Category Archives: Guest Blogs

Not Alone

This is a short reminder that church planters are never in it alone. There are others both rejoicing and battling through struggles (sometimes simultaneously!). This story comes from good friends of ELI, Shane and Erin Latham, planters in Brazil.

“We have seen tremendous advances in ministry dreams and efforts like growth in the church… the 12 people taken off the street and placed at our partner recovery retreat. Along with these victories, the kids have been adapting well… and God has been providing enough English students to cover our lack of monthly support… we have seen people come to trust in Jesus through relationships started during English classes.

In short, our marriage, family and ministry life have never felt so meaningful even in the midst of what is certainly one of our leanest financial moments.

Yet it has been difficult to see tragedy after tragedy occur close to home. In the last three weeks we have had two young girls (known to us and our church) killed within blocks of our house (in drug related shootings), and since yesterday we have been working with Andre and Sidi (our local Brazilian partners) as they struggle through the funeral preparations for Sidi’s mother who was senselessly stabbed to death in her home 24 hours ago.

Six months ago, a neighbor lady two blocks over from our house suffered the same fate for the burglary of a dvd and a car. It seems that violence is all around us and I know it has been weighing on our family’s spirit.

There are still more blessings to count than I can write here, like the salvation of two young men in my prison ministry (both in for multiple violent crimes like the ones I’m describing).We are truly partners with you in this endeavor to see new churches planted and new disciples developed in south Brazil and beyond.”

If, as a church planter, you find you feel alone and maybe even forgotten, remember you are part of a movement of people working in different settings but with the same purpose – to raise up a Church out of the culture.


The Two Things You HAVE to Do to Reach People

If you’re a church leader and you want your church to reach the unchurched, the de-churched, the disconnected, there are two things you HAVE to do.  These two ways of doing ministry CANNOT be compromised.  If you do just these two things, you will see an increased effectiveness in reaching people that will be visible to your entire congregation.

1.  YOU have to care about the unchurched yourself.  You have to be praying for people who don’t know Jesus.  You have to have relationships with people who don’t know Jesus.  You need to know your neighbors, you need to know people your kids are connected to.  If you want your church to reach out to people who are disconnected from Jesus, you have to care for people who are disconnected from Jesus.  Not because they will help your church be bigger, but because you so desperately want to see people experience life and eternity with God.

2.  You have to speak in a way that unchurched and de-churched people can understand.  There is so much here, but if you can just transition in this area, it will radically change your Sunday dynamic.  You CAN’T assume any Biblical understanding. The minute you start using “insider” language, it tells the “outsider” that this isn’t a place for them.  This is generally really difficult for people to change, because we don’t even realize we’re doing it.  What does it look like?  ”You all know the story of Jonah . . .”, “We’re in the book of Romans, so if you can open up to the 8th chapter” (is that in the bible?  I didn’t bring my Bible!  where is it?  I’m going to look stupid trying to find it.)

If you’re a pastor, you HAVE to be connected to people who are seeking, questioning, skeptical – it will radically TRANSFORM your preaching, if you will keep that person in mind as you prepare your message.  Will your message confuse them?  Will they understand that concept?  Is there something else I need to explain?  Do I need to help them understand who Romans was written to and why?  It takes extra work, but it lets the skeptical, the seeker, to know that they are welcome in your service.  You’re treating them with respect, and helping them navigate the Bible and their church experience.

If you can just begin to live out these two principles, it will radically change how you see ministry and your effectiveness in reaching people far from God.

Matt’s House

Here is a great story of perseverance in prayer, and sudden provision! ELI asked Rob Benson, of Matt’s House in Maryland, to give us the details.
One of our prayers for Matt’s House when we launched, was that God would guide us to the needs He wanted us to meet.  Allison and several others with a passion to reach young moms established a young mom’s support group, in partnership with Metro-Maryland Youth for Christ.


Through this experience, Allison began to volunteer with the Center for Pregnancy Concerns in Baltimore, a center that has been around for over 35 years and provides excellent free services to woman facing unplanned pregnancies.  She has been volunteering for over 2 years and has received countless hours of training as a peer to peer counselor.  The center provides sonograms for expectant moms, peer to peer counseling, health screenings with a nurse, and material assistance:  baby clothing, maternity clothes, baby formula and food, diapers, cribs, blankets, and more – all for free. They also provide parenting classes, and help moms connect to government service providers.


We at Matt’s House believe that this is a direction that God has been calling us, so we have been working toward and praying for a partnership with CPC.  I was invited to join the Advisory Board last year and this year was asked to join the Board of Directors. After much prayer and dialogue, the Board of Directors invited Matt’s House into a partnership to open a Pregnancy Center in Arbutus, providing services to an underserved area in and around Baltimore.


