A Response to “Worship is More Important than Your Small Group”

A title like “Worship is More Important than Your Small Group” is nothing more than Christian click-baiting. For this assistant pastor to make this nearsighted-misleading remark is ridiculous, meant for nothing more than shock value. It’s equivalent to a blog/sermon title of “Why Men are Better than Women”. The more I read it the more ridiculous it sounds.

I am a fan of Gospel Coalition, but I think “Worship is More Important than Your Small Group” missed the mark.

This blog seems to drive a wedge between two things the bible doesn’t separate. Yes, we need corporate worship. I fully agree with this. But just as essential to the Christian life as corporate worship is the need for real relationships. The bible does not place a value scale on these things, they are both essential in their own way. Just because corporate worship is unique (Heading 1) does not equate it being more intrinsically valuable. I’ve heard a pastor in my own church say, and rightly so, “people may come because of the preaching, but they stay because of relationships.”

If the author says several times throughout his blog, “But as much as you and I may love small groups…” “I love small groups. Don’t misunderstand me…” I take note. If you don’t want to be misunderstood, then say clearly what you mean. And here is an idea, don’t title your article something you aren’t trying to say.

No church is perfect, but to value corporate worship more than personal worship or real relationships, or vice versa, neglects the full counsel of God. When all the emphasis centers on one aspect of worship, you are missing the fullness of the Church the way God intended. If you only engage in small groups to the neglect of corporate worship, you are wrong. If you only engage in corporate worship to the neglect of small groups, you are wrong.  

The church is community, both in its corporate setting and in its relational setting. It is the Body of Christ with multiple pieces and functions. Each piece needs to work the way it was intended, without saying this function is more important than that function. Eph 4:15-16 “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

In this blog, Jason Helopoulos addresses four problems with corporate worship services, not four legitimate reasons why worship is “more important” than small groups. His title is misleading and of an arrogant tone.

Lets look at his four “points” in support for the greater value of Corporate Worship. (please re-read the original points as I am dealing directly with their content.)

Too “pastor-centric” – This point seems to imply that God speaks only in the corporate context! God speaks in many ways, one of those being in the corporate worship setting, but there are many other ways! YES we need to listen. That happens in my private worship time, my small group time, and my corporate worship time! Since when did Job’s hand over his mouth in 40:6 refer to being attentive to the public sermon of a pastor? Wasn’t this a private encounter between God and Job? And to use the NT reference of Mary as choosing the best thing in Luke 10:38-42 as a support for corporate worship being more important than small groups is preposterous. The article says, “Mary was commended by the Lord because she chose what was best. She knew that when the Lord speaks, we are to listen, absorb, and delight in hearing His voice.” Umm, wasn’t this a small group meeting in Mary’s house, of Jesus teaching to believers? Seems pretty clear that God does speak in small group setting just as easily as the corporate setting. God speaks when He wants, we need to listen. WE NEED BOTH ENVIRONMENTS!

Too Passive/ Too Boring – These points are basic Discipleship 101, not support for corporate worships being of greater value than small groups.  In any setting – my personal bible study, my small group, my corporate worship experience – if I come to the table passive and bored, it is my sin problem. It is not the problem of the environment. What about the environments Helopoulos uses as examples? Is there a corporate emphasis in Romans 12:1-2? No, in fact it the pronouns are pretty personal: “present your bodies” “your spiritual act worship, “renew your mind” “that you may discern what God’s will is”. In Hebrew 4:12 is “our soul pierced” expressly in a corporate setting? NO, it is a general statement about the active nature of God’s word in ANY setting. Was Isaiah’s experience in a corporate setting in Isaiah 6? NO. Was John’s experience in a corporate setting in Revelation 1? NO, he was under house arrest on an island. Are any of these references lending support to the arrogant claim that “Corporate Worship is More Important than Your Small Group”??? Give me a break, NO.

Too Impersonal – The author points to the communal prayer, singing and participation in the sacraments as aspects of real fellowship within a corporate context. Has anyone said it is not? Do vibrant small groups somehow diminish these? Fellowship happens in a variety of contexts and modes. Is one form of fellowship more valuable and one less valuable?

What about the Lord’s Supper? Didn’t the early church do this in homes? Wasn’t it based around a real meal, aka the love feast? How are these first century house churches not more akin to our small groups of the modern age than the modern corporate worship service? Helopoulos says, “And nothing declares that louder than our partaking of the Lord’s Table together in worship” – This is one piece of the puzzle, yes. But a very biblical idea is not how often you receive the elements but rather as Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” When Jesus had his small group in the upper room and ordained the Lord’s Supper, he did so with acts of service within intimate relationships. How well does that characterize our corporate worship services today?

