June 29, 2009
A church’s goal to get groups into the world
My local community of Christ-followers, since starting over 8 years ago, has always had the decentralization of discipleship and evangelism through home groups at the center of our strategy. However, we are taking that to a new level this summer.
We have a weekend worship gathering as most churches do, but we have decided to make that gathering a training ground for reaching the world. Here's a quote from one of our recent weekend teachings: "There are a lot of churches out there that are really good at attracting people to Sunday morning service or to some program. Thank God for those churches, but we have to be honest and admit even those churches fall way short. There are still way more people who will never come close to a church building on Sunday morning. So our goal is not to attract people to our Sunday morning service. It's to attract people to Christ, by going to the people, going 'out there' and loving people."
The week after this talk, we took our entire Sunday morning crowd (kids and adults alike) and organized them into a "grocery sack" assembly line. We acquired a large quantity of fresh produce and filled grocery bags with the produce and a simple message of Christ's love. Once the sacks were filled, we sent our people out in groups to deliver these grocery bags to specific neighborhoods in our community. It was a great morning and there was some great chatter on the local news online discussion groups from our town.
We are going to continue doing these types of activities over the course of the summer, and we imagine these type of activities changing the culture of both our Sunday gatherings and our home group gatherings for the longer term as well.
If you are interested in trying one of these "church to the people" or "missional" activities, there are several books with great ideas. Here's a few to check out:
Next time I'll tell you about some other resources we have used for getting the church out of the church!
So that you can be a leader worth following
In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul states, "imitate me, as I imitate Christ." On one hand, that makes discipleship an easy process. I don't have to be a theologian or Bible scholar; I just have to be willing to bring other people on a spiritual journey with me. We are simply saying "imitate me. Do what I do."
But on the other hand, it makes the discipleship process very scary, because we are simply saying "imitate me"—and, well, I'm just not sure that would always be wise. It makes me realize that my greatest challenge and priority as a leader is to lead myself well so that I become a leader worth following.
Here are just a few disciplines that I have prioritized in my own life to ensure that I am leading myself well.
1. Feed Yourself. I think there are two dimensions of feeding yourself. First, leaders must be immersed in Scripture. Reading it, meditating on it, studying it, putting it into practice. There is absolutely no substitute. About four times a year, I develop a Bible reading plan for myself that is separate from any small-group leadership or other teaching responsibilities I have. I don't want to just read the Bible to get a word of truth for my group; I want to read the Bible so that I can grow as a person.
Second, I believe that leaders are learners. I try to be very intentional about reading books that help me lead better. A few that have helped me in recent months include Simple Small Groups (Bill Search), Making Small Groups Work (Henry Cloud and John Townsend), and Renovation of the Heart (Dallas Willard).
2. Stretch Yourself. It's easy to lead when there are no challenges, difficulties, or tensions. But real leadership happens when we face something that makes us uncomfortable or disturbs our normal routine in some way. If we lead for long enough, then we will find ourselves in stretching situations whether we want to be in them or not. So I've made it a practice to stretch myself regularly and intentionally in order to prepare myself better for leadership challenges when they come my way.
Stretching myself might mean serving in an area that is not part of my natural ministry affinity, being intentional about sharing my faith with someone, or slowing down long enough to talk with the homeless man that I pass on my way to lunch. All of us have spiritual muscle groups that aren't worked as much as others. Locate those muscles in your life and put them to work.
3. Pace Yourself. Leading yourself well requires intentionality. Our hope is that we would be a leader worth following, but that will require time and discipline. And if we want to become a leader worth following, then we need to set specific and measurable goals. Because you never hit a goal that you don't set.
About three times a year, I set goals for prayer, giving, Bible reading, and accountability. I make a list of books that will help me grow in areas of my gifts and put myself on a track to read those in the following months. I am not the leader that I want to be, but if I pace myself over a series of months, I will grow into a leader worth following. And maybe our personal growth process will be helpful to the people we lead.
4. Rest Yourself. Honestly, this is the hardest one for me to practice. I love feeding and pacing and stretching, but resting is difficult for me. I encourage all of my leaders at National Community Church to set aside one night a week that is their night. No small group prep, no calls or texts with group members, no meetings with group members.
