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August 31, 2009

Rehabilitating Small-Group Leaders

Wounded leaders need time and care before returning to battle.

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Because of a chronic illness I have been experiencing over the past several years, I've been thinking a lot about what small-group leaders need as they go through crisis situations in their own life. I used to be of the mindset that continuing to lead your small group, even during a personal crisis, was the best way to get through the crisis. "Bring your struggle to the community" and then press on! I learned the hard way that I was only half right.

During my illness, I definitely could not survive without my community. But as for leadership, I have hit times when I simply could not press on as normal. I did not have energy to do the hard relational work. I struggled to be adequately prepared. I simply did not have the energy to take the initiative.

This experience is teaching me that we need to take the rehabilitation of wounded small group leaders seriously.

I have appreciated the insight of Stephen Ministries, who provide training and resources for small groups to help care for their members and leaders. Here’s a quote from one of their staff:

"You do not send wounded soldiers back into battle without providing appropriate care and sufficient time to recuperate.

Life is tough. The members of your congregation experience emotional and spiritual bumps and bruises from time to time—and sometimes more drastic injuries—as they serve their King and engage in his mission. Sometimes the wounds are inflicted by an enemy; at other times they are self-inflicted. Either way, wounded soldiers need time and proper care to recuperate and heal before again being pressed into service. Christian care is essential for helping God’s people return to wholeness so they can once again engage in God’s mission.

What happens if people do not receive the care they need when they are suffering? What if their needs are ignored or unnoticed or—worse yet—trivialized by others wielding hollow platitudes? Hurting Christians who do not receive appropriate, compassionate care from your congregation quickly lose sight of any potential value they may have had for your congregation’s mission. Some will become disillusioned and seek healing elsewhere; others will lose faith in the church as a whole and disassociate from your congregation. Another major research finding is that a person is much more likely to become inactive or drop out of church if his or her needs for care during a crisis go unmet. Even if hurting people stay in your congregation, their loyalty and devotion are likely to wane.

On the other hand, hurting Christians who receive appropriate and compassionate care from their congregation are much more likely to return to health and re-engage in the mission of the church. Quite often, after receiving care during a time of crisis, they rebound with a newfound passion for serving God and the church."

I have seen the reality of this in my own life. So, as summer draws to a close, make sure you and your small-group leaders have had the needed care and refreshment they need to get back into the battle.

posted by Dan Lentz at 12:30 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

August 13, 2009

Breaking Bread Together

Why sharing meals together is a big deal

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We've done polls at www.SmallGroups.com in the past about various topics. One poll question we previously asked was, "When was the last time your whole small group ate a meal together?" I was a little surprised, but excited, about the results. A majority of those who responded said their small group has shared a meal together in the last month! Granted, our polling methods are not scientific, but I was delighted to see these results.

Perhaps groups tend to share meals together more around holidays or before and after seasonal breaks, but I suspect there is a trend toward groups “breaking bread” more frequently together. I believe this is important for several reasons:

1) Eating meals together was clearly a practice of the early church. And from what we read in Acts 2:42-47, it was part of the core practices that propelled the growth of the early church.

2) "Breaking bread" in the early church seems to have been part of the regular "Lord’s Supper" practice of the early believers, rather than the more ceremonial version we commonly practice today. Participating in this meal as a community obviously brought a profound sense of the Lord’s presence to the group. There's no reason this aspect of sharing a meal together couldn’t have the same impact today.

3) Having a meal together maximizes your time together for sharing and relationships. Rather than trying to rush and get supper in before group, why not go a little earlier to group and share that meal time together. The same is true of breakfast or lunch.

4) Meals allow the whole intergenerational family to share time together. Rather than trying to make arrangements for what to do with the kids during group, meals are great times to incorporate everyone in the family into the group. My own kids feel very connected to our group partly because of the meal we all share together.

5) My experience has been that sharing a meal together whenever the group meets has significantly increased the community and spiritual health of small groups. I led groups for years where we only had a short snack time. When we switched to sharing simple meals together that everyone helped prepare, our sense of unity and spiritual growth greatly accelerated.

"They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:46-47

posted by Dan Lentz at 2:47 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

August 4, 2009

How Does Your Group's "Garden" Grow?

A reality check for small-group leaders

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Now that summer is in full swing and I am spending a lot of time in our yard, I realized that I like my garden much more from inside the house than from the outside. Through the window, I can see the colorful flowers, green bushes, and lovely trees. But up close, it is another story altogether.

Our yard, which gets little attention during winter months, has serious weeds, overgrown plants, un-killable bamboo shoots, and crabgrass masquerading as real grass. So now I am faced with a choice: 1) go back inside, ignore, and pretend the ugly stuff doesn't exist; or 2) start pulling, pruning, and working hard toward the beautiful garden I know it can be.

I think our small groups present a similar challenge. Sometimes we prefer the illusion of having a nice, superficial, seemingly-smooth group more than the up-close reality of a messy, authentic, transformational community that God calls us to be. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial."

So, how will we know if we are living our false "dream" group or really experiencing God-breathed biblical community? Well, take a deep breath, spend some time with God, and be honest about what you see in the "garden" of your group.

To get started, ask yourself these questions:

--Am I, as the leader, actively living and providing an example of a Christ-centered life?

--How has God been growing individuals in your group? [If you cannot answer this question, ask everyone at your next gathering. Then pay attention to the answers which will help you discern next steps for each individual]

--Are there "weeds" (e.g., negative communication patterns, underlying unresolved issues, disruptive behaviors) that have been allowed to exist? [make a plan for confronting and changing the group dynamics]

--Is the group stagnating, distracted, lacking in focus or ownership? [brainstorm why and try something new or do something differently]

--What nutrients (e.g., service, meaningful prayer times, social hang-outs, transparency, scriptural application, accountability) do you need to add to the soil to create a healthier environment for growth in the future?

As you pray and think through these questions (either alone or with trusted core members of the group), remember that it is ultimately God who makes people and groups grow (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). So pray diligently with earnest hearts! Be open and available to His Spirit's leading in your group. Ask God to show you how to feed and lead the people whom He has entrusted into your care.

Then, relax and experience the joy of partnering with God as He transforms you and your group!

posted by Sam O'Neal at 4:39 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)