March 30, 2009
We're exploring the question, "How do I know if God is speaking to me?"
Hello everyone, and welcome to the first week of our Dot Com(unity) co-learning experience. As of my last count, just under 100 of you have used the coupon we provided to access the "Answering Difficult Questions" Bible study, and I am thrilled. It's great to have you here! Let me give you a few brief updates on how I hope this will all work.
On Monday morning of each week, I'll post some links to icebreakers and other content from SmallGroups.com that might be helpful as you prepare for your group sessions. I'll also post a brief overview of the Bible study for the week, and possible questions that might come up during your group meeting.
The rest is up to you. If questions pop up as you prepare the study material for your specific group, shoot me an e-mail (smallgroups at christianitytoday.com). If you have a great idea for an icebreaker or activity, or if you think of something cool that I've left out, send it my way. And most especially, if questions or great ideas pop up after you use this material in your group, please send them to me. Your experiences and insights will prove invaluable to those whose groups are going to meet later in the week.
I'll do my best to get your questions and ideas posted here, and then our community of group leaders can continue to ask and answer questions using the Comments feature on the blog.
Sound good? Good! Let's get to Week 1.
As you've already figured out, this particular Bible study addresses four difficult questions that apply to living as a Christian. As the group leader, your job will be to provide answers to these questions that are both practical and based in Scripture.
This week, we'll be discussing the question, "How do I know when God is speaking to me?" This question is especially intriguing to me, because I always get a little nervous when people say, "The Lord told me to do this," or "I feel God leading to me do that." When I hear such things, I want to ask, "How do you know it was God? What if it was just that pepperoni pizza you ate last night?"
Here are a few icebreakers that could work very well as introductions to this week's featured question:
- Sensing Jesus—with which sense have you experienced Jesus most this week?
- Stepping Out—group members go outside to look for evidence of God's presence.
- God's Pleasure—what could God say to let you know that he is pleased with you?
And one of our "Bible-Study Extras" could be a great activity for your group members to keep in mind as they listen specifically for God's voice in the next week. It's called Journal for the Journey.
Be Ready for These Questions
As your group tackles the issue of discerning God's voice and direction, you might want to do a little advance preparation to be ready for some tricky questions that might come up. For example:
- How exactly does God's "still, small voice" work. Is it the same as our conscience?"
- If the Bible is one way we hear God speaking to us, then why is it so difficult to understand?
- The idea of "listening to the Holy Spirit" makes me a little uncomfortable. Isn't that a little charismatic?
And if you've got some good answers to the questions above, please use the Comments feature on this blog to jot them down. You never know how many group leaders you might be helping!
When you don’t know what to do, there’s only one thing to do
I suppose it's an age old leadership question, but it's always relevant: How do you balance the tension between mission and maintenance? This question comes up commonly in an overall organizational sense. For instance: Do we invest our time maintaining existing small groups even though many of our current groups seem like the frozen-chosen or, do we pour our time and energy into developing completely new small groups even though our group failure rate may be high because of the lack of equipped leaders?
The easy answer is to say: "Do both maintenance and mission." And, I think at some levels, you probably can focus on both. But, the question of maintenance vs. mission has fewer easy answers in the context of individual relational ministry. Try a few of these situations on for size...
- There's an individual that you have a heart for and have been doing life with for some time, but never seems to be able to make that next growth step or overcome that sinful pattern. Do you "move on," or keep giving grace and time-intensive accountability?
- As the leader of a small group that's trying to multiplying into two groups, you have a few disgruntled individuals who don't think the group should be "split-up!" Do you delay multiplying until everyone is unified and on the same page (which might never happen) or push ahead at the risk of alienating some folks?
- Or, what about that person in your group who ministers along side of you in leadership, the one who never seems to be on the same page as you and the rest of the group. Do you keep giving grace to their ever-shifting mind-set, or do you ask them to step out of their leadership role for the benefit of the group's energy, time and mission?
You might have a bias in one or more of these situations, but the truth is there are no easy answers to these questions. You might say that each of these situations is unique and must be handled case by case. The truth is that I've been in these situations before and sometimes what I would do changes even conversation by conversation!
