. (I’ll admit up front, I love listening to all kinds of Christmas music this time of year, and I especially enjoy the classics sung by folks like Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Jimmy Durante, Perry Como, Mannheim Steamroller, and, of course, Burl Ives. But while I enjoy those songs, I don’t define my worldview by them!) Let’s look first at how secular Christmas songs define joy:

  • “Here comes Suzy Snowflake; Look at her tumblin’ down, Bringing joy to ev’ry girl and boy; Suzy’s come to town.”
  • “For every year the Christmas tree brings to us all both joy and glee.”
  • “Down thru the chimney with lots of toys all for the little ones Christmas joys.”
  • “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas. Only a hippopotamus will do . . . Oh what joy, what surprise when I open up my eyes to see a hippo hero standing there.”

Compare those with how our Christian hymns define joy:

  • “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
  • “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”
  • “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.”
  • “Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With the angelic host proclaim Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

See the difference? Real joy is found in God’s loving gift to the world, not in stuff. It has less to do with what Jeremiah the bullfrog said and more to do with what Jeremiah the prophet said:

This is what the Lord says: “You say about this place, ‘It is a desolate waste, without people or animals.’ Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joyand gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 33:10, 11, my emphasis).

Circumstances could not have been worse for God’s people at this time in history, yet, in the midst of such desolation, somehow the people would experience joy and gladness. How could this be? From where would such joy come? The only way to understand it is to know—really know—the “Lord . . . who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it” (v. 2). God is the source of true joy; it cannot be found aside from him. “Call to me,” he says to the prophet, “and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (v. 3). The Lord then goes on to show Jeremiah what he would do that only he could do. God’s power and provision for us are, most of the time, beyond our human understanding. Joy comes as “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

God is the source of true joy; it cannot be found aside from him.
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The apostle Peter had seen and literally walked with Jesus, but many of the people to whom he wrote years later had not. “Though you have not seen him,” Peter said, “you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8, my emphasis).

To experience that glorious joy, we must understand the nature of God—the all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, perfect Creator—and the nature of man. The chasm between us is so wide, his holiness so awesome, we might wonder how we could ever have a relationship with him. Yet this same God left heaven for us, lived in a human body for us, suffered and died for us. But even more incredible, he now lives in us. He sits at God’s right hand and intercedes for us. He listens to our prayers and answers us. He works all things together for our good. He regards us as his body. He loves us though we are sinners. He has prepared a place for us in Heaven. He provides life to the full and to overflowing for us and those around us. He considers us his ambassadors, as his ministers called to partner with him in reconciling the world to him. He considers us his friends as well as his bride.

I’m already feeling more joyful and triumphant! How about you?

This kind of “inexpressible and glorious joy” will not fade away on December 26 or when your new toy loses its luster or someone gossips about you, when you can’t pay your December bills or are struggling in a relationship, or when the doctor has bad news.

I find it difficult even to describe what this glorious joy looks like or feels like, because it’s, well . . .  inexpressible! It’s a presence, a power, a purpose for life that goes beyond this life. It’s a profound mystery—the joy that comes from being united with Christ as his bride (Ephesians 5:29-32).

Real joy is a lasting joy—something only God can give and has given to us through Jesus Christ. No, I don’t often see that kind of joy on cable news, but that doesn’t mean there is no joy in the world. We just need to look in the right places—internally, not externally. The Lord is our source of joy and we can see it in those who follow him; we can hear it in“the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord.”

Real joy is a lasting joy—something only God can give and has given to us through Jesus Christ.
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This Christmas, regardless of the circumstances, be filled with this glorious joy, express it as you worship the newborn King and proclaim that the Christ is born!

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”

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The last five days have provided a rich lesson on leadership.

Almost immediately after the passing of George H.W. Bush on Friday, November 30, I started noticing the words being used by people who knew him best to describe him. So I started jotting them down. Here’s my list:

dignity, integrity character, humility, goodness, honor, courage, respect, dedicated, friend, kindness, decency, generosity, loyalty, service, patriot, passionate, caring, loving, role model, decent, honorable, compassionate, class, sensitive, tough, imperfect, humanity, relationships, gentleman, principled, solid, strong, sincerity, noble, legacy

As I look at that list I notice something about true leadership. Most of these are heart characteristics. They point to what kind of man George Bush was on the inside. Yes, people also mentioned some of his external qualities: his good looks, heritage, education, military background, political experience, and more, but those internal qualities defined him.

When you interview new church leaders or recruit volunteer leaders, what do you look for: exterior qualities such as knowledge, skills, talents, positive attitude, strategic thinking, and such . . . or internal, heart qualities such as integrity, character, humility, goodness, and love?

What kind of leader does God look for? That’s an easy one. He said about Eliab, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Of course, God chose David as his leader, because David was “a man after his own heart” (13:14).

What kind of leader are you?

I wrote Leading from the Heart based on the leadership of King David, and the son of David, Jesus. I wrote it not as a “how-to” book; that is, I didn’t write it about what leadership skills to develop. Instead, I wrote it to help readers develop the internal qualities godly, fruit-bearing leaders must have.

