If you follow this blog much, you know that I have a passion for introducing you to and your gaining knowledge from people in the groups community who are making waves. One of the people who has been making waves for decades is Mike Mack. For the next three days you’ll be hearing from him as he and I talk about group life. But first, I want you have the chance to get to know him.
Rick: Mike, thanks so much for doing this interview. I’m thrilled that the small group community will have the opportunity to get to know you even better. In fact, my first question for you will give you a chance to introduce yourself. Tell us how you came to follow Christ and how you were called into ministry.
Mike: Thanks, Rick, for inviting me into your community. As I sit here in my basement office sipping my coffee (with pumpkin-spice creamer—don’t judge me) I’ll try to respond conversationally.
My story of God drawing me to him is kind of long, but I’ll try to give you the elevator-speech version. I was brought up as a good Catholic—went to Mass every Sunday, said our prayers before meals and bedtime, prayed the Rosary, went to Catholic schools through high school. Somehow, I missed the class on how Jesus’ death and resurrection paved the way for me to be forgiven of my sins. When I was 27 years old, my niece Julie and I were eating lunch in a Skyline Chili in Cincinnati, and she explained the good news to me in very simple terms. She drew the bridge illustration on a napkin, and I got it. That evening, I knelt by my bed and asked Jesus to save me, and he did.
My call into ministry was almost immediate. I don’t have space here to tell the whole story, but it involved several divine interruptions in my life as I learned that it wasn’t my life after all. God led me to a great church that understood the vitality of biblical community, and I was invited to my first small group. That group was life-changing for me. They accepted this messed up but redeemed guy, loved me, discipled me, and gave me godly counsel on major life decisions. Within six months of accepting Christ I was in seminary at Cincinnati Christian University (as it’s called now).
Along the way, my life has been like a laser-guided missile; I’ve seen God directing my path at each step, leading me to my passion and my ministry of discipleship in the environment of real, Christ-centered community.
Rick: Like myself, God has placed you in the role of aiding churches instead of serving one church. Where do you work now? What is your current role? What ministry roles and where did you serve prior to taking on the position you have now?
Mike: Since seminary 22 years ago, my life has taken two 180s. I graduated with a degree in Christian Ed with a concentration in journalism and began working in a publishing company in Cincinnati. I thought that was what God had in store for me for the rest of my life. I thought wrong. After researching and writing about discipleship and small groups, churches began to approach me to come on staff. At first my wife, Heidi, and I didn’t think this was God’s call, but eventually we sensed it was.
My first church staff position was as an associate minister in a church in Anderson, Indiana. I was called there to begin a small group ministry plus carry out all the other duties of an associate. I learned a lot in that role and God blessed our ministry as groups grew quickly. Next we went to Boise, Idaho, to work in a fast-growing church, focusing on groups and discipleship. God continued growing our ministry there, and me in the process. In 2001, we moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where I took the role of groups minister at Northeast Christian Church, a growing mega-church. I love working in a local church, building relationships with people and seeing God work through me in ways that only he can. My 11+ years at Northeast were fantastic, growing the ministry from a few inward-focused groups to more than 100 healthy, missional groups, but God had other plans.
In 2012, I began to serve the Church full-time through Small Group Leadership (www.smallgroupleadership.com). I train leaders in churches and at other events, coach and consult with churches, and write resources for groups and churches. While I often miss the daily interaction with group leaders, I love that I have been given the opportunity to serve Christ’s Bride as he enables me.
Rick: Mike, you’re one of the most prolific writers in the small group world. As you know, there are a plethora of books on how to do biblical community. What are some of the books on Christian community that you’ve written and what are the primary principles of community that you hope people have taken from your books?
Mike: My most recent book is Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health that Make Groups Flourish. At Northeast, our pastor one day asked me a very good question: “Are our groups healthy?” My immediate response was yes, of course they are, and I could tell him many stories of healthy groups. But he wanted more. He wanted facts. This led us to take more than a year to focus intently on the health of our groups rather than adding more groups or leaders. We developed an assessment tool (which you can now use to assess your own group[s] here) and used the results to help our groups get healthier. We learned so much through this process, especially about what truly makes groups healthy. The biggest takeaway is that when you focus on health . . . growth, bearing fruit, and reproduction start to happen naturally as a result. Small Group Vital Signs shows leaders what we learned and goes into detail on each of the 7 vital signs of a healthy group.
The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership came out of my experience seeing group leaders burning out or just not being very effective. By spending time with those leaders and asking a lot of questions, I found two common causes for this burnout and frustration: (1) not allowing God to be the real leader and (2) not sharing leadership with others. This book provides detailed help in resolving those two major issues. I show leaders how to organize themselves and their groups using a core team to lead more effective, transformational groups.
Leading from the Heart contains the principles I am most passionate about in ministry. I was intrigued by King David, an imperfect man, yet a man after God’s heart (1 Sam. 13:14). In this book, I investigate what it looks like to be a leader after God’s heart, using David, Jesus, John, and other biblical people as our examples.
I’ve also written The Synergy Church: A Strategy for Integrating Small Groups and Sunday School (Baker, 1996, out of print but available on Amazon and other online sellers); I’m a Leader … Now What? (Standard, 2007, also out of print but available online); Moving Forward: Helping Your Group Members Embrace Their Leadership Potential (TOUCH, 2005); and Launch into Community Life: Building a Master Plan of Action with Your Small Group (TOUCH, 2008).
Rick: Mike, I was once playing golf with an old friend who was serving as a senior pastor. As we stood on the first tee box I asked him, “How’s your church doin’?” I’ll never forget the exchange that followed. He stared at me for a few moments then said, “I thought we were friends.” I responded, “We are friends.” He then said, “If we were friends you would’ve asked about my family, not my church.
We are friends. So… Tell us about your family. We’d love to know about them and how they’re doing.
Mike: Heidi and I celebrated our 25th anniversary in June. Both of us consider ourselves incredibly and undeservedly blessed in our marriage. If you had asked me three years ago how we were doing, I’d honestly have told you not very good. As two imperfect humans, we had messed up our marriage and had to depend on God to restore us and bring reconciliation. Today, we’re very thankful for God’s grace and power in our family.
Heidi and I have four kids: Jordan (23), Dru (21), Sarah (20), and Anna (17). Our home is like a revolving door: they leave, come back, spend weekends with friends, bring friends home . . . we never know how many young adults will be in our home on any given day—and we love it. We’re in a transitionary, crazy phase of our family, and it’s not always easy. Consider life with six people working and in school with two to four working cars, depending on which of our older-model cars are drivable. We love the fact that all four of our kids are currently living at home and at the same time we can’t wait for them to leave.