What the Lord is teaching me through my own local community of believers right now is to find joy and grace and purpose in the journey as much as the destination; in the seeking as much as the answering. Remember, the seemingly endless struggles of working through the mission vs. maintenance tensions are worth it, for two reasons: 1) relational ministry (even the tough stuff) is a high and noble calling of every believer, and 2) what seems like unfortunate tensions and struggles actually are fortune in disguise; because when we don't know what to focus on, it puts us in the position where we have to focus on the Lord.
Listen to what the Lord told His people: "The truth is that you will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me. I will be found by you, says the LORD." (Jer. 29:10-14)
There seems to be no end to the tension between mission and maintenance when it comes to relational ministry, but the tension is worth it, for no other reason that it draws us to the Lord for wisdom and grace - where else can we go? It's the one thing we can do when we don't know what to do!
March 24, 2009
Get 'em while they're hot!
Okay, we'll be starting our first Dot Com(unity) co-learning experience on Monday, March 30—less than a week away! On that day I will post some suggested icebreakers and activities to supplement your study during the week. I'll also be blogging about different challenges that might come up during discussions. And I really, really hope that all of you will post comments and e-mail me throughout the week about what's going on in your group sessions. (Please!)
Oh, and if this is the first time you've heard about Dot Com(unity), check out our introductory post here. (If you haven't noticed, I'm really excited about doing this together!)
Now for the main event: the instructions for your free download.
All you need to do is click here to see the download page for the Bible study, then click the "Add to Cart" button. This will bring you to a Shopping Cart page, and at the bottom you'll see a box that says, "Enter any special offer/discount coupon code here." The coupon code you will need to use is DC01. Click on the "update cart" button, and the total for your order should now be $0.
Once the coupon has been applied, click the button labeled "Checkout Now" under the order total. If you have an account with SmallGroups.com (or any other site in the Christianity Today Int. family) you can log in at the next screen. If you don't, you'll need to create a free account using your e-mail address. This will let you access the free material on SmallGroups.com, and will give you the option to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter.
If a screen pops up asking for your credit card information, that just means the coupon code got lost during the log-in process. All you need to do is click where it says "1 Shopping Cart" above the Order Summary and type the coupon code back in. (In other words, don't enter your credit card info.)
After you place the order, you can download the Bible study from the next screen. Just click the link that says "Microsoft Word (0.73MB)." You will also receive an e-mail confirmation that inlcludes a link to your download.
March 23, 2009
Sometimes warmth helps you grow rather than wilt
In the U.S., over the past few weeks, we've had lots of people in the "hot seat." What I mean is there have been many corporate and public figures getting grilled with questions from media, lawmakers, and angry citizens about the economy and their handling of other people's money.
Interestingly enough, while many people wilt under the pressure of the hot seat, I've seen the "hot seat" practice be a breath of fresh air and provide grace to some struggling small groups recently. While we think of the "hot seat" being a place of fiery questioning and accusation, the "hot seat" can also be a place of warmth and growth if you approach it differently.
Here's an idea: Each time your group meets, pick one person, or have a volunteer sit in the "hot seat." It's not a physical chair you sit in, but an opportunity for one person to share some of their story. Then, for 5-10 minutes, have other members of the group lovingly ask questions to the person in the hot seat about their life.
It's good to develop some ground rules for the process, such as:
- Don't put someone in the "hot seat" that doesn't want to be there.
- Allow the person in the hot seat to pass on some questions, but have them share something else interesting about themselves instead of answering a question they pass on.
- The leader may want questions written by group members ahead of time so that potentially inappropriate questions can be screened.
- Time management for this exercise is a must. You may want to narrow the question list down to three or four initial questions, giving the group the opportunity to ask one follow-up question for each response.
While the process sounds intimidating at first, the interaction from the process has actually generated greatly increased levels of active concern and love toward group members who answer questions about their life situations. One leader recently emailed me about the outcome of implementing this process in his group, which had been struggling with stagnation: "We implemented the hot seat tonight. We had a volunteer and everyone asked a question of her. It seemed to be beneficial and helpful in promoting transparency. We can almost see through each other now!"
