In this Ask the Experts interview, Bill interviews Eddie Mosley, the Adult Groups Minister at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, TN.
Eddie, you’ve been the small group champion at a large publisher and served for many years in the field of groups and education in leading churches. However, you haven’t always served churches where groups were the main thing. What do you like about churches where small groups are just one of the various ministries they offer?
Bill, thank you for this opportunity to share from my experiences. I am grateful for those who walked before me in these areas and shared their experiences in hopes of teaching others and me in my position.
If you are referring to small groups and Sunday school, I think the variety can reach more people. While the experience can be vastly different in regards to style (lecture/discussion, size, location, etc.), people have different past experiences from which they view the church and Bible study. Options sometimes are more valuable in helping people connect to Bible study in a way that is comfortable for them.
The bigger issue is when these two ministries, or any ministries for that matter, compete or seem to compete for people. Our job as groups pastors is to be sure both styles of Bible study accomplish the purpose for which they exist. For us, spiritual growth (not just Bible knowledge), care (for each other and their community), and equipping (for serving in the group and in our individual next ministry calling) can all be accomplished whether you meet on campus or in a home, via a lecture, or discussion style. Training and development of the leader is key to accomplishing these purposes, not the systematic program.
What are the strengths of such a church? Various ministries draw various gifts and personalities. Offering many ministries who are aligned on vision and strategy as partners in ministry can have a terrific influence on participants and communities. Many ministry offerings that are focused on their own success or spotlight can damage individuals and churches. I love to see alignment that is supportive of other ministries.
Thanks, Eddie! Thinking beyond small groups and Sunday schools, how about what we used to call “program” churches? Many churches still run “programs” for college and young adults, for singles, couples, families, empty nesters, men, women—the list goes on. If you follow a simple-church model, programs are the enemy. However, you and I have both worked in “simple” and “program” model churches. What’s the advantage of all those programs?
I learned the hard way not to do everything in my ministry, my small group, my family alone. I have a leading principle to live by—share the Load. This principle has benefited me in every aspect of my life and ministry. We know that others will “never do the job as good as we can do it”, but they are blessed by God with gifts and passions that need to be expressed . Sharing the load allows more people to be involved, own the ministry and mission, and reach others for Christ. I view “programs” this same way. Many programs can either distract people from other ministries or enable the church to reach and deploy many more people united to the vision of the church, not spotlight a particular ministry.
Again, alignment will be the constant struggle that must be addressed.
Why are small groups important even in churches that don’t put a strong emphasis on groups?
Small groups are biblical. Do I need to elaborate? No matter the size of the congregation, there must be opportunities for people to discuss the Bible and life as well as be transparent. These can’t take place at one level or in one space. I was first introduced to relational spaces in Joe Meyer’s book, The Search to Belong. He explains we all experience and we all need Public, Social, Personal, Intimate spaces.
I have to stop you there. For those not familiar with Meyer’s work, can you break down those four spaces?
If you have read some about church vision and strategy the idea of a funnel or a strategy that moves people from the larger gatherings (worship or events) to a smaller group where a person can be known and know others in a more personal way. Think about your ministry, what are the public spaces where people connect because they share a common experience and where being present is about all that is asked of a person? Social space is smaller and where we can have small talk with people in similar seasons or hobbies. What would this be called in your church or ministry? Then we move them to a smaller group where we can share more private conversations or life stories. Finally, Joe mentions the intimate space where we share, confess, and reveal all about ourselves or about a particular area of our life. Having different levels of spaces allows people to be involved at a level they are comfortable with; all the time knowing there is the next level awaiting them.
OK, thanks for that explanation. I’m planning to interview Joe for a future Ask the Experts so that helps whet the appetite. How do those four spaces impact your ministry options?
View your church’s offerings for these spaces, considering your purpose. When we help people move through these and experience these down to the intimate space, transparency increases where a higher level of commitment and discipleship can happen. Discipleship can happen anywhere, on a mission trip, in a classroom, through worship (public space); but we know that the fewer the people the more conversation and the more transparency can take place, making us more open to spiritual growth and accountability.
Many program model churches have added small groups as one more program. If the person reading this is the point person for the small groups program in a church like that, where should they begin?
