Archives For Leadership

Storyline’s first Coaching Group had its initial meeting last Wednesday night.

This Coaching Group represents an evolution in my approach to discipleship and leadership development within our community.

I used to wonder how to describe myself and the work I do with Storyline (see here for an old blog post about Church Starter vs. Spiritual Guide). Now I’ve really come to see myself as a coach for mission and the spiritual life.

After receiving training through Mission Alive’s Coaching Labs, I began coaching individual ministry leaders or small ministry leader teams within Storyline. My coaching was largely skill-based and focused on a particular ministry task – like leading a house church. Once a quarter we would host a Leader Forum for all the leaders to get together and enjoy each other’s company (usually 8-12 people).

It became clear over time, however, that my ministry coaching was missing two important elements: 1) an emphasis on the whole person, namely character development and spiritual formation in addition to skills; and 2) the relational synergy that existed in our Forum sessions with 8-12 people.

Enter 3DM (3 Dimensional Ministries). It was about this time that I began reading about a structure developed by 3DM most often called a Huddle. It is their basic vehicle for life-on-life discipleship: a group of 3-8 people, called together by a leader, who share life together regularly for a season and practice a set of tools for following Jesus called LifeShapes. Essentially, the Huddle leader serves as a coach who helps group members listen to God and act on what they’re hearing.

The LifeShapes integrate skill and character development and are portable enough to be remembered and shared by anyone. That is, in fact, 3DM’s hope: that Huddle participants are formed so deeply by their experiences that they themselves go on to gather a group of 3-8 people around them to coach in following Jesus.

The Huddle is a proven vehicle for discipleship and leadership development. It was a basic building block of a European church planting movement through which, in one 3-year period, 725 churches were planted (you can read more about that here).

I suppose the heart of what excites me most about the Huddle concept is that it feels like “Jesus style” discipleship – highly relational, extremely non-programmatic. At the end of the day, that’s what I want to do with my life – to help people experience what I’m convinced is the best way out there to live, the way of Jesus.

Mike Breen, the leader of 3DM, says you can build a church and not have disciples. But if you make disciples, you’ll always get the church. Sign me up. That’s the kind of church planting I want to do.

So after a season of prayer, I invited 8 people (some ministry leaders, some committed disciples – all Partners in Mission with Storyline) to walk with me in a Coaching Group, our language for a Huddle. We’ll walk together for the next year and see what God does. Pray for me as I pour myself into these eight people as a coach and a disciple. Pray for my Coaching Group friends, that this will be a rich season of spiritual growth and connection to God for them.

If you’re interested to read more about Huddles, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of the book Building a Discipling Culture, by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram. Incidentally, the 2nd Edition, with 60% new content, is being released as an e-book TODAY.

Next week I’ll share more about what I’m learning about Jesus’ twofold approach to discipleship – invitation and challenge.

I lead from the ‘gut’. I lead from the heart. I lead from my passions.

Call it what you will – I’m an emotional leader, I suppose.

Here’s what I mean: if I’m passionate and excited about something, I lead well. That is, I find it easy to collaborate with others, to equip others for a task, to cast vision for the future, to model and live out the mission myself, etc.

If I’m discouraged and frustrated, I don’t lead well.

This realization has confronted me as I’ve paid closer attention to my heart, or gut, or emotions – whatever you call it.

I first began to tune in to the “state of my heart” through the Church of Two movement, with its focus on identifying and sharing with others feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, happiness or excitement. In fact, it had such an impact on me that I now begin my daily prayer by checking in with God and talking to him about how I’m feeling.

I gained another tool this summer on my Quest retreat with Fellowship of the Sword called “The Emotional Cup,” developed in the book Emotional Fitness by David Ferguson and Don McMinn.

I haven’t read the book, but have found the overview of the concept quite helpful for my own emotional attentiveness.

The main idea is that hurts, sadness and disappointments drop to the bottom of the cup and serve as the source for all other negative emotions and behaviors.

Hurts are bad things that happen to us, not bad things we do to ourselves; they are wounds others inflict and are not our own sin or brokenness.

When we’re hurt, we often react to the pain in anger and resentment, then fear and anxiety, then guilt, then shame, then stress. All of these negative emotions bubble up out of the cup to produce destructive behaviors, whether it’s addiction or depression or irritability or fatigue.

I think most people – myself included – tend to try to deal with the surface level of negative behaviors rather than address the deeper emotional issues that fuel such behaviors.

Then they’re left confused and frustrated – as I have been – when they are not able to stop their behaviors simply with willpower.

What the Emotional Cup proposes is that we address those deeper hurts and disappointments, which causes the negative behaviors to vanish because they no longer have anything off which to feed. To do so is to cut the problem off at the root rather than to lop off a branch that can just grow back.

Incidentally, a major component of the 12 Steps program in Alcoholics Anonymous is taking a “moral inventory” which requires one to catalog major fears and resentments. The overt focus is on what the addict has done wrong. Yet it stops short of the deeper hurts and disappointments that are not the addict’s fault. In my opinion, the Emotional Cup, by starting with hurts and disappointments – things that are not sin or brokenness – takes healing to a deeper level.

