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.
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 »
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.
Dreaming big for God
Expect great things from God attempt great things for God so said William Carey the founder of the modern missionary movement.
I guess like me you find the quote inspiring but what does such trust in God along with such godly ambition begin to look like in your life and in mine?
In a book I’m reading called Exponential, Dave and Jon Ferguson, lead Pastors of Commnuity Church, Naperville, Iiinois made some very helpful observations of the need to dream big and how big dreams begin to change things not least your own life:
I have found that when you dream big, it changes how you think, how you act, and it can even change those around you.
Not least because ‘allowing your heart and mind to pursue a vision that is bigger than you can handle will change you in some very significant ways.’
1. Big dreams change your questions
The bigger your dream, the more you challenge and stretch your mind with tough questions. The size of your dream will often determine the types of questions you ask. Small dreams that are within your grasp and easily managed require one set of questions. Big dreams lead you to ask an entirely different set of questions, questions you would probably never ask otherwise.
At City Church Birmingham we’ve asked the question ‘how can we plant a daughter church?’ now we’re asking a different kind of question ‘how can we see 20 churches planted by the year 2020?’ Only when we started to ask that question did we realise that the only way we could ever see that happen was through seeking working partnerships with other church-planting churches in the city of Birmingham, churches we hardly new and churches of whom we had previously felt no real need to connect with. All because our ambitions were too small.
2. Big dreams change your prayers
Big questions also force you to ask questions to which you do not know the answer. When you have questions and you don’t know how to answer them, who do you turn to? God! Big dreams force us to ask the types of questions that lead to greater dependence on God.
As we start to form new partnerships in the city we pray that God would protect our unity. As we look at church-planting with no resources to fund or
support planting so we pray that God would provide. As we ask questions of strategy such as ‘how do we reach a city of a million?’, ‘how do we practically work together?’ so we find perhaps more than ever we need wisdom from God and so we ask him knowing that he gives generously (James 1:3).
3. Big dreams change others
Big dreams are also contagious. They are infectious. They not only change you, but they can also slowly begin to change your friends and those around you!
We’re thrilled to find that in the first year of running the ‘2020 Planters Programme’ that six church-planters, all committed to planting in the city, are gathering to meet every couple of weeks, pray for one another, share ideas, vision and resources. As we listen to each other, share and pray so we are inspired and urged on in the task. It all seems so much more possible at the end of a Wednesday morning than it did at the start.
4. Big dreams change you
As our dreams get bigger, our doubts will inevitably grow.
That’s certainly been my experience too. The bigger the dream the more you are constantly reminded that it is beyond your ability to deliver it. Wherever there is faith doubt will be right there along side.
At present we are planning a second conference for 2020 birmingham this time the conference will be jointly hosted by Acts29 Western Europe (5-6th May). Mark Driscoll will be speaking and 2020 will have an opportunity to share something of the vision we believe God has given us for this city. As the conference approaches so we feel ever more unworthy because of our sin, unable because of the size of the task and unprepared to answer the questions raised by the task before us. But each times those feelings rise there is a fresh opportunity for faith to grow as we remember that we only attempt great things for God because we expect great things from God.
So what stops us dreaming big dreams?
I find that there are two common fears that keep us and our churches from taking risks for the sake of mission. The first is our fear of failure. We say to ourselves. ‘I’m afraid it just won’t work…and I can’t accept the possibility of failure.’ The second fear that keeps us from taking risks is closely related – it’s the fear of loss. We work for years to build a large church or successful career, and our ‘success’ can become the very thing that gets in the way of our taking more significant risks. We tell ourselves, ‘I’ve accomplished too much to lose it all.’ If it is a fear of failure or loss that is holding you back, let me remind you of the grace of God. Walking faithfully in obedience to God is what matters, not your success or failure in the eyes of the world.
When it comes to taking risks, the important question you need to ask is when was the last time you took a risk and trusted God? When was the last time your courageously followed Jesus and did something that was clearly beyond your own abilities? When was the last time you followed Jesus so closely that it was uncomfortable, maybe even a bit scary?
What might this mean for you?
Dave Harvey author of Resucing Ambition wants us to keep asking this question:
What is the Spirit-constrained ambition that God wants us to indulge for his glory right where we are?
And we could also ask:
- Is there a ministry opportunity I’ve simply been too scared to take?
- What is stopping me from going for it? Is it fear of failure? Fear of loss?
- Who can I talk and pray through this dream with?
- Who can help me shape and realise this dream?
- How deliberate I have been in praying for guidance or in asking God to enable this dream?
- Am I being held back by small ambitions that must give way to something out of my reach?
We carry the same gospel Paul carried, and it requires us to have a similar ambition – Dave Harvey
- Church Planting
- Global Church
- Jesus Christ
- Medical ethics
- Social media
- Suffering Church
- The Christian Life
- Transforming Society
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010