Feb 15, 2011

Too much of a good thing? Why less often means more in Christian ministry

I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment called The Big Idea by Dave Ferguson.  The big idea that gives the book its name is that as church leaders we don’t always help our congregation grow in love and obedience to Christ  because ‘people’s heads are swimming with too many ideas, far more than they can ever apply.’

Think about the way our services and meetings are structured, suggests Ferguson and then think about the sheer number of different meetings we attend and you might well see that it is the sheer multiplication of ideas that lead to a lack of action.

Just add up the little ideas dropped into just one Christian meeting. From the clever message on a church sign, to the blurb on the notice sheet, the song that is playing as you come in, maybe the message on the powerpoint, the welcome from the leader, the opening prayer, the theme of the first song, add at least three different little ideas in the sermon, prayers, other songs, notices and Ferguson reckons that might be up to Christians are ineffective in discipleship 20 competing ideas in one church meeting. And then factor in that the children have all been in different groups looking at different topics or bible stories and we’re all full of ‘competing little ideas’.

His conclusion is that more information makes for less clarity and so no wonder therefore we find it so hard to answer the question ‘what did you learn at church this morning?’  If we think that more teaching must lead to Christian growth it is certainly a sobering thought that more information might in fact lead to less action because each bit of information is competing for my attention, reflection, prayers and application.

Is there something in the way we organise church meetings that leaves congregations full of nice thoughts but no big idea to take into the week.  Ferguson’s big idea is to have one Big Idea for all the church family worked through in one week.

Every week, we give all of our people of every age and at every location one Big Idea and ask them to put it into action. The challenge is simple and clear – but never easy. That’s the Big Idea.

Just think what that might look like if your Sunday service and your homegroup/cell groups all followed one big idea.

Five benefits the big idea brings to small groups

1. The Big Idea Increase the Likelihood of Application and Transformation

The few minutes we might have at the end of a service or even chatting over a coffee very rarely gives sufficient opportunity to think, pray, reflect and discuss the talk – especially if there are children to take care of! But

Small groups by nature are experiential and discussion oriented and , as a result, more likely to foster life change.

In my experience homegroup evenings where we meet to think through and pray in the big applications of the preach the previous Sunday help ensure that God’s word really does begin to do its work in us as we challenge and encourage each other to change.

2. The Big Idea Diminishes People’s Fears of Leading a Small Group

Ferguson also notes that leading a discussion of the Big Idea from Sunday is much less intimidating than preparing a Bible-study from scratch with limited help or experience.

We have found that the most common fears among potential small group leaders are the following:

“I don’t know enough about the Bible”

“I don’t have enough time to be a good leader.”

“I’ve never thought of myself as a leader.”

Many of those fears are overcome when the role of the leader is less to teach and more to facilitate good reflection on what the teacher has brought the previous week.

3. The Big Idea Eliminates the Question, ‘What Do We Study Next?’

Small groups tend to become overly focused on the topic of their discussion, often at the expense of developing relationships and experiencing genuine biblical community.

Sticking to the Big Idea minimizes this challenge and offers small groups an easy plan to follow when it comes to subject matter.

4. The Big Idea Provides Another Avenue to Communicate Vision

The purpose of a Sunday service is not just to feed Christians but to build the body of the church and to prepare the church to fulfil it’s purpose of reaching out to the society and beyond to the world. Small groups studying their own material rarely contain any corporate application that extends as far as vision ie ‘what does it mean for us to be ‘X’ church and how are we seeking to fulfil that vision?’  Even where material is prepared by one of the Ministers small group leaders will be reluctant to teach that vision.  It is much easier to discuss the vision element set out in the service the Sunday before.

5. The Big Idea Increases the Quality of Small Group Experiences

Small groups are a risk’ Ferguson argues because ‘they are a low-control venture and by nature are a decentralized way to pastor and care for people.’

We have found the Big Idea to be very effective in helping our small groups to become places of real life change and transformation, not simply places where people can gather more and more information.’

Why we do we prefer a dozen competing ideas?

Perhaps one of the reasons we are tempted to enjoy information overload is that it can be a way of  avoiding life-change.  When you’re moving from one idea to the next you rarely have a moment to reflect or respond to what you’ve heard before the next idea takes over.  Surely there is a case for saying more is less because more makes for a less challenging Christian life. The real danger is that we can actually convince ourselves that we really are changing when what we really mean is that we  really are learning lots of new ideas!

Maybe the problem is less the hearts of the people than it is the heart of the pastor. Are we too eager to preach clever sermons in order to show off our learning? Are we willing to teach in a way that leaves much learning in the study to enable all to understand and obey and the church to move forward together. Maybe our sermons are full of competing little ideas simply because we are underprepared. It might look simple to preach a sermon that has one big idea but in my experience is actually much harder to say just one thing and to say it well.  Much preaching is confusing because it’s confused. The hard work in to ensure that we have understood the passage enough to have settled on the big idea and that we have given enough time for penetrating and incisive application.

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Facebook Twitter RSS Feed