Tackling Nominal Christianity with 'Radical' Small Groups

( [email protected] ) Feb 24, 2011 01:51 PM EST

A serious disease is afflicting churches everywhere today. It’s called nominal Christianity, more accurately described as Christians who are in name only.

While thousands of attendees are regularly keeping the Sabbath, why are so many devoid of a proper spiritual life?

Southern California Pastors Steve Gladen and Todd Olthoff tackled the issues plaguing many churches today, and offered their solution towards maintaining a healthy church filled with healthy believers in the context of small group ministry.

“If you look at people in general, they’re either moving forward or moving back. There’s no middle ground,” said Gladen, pastor of Small Groups at Saddleback Church, to The Christian Post. “Unless [churches] have a plan to keep moving people forward, then they’re always going to be retreating.”

According to Gladen, people need a vision when it comes to spiritual health. They need a target to shoot at and need to know where they are going and where you are taking them in order to grow.

“Unless they know what they’re going after, they’re never going to get to the intended destination,” he expressed.

Many times, churches and leaders tend to give their members tools without giving them the bigger picture or tactical ways to take the steps necessary to become healthier.

Only when people know what they’re after will they begin to walk in that direction. And it’s got to start from the top, shared Gladen.

“If the lead pastor is not pressing it in his or her own life first, then it’s going to have a trickle down effect. Part of leadership’s responsibility is to say what is the end in mind?”

At Saddleback Church, a specific target is aimed for, set by senior pastor Rick Warren: to have every believer balance five biblical principles, envisioned by the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, in their lives, which include fellowship, discipleship, worship, ministry and evangelism.

These five aspects should be present not only in church but in one’s personal life and lifestyle as well.

“If you’re not ready to [build health] in your own life, then don’t even bother [doing] it in the people in your church’s life,” Gladen warned. “A lot of the time we want spiritual formation but we don’t want it in our lives.”

“You want to learn how to make people followers of Christ, make it happen in your own life first.”

Vital to grow in character and connection with Christ, or discipleship, a balance is needed between personal reflection and planning, and action steps that must be taken.

People need direction when it comes to growing spiritually, Gladen recognized, just as people need to be resourced with the next steps that are not too difficult.

“We can’t assume people know how to put everything we tell them together into a plan for their lives. A plan can help us give people the big picture of spiritual health and give them an intentional way to plug into the resources of the church.”

A “Spiritual Health Assessment and Spiritual Health Planner,” created by both Gladen and Olthoff, was a tool developed to help believers evaluate their spiritual health, based on each chapter of Warren’s bestselling The Purpose Driven Life.

Urging everyone to regularly check and balance their spiritual health by assessing five vital signs (worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, evangelism) in their life, the planner was created to give direction to believers in developing a plan to bring God’s five purposes into balance.

It is not a tool to measure one believer against another or see how close one was to perfection. It is simply getting believers to look at their own lives, assess their hearts, and take the next steps necessary towards spiritual growth.

Small groups have been pivotal in getting individuals to grow and be more like Christ, achieving both personal and group health by helping seekers become transformed believers who model purpose-driven lives, and connecting every believer from the church to the community, said Gladen.

Helping people assess their spiritual health and see their lifestyle as part of their spiritual growth happened in the context of small groups.

“What we’re trying to do with small groups is provide a framework and help guide them to do what they need to do,” told Gladen to CP.

Used in small group settings, the assessment would practically help believers keep accountable as they worked on the purpose with the lowest scores (on a scale of 1-5) through a step-by-step crawl, walk, run guide provided in the booklet.

Based on each person’s strengths and weaknesses, members could help one another improve in the areas of weakness, and churches could naturally develop leaders in each of the five areas, according to one’s strengths.

Speaking on how to practically use the guide, Gladen elaborated on the crawl, walk, run steps.

“If you’re going to help people grow spiritually and have them take a risk, you’ve got to make things so simple for them that they’ll think they’re a star. Because when they’re a star, you could help them take the next steps.”

When people were presented with an opportunity where the risks were low, they’d risk it and when successful, build faith through it. And when faith was built, new opportunities presented did not appear as daunting.

Citing David as an example, Gladen took the audience he was addressing on Tuesday through a step-by-step process of how David built his faith to conquer Goliath. First, he was asked to tend sheep. He took the risk, tended the sheep, and built his faith.

Then came a lion. He took the risk, killed the lion, and built his faith. Next came a bear. He took the risk, killed the bear, and built his faith. This continued until he reached Goliath where he too, took the risk, killed Goliath, and built his faith.

David moved from pasturing sheep to pasturing the nation of Israel. “Every person has to have a next step. How obvious is it to your members that they should be taking these first steps?”

Sharing his own personal plan, Gladen told the audience about how he and his wife Lisa took the health assessment and filled out their planner. After they had switched planners and taken a look, Lisa asked Gladen to write down “Develop family time.”

Struggling to keep their marriage healthy as their schedules were busy with school and a full-time ministry, Gladen pledged to his wife that he’d work on family time.

When their first baby arrived, things became exponentially harder. Coming home from a small group conference one day, Gladen was asked to change the baby’s diaper.

Asking his wife if he could write down some ideas that were inspired from the conference first, his wife opened up their planner and reminded him that less than 60 days ago, he pledged to work on family time.

“Our daughter is not an interruption in your busy schedule. She’s a part of your servanthood as the head of the house. Now you decide what you want to do.”

Needless to say, Gladen changed the diaper.

“When you put your spiritual plan into practice and you write it down and let other people see what you are trying to work on, transformation can happen. The great thing is this planner is not a one and out. It’s a living document.”

As Gladen himself modeled the authenticity of the assessment and planner, many of the workshop attendees were inspired. The assessment and planner was simple, yet transformative because of its practical, step-by-step guide.

“We’re described as sheep and sheep need to be guided,” Gladen said to CP.

The “Radical Groups” workshop commenced Tuesday as part of the 2011 Radicalis Conference at Saddleback Church. Several other workshops also in session during the conference include “Radical Preaching, Radical Serving, Radical Fellowship, Radical Missions,” and many more. The conference will continue through Friday.

Gladen oversees over 3,500 adult small groups at Saddleback. His latest book, Small Groups With Purpose is set to release in June.