Your First Life Transformation Group Will Probably Suck

This is part of a series of posts on what a missional community is – check out the others and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.

Yesterday, I shared how Missional Communities suffer without Life Transformation Groups, but it’s also true the Life Transformation Groups suffer without Missional Communities.

Life Transformation Groups provide the best context for questions about the Bible and personally applying them to your life. Life Transformation Groups are small enough and their nature as gender-specific create a space for vulnerability to admit what you don’t know about God’s Word or admit the parts of God’s Word you don’t actually live.

Community Groups, or Missional Communities, serve as a family forum of sorts dialoguing about a community’s understating and application of the Bible, while LTGs create the space for a more personal dialogue, challenge, and application.

Life Transformation Groups have a self-explained role in their title, seeing people changed. The major question is how. They agree to read and study a portion of scripture together, then come together to discuss not just what they’ve learned, but how God challenged them in reading it. The dialogue usually cuts to the heart of the issue and then moves to what change must happen to follow God and love others well. Lastly, the aim is to pray for each other’s needs and each other’s friends.

While these groups are amazing, your first experience will probably suck.

Your First LTG will Probably Suck

We had agreed to read the gospel of Luke together, but every time we met one of us hadn’t read it. This was new to us and we had a suitcase full of excuses around busyness or life that we could get out of it. But we still tried the confession aspect and honestly that was painful.

Initially it was good to confess things I hadn’t shared with people, freeing even, but when the confession time kept being a repeat of the week before it reminded me of ineffective accountability groups.

We also weren’t connected to a missional community, so we lacked a broader accountability and space to pursue relationships and the life of Christ outside of studying and talking about it. It didn’t last more than a month.

But since then I’ve seen them get better. Here’s how…

Jesus as the Aim

We have shifted the questions from the list of what you did/didn’t do to being all about Jesus and your pursuit of Him. The scriptures continually push us to focus on Jesus and His gospel as the means by which we are transformed. The actions we have done or didn’t do are merely a reflection of our lack of loving Jesus most.

So the questions push us beyond behavior and into joy. Confession and forgiveness is easier when we are reminded of Jesus first.

Smaller Chunks of Scripture Deeper

The original Life Transformation Group encouragement is to study large chunks of scriptures, but there is so much depth in every passage. Slowing down the study and conversation allows us to deal with the impacts of the truth more clearly.

More than LTGs with Mission

Life Transformation Groups connected to Missional Communities create the space for extending the gospel of Jesus Christ to others outside the community. When this happens, it provides a broader community that is after the same aims with the members of the LTG and also moves the LTG to prayer for those they love.

Life Transformation Groups get better as they focus on living the full life of Christ moving beyond bible study and confession into mission with a broader community.

Why Missional Communities Suffer Without Life Transformation Groups

This is part of a series of posts on what a missional community is – check out the others and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.

Missional Communities are the people of God living out the life of Jesus Christ together. This involves seeking God in prayer and devotion, loving and meeting one another’s needs, and extending the grace and mercy of the gospel of Jesus Christ to others.

But missional communities aren’t a silver bullet for making disciples. They are the essential piece of a larger puzzle. If they do not have Life Transformation Groups they will falter and fail to maintain the healthy church family that is needed for a healthy mission for God.

What We Learned

You can learn much from failing and falling short. Our Community Groups jumped on the vision of extending the gospel of Jesus Christ to one another and others. As they did, the holes in the missional communities became more and more prevalent. (I wrote about those here).

The beauty of the body of Christ is the diversity of gifts that come out in times and areas of need. In our community, we had gifted teachers and those who are more prophetic recognize how our Community Groups lacked a space for deep bible study and a context for confession and accountability.

We learned from their leadership about the value and need for Life Transformation Groups and even the need for further equipping outside of the context of missional communities altogether.

Over the last few years we have seen Life Transformation Groups (LTGs – because if it’s truly Christian it needs an acronym) begin and assist communities thrive in ways they haven’t before. A brief definition of LTGs can be found at the bottom of this post.