In John Eldredge’s words, the real problem is: “Many people have a deep wound in their soul and don’t even known it, much less how to heal it.”

Most of us are not aware of the wounds in our hearts that remain open and infected. Some of us have deeply repressed them. Others of us are very much aware and the last thing we want is to venture anywhere close to them because of the pain they would cause.

We need, as Eldredge says, to let Jesus walk with us into our wounds. He can heal us. He can offer release from our wounds which we so desperately need.

I experienced the truth of this concept this summer as I dealt with some deep hurts in my own life – some as far back as 15 years – and poof! The negative behaviors I was so frustrated with are no longer hanging around like they used to.

God took me into those wounds in my heart and healed me up!

To be sure, I’ve got a long way to go. More healing remains. But I haven’t felt life change quite so tangibly as after processing through the truth of the Emotional Cup.

The challenge for me now is to address the hurts and disappointments with God as they crop up, rather than allowing them to fester and sit at the bottom of the cup.

This is, in my view, at least part of what it means to become an emotionally intelligent leader.

  1. What is the gospel?
  2. What is the mission of the church?
  3. What is a disciple?
  4. How are disciples made?
  5. How does our current approach to making disciples line up with #3 and #4?
  6. What changes need to be made to reflect better our understanding?
  7. How will we measure our effectiveness in disciple making?

From Josh Patrick, Lead Minister of the 4th Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, TN.

When Storyline began, we committed ourselves to live out a value for adaptability in mission, knowing that times would come when we need to adapt and flex because of changing circumstances.

I’m so thankful that this value has not remained at the aspirational level. We have indeed practiced it. For instance:

  • We thought we were going to be a “Sunday morning” church. But we adapted and morphed into a network of house churches.
  • We thought we were going to be a church for young adult professionals. But we adapted as we spent time among friends in poverty and welcomed them into our spiritual family alongside young adults.

I feel strongly that these adaptations were in sync with promptings from God’s Spirit.

And now, Storyline finds itself in a season of adaptation again this spring.

The Backstory

Last fall, several things happened that helped us to see that Storyline was “missing” something:

  1. Approximately 30% of our small community transitioned awaynone because of any conflict or bad feeling toward Storyline (praise the Lord). Mainly because of life transitions – new jobs, new cities, moving to be closer to family, etc.
  2. Storyline had plateaued in its growth and development in the nine months preceding the transitions. No new groups had started. About the same number of people were participating as were at the beginning of 2010. (This was a new trend for us – Storyline had doubled or tripled in size each of the preceding two years.)
  3. Participation in our Formation Retreats had dwindled significantly. We cancelled two Marvelous Light retreats in 2010.
  4. The equipping staff – Ryan Porche and I – had taken second jobs to help sustain our ministry financially which resulted in us working less with Storyline.

What did we make of it? What was missing?

After spending much time in prayer and discernment with the leadership team, we sensed that at the heart of our plateau was a struggle to do discipleship at a deeper level. Storyliners, both those with Christian backgrounds and those without, were not being adequately equipped to follow Jesus in a way that led them out in consistent mission.


It’s not hard to grow a church. It’s just really hard to make disciples. — Mick Woodhead

One reason for the discipleship deficit, we perceived, was because we had developed no way to allow participants within Storyline to make a commitment to following Jesus with Storyline. In an attempt to be non-institutional amidst a context where people are very suspicious of the institution, we had shrunk back from asking for people to commit to the life of Storyline in any formal way.

I’ve come to the conclusion that a ‘bar’ cannot be set in following Jesus unless there exists such an underlying covenant to journey together. Discipleship is too hard to hope that people will just get it on their own. We were made to follow Jesus in community – together – and that assumes some kind of commitment to each other.

I’ve had a hard time admitting this, particularly because I have absolutely hated the frequently unjust and inhospitable practice of “church membership” up to this point in my life. And that might not be saying it strongly enough.

Further, the communal nature of discipleship means that programs and events – like our worship gatherings, retreats, and even house church gatherings – cannot accomplish our goals for discipleship in and of themselves. Learning to follow Jesus is something that takes place in the context of day-to-day relationships, where the lifestyle of Jesus is rubbed off from more radical followers (leaders) to others.

Acts 2:42-47 seems to represent a kind of covenant that followers of Jesus in the early church made with each other: they “devoted themselves” to the apostles’ teaching, prayer, giving, sharing, doing life together, and worshiping.

How are we responding? How are we adapting?

My friend and fellow Mission Alive church planter Kester Smith with the Immanuel Community in Austin, Texas, painted a winsome picture of communal discipleship for me in a class at the ACU Summit in September 2010.

He spoke about how the Immanuel Community, out of struggles similar to Storyline’s, had developed a “Way of Life” – a rule or order – that the members of the community had committed to live out together. The Way of Life included things like daily prayer, weekly worship with the community, hospitality toward new people, service and confession. Sounds like Acts 2:42-47. (You can read the whole thing here.)

