Andy Stanley & Bill Willets on "Creating Community"

In the church world these days everyone is saying "you gotta have small groups" as if the mantra itself provides the energy to turn-around every church on the planet. As a United Methodist, I confess that we just lost it ... this was easily one of Wesley's key innovations to building the people called Methodist into a revitalizing force in England and the United States. Andy Stanley & Bill Willets, in Creating Community: 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Culture (North Point Resources: Multnomah, 2004) provide a comprehensive vision and strategy that North Point Community Church used to launch their adult education plan. Their sense of the five keys to building and sustaining a small group culture are:

  • People Need Community (see chapters 1-3)
  • Leaders Need Clarity (see chapters 4-6)
  • Church Need a Strategy (see chapters 7-9)
  • Connections Need Simplicity (see chapters 10-12)
  • Process Need Reality (see chapters 13-15)
Most folks, including myself, tend to move to the strategy without thinking through the process the way the folks at North Point have. One would do well to follow their lead and discern the need and clarify the goal. Below is a summary of the introductory chapters:
  1. A Culture Craving Relationship. "Our goal is to avoid people at all costs - and costs us it does" (p. 22). "Americans are among the loneliest people on earth" - George Gallup (p.24).
  2. It's Not All Good. "Living life alone does not accurately reflect the One whose image we bear" (p. 34).
  3. The Divine Community. "One of God's biggest dreams for us in authentic community" (p.40). "God has called the church to create environments where authentic community can take place" (p. 46).
  4. Clarify the Goal. "What is the point of your church?" (p. 53). "Clarifying what you want people to become will ultimately define your church's mission (p. 56). The BIG THREE #1: What do we want people to become? (e.g. Bible Knowledge or Skills-Based churches). NP's answer: "We want people growing in their relationship with God" (i.e. spiritual mature, see p. 57). "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19).
  5. Define Spiritual Maturity. "Saying spiritual maturity is a point in time is like saying physical fitness is a point in time" (p. 65). The BIG THREE #2: What do we want people to do? (e.g. worship, Sunday school, sub-groups, ministry teams, spiritual gifts, etc.). NP's answer: "We want people growing in three vital relationships: a person's relationship with God, with other believers, and with unbelievers. We want people to grow in their intimacy with God, community with insiders, and influence with outsiders" (p. 65). "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).
  6. Decide Where People Go. "Have you decided what home plate looks like for your church" (p. 73). "For children to adults, we want people's destination to be the same" (p. 76). The BIG THREE #3: Where do we want people to go? (e.g. Sunday school class, ministry team, or doctrinal seminars). NP's answer: a small group.
So did you pick up the big three questions you must answer? If not, here they are again:
  • The BIG THREE #1: What do we want people to become?
  • The BIG THREE #2: What do we want people to do?
  • The BIG THREE #3: Where do we want people to go?

Andy Stanley & Stuart Hall on "Being an Influence without Being Influenced'

(1) The Standards Principle - Gaining the High Ground:
  • Principle: You must develop, be able to personal articulate, and live by personal standards.
  • Critical Question: Are you developing and living by standards that you can clearly articulate to others?
  • Key Passage: Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge (1 Peter 2:11-12).

(2) The Priorities Principle - Putting Your Own Spiritual Health First:

  • Principle: You must establish your own spiritual health as a priority over the spiritual health of the friends you are attempting to influence.
  • Critical Question: Are you prioritizing your relationship with Christ over your relationships with friends?
  • Key Passage: But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).

(3) The Accountability Principle - Making Sure Someone Has Your Back:

  • Principle: You must maintain effective accountability relationships with other Christian students.
  • Critical Question: Are you accountable to other Christians.
  • Key Passage: My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).

(4) The Unconditional-Acceptance Principle - Out-Loving the World:

  • Principle: You must love and accept your unbelieving peers unconditionally.
  • Critical Question: Do you unconditionally accept your lost friends?
  • Key Passage: Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).

(5) The Sustained-Influence Principle - Sustaining the Influence You've Gained:

  • Principle: You must sustain the influence you gain with your unbelieving peers.
  • Critical Question: Are you sustaining your influence with your lost friends?
  • Key Passage: You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

(6) The Leverage Principle - Using Your Influence Wisely:

  • Principle: You must properly put into practice the leverage you gain.
  • Critical Question: Are you using your wisdom to leverage your influence for the sake of the gospel?
  • Key Passage: Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ-whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).


  • Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall, MAX Q: Developing Students of Influence, (West Monroe, LA: Howard Books, 2004).
  • Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall, MAX Q Student Journal: How to Be an Influence without Being Influenced, (New York: Howard Books, 2004).

Andy Stanley & Stuart Hall name "Seven Principles Every Teenager Needs to Know"

Checkpoint #1 - Authentic Faith:
  • Principle: God can be trusted. God will do all that he has promised to do.
  • Crucial Question: Are you trusting God with every area of your life.
  • Key passage: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Checkpoint #2 - Spiritual Disciplines:

  • Principle: When you see as God sees, you will do as God says.
  • Crucial Question: Are you developing a consistent devotional and prayer life?
  • Key Passage: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Checkpoint #3 - Moral Boundaries:

  • Principle: Purity paves the way to intimacy.
  • Crucial Question: Are you establishing and maintaining godly boundaries?
  • Key Passage: For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).

Checkpoint #4 - Healthy Friendships:

  • Principle: Your friends will determine the direction and quality of your life.
  • Crucial Question: Are you establishing healthy friendships and avoiding unhealthy ones?
  • Key Passage: Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm (Proverbs 13:20).

Checkpoint #5 - Wise Choices:

  • Principle: Walk wisely.
  • Crucial Question: Are you making wise choices in every area of your life?
  • Key Passage: Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Checkpoint #6 - Ultimate Authority:

  • Principle: Maximum freedom is found under God's authority.
  • Crucial Question: Are you submitting to the authorities that God is placing over you?
  • Key Passage: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (Romans 13:1-2).

Checkpoint #7 - Others First:

  • Principle: Consider others before yourself.
  • Crucial Question: Are you putting the needs of others ahead of your own?
  • Key Passage: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:3-11).


  • Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall, The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders: Seven Principles Every Teenager Needs to Know, (New York: Howard Books, 2001).
  • Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall, The Seven Checkpoints Student Journal: Seven Principles Every Teenager Needs to Know, (New York: Howard Books, 2001).

Adam Hamilton is "Seeing Gray in a Black and White World"

As in the national election last fall, health care is now emerging as an issue that divides us to the left and to the right. Many of us find ourselves in the middle on this an other divisive issues. When we stand in the middle we are often accused of being soft, muddle-headed, wishy-washy, etc. Adam Hamilton, author of Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White (Abingdon Press, 2008), suggests that the middle with its gray is often exactly where we ought to be. As pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, Hamilton became increasingly uncomfortable with trying to align himself and his congregants with one particular side of the political aisle. He writes: "Each has valuable perspectives to offer, but each seems to see the world only in black and white terms. The problem is that sometimes things are gray, and we must train our eyes to spot them." To address his concerns, Hamilton preached a five-week series on matters that most only hear about on Capital Hill. The outline of his book detailing this sermon series is listed below:

Introduction: Are Jerry Falwell and John Shelby Spong Our Only Options?

Part I: Seeing the Gray in a Black and White World

  • 01. Are you Liberal or Conservative?
  • 02. Straining Gnats
  • 03. "If You Can't Say Anything Nice..."
  • 04. Stage Five: Spiritual Maturity
  • 05. Finding the Sweet Spot
  • 06. Shhh! Just Listen!
  • 07. Being Pentacostal without Losing Your Mind

Part II: The Bible, Beliefs, and the Spiritual Journey

  • 08. The Battle Over the Bible
  • 09. The Galileo Affair
  • 10. Apes, Evolution, Adam and Eve
  • 11. Is Your Jesus Too Small?
  • 12. Will There Be Hindus in Heaven?
  • 13. The Logic of Hell
  • 14. Where Is God When Bad Things Happen
  • 15. In Praise of Honest Doubts
  • 16. The Messy Truth about Spirituality

Part III: Politics and Ethics in the Center

  • 17. Ethics and WWJD
  • 18. Abortion: Finding Common Ground
  • 19. Homosexuality at the Center
  • 20. The Question of War
  • 21. Faith and the Presidential Elections
  • 22. A Worthy Vision of America
  • 23. The Radical Center

Reuben Job's Three Simple Rules

Two years ago, United Methodist Leaders gathered for a "teach-in" at Lake Junaluska. I had my own cynical thoughts about what to do with all the Bishops and District Superintendents required to attend that meeting, but God did some good in those days. They heard from some good thinkers include Gil Rendel and Reuben Job. Below is an outline of the Bishop Job's book Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living (2007).

