In spite of her gifts as a communicator and writer, Heather Zempel is truly humble. She admits her mistakes and paints a picture of stumbling through the maze of small group ministry and leadership, but her passion and heart are also very clear. She loves people and isn’t afraid of a little mess – and in some cases a lot of mess. She doesn’t try to prescribe any particular model for building community but rather draws on her experiences (sometimes very funny) to give the reader some helpful tools for gaining a better perspective on your particular situation.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“I decided a couple years ago to stop trying to strike a balance [in my life] and to pursue life in rhythm instead.”
“People can find legitimate community and be discipled outside our structures.”
“Most people come into groups looking for social space; we encourage leaders to aim for taking their groups [beyond that] to personal space; and we hope individuals will look for intimate space opportunities with a select few inside the group.”
“We need to ensure that our routines don’t become routine.”
This is the best book I’ve ever read on small group ministry! If you’re a part of a small group or want to be, you should read this book!
Heather is actually a family friend, (As a child, Miranda played football with her every Thanksgiving. Mike was the all-time quarterback.) but. . . . well, nevermind – I can’t deny that I’m biased to this book, but it’s still the best I’ve ever read on community groups.
John Medina, author of Brain Rules, explains that multi-tasking is a truly a myth. The way that the brain works doesn’t allow for it. Although the brain can do multiple things simultaneously (You can walk and talk at the same time or breathe and read a book.) the conscious brain can only pay attention to one thing at a time. Our tendency to listen to music, answer the phone, and send e-mails or text messages, while trying to write a paper or finish a project at work is not productive. A focused concentrated effort can go a long way to help manage our time.
Here’s how Medina explains: “Research shows that we can’t multi-task. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich input simultaneously.” Without going into the neurological details, Medina goes on to explain that there are 4 steps that the brain must go through each time attention is shifted from one task to another – four more when attention is shifted back. The process takes several tenths of a second each time. It doesn’t sound like much time but it adds up quickly and maybe more importantly, the distraction hinders the more complicated processes of the task at hand. If you’ve ever found yourself losing track of previous progress, or heard yourself say things like, “Now where was I?” then you have experienced this problem. Medina says, “Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to accomplish a task. Not only that. He or she makes up to 50% more errors.”
This means that if we would put our cell phones on silent (or God forbid – turn them off), close the layers of applications running on the computer, shut the door, and give our tasks a focused effort, we could probably accomplish much more during the day and have fewer errors in our work. Our minds are just too crowded by all the messages competing for our attention. The immediate gratification of our “information addiction” is hurting us. Maybe we should just choose to ignore a few things. All of this thinking reminds me of another post which was inspired by the phrase, Selective Ignorance.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a student, I was a procrastinator. (OK – I probably still am.) But when the deadline was approaching, I would stop everything else and focus on the project. Although I had weeks to work on it, I was able to get it done in a couple of hours with focused effort. Based on my own experiences, I believe know Medina is right.
What would my life look like if I fasted from multi-tasking? Would my kids get more of me? Would I be more present in the moment? Would I get more done? Which messages/projects would I choose to ignore? Would I have to ignore them at all if I had more time ’cause I was getting more things done?
David Platt’s book “Radical” has been a great book for me! As Miranda and I have struggled this past year with our finances, (I’m still looking for a full-time job) we’ve learned much about what it means to trust in the LORD for our needs. We’ve learned new spending habits (well…non-spending habits). And we’ve both been feeling called to give more. It’s a crazy time to begin feeling this calling so strongly, ’cause it’s also the time where we’re pinching pennies more than ever before. This book has really pointed out some of the things we’ve already been learning and made the concepts much more concrete. Even in the midst of unemployment, we are choosing to work on some of these principles and to give in spite of our situation. After all, as Platt explains, “I don’t think God will ever say, ‘I wish you would have kept more for yourself.'” Anyway – pick up the book and read it. You won’t regret it. Well. . . maybe you will regret it temporarily as God interferes with your “American Dream,” but in eternity, you won’t regret any of it.
