If you read this blog yesterday, you know that I’m interviewing Mike Mack, one of the leaders in the small group movement, a man who has influenced many of us. Today Mike joins me in discussing a topic that seems to be lacking in the minds of many… holiness in community and why it matters.
Rick: Mike, I know you as one of the most biblically focused authors I know of when it comes to group life. Not only that, I’ve seen the way you live your life. You are a man who lives a holy life. I think many groups are struggling to understand the importance of holiness in group life. Why is holiness in the life of each individual group member important to the group and why it is important if a group is going to experience true Christian community?
Mike: One of the topics I love talking to group leaders about is Christ-centeredness, both in the group and in the lives of the leaders and members. Living lives of integrity (holiness/piety) comes out of spending time with God on a regular basis, individually and as a group. When we come near to God, he will come near to us (Jas. 4:8). Spiritual leadership starts with remaining intimately connected with God (John 15), and when we do, his love, power, grace, compassion . . . flow out of us.
Discipleship doesn’t happen merely in a once-a-week meeting. People grow as they spend time with God in his Word, in prayer, in personal worship, in fasting, etc. regularly. Then, when a group of people who have been spending time with God all week come together, it is powerful, as each one shares what God is doing in his or her life with the others.
This is why investing in people’s lives is more important to a leader than facilitating a good study. Both are important, but real transformation happens when you simply but compassionately get involved in one another’s lives.
Rick: The Groups world has taken a turn in a new direction. Whereas we once talked mostly about “community,” the groups movement is now abuzz about what it means to make disciples. Mike, how would you describe disciple making and what do you think the groups movement must do in order to do more than just create groups where people do life together?
Mike: I could write a book on this one! I believe we as a groups movement need to get serious about the things Jesus and his group were serious about. When we design groups (and churches, for that matter) for consumers, they remain consumers. But when we make it clear up front that being in a group requires a commitment (to Christ, the group, and to mutual discipleship), those groups will bear fruit. Our model leader, Jesus, spoke often about the cost of following him, and so should we. Are we willing to sacrifice numbers over the short term for spiritual maturity over the long term? I hope we go with the latter.
Rick: You’ve consulted many churches through the years so you know the importance of the senior pastor’s involvement in the groups ministry. Some senior pastors don’t understand the importance of community life through small groups. When a groups pastor asks the question, “What do I do if my senior pastor isn’t involved in a group and has little concern for the group ministry?”, how do you respond?
Mike: I secretly wish I had had an opportunity to talk to them before they took the responsibility! At that point I could counsel them to be sure they and the senior leadership (senior pastor as well as the leadership board and other senior-level leaders) are all on the same page in regard to values and expectations.
Once a groups pastor in in the role, he or she can leverage several opportunities, depending on the church and the pastor. First, partner together with the pastor to achieve common objectives and carry out the common mission. Ask how you can help him (not how he can help you) to carry out the mission of the church. Love him. Invest into him. Pray for him. Learn to speak his language. Work within the confines of your leadership structure (if you report to a second- or third-tier leader, don’t go over their head), and yet find ways to lead up. Don’t be afraid to invite him to participate in a group—after all that’s your passion and your job—but don’t lose faith if he says no. Help him discover the group he already has—a leadership group for instance, or a team he is on—and ask him to talk about that group in his sermons.