God uses ordinary, unschooled leaders, and he wants to multiply them over and over to reach the world. President George H.W. Bush understood this as well. His “thousand points of light” was about ordinary people making a difference in others’ lives and therefore the country. As the church, we are all ambassadors of Christ, a priesthood of all believers, the body of Christ in which every part does its work.

George H.W. Bush was not perfect. Presidential historian Jon Meacham described him as such: “An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union.”

I hope something similar will be said someday of me: An imperfect, ordinary man, he loved a perfect God who did extraordinary things through him.

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God wants us to realize that we are works of art in progress, and we, as leaders—church leaders, small group leaders, teachers, parents, etc.—can envision others with this truth.

I am fortunate that several people in my life took the time to help me see beyond my present circumstances to something better. God used to them to transform me into what he had in mind for me in his plan for my life. Allow me to share my own personal experiences.

School was a chore for me. I was always the youngest and smallest kid in my class. It started in Kindergarten. I had not fully developed my language skills yet—even my mom didn’t understand half of what I said. My Kindergarten teacher was a Chinese nun who herself had not mastered English. Mom understood less than half of what she said. (Somehow my teacher and I understood each other perfectly well, but no one else could understand either of us!) My teacher and I got along great, but when the year was over, I was not even close to being ready for first grade.

Somehow I got through first grade . . . and then came second grade in a new school. Mrs. Stevens (not her real name) was my teacher, and for some reason she did not like me. I can’t remember doing anything to warrant her disaffection, but, well, she just treated me as if I had stolen her favorite broomstick. At the end of the year, she gave me an F in math. My mom went to the principal’s office, armed with the evidence of passed quizzes and assignment papers, to complain. When confronted, Mrs. Stevens admitted to a “paperwork mistake,” and upped my grade to a B. But the damage of that year was done on my psyche and self-image. (Several years later, Mrs. Stevens was fired from the school, allegedly for a drinking problem.)

In fourth grade I endured several social embarrassments, including having my pants rip up the entire inseam while playing football on the playground. This freak accident happened twice in two weeks.

In fifth grade, I had to go to a special class each day for kids with speech problems. I couldn’t say my Rs correctly, so “bird” sounded like “boawrd.” I hated being singled out and pulled out of my class to go to the “speech teacher.”

In sixth grade, I discovered I had diabetes, and missed three weeks of school. When I returned to classes, I had to leave class twice a day to get a snack. Doctor’s orders. My friends treated me like I was “different,” and my teachers did nothing to help educate my classmates about the disease.

I struggled academically and socially through school until eighth grade when two important events took place to change the direction of my life. The first happened at home. Mom owned and operated a custom drapery shop in the basement of our home. She employed about four other women in the shop, all of whom became like extended family to me.

One day, out of the blue, Mom said, in front of everyone, “You know, Mike is a really good problem solver. He always uses his creativity to come up with good solutions to difficult situations. He really has a creative mind.”

The second positive thing that helped change my life happened in school. It was math, the subject with which I struggled most. I had a Chinese teacher, Mrs. Li, who knew very little English. “Here we go again,” I thought. My first couple days in class were like a terrible nightmare. I’d become sick just thinking about going to class.

Mrs. Li had a lot of difficulty keeping control of the class. She even had her military-regimented husband come in one day to scold us for our misbehavior. We were moving through the math textbook at a clam’s pace and learning nothing.

About a month into the year, two of my friends, Paul Augustine and Dale Trebor, went to Mrs. Li and suggested they do an independent study through the textbook. She agreed, and they asked me to join them. Each day we worked through the textbook ourselves. If we came across something we didn’t understand, we tried to work it out ourselves, and if we really had trouble, we asked Mrs. Li for help. When one of us got stuck on a concept (this was algebra), the other two stopped to help him figure it out. None of us moved on until all three of us got it.

When we finished one textbook, Mrs. Li got another and let us advance. At the end of the year, Paul, Dale, and I had worked our way through three and a half textbooks! The rest of the class had not even finished the first, with very little comprehension.

If you were to ask my friends and co-workers for a reference on me today, they might say a couple positive things about me.. First, I’m a creative, big-picture thinker. I’m good at seeing a problem and coming up with creative solutions. Secondly, I’m pretty good with numbers. After my “small group” experience in eighth grade, I went to a private college-prep high school and tutored other kids in algebra.

You see, I was given a vision of what I could be, indeed, in what I truly was. I am not the short kid with speech and math impediments. God worked through those painful times in my life to develop something inside me that only he could bring about. And, in his design, he used others to envision me with his plan for my life.

My mom used encouraging words to bring out something good in me—something good that God had created in me. She saw it, helped me to see it, and then helped me become it. She was God’s instrument in his process of transforming my life.

Paul and Dale included me in their community with a purpose. I believe this was my first small group experience! Together, we spurred each other on and, in the process, really connected with each other. We challenged one another and were patient with each other as we moved together to become something better.

God created every person as a unique work of art in his creation. God’s plan is for us to realize this and live it out. But we do not always see the beauty and purpose within us. Leaders have a special privilege of helping people see, understand, and live out the purpose God has created within them. It is God’s plan to use his people to encourage one another and spur one another on to what he wants us to be. He wants this for our lives because he loves us.