I’m not calling any church out, but I am calling for a holistic well-rounded view of the Christian life, one in which the corporate worship experience is just as vital to the growing Christian as the intimate relationships within small groups.

Here comes the big bait and switch. The main point of the title is directly changed in his closing paragraph. Helopoulos says, “I love small groups. Don’t misunderstand me. They serve a real purpose in most churches, but their importance cannot and does not supersede our gathering together in corporate worship.”  So all of a sudden this article is about small groups superseding corporate worship? It sure seems that the title and opening lines say clearly this article is about how the importance of corporate worship supersedes small groups.

The title is not even really discussed in this article. As a whole it represents a shortsighted view to its readers about what the Body of Christ look like in a modern American, context.  To pit the two environments against each other is not healthy, as both are integral to Christian development.  Why this author feels the need to make such superficial claims is probably an extreme reaction to an equally extreme position, namely “my small group is more important than your worship service”. In trying combat the error he errors in the same manner. I believe he is does a disservice to a generation that is seeking Truth in the context of authentic community.

My prayer is the Church would see the need for both sides of the coin; engaged corporate worship and intimate Christian relationships. One is not “more important”, both are essential.

*** side note: I am sure Jason Helopoulos is a great guy and if we were able to hang out we would have tons in common. My blog is addressing the ideas (both stated and implied) within his content. Grace and peace to you Jason and may your ministry be fruitful.***

Discipleship Over Coffee

Discipleship is the key to the Christian life. One of the best “disciplers” I know and look up to is my friend and co-worker, Duane Geib. He has an undeniable passion for connecting people to Jesus, for the long haul, not just for a moment. If you are looking for a good blog that will challenge you to take that next step in your faith, and probably a few laughs along the way, check out Let’s Do Coffee.


5 Tools Needed to Reach Teenagers

toolI read today an article by Cameron Cole of the Rooted blog. He posted this article on the Gospel Coalition site, 5 Tools Needed to Reach Today’s Teens.  I must say that I fully agree with these points, but I believe there is an even bigger more essential point that Cameron assumes on the outset. One that cannot be understated or glossed over.

Before I reveal my additional point to his 5 tools needed, let me summarize his article and recommend you read it in full to get a much deeper appreciation for each point.

  1. Knowledge about the canonization of scripture: More often than ever we face questions concerning authority. How can we be sure God’s Word is authoritative for 2013? If teenagers do not trust the bible, they will not have the foundation essential for Christian doctrine or practice. 
  2. Developed Theology of sexuality, especially homosexuality: Teens today are bombarded with competing truth claims. We need a balanced and biblical answer for these questions. If we do not speak boldly with truth and compassion on these topics, the biblical message will be drowned out in a rising tide of unbiblical messages. While homosexuality is a hot topic, we need a balanced view of all aspects of sexuality. Teens need instruction on what a proper biblical heterosexual relationship looks like, as much or more than warnings of improper relationships.
  3. The ability to teach the Bible in the greater context of redemptive history: While telling your own story is important, teens today want to be connected to a bigger story as well. They want to know there is meaning and purpose behind how we got to where we are today. Explaining the grand narrative of redemptive history and then describing our chapter in that story is very powerful.
  4. A Theological, not only moral, understanding of Sin: This is very important. Teens need to understand the eternal weight of actions not just focused on consequences in relativistic society, but in a view of an eternal, unchanging, completely perfect God. Teens today recognize the futility of just slapping sin on the wrist, but need to understand why.
  5. Understand Adoption as an Element of Salvation: In a culture of divorce and superficial relationships the opportunity to be a part of a true community can be life changing. Teens place a huge value on relationships. Since this is true, the biblical concept of “Koinonia” (greek for doing life together, i.e. fellowship) when righty applied in a church should be a significant factor in discipleship and life change. Teens long for meaningful relationships, this need is met first in Christ and then His bride.

Read the full article by Cameron Cole. It reminds us of the inside life that teenagers really are living day to day. To best reach this generation we need to understand how to connect.

Which brings me to my addition. In my 6+ years of full time youth ministry I believe a colossal step is being assumed by Cole, that needs to be clearly articulated constantly to all adults who work with teenagers. This is so important that all the above points completely lose thier meaning when this is absent.