When I practice Sabbath, a couple of things happen in my life. First, I remember that God is in control of my group and not me. Second, I am recharged so that I can lead from a place of strength and actually have something worthwhile to offer my group members. If you want to become a leader worth following, then you will regularly lead yourself to places of rest so that your leadership pace is sustainable.
I don't practice all of these easily. Becoming a leader worth following requires discipline, time, and tenacity. But I'm convinced that it's the only way to lead. If we lead ourselves well, then disciples will follow.
Give your group a chance to experience God in a new way.
A good Monday morning to everyone!
Just a reminder, these weekly blog posts correspond to a 10-session Bible study called Essentials in Knowing God. You can download this study for free by using the coupon code DC0609—but that coupon will only last until June 30.
While I'm mentioning links, be sure to sign up for our Dot Com(unity) newsletter if you haven't done so already. You'll get helpful icebreakers and other tools delivered to your inbox each week—all of which apply directly to the study material we're looking at. Click here for more information.
Okay, let's dive into the content for this week's study. There are two options in the study material for opening excersises, and I'm intrigued by the red/blue/green church idea. I'm curious to know your opinion about it: would it be useful and informative for your group, or is it too simplistic?
In either case, the Teaching Points for this week are fairly straightforward. The first explains the language about "God's face" that is used often in the Bible. The second emphasizes that God cannot be pinned down to a single character trait. And the third reminds us that Jesus is a perfect image of God, and we can follow his example in regularly approaching our heavenly Father.
Of those three, the second point has the most potential to serve as a stumbling block to your group members. They may have questions about God's actions in the Old Testament:
--Why does God act in wrath?
--Why did he order the destruction of entire civilizations? Even women and children?
--Why did he demand the death of animals from his servants?
These kinds of questions may very well come up when you discuss the diverse and multi-faceted character of God. How would you answer them?
For most group members, the subject of "father" is going to be a point of emotion. For some it will include pride and love; for others it will include shame and sadness—maybe even hate. These emotions are something you need to embrace in your group, not run away from.
For that reason, I think just about everyone should use this question as the introduction to Teaching Point Three: "Our view of God the Father is often connected to our experiences with our earthly fathers. For you, is that a positive or negative connection?"
As I say, be ready for emotion when you ask this question. But remember that emotional expressions in your group are not a bad thing at all, even if people are sad or disturbed for a time. We benefit when we express both pride and shame to a community of caring friends.
What other moments from this study do you believe have the potential to become a strong learning experience? Are there any other activities or questions we could use to emphasize these moments? If you think of any, please let the rest of us know!
June 24, 2009
The rest of the story about the California pastor forced to shut down his small group.
A couple weeks ago I posted a small blurb about a California pastor who was being harrassed into shutting down his small group by a county official. The upshot was the pastor had to stop hosting the group meeting at his home, or else pay thousands of dollars to secure a permit.
Now, our friends at Your Church have produced a quick video on the topic featuring Rich Hammar. If you're not familiar with Rich, just know that he is "the man" when it comes to church law.
Rich gives us the rest of the story and explains whether the same thing could happen to your group. It's worth the four minutes.
June 22, 2009
The importance of intentional relational training
The importance of intentional relational training
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, being a space/astronomy nerd, I have paid some attention to how NASA does relational training among their astronaut corps, particularly as astronauts work in small groups in confined living spaces.
Regardless of whether we are talking about "church sponsored" small groups or small group teams in the marketplace, relationships always work best when biblical principles are followed. NASA seems to have confirmed this in their approach to astronaut training, as well.
I was struck by the amount of effort being put into relational training among astronaut teams, who have to work well together in order to complete their mission. It made me wonder how much relational training we are doing in the church where our team has the most important mission on earth. Here's a quote from a NASA aritcle:
"Astronauts don't travel through space by themselves. They go in pairs or threesomes or even larger groups. Maintaining a successful team in a risky, isolated environment calls for finely honed people-skills. It means that astronauts must develop a keen awareness both of themselves, and of the way they interact with those around them. Of course, astronauts are already people-savvy. They wouldn't be selected as astronauts otherwise. But NASA would like to give them an extra edge, an extra dose of training to help them â€˜team up' exquisitely well. They're developing a teamwork training program ...the program includes an interactive simulator that allows an astronaut to role-play interpersonal conflicts."