My favorite parts of Radical:
Jesus’ spent his life with 12 guys. He ran people off who were “ready” to follow Him. When he finished His ministry there were only about 120 who were actually doing what He asked of them.
Luke 9 – Jesus turns 3 different people away saying, (1) “You’ll be homeless.” (2) “Let someone else bury your dad.” (3) “Don’t even say goodbye to your family.” – Jesus persuaded them NOT to follow him. David also tells a story about one of his mentors who began a talk saying, “My goal tonight is to talk you out of following Jesus.”
Quote: “The modern-day gospel says, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Therefore, follow these steps, and you can be saved.’ Meanwhile, the biblical gospel says, ‘You are an enemy of God, dead in your sin, and in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less to ’cause yourself to come to life. Therefore, you are radically dependent on God to do something in your life that you could never do.”
Requirements for discipleship include: Hate father, mother, sister, and brother. Hate even your own life. Carry your cross and follow Jesus. Give up everything. Drop your nets, your careers, your families & friends. – Compare this to the modern: Admit, believe, confess, and pray a prayer after me.
Quote: “This is where we come face to face with a dangerous reality. We do have to give up everything to follow Jesus. We do have to love Him in a way that makes our closest relationships in this world look like hate. And it is entirely possible that He will tell us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor. . . . We rationalize these passages away. . . And this is where we need to pause. Because we are starting to redefine Christianity. . . We are molding Jesus into our image. He is beginning to look a lot like us. . . And the danger now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves.“
The cost of discipleship is high, but the cost of non-discipleship is even higher.“Consider the cost when Christians choose to ignore Jesus’ commands to sell their possessions and give to the poor and instead choose to spend their resources on better comforts, larger homes, nicer cars, and more stuff.” David tells a story of 2 headlines side by side: (1) “First Baptist Celebrates $23 Million Building” and (2) “Baptist Relief Helps Sudanese Refugees” ($5,000 – not even enough to get a plane into Sudan.)
Matthew 13 – Sell everything to purchase a the field with the treasure in it. No matter how crazy people think you are for selling all your stuff, you sell it anyway, ’cause you know about the treasure that awaits you in heaven.
God hates sinners. (Ps 5:5; John 3:36)
Story: Preaching Professor who takes students to graveyard and asks them to speak over the graves and call people from the ground to rise up and live. After some awkward moments, he reminds them that this is the exact thing God has called them to do – call the spiritually dead to life. Only God can do such a thing.
Quote: “God beckons storm clouds, and they come. He tells the wind to blow and the rain to fall, and they obey immediately. He speaks to the mountains, ‘You go there,’ and he says to the seas, ‘You stop here,’ and they do it. Everything in all creation responds in obedience to the Creator…until we get to you and me. We have the audacity to look God in the face and say, ‘No.’“
When Jesus says in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” He is NOT speaking of the cross, but of the “Cup of wrath” (2nd Cup in the Passover). He is not fearful of the cross, but is sweating blood as He considers all of his own Father’s wrath, for all of mankind throughout the centuries being poured out upon him.
Story: Preacher describing the wrath of God in this way: Imagine your standing a mere 100 yards away from a dam which is 10,000 miles high and 10,000 miles wide. The dam breaks and the water rushes toward you. In the last moment, a hole opens up at your feet and swallows all the water. At the cross, Christ drank the ‘cup of wrath’ which was meant for us.
Quote: “Suddenly contemporary Christianity sales pitches don’t seem adequate anymore. Ask Jesus to come into your heart. Invite Jesus to come into your life. Pray this prayer, sign this card, walk down this aisle, and accept Jesus as your personal Savior. . . We have taken the infinitely glorious Son of God, who endured the infinitely terrible wrath of God and who now reigns as the infinitely worthy Lord of all, and we have reduced him to a poor, puny Savior who is just begging for us to accept him. Accept him? Do we really think Jesus needs our acceptance? Don’t we need him?”
Matthew 7:21-23 – Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. – Jesus was speaking to the religious people. Many people will be shocked.
