I'm currently at the Catalyst conference with Wes Sebree, Patrick Lewis, Brian Brunke, and Alex Diaz. There are several other staff members and ministry folks from First Church down here with us as well.
Yesterday, Andy Stanley opened up the conference with an amazing sermon on the topic of integrity. He spoke of the natural drive within us as leaders to want to see progress, to get to the place down the path where we see God leading us. He urged us to never sacrifice our integrity in order to move forward. Wes pointed out, yesterday, that Andy was able to share stories from his life in such a way that really brings you into his world to where you feel what he was feeling in the midst of that story and then he is able to drive home the principle he's sharing in a way that seems to be so real and so encouraging that while the message was challenging, you feel as though you really can live this out in your own life.
I agree with what Wes said. So I asked myself, what is it that Andy Stanley does that makes him able to share such a challenging message in a way that you don't feel like a total failure for not living out the principle in your own life, but instead, you are encouraged that you can actually put that principle into practice immediately? I believe that it is because Andy Stanley always shares a real life experience of how he actually lived the principle out in his own life. It's a great deal of practicing what you preach! I believe that one of the reasons I'm so drawn to Andy Stanley's speaking and teaching is because I discern that he is authentic in what he shares and I truly believe he lives out what he preaches.
Then one must ask, how does he do it? How does Andy Stanley, a pastor of a church with over 17,000 members live up to such a high level of integrity? In a day where success brings about so much temptation, where so many leaders give in, what is it about Andy Stanley that keeps all that success from going to his head? I believe I have discovered probably the largest piece to this puzzle.
Yesterday, I actually got to meet Andy Stanley at a book signing. I needed a book for him to sign, so I purchased a book that he co-authored with Bill Willits titled, “Creating Community, 5 Keys To Building A Small Group Culture.” I knew that his church, North Point, had small groups, but I'm so thankful that I picked up this book, because I believe I now understand how Andy maintains such a high level of integrity and seems so genuine and authentic. I believe it is a result of his involvement in a cell like environment where is actually involved in small groups that multiply ever 12 to 24 months, that are not only open to believers, but non-believers also. Andy and his wife are not in a group with only a bunch of other high ranking members in the church, no he and Sandra are in a group with two couples from their prior group before multiplication and three brand new couples only some of which have just recently been coming to their church.
In the introduction of this book, Andy writes that he and Sandra have been in small groups since 1993. He briefly shares about the first year that they were in a group and says,
“Those twelve months marked us. Sandra and I have been in a small group ever since. Our lives have gotten much busier. The demands of ministry have become heavier. Our three children require more time than ever before. But being in a small group is a nonnegotiable for us.”
WOW! Now that's a man who really gets it! But this small group isn't like so many other “small groups.” In fact, the back cover has an endorsement on it that reads… “No hype here, no flash-in-the-pan groups that fizzle in a few weeks. This is proven wisdom for promoting deep connections and lasting change.” Here's what is written at the top on the back of the book…
IMAGINE a network of small groups that actually multiply every twelve to twenty-four months.
IMAGINE a network of small groups led by men and women who truly understand their role as shepherd and facilitator.
IMAGINE a church model that quickly integrates nearly every member into a dynamic, committed small group.
In the introduction, Andy Stanley writes two more things that really struck me as “CELL VISION” thinking. He wrote, “The small-group program is not an appendage; it is not a program we tacked onto an existing structure. The small group is part of our lifestyle. We think groups. We organize everything with groups in mind, and everything points to group life. In many ways, group life drives what we do—and do not do—as an organization.”
I knew there was a reason I liked Andy Stanley so much. However, I've only finished the first chapter of this book. I am interested in finding out what a “closed group” is, as this was a term that Andy Stanley used when explaining the small-group model they used. Regardless, I'm looking forward to investigating further, the model of community that is promoted in one of the largest churches in America.
Well, I'm off for another day of excellent conference speakers. I miss my wife and kids and can't wait to get home and give them some love!