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.
While we were in Dallas last weekend, we got to see one of Miranda’s old friends, Heather Zempel. She and Heather grew up spending Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays playing football in the backyard of “Gran’s” house. (Miranda’s grandmother) Since those days, Heather has become a discipleship pastor and small group guru at National Community Church in DC. She’s written a small group curriculum (called Sacred Roads) which has been published all over the country and she has become a sought after speaker for events where small group folks come together.
Anyway, we got to hang out with her a bit and she treated us to a meal at Saltgrass. (Thanks Heather and by the way, you’ve got that “ticket grabbing” move perfected – it was very quick, fluid, and precise – impressive.) We not only shared a meal together, but our lives as well. She told us about her husband, niece, & ministry and asked lots of questions about our situation. I’m always amazed at the way that God is able to stitch people together. Unlike Miranda, I haven’t exactly had a lot of time (or history) with Heather, and yet, because of our connection in Christ, it felt like I was just reconnecting with an old friend. (Of course hearing all their old stories probably helped that image too.) Heather is one of those people who is easy to know. She has a contagious exuberance and an easy laugh that make her a ton of fun to hang out with. When you combine that personality with her love for God and people. . .well, I just enjoyed getting to know her and feel like it’s a privilege to call her my friend.
Prayer: Lord I ask You to lead Heather. As she continues this new era of ministry where she is bouncing from one city to the next and teaching others, I ask for you to protect her. Keep her grounded and allow her plenty of time to nurture the deep relationships in her life – the important relationships. Allow her to remain connected to You and to NCC folks in such a way that she can venture off into these other places with a lot of overflow. Allow her to do ministry in Your strength, with Your blessing, in Your power, under Your guidance. Give her wisdom to choose which opportunities to take part in and help her to discern when to say “No” in order to stay healthy. Lord continue to use her for Your glory. AMEN.
I had a thought today as I was reading a post on friend’s (Heather Zempel) blog. She was talking about how messy ministry can get due to what I will call the “human” factor. Anyway, I was just thinking about how God seems to like things to be a little messy. It seems like everywhere Jesus went, there was a bit of a mess that he left behind. People didn’t know what to think of Him. Anyway, I was just thinkin’ that maybe we’re all a little OCD compared to God. Now, let’s be clear, I’m not calling God a “slob.” You might be saying, “God is not a God of chaos but a God of order.” (that popular saying comes from I Cor 14:33 which affirms that God is not the author of confusion but of peace – and it’s speaking to a very specific situation regarding worship.)
Anyway, here’s what I’m trying to say. Maybe God’s work only seems messy to us because we’ve gotten so used to our junk piles. I mean, if God breaks our paradigms and changes things up on us, it’s gonna feel messy simply ’cause it’s new and we don’t know how to navigate the new as well. We’re OCD in the sense that we like things to remain in the places where we put them. We even like putting people into boxes so we can categorize them and place them in the right places in our lives. But if we’ve truly surrendered to God, then we’re seeking to make conscious choices to allow Him to do the arranging in our lives. That’s when things start feeling messy. The interesting thing is that God is actually “cleaning” up when He starts rearranging. OK – now I’ve gone full circle – It looks like God is the one who is OCD now. Maybe you guys should all just ignore me. . . I have no idea what I’m talking about.
Oh well. . .my random thoughts go in circles quite a bit. Maybe some of this will still be interesting to someone. I hope it at least makes you think a bit. Anybody got any other thoughts that can help clear this all up for me?
SmallGroupTrader.com (sgt) has published another article that I wrote. It’s truly an honor to be able to write for them. They have a great vision for creating and providing resources for small group leaders and are really doing some innovative things. (Check out the free video training clips for small group leaders.) It’s taken many years of full-time ministry to become the leader that I am, and yet I can do a little research on their site and see all kinds of ways that I can improve. Some of the best names in the church world (particularly the small group world) are represented there and I feel blessed to be able to be a part.
This latest article is titled: “Practical Ways to Connect as a Group” I tried to give a little theory and a few specific ideas for building community in a small group setting. The original idea came from a sgt (small group trader) list of “needed” articles. The request was “How do I Help my group Gel?” The final edit was done by the sgt folks.
I’d also encourage you to check out a small group guru and Miranda’s lifelong family friend Heather Zempel while you’re there. She’s got some great articles on sgt, an incredible blog, and has even written a brand new small group resource called Sacred Roads which was published earlier this month.
I just wanted to let everybody know about a new resource for small groups. Smallgroupexchange.com launched earlier this month and has tons of helpful materials. If you’re not too sure about something, they’ve got articles to help. There are also plenty of ideas and materials you can purchase (with reviews) to guide your study. They even have free training videos for small group leaders.
The smallgroupexchange folks have also asked me to do some writing/reviewing for their site. Wow! What an honor. You can check out my small group exchange bio here or one of my articles (What should we Study? & Leadership is Service). While you’re there, you should check out Heather Zempel’s articles. She’s a great writer and small group guru who has been a family friend to Miranda for her whole life. She’s quickly become my friend too. She also has a great blog called Wineskins for Discipleship.