"For example, the simulator might present this situation: one crewmember (represented by an actor) accidentally damages a piece of equipment, and asks a crewmate (the role assumed by the astronaut working through the program) for help in concealing the damage. The astronaut decides how to answer the request, and then the program responds, based on that answer. Does a conflict ensue? Will it escalate? â€˜It's a web of options,' explains Carter (one of the project directors). â€˜You watch a video and then you make a decision. Your choice determines what happens next. You can get through the conflict in as few as three or four decisions, or you can make 10, 15, or even more decisions, with different decisions leading to different resolutions—from the worst case to the best case scenarios, and everything in between,' notes Carter."
When I first read this I thought, Wouldn't it be great to have an interactive simulator developed for our small group leaders? One where they could experience every situation they might encounter in small group life? But then I couldn't help but think about the many tools we already have that accomplish that same training, perhaps not as quickly, but just as effectively:
Apprenticeship. There are few substitutes for being trained on the job. Allowing rising leaders to gradually experience small group life and leadership under the guidance of a more experienced leader is priceless.
Relational Coaching. Getting regular feedback and encouragement from another seasoned leader is the kind of support all leaders need, and should seek out if they want to go to the next level.
God's Word. Reading and meditating regularly on the Bible is essential for group leaders. We also have to pray and listen to stay in communion with the Master trainer.
Tools. There are more small group leadership tools available today than ever before. SmallGroups.com is committed to finding and making available the best tools available.
Raising the value of relational training, and utilizing the tools that are available, as the NASA quote noted, "can make a difference from the worst cases to the best cases, and in everything in between."
How do you address God in prayer? And what does that say about you?
Before we get into the material for this week, let me reiterate a request I made in last week's post: I need your help to know how this Dot Com(unity) thing can improve. This is all very new, and I am flying blind. So if you are using this for your own growth or as material for your group, I could really use some feedback.
What's working? What isn't? What is missing that you would like to see? Post a comment below or send me an e-mail.
Okay, enough of that. Let's get to this week's material: "How Should We Address God?"
You've got a great opening question built right into the discussion topic this week: "How do you address God when you pray? What name do you speak to?" Don't be afraid to encourage all of your group members to share on this one. This is a pretty "safe" topic, but it can be powerful to catch a glimpse of how other people in the group view God.
Is he Father? Lord? Master? Abba, or Daddy? Something else?
Just ask the question and let things roll.
There was an interesting assertion made at the beginning of the first Teaching Point: "Communicating with God—prayer—is the single most intimate act one can participate in."
Do you agree? Is this a useful question to raise within the group?
Next, there are a lot of people who believe that a prayer is not truly effective unless it is accompanied by the phrase "...in Jesus' name." This idea is based on Jesus' words from John 14:14: "You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
This may very well come up during your group time. So, is that the correct way to view prayer—void unless it is done "in Jesus' name?" Or is there a danger in attempting to use "magic words" to shoehorn God into doing what we want? What's the best way to steer this discussion if it starts in your group?
As I mentioned, I think an opening discussion about the name that your group members use for God during prayer can be a powerful moment. There is a real chance your group members will learn something new about each other, and about each person's view of God.
That being the case, don't let a need to follow the schedule push you away from that discussion too quickly. If there is any kind of momentum building around that question, keep the discussion going until it's been squeezed dry.
What else? Are there other ideas/questions/themes/activities in this week's study that you are particularly excited about? Or that were powerful in your group? Let us know.
June 18, 2009
You can never get enough training
I'm sort of a space buff. I love looking and learning about God's creation, and have a couple of telescopes that help me do that (which I don't get out as often as I would like). I also keep up on a few astronomy websites and take note when Shuttles are being readied for launch, as one is right now.
As part of that passion, I have paid some attention to NASA's astronaut training program. Astronauts live and work in small groups to accomplish the objectives of the particular mission to which they are assigned. Astronauts also train to live in close "community" with one another in the living quarters of relatively small space vehicles. I have found there are some useful parallels with what NASA is doing and what the church can do regarding relational training. I've even borrowed some ideas from astronaut training to incorporate into small-group leadership training, and I wanted to highlight some of these concepts in a couple of blog posts.
