Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen

Reviewed By Allen White

When you look at the success of groups at Saddleback Church, it would be easy, though cynical, to assume that you can only achieve that number of groups if they are an inch deep and a mile wide. After observing and participating in the ministry of Saddleback for the last 18 years, I have discovered that Saddleback is both deep and wide.

They cast a broad net to recruit small group H.O.S.T.s and to connect their members into groups. Today, Saddleback has over 3,500 small groups with more folks in groups than in their weekend services. This is due in large part to their small group champion, Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church. A God-given idea and Pastor Rick’s influence produced 2,000 new group hosts in their first 40 Days of Purpose campaign. His influence is huge in connecting people into groups. But, connecting and sustaining are two different animals.

Steve Gladen in Small Groups with Purpose outlines a success story not just for retaining numbers, but for life transformation and leadership development. Having run many successful church-wide campaigns myself, I know that it’s easy to create a spike in groups during a campaign, but helping those groups to continue is another animal. In this book, Steve Gladen outlines a powerful strategy for gaining and maintaining momentum.

Coaching and training are Saddleback’s keys to effective group leaders. Steve presents a unique coaching strategy. Community Leaders, rather than coaches, serve 20-25 groups leaders. This system works due to a key insight: not every group leader needs the same level of coaching. By determining whether the group is new, growing, mature or stubborn, community leaders offer an appropriate level of care. This is good news for churches who have yet to develop a healthy coaching structure, in that, existing groups have learned how to get along good enough without a coach. New coaches can focus on new leaders, and essentially serve existing leaders by benign neglect.

In the book, Steve Gladen articulates a proven strategy for starting and sustaining new leaders. At Saddleback, H.O.S.T.s start with the experience of leading a group for six weeks, then they are introduced to training. After leading for a few weeks, the training is more meaningful to the new leaders and can be directly applied to their group. Churches often make the mistake of over-training before a leader even starts to lead. If the prospective leader can survive the training, then they can lead a group. In my opinion, over-training actually reflects more of the small group pastor’s insecurity and need for control rather than adequately preparing members to lead. Community Leaders provide the help that new leaders need at Saddleback. Having someone in the new leader’s life is far more significant than endless hours of training up front.

Another outstanding strength of Saddleback’s training system is the intentional, on-going training pathway. Once leaders have completed Leadership Training 1, they receive care from their Community Leader and are offered on-going training that is appropriate to their skills and experience. The genius of this system is that all of the leaders start Leadership Training 2 with the third module, Health, then proceed to future modules based on their needs and experience as a leader. Custom, just-in-time training is key to serving new leaders and keeping their interest and participation in training. Cookie cutter, “one size fits all” training is a relic of the past. No small group pastor should blame their leaders for not attending training. If you’re not scratching where they itch, it’s on you.

Balancing the five biblical purposes produces healthy group members. While many churches develop groups that specialize in fellowship or Bible study, these types of groups focus on meeting the needs of the group members, but don’t necessarily produce well-rounded disciples. Then, you wonder why groups are unwilling to help in starting new groups or won’t reach out to others. It’s all about them. Why do they need to create any discomfort for themselves?

The Health Assessment helps both groups and individuals to identify their strengths and growth areas. More importantly, the Health Plan helps them create appropriate next steps for their growth. Whether the members are ready to crawl, walk or run, growth is determined at their own place and pace. No one expects a baby to get up and start running. No one should expect a mature adult to revert to crawling either.

Balancing the five biblical purposes is key. While most groups and group members will be strong in fellowship and discipleship, they will more than likely be weak in worship, ministry and evangelism. Rather than creating a group of comfortable, Bible eggheads, balancing the purposes challenges the group to think beyond itself and to get everyone’s gifts in the game of reaching out and serving others. Groups that grow inward will cease to grow both numerically and spiritually. The mere accumulation of knowledge is actually a waste of everyone’s time if they don’t seek to apply God’s Word in practical ways and to support each other in the transition.

