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Community Is Messy: The Perils and Promise of Small Group Ministry Paperback – August 1, 2012

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Community Is Messy: The Perils and Promise of Small Group Ministry + Creating Community: Five Keys to Building a Small Group Culture + Small Groups with Purpose: How to Create Healthy Communities
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 203 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books (August 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830837884
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830837885
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"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)

About the Author

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

More About the Author

A native Alabamian, Heather Zempel currently leads the discipleship efforts at National Community Church in Washington, DC where she oversees small groups, directs leadership development training, and serves on the weekend teaching team.

Heather followed a circuitous route into full-time ministry. She went to Louisiana State University where she obtained bachelor's and master's degrees in biological engineering. After working as a consulting engineer in Nashville, Tennessee, she moved to Washington, DC where she worked as a policy consultant to a United States Senator.

In January 2002, Heather joined the team of National Community Church (NCC) part-time while still working full-time on Capitol Hill. In 2005, Heather left the Senate to join the NCC team full-time as Discipleship Pastor. In her role, Heather serves on the weekend teaching team and oversees small groups, leadership development, and strategic growth environments. She developed The Story course, in which she covers the entire chronological story of the Bible in six hours, and she also teaches NCC's Theology 101 course. In 2008, Heather launched the Protégé Program, a year-long intensive spiritual growth, leadership development, and ministry immersion experience that prepares next generation leaders for ministry. She has led church history study tours and pilgrimages to Israel and Greece.

Heather has written three books. Sacred Roads explores different methods and expressions of discipleship throughout church history, and Community is Messy dares readers to embrace the mess that leads to growth and transformation. Her newest book, Amazed and Confused, explores how we respond when God's actions collide with our expectations. Heather is a contributor to and has been a content contributor for various curricula for LifeWay.

Heather has worked with Christine Caine and the A21 Campaign in fighting human trafficking in Greece and has led several teams on action and awareness trips in Thessaloniki, Greece. She also serves on the Lionshare Leadership Board, where she represents the emerging generation in the conversation and strategy of launching one million disciple-making communities.

Heather has been a speaker at the Orange Conference, Blue Conference, Right Now Conference, Willow Creek Community Church, North Point Community Church, and the Catalyst Conference. The topics she comes back to over and over again include discipleship, leading the next generation, building teams and leading in tensions, igniting a love for the Scriptures, church history, theology, and mentoring.

She lives on Capitol Hill where she can be found enjoying theater with her husband Ryan, watching SEC football, and searching out the best barbeque joints, and nerding out on church history. You can read about her ramblings on small group environments, discipling the next generation and SEC football at

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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She's also brilliant.
Mark Batterson
She has opened her life-allowing others into her mess-and has willingly dove into the mess of the lives of others... including myself.
Will Johnston
This would be an excellent book for seminary classes as well as churches.
Jim Danielson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mark Batterson on September 19, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I've had the privilege of doing ministry with Heather Zempel for the past decade. She's the real deal. Heather is one of the most gifted leaders and humble servants I know. She's also brilliant. Her heart for and mind for discipleship are a rare combination. This book is a must read for anybody who is serious about small groups. It's a dose of encouragement, and I think readers will walk away with insights that will change the way they lead.
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Although this is a book about small groups with stories coming from an American urban/suburban environment, I was pleasantly surprised to find a major portion if this book to be about leadership (and training leaders) with plenty of good counsel that may apply to rural or even overseas contexts. Some with a theological bent may find a few of the scripture references a bit shallow, but reading this book made me come away with the sense of being fed a meal of the Word that was prepared by experience. In particular, the experiences that are described in this book come from a life that struggles deeply with what it means to live an abundant life in Christ as the His body.
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It's refreshing to acknowledge the truth about small groups and is messy. Change is not a bad word in the Zempel camp and that alone is worth the cost of the book
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