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.
Wired for Intimacy is a book for Christians that written by William M .Struthers a Christian associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College. Perhaps uniquely it addresses not simply how men can deal with pornography but what pornography does to us, emotionally, spiritually, physically and psychologically.
The book includes the following table that tells something of the damage that unhealthy sexuality causes. The table is adapted from a book called The Porn Trap by Larry and Wendy Maltz.
|Godly/Healthy Sexuality||Pornography/Unhealthy sexuality|
|Sharing with someone||“Doing to” someone|
|Enhancing your identity||Compromises your identity|
|Emotional bonding||Emotional separateness|
|Spiritual unity||Spiritual separateness|
|Morally saturated||Free of moral convention|
|Communication is essential||Communication is optional|
|Biblical boundaries||Has no limites|
|Involves all of the person||Is visual and genital|
|Naturally drives us toward intimacy||Unnaturally drives us toward compulsions|
|National drives toward sanctification||Unnaturally drives towards depravity|
|Matures into responsible habits||Escalates toward irresponsible risks|
|Nurutres the spouse||Hurts the partner|
|Is an expression of love||Is an expression of usefulness|
|Honors the image/imaging of God in you||Dishonors the image/imaging of God in you|
|Honors the image/imaging of God in spouse||Dishonors the image/imaging of God in another|
|Provides emotional, moral, psychological and relational clarity||Produces emotional, moral, psychological and relational confusion|
According to Jesus and the sermon on the mount it could be this – hypocrisy. Jesus says in Matthew 6v1, Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Hypocrisy is doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons and that is what makes it both deceitful and deadly. Hypocrisy is doing acts that God requires (giving money, prayer, fasting) but doing them before men (rather than God) to be seen by them.
Who doesn’t want to be noticed?
The word here for seen means to be taken notice of and I guess it is in our acts of worship that it is easiest to develop a false spirituality. It’s in your church-going and your giving that you can gain a reputation for goodness and godliness that mask a heart far from God.
As Christians we’re very aware of the dangers of worldliness. It doesn’t take long to begin to see a drift into obvious worldliness in a fellow church member who stops coming to church or starts to date an unbeliever or openly questions what the Bible teaches.
But hypocrisy is like carbon monoxide. It kills you slowly and silently. The danger of religious hypocrisy is that you can carry on doing all the same things you did when you really loved God even as your heart begins to turn far from him to be replaced with vanity and pride and self-righteousness. Outward appearances may look (albeit superficially) the same whilst inner realities are fast changing.
And even our church culture can be an incubator of hypocrisy if in the church we seek only to make ourselves big, by applauding those who do and say the right things. Our churches should be those that make much of Christ and our worship of him as we remember his goodness Continue reading »
John Wesley famously said:
I want to know one thing, the way to heaven — how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone: only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his Book; for this end, to find the way to heaven.
Below is a remarkable video showing the Kimyai people receiving this word of life in their own language for the very first time.
If you’re leading a ministry team at church or advising or encouraging another Christian as they lead in some way (maybe even your spouse or housemate) Dave Ferguson suggest six great questions you can ask in his book Exponential in a chapter on coaching leaders. With a little bit of creative application they are really just great questions to ask of any Christian over a cup of coffee!
There is also a certain logic to the questions that Ferguson brings out. Both relationally and theologically it’s important to be asking the right questions and to ask them in the right order.
1. How are you?
Remember, at the heart of effective coaching is a relational investment. We begin every coaching conversation by checking in to see how the person we are coaching is really doing.
2. What are you celebrating?
Moving from ‘How are you?’ to ‘What are you celebrating?’ keeps the tone of the meeting relational and positive. It’s tempting to quickly focus on what’s not working or what is broken. The question keeps the conversation focused on where the leader is feeling successful.
3. What challenges are you experiencing?
You might be thinking, ‘Finally we get to something productive.’ Yes, the previous questions are very relational, but if it helps any, remember that when it comes to coaching, the relationship really is the task. This question gives your leader an opportunity to talk openly about the thing that may need development in his group or team. Continue reading »
According to Philip Jenkins, author of The Next Christendom and a leading authority on church trends the world is undergoing a religious revolution in which the church is growing at a phenomenal and unprecedented rate.
The Charlotte Observer newspaper reports on a recent talk he gave where he highlighted some of the extraordinary things God is doing:
In the 20th century, about half of the people on the African continent moved from a tribal or pagan religion to either Christianity or Islam. And Christians outpaced Muslims considerably, by a margin of about 4 to 1.
In the 20th century, Africa – long a continent of European colonies, with missionaries running schools, medical clinics and churches – went from 10 percent Christian to 46 percent Christian.
And then get this: From just 10 million Christians in Africa in 1900, the figures rose to something like 363 million in 2000. Projecting forward Jenkins estimates a figure of 500 million by 2015 and a staggering 1 billion by 2050.