First, no matter how well you think things are going in your small group community, ongoing training should never become secondary. You always need to work toward deeper unity and oneness. Check out an interesting quote from a NASA article about astronaut training:
"James Carter, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Jay Buckey, a doctor and associate professor of medicine at Dartmouth, are heading a NASA project...to develop a teamwork training program. â€˜If you have a group of people who are very smart about how to work together as a team, that's a group that's going to do well no matter how bad things get,' says Buckey, himself an astronaut. â€˜If we can provide the kind of training that gives astronauts that 'extra edge,' then we're opening the door to effective space flight.'
"â€˜It's not that there are a lot of these problems occurring,' says Carter. Astronauts are well-balanced people with superb skills at handling conflict and managing stress. â€˜Our program is really just to fortify the crew, to give them extra training and make them even more effective as a cohesive unit.' Buckey agrees. â€˜Astronauts are professionals, but they're going to be in a tough environment. We're trying to make sure that they're able to deal with that environment in the best way possible.'"
Bingo. That could also be said of small group leaders who may be well equipped and empowered by the Holy Spirit, but they still work in a tough environment—the fallen world. In that environment, I find no matter how gifted or experienced or mature the person, a small group leader still needs regular on-going training, support, coaching and encouragement. I don't think it is wise to ever assume that if group leaders are doing well, that we should just leave them alone.
As the article said, small group leaders need that â€˜extra edge' to be effective facilitators of discipleship and outreach in their small group communities. A little more about that next week.
June 17, 2009
Margaret Feinberg says that "every leader" should use it.
In my last post, I shared some of the reasons why Twitter makes a little nervous.
If you want to get another point of view, our sister blog GiftedForLeadership.com just added a post from Margaret Feinberg called Every Leader Should Use Twitter. Check it out and let us know what you think.
P.S. Ironically, I learned about the GFL post because I am following that blog on Twitter... :)
How to be the accountability partner everyone hopes to find.
Accountability partnerships typically go stale inside a year when the people involved don't take responsibility for their own healing, growth, and forward momentum. Here are a few principles to help you be the kind of accountability partner others want to meet with.
1. Confessing sin is the "what." That's what everyone knows how to do. But to be a good accountability partner, you need to also share the "why" behind the sinful action so that you get to the root of the problem. Just sharing the "what" may make you feel like you unloaded a pile of guilt, but your partner needs to know and see that you are working on the root issue and seeking deep healing.
Confessing sin week after week gets old for your partner and it means you are stuck! Go deeper. Get to the root of the issue and find freedom. Freedom is good for you and it makes your accountability partner want to dig deeper, as well.
2. Discuss important things you need or want to get done in life, ministry, work, family, and around the house. Just like the first point, go further than "what" by sharing your step-by-step action plan for accomplishing your goals with times or calendar dates. In other words, become accountable to get the project done by next Wednesday at noon. Make it a priority.
Sharing how you don't get things accomplished gets old for your partner and means you are stuck! Sound familiar? Share the particulars of how you plan to get that thing done and invite your partner to call you on it if he or she doesn't receive a phone call with a praise report.
3. If the Lord gives you a word of knowledge for your partner, share it with them. But don't confuse this with man-made advice given when it was not requested. My accountability partner does a great job of asking me questions to bring me to the same advice he might give. This way, it was my idea, and I am to blame if what I decided to do didn't work.
4. Pray hard for your accountability partner between meetings. And when you meet, pray together. Oddly enough, Christians get together for accountability all over the world and don't pray for one another or with one another.
Accountability partnerships are all about taking responsibility for your future actions as well as the past and the present. With a strong focus on your future, you will find yourself too busy being a productive person and believer to become stuck confessing sin week after week. Give it a try, and work on the "why" and the "how" instead of just talking about the "what."
June 15, 2009
I'll need your help to decide.
I'll start this post off with a little honesty: I've been telling people for about six months now that I am a little nervous about Twitter. It's not that Twitter (and other sites like Facebook and MySpace) are reprehensible in any way. It's just that in a fragmented and hectic society like ours, I think the need for constant information and updates and announcement can become harmful to us—like being poked in the brain a hundred times a day by a dull stick. And I have considered Twitter to be part of that phenomenon.