  1. Personal Holiness and Passion Cannot be Faked: If you want to work with teens, prepare for your life to be examined and imitated. Teenagers can detect a fake in a heartbeat and once this is sensed they will turn off. Why do teens leave the church? In many cases it is because they see conflicting examples in their parents on whether or not church is important. As a leader, it doesn’t matter if you can wax on the details of the Canon, refute homosexual marriage, and recite the history of the church. If you are dead spiritually, do you really want mold teenagers in that same pattern? To be open and honest with a growing relationship with Christ is what teens need to see first. Before any other questions come up they have got see something real in your life. This cannot be assumed, it must be intentionally cultivated in the life of any christian, leader or not.

I am so thankful for guys like Cameron Cole who are striving to make youth ministry better. We all benefit from reminders like this. And it is my prayer that I can add to the conversation and push us all one more step toward Jesus.


My Heart Christ’s Home – Robert Boyd Munger

***note: free resource at the bottom of this article.

Today I am in packing mode. We are moving into our newly purchased home. If you have been there yourself, you understand what I am in the middle of. Therefore, I will keep it short.

Before all the packing began we bought our home and decided to fix a few things up before moving in. We have put in new countertops, floors, light fixtures, just to name a few. All this work on our home reminded me of a great little devotional book I read back when I was a teenager. My Heart, Christ’s Home.

This booklet was introduced to me at a time when I was growing by leaps and bounds in my spiritual life. Munger compares our heart to the layout of a home. He walks us through each “room” of our heart and discusses the implications of having Jesus taking up residence there. In the living room we prepare to meet Christ daily. In the dining room we examine together what appetites should and should not control us. We even explore the closets in our lives that Christ can help us clean out.

Munger’s practical yet profound booklet helps you give Christ control over all of your life. I did a little bit of internet hunting and found locations for this resource.

Download the PDF of this great booklet for free HERE, or buy printed copies in a 5 pack for cheap HERE. Everyone should take the time to read through this and perform some self examination.

Your fellow worker in the field, Adam

Investing in the Lives of Students

Investing in the Lives of Students

Below is a blog posted by one of my Middle School Girls LIFE Group teachers. As I read this I swelled with joy because this is an example of small groups functioning at its best. Read the full article HERE. Megan Hamby is deeply invested in the lives of her eighth grade girls class. Even though she recently got married, started a new job, and is beginning a whole new stage of life, she is concerned with more than just herself. She wants to pass wisdom on to young believers following in her footsteps. Why am I so proud of Megan and this particular small group? 

  • This is the pattern of Jesus – to invest personally in a small group.
  • Even when we are busy with our own lives we never are supposed to neglect the call to make disciples.
  • The focus is on what the bible says to us, not just want we want to hear.
  • Relationships really matter for our spiritual health, therefore make good ones.

Surviving High School: What I Wish Someone had Told Me In the summer of 2011, I began teaching a small group of upcoming eighth grade girls. Over the past year, I have grown close to each of these girls, and in the process, inherited the girls in the sixth and seventh grade, as well. As the life group teacher to the middle school girls, I’ve learned a lot about the struggles they go through each day. This fall, I’ll (unwillingly) send my eighth graders to the high school ministry as they begin their freshman year. As I think about this last summer I have with them, I find myself thinking about what I wish someone had told me before I went off to high school. Even more so, what I wish someone had told me when I was in middle school. This summer, in the last weeks with the eighth graders, we will be discussing some different topics as they prepare to go to high school and diving into Scripture with each topic.

  • Stand firm in your faith.  People will challenge your faith for the rest of your life. Be rooted in what you believe. Maintain a hunger and thirst for God’s Word. Study scripture. Stay involved in church. Participate in Bible studies. Know what you believe- because you will be tested for the rest of your life.
  • Don’t let popularity stop you from sharing Jesus. Often times in high school, I let my desire to be “popular” or “cool” hinder me from sharing Jesus. What I didn’t realize then is that popularity doesn’t matter after high school (it doesn’t matter inhigh school). What matters now is the people I went to school with still don’t know Jesus- and I had every opportunity to tell them about Him.
  • Surround yourself with friends who point you to Christ. I was blessed to meet my best friends when I was in the eighth grade. A group of five girls who loved Jesus more than they loved anyone or anything else, and they held me accountable. Our relationship’s foundation was built around Christ, and we pointed each other to Him when we had a problem. We went through a lot in high school- illnesses, parents dying, fears of families moving- but we shared a friendship that was deeper than most. At 21 years old, they are still my closest friends.Girls, I want you to have these kinds of friendships. I want you to have friends that point you to Jesus in hard times, rejoice with you in good times, and love you despite your faults.
  • Guard your heart. It’s so easy to desire affection and love from boys when you’re in high school. We crave the desire and and longing. Girls, be protective of your heart. Every crush, hug, and kiss gives a piece of your heart away. Even more so, guard your most precious inner beauty. Understand how sacred your purity is- and that it’s only meant for your husband.
  • Cherish your family. Girls, one day- sooner than you imagine- you will be moving away from home. You will be leaving for college, taking a job in a different city, or marrying your best friend and starting a family of your own. At this point in your life, I know it seems like light years away, but it will be here faster than you know. Cherishthis time with your family. Go on family vacations, go shopping with your mom, and have family game nights.
  • Look in the mirror…and smileGod created you. Your curvy figures, crooked teeth, the color of your eyes and hair, the length of your legs…God made you. Even as a twin…you are one of a kind. Psalm 139:14 say, “I will praise You because I have been remarkable and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.” God did not make a mistake when He created you- don’t tell Him that He did.

