Connecting and Chemistry

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“The lady who has become known as the “woman at the well” is a mystery to us. We don’t know her name. We only know she was of a snubbed gender and a despised race. Yet Jesus connected with her and something remarkable transpired. Through this story, we learn about the value of connecting with others - this ability is sometimes called emotional intelligence. People don’t connect easily with frowning, emotionally sensitive, intense, defensive leaders. We can only lead to the degree that we can emotionally connect with people. Leaders who are out of touch with how they come across, who lack emotional intelligence, are limited in their effectiveness.

There are four components to leadership “connectedness” we can draw from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well:

1. Self-Awareness – Jesus was secure in His identity, which gave Him the confidence to step over racial and religious barriers to connect with the woman at the well. He recognized and understood His own moods and emotions and did not allow them to hinder His ability to connect with people. Put simply, He was aware of His own actions, words, and feelings, but focused on others. 2. Self-Management – Jesus was able to recognize and control any negative emotions or presumptions that had been passed on to Him regarding Samaritans. He was in control of His moods and impulses. Jesus was prepared to challenge the accepted norms of racial and gender separation that dominated the Jewish religion. Healthy leaders can self-manage their lives. They are not dependent on public opinion (or even close friends) to do the right thing for others. 3. Healthy Empathy – Jesus had the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people. He perceived the discomfort and guilt of the woman at the well. He had developed the character quality of relating to people according to their needs, rather than His own. 4. Social Skill – Jesus was proficient at building and maintaining relationships beyond the cadre of disciples. He enjoyed close relationship with the disciples, but was not dependent on them alone for friendship and company. He was accessible, non-exclusive, and truly cared about all people, not only His inner circle.

Why is the leadership lesson of connection and chemistry so important? Simply put, you cannot lead people you cannot relate to. Connection, when genuine, allows us to build bridges of trust and understanding to people who may be different from ourselves. We can provide emotional warmth, listen attentively, smile, offer encouragement and affirmation, show genuine interest, and display faith in people. It’s also important that we are not defensive and do not overreact in the face of adversity. By fostering the genuine desire to relate to others, we can develop chemistry with them, which makes them more willing to receive our leadership.

In the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well, Jesus was able to make a connection by being willing to overcome barriers of gender, racial prejudice, immoral behavior, theological difference, and initial personal rejection. Let’s take a closer look at how Jesus fostered this connection: • He went out of His way to meet her (verse 4). • He initiated the conversation (verse 7). • 
He listened and allowed her to speak (verse 9). • He showed respect, regardless of her gender and status (verse 9). • He aroused spiritual interest in her by casting a vision for something greater than she had imagined (verses 10–15). • He entered into her world, that is, He built a bridge to her world (verses 13–24). • He did not try to control her or pressure her to join Him (verses 13–15). • He inspired her to go as far as she was willing to go in her spiritual journey (verses 15–18). • He accepted her where she was (verses 17–18). • 
He did not convey disappointment in her choices (verse 18). • He focused on key issues for her future (verses 20–24). • He communicated directly and simply to her, in language she could understand (verses 25–26).

Throughout my life, I have been mentored by some great “connectors.” One of the greatest was Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With A Mission. As I watched him in action, I was struck again and again by how Loren connected with people. In big crowds or small, he would focus on one individual at a time, smile warmly, ask them questions, and listen to them attentively. Then he would challenge and encourage them to do something great for God. That is connecting.

Loren planted the seeds of greatness and great achievement in the hearts of many young leaders by challenging them to go beyond what they had dreamed or thought of doing before that time. Then he would give them an opportunity to do what he had just encouraged them to dream about. He didn’t just inspire and walk away, he invested in the relationship and took the connection a step further. That is chemistry.

Step one in connecting with people is reaching across any perceived or real barriers. Take a few moments to reflect on the people you lead who are different from yourself. Think wider about those God wants you to influence who have not yet come to faith in Jesus. Are you actively working at reaching across age, gender, class, and racial barriers to connect with them? Think deeper as well as wider. Do you react if people give you advice you don’t like? Do you send the message that you want to listen attentively, learn from what people say to you, and are prepared to engage in deeper conversation?