Wait a second, I'm being handed a special announcement: SmallGroups.com is now on Twitter! Our handle is SmallGroupscom, and you can check us out right here: http://twitter.com/SmallGroupscom.
See any disconnect between those two paragraphs? I certainly do. And it's something I'm going to try and figure out over the next few weeks.
Let me give you a little backstory.
About a month ago, I was all set to write up a blog post about the reasons why I'm nervous about Twitter: the newest rage among internet phenomena. It was going to be based on these words from Mark 6:30-31: "The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'"
"They did not even have a chance to eat." Just a quick check—how many of you reading this right now had a restful lunch break? Did you sit down to a nice meal and enjoy yourself, or was it business? Just curious.
Anyway, I love the idea that the disciples were so hectored and frazzled trying to keep up with the buzz of ministry that Jesus had to pull them away to get some rest. That sounds so much like us.
But are we letting Jesus pull us away? Am I? That's not an easy task when we have smart phones that can check e-mail and stock quotes, not to mention laptops and free Wi-Fi and Dunkin Donuts. And now we have Twitter, where I can be constantly updated about what that person had for breakfast and why this person is upset with his boss and when that person is going on vacation and how this person will present their sermon for the week.... You get the idea.
Like I said: That's the blog post I was going to write. Then our broader corporate team got together to have a meeting and discuss our potential use of a hot new website called Twitter! I expressed the reasons listed above why the whole thing made me a little nervous, and everyone listened politely—it was a good discussion. But in the end, we decided that SmallGroups.com should give Twitter a try.
So that's what I am going to do. I am now "on Twitter," as they say. I have an account. I have posted 10 "tweets." At the time of this writing, I have 39 "followers"—which still sounds a little strange to me.
I'm not really sure what will happen going forward, and that explains the title of this post. Was I right to be nervous about Twitter and all that it represents? If so, then doesn't participating in the whole thing make me a hypocrite? Or was I just plain wrong, and everything will be wonderful?
I honestly don't know. I'm guessing I'll find out in the next few weeks. And since this is a blog about communiy, I hope you'll explore this issue with me. What are your thoughts about Twitter and Facebook and all the rest? Are they helping us connect? Are they causing damage?
For those of you who are already big fans of Twitter, let me just mention that you won't find moaning or complaining as I continue to learn more about this whole thing—at least, not a lot. :) I am of the opinion that you do things to the best of your ability, so I am going to give this an honest shot.
What you will find are brief updates on new articles and blog posts that I'm especially excited about, as well as other random thoughts on small groups and community that I may have throughout the day.
But I'll try to avoid the dull stick. :)
What God chooses to call himself says a lot about who he is and how he relates to us.
There are two things I want to get to as we start of the week this fine Monday morning. The second will be the theme of this week's study material. But first, I want to take a look back at Week 1.
Comments? Praises? Questions?
For those of you who used the Week 1 study material, What Is Christian Spirituality?, I would love to get a sense of how things went. Did the group take well to the material? Was anything clunky or confusing? Was there a specific question or activity that really got some response?
Feedback is the grease that keeps a lot of engines running well, and I would really like to know how things went for you. Even if you used the material for your individual devotions, let us know what questions popped up, what thoughts were provoked.
You can post a comment below, or click the link above and comment on the Week 1 post. Or you can send me an email: smallgroups at christianitytoday.com.
Knowing God Through His Names
Now to this week's material.
A little more than three years ago, my wife and I had the privilege of naming our first child. It was stressful! I felt an immense amount of pressure to get the name right, and I had no idea how do go about it.
One reason I was so stressed is that I really believe names have more meaning and power than we currently give them in today's society. Just look at the Bible for several examples of what I mean. Names meant something to those men and women—and to God.
Abram's name was changed to Abraham, which means "Father of a multitude." God specifically gave him a new name that would shape his place in the history of mankind. Abraham's name was the first marker of his purpose and legacy. The same is true of Jacob (Israel) and Cephas (Peter), not to mention the apostle Paul (Saul). Names were important to God.
That's why I think the names that God chose for himself are doubly important. They communicate vital information about who God is and how he relates to us.
