September 28, 2009
And of small-group community
Many efforts have been made to try and distill our life in Christ down to the most basic elements. Tom Bandy, a church consultant, has put together a useful way of thinking about it. He has identified what I call five Scriptural “cries of the heart” that come out of the core of our journey with the Lord. Each of these prayers embraces a deep spiritual need we have.
Here they are:
- Change my life! Change my heart, oh God, take my life.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
- Grow me up! Make every experience, every circumstance, good or bad, a pathway to knowing You and Your ways better, oh Lord.
James 1:2-4 says, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
- Help me fulfill my purpose in life! Show me who I am in Your eyes, and let that vision change my everyday existence.
Ephesians 1:11-12 says, “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”
- Equip me to bless others! I want to make a difference in other people’s lives; train me and use me in my relationships near and far.
Genesis 12:1-3 says, “Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go from your
country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'"
- Unite me with a team! Place me in a Christian community of Your love and power, and help me give Your love and power inside of me to my Christian community.
Mark 6:7 says, “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”
Mark 9:2 says, “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them.”
As I read these prayers, I am struck by how important small group community is to seeing these cries of the heart expressed in the lives of group members. With that in mind, I thought this would be a great tool to use in our groups to help frame group prayer times. Simply explain each cry of the heart and then ask group members to share specific prayer requests related to it. Use this format frequently to keep these prayers at the forefront of your life together.
September 27, 2009
Here are some questions that need answering about a topic that is seldom discussed.
I'll say it from the beginning: this is a week when I'll need a lot of help from all of you, our faithful readers. That's because I'm not very confident about the topic of shame. I have experienced shame, of course, and talked through those experiences with others. But I get the impression that I don't experience shame as often as I should. And although I understand that there is healthy shame and unhealthy shame, I don't really understand the difference between the two.
So please help!
I think the second and third teaching points are a great place to camp as a group and enjoy some quality discussion. It would be great just to talk openly about questions like:
-- What causes shame?
-- Where is the line between healthy shame and unhealthy shame?
-- What do we do if we are experiencing healthy shame? Unhealthy shame?
That's a discussion where I feel like I could learn a lot. That's also a great opportunity for Teachable Moments—times when the Holy Spirit moves in your group in a way that brings people to respond, learn, grow, and change.
Speaking of questions, there are some things I've wondered about shame that I would love your collective input on. For example, what is the difference between guilt and shame? Is one more positive or negative than the other?
One more question: in your experience, is shame a bigger issue for women than for men? Do women experience shame more often, or do men have an easier time ignoring or shaking off feelings of shame? I would genuinely love to hear what everyone thinks about that one.
September 25, 2009
Your small group could win a weekend retreat courtesy of LifeWay Resources.
I just wanted to make sure everyone is aware of a new contest from our friends over at LifeWay. It's a photo contest, and the idea is pretty simple—you take a picture of your small group "doing life together" and then post it on LifeWay's Facebook wall.
Winners of the contest will receive new small-group study guides, and the grand prize is a 3-day/2-night retreat for your entire small group to either Ridgecrest, North Carolina or Glorietta, New Mexico. (And the LifeWay folks aren't being cheap, either. The prize includes transportation, lodging, and meals.)
The contest is a promotional event around a new group of study guides that LifeWay is releasing called "Small Group Life." You can learn more about those guides and the contest by going to www.lifeway.com/sgl.
And here's the Facebook page.
I just received a copy of the first Small Group Life "episode." It looks interesting after a skim, so you may see a review over on SmallGroups.com in the next month or so.
September 23, 2009
Some ideas to get your group over the hump
I have had conversations with worship leaders who led worship for Promise Keepers and who also led worship in small groups. They have commented that it is arguably more challenging to lead a worship experience in a small group of 6 than it is to lead a group of 50,000!
Given that most leaders I talk to think leading small group worship is a challenge, it reinforces the importance of looking carefully in our small groups for those who have gifting in the area of worship and allow them to share that gift with the group.
Beyond having someone in your group who is gifted with leading worship, another way to get over the worship hump in small groups is to start framing our paradigm of small group worship differently. There are many ways to create worship experiences in small groups beyond just singing. SmallGroups.com features lots of creative worship activities in our Worship Ideas section of the website.
And here are several other ideas that have come out of various conversations I’ve had and workshops I have attended:
- have a good reader read the words of an old hymn
- play a music CD and just listen, then get responses
- dedicate a prayer time to only thanksgiving (what God has done) and adoration (who God is)
- share a favorite Scripture verse, and then share why it's a favorite.
- after sharing a Scripture or song, have some quiet journaling and then group sharing
- do communion together as a group
- do a sing along CD or DVD, and turn it up loud if your group members are not great singers—it works!
How about you? What are some other ideas for small group worship experiences?