The only proper response to the gospel is much deeper than a prayer, a “decision,” or an intellectual assent. It is a total surrender to an infinitely worthy Savior – Jesus. “We are saved not just to be forgiven of our sins or to be assured of our eternity in heaven, but we are saved to know God.”
Quote: “Where in the Bible is missions ever identified as an optional program?” It’s for everyone. No one can say, “I’m not called to missions.”
We like to interpret Scriptures how they suit our own preferences. For example: When it comes to the responsibilities given to us in the Great Commission (Matthew 28), we say it’s just for the people who are “called,” but when Jesus offers to give rest to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28), we claim it’s for everyone. We like the “abundant life” verse (John 10:10) and claim it as our own, but write off Acts 1:8 (“you shall be witnesses”) as something only for those who are “called.” Or we rationalize it saying, “Well Jesus was only talking to the disciples.”
We should listen to Scripture in order to reproduce rather than just to receive. It’s the difference between watching a football game as a fan or watching like a coach watches – examining the opposing team’s formations and strategies so he can be better prepared to use what he learns when they play again.
Materialism is a blind spot in American Christianity, much like slavery was. Christians in the future will look back on our generations and probably be ashamed of our selfishness.
Wealth can be a barrier to God.
Story: John Wesley makes a purchase: [Wesley] had just finished buying some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day and he noticed that she had only a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, and found that he had little left. It struck him that the LORD was not pleased with hos he had spent his money. He asked himself, “Will thy Master say, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward?’ Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?“
We should put a financial cap our lifestyles.
Quote: God won’t ever say, “I wish you would have kept more for yourself.”
Quote: “A radical lifestyle actually begins with an extraordinary commitment to ordinary practices. . .” (Prayer, Bible Reading, etc)
How we could start over and build our lives on the necessities rather than the luxuries? In America, we think things are necessities that others would consider luxuries.
Quote: “We can stand with the starving or with the overfed. We can identify with poor Lazarus on his way to heaven or with the rich man on his way to hell. We can embrace Jesus while we give away our wealth, or we can walk away from Jesus while we hoard our wealth.”
Quote: “Franklin Roosevelt was emphasizing how Americans will postpone immediate gratification and even endure hard sacrifices if they are convinced their future will be better than their past. Americans are willing to take great risks, he said, if they believe it will accomplish great reward.” I’m not sure this holds true anymore. Seems to me like Americans have a tendency to always go for immediate gratification.
We like to say that there’s no safer place to be than in the center of God’s will. What if God’s will was the most dangerous place to be? Would we still want to be in it??
I finished an audiobook recently called “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers. It’s not the kind of book that I would normally read, but it was only $7 on itunes and I had a giftcard to use. Also, the book just came up in the most random conversations quite a few separate times so I thought I’d give it a shot.
The book tells the story the marriage of a girl who goes by quite a few names (Angel, Amanda, Sarah) and her husband Michael Hosea. She was a prostitute, but God told Michael to marry her anyway. It makes for an interesting set of circumstances in which He tries to love her in spite of her “baggage” and she struggles to receive the love that He offers to her – all-the-while trying to learn how to live a new way of life as a wife. The story also mirrors the Biblical account of the prophet Hosea with is prostitute bride, Gomer. Although Redeeming Love takes place in a completely different setting and the author doesn’t follow the Biblical account exactly, there are certainly many similarities. Rivers says herself that her intention was to retell the Biblical story and I’d say she has done a great job of it.
For me, this was a good story to hear during this time in my life. I have been looking for a job for almost a year. I feel like I have tried everything I know – I finished an alternative certification program and have interviewed for a few teaching positions, but I still seem to be coming up short. As a man who wants to provide for his family and make a difference in the lives of students, I feel worthless sometimes. I know God is using this time to mold me and He’s using it in ways I’ll probably never understand, but my knowledge of those things doesn’t make the emotional turmoil I’m feeling go away. With each interview, my hopes are ignited, but with each phone call saying they have chosen someone with more experience, those hopes are thrown to the ground once again. This emotional roller coaster is wearing on me. Today, I spoke harshly to my wife for no reason. This is not who I am – but it seems to be . . . well. . . who I am right now, and it’s not acceptable.