The best part of Small Groups with Purpose is that the model Steve Gladen presents is scalable. The system that helps Saddleback effectively care for thousands of groups and tens of thousands of group members will also help a church with a handful of groups and a few dozen members. In my work at Lifetogether and Purpose-Driven coaching hundreds of pastors across the country, I have seen these principles work in churches of all sizes, in all regions of North America, and in practically every Christian denomination. Whether your church has 40 members or 40,000, the principles offered in this book will help your church grow both numerically and spiritually.

Purchase your copy of Small Groups with Purpose here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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Connecting In Communities by Eddie Mosley

By Allen White

Connecting in Communities is smart on many levels. Eddie Mosley gives us not just the ‘what’, but also the ‘why’ and ‘how’. He is not a philosopher or a demagogue. He is a practitioner with a heart for God and a heart for people. You can tell that Eddie didn’t write this book merely to sell books. He has a genuine passion for small groups and for helping other pastors and group directors.

First, Eddie shows how he has consulted with the best of the best in small group thinking and practice: Steve Gladen of Saddleback Church, Carl George, aka Small Group Yoda, Bill Donahue of Willow Creek, Bill Willits of North Point and many others. Why reinvent the wheel when you can build on the knowledge and experience of others? After carefully gleaning from these thought-leaders, Eddie does an even smarter thing — he adapts the best of these models to his church’s mission and culture.

Too many pastors are looking for a silver bullet out there that will be the one-size-fits-all, homerun solution that will address every issue and help every person grow spiritually. That silver bullet doesn’t exist. Eddie wisely integrates what works for others into what works for his church, LifePoint. In the book, we read about the host home strategy, the GroupLink strategy, the neighborhood strategy, the free market strategy among others. LifePoint has adjusted the strategies to fit the life of the church rather than adjusting the church to fit someone else’s strategy. Too many pastors are prone to throwing out what is working for some and replacing it with what might or might not work at all. LifePoint adds to their success by implementing additional strategies for success. They are in favor of whatever works rather than whoever is right. This is the smartest thinking to come along in a long time.

What makes the book even better is that Eddie shares stories, positive and negative, from his own experience. He is not writing from an ivory tower. He’s writing from the trenches. He lives where his reader lives. His humility in sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of groups is refreshing and encouraging.

Connecting in Communities is the new primer for small group ministry. Whether you are just starting out in leading groups or you’re in need of a course correction, this book will inspire and inform you of some of the best practices in small group ministry today. The only thing that might have made this book better is if it were mine. Not that I would have done a better job, I would just love to have the credit.

Get your copy of Connecting in Communities.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

By Allen White

Employers can pay for an employee’s time. They can pay for an employee’s output. But, employers can’t pay for an employee’s best. The carrot and stick incentives of the last century no longer apply in the current workplace. According to Pink, extrinsic motivation and incentives have actually proven to be disincentives in many cases. So, how do you get the best out of people?

Pink focuses on three areas: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Employees who are given control over their own projects and even the ability to create projects on their own are by far more productive and more engaged than employees who are given monetary incentives. The more employers attempt to control their employees, the less productive they become. The more autonomy given to employees, the more engaged and productive they become.

Money does matter, but it’s not an adequate incentive for engagement. The role of money is simply that employers should pay their employees well enough that they don’t have money worries. But, beyond that, in knowledge work, money proves to be a disincentive. Given the ability to improve their skills or make a significant contribution to the world, employees can more easily reach “flow” in their work. Work becomes more like play. Time passes without notice. Employees are fully involved in their work.

Many innovative employers like Google offer “20 percent time” to their workers. This is an opportunity for employees to work on whatever project they choose while on the clock. Gmail was created by a Google employee during 20 percent time.

Goal setting and performance reviews can be motivating or demotivating depending on how they are proposed. An extrinsic set of goals is rarely achieved with a smile on the employees face. Intrinsic goals, however, are far more easily achieved. In fact, engaged employees will set goals for themselves even if the boss isn’t looking over their shoulder.

Pink offers a whole new take on human motivation. Employees are not Pavlov’s dog waiting for the bell to ring. Human beings have a higher purpose that each is uniquely designed to fulfill. The sooner that employers can identify and engage the activities that their employers will jump out of bed for, the sooner employers will find the key to not only productivity, but also creativity.

