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Category Archives: Discipleship

Community is Still Messy

In the Beginning, God created. And with the sound of his voice, galaxies were hurled into orbit, light beamed from the heavens and waters covered the earth. Valleys dug deep and mountains sprung high. Birds flew in the air and … Continue reading

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Say “Yes” to the Next Generation

Erastus. Rufus. Gaius. Phoebe. Priscilla. Olympas. Aquilla. These names don’t mean anything to us but they meant the world to Paul. When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, it was his most theological and philosophical book. It … Continue reading

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#LentChallenge: The Third and Fourth Generation

2 Timothy 2:2 “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” From prison, Paul writes his … Continue reading

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#LentChallenge: The Last Command

“Go and make disciples.” Jesus’ last command was clear. Go make disciples. Not go build churches. Not go preach sermons. Not go write books. Not go start Bible studies. Go make disciples. Now, I want to be very clear: I … Continue reading

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#LentChallenge Ideas

The #LentChallenge starts TOMORROW! Make sure to download a copy of the reading plan here. And here are some ideas to make it a great experience!

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The Story, Part 2

Here is the second installment of The Story– covering the Old Testament in 2 hours. J-Term Small Group: The STORY with Heather Zempel Part 2 from National Community Church on Vimeo.

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The Lent Challenge

Lent. It’s a season of preparation, repentance, and anticipation as we move forward to the celebration of the resurrection. Last year, my friend Margaret Feinberg threw down the gauntlet: read through the entire Bible during Lent. I thought she was … Continue reading

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The Story: Part 1, Exploring the Backlot

Every January, we host a mid-size group experience called The Story. Over the course of 3 nights, we take participants through the chronological story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, from Garden to City. We put the prophets into … Continue reading

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Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts

The New Testament is full of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Sometimes, it seems as though God unleashes something supernatural through a person. Other times, it seems as though God pours out a greater anointing on the natural talents and … Continue reading

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Be Led. Go Lead.

We are currently accepting applications for our 2013-2014 class of NCC Proteges. The Protege Program was launched 5 years ago to develop the next generation of leaders in the character they need to sustain their calling and in the gifts … Continue reading

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Why Now?

When it comes to baptism, the question is often not “Why Now?” but “Why Not?” We are preparing for our upcoming Easter Baptism, and every year I have numerous conversations with people about whether or not it is the “right … Continue reading

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Throw Better Parties

This is another installment of the Theology of Fun series. We opened the door and walked right over the welcome mat just as we had done hundreds of times before, but on this particular day Ryan noticed it. Our pathetic … Continue reading

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Leadership 101.4- Semester System

I’m posting content, videos, and questions from our online Leadership 101 training for new leaders. This is Part 4: The Semester System. At NCC, we do groups on the semester system. This allows groups to follow the natural rhythm of … Continue reading

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Boxes of Mess

I can’t escape the mess. Twenty years ago, I hauled around boxes of sampler bottles from Ben Hur Research Farm so I could run chemical analyses and determine biokinetic properties of the reactions in the swine farm treatment lagoon.  Today, … Continue reading

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Be a Protege

Four years ago, Mark Batterson and I sat at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants…across the street from the National Cathedral…and dreamed up the Protege Program. Well, we didn’t actually dream it up. We stole it from Steve Saccone and … Continue reading

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Theology of a Teenager, Part 2

Yesterday, I talked about the beginning of my theology adventure with Michelle. Here’s the rest of the story. Michelle read Theology and Galatians, learned more about Jacob Arminius than she ever thought she wanted to know (and heard me talk … Continue reading

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Theology of a Teenager, Part 1

Last summer, my friend Michelle asked me if I would teach her theology. Here’s a little background on Michelle. She’s 15 years old, in high school, navigating tricky relationships with friends, and wrestling through her convictions on any given day … Continue reading

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Favorite Blogs of 2011

My blogging productivity diminished greatly in 2011. I will blame the book-writing process for that. This is a list of my favorites from 2011. Not necessarily the most popular, insightful, or important. Just the ones I like the best. Never … Continue reading

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Advent Prayers

Evangelicals aren’t exactly known for their attention to the liturgical calendar, but I’ve found that it often provides helpful goals and a much needed rhythm for my spiritual life. This year, I decided to follow the Advent Scripture readings from … Continue reading

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The God of Jacob

I rarely ask my readers for any favors, but today, I’m asking for one small request. In about 10 hours, we leave for our Uprising Student Ministry Getaway. Could you lift just a quick prayer for our students and our … Continue reading

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I Don’t Care

I’m not known for empathy. I’m a pastor that rarely hears the word “care” on the other side of my title to describe what I do. Several months ago, I refused to offer a comforting throwaway line of “It’s all … Continue reading

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Guns and Legos

Yesterday, my schedule included, “Leadership Covenant training, lego construction, gun range.” Yep, I’m a discipleship pastor. Here’s the deal. Our 3-hour Leadership 101, the initial online training that all NCC small group leaders are required to complete, is being updated. … Continue reading

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Go In Twos

We are discipled by people, not by programs.  Discipleship happens when we invite people into our lives as we are living it. Sometimes that happens in my home. Sometimes it happens around food. More often, it’s happening on the road. … Continue reading

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One Crazy Idea: CHIPOTLE!

