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September 20, 2012

Resource Review: 'Field Guide for Small Group Leaders'

The ins and outs of crafting effective, transformative meetings


All small-group leaders have something in common: that moment we find ourselves in a panic wondering what we've gotten ourselves into. And chances are, as you prepared for your first meeting, those feelings were strong. How in the world do I structure my meetings? How do I come up with good questions? How do I get people to talk?

New leaders these days are lucky—they can use Sam O'Neal's Field Guide for Small Group Leaders to give them expert advice and calm their nerves. And veteran leaders can benefit from it, too—there's so much to learn and brush up on.

O'Neal covers everything from the role of leaders and learning styles to crafting meaningful meetings and handling unwanted surprises. The book is divided into three helpful sections: Mapping the Terrain (the basics of the leader's role), Planning Your Route (crafting a great meeting with focus, activities, and discussion questions), and Hitting the Trail (leading the meeting and troubleshooting issues).

One of the most helpful tips I found in the book is the need to identify the "Big Idea" of each meeting. O'Neal says that in order to bring focus to a meeting, we must look at our study material and pick out the one major point we want to get across in our discussion. Then we can choose a few questions to discuss that directly relate to that Big Idea. This keeps the focus narrow and the meeting succinct. Without this focus it's too tempting to talk about all the themes in a chapter of Scripture, but we simply don't have time in our hour-and-a-half meetings.

O'Neal stresses that small groups have the goal of life change. And in order to accomplish that goal, leaders must focus on application and inspiration in the meetings. If leaders don't help group members take their next spiritual steps, small groups will simply be a fun social gathering with interesting conversations. Luckily, O'Neal gives great advice in this area as well.

O'Neal has over 10 years of experience in small-group ministry and is a former editor of Read Field Guide for Small Group Leaders today and buy it for any new leaders you know.

For excerpts from the book, read "Give Your Study Some Context" and "Use Teachable Moments to Your Advantage."

posted by Amy Jackson at 8:51 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

September 13, 2012

Resource Review: 'Community Is Messy'

Focus on the discipleship opportunity in small-group ministry.


Do you treat small-group ministry like a program or a discipleship opportunity? Heather Zempel, in Community Is Messy, urges readers to the latter. But she also admits the difficulty. She writes:

Discipleship is a whole life journey, not an eight-week class. It's about developing the fruit of the Spirit and spiritual gifts and looking more like Christ, not about checking off a set of boxes. It's a process of becoming, not a destination. There's no way to short-circuit discipleship. It's about turning every moment of every day into an encounter with God.

While many of us whole heartedly agree with her definition of discipleship, we realize that measuring discipleship and spiritual growth is difficult, even messy. So we resort to running our small groups—our main means of discipleship—like an eight-week class instead of a journey.

So how do we lead our ministries in a way that recognizes and honors the messy journey of discipleship? Zempel, who holds a degree in environmental engineering, suggests that small-group leaders must engineer environments that welcome true transformation and spiritual growth.

This focus on discipleship requires a lot more work and a lot more time. It requires life-on-life interactions that aren't scripted. It means intentionally investing in others and helping them see their potential. She writes that you need to be a little crazy in order to disciple others because "you have to see things in people that they don't see in themselves. And then you have to speak things into their lives or ask them to do things that they may scoff at or at least shake their heads and laugh at." It's messy, but according to Zempel, it's the way Jesus taught us: communities of believers living life together, learning about God along the way, and being drawn to him more and more.

More than anything, Zempel calls readers to value people more than programs. She calls us to be leaders who leave a legacy of relationships that we've invested in, and she gives great advice in being a strong leader: developing tough skin and a soft heart, being a life-long learner, thinking outside the box, modeling the life of Christ to others, cultivating a deep relationship with Christ, and embracing the mess of ministry.

Zempel also gives practical advice on handling "rogue" groups and finding a structure that fits your ministry. This combination of practical advice and focus on discipleship makes this one of the best books I've read on small-group ministry in a long time. It's especially helpful for coaches, directors, coordinators, and pastors who lead small-group ministries. On the other hand, small-group leaders can learn a lot from her focus on discipleship and being a strong leader that others want to follow.

Read "From Classroom to Laboratory" and "Life-on-Life Discipleship" for two excerpts from the book. You'll find a number of other articles from Zempel on our site as well. Buy the book today, which is also available in e-book form.

Heather Zempel is the pastor of discipleship at National Community Church in Washington, D.C., and has written numerous articles for

posted by Amy Jackson at 12:00 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)