5 Reasons Why You Need It

1) Best Place for Deeper Study and Questions

When people read the Bible for the first time, they have difficult questions and very personal questions. A smaller community of 2-4 provides a better context than 12-25 to allow people to ask these questions. Most of the time these questions will never be asked and it’s these questions alongside the scriptural answers that provide an understanding that transforms people’s lives.

If people don’t grasp the Bible, they won’t understand our God the Bible speaks about and lack of understanding is the greatest cause of not loving God and looking like Jesus.

2)   Confession is Necessary for Christ-like Living

When I imagine confession, I picture a booth where I hide away and don’t even see the person who hears my confession. This has no power to free people from bad patterns and sin that plagues them. It also has no power to develop deep and trusting relationships that we need to change and be like Jesus.

The scriptures invite us to confess in order to be freed from lies we believe, freed from pretending to be righteous, and freed from the bad patterns that we have become dependent on. We need to confess and a smaller group of 2-4 people of the same gender like an LTG creates the space for this to happen naturally.

3)   Change through Tough Questions in Accountability

We’ve all made New Year resolutions or resolved to change a part of our lives. If we are left alone to accomplish these, they likely fail. Lasting change that we all seek in different areas of our lives is way easier and more effective when we have people who join us in the journey.

LTGs create the regular space where questions about our desire to change and our effectiveness can be asked. The good LTGs don’t focus only on the change though and that’s what is tricky about accountability. They focus on the vision for the change, Jesus Christ, and becoming like Him by pursuing and enjoying Him.

If they focus only on the change, again, they likely fail.

4)   Regular Prayer

Prayer in community deserves its own series of posts, but here I want to mention how amazing it is to pray with people who you trust and have grown to know you intimately. Who else can pray for you so specifically that it feels as though you are interceding for yourself.

The scriptures are filled with the belief that prayer causes more change in the lives of others than even our corrective words. What joy to see change through prayer.

5)   Community Rhythms

The last thing I’ll mention is that I’ve seen this push people into a rhythm of life of community as opposed to event-based mindset toward the church community. You begin to experience Community Groups as more than a once a week reality and cultivate the relationships that allow for community to happen throughout the week and month, not merely on Sundays and Tuesday nights.

So How Do You Start?

Well, I’m glad you asked. Tomorrow I’ll share how your first Life Transformation Group will probably suck and then they will get better. In addition, I’ll describe how we’ve seen them get started and be sustained in healthy ways. Friday, I’ll highlight 3 ways I’ve seen Missional Communities thrive as a result of Life Transformation Groups.

For now, you have to recognize that Missional Communities will suffer and eventually die without an environment where people are transformed and challenged consistently to be like Jesus. Life Transformation Groups provide the space and environment for most effectively pursuing this life.

This is one of the easiest ways to move the missional community from a mere social gathering to a transformative life.

3 Ways to Make the Bible Central in Missional Communities

This is part of a series of posts on what a missional community is – check out the others and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.

Last week, I suggested we change the language for Missional Communities, since it mostly communicates what they are not. I’ve heard many people read definitions of Missional Communities and view them as anti-Bible, but I really do believe they are Bible Study Plus. When I say Bible Study Plus, I mean they invite people to know God as He has revealed Himself through His Word, but then invite people to put their knowledge into action.

The Bible is God’s words about Himself. It informs us about who He is, what He has done, what He is doing, and what that means for us. It can’t be ignored and must be central to the formation of a community around Jesus, since without the scriptures we wouldn’t know truly who Jesus is. The bible was never intended to be an end in itself, but a primary means God has chosen to reveal His character, plan, and desire for our lives.

Our communities made a subtle shift a few years ago to make the scriptures central to the community over the sermon. The dialogue was no longer in response to the sermon just preached on Sunday, but around the scripture passage for the upcoming sermon. The emphasis it placed on the scriptures led more people to think through and dialogue about the passage rather than respond to the speaker’s words.

While this has helped all of our communities be guided by a discussion of God centered on the bible, a few helpful practices and resources have helped in making God’s word central for our Missional Communities.

One aspect that characterizes all of these best practices is the emphasis on understanding the character of God, His redemptive plan in Jesus Christ and how our lives must change to align with who God is and what He is doing.

Here are 3 ways to make the bible central in Missional Communities.