If you would like to read the other 39 Chapters in my new book 'Leading Like Jesus' please click here to find it on Amazon Kindle.  Or you can order a paperback copy at YWAM Publishing here.

5 Things You Need To Know About 21st Century Small Group Ministry

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Have you ever wondered why it's more difficult today for the church to attract urbanized non-Christian people? This article by Mark Howell, explains a simple but highly significant change in our culture... "When we woke up this morning, we woke up to a very different world than our parents lived in. Truth be told, we actually woke up to a rapidly changing culture. As we step deeper into the 21st Century there are some things you need to know about how cultural changes impact small group ministry. Wise leaders will be paying attention as culture changes.

  1. Biblical literacy is a distant memory in almost every setting. This reality must be anticipated in leader training, in the design or selection of curriculum, and in the development of the group experience. Continuing to operate as if everyone knows even the people, places and events of the Bible (let alone its meaning) is already the trademark of hopelessly out of touch ministries.
  2. The expectation that the Church provides something essential is rapidly decreasing. This is an important understanding. All of the research points to the changing belief about the Church. Worse than disagreement with beliefs or practices is the sense that the Church is irrelevant.
  3. “I am a spiritual person” is growing; “I am a Christian” is declining. A correlation noted in The Rise of the Nones and the research that backs up the findings of Barna and many other organizations is that the increasing number of those who indicate no religious affiliation is primarily about the decrease in the number of nominal (or notional) Christians; Christians in name only. This actually may provide some direction for ministries nimble enough to adjust strategy to offer meaning to “spiritual people (Think about Paul’s approach in Acts 17).”
  4. A Christian worldview is not held by the majority. Beyond biblical illiteracy is the emergence of a competing worldview (or multiple worldviews). The worldview of secular humanism sees virtually everything through a completely different lens. The sanctity of human life, sexual orientation, and a biblical understanding of marriage are just three front burner issues where profoundly different beliefs are the products of a vastly different worldview held by an increasing number of people. The practice of assuming “what we all believe” will require a major overhaul in order to reach friends, neighbors, co-workers and even family members who no longer believe what we believe.
  5. Cause has the greatest potential to connect. As James Emery White points out in The Rise of the Nones, there was a time when unchurched people responded directly to a gospel message, joined in community and then joined in the cause (1950s to 1980s). This was followed by a period when unchurched people responded first to an opportunity to join a community, found Christ and then joined in the cause (1990s to 2000s). What about now? White points out that the Pew Forum study revealed that 78% of those surveyed said that “religious organizations bring people together and strengthen community bonds” and 77% said “religious organizations play an important role in helping the poor and needy.” Interpretation? “We may have lost the opportunity to walk with them (unchurched people) and talk with them, but we haven’t lost the opportunity to do good to them and for them and with them (p. 100, The Rise of the Nones).” Providing opportunities to join causes that resonate with unchurched people (i.e., clean water, orphan care, sex trafficking, etc.) offer new front doors to relationship.

I hope you are thinking about these powerful new trends as you build your small group ministry. My thinking has been impacted by a number of books including The Rise of the Nones and The Next Christians."

Posted with permission from Mark Howell

How Jesus Related to People

Part Two...  2.  Community

From the crowds, came the seekers.  One senses in reading the Gospels that there were people in and out of Jesus' life who were actively seeking to know more.  Some of them are made known to us in the gospel accounts, like Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, or the Roman centurion.  There must have been many more who were actively interested in hearing His teachings.  They were people who had listened to Jesus speaking, seen Him perform miracles, or had heard about Him and wanted to know more.  Different people had different reasons for seeking Jesus: some were sincere, others wanted to find fault with Him, and still others were motivated by curiosity.  Some were desperate for help.  Jesus' response to seekers was very different from His response to large crowds.  He was more personal, but not always more friendly.  He was probing, questioning, and He almost always asked or demanded something costly from seekers.  Jesus tested them, but in a pro-active and loving kind of way.  He would give them something to do, a step to take, to show they were prepared to pay the price necessary to actually follow Him.  Jesus did not continually dispense truth to seekers if they did not show that they were willing to obey what He had already taught them.

