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Six Steps to Loving your Church

Input for pastors and church leaders (by Tony Payne)

Changing the culture

Over the past few years, in the aftermath of The Trellis and the Vine, Col Marshall and I have run numerous workshops around the world on how to spread a 'vine-oriented' culture in our churches. We've talked with many pastors about how we can make sure that our churches don't become dominated by structures and programs, but have a strong heartbeat of 'people ministry'—of each congregation member seeking to be a disciple-maker in their own way.

Spreading this kind of culture in a church is not a simple or one-off activity. It's a process (often painful) that takes time and persistence. However, one easy, straightforward way of beginning to change the mindset and culture of our church members is to change the way they think about Sunday. That's what this training program is really about.

It aims to do two things:

➡ It aims to change people's minds about our Sunday church gatherings—away from seeing church as being just an event or structure that I attend for my own personal benefit or interaction with God, and towards seeing church as a God-given opportunity to love and encourage and minister to other people; from being merely a recipient and consumer to being an active participant and encourager.
➡ It aims to give some simple, easy-to-implement steps for starting to do this Sunday by Sunday.

As a way of changing your church culture, Six Steps to Loving Your Church is an easy first step. It's an enjoyable and non-threatening course that enables participants to take small and achievable steps towards ministering to others (that is, to start to become a 'disciple-making disciple').

You might consider combining the course with a sermon series on 'church'—on what the Bible teaches about the nature and purposes of church in God's plans. The course does not attempt to articulate a complete theology of church—not only because this is beyond its scope, but also because within Bible-teaching evangelical churches there are some obvious differences around this issue. We have consciously designed the material in the course to focus in on the issue of how all congregation members can love and encourage and minister to one another on Sundays, without venturing into questions of church structure or government, or music and service styles, or other similar issues. This is not to say that these questions are unimportant—only that regardless of our stance on these sorts of questions, equipping our members to be loving servants and encouragers on Sunday would be a significant step forward.

Existing small groups or one-off training?

Like other courses in the Six Steps series, Six Steps to Loving Your Church is designed as practical, easy-to-run training for small home Bible study groups (or whatever you call them in your part of the world):

  • • The Bible study and discussion questions are not complicated or difficult, and answer guides are provided for leaders.
  • • The video input segments supply key content, as well as summarizing and tying together the sessions.
  • • There are practical exercises for the group members to do each week in church, which they then talk about the following week in the group (and having this conversation as part of an existing group that already knows each other is helpful).
  • • Six sessions is a good number to do in a regular small group—it's enough to make a difference and see real progress in understanding and action, but without interrupting the normal (and proper) diet of regular Bible study.
  • • The course teaches a change in mindset that is expressed in practical ways—and this doesn't stop after six weeks! By running the course in an existing (and ongoing) small group, the gains made over the six sessions can be consolidated and worked on over the ensuing weeks and months.

So although you could usefully set up a group or structure specifically for running this training—as part of an existing ministry training structure, or as a special training emphasis—the ideal and obvious way to use Six Steps to Loving Your Church is to roll it out through existing small group structures.

If you set up a special training structure for utilizing the course, you will need to think through how to follow through on the ideas and actions after the six sessions are concluded—because a change of mindset and behaviour takes time, and we easily slip back into old habits. Perhaps the training group could decide to reconvene every three months during the following year to talk about how their 'ministry of the pew' is going, to pray for one another, and to share ideas.

Leader training

If you were going to roll out the training material through existing small groups, it would be very beneficial to conduct some brief orientation and training for your small group leaders. This could be part of your regular meetings with small group leaders (assuming you have such meetings), or a one-off evening where you introduce the course and equip the leaders with some basic information about why you are using this course and how to run it.

A training evening could have the following content...

A. Start with this brief Bible study (based on session 2 of the course).

Bible study questions for leaders

B. Watch the introductory Six Steps to Loving Your Church video (or give your own short talk based on the video and on the information provided at the beginning of appendix 1).

C. Explain why small home groups are an ideal way to do this training (using the points outlined above).

D. Direct the leaders to the leader's notes in appendix 1, which give practical guidance on running the sessions. In particular, at the start of each session you'll find some information on the goal of that session. Suggest that the leaders read these now so they get a sense of the whole course.

E. Field questions about all of the above.

F. Pray together. ❏

The content above is Appendix 2 in the Course workbook. Copyright Matthias Media 2014