On Friday, April 6,  a letter was sent out to CPC supporters to raise the $20,000 necessary to launch and fund the Arbutus Center through the first year.  Monday, April 9, Carol Clews, the Executive Director for CPC, received a phone call from a supporter for a Matching gift of $10,000 to go toward opening the new center.  On Tuesday, April 10, a check arrived in the mail for $10,000, so God raised $20,000 in 2 days!


When Allison sent out the good news about the $10,000 matching gift via email, she received a multitude of responses, and 17 of those responses were from individuals who want to either financially support the new center or  personally volunteer.


Later, Allison when was introduced to the 80 person advisory board of the CPC as the new center coordinator, they also announced that another $12,000 had come in, making the total $32,000 for the new center!


We look forward to renovating our storefront space, the Community Connection Center, so that it can now serve as a Crisis Pregnancy Center.  Our hope is to open the doors to the new CPC @ Matt’s House this summer!


This is an answer to our prayer that our hearts would break for the broken hearted, and our lives and ministry would adapt to meet their needs. Our prayer is to give them a tangible demonstration of God’s love – and that is what this new center will do.



Creating Life Changing Small Group Culture

The Starting Place of People

Are the people where you live struggling with relational trust, loneliness, brokenness, insecurity or shame? What about these struggles: addictions, abortions, adultery, sexual attractions, anger, …the list could go on.  No one is perfect. Certainly not me. Certainly not you.

When I was in high school my favorite community to hang out with was the Brew Crew.  The Brew Crew got together on the weekends getting hammered drunk and doing drugs. For us a 4.0 in school was not our grade point average…it was our blood alcohol level.

But eventually, I recognized the pain I was causing myself, and others around me, was far outweighing the pleasure I was receiving from partying. Eventually, three of my best friends were in rehab for chemical and alcohol addictions.  We were all totally out of control.

Interestingly, at the same time I was in the Brew Crew I was also in a Small Group. It might seem odd to you that I would go to a Small Group but I was. Some friends of mine invited me to attend a large weekly gathering of Christ followers that met during the week.  It was a big group of about 100 or so kids. The ministry leaders of this big group would do skits, songs, talk about the Bible, etc. In this crowd of kids I heard about a Small Group and decided to join one, with some buddies, led by a young professional named Scott.

I was reluctant about the group at first because I didn’t grow up in a Christian family. I didn’t have a biblical frame of reference for life.  I didn’t know anything about spiritual practices, how to find a Bible verse or what to say in a prayer.  I was insecure about the expectations of needing to know about these things.

Scott was new at leading but he was a great Small Group leader. He created a safe plus for everyone to be real about his or her life.  I felt like I could be authentic about who I was, I was open about the parties I went to and the craziness of my lifestyle. I never felt judged or confronted by anyone there.  Scott helped me feel like my presence in the group was really important. It was through the relationships in this Small Group, and with Scott, that after three years I put my faith in Jesus and started actively following him.

What I want all of you to hear is the power of a Small Group community and what God can do when you create the right culture. Jesus was the master at creating the right culture for messy people – Jesus went to the party at Matthews House in Matt. Ch. 9, where the sinners were partying – Brew Crew.  Jesus is comfortable with chaos of people’s lives.

Let me try and summarize some of the things Scott did well that made his Small Group so effective and life changing. Here are five principles that you can use as a New Small Group leader in creating a Small Group culture where “No Perfect People are Allowed” and life change can happen.

1. Authenticity Starts With You

Don’t be fake.  Fake people are like wax fruit.  Wax leaves a bad taste in people’s mouth. So do wax people. Don’t try to manage your image as a person who has it all together as the leader because you think that is what the leader is supposed to do.  Be authentic.

2. Be Vulnerable First

Set the pace for the group by exposing your weaknesses first… The reason people hide, and pretend in front of others, is usually because of shame or pride. These are both extremely dark and powerful emotions.  They keep people stuck from experiencing the freedom Christ came to give us. You can lead them to overcoming this by being vulnerable as the leader. Share your stories of struggle. I know you think you will lose respect by sharing your struggles but trust me…you will gain greater respect and admiration through vulnerability. Let the promise of James ch. 5 be true in your group where it says, “Confess you sins to one another so that you may be healed.” Let this verse be an accessible practice in your group. Here are some examples of what you might share vulnerably:  Share your addictions – alcohol, sexual, food related addictions.  If you come from a broken home…. you could share about feeling unlovable and the insecurity that comes with it. The key to this principle is you exposing some of the mess of your life to the rest of the group first.

3. Expect Messy People.

We live in a relational broken world. Divorce shatters relational dreams, abuse of all kinds, and abandonment have all taken a huge toll on people’s ability to relate in healthy ways with one another. Here are some of the realities from eight couples in my Small Group right now.

  1. 10 Divorces (4 from one guy).
  2. 4 Sexually abused: one by football coach when he was 8 yrs. old, the same man molested three other boys. Later in life all three of those boys committed suicide.
  3. 4 are in recovery for addictions.
  4. 3 have had abortions.
  5. 1 guy was previously involved in four different cults.