Many groups do something similar to this by having group members take turns sharing their testimonies. The "hot seat" accomplishes nearly the same outcome without having to prepare your "testimony speech" ahead of time. If you need some guidance with question asking, check out some great articles about question asking here.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
March 20, 2009
Which of these images best describes your experience with producing new small groups?
I've been working this week on a downloadable training resources that will (Lord willing) help churches successfully multiply their small groups. As I've been reading and reviewing a lot of material on the subject, I've come up with two interesting observations. (They are interesting to me, at least.)
First, there are plenty of churches, coaches, and group leaders who do not want to multiply their small groups. This is usually due to a bad experience, or multiple bad experiences, and they would prefer their groups to stay together for long periods of time and grow deep, deep roots.
Second, there are three images that keep popping up whenever people write about multiplying small groups, and I've tried to visualize them above. One is the idea of "birthing." Another is "dividing," and this is usually accompanied by an explanation of cellular mitosis and meiosis (my 6th grade science teacher would be proud that I still remember those terms). And the final image is the idea of "splitting," which usually comes to mind for those who have had negative experiences.
Now, there's no way that we can come up with a consensus on which image is best or most appropriate for actual ministry. But I'm curious how you respond to these images. Have you had an experience in the past that is well represented by one of these pictures? Is there a different image you would use to describe small-group multiplication?
If something comes to mind, don't be shy! We want to hear your thoughts, so please take a moment and type them out.
March 13, 2009
One of the benefits of working at Christianity Today International is that the various editors around here receive a lot of review copies of books. Most of the time the books are outside my range of interest—I saw one the other day called The Truth Shall Make You Rich, for example.
But today is different. Today I got a copy of Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, and I am pumped!
You might not have heard of this book yet, but I've been aware of it for a while. I am a very big fan of learning about the cultural contexts in which the Bible was written. It was a completely different world when Jesus entered the scene. And learning about how differently the Jews of his day viewed the world can be very enlightening when it comes to understanding his words and actions.
I'll post more as I start reading.
March 9, 2009
How do you draw out the people in your group who prefer to remain silent?
One of my goals for this blog is that it become a connecting point to other ministries and conversations out in the ether that are focused on small groups. To help with that, we will be expanding the "Blogs we're watching" sidebar in the coming weeks (it's located on the left navigation bar if you don't already see it).
Our newest addition is The Gypsy Road, a blog run by the good people at Serendipity (now a ministry of Lifeway Publishers). I've developed a bit of a relationship with Rick Howerton and Phil Davis over at Lifeway, and they are good people who genuinely care about the ministry of small groups. Of course, one of the benefits of reading other people's blogs is that there is plenty of opportunity to
steal borrow creative ideas. You've probably heard of Joaquin Phoenix's bizarre interview on the David Letterman show several weeks ago. If not, here's a recap:
Strange, huh? But Rick Howerton was able to connect that interview with small groups in a way that I missed. He titled his blog post, "David Letterman the Small Group Leader...Why Small Group Members Don't Talk." If you click here to read the post (which I recommend), you'll find several practical tips for engaging all of your group members in a discussion—even the ones who don't want to talk.
But I've got a different question for all of you. Two questions, actually. 1) Have you ever had a member in your small group that was very hesitant to talk? And 2) As a leader, what methods have you found helpful in drawing reluctant talkers into a group discussion?
The covenant components that team-building experts agree have to be in there
I’m a member of our local church’s senior leadership team. We’ve been re-exploring our group covenant together. It’s important to us because we are team led—we don’t have the traditional senior pastor role in our org. structure. The process has prompted me to do some fresh research into group covenants, particularly as they relate to leadership groups. I wanted to see what some leading folks in the area of team-based leadership said were the critical components of a group covenant (over and above the basic small group covenant components I mentioned in my last post).
I chose six folks I considered experts in the area of leadership groups and read their stuff (if you’re interested in names, these folks were: Pat Lencioni, Ken Blanchard, George Cladis, Dave Ferguson, Dan Reeves, and Bill Thrall). It’s interesting that not all these folks advocated the use of a group covenant when it came to forming leadership teams, but they all advocated having values defined, mission buy-in, and behavior expectations in place within the group.