Story Prompts

Our community has learned a lot from two of our Brooklyn Community Group leaders, Matt and Katelyn, who are amazing at connecting with and caring for people. They have introduced us to the idea of a story prompt to start the dialogue for the community. Imagine an icebreaker prompt question that actually ties to the point of a scripture passage.

It’s a personal question with a deeper meaning and intent to bring our thoughts, feelings, desires, or actions into play to allow God’s Word to speak into them. Like a hook for an essay or an introduction for a talk, it connects with the individual and invites them to wonder what God has to say about their ideas, emotions, wants, or needs.

This has enhanced our conversation and I’ve seen people become more excited about God’s word as it connects with them on so many levels.

The Story of God

Soma Communities in Tacoma, WA developed a curriculum based on storytelling the redemptive plan of God. I have to admit I was skeptical at first as to how this would play out in a community group setting, but it was pretty amazing.

It breaks down the Bible into a story form from beginning to end in short stories, summarizing the major stories and themes about God. The stories are short and they are followed by questions for the community to process. They provide some ground rules to insure that people are dialoguing about the story that has been told, not jumping ahead of the story.

The storytelling approach actually highlights parts of the scriptures that are typically missed. I’ve heard from many people who have been in the church for years talk about how it has caused them to go back to God’s Word with new eyes.

Life Transformation Groups

I first learned about Life Transformation Groups from Neil Cole, added the thoughts of Jonathan Dodson and learned from experience the great value they contribute to knowing God and engaging in a community on mission. These are gender-specific groups of between 2-4 people (typically) that place a heavy emphasis on reading the scriptures, studying them deeply, confessing sin that the scriptures reveal, and praying together.

These have impacted the community in 2 massive ways that I’ve seen. The first is how it enhances the entire community for everyone to be digesting and processing scripture outside of a typical gathering time. It’s amazing to watch people come to community ready to give and care for one another. The second is providing the best context for questions and personally applying the scriptures. I’ll have more on Life Transformation Groups tomorrow.

We Never Move on from God’s Word

God’s Word has stood through criticism, time, and remains the primary means by which we understand the character and nature of God. We don’t graduate from His Word, but reading and studying it as a textbook is not the end.

We must see the scriptures as the authority for the life of a Christian and the guide for the mission of the community. It is sufficient and clear in teaching us how to live in a way to honor God, find joy in life, and extend the good news to others.

Missional Communities invite us to know God in His word with His people and join His redemptive plan for our lives and the world.

How My Faith Grows in Missional Communities

This is part of a series of posts on what a missional community is – check out the others and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.

Yesterday I wrote about how I respond when asked how “mature Christians” can be fed in a Community Group. Today I wanted to share how missional communities have impacted and increased my faith.

(It is ironic that I started blogging again about missional communities and then we had to miss our community group gathering last night for health reasons. Kind of like rain on your wedding day or a free ride when you’ve already paid. Alanis Morissette anyone?!?)

As I thought through it, the growth of my faith falls into a few categories and then I thought I’d provide some additional practicals.

Watching Awe and Delight Causes Awe and Delight

As I’ve reflected on how the communities that I have been in have shaped and expanded my faith, it reminded me that Jesus enjoyed watching faith happen and people express their faith in Him. In the gospels, seeing faith seemed to be the area that caused Him the greatest joy and delight.

A centurion soldier believes Jesus can just speak the words and his servant will be healed, a Canaanite woman humbles herself in belief that Jesus can heal her daughter, men break someone’s roof open to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus and Jesus marveled, was in awe, and enjoyed it.

I am pretty far from being anything like Jesus, but I do see my faith increase, my awe grow, and my delight in Jesus and His gospel expand as I watch people enjoy and believe in God. This has been one of the most amazing things for my faith to see people wrestle with their own beliefs, express delight in God and be amazed at His goodness. I love it.

Faith that Transforms Pushes my Faith

Similarly, I watch those in our missional community talk about how their faith is changing their lives and it reminds me, pushes me, and exhorts me to do the same.

They speak of how they are seeking for their faith in Christ to guide them in caring for their co-workers, praying for their family and friends in need, and even convicting them to stop the bad habits of their lives. There is great power in this vulnerability and it cultivates in me a greater dependence on God.