September 20, 2009
Why spiritual growth is a key factor for spiritual gifts
Sorry if you came here earlier and didn't find any text. We've been having a few technical difficulties this morning, and they are just now getting under control. But enough about that—on to this week's study material!
Note: There are five teaching points this week, which means the study covers a lot of different material and ideas. As a group leader, be sure to pick and choose which of these ideas best match the needs of your group members. Most small groups will not be able to cover all five of these subjects and still have any kind of meaningful discussion. So cut out what doesn't apply to you and focus your energy on what offers the best chance for discussion and transformation.
I like the idea behind Teaching Point One, personally: Let the Holy Spirit Train You in Goodness. This is such a big part of our society—being good. But sometimes as Christians we are taught so often that "being good" won't get us into heaven that we forget how important it still is to live as representatives of a good God. I think the Optional Activity is helpful, too, and can be modified pretty easily based on the specific needs of your group.
I also like the third point: Let the Holy Spirit Give You Self-Control. This is another big area of discussion for our culture. And in a small-group setting, it's a great opportunity for a teachable moment if connected with confession of sin.
What about you? Which teaching points will you emphasize most in your group sessions this week? What else do you recommend to help get those points across?
September 15, 2009
What they do and what they don’t do
Lot’s of great leadership nuggets can be found at 21stCenturyStrategiesInc.com. I was reviewing some archived material there recently and came across a list of relational leadership traits to avoid, put together by Dan Reeves. I’ve adapted Dan’s list a bit and repurposed it as a list of relational characteristics that describe great small-group leaders.
Great relational small-group leaders...
- Are not stingy with their praise of others.
- Confidently affirm those things they agree with or believe, while being honest and humble about their own failures.
- Are willing to initiate healthy mentoring conversations about things that make them concerned.
- Do not tend to jump immediately to negative conclusions when interpreting people’s actions.
- Do not find it easy to understand people’s motivations without asking them.
- Prefer first-hand information rather than second-hand information.
- Give the benefit of the doubt.
- Do not tend to want all permissions run through them.
- Are very comfortable with independent thinkers.
- Do not tend to be locked into the safety of rules, regulations, and organizational efficiency.
- Tend to see what can go right with an idea, rather than what might go wrong.
- Focus more on mission than maintenance.
- Are more concerned about people than process.
- Are able to use and release leaders with skills, knowledge and abilities different from or better than their own.
- Avoid using the legitimacy of their power and control as an excuse to solve problems and make decisions in isolation.
- Are not insecure.
Do you agree with this list? What relational characteristics have I missed?
September 13, 2009
A look at three gifts that are given to every Christian
Welcome to Week 2 of this Dot Com(unity) session, and let's jump right in with the study.
This week's teaching points focus on three spiritual gifts that God gives to every Christian at the time of their salvation (and beyond). They are faith, a relationship with God, and an extra capacity to give and receive love.
To start, I'm curious if these "guaranteed gifts" were surprising to anyone? I had not heard of an initial "burst" of spiritual gifts before, nor had I thought of these three items as spiritual gifts, per se. But they make sense when you think about it.
The first thing I noticed about these teaching points is that they include a lot of "outside" Scripture references. This can be very helpful in a group in terms of finding something to talk about, but don't be concerned about covering each verse during your group meeting. Read them before hand and think about a handful of verses that would best fit your group and where you want to take the discussion. For example, I really like 1 John 4 as a way to start talking about love and how it should be demonstrated by followers of God.
As I mentioned, you'll need to skim the different texts ahead of time in search of verses that have a good chance of impacting your specific group. But I do like the idea proposed in the "Action Point" at the end of the study.
It recommends that you have your group members look at those three guaranteed gifts—faith, relationship, and love—and decide which one has the most room for improvement in their lives. This is something you could do as a group (and have people share as desired), or as a "homework" assignment on their own.
September 9, 2009
When it comes to making decisions in your small group, timing is everthing.
I love my GPS. Whenever I drive somewhere new, a sophisticated female voice with a British accent kindly directs my route, telling me where to turn and whether to turn left or right. She doesn't tell me when to turn, though. Pulling up to a stop light and waiting until the coast is clear is my responsibility.
I am responsible for knowing the optimal time to turn the corner—that is, when I can turn without getting nailed by a semi. If I turn at the wrong time, the results will be devastating and everyone in the vehicle will be injured.
That's because timing is everything.
Timing is important for small groups, too. Books and conferences can tell you what to do, but not when to do it. That means group leaders must accurately read the environment of their small groups in order to know when is the right time to make a change or start something new.
With that in mind, here are a few tips about timing when it comes to small-group leadership:
- When leading a small group meeting, don't move forward with the study if someone has verbally attacked another group member. Acknowledge the intense emotions and deal with them before continuing.
- If a household in your group has suffered a tragedy—loss of a job, death of a family member, and so on—the next meeting should be focused on ministering to the family rather than "doing the study."