There was not universal agreement about every component to be included in a leadership group covenant/agreement/understanding, but here are the components that were common to each expert’s perspective:
- Trust—specifically trust to be vulnerable with each other
- Performance/Sacrifice—commitment to achieve measurable goals
- Purpose/Mission/Vision—commitment to common values and methods
- Empower/Collaborative/Accountability—freedom to make decisions in area of giftedness to accomplish goals, but at the same time accountable for those decisions
- Welcome Conflict/Engage Spiritual Battle—see conflict as useful to grow, yet see our common enemy and not each other as enemy
My take-away: We can include many things in our leadership group covenants, but we better make sure we have these five in there and have good understanding about them from the entire group. After all, the church’s senior leadership group is a model of community life for other groups in the church. If our leadership group is sloppy with developing covenants, I wander if our small groups will be sloppy with their covenants also?
March 5, 2009
Why it's vitally important that your leadership group has its act together
Like many of you, I'm part of the leadership team of our local church. As a Servant Team (that's what we call our leadership group), we've been re-exploring our covenant together. Many of you will already be familiar with small-group covenants or agreements. There are many versions of covenants, however, most all of them include these basic components:
- Why we exist (life-change, Bible study, task group, fellowship, etc.)
- What we do (socials, service projects, outreaches, retreats, eat snacks, etc.)
- How we relate (including expectations about the priority of participation and attendance, confidentiality about group discussions, accessibility of members to each other, accountability between members, and openness of the group to new members)
- When we meet (frequency, time, do we take breaks, etc.)
- Where we meet (location, how we handle childcare, etc.)
Let's be clear—the values behind the covenant are far more important than the covenant itself. Personally, I don't think having a written covenant is much better than having a verbal one (unless your memory-challenged, like me). The key is having values, expectations, and mission defined and understood ahead of time so that—as time goes along and issues come up that leave everyone with that "what do we do now" blank stare—you have a clue as to why you are all together in the first place!
And hopefully, re-orienting around that original covenant will keep your group headed in the right direction.
In the context of a leadership-team small group, these basic components still apply. However, the "catch" to a leadership-team covenant is that not only does the covenant have bearing on how the leadership group behaves, but it has a trickle-down impact on the folks who are being led by these leaders.
Here's an example: If I promote the value of everyone in my small group having an accountability-partner relationship with another person, I may be able to create some internal motivation within the group—possibly even to the point where accountability relationships are added to the group covenant. But as soon as someone asks, "Does the church leadership have accountability partners?" the value behind the practice of having an accountability partner will either be dramatically diminished or enhanced, depending on the answer.
So here's what I'm currently taking away from the discussions around my own Servant Team covenant: make sure you have your most basic components of "church life" built into your leadership covenant/agreement, so that it sets a baseline for your small-group covenant/agreements.
Otherwise, things could get a little sticky.
March 2, 2009
So read this quickly!
We've got a mini-dilemma happening here at the SmallGroups.com International Headquarters. A little more than a month ago, we decided to create a YouTube channel as a way to help our readers exchange stories about small-groups ministry.
The idea was to feature a new question every month, and then have readers (such as you) record little videos that answered those questions and upload them on YouTube. As an incentive for participation (and to get the ball rolling on the videos), we decided to randomly award a free SmallGroups.com membership to five people who participated each month.
Here's a little video we put together to introduce the idea:
Now here's the dilemma: it is March 2nd, which is the day I am supposed to randomly select five winners from the people who have submitted videos in February. But there have been a grand total of zero videos submitted. This is our fault, of course. We intended to use this blog as the main vehicle of promoting the YouTube channel, but delays pushed the launch date back to just last week. So nobody is really aware of the whole YouTube thing yet.
Therefore, I am going to turn this lemon of a situation into a chance for you pioneering readers of this blog to drink some nice, refreshing lemonade. Simply put, the first five people who submit a video to our YouTube channel will receive a free membership to SmallGroups.com.
All you've got to do is record yourself talking about one of your favorite small-groups memories, then upload the video to YouTube (it's free to create an account if you don't have one). Once your video is up, send us a message with the link. (You can send a message through YouTube, or just e-mail me at "smallgroups at christianitytoday.com")
If you're interested, check out this link for the official rules: http://smallgroups.com/multimedia/contest.html