It also reminds me that faith in Jesus transforms, it doesn’t just educate. Knowledge without obedience cultivates pride, but knowing your lack of obedience and need for Christ cultivates humility. This blesses me tremendously.

Learning from a Diversity of Perspectives

I’ve been in missional communities with people who are wealthy and with the formerly homeless, with families, newlyweds, singles, and divorced. The journey of life creates an experience of God that I would never receive by spending time with people just like me and in my life stage or demographic.

There have been people who have never been to church, some just exploring it, some hating it, and some who have been in church their whole lives. Hearing them express their thoughts on God, dialogue about them with others, and even learn from one another teaches me. In my missional community I’m not just learning the Greek meaning for the word in this text (not that there’s anything wrong with that disclaimer), but I’m watching truth change lives and even change mine.

It makes me a better follower of Christ.

Being under Leadership

I don’t lead our missional community and I haven’t led one in a while. I love it and not merely because I don’t have the responsibility – it’s quite the opposite. I think I have more responsibility in following than in leading. The scriptures call us all to submit to God, but also to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. Lacking any authority in your life is a dangerous reality and learning to be led by others only makes you a better leader.

My faith grows as I trust God under other people’s leadership and watch them grow and flourish in that leadership. I’m reminded that God the Holy Spirit empowers all of the people of God to participate in the entire mission of God and it makes me extremely thankful to God for this reality. More pastors should enjoy being led in a missional community. It’s good for the soul.

Some Additional Practicals

In addition, I thought I would list some things about my approach or that I also participate in as a part of our missional community that has increased my faith.

  • I pray for my Community Group often, especially before we gather and my heart is changed through my consideration of their needs over my own.
  • I don’t approach missional community looking to be served or taught, but as a time to pursue and explore God with our church family and those new to God. The results are usually that I learn, I’m encouraged, and I’m more joyful afterwards.
  • We have served the neighborhood together and that is a great way to demonstrate faith.
  • I engage in a Life Transformation Group with a guy in our Community Group. I’ll write more about LTGs, but it’s a good space to engage the scriptures outside of our community gathering.
  • I expect equipping in knowledge and theology to happen outside of Community Group as well. More to come on this.

The Christian faith is so much more than ascent to knowledge; it uniquely affects the heart, mind, soul, and actions. Missional Community has increased, revived, and expanded my faith in tremendous ways. I’m so thankful for my community.

How Can a Mature Christian be fed in Missional Communities?

This is part of a series of posts on what a missional community is – check out the others and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.

The church small group method of choice is primarily bible study. This is how I started in ministry before I hated missional communities and then came to grasp what was missing in my small group bible study.

As I have shared that missional communities are not centered on a bible study, the most common question I get asked is,

“How can a mature Christian be fed in Missional Communities?!?” (And yes, it is usually said with an exclamation point between two question marks)

The thought goes like this – if Missional Communities are not a bible study, I won’t be able to grow in my Christian faith.

There is much that can be said on this, but it is best to focus on the most mature Christian that ever lived, Jesus Christ and what He has to say and demonstrates about being fed. I’m well aware that not everyone is Jesus, and that many people far from God and new to Christianity need to be taught the bible. But we must also be careful to teach them to feed themselves, not make them dependent on someone else to teach them.

How was Jesus fed?

It’s pretty safe to assume Jesus wasn’t looking to Peter or the sons of Zebedee to teach him, but Jesus knew something greater than we did.

We see Jesus retreat regularly to spend time alone with God the Father in prayer, fasting, and devotional practices. Jesus took ownership of his own nourishment, just like we all do with food when we grow up. Unfortunately, we don’t approach the church that way, but our aim must always be to empower others to seek God in the scriptures and through prayer.

Our instruction (and missional communities) must be to that end, to clearly inform people not only about the scriptures, but how they can understand and read the scriptures themselves.

Food is more than Knowledge

We also see Jesus have an interesting interaction in John 4 where he speaks of his food as “to do the will of my Father.” The question of how someone can be fed is often based on the assumption that study of the scriptures is the only way for someone to grow in their Christian faith.