Bishop Job suggests Three Simple Rules (adapted from John Wesley's General Rules):
  • Do No Harm,
  • Do Good, and
  • Stay in Love with God.
  • (In youth ministry I used the slogan "avoid evil, do good, and pay attention to God" to help my kids come to understand Wesley's general rules.)
The other important thing for me in Wesley's rules were that they were intended for those "desiring to flee the wrath to come." I find it indicative of God's prevenient grace that knowing your life was messed up is the requirement for joining the Methodist movement and not professing Jesus Christ is Lord.

Introduction: We begin our conversation with a "duh!" Our world is broken. Our nations, our families, our tribes, even our denominiations are broken. This brokenness hinders our witness to the world and Jesus anticipated this challenge when saying: "Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one" (John 17:11b). Wesley's General Rules follow in the tradition of Paul who offered several sets of rules:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:12-14).
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:22-26).
Do No Harm (or as Wesley says, "by doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced ...").
If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another (Galatians 5:15).
Job suggests that following this first simple rule "provides a safe place to stand while the hard and faithful work of discernment is done" (Simple Rules, 21). This will require a radical reorienting of our lives and this leads Job to offer the following challenges to us when conflict emerges in our lives:
If I can do no harm, I can no longer gossip about the conflict. I can no longer speak disparagingly about those involved in the conflict. I can no longer manipulate the facts of the conflict. I can no longer diminish those who do not agree with me and must honor each as a child of God (Simple Rules, 22).
The hardest part of this rule may be relenting from our ideological and theological positions and "bind ourselves to Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord of all (Simple Rules, 24). Because I may have to give up my "position" we often avoid this rule because the consequences are scary. Yet even "a casual reading of the gospels suggests that Jesus taught and practiced a way of living that did no harm" (Simple Rules, 27).

Do Good (or as Wesley says, "by doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men").
Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God (3 John 11b).
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good ... (Acts 10:38).
You owe your conscience to God; to one another you nothing but mutual love (St. Augustine).
There is scarce any possible way of doing good, for which there is not daily occasion .... Here are poor families to be relieved: Here are children to be educated: Here are workhouses, wherein both young and old gladly receive the word of exhortation: Here are the prisons, and therein a complication of humans wants (John Wesley's Journal, March 28, 1739).
To do good is not easy, despite it being a direct command from Jesus and a strong suggestion from John Wesley. We complicate the command with questions like what is it mean to 'do good,' where do I begin, or what are the limits to doing good (Simple Rules, 36)? Job takes time to deal with the thorny issue of control and challenges his reader to know that doing good is precisely in our control and that our questions do not allow us to abdicate the responsibility to do good.

Stay in Love with God (or according to Wesley, "By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are: the public worship of God, the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded, the Supper of the Lord, family and private prayer, searching the Scriptures, and fasting or abstinence").
Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually (Psalm 105.4)
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6-7).
Ordinances, or spiritual disciplines, are the practices that keep "the relationship between God and humans vital, alive, and growing" (Simple Rules, 53). Job takes time to explore Peter and his response to Jesus' questions "do you love me?" In these moments we are also invited to answer the question individually. Do you love me? If yes, then Jesus says "feed my sheep," care for my children, do no harm, do good ...

What the Golden Leaf Foundation Taught Me About Kinston

Last night community leaders gathered at the Waller Auditorium at Lenoir Community College to continue our conversation with the Golden Leaf Foundation. Will Lambe, part of the University of North Carolina and Golden Leaf team offered these notes on Lenoir County.

Current Economic Situation:
  • Unemployment @ 12.5% (May 2009, NC @ 11.1%)
  • Poverty Rate @ 24% (2007, NC @ 15%)
  • Median Household Income @ $31,304 (2007, NC @ $43,867)
  • Labor Force Participation @ 60% (2007, NC @ 65%)
Lenoir County Employment Sectors:
  • Health Care & Social Assistance - 23.0% (up 7.3% over the last two years)
  • Manufacturing - 14.7% (down 19.9% over the last two years)
  • Retail Trade - 11.7% (up 4.2% over the last two years)
  • Educational Services - 7.7% (up 3.4% over the last two years)
  • Accommodation & Food Services - 6.5% (down 7.6% over the last two years)
  • Construction - 6.5% (up 5.6% over the last two years)
  • Administration & Waste Services - 5.8% (down 27.1% over the last two years)
  • Public Adminstration - 5.8% (up 1.0% over the last two years)
The public sector employs about 24% of the work force (typical for rural counties).

