Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Joy as an act of rebellion against the spirit of the world

Written by: on April 26, 2023

I once heard someone say that joy is one of the most punk rock attributes a person can have. That it rebels against the world’s system. That it is the ultimate alternative to the cynicism we are so easily sucked into.

When I was reading Cascades by Greg Satell I couldn’t stop thinking about that statement. Satell told the story of the Serbian resistance group Otpor, and their penchant for satire and fun as part of the attraction of their movement[1], and he shared the winsome way Polish people protested by taking their TVs on a walk when the state-sponsored news propaganda came on.[2] He weaves this theme of joy as an agent of change throughout the book.

One of the principles of transformational change is pulling in people who are not already faithful followers towards the cause, and not pushing them away by setting too high a bar of participation. Joy is one way of accomplishing that.

I also thought a lot about small groups while reading this book. Repeatedly, Satell states that “small groups, loosely connected, united by a common purpose”[3] are essential for creating and sustaining transformational change. And he gives many examples of this principle, from revolutionary movements, to organizational leadership, to Rick Warren and Saddleback church, and more.

I started wondering what could happen when we intentionally mash up the two: Joy, and small groups.

Because I think for there to be change in and through the church, there must be both.

A growing congregation may bring all kinds of diverse people together through its primary gatherings. At least in the church I lead, the participation advantage[4] is that there is a very low bar to attending our weekend services. We believe the gospel is actually good news that can bring great joy for all people (Luke 2:10). While elements of that message can and will offend (Gal 5:11), we do all we can to not be offensive in sharing it.

There are people in every stage of their spiritual journey who are with us on a Sunday, and our job is to help them encounter Jesus, who loves them and came to bring abundant life, and to keep providing clarity about how they can take the next step in their relationship with Him, not push them away for not doing so on our timeline.

Satell writes, “Clearly, deep commitment is essential for any change effort, however before you have commitment, you must have participation.”[5]

Some churches have high barriers to participation: In those churches deep commitment—as evidenced by getting in line with the rules—is the step that opens the door to participation. Other churches like ours who have a low bar to participation struggle sometimes with helping people move from participation to deep commitment (or, discipleship). And that’s where small groups come in.

Small groups, whether short term classes and home bible studies, or long-term life-groups, are often the lifeblood of a healthy church of over 200. Once people truly connect to a group, they very often become more connected to the cause of the church. But the barrier to participation in small groups is much higher than attending a Sunday service: Small groups are where accountability, growth, and a deeper understanding and commitment to the cause of the gospel happens.

As I read between the lines, there was so much gold in this book for my context, including, but not limited to, how (and why) to inspire participation from new attenders and new believers; how to discover keystone changes that impact everything else (this reminded me of Patrick Lencioni’s call for organizations to adopt a “rallying cry” every season[6]); and how to get movement-wide buy in on values. This last point is where it all came together for me.

I started to wonder how we can infuse the value of joy in our small groups. Certainly, there are other values we will want to teach in and through those groups, but I think joy can be a non-negotiable part of each of our classes, studies, and groups. And I think the leaders of those groups can be trained to look for creative, winsome, and sometimes even irreverent (not towards God but towards ourselves) expressions of life together.

The model I have in my head is my peer groups time in Cape Town. We spent a whole day together having fun, goofing off, having new experiences, and talking deeply. It was joyful. And it quickly integrated us into each other’s lives and into the program. That day, more than anything else, solidified my commitment to this program.

So, I wonder if joy was a huge value in our groups, whether the bar for participation in the groups would be eased for more people to want to join the movement of The Church On The Way that is making a difference in Los Angeles, and the world?

Lastly, in the spirit of not having a backstage life with you all, I’ll end the semester with a confession that there was one more gratuitous reference in my post: The person I heard talk about joy being a true punk-rock value? Bono.

Thank you, and goodnight.

[1] Greg Satell, Cascades: How to Create a Movement That Drives Transformational Change (New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2019), 9.

[2] Satell, Cascades, 195.

[3] Ibid., 19.

[4] Ibid., 197.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage: Why Organizational health Trumps Everything Else in Business (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012), 121.

About the Author


Tim Clark

I'm on a lifelong journey of discovering the person God has created me to be and aligning that with the purpose God has created me for. I've been pressing hard after Jesus for 40 years, and I currently serve Him as the lead pastor of vision and voice at The Church On The Way in Los Angeles. I live with my wife and 3 kids in Burbank California.

8 responses to “Joy as an act of rebellion against the spirit of the world”

  1. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hello Professor Clark,

    I love the focus on joy, on relationship building and small groups.

    My current church has a three services with a total of 1,500 (ish). What makes the church work for me is the small groups.

    I am truly appreciative of Satell’s book which introduced to me the idea of a cascade of people with the same values, creating change.

    I don’t wander very far from my NPO – Refugee Resettlement – 1st 30 Days of U.S. Resettlement and I truly see how small groups of like minded folk can begin to bridge the polarization of church/politics in regard to immigration.

    Many have avoided the biblical guidance regarding the “alien amongst us” but I intend to use Satell’s recommendation for change in my NPO. Nice

    I have truly appreciated the cohort teachers each week. Reading their blogposts have helped me do my inspectional readings. The personal experiences help me to see the applications of the texts.

    Thanks for teaching….Shalom…Russ

    P.S. My joy comes at dessert time during out small group meetings.

  2. Adam Harris says:

    Great posts man, infusing joy into what we do is such a draw to anything we do. I know I am drawn to things where fun will be had. Like you, that’s a big reason why I enjoyed Cape Town so much and am looking forward to seeing everyone again in Oxford!

  3. Kally Elliott says:

    I’m thinking about what Scott Dickie wrote in his blog post about measuring engagement. In our context, many people think they are fully engaged in the church when they regularly attend once or twice a month. Others believe themselves to be engaged when they serve on several committees, etc. Small groups have been difficult to get going in our church because of many factors. One of them is people’s varied definitions of “engagement.” Small groups require deeper engagement than showing up on Sunday mornings. Many of those in our congregation are just dipping their toes back in the church after leaving a higher barrier church experience. They are suspicious and are not ready for the intensity of a small group experience. A few years ago we introduced “playgroups” where those with similar interests could engage in a small group around that interest. It seemed to infuse some joy and be less of a barrier to joining a small group. Thanks for making me think more about small groups. They are important in the life of a congregation and I’m still pondering how to sustain them in the life of our congregation.

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      Kally, I’ve been thinking a lot about Scott’s post on engagement, too. How do we inspire engagement, how do we measure engagement, etc… ?

      Small groups are a huge step from anonymously attending church, so if we want people connected we have to find good baby steps to help people get there, don’t we?

  4. Hey Tim, man I couldn’t get pass your insight on joy and thought how can I make that a part of my inner and outer world. And how it would change me as a leader, so I can influence others. I’m sitting in it now and pondering on having that joy, joy, joy way down in my heart. Have a great summer!

  5. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    U2 is an amazing band. I love how you book ended this year. We stared with Joy and Desmond Tutu and ended with Joy being a way we can rebel! Thank you for those words and for bringing back joy. I hope to make that a key part of my summer. See you in Oxford!

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