Adapted from Chapter 1 of my book, Leading from the Heart: A Group Leader’s Guide to a Passionate Ministry, published in 2001 by TOUCH Outreach Ministries.

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Reader, forgive me. It’s been 7 months since my last blog post.

(If you grew up Catholic, as I did, I’m sure that first line has a familiar ring to it.)

So . . . where have I been? As I wrote in a blog post back in June 2017, I became editor of Christian Standard magazine a little more than a year and a half ago. I love that ministry and the way God is using it to serve leaders and churches around the world. But I’ve missed my interaction with small group leaders and pastors here. I still lead small group training sessions in churches occasionally on weekends, and I love that more than almost anything else I do, but I’ve been focusing most of my time and energy on the magazine and its ministry.

I just wanted to let you know I’m planning to return to blogging here on at least a somewhat regular basis. I’d love to get questions from readers of this blog; I’ll try to respond via a post as soon as possible. I’ll also share some of the “best of” materials from my books and other resources.

Meanwhile, I’d like to let you know about an exciting new move we’ve made with our magazines. Christian Standard Media just launched what may be considered one of the most exciting endeavors in our 152-year history. Christian Standard and The Lookout are now available digitally for FREE!

Simply go to each of our magazine’s websites, www.christianstandard.com and www.lookoutmag.com, enter your name and email address when prompted, and you’re in. You can then flip through and read the full magazine with all the stories, pictures, etc. on your computer, tablet, or phone. This isn’t just a three-month offer; we will not come back later and ask you to pay to continue your subscription. And you can be assured we won’t fill your email inbox with a bunch of junk mail; we’ll use your email address primarily to let you know when the next issue of our magazines are available on our websites. I hope you’ll join us!

And don’t forget, please send me your small group and discipleship questions! Click to comment below.

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Whether you lead a church, small group, class, ministry, business, work team, or family, these Leadership TIPS are written to help you lead in more godly, effectively, fruit-bearing, overflowing ways. We post them each day, Monday through Friday, on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Please share them with your friends!

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: Wise leaders discern and step into what God is already doing. They let Him direct their next steps.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 23, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: To be a great spiritual leader, you must die – to the old self, to the ways of the world – so that you can live for Christ. #foundation

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 24, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: Base your plans not on your own abilities to make them happen, but on God’s power and resources. #purpose

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 25, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: How do you respond when attacked, hurt, disrespected? Ask God to help you respond in love and truth.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 26, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: Seek words of recognition from only One: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 27, 2018

Read all our Leadership TIPS.
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Whether you lead a church, small group, class, ministry, business, work team, or family, these Leadership TIPS are written to help you lead in more godly, effectively, fruit-bearing, overflowing ways. We post them each day, Monday through Friday, on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Please share them with your friends!

#Leadership #TipOfTheDay: "Your deepest pain may be your highest platform for God's glory." @markmoore330 @NECCWired

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 16, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: One of the secrets of leadership is this. When you have nothing from God to say, say nothing.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 17, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: Great leaders learn to discern between activity FOR God and the activity OF God.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 18, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: Great leaders know when to stop and rest from their work and trust fully in God's work in them.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 19, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: Watch how you view people. Do you love them for what they can do for you, or do you love them for who they are?

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 20, 2018

Read all our Leadership TIPS.
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Whether you lead a church, small group, class, ministry, business, work team, or family, I write these Leadership TIPS each weekday to help you lead in more godly, effectively, fruit-bearing, overflowing ways.

We posted them each day, Monday through Friday, on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Please share them with your friends!

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: A great leader clarifies the win, resources the team, and then gets out of the way. #Jesus #Commission @wtmckenzie @NECCWired pic.twitter.com/guTcMaeu8e

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 9, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: God’s love, God’s power, God’s wisdom: great leaders need all three of these elements of the triune leadership wellspring.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 10, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: Important Reminder – Your calling, your service, your ministry, and your existence are for God’s glory, not your own.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 11, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: Knowledge and skills are not prerequisites for spiritual leadership. Love is.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 12, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: While our earthly service is limited to this lifetime, the effects of that ministry and the glory God receives from it are eternal. God’s call on our lives is part of his infinite purpose for his world and his kingdom.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 13, 2018

Read all our Leadership TIPS.
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Miss any of our Leadership TIPS this past week?

We posted them each day, Monday through Friday, on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Please share them with your friends!

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: If you are given little to lead, be faithful with what God has given you now. #stewardship

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 2, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: Spiritual leadership is a gift of God’s grace out of his glorious riches. Accept it and steward it well.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 3, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: All worthwhile leadership begins with what God has already provided you – it’s a gift – and with what he is already doing.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 4, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: All of the power for spiritual leadership comes from God through the working of his Spirit in our lives.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 5, 2018

#Leadership #TIPoftheDay: Ask God to strengthen you with #power through his Spirit and for #wisdom through prayer. He will give generously.

— Michael C. Mack (@michaelcmack) April 6, 2018

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