The discerned community assets from the Golden Leaf include:
  • Workforce
  • Strong and active local institutions
  • Neuse River waterfront and historic downtown
  • Kinston Indians
  • Innovative Education Partnerships
  • Healthcare Infrastructure
  • Global Transpark
Recent Planning Efforts known to the Golden Leaf include:
  • CROSSROADS Project
  • City of Kinston / Lenoir County Strategic Economic Development Plan
  • Riverfront - Now!: Redesign of Kinston Waterfront
  • Kinston Vision and Redevelopment Plan
  • Kinston Comprehensive Economic Development Plan
  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education
Key Issues and Priorities include:
  • Economic Development
  • Workforce Competitiveness
  • Downtown revitalization in Kinston (including waterfront)
  • Public Education
  • Aging population and leadership
  • Housing
  • Infrastructure and Connectivity
The University of North Carolina is committed through its Community Campus Partnership program to provide assistance for the next two years .

Bloom Where You Are Planted

David Anderson of the Free Press asked me a few weeks ago why I attended a meeting that the Golden Leaf Foundation hosted for Lenoir County. My response was "I am seeking the prosperity and welfare of the city of Kinston" and I wanted to be a part of anything focused in that direction. I reminded him that this statement came from the prophet Jeremiah in a letter to the Jewish exiles in Babylon which says "seek the welfare of the city ... and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your own" (Jeremiah 29:7). For me the God’s word says that when we seek the greater common good, even when we live among our enemies, then we will find our personal welfare and prosperity. For too long many of us have reversed the logic of God's economy and sought personal prosperity before seeking the common good.

David fact-checked my quote and called me back to say I had left out part of the verse, the part that describes "being sent into exile." The follow-up question was easy enough: "do you feel like you were sent into exile?" with the implication that maybe Kinston was a step back from other cities. My immediate response was, "I am not in exile! However many of the folks I run into often sound like they are in exile.” Many Kinstonians either wistfully remember the Kinston that is "no longer" or passionately long for the Kinston that is "not yet." When you live in either the "no longer" or the "not yet" you live in exile from the "here and now."

Jeremiah’s letter is explicit about here and now living. He wrote: "build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters ... multiply there and do not decrease" (Jeremiah 29:5-6). The Lord is not saying we can’t dream about another place or time, but you can only live in the here and now. Essentially Jeremiah was saying "bloom where you are planted." So I invite you to join those seeking Kinston’s greater welfare and prosperity starting with the street you live on. Let’s bloom where we are planted.

Pastor's Column in the July Newsletter

Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Greetings in the Name of the One Who Gives Freedom – Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior!

I remember the moments when the walls of our parsonage in Swansboro rattled as the big guns aboard Camp LeJeune sounded their call. I remember the officers and enlisted personnel who were members of Swansboro United Methodist Church reminding me that was “the sound of freedom” – and to an extent they were right. The sacrifice of our military personnel across over two centuries of our country’s history have provided us with the ability to gather to worship in complete freedom. As we come to moments of national celebration like the Fourth of July and Memorial Day, we do well to pause and give thanks to those who provided this freedom.

But Christians have gathered to worship for over two-thousand years – sometimes in the open light of day and other times underground in the darkness. Each time they gathered to worship they gathered in freedom. Why? Because the author of our freedom ultimately is Jesus Christ. Jesus said it this way, “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Across the world there have been and are movements that tried to tie together the freedom we find in Christ various political movements that promised freedom. Each movement provided a bit of the truth about our freedom, but ultimately each fell short of providing full freedom because they lacked loyalty to Jesus – the author of our salvation and the source of our freedom. I invite you this Fourth of July to remember the sacrifice of those who defend our ability to gather freely in worship. I also invite you to listen for the sounds of the nails being hammered into a cross through the hands and feet of the One who is our source of freedom. That sound may not rattle the walls of your house, but that ringing is the true “sound of freedom.”

This summer brings opportunities to gather for a baseball game on July 12th to engage in fellowship together with our church. We also are working to pull together our education space as we provide several opportunities for our community to be introduced to our Queen Street Academy after-school program. We also need your help on some Wednesdays as we continue working to clean and paint other parts of our education building. Join us for a day of work and fellowship.

I close with a reminder that many in our community are experiencing economic shortfalls because of the recent economic downturn. If you are able to make a financial gift to assist others in their season of shortfall you can make your checks payable to Queen Street Church and designate it for “family support.”

I thank each of you for how you use your freedom to serve our Lord in this community and within our church. See you on Sunday!

Grace and Peace, Allen