In Redeeming Love, after getting married and running away from Michael, Sarah eventually finds herself on the auction block being sold as a slave. (I can identify – life is being stripped away from me too.) But then, in the last possible moment, Sarah is bought and redeemed. She eventually finds her way back to Michael.
The hope in this story is helpful. My only problem is that I feel like I’ve been on the auction block for a while and for some reason – I guess God thinks I can handle even more stripping before He steps in – or maybe there’s more to learn?? or new habits to develop?? or new thoughts to develop??
Prayer: Lord, if you’re listening, I’m ready. I need You. I need Your help. I cannot do this. I have no power or control. I want to be who You have called me to be. (and I believe that’s a teacher) I want to provide for my family. I want to help students to understand the world around them and live productive lives. I am weak and I need Your strength. I am desperate, but I know You are in control. I will trust You. Help me to stand strong, to trust more, to notice Your gentle nudges and respond appropriately. Lord, help me to be and to become all that You’ve called me to. I surrender. Redeem me. AMEN.
In Switzerland, the government wanted to use nuclear plants to power the country, but they needed a place to dump all the waste. A study was done in the little town which was being considered. When asked, 50.8% of the people agreed to put themselves at risk for the common good of the nation. To see if they could shrink the number of those against the proposal, they offered $2,175 per person per year to the townspeople. Surprisingly, this had the opposite affect. This time only 24.6% agreed. When the deal was sweetened to $6,525 per person per year, only one person changed his answer. What??? This doesn’t make sense.
Will you do this for free? Sure. We can do that.
How ’bout if I give you lots of cash? No, I don’t think so. Would more $ help persuade you? Nope.
So what happened?
Ultimately, it goes back to the brain. (There is physiological evidence for what I’m about to say. Check Chapter 7 of “Sway” by Ori and Rom Brafman) When only the altruistic part of the brain was stimulated, people were agreeable. But when $$ is offered, the pleasure part of the brain is also stimulated. Because of it’s power and the amount it is exercised, (how often we use it) it takes more to stimulate the pleasure center of the brain. It needs more powerful drugs to make it excited than the altruistic part.
In the experiment, somehow $6,525 didn’t seem like enough compensation to truly stimulate the pleasure part of the brain, but the altruistic part was satisfied with doing it for the common good of the people. Although normal reasoning might lead one to offer financial incentives as motivation, it appears that this might not always be the best option. One might be better off evaluating the offer for how much it might stimulate the pleasure center as opposed to the altruistic part of our brains to make a better decision about whether to offer the incentive or not.
I’m not sure if this says more about our physiology (the way God made our brains) or about the parts of the brain that we choose to exercise. If she had been tested, would Mother Theresa’s “pleasure center” beat her “altruism center?” Could the “altruism center” be exercised enough to outperform the “pleasure center?”
Here’s another cool psychology experiment I read about in “Sway” by Ori and Rom Brafman:
The Love Bridge:
Capilano Canyon (near Vancouver, Canada) can be crossed on a rope suspension bridge (built in 1889) which spans 450 feet at 230 feet above the surface of the ground. There is also a solid wood bridge 10 feet off the ground further down the canyon.
The suspension bridge sways underneath your feet when strong winds blow through, but unsuspecting hikers were also swayed by it’s power.
For the experiment, a female research assistant was told to approach men (one at a time) between the ages of 18-35 as they stepped off the end of each bridge. She was supposed to follow a scripted story with each man. She was to tell them that she was a psychology student conducting a study on the affects of exposure to scenic attractions on creative expression. She would then ask each man to fill out a short survey. When he finished, she would offer to tell him about the study later when they had a bit more time. She was then instructed to tear off a corner of the survey paper, write down her name/phone number and hand it to them. Most of the men happily accepted the number and hiked on down the trail.
The team also sent a male student with the same instructions. Not surprisingly, he was repeatedly turned down and many men wouldn’t even fill out the survey. Over the following few days, there were only 3 curious hikers who called him up. The female student received many calls.
Now here’s the interesting part. Of the 16 men who crossed the small wooden secure bridge, only 2 called her. However, half of the 18 men who crossed the suspension bridge called.