The Immanuel Community reflects a growing movement in missional communities toward a “communal rule” as the primary way of doing discipleship.

Alan Hirsch, in The Forgotten Ways, describes it as a shift of focus from core beliefs to core practices — a shift from asking what do followers of Jesus believe to how do followers of Jesus live?

Beliefs are certainly important. They just mean very little unless they are put to action. James says that passive belief is dead (James 2:17). “Even the demons believe.”


It is less important to ask a Christian what he believes about the Bible than it is to inquire what he does with it. — Leslie Newbigin

This “rule of life” approach to discipleship has become so helpful that Mission Alive, my resourcing organization, has made the development of a communal rule of life the focus of its week long Strategy Lab for church planters and church leaders.

As a result, the Storyline Leadership Team has prayed through and developed what we’re calling the “Storyline Lifestyle.” It is our first attempt at a communal rule of life in the way of Jesus. It is the way, in our particular locale, we live out the STORY of God:

  • Sharing life with disconnected or downtrodden friends at least weekly
  • Taking ownership of our spiritual formation in formation groups weekly
  • Opening ourselves to God through prayer and Scripture daily
  • Rallying together with our spiritual family at least weekly
  • Yielding our resources generously to the mission at least monthly

To equip our community to begin to live this lifestyle, we’ve created a 6-week bootcamp that’s called Lifestyle DNA. It’s a catechesis of sorts – spiritual training for newcomers to Storyline. We spend one week framing up the gospel and the lifestyle of Jesus as a response of gratitude to the grace God gives us in Jesus; then the remaining five weeks practicing each of the five life rhythms in community.

At the end of Lifestyle DNA, previously Christian participants can choose to partner with Storyline in its mission and are commissioned publicly in our community gatherings. Not-yet-Christians are given the opportunity to make the decision to follow Jesus and demonstrate their commitment to God and the community publicly in baptism.

After completing Lifestyle DNA, two things keep the lifestyle in front of Storyliners: 1) Formation Groups – gender specific groups of 2-4 people who gather for confession and prayer – are being retooled to flow out of the Storyline Lifestyle; 2) House church leaders will also help by sharing life with and coaching those who have decided to partner with Storyline in mission.

Our leaders have just finished a pilot run of Lifestyle DNA together, and already I can see how my life is changing. Parts of my brokenness are healing up; my connection to God has deepened; and I have a much keener sense of God’s presence when I’m on mission.

Pray for our community as we start the first community-wide Lifestyle DNA tomorrow night!

Stay tuned for upcoming conversations about how Storyline is changing. Part two addresses how Storyline will change structurally. Part three addresses how Storyline will become even more of a training ground for future church planters.

The End of a Chapter

Charles Kiser —  February 1, 2011 — 5 Comments

Today marks the end of one chapter for Storyline and the beginning of a new one.

After months of discernment and prayer, we’ve sensed with our co-workers, Ryan and Claudia Porche, that God was leading them elsewhere to pursue their calling in music and spiritual formation ministry.

This is a bittersweet transition for me, certainly.

Ryan and Claudia are both some of the most intelligent, talented people I’ve been privileged to work with in my life.

They ‘get’ what it means to live on mission, to contextualize the gospel and to take risks for the sake of following Jesus.

Ryan used his tremendous administrative abilities to build infrastructure for Storyline that will remain long after he’s gone. He is a gifted musician, singer and worship leader. He has deep wells of love for people. He’s been one of my favorite co-workers in my life. We’re good friends and comrades.

Claudia used her significant organizing skills to make our monthly worship gatherings special times. She’s also a sharp thinker and has always asked great questions.

And then there’s Kaden, Ryan and Claudia’s seven-month old son. He’s a seriously cute kid, and Storyline is proud to have been the community into which he was born.

None of us – to piggback on comments the Porches have made about their time with Storyline – have any regrets.

What a great season of ministry it has been for us.

Alan Hirsch calls the bond that people share together around mission communitas. Community is shallow when compared to communitas. Communitas is the “Band of Brothers” dynamic. It’s the way Frodo and his friends looked at each other at the end of the Lord of the Rings triology. When you’ve been through thick and thin together, even a short glance at each other can communicate a bond and depth of relationship that one would struggle to describe with words. That’s communitas.

Our relationship with the Porches is our deepest experience of communitas so far. I look forward to ways our paths might cross again in the future, and know that we’ll always be able to pick life up with each other without missing a step because of the experiences we’ve shared together. Facebook will help, too.

We send them out with sadness, because no one in their right mind would send out people of the Porches’ caliber with immediate happiness. But we do send them out with joy, knowing that pursuing their deepest calling will ultimately be best for them and for Storyline in the long run.

Please pray for the Porches as they share conversations with other churches about their next step in ministry.

The Porches with some of their Storyline friends at last week's sending party

And please pray for Storyline as we move forward and search out future co-workers who would join us either to prepare for future church planting or to work with Storyline in the long term.

Feel free to send encouragement and blessing to the Porches via email at ryan.porche[at]gmail[dot]com and ceporche[at]gmail[dot]com.