While it is a vital way, what Jesus is pointing to is that to be a “mature Christian” is much more than knowing your bible, but obeying it in following Christ. We must know the scriptures, but more than that we must do the scriptures.

In this regard I see the church (Christians) make 2 errors. One is that everyone assumes they know the bible – most don’t and need to develop a healthy reading plan for themselves. The second is that knowing the bible is equivalent to living it.

This is why yesterday I described missional communities as bible study plus rather than anti-bible studies.

Bible Study Plus – How a Mature Christian Can be Fed in Missional Communities

Beyond teaching people to enjoy God and the scriptures on their own, Missional Communities (we call them Community Groups at Apostles) enjoy the bible in a number of different ways.

When they gather together, after a meal or another way of connecting, they typically discuss the scriptures in one of a few different ways. Each community group leader is empowered to figure out how to cultivate a conversation around the scriptures that invites people to engage whether they are new to Christianity or been there a while.

Many take the scripture passage for the upcoming sermon and dialogue through that, while others use storytelling, or other methods.

The key though, is that the conversation doesn’t end on understanding and knowledge. The scriptures were written to shape a community by transforming individuals and the community together. Understanding and knowledge must move to delighting in Jesus (Gospel Enjoyment), care for the community (Intentional Community) and how it changes the way we love and interact with our neighbors and the world around us (Prayerful Mission).

The scriptures end with knowing God relationally and being like Him. Maturity in Christianity is being “conformed to the image of Christ” not merely knowing a lot about Him. This involves the mind, heart, hands, and actions of Christ. This can happen well in the context of missional community and mature Christians will learn to enjoy the food that Christ did, to do the will of their Father.

In the next few posts, I’ll share about how my faith grows from our Bible Study Plus moments in Missional Community, Life Transformation Groups, and Best Practices I’ve seen.

Changing the Language for Missional Communities

This is the first in a series of posts on what a missional community is – check out the others and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.

All too often when I speak with missional community leaders or churches exploring missional communities, I hear about all that missional community is not. The language surrounding missional community has been reactionary to traditional attractional church methods for so long that it has become unhelpful. This was intended to be a way of distinguishing missional communities from the popular understanding of small groups in the broader church.

It has distinguished them from small groups, but for all the wrong reasons and in many ways has caused more confusion. The typical language states that missional communities are NOT a bible study, a support group, a social activist group, weekly meeting, or small group. So basically it’s a small group unicorn. Lately, the language is changing and that’s a good thing, but it leaves many of the questions from past definitions unanswered.

So…what is it?

When you explore it more deeply, you discover that missional community is simply inviting the people of God to live the life of Christ together.

Bible Study Plus

It’s an enhanced version of bible study where we let the scriptures be discussed, dialogued and understood so they cut to our hearts, call us to obedience, remind us of repentance, and change the way we live our everyday. It moves the target of bible study from knowledge about God, to love for, awe of, and obedience to God.

When the target moves, everyone can benefit from the scriptures from non-Christian to mature Christian because it’s a work on the soul toward seeing, savoring, and becoming like Jesus Christ.

Support Group Plus

Saying a missional community is not a support group is a complete misnomer. The reality is you need more support on the mission of God and no one can do it better than your church community when they become a family.

We’ve watched people take off work to spend time with us, watch our kids, and give of themselves to support one another in far greater degrees than we ever did in a bible study or small group that wasn’t pursuing mission as the end. But again it moves beyond support and consoling to bringing health for the sake of the mission of God. It has a greater aim than care, but sees the essential value of care for healthy and sustainable mission.

Social Activist Plus

The gospel of Jesus Christ affects the spiritual and the physical. Receiving mercy from God and seeing His justice in Christ propels activism for the good of a city and society.

A missional community is on the front lines of the immediate everyday needs and when they partner with other missional communities, they can be the best at addressing the systemic needs of a neighborhood or city. Since it is more than social activism it provides the actual and deepest solution (spiritual) to the needs of those around us by extending the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ.

A Weekly Life

When I read about and look at small group ministry, I’ve only seen a missional community approach encourage the body of Christ at large to see Christianity and “church” as an everyday reality in all spheres of life. This is the result of missional communities being more than a meeting, but really a new rhythm and way of life propelled and reconstructed by the gospel of Jesus Christ over comfort, security, approval, or success.