Girls, I love you, and I have been so blessed to be your life group leader this past year. I look forward to seeing you each Wednesday and Sunday, and every other opportunity I have to spend with you.

To my sweet eighth graders, I have loved watching you grow spiritually. Although I’ve been your teacher, you all have taught and encouraged me through your lives. I can’t wait to see you grow even more, and I am not ready to give you up.

True Success in Student Ministry

I’ve seen it to many times to count. Going to a camp or conference where youth workers are in full force.  We all get to sit and talk, compare notes with what is working, what is not, to encourage each other, to pray for one another, ect.  But something always slips into the conversation.  Maybe it’s out front, maybe it’s more subtle, but it’s the burning question lurking in the corner of our minds.

 “How many kids are you running in your ministry?”

The numerical data of student ministry appears to be in the driver seat.

  • You want to impress your student worker comrades?
  • You need approval from the budget committee for an increase this year?
  • You need more volunteers on Wednesday nights?
  • You want the respect of your senior pastor and staff?

…Have big numbers…

Among student pastors when the numbers start flying, some feel like MVPs with their impressive headcounts, others feel like total losers who can’t compare.  The lines are drawn and the assumptions take root.

Why is this?  What makes large numbers the definition of success in most student ministries?  I believe it is a strategy of that ole trickster himself.  The devil wants us to compare ourselves to each other and not to the truths of Scripture.  He wants us to measure our effectiveness based on something other than the Gospel’s power.  He wants us to stay distracted, thus losing the opportunity to shape a generation deeply by the power of the cross.

If we define success according to the ministry of Jesus Christ we will find numerical quantity is not the issue, but spiritual quality.

I believe every youth minister, student pastor, small group volunteer, anyone connected to our ministries, should define success in terms of discipleship.  Are you downloading your faith into the life of someone else?  Face to face, knee to knee.  Are you getting into the nitty gritty of life with another individual and showing them the ropes of the Christian life.

Jesus had cycles of ministry. From rock star status, to outcast status.  From huge open air crowds, to intimate upper rooms.  One thing remained consistent through His public ministry.  Jesus continually, intentionally, relationally invested into the lives of His disciples. 

  • Continually – it takes time. Real discipleship is done with time spent together doing real life. Fifteen minutes of GREAT conversation a week won’t make a disciple, but daily hanging out will.  I’ve taken teens with me to dinner at my house, let one watch how I put my kids to bed, had help changing the oil in my car, even (gulp) going Wal-Mart.  In everyday situations we show how to live for the glory of God.  It rubs off with continual exposure.
  • IntentionallyJesus didn’t do anything on accident.  We need to take advantage of the situations we find ourselves in and use them to train disciples.  What if we knew some things would be hard, but challenged our students to do them anyway?  What if we intentionally tried to develop habits contrary to culture, but conforming to scripture.  We should all have some teenagers under us who know they are explicitly being mentored so they can go and mentor someone next.
  • Relationally – Jesus taught in ways that His disciples could understand.  He helped them along in their faith.  He walked with them even though their immaturity.  In relationships we have our most powerful influence.  Are we taking time to truly shepherd our teens?  Sheep get to know their shepherd.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd and His sheep know His voice.  We get the privilege to be under-shepherds and care for His flock.  Care for them, know them, walk through life with them.  Disciple-making doesn’t come from a pulpit, but from a relationship.

What if youth workers didn’t brag about how packed the room was for extreme goldfish swallowing, but instead bragged about the depths of scripture memorization from their kids.  What if numbers didn’t drive the ministry, but spiritual maturity was the goal?  How different would our student ministries look if we stopped trying to look cool and hip, and really invested in teenagers allowing the Gospel to penetrate to the deepest levels of the heart changing us from the inside out?

True success is measured in spiritual maturity not in impressive headcounts.  Paul understood this when he penned these words in Colossians 1:28. “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

May your ministries be successful in the truest sense of the word.

Your fellow worker in the field, Adam