Review: Planning Small Groups with Purpose (Gladen)

Steve Gladen is the Pastor of Small Groups at Saddleback Church. This book compliments his other work by focusing on small groups and how to plan for them. The subtitle captures the book well: “a field-tested guide to design and grow your [small group] ministry.” The goal is to help readers build a good and successful small group ministry from scratch.

Gladen emphasizes that the whole church needs to have a single vision that the small group shares. The small groups are meant to be part of the church, not their own autonomous entities. They should be team-led. This ministry will probably entail having a certain amount of structure in how people at various levels of the ministry relate and report to one another.

The main part of the book is structured around five areas in the home: the kitchen, the family room, the study, the front door, and the dining room. Each area includes four questions that must be answer.

The kitchen is focused on connecting people to small groups. The questions: (1) how will you align your ministry with other church leadership and ministries?; (2) how will you communicate the value of groups to your church?; (3) what is your plan for connection people into groups?; (4) how will you measure your progress?

This naturally leads into the family room, which focuses on group people in the small groups. Here one must answer: (5) how will you define and develop mature disciples?; (6) what outcomes do you want from small group life?; (7) how will you develop leaders for your ministry?; (8) what support resources will your small group leaders need?

The study is focused on investing in God’s kingdom. (9) how will you develop group members into leaders?; (10) how will subgrouping develop people?; (11) how will you encourage people to serve?; (12) how will you create opportunities for groups to serve?

Next is the front door. Here you focus on reaching others through small groups. Thus: (13) how will you promote reach and spiritual awareness?; (14) how will you engage every group in global outreach?; (15) how will you engage every group in local outreach?; (16) how will you involved every group in personal evangelism?

Finally comes the dining room, focused on long-term success. The final four questions are: (17) how will you ensure your ministry’s long-term success?; (18) how will you celebrate stories of life change to reach your vision?; (19) how will you remain true to your call?; (20) how will you help your groups cultivate an attitude of worshipful submission?

The book ends with a chapter on putting it all together. Here you list your high-priority goals for each question and rank them. You then choose five to seven of these that you want to complete in the next 12 to 18 months. You then mark the goal dates on your calendar in order to have a set mark.

As can be seen from the questions, one of the great strengths of the book is that it is practical and clear. It forces one to actually put down real answers instead of vague generalities. It is also laid out in a clear way. Each question has an accompanying chart where you list your long-range (1-5 years) and short-range (1-12 months) dreams, their obstacles, actions one must take to complete them, and the timing. These also have a chart above with the labels “crawl,” “walk,” and “run,” which give suggested tasks that fit the stage.

Two weaknesses of the book should be noted. First, while the book does quote and discuss Scripture a bit, this is not big focus by any means. Accompanying this, the fact that there is no Scripture index is, at the very least, an oversight.

Second, throughout the book Gladen talks about the structure they used and how it worked for them, but that it might not work for others. The underlying philosophy seems to be that Scripture does not have much to say on this topic. In fact, one gets the sense that the structure owes more to modern managerial philosophy than anything else. The church should be invested in thinking deeply about the ways Scripture can bear witness on this topic. Since there is no clear-cut command on what structure should look like on this matter, the church needs to read with a deep sense as to the way Scripture forms us, the Holy Spirit works, and the Spirit-led and wisdom-guided role of the congregation. This is no easy task, but we cannot simply buy into the latest and greatest fads or whatever works best for us. We think we are only using tools, but the tools end up using us.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Jesus’ Emptying and Capitalism

Philippians 2:1-4 (ESV):

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

In vv. 5-11, Paul will go on to say that the Philippians should have the same mind as Jesus, who emptied himself, took the form of a slave, and died shamefully on a Roman cross. We should be clear here that Paul is talking to the Philippians having this attitude amongst fellow believers. This is because Paul was establishing community of the kingdom that gave proof of God’s new creation in the present. Nonetheless, it is doubtful that he would say that it is therefore okay for the Philippians to have selfish ambition around non-Christians or that they can count themselves as more significant than non-Christians.

In discussions about gay marriage, one of the prominent points was about how God created marriage to be between one man and one woman. True enough. This, then, should be reflected in our laws because this is the way marriage is supposed to be. That is fine too. But what then do we make of this passage and its implications?

After all, Paul thinks modeling one’s behavior on Jesus is to be truly human. Jesus is the true image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15). So when Paul tells the Philippians these commands and to have the mind of Jesus, he is telling them to be how God created humans to be. Obviously this does not mean humans can be this way apart from following Jesus and being empowered by the Spirit, but this is true humanity nonetheless: to not be selfishly ambitious and to count others as more significant than oneself.

As the title indicates: what does this say about capitalism? Is the rat race really compatible with not doing anything based on selfish ambition? When we seek promotions over others, try to compete with others for the boss’ approval, and so on, is this what it means to count others as more significant? And is humility seen in the exorbitant wages that CEOs make?

We cannot escape these problems by saying this is only for Christians. After all, we noted above that this is what it means to be truly human, to be how God created humans to be. So if we take it that God’s establishment is largely indicative of what the law should be (like we do with marriage), then what about capitalism?

Maybe capitalism does not need to be this way. The point isn’t that therefore we should be socialists or communists. There might not be any easy answers. But the fact that we never ask, well that doesn’t seem very self-emptying.