Don’t be surprised by pain in people’s lives. We live in a messy, pain filled world.  Embrace creating a culture where people can share the story of their life, be fully know, accepted and loved. Here is what you need to look out for:  If people in your group are answering the question of how they are doing with: “Doing Great!” or “Couldn’t be Better!”  then repeat principle one and two…….their lying to you on some level.

4. Have a Process View of Growth.

Spiritual growth takes time. Transformation of the heart that results in new behavior is the goal and you can’t rush or microwave this process. As a Small Group Leader you can never cause spiritual growth in a person. Only God can do this. Look at 1 Corinthians 3:5-7

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

It took me being in a Small Group 3 years before I even said ‘yes’ to following Jesus.  Is three years too long?  Should someone have given up on me sooner?  Take the pressure off yourself that you are responsible for people’s growth. It’s not up to you. You are just creating a culture for God to work.

As you are waiting and looking for growth in people be sure and celebrate when you see growth in someone.  Point it out to them.  Give credit to God for it.  Affirm where you see God at work.

5. It’s Not Always What You ‘Know’ But it is How You ‘Love.’

One of the greatest fears of a new small group leader is the fear of not knowing an answer to a question or how to handle a situation that might come up in your group. Love is going to trump right answers.  A leader of love that seeks to serve others in the group will be more important than any of the content you share with them.  Especially early on in the life of a group.  If you don’t know an answer to a question about the Bible – just say “I don’t know the answer to that.”  If someone is asking for advice and you don’t know what to do, “Say, I don’t know…but I am committed to trying to help you.”  I believe content is very important but as a new group leader you will often feel inadequate.  Love will lead a group to good places.  I couldn’t tell you a single thing that I learned in my first small group…but I remember the love I was given. As a group gets to know one another deeply it will be easier to speak truth into each others lives from a place of love.

Creating Life Changing Culture in Your Small Group

I hope you were able to see and understand the value of some of these principles for leading a Small Group. Being intentional with these principles will create a culture where God grows people and you can see success at leading a Small Group where “No Perfect People Are Allowed.”

Two Simple Keys for Leading Your Staff

This is a guest post by Matt Miller, lead pastor of New City Church in Shawnee, Kansas. 

As a new church planter, I often feel like the dog who caught the car.  I started chasing the dream of launching New City Church in May of 2010 and in January of 2012, the dream became a reality.  And the reality was, I was in over my head!


One area of ministry that consistently frustrated me was the area of church leadership.  Like most church plants, our early qualification for leadership was, “Do they have a pulse?”  If they did, we gave them a title and hoped for the best.  Fortunately, we quickly realized that more than a pulse was needed and we began to make wiser decisions in this area.  However, I have learned that just because we are doing a better job of placing people doesn’t mean we are immune to staffing issues.  What follows are two principles I have learned that have influenced me as I have led my staff.


Respond, Don’t React


On my church planting journey, I have been blessed with experienced coaches.  It has
been great for me to have access to men who ask the right questions, have a different perspective, and have done what I hope to do.  I can remember on one occasion when I was sharing with my coach, Troy McMahon, about a frustrating text I had received from one of my staff members.  I was telling him what I had texted back and in mid-sentence Troy interrupted me.  I remember Troy saying, “Your Executive Pastor can react. Your Worship Pastor can react.  Your Kid City Pastor can react.  But you must respond.”  I had been guilty of allowing staff to evoke reactions out of me that often led to heated discussions.
What Troy challenged me with was to respond.  Not to respond with some quip or even a solution, but to respond with vision.  For me, to respond with vision meant that I couldn’t immediately respond.  I had to pause, pray, and process my response.  A response is required because a leader doesn’t ignore difficult issues.  But how that leader responds is important because his response will create a culture of reaction or responding.


Develop, Don’t Dismiss


As a leader learns to respond, what often follows are not heated discussions but honestconversations.  When I gave space to pause, pray, and process my response I was able to see the situation more clearly.  This clarity led to the second principle that heavily influences my leadership.  I’m learning to develop not dismiss.  I am guilty of moving on to the next person if the current person isn’t figuring it out.  What I’m learning is that, too often, them not figuring it out has more to do with me than with them.  I’m learning to ask, how can I inspire them?  How can I teach them?  What tools can I offer them for growth?  What questions do I need to ask?


All of these take time and in church planting, time is my most valuable commodity.  Choosing to develop my staff is an intentional decision.  If I don’t choose to develop, I won’t.  One way I intentionally choose to develop is by having weekly one-on-ones with my staff.  During this time I ask five coaching questions: Where are you winning?  What are you current challenges?  What are you doing about these challenges?  How can I help?  How can I pray?  By asking these questions, as the leader, I can assess if my staff members are growing or giving up.


These are two things I’m learning on my journey.  I hope they will inspire you on yours.