Jesus modeled for us how to arouse the interest of people through telling stories and doing miracles.  But we also learn from Him how to ask seekers to go beyond spiritual curiosity or the miracle they have experienced, to hearing and obeying His teachings.  If they took one step, Jesus led them to the next.  Because we have the advantage of knowing the parable of the Sower, the seed and the soil, we know that Jesus understood that the hearts of people were all different.  Some were hard, some were responsive; and of those that were responsive, not all were genuine or lasting.

There are many examples in the Gospels of Jesus' interaction with this group of the not-yet-committed as He invites them to be obedient disciples:

  • Matthew 8:18-22
  • John 6:60-66
  • Luke 5:4-5, 27-28
  • Luke 8:19-21
  • Luke 14:25-33

For Jesus, evangelism was disciple-making.

Personal Application

Our 'community' is people we have personal contact with.  They are people who show spiritual interest, or who will show interest, if we pray for them and take time for them.  Make a list of people who you know personally who don't know Jesus.  Those are the 'seekers' God has placed in your life that comprise your 'community'.

3.  Core group disciples 

The core group disciples were those who were attracted to Jesus, who subsequently crossed a threshold in their lives and decided to trust Jesus.  Understanding grew gradually in the hearts of the disciples of what it meant to obey Jesus.  Jesus deliberately selected some of His followers for more responsibility.  It says in Luke 6: 12 that from those who were with Him, He chose twelve for apostolic responsibility; that is, to be set aside, fully ready to obey Jesus.

At this point terminology can fail us.  There seem to have been many of Jesus' disciples who were not fully in or fully out.  Jesus left it purposefully that way.  He did not draw up a list of rules like the Pharisees of His day, and decide – based on strict adherence to His 'rules and regulations' of discipleship – who was 'in' or 'out'.  Jesus invited people to be His disciples by drawing them to Himself, rather than by establishing an 'in or out' closed society.  But there was no question about whether He wanted obedience from His core team – that had to be absolute, because He stood at the centre of the new community He was creating.  There were people who were called disciples, but who had not counted the cost of following Jesus all the way – "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more" (John 6:66).  Jesus asked the twelve whom He had appointed to share leadership responsibility with Him if they, too, wanted to leave Him.  Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).

Personal application 

Understanding the paradoxes of discipleship is crucial to this process of moving from crowds, to a community of seekers, to a core group of disciples.  This is not a hard and fast method, but a process to follow in order to find people in whom we can invest our lives.

Sharing Jesus is partly about discerning the 'crowd' in our lives, building relationships with a 'community of seekers' and then selecting a core group of potential disciples to invest in.  Sharing Jesus – what we typically refer to as evangelism – cannot be separated from a process of finding those who are responsive to Jesus.

Jesus taught and modeled the way in which to discern how open people are to the good news (Luke 8:4 and following).  He respected people, but also challenged them to go further in their search for God.  In the parable of the Sower, Jesus compared the good news to seed sown into the soil of people's hearts.  The 'soil' represented four different types of people's readiness to hear His message.  Jesus told this story to His disciples to help them to discern the soil condition of people's hearts.  In Luke 8:11, Jesus explained to them that the 'seed' is the message from God to people.  Luke begins chapter 8 by saying that "Jesus. . . began a tour of the nearby cities and villages to announce the Good News concerning the Kingdom of God. . ."  In His parable, the 'sower' of the seed is the disciples themselves.

 

How Jesus Related To People

This is Part One of an exerpt from my book 'Follow'... We can discover the answer to the question of what evangelism is, in looking at how Jesus related to people.  In my study of the gospels, I have found it very helpful to realize that there were patterns of how Jesus related to three different categories of people: the crowds, seekers who approached Him to learn more, and those He invited to be His disciples.  I summarize these three groups in this way:

  1. Crowds  -  those that gathered spontaneously or at Jesus' instigation.
  2. Community  -  seekers and followers who responded to Jesus - some out of curiosity and some who were sincere.
  3. Core group  -  disciples who chose to follow Jesus - those Jesus invited to follow Him and learn from His way.

Let's go over these three groups in a little more detail, because each of us as a follower of Jesus has the same three groups of people in our lives. 