This book is especially significant to non-profits and volunteer organizations that depend on unpaid workers. How do you keep volunteers from becoming weary in well-doing? Pink’s findings are key to getting the best out of people.

To purchase a copy of Drive, CLICK HERE.


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The Shack by Wm. Paul Young

Is The Shack heretical? I would have to say after reading The Shack, considering the words of its critics and teaching a course called The Theology of the Shack for BrookwoodU, The Shack would fall into the category of being unconventional, but not heretical.

The theology police have raked Paul Young over the coals. I have heard everything. Some have said that portraying God the Father, Papa, as a black woman is creating a “graven image” and violates the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:4). Unless the sculpture of Papa fell out of my book before I read it, I did not encounter a graven image in the book. Some have even been troubled by Mack and Jesus laying on the dock looking up at the stars. I don’t believe they were holding hands, so relax.

What is The Shack about? It’s about a lot of things. The Shack takes on our disappointment with God. If God loves us so much, then why does He allow life to hurt us so much? We can have our theology perfectly straight in our heads, yet walk around with completely broken hearts. The Shack touches on this issue in a powerful way.

How does the Trinity relate to each other? There is nothing else in the universe like the Three-in-One Being of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Is the Trinity like an egg? Well, if so which is higher in cholesterol and represents the yoke? Is the Trinity like a bicycle? If so, is Papa the big wheel? Not according to the author.

If The Shack messes with your head, but ends up touching your heart, then you get what it’s about. If you’re stuck on the theology of a fiction book, then put the Shack down and read C.S. Lewis or something. Of course, Lewis uses many metaphors as well, so watch for those “graven images.”

The bottom line is simply this: if you read the Shack and walk away with a better understanding of how much God loves you, then you understand what Paul Young intended in writing this book. If you are hurt or broken, then The Shack is a great prescription.

To purchase a copy of The Shack, CLICK HERE.

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Review: Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer

by Allen White

I grew interested in this book from the number of quotes that were included in Pete Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. For those of us who desire to know and fulfill our life’s purpose, Palmer’s book contains some rather interesting insights.

The book speaks to discovering things about yourself and your purpose or “way” through failures as much as successes. Closed doors speak as loudly as open doors. He also discusses a Quaker method of decision making where a group is gathered to question the seeker for three hours to determine his or her thoughts and motives regarding the decision. Palmer openly discusses his own self-discovery through depression.

Palmer offers a refreshing perspective. He is a member of the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers. For evangelical Christians, there may be some points of disagreement, yet there is much food for thought. While evangelicals may expect God’s will to be revealed moving forward, Palmer takes in all aspects of one’s being in determining God’s will or way: emotional, intellectual, successes, failures and God’s voice within.

I have just finished this short book, and I’m ready to read it again.

To purchase your copy of Let Your Life Speak, CLICK HERE.


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Merry Christmas — North Point’s iBand

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Review: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero

by Allen White

I have read about many different methods for spiritual growth over the years. Some authors ask their readers to study more. Others ask their readers to do more. Still others want extroverts to become introverts, which seems impossible. Scazzero challenges us to rethink the whole thing.

This book offers a new take on spiritual growth. It’s not merely more knowledge added to our mental database. It’s not five more things to do in order to become spiritually mature and probably more guilty in the meantime. Scazzero offers an integrated alternative to much teaching on spiritual formation.

People don’t grow the same spiritually, because everyone starts at a different place. Through the use of the genogram and listing childhood messages, Scazzero helps the reader come to terms with who they are and what they were given by their family. He offers many insightful exercises through both the hardcover book and the accompanying workbook and DVD.

Scazzero directs his readers to pay attention to oft neglected or disregarded avenues of growth. He encourages readers to monitor their emotions. Rather than denying or feeling guilty over anger, depression or frustration, Scazzero challenges readers to lift up the hoods of their hearts and see where these feelings are coming from. Getting in touch with ones emotions and the cause of the emotions is just as important as connecting with God. After all, if we don’t know what we’re dealing with, then how can God help us?