Let's get to the material.
This week's material starts with three options for an opening activity. I really like Option C, which has to do with the naming of children. If you have parents in your group, this will be a great discussion starter.
One issue: Does anyone think that Option B could be potentially offensive? It shows a clip from the movie Dances With Wolves, and then has group members come up with names in the style of American Indians—like "Stands With a Fist" from the movie. I'm just curious if anyone reacted to that uncomfortably.
I think "teaching point 2" is the strongest part of this week's material. If your group has the patience to go through the verses listing different names for God and discussing what each one reveals, you need to go for it. That would be a memorable half hour, I'm almost positive.
As a reminder, we've got Icebreakers and other activities that match this week's material in our Dot Com(unity) newsletter, which mails out every Monday. Check it out if you haven't already!
June 12, 2009
Use these stages of group life to get a read on each of your members.
Progressive Intimacy is a natural part of every group memberâ€™s experience. I know the phrase "progressive intimacy" might sound complicated, but it simply means that people go through a somewhat consistent pattern of connection when they first enter a small group.
Realizing where a group member is on this continuum will help you move group members further into higher levels of relationship. Below youâ€™ll see the different steps involved with progressing intimacy as I perceive them based on my experiences.
- Invitation. The new group member is honored to be part of the group.
- Expectation. Prior to the first meeting, emotions and hope rise as the person anticipates the upcoming relationships and group experiences.
- Intimidation. This often happens in the first meeting. The person is confronted with lots of new people and new surroundings, and can sometimes be overwhelmed by the perceived spiritual maturity of other group members.
- Inhibition. The new group member holds back, still not sure if the group is a safe place or a dangerous relational jungle.
- Exploration. The new group member begins searching for his or her place in the group.
- Evaluation. The new member begins asking mental questions that are vital to his or her participation in the group: Who am I in this group? Do I really fit in? Are the others really accepting me? Do I really accept them?
- Actualization. The new member accepts his or her place in the group. He or she thinks, "This group does have the shared goal, like passion, and sincerity of heart to see God act that I do."
- Reconciliation. I know and accept my place in this community of believers, trust them to know my needs and respond, and trust them to keep conversations confidential. We are Christian community with similar goals and callings. I am reconciled to living the principles espoused in the group covenant.
- Exhibition. Because I have learned this is a safe environment and because I have concluded that I am accepted here as a person of worth, I can exhibit the real me.
- Elation. There is no place I'd rather be. Being me is fun, exciting, and relaxing. I am elated to spend time in this environment.
Please understand that the length an individual is in each of these stages will differ from person to person. Also, some people will skip various stages and move directly to the next. Some will get stuck in a stage and never choose to move forward unless prompted to do so by a life experience, conversation with a group member, or a planned activity (like a retreat or a mission project).
And others will go forward, then some experience will force them to back to prior stages. This could be someone breaking confidence, attacking them publicly or behind thier back, and so on.
June 8, 2009
Relational disposition does not have to determine relational potential
When it comes to folks who don't connect well in small groups, or who are in leadership roles but struggle to connect well with the people they are leading, our tendency is to label them and say there are just some people who don't have the temperament to be a group leader - it's beyond our control. We are also tempted to use the quirkiness of our personality as an excuse for why we do or do not do many things in ministry well.
I was reading an online article from Newsweek Magazine recently that talked about some of the biology behind personality. Recent studies have found "associations between being a people person and the density of gray matter in two brain regions, orbitofrontal cortex (the outer strip just above the eyes) and the ventral striatum (deep in the center of the brain), both known to play a key role in predicting how rewarding something will be. (A high volume or density of gray matter is linked to enhanced cognitive or behavioral function.) Traits, such as being warm, affectionate, agreeable, sociable, amiable or sympathetic . . . reflect an underlying capacity to experience reward elicited by affiliative stimuli," the scientists write - a capacity, simply stated, to take pleasure in social situations.
The Newsweek article also referenced a study published in the European Journal of Neuroscience that confirms that something about the way the brain develops from birth (or earlier) leads some of us to be people persons - "socially gregarious, enjoying the company of others, and some of us to be more to ourselves." However, the other interesting acknowledgement made in the study is that people's experience and behavior might act to alter their brain structure, something for which there is ample (and growing) evidence.
