Community Is Messy: The Perils and Promise of Small Group Ministry, By Heather Zempel alt

Community Is Messy

The Perils and Promise of Small Group Ministry

by Heather Zempel

Community Is Messy
  • Length: 203 pages
  • Dimensions: 0 × 0 in
  • Published: April 25, 2012
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 6697
  • ISBN: 9780830866977

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Heather Zempel oversees the community life at a multisite church in Washington, D.C., a challenging population with one of the highest relocation rates in the United States. And yet under her leadership, National Community Church has become a model for creative, dynamic, deep small group ministry.

Drawing from her background as an environmental engineer (including such bizarre experiences as monitoring a pig lagoon and the unintended slaughter of a hundred innocent fish), Heather Zempel assesses the perils and possibilities inherent in small groups and other environments for Christian community. The book helps leaders begin to see the inherent "mess" of such gatherings as raw material for arriving at something beautiful.

Read this book and discover fresh insights into how we can support one another's unique paths to maturity in Christ while maintaining cohesion as a community and blessing the world around us.

"If you could somehow blend equal parts Bonhoeffer, Mr. Wizard and 'Unsinkable' Molly Brown, you'd get something close to Heather Zempel. It would be a fascinating experiment, like those she describes in Community Is Messy. Stories of what worked (and what didn't) provide countless examples of how discipleship in community is usually nonlinear, often random and always messy. With deep insight and ample humor, Heather proves that 'mess' is actually a catalyst for spiritual growth."

Dave Treat, small groups leader, Asbury UMC, Madison, Alabama, and chief innovation officer,

"Honest, practical and rooted in experience, Heather's direction takes us to those earthy places that we face in day-to-day relational ministry. Her words go beyond platitudes and lead us down paths that point to wholeness in the midst of the reality of messy community. This book offers a fresh angle and creative hope to group leaders and pastors. Embracing this counsel will advance your community forward into deeper expressions and experiences of community. Buy it! Sit with it. Pray through it."

M. Scott Boren, consultant, trainer, and author of Missional Small Groups

"Community Is Messy offers a fresh perspective on the challenges all leaders face in building biblical community. Zempel draws on multiple disciplines to stretch our thinking on strategy, growth and discipleship. It is immediately in the top five on my must-read list for small group pastors and leaders!"

Greg Bowman, author, Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders

"Successfully overseeing many small groups in her multisite church setting gives Heather Zempel credibility in instructing leaders on the 'perils' and 'promises' of small group ministry. Community Is Messy is well worth the read."

Kathleen Leadley, Brethren in Christ History and Life, August 2013

"If you'd benefit from isnight to the failed experiments another church/pastor has encountered in developing small groups, though certainly not exclusively, there is plenty of that here. Despite all the mess and failures, there is a beauty to the portrait given here of a group of people who understand and accept the messiness of doing life together and want to learn to grow in and out of it."

Adam Griffin, YouthWorker Journal, January/February 2013

"Zempel openly shares her experiences—both good and bad—as discipleship pastor at National Community Church in Washington, D.C., and invites small-group leaders to embrace the mess of community life."

Amy Jackson, Christianity Today, September 2012


First Things First: Blood, Sweat and Spit
Community Is Messy
Everything Is an Experiment
Lead Yourself Well
Growing People Grow People
Discipleship Is Not Linear
Small Groups Should Happen in Real Life
Systems Are Made to Be Destroyed
Wear Out Your Welcome
Navigating the Mess


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Heather Zempel

Heather Zempel is the discipleship pastor at National Community Church in Washington, D.C. Before serving at her church, Zempel served in the U.S. Senate as an environment and energy policy advisor from 2001-2005. She has previously published Sacred Roads: Exploring the Historic Paths of Discipleship including DVD leader guides with Threads/Lifeway. Zempel blogs at