Other avenues of growth include the daily office and practicing the Sabbath. The Daily Office or daily “work” are set prayer times that include silence, Scripture, a devotional, a question to think about, prayer, and more silence. Practicing silence is a rare exercise in Western evangelical Christianity. It’s not meditation or emptying one’s mind per se. Silence is quietly spending time with Abba Father, our God and Creator. God doesn’t require us to figure anything out or think about anything. We can pause and experience His presence and the world will continue. God cares more about us than what we do for Him.

Scazzero ties all of these practices together in the Rule of Life. The Rule of Life is similar to a trellis that directs a vine. This is the integration of all of these practices into one’s daily life.

As I have followed Scazzero’s teaching for over a year now, heard him speak in person, read his book and studied the workbook with a group, I am gradually implementing these practices into my own life. I have found a new calm and stability in my life. I feel more centered in my approach toward others and especially difficult situations. I can respond rather than react to most things these days. I highly recommend the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality book, workbook, DVD and website:


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Book Review: How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins

By Allen White

In How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins compares similar companies during similar time periods facing similar adversity. The companies that succeed are humble, diligent, methodical and assured. The companies that fail are arrogant, growth-obsessed, panicky and unfocused. (Taken from my other blog:

You could get the impression from Collins’ writing that he is a moralist. He cites that the problems with failing companies stem from a lack of humility, self-discipline and eventually, a savior. Yet, Collins’ deity in this book is not the Divine, rather it is data. He doesn’t isogete the current economic and political situation by starting with conclusions, then backing them up with data. He starts with a question: “Is America renewing its greatness, or is America dangerously on the cusp of falling from great to good?” The data, then, speaks for itself.

The casual assumption would be that in tough economic times every company is suffering. And, to some degree they are. The reality is that while some companies utterly fail in bad times, others move forward with focus and resolve. Similar companies in similar industries in similar tough times should receive similar results. But, that is not the case.

Collins recognizes five stages of decline from his research: (1) Hubris born of success, (2) Undisciplined Pursuit of More, (3) Denial of Risk and Peril, (4) Grasping for Salvation, and (5) Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death. Most professionals as well as consumers knew that Zenith had peaked long ago. Their failure was no surprise. But, Motorola? Motorola had invented themselves into new industry after new industry. They had moved from Good to Great. How could they slide from Great to Grasping?

While Collins will give you the complete data, let me summarize the stages:

Stage One: A lack of humility caused by refusing to count your blessings. This lack of gratitude makes the successful regard themselves more highly than the ought.

Stage Two: Discipline is the hedgehog concept from Good to Great. Being the best at what you do. Keeping the focus crystal clear. Lack of discipline increases the waist line and shrinks the bottom line. More is not better. Better is better.

Stage Three: Denial of Risk and Peril commonly appears as “This will never happen to us. We will never fail.” Activity is mistaken for effectiveness. Cash flow is mistaken for profits. Size is correlated with greatness. Whether you study the Roman Empire or Motorola’s Iridium, the might do, indeed, fall. Denial of this peril only accelerates the descent.

Stage Four: Grasping for Salvation – Who is the new renegade CEO who will charge in and save us? What is the new product that will catapult us back into success? Many of these external “saviors” have only turned into martyrs in the end. While Collins notes that it’s not impossible to recover at this stage, the reality is that no industry possesses or ever will possess a silver bullet that will deliver them to success.

Stage Five: Irrelevance and death are the end result of prideful, undisciplined leadership. The only good news is that start-ups will come along to capitalize on the opportunities that these Stage Five companies missed.

This book merits you and your organization conducting an Autopsy without Blame. How has your organization been blessed? What was skill and what was luck? How has your organization drifted from your core principles and mission? What are the key indicators that you need to monitor? What are the “prophets of doom” saying about your organization? Are you tempted to pursue something or someone new to turn things around?

If you catch things in time, you can still re-engineer and turn things around. It’s possible to return to great.

Copyright © 2010 by Allen White

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