  1. Crowds

We may not heal people like Jesus did, but we all have a good sized group of people we know and interact with, including neighbors, people at work, family, etc.  Those people are our 'crowd'.  Just as Jesus did good deeds and shared good news with all those He encountered, so can we.  On a 'crowd' level, Jesus did not try to accomplish what could be done only through personal relationship; He did reach out to people in order to influence them and was intentional about reaching people – but with distinctly different approaches.  My estimate is that He spent far more time interacting with small groups and individuals than He did with crowds, perhaps spending 75 percent of His time with His disciples.  I think Jesus saw interaction with the crowds as a way of 'planting a seed' in people's hearts (Luke 8:4-18); a way of arousing spiritual interest, and also a way of finding potential spiritual seekers and disciples to teach.

In every instance where Jesus interacts with large groups of people, He responds in one of seven ways:

  1. He taught them and shared the good news with them – usually by speaking loudly so the entire group could hear Him.
  2. He had compassion on them.
  3. He healed scores of them.
  4. He fed them – He didn't hand out the food Himself, but He found a way for them to receive food.
  5. He brought certain ones to life who were dead among them.
  6. He defended them from the religious leaders who mislead them.
  7. He inspired people to imagine life the way God intended it to be.

If you made a list of everyone you have in your cell phone and email list, those are all people you have connected with.  From this group of people, God wants to give you a few that you relate to more personally.

The one thing Jesus consistently did not do in all His interactions with large groups of people was that He did not pressure them to become one of His disciples.  He did not invite people to join Him as one of His close-up followers – He did that one-on-one.  He did try to arouse the spiritual interest of people.  He did speak to stir up their dreams and expectations for what could come from their lives if they sought after God and we should do the same.

From a big-picture point of view, Jesus was aware and intentional about making sure that the people in certain regions knew about Him.  He sent His disciples ahead of Him to all the towns and cities He planned to visit (see Luke 10:1).  That is not an uncommon phrase or sentiment in the gospels.  These verses are examples of the deliberate attempt by Jesus to spread the good news of His Kingdom far and wide:

  • Mark 1:38
  • Matthew 9:35
  • Mark 6:6
  • Luke 13:22

One thrust of the great commission that Jesus gave to His disciples was to take the good news everywhere.  He told them to "go into all the world", and to "make disciples of all nations".

Personal application 

How do you apply the 'crowd' idea to your life situation?  Jesus wants every person in your sphere of influence, in your relational and family network and in your geographical setting, to hear the good news.  He especially wants you to be aware of those around you who suffer.  That does not mean you are personally responsible for each of them, but you will never fully know your part in taking Jesus to the people in your 'crowd' if you are not praying for them to hear about and experience the love and mercy of God, found in Jesus.  That includes those at your place of work, your university, your neighborhood, your village, and in nearby disadvantaged communities.  God has placed you where He has placed you for a reason.  You become that person by being a listening ear, someone to debrief with after a hard day, a safe person to talk to when burdened with life.  Visit neighbors, walk around during coffee breaks at work, or take time to hang out with fellow students in your school, college or university.  Jesus wants to reach each person in your 'crowd' – through you.

'Community' and 'Core Group' to follow in Part Two

The Benefits of Being Part of an International Movement

Churches and missional communities that lack affiliation with an international network suffer as a result.  Some belong to networks, true, but often they are only national in scope.  This lack of association with leaders from other countries creates cultural, strategic, theological and organizational myopia. Lack of multi-cultural and multi-national association creates a silo affect:  members can see the strength of what they belong to “vertically” but don’t see the “horizontal” perspective, i.e., there are many other affective parts to God’s global work.  The result is they are in-grown.

Every church and missional community needs a tribe to belong to, and if they are wise, they choose a tribe with experience and exposure in the nations.  After all, the greatest growth of the church today is not the West but among the “rest.”

Many younger evangelical leaders frown on association with traditional denominations and older missionary organizations – they fear control and irrelevance.

However, it’s a different world today.  National entities in international movements are legally independent.  This allows them to raise funding, set strategies, and create fresh approaches to mission more effectively, while still benefitting from their wider tribal connection.

National affiliates in international movements don’t report directly to a centralized headquarters, but do have the advantage of being cross connected to members who work in the same areas of ministry located in different countries.  This helps local leaders spot new strategies from other nations and thus be able to seize opportunities that benefit them locally – without giving up local ownership and leadership.