Hmm. . . now what made the difference? Most likely, the feelings which developed during the rope bridge crossing affected their perceptions of her. Their heightened anxiety/adrenaline simulated the same sort of feelings that you get when you have a crush. Their emotional state impacted their decisions and their perceptions. She represented the safety and security they needed as she greeted them on solid ground. For the men on the other bridge, well. . .they didn’t have the same needs/emotions.
Emotions Matter. When you’ve got to make an important decision. Make it at a wise time. Don’t make big decisions right after periods of heightened anxiety or adrenaline.
A pretty face makes more of a difference than you might think. See what you think of this:
51 women signed up for a study on communication. They would speak to an unknown man on the phone and chit chat about the weather, hobbies, etc. The women knew nothing of it, but the men who would make the calls were given a biographical profile and a picture of the women they would be calling. Well. . . that’s what they thought. The profiles were accurate, but the photos were fake. They were specially selected photos: some were of extremely beautiful women while the other half were photos of more ordinary women. After seeing the bios and photos, but before making the phone call, the men were asked to fill out an impression questionnaire.
Not surprisingly, the men who had photos of beautiful women believed they would speak to women who were sociable, poised, humorous, and socially adept. The men who had photos of more ordinary women expected to speak to unsociable, awkward, serious, and socially inept. They had made their “diagnosis” and set their expectations before even speaking to the women.
During their conversations, the men had a hard time seeing the women in any other way. They naturally noticed the characteristics which supported their original assessments and ignored (or didn’t notice) the characteristics which deviated from their perceptions. Their bias’ were brought into the conversations.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The researchers recorded the phone conversations and took the men’s side of the conversation out. A third group of people who knew nothing of the study or it’s participants, were then asked to listen to the recordings of the women. Listening only to the women, this group was asked to fill out the same impression questionnaire that the men filled out earlier. They rated the women the same way the men did. They based their impressions off the voice of a one-sided conversation while the men had based their impressions off of a fake photo.
The expectations of the men not only influenced their perceptions of the women, but also influenced the subtle nuances of the conversations. The men were unconsciously sending out “beautiful” cues. The women subconsciously picked up on the “beautiful” opinions that the men had of them and they reacted similarly. Being thought of as beautiful, made the women believe they were beautiful and they acted as such. The third party group could hear the beauty in their voices because these women believed they were beautiful. Although some were actually very average in appearance, they were still seen as beautiful based upon the confidence and beauty in their voices.
Expectations matter. They change our own perceptions. They change others. They change the world.
PS – This experiment is described in the book Sway by Ori and Rom Brafman.
105 soldiers were participating in a 15 week commander training program in Israel. A psychologist informed the training officers who would be leading the program that they had assembled comprehensive information about each of the soldiers. Each soldier had been classified into one of 3 potential “Command Potential” categories: 1.) High Potential, 2.) Regular Potential, or 3.) Unknown – due to insufficient information. The soldiers were placed into these categories through a series of psychological tests, sociometric data from the previous course, and previous officer ratings. The training officers were requested to learn the names of each soldier who would be in his command and his “CP” rating before the program started. When the program began, the soldiers were divided into groups with even numbers of high, regular, and unknown CP soldiers.
After the 15 week program ended, the officers confirmed that those soldiers who were placed in the highest “CP” category were in fact the ones who had performed the best.
Here’s the catch. The “CP” (command potential) ratings were not actually assigned based upon any data at all. They were actually selected at random.
Those soldiers who were seen as having high potential ultimately lived up to the expectations of their commanding officers. When the officers were told about the random selections, they argued with the psychologists and defended their position – they truly believed that there must have been actual data used to reach those conclusions.
I wonder how many of the “regular CP” or “unknown CP” soldiers actually had a lot of potential too? I wonder what effect lower expectations have upon someone?
PS – This example was also from the book “Sway” by Ori and Rom Brafman. If you like this kind of stuff, you should check it out.
Expectations Matter. Part 1 – Two words matter. (This will be a short series of posts.)