‘They will proclaim my glory among the nations’ – Isaiah 66:19
For a helpful review of the book you might like to read this.
Dave Ferguson wants me to share this with you from his leadership book Exponential:
If there is one section of this book that I want you to photocopy and send to somebody else, it is this section on the five steps. If you memorize anything from this book, memorize these five steps. If you’re tempted to steal anything from this book and claim it as your own, claim these five steps. I admit that I did.
Five steps of Leadership Development
1. I do. You watch. As an experienced leader leads a team, an apprentice takes time to observe him or her. Within a few days the two should meet to discuss what the apprentice has observed. This debriefing time should include three simple questions: (1)”What worked?” (2) “What didn’t work?” and (3) “How can we improve?” This time of debriefing needs to continue throughout the process.
2. I do. You help. In this phase of development, the leader gives the apprentice an opportunity to help lead in a particular area. For example, if someone is being developed to lead a student ministry small group, the leader might ask that person to lead the prayer time while the experienced leader leads the remainder of the time together. Again, this experience should be followed up with a one-on-one to talk.
3. You do. I help. We talk. Now the apprentice transitions from supporting or helping the leader to taking on most of the leadership responsibilities of the team or group. If a person is being apprenticed to lead a team of sound technicians, he or she will operate the sound system and provide leadership for the other sound technicians. The more experienced leader now begins releasing responsibilities to the new, developing leader. As in the previous steps, the leader and apprentice leader should meet regularly to debrief the ministry experience.
4. You do. I watch. We talk. The apprentice process is almost complete as the new leader grows increasingly more confident in his or her role. Consider how this step might look in a children’s ministry. A children’s group leader, at this point, would give his or her apprentice the opportunity to fulfil all the functions of leadership, with the more experienced leader now looking on and watching the new leader in action.
5. You do. Someone else watches. This is where the process of reproducing comes full circle. The former apprentice is now leading and begins developing a new apprentice. Ideally, the leader who has developed and released several apprentices will continue to work with those leaders in a coaching capacity.
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. – 1 Tim. 2:1-4
Have you ever thought what extraordinary words those are? When Paul wrote them there was not one King anywhere in the world who was a Christian ruler. For Paul then there is no secular government and that means for the Christian there cannot be secular government.
What is even more extraordinary is that Paul’s prayer focuses on the fact that God has put secular rulers in place not just for the common good of man but God calls upon the state to serve the church by upholding freedom and justice and thereby allowing Christians to get on with their lives and their evangelism!
We find other early church leaders calling on Christians to pray in the same way.
Clement writes in the second century:
Grant them Lord, health, peace, harmony and stability, so that they may give no offence in administering the government you have given them.
Tertullian writes in his Apology:
We pray also for the emperors, for their ministers and those in power, that their reign may continue, that the state may be at peace, and that the end of the world may be postponed.
If we are to learn how to pray for the state the heart of all of these prayers is the recognition that rulers are appointed by God to rule in such a way as to enable Christians to ‘live peaceful and quiet lives’ and by so doing enable the church to be God’s agent in the world bringing salvation as it preaches and lives out the gospel.
John Stott writes:
Here is important apostolic teaching about church and state, and about the porper relations between them, even when the state is not Christian. It is the duty of the state to keep the peace, to protect its citizens from whatever would disturn it, to preserve law and order and to punish evil and promote god (as Paul teaches in Rom. 13:4), so that within such a stable society the church may be free to worship God, obey his laws and spread his gospel.
There is therefore a great deal at stake in how a government governs. Paul’s prayer implies that when a government fails to uphold the freedom of the Christian it is actually failing in its God-given duty! For many Christians around the world this failure of the state to live up to it’s calling is all too apparent. In recent months in the middle-east in particular the state has failed in its role of protecting the church from harm. Witness recent bomb attacks on churches in Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt.
Whilst the church should and must turn to God in prayer at such times the leaders of other nations do have the opportunity to challenge government that is failing to protect it’s people, including Christians.
The article reports:
A meeting of EU foreign ministers failed to agree on a condemnation of sectarian attacks over the Christmas period that targeted Christians in Egypt and Iraq.
Talks ended angrily when Italy accused Lady Ashton, the EU’s foreign minister, of “excessive” political correctness because she refused to name any specific religious group as a victim of attacks.
Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, demanded an EU response on the persecution of Christians after a New Year suicide bombing at a Coptic church in northern Egypt in which 23 people were killed.
The Egyptian bombing followed attacks in Baghdad and fears, expressed by the Vatican, of persecution leading to a Christian exodus from the Middle East.
Mr Frattini, backed by France, said it pointless to issue statements defending religious tolerance without any references to the specific minority, Christians, that was under attack.
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