It’s One Crazy Idea Week. I’m surrounded by crazy people doing crazy things, and all of them were fueled long ago, once upon a time, by one crazy idea. In this series, I want to introduce you to some of … Continue reading

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From the Archives: Modulus of Elasticity

Still trying to write a book…so here’s a little gem from the archives. Modulus of Elasticity first published on March 28, 2008. I was thinking about the modulus of elasticity yesterday. Yes, I tend to think about such things. Blame … Continue reading

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From the Archives: Wear Out Your Welcome

I’m trying to write a book…ughhhh…which means my blogging is anemic. So, instead of letting this thing go dark, I’m bringing you some of my personal favorites from the archives. Wear Our Your Welcome originally posted on May 4, 2009. … Continue reading

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From the Archives: When Christians Lie

I’m trying to write a book…so I’m posting some of my favorites from the archives this week. When Christians Lie was originally published on March 29, 2011. “Just tell me everything is going to be okay.” That’s all my friend … Continue reading

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From the Archives

Alright folks, I’ve obviously not gotten any blogging in over the past two weeks, and it’s not looking promising for the next couple weeks either. So, next week, I’m going to dig into the archives and post some of my … Continue reading

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The Table of Emmaus

The Road to Emmaus is a familiar story to many of us, especially those who grew up with the Vacation Bible School stories of the post-resurrection celebrations. But I’m not convinced the road was the most significant setting of the … Continue reading

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Questions I Am Asking

I’m asking some new questions these days. I’m asking them of myself and also of the young leaders I meet with: Where have you led recently where you felt like you were firing on all cylinders? Where have you led … Continue reading

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Parenthood

Today was a full day in Greece. Preaching, big Greek lunch, exploring the Roman Forum and St. Demetrius Greek Orthodox Church, orientation at the A21 Campaign offices, and a team viewing of the film Human Trafficking. But the highlight of … Continue reading

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Serious About Sabbath

A couple of years ago, I started practicing the Sabbath. And I honestly don’t think I’m exaggerating at all when I say I think it saved my ministry. And my sanity. Sabbath looks different every week. Sometimes, it needs to … Continue reading

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A Big Game of Telephone

In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul outlined a strategy for growing the church: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” These were … Continue reading

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The Romans 16 List

This weekend, our leaders got to hear from one of my mentors and friends, Bill Donahue. Bill trained leaders at Willow Creek Community Church and spearheaded group life initiatives with the Willow Creek Association, and he now serves as President … Continue reading

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When Christians Lie

“Just tell me everything is going to be okay.” That’s all my friend wanted me to say. Just a little comfort and assurance. We had just spent about four hours talking about the difficulties she was facing in ministry and … Continue reading

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Theology 101

Once a year, I teach our Theology 101 class at NCC, and behind The Story and Leadership Retreat, it’s probably my favorite part of the job. This semester, 40+ people registered for the group, which presented a new challenge. How … Continue reading

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Responding to Failure/Responding to Success

I think that the greatest test of leadership later in life is how we respond to our success. Do we let it go to our head or do we give God glory? Do we use it to build an army … Continue reading

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Never Travel Alone

This weekend proved to be another adventure. In general, I try to never travel alone. The main reason is that joint experiences seem to create the best environments for discipleship. And let’s just face it; I just have a lot … Continue reading

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Face-to-Face and Shoulder-to-Shoulder

I’ve talked a lot recently about making disciples. I’m struck by the fact that Jesus told his followers to go “make” disciples, not “find” disciples. Once upon a time someone stumbled upon my blog because they did a Google search … Continue reading

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Tour Guides vs. Travel Agents

Some of the best discipleship advice I ever learned was from a book on evangelism. It’s more important to be a tour guide than a travel agent. Thank you, Rick Richardson. There is a big difference between being a travel … Continue reading

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Value People Over Programs

Leaders who leave a legacy see the value in people. They realize that ministry is not a program but people who are moving out of the overflow of their gifts. Disciples will not emerge from a program; they will emerge … Continue reading

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X-Ray Vision

Leaders need X-Ray Vision. They need the ability to see gifts, abilities, and passions in people that they don’t see themselves. The theological term for this would be discernment. When Samuel looked at David, he didn’t see a shepherd boy … Continue reading

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Kaleidoscopic Calling

The calling of God is kaleidoscopic. This morning, I had a great conversation with one of our young leaders at NCC. She’s in her mid-twenties and sorting out what God’s call on her life looks like. I asked her the … Continue reading

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Tooting Their Horn- Julius Hunter

LSU Campus. 1998. Destiny Campus Ministries. Julius Hunter was one of the first people crazy enough to come to one of my small groups. While I recognized leadership potential in him pretty quickly, he told me very quickly that he … Continue reading

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Leadership Lessons From Steve Corn

Tonight, the Mathews family and Plash family found their way to the Sawyer abode for the annual gathering of friends, fun, and laughter. I pulled Steve Corn out of the madness for a couple minutes to talk about leadership. Despite … Continue reading

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Leadership Lessons From Chris Douglas

I met Chris Douglas in Free Speech Alley on the campus of Louisiana State University in 1990-something. He was crazy enough to be in the first small group I ever led and went on to serve as a youth pastor, … Continue reading

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This Ain’t FedEx

Team D– the NCC Discipleship Team– is writing a series of blogs about things that no one ever told us about small group leadership. Today, I challenge you to be committed for the long haul. Once upon a time, someone … Continue reading

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Don’t Answer That Question

Team D– the NCC Discipleship Team– is writing a series of blogs about things that no one ever told us about small group leadership. Today, let’s focus on asking great questions. I used to think that my role as the … Continue reading

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Throw Away the Workbook

Team D– the NCC Discipleship Team– is writing a series of blogs about things that no one ever told us about small group leadership. Today, I challenge you to throw away the workbook. The best conversations are not found in … Continue reading

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Normality is Not Normal

Team D– the NCC Discipleship Team– is writing a series of blogs about things that no one ever told us about small group leadership. Today, I share one of my favorite lines from John Ortberg: Everyone is normal until you … Continue reading

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