- Similarly, don't try to multiply your small group (or even suggest multiplication) if an individual or couple in the group is going through tough times or processing some great loss. These individuals need relational stability for a season.
- Complete an agreed upon study before moving on to a different curriculum piece. You may sense that the present study isn't what you had hoped for, but if the group was involved in choosing the study, moving from it before completion will create silent discontent.
- If a small group has spent a substantial amount of time on a ministry project in the last four weeks, be sure you have group consensus before involving the group in another ministry project soon thereafter.
Remember: timing is everthing.
September 8, 2009
Here are two critical ingredients.
Not much about small groups is “clean” or simple, but Dr. Henry Cloud mentioned in a conference session I attended some time ago that he viewed two “ingredients” as being critical for small group success and group member life change. Those two ingredients are PURPOSE and COHESION.
- PURPOSE—group members have a clear expectation of what they are to do as a member of their small group. Group members know why the group exists and why they are a committed part of it.
- COHESION—there is a strong perceived need for the group by the group members. Group members would feel like they were missing something vital if they missed a group gathering and small group relationships are viewed as high priority.
According to Dr. Cloud, the presence of these two ingredients in a small group is a strong indicator that transformation will take place in group members’ lives.
I don’t disagree with Dr. Cloud, but I wonder what you think? Are these the two ingredients you would have picked? What would you say are the most critical factors of small group success and member transformation?
September 5, 2009
Get your group started with a look at what spiritual gifts are and when we encounter them.
I'll admit I was a little nervous about the first session of our "Use Your Spiritual Gifts" course. Usually when a small group studies spiritual gifts, the first session is a time when everybody explains what gifts they think they have been given—which is a nice way to learn a good bit more about your group, but doesn't necessarily lead to stimulating discussion.
Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised with some new information on spiritual gifts that I think will be very cool to talk about in a group setting. Keep reading for more info...
Your group is probably expecting that they will spend the majority of the time talking about each other's spiritual gifts. You can just let people go around and talk about their gifts and count that as the icebreaker, really. It usually helps to have some kind of list of the "accepted" spiritual gifts when you do that. Here's a good example.
But I think Teaching Points two and three are where you can really make some hay in terms of discussion. Did you know that God blesses us with gifts at different stages of our lives? I certainly did not, but it makes a lot of sense after you read study material for Teaching Point Two. Nor did I realize that requesting different gifts is an option, as Teaching Point Three discusses.
These topics can lead to some very interesting discussion themes. It's not in the study, but it would be fascinating to have people talk about which spiritual gifts they would pick out if God allowed us to choose. And that idea leads directly into application—what would you use that gift for? What is stopping you from making that a regular piece of your prayer life? What gift do you need to ask God for now in order to tackle a difficult situation?
If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I love to talk about teachable moments—those times when the Holy Spirit really moves in a group setting or in the life of an individual member. We can't make those moments happen, of course, but we can prepare an atmosphere that is more conducive to the Spirit's work, and we can focus on themes and topics that match what the Spirit is doing in our lives.
For me, the application section of this study is where I would look for the best chance at a teachable moment, especially those questions we mentioned above.
But I'd love to know what other people think. Keeping your specific group in focus, which part of this week's study do you think has the most potential to be a powerful moment? What kinds of activities, Scripture passages, or ideas could we use to enhance those moments and open the door wider for the Holy Spirit?
Don't hold out on us!
September 1, 2009
Why revealing our true selves is both necessary and terrifying
I feel a little bit like Jay Leno writing this blog post, but I think it still has a worthwhile lesson (aside from being hilarious).
So here's what happened. I am a raving fan of the Chicago Bears, and a couple months ago I was reading an article about a charity event that was being run by one of the Bears' defensive players, Charles "Peanut" Tillman. Peanut is a good guy, and every year he holds a celebrity flag football game to raise money for chronically ill children.
This year the event is being sponsored by Meijer, which is great. It's good to see pillars of the community come together like that—especially for such a great cause.
But then I came across an article from an internet news outlet describing the event. The article started out okay—detailing who Charles Tillman was and how his event has run in the past, then talking about Meijer as a sponsor. But I soon noticed that the author had forgot to delete his manuscript notes from the final copy. For example, when he mentioned the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, there was a note next to it that said "IS THIS THE RIGHT TITLE?"
Things still wouldn't have been so bad if the author hadn't included the following note after talking about why Tillman started the foundation: "QUOTE FROM A MEIJER PERSON WHY THIS IS SO IMPORTANT......OR I CAN MAKE IT UP."
Ouch. (If you want to see the actual web page, click on the image to the right.)
And that's a pretty good object lesson about why authenticity is necessary for small groups, but also extremely frightening. Nothing transformational will happen in your group unless people take off their masks—unless they reveal their manuscript notes, so to speak. But doing so takes tremendous courage, because we all know deep down inside that we are hypocrites and frauds in one area of life or another.