Prayer. I played and/or coached baseball most all my life. You learn early on to use the word “team”, not the word “I”. My first step in any new ministry is to find those who have a passion for small groups. They may be leading or be recommended by others as having a heart for your ministry. Spending time with that person/couple is urgent to me and preferably done over a meal. I want to grow the ministry team and share the load with people in their passion and gifting. Learning what God has wired them for makes it easy to make up a team with each person having a unique position on the team. We currently have a highly qualified theologian on our team. Without question, this is who we go to about what Bible studies we need to offer our groups. A highly relational person who has the gift of evangelism leads the outreach and assimilation part of our ministry.
Our team designed a flow chart that shows steps of our ministry responsibility for enlistment, training, connecting, launching, caring, developing, and multiplying. Our team prays for new leaders to emerge. We strive to have an environment where people feel they can be successful in hosting a group of their friends, neighbors, and co-workers in a discussion of the Bible. Enabling people to lead the kind of group for which they are gifted: teaching, evangelism, hospitality, etc. increases the number of groups, thereby increasing the number of people involved in Bible study. After enlistment, we simply follow the flow chart with these new group leaders as they live out their design and calling as small group leaders.
How do you find leaders and how do you form groups in a culture that has many options to choose from?
We pray for leaders, we search our database by gifts for particular groups like evangelism or hospitality. In earlier years, I only searched for the teaching gift but realized the struggle was not someone to lead a discussion or teach, but to host and have a heart for his or her neighbors. Then we encourage people to host a discussion of the Bible with friends. We also have co-leaders that are in training to lead their current group or step out and start a group with their neighbors and friends. Before we had a gifts tab in our database I would offer a class on finding your gifts, have a lunch for anyone interested in small groups, or enlist people I thought had friends (followers) and start a turbo group. Turbo groups are small groups of 6 weeks intentionally designed to start new groups at the end of this group.
How do you maintain strong, healthy relationships with other ministries that might be suspicious?
They will be suspicious, but building relationships with other ministers is vital to the success of any ministry. The purpose of these relationships is to better understand their purpose and goals, which will make them less suspicious. Then share how you want to help them succeed. For instance, your missions pastor/committee has a goal of 100 food boxes for Christmas. Discuss with them how groups could commit to filling 50 percent of those boxes. If the women’s ministry is hosting a big event, help promote through groups and ask if a group could host a table or two.
Through the years, churches with a variety of ministries shifted focus to become a church where small groups became the primary focus. How does a pastor champion groups without denigrating other ministries?
When a staff discovers the benefit of aligning the ministries toward a church goal, there seems to a less singular focus for an individual ministry. When groups have established the reputation of helping other ministries reach their goals, championing groups actually champions every other ministry indirectly. Most of my experience with evaluations or Monday morning staff meetings revolved around or were heavily influenced by numbers. So that drove each ministry to focus on how they could get more people in their ministry program or project. But when they realize or are reminded that another ministry had a key hand in helping that become a reality (but did not want or get credit for that help) partnerships begin.
There seems to be two temptations for the groups director when they are in a church with many options, they can either become sullen and passive or they can become preachy and combative. How do you avoid both and pursue a balanced approach?
When getting preachy and combative, find out what anxiety is driving that feeling. Usually, both of these come from “not being appreciated” or “no one cares” feelings. I, and most of my colleagues, have experienced these feelings at some point. This is where a mentor, network and/or trusted friend can really have an impact on our ministry, life, and family. The trust gives you a place to unload and be challenged. Don’t wait until you are in this zone to find a mentor and a network of other small group pastors. Don’t let Satan distract and damage. As Bill Willits, one of the key leaders at Northpoint Church in Atlanta, told me, “Clarify the WIN” so you don’t get caught up in sideways energy or worries.
On a slightly related note, what advice would you offer the discouraged or complacent groups director? What coaching do you offer the person who figures there’s no sense of urgency because no one is pushing them to grow the groups ministry or they are just tired of pushing a rock uphill?
When getting comfortable, sullen, or passive, get away with other small group ministers or point people. Attend a conference and spend a lot of time talking with other ministries. Rekindle the fire away from the office! Never let yourself get isolated. When I began my first full-time role as a small group pastor I knew no one in this position. I began where I always began when trying something new, by asking, “Who has tried this and who in a little larger church has tried this?” This became my key to networking because those ministers in bigger churches actually answered my call, answered my questions, then told me someone else to call. Now that I am older and experienced a lot of successes and failures in small group ministry, I am honored to answer the calls and talk with others about what I have learned
In a church with many programs and many ministries, what are some of the keys you have found helpful to win others over to the value of groups?
Relationships! Take them out to lunch or for coffee and listen! Don’t always try to get them to promote your ministry or agree with you. Discover what they value and help them get there.