Check out this psychological test!
A professor doesn’t show up to teach one day @ MIT. The students are told there will be a substitute and they are each given a short bio describing their sub. It reads:
“Mr. ___________ is a graduate student in the department of economics and social science here at MIT. He has had 3 semesters of teaching experience in psychology at another college. This is his 1st semester teaching this class. He is 26 yrs old, a veteran, and married. People who know him consider him to be a very warm person, industrious, critical, practical, and determined.”
Now, here’s the catch. Although they believed that everyone was reading the same bio, only half of the class got this bio. The other half got the same bio with two different words. The words “very warm” were replaced with “rather cold.” The last line of the 2nd one read, “People who know him consider him to be a rather cold person, industrious, critical, practical, and determined.”
After sitting in and viewing the exact same teacher under the exact same circumstances, the students were given a short questionnaire about the sub. By their responses, you’d think they had experienced two completely different classes with two different teachers. The students who got the “warm” bio, loved him. Their descriptions were: good-natured, considerate of others, informal, sociable, popular, humorous, and humane. The 2nd group with the “cold” bio described him as: self-centered, formal, unsociable, irritable, humorless, and ruthless.
Two words have the power to change our perceptions and possibly destroy a relationship before it even begins.
The example above is from the book “Sway” by Ori and Rom Brafman. I will be using a few more of their examples throughout this short series of posts. You should check out their book. It’s great stuff!
They call this effect the “diagnosis sway.” Once someone has “diagnosed” another person, it’s very difficult for them to let go of their perception and they will view every interaction with them through this lens. This is what happened to the students. The bios gave them a pre-determined diagnosis and so they viewed everything about the substitute through this lens – picking up subtle nuances and perceptions which would support their diagnosis. This is why first impressions are so important. Once someone has diagnosed you, they will see only those characteristics which will support their first impression diagnosis.
I wanted to write this series of posts because we’ve been talking about expectations in my teacher’s alternative certification classes. Teachers can be “swayed” or have the wrong expectations of a student for many reasons. At the beginning of the year a teacher may be tempted to talk to the students previous teachers to find out what he/she is like, but I’d say they should refrain. A student should have the opportunity to “start over” each year. The new teacher should be willing to “draw their own conclusions” without the influence of others.
“Stand and Deliver” is one of the great movies about teaching. This is the teacher hero’s secret. He has higher expectations of his students. He has not diagnosed them as average or incapable, but instead he sees the possibilities within them and encourages them. Expectations matter.
Inspired by a trip down a staircase which descended into ancient catacombs, Mark Batterson encourages Christians to be great at the Great Commandment! There, beneath the layers of 2000 years of Christianity and tradition, he imagined the ancient primal form of the Christian faith. In Primal, he takes the reader back in time and reminds him/her of the essentials of the faith. Centering on the Great Commandment (Mk 12:30), Batterson acts as a tour guide exploring the depths of genuine compassion, infinite wonder, insatiable curiosity, and boundless energy – the very ideas that sparked the first-century movement and exploded into the modern Christian faith. Hidden by 2000 years of tradition, Batterson leads the reader to rediscover and reclaim the power within them. Primal uncovers the greatness of the Great Commandment and calls the reader to join the primal force which is revealed by it’s convictions.
Primal is a very interesting read. Batterson has become a great writer and is a master at weaving together personal stories, Scriptural examples, psychological research, and scientific evidence. He also knows how to turn a phrase. Here are some of my favorites:
We’re not great at the Great Commandment.
It’s much easier to act like a Christian than it is to react like one.
You can give without loving, but you can not love without giving.
The mind is educated with facts, but the soul is educated with beauty and mystery. And the curriculum is creation.
Conclusion: I would recommend this book to anyone interested in reclaiming the Christian faith and pursuing with abandon the Great Commandment. Primal is absolutely the first book you should read in 2010.
PS: Reading Mark Batterson‘s book “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day” was truly a life-changing moment for me. Therefore, it’s an incredible joy and honor to have been selected to be a part of his blog tour for this book. I was sent a pre-released copy and asked to post a book review.