Don't miss that last point. While the research reinforces that personality is something that God has designed us with, part of His craftsmanship in us (Ephesians 2:10), our experiences and behavior can also impact our brain structure. Similar to how we work out our muscles to get in shape, we can work out our brain by intentionally putting ourselves in relational situations. And therefore, we can develop those areas of our brain that give us purpose and fulfillment in relational situations (not to mention the Holy Spirit's transforming work in our lives).
I'm not suggesting that we are trying to change our basic personality, because after all, having one type of personality or another is not a good or bad thing. (And besides, we have available today many tools that help us assess our personality type, and help us understand the weaknesses and strengths associated with our personality type.) No, the point is that all ministry involves relationship and we should not assume that just because someone is not connecting well with others now, that they will always be that way.
All the evidence suggests that regardless of our personality, our experiences and behaviors might actually have an impact on our brain structure and therefore how motivated we are to relate to others.
Of course, I instantly thought about a dozen or so people I have encountered over the years who told me they just couldn't be in a small group or lead a small group because they just didn't do well around people. They just weren't "people persons." I now have something to say to them: You may not be a people person now, but just give authentic community a chance—along with some time and the work of the Spirit—and you might be surprised by what happens!
June 7, 2009
And how is it different from the "spiritual" culture that surrounds us?
I hope all of you had a restful or productive weekend. (I never seem to manage both at the same time....) Let's dive into some of the details and themes of this week's study.
I thought this study included some great discussion questions, especially at the beginning. Here are two that I think can spark some very fruitful conversations:
1. What is the primary goal of spirituality?
2. In your opinion, is spirituality limited to Christians?
In fact, these questions might generate enough discussion that they begin to rob a lot of time from the rest of the lesson. If that happens, just move the converstion into the teaching points by saying something like, "We're hitting some interesting topics, and some of these things will be addressed a little deeper in the study. Let's move on a little bit."
And here's a question that I could use some help on: What should a group leader do if this week's discussion uncovers some unorthodox thoughts about spirituality in his or her group members?
It's very possible that one or more of your group members will have a skewed idea of spirituality. Maybe they've bought into the idea that we can approach God in any way that seems good to use—like the crystals mentioned in the study article. Or maybe someone will incorrectly view the Holy Spirit as being obliged to do what we want if we pray in a specific way or use a specific set of words.
How should you address that kind of "un-Christian" thinking? I'd love to hear thoughts from several of you on what's the best thing to do.
If you've read the article attached to this study, you've probably noticed that it's a bit thick in its wording. The article was written by a professor, so it is kind of scholarly in its packaging and use of words.
For example, can anyone help me with the word "polemical"? I have an idea of what it means, but I've never been able to get my mind fully around it. And what about "inchoate"? What in the world is that?
In any case, if you come across other words or ideas that you want to get straightened out before you lead your study, just post a question in the comments section below or send me an email (smallgroups at christianitytoday.com). The Dot Com(unity) community will make sure you're prepared.
One more thing. I've included several icebreakers and other activities that will be helpful to your preparation in this week's Dot Com(unity) newsletter, so I won't double-dip and add them here. But below you will find some other articles that can help you get a broader understanding of this week's topic:
Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons, by Eugene Peterson
Religion-Less Spirituality, by Tim Keller
June 3, 2009
There may come a day when you need to remove a person from your group.
Are there times when a person should be asked to leave a small group? I think so. But those times should be rare, and it should be done only for the right reasons. So what are those reasons? I can think of a few.
The person is just too needy.
Once or twice a person has been in our small group who just had too many issues. They really needed a counselor, rather than a small group. In those cases, my husband or I—or someone else who was very patient—met separately with that person, instead. We have even been in some situations that no lay person could deal with, and we had to recommend a counselor and walk away.
You'll know a person is too needy for a small group if they cannot talk about anything but themselves. No matter the beginning of the conversation, the ending is always about their problems. If you've brought this to their attention and they can't adjust their behavior, or if they feel that you just don't understand how tough things are for them, that's a clue they need one-on-one attention.