The missional community aims to walk the life of Christ and that encompasses all of life. The invitation is to bring every aspect of your life under His gracious, freeing reign and find the place of greatest joy when you do.

Small Group Plus

A missional community rarely stays a small group as well. The aim is for more people to experience God’s love through God’s people, so the invitations are many to those far or near to God. The missional community grows by invitation and welcoming others, it grows in depth by the love and knowledge of God, and then it multiplies to recreate the same community for others to experience.

But it’s rare that the original mission community would only send and say goodbye to their friends, it usually becomes a partnership; a missional community partnership for prayer, for social events, and for God’s mission in a specific area. The impact on a neighborhood or city seeing and experiencing God through His people only becomes greater in a multiplying missional partnership.

“That’s Not Possible, It’s Too Much to Ask!”

This is usually the response I hear and it’s accurate to an extent. In one sense it raises the bar for the church and Christianity, but it also forces us to ask why the bar was set where it is now?

On our own and with our own effort, it is not possible and only feels daunting. It’s only possible when we cultivate a missional community out of the joy and hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God describes this gospel as His power. This power transforms us, frees us to let go of old patterns and ways of life to embrace new ways of life in following Jesus. This isn’t easy, but anything of worth is never easy to attain, but it is worth it.

The joy found in walking the life of Jesus with a community is worth it.

Wisdom from Weakness

Weakness is not touted in our culture. We are taught early on of the importance of strength, performance, and reputation in our society. We learn to hide any and all measure of weakness because it will affect our ability to seem strong. The weight of this can be crushing and your weakness, whether it’s personal or professional, becomes the thing you fear the most.

If it is exposed, what will people think of me? How will I ever be respected? So we hide. We fear failure because of its destructive nature to our psyche and our reputation. We also watch as the strengths of other people are magnified and exalted so we long for similar strengths or for our strengths to be magnified.

No doubt our strengths are important and we need to identify where we excel as part of living a fulfilling life, but we should never fear or avoid our weaknesses.

Strengths are helpful, Weakness can be powerful

I’ve read plenty of books written by people touting their strengths and accomplishments, I’ve been to plenty of conferences where the best of the best share about their methods and how you can do it (usually for a fee to the speaker or buying their book).

I’ve learned much from people’s strengths, but I’ve been deeply impacted when people share about their weaknesses. There is something powerful when someone humbly shares about the wisdom and lessons they have learned from “failing” in certain areas or “failing” to live up to expectations, whether it’s personal expectations or other’s.

It seems to be in this humility of someone else that we are invited to be weak ourselves, to be set free from the façade of strength that we feel we must put up to be accepted and promoted. It is powerful in its countercultural nature.

Wisdom from Weakness

On top of its invitational nature, there is so much wisdom with those who walk through their weakness with humility and transparency. Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthian church is very transparent about his weakness, longing for it to be removed (don’t we all want that), but then recognizing that God’s power is perfected in our weakness.

I’ve learned a ton from people that have opened up about their weaknesses in financial management, parenting, leadership, teaching, evangelism, and friendship. Likely, more than I have learned from the experts and I’ve seen people thankful from learning from my weaknesses even though I find in myself a wishing for people learning from my strengths.

Paul even goes so far as to say he would boast in his weakness. This makes me and many of us cringe, wondering what would happen if we would so boldly proclaim our weakness. How did Paul get to this place?

Strength in Identity, not in Activity

Paul cared more about Jesus and his relationship with God than he did about his own reputation. He pleaded with God for his weakness to be taken away, but seeing God’s work in it, he became all the more concerned that people who care more about Jesus than they did about associating with Paul.

In Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, the invitation of faith is to admit weakness and need to God first. Faith sets us free from reputation management, self-promotion, and fear. It’s a freedom to forget about yourself and be most concerned with the benefits of others. My failures, past and present, my weaknesses and mistakes become a way to serve and bless others, giving them freedom to be weak and wisdom to walk through life.

It’s ok to be weak, to fail, and to make mistakes. We don’t have to hide them, but in Christ we are able to acknowledge them. No more shame in weakness or failure, and no pride in success or strength. Freedom.