Or perhaps they have an undiagnosed mental problem that causes them to disconnect from those around them. They will need more help than you can give them unless you are a trained counselor. In these rare situations, it can save the group (as well as the individual) to get them the help they need.
The person pushes heretical ideas.
Anyone who doesn't know their Scriptures well is liable to come up with off-the-wall ideas. We all deal with that in our small groups. But if someone claims to know the Bible and pushes heretical ideas, that's someone you do not want in your group.
I'm not talking about someone who disagrees with you on apocalyptical prophecies. I'm talking about something like refusing to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and trying to convince everyone else in the group that they believe a lie. You simply cannot afford to have someone like that in the group. As Paul says in Romans 16:17, "Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them."
The person refuses correction.
This kind of person is often arrogant, belligerent, and combative. You should try to meet with such a person outside of the group and point out the destruction they are causing. If they humbly accept your correction, welcome them back to the group with open arms. But if they continue acting arrogantly, belligerently, or combatively, then you will have to ask them to leave the group.
I've encountered such situations as these during my 30 years or so of small-group ministry. What about you? Have you had similar situations? How did you handle them? Can you think of some other reasons to ask someone to leave a small group? What are they?
Which leadership development philosophy do you choose?
It's a conversation that has repeated itself several times over the years for me. The conversation takes different forms, but the theme is the same: Can people grow into spiritual leadership quickly, or only slowly? Can small groups be multiplied quickly, or does it take extended periods of time? Can new small group leaders be released into leadership quickly with the help of quality programmed curriculums, or does slower process-oriented apprenticing and relational training need to happen before releasing leaders?
In short, can development processes be "micro-waved" or do they need to be "crock-potted"? It's a conversation that took place again recently with some leaders in our local church. Did we come up with an answer? Yes and No.
We agreed it seems clear the New Testament gives ample evidence of both philosophies of leadership development. Some people were released quickly and "young" to lead (Acts 8:26-40) and some were mentored slowly and deeply (2 Timothy 1). So what's the right strategy? Probably both.
One thing we did conclude: We need to be intentional about people and leadership development. Intentional enough to have quick "microwave" release hopes and goals, but realistic enough and patient enough to persevere through the reality that much of the leader development process happens in the "crock-pot."
If we expect leadership to happen by just adding water or watching a DVD or whatever, I think we will become painfully aware of the shortcomings of that approach over time. However, going to the other extreme, if we wait it out until a potential leader has "attained the whole measure of the fullness of Christ," we are likely to be waiting a very long time.
So, what do you do? It's safe to say that, with any leadership development process, we should not expect a quick release to be fruitful without the support structure that an intentional relational connection to another more mature leader provides. It's also safe to say that a slow release is not fruitful without the same thing.
June 1, 2009
It's time for another round of Dot Com(unity).
Before I start, I just think that's a word that we don't use enough. Huzzah!
Anyway, if you've been paying attention to SmallGroups.com or this blog over the past couple of weeks, you've seen hints and rumors that another session of Dot Com(unity) would be starting up soon. Well, the time is here.
We will be starting the next round of Dot Com(unity) on Monday, June 8th. I very much hope that you will join us as we explore a very interesting Bible study this summer. It's called Essentials in Knowing God, and it's a 10-week course that targets different ways that we as Christians can deepen our relationship with God. Best of all, it's free!
Use the following coupon code to download Essentials of Knowing God at no charge to you: DC0609. If you've never used a coupon before, you'll just want to add the download to your cart on SmallGroups.com, then scroll down to the bottom of the page where it says "Coupon or Gift Card." Enter the code, then hit "Update Cart."
Here are a couple more things to keep in mind:
- I've written up an article on what I see as the main value of Dot Com(unity). If you're on the fence on whether or not to participate this summer, you might want to check it out.
- Even if your small group is taking a vacation this summer, Dot Com(unity) can be a great vehicle for your own personal devotions. Learn from a lot of other people, contribute your own thoughts and ideas, and grow.
- The best way to keep track of everything for Dot Com(unity) is to sign up for our new Dot Com(unity) e-newsletter. It will bring new icebreakers and activities to your inbox each week, as well as editorial thoughts from myself, content from this blog, and discount offers to other SmallGroups.com material. Best of all, it's free too! Click here to learn more and sign up.