October 29, 2009
God's Pies: A funny and sobering look at how we divide our resources
Last week I promised that we would be rolling out some new features for the blog in the coming month, and here's the first one: I'm going to regularly troll through the Internet to find a Video of the Week.
Some of these videos will be professionally produced, others will be off the cuff from amateurs and churches. And they will run the gamut from funny to moving to encouraging to shaming. Whatever I can find that I think will have benefit for small-group leaders!
Here's the first one, from Worship House Media. It's supposed to be a look at financial resources, but I think it does just as well speaking about our time—or our total allocation of resources in general. Enjoy!
October 24, 2009
Have you experienced "text abuse"?
I just finished listening to Bill Donahue speak at the Willow Group Life conference. His talk was a bit different from the first sessions in that it dealt specifically with the group leader's role in Bible study and facilitation, which was cool.
Some of what Bill said was pretty basic, but one point especially stood out to me. I'm paraphrasing a bit, but here's what he said about some people's use of the Bible: "When we use our strength to force or beat someone, that is physical abuse. When we use our tongues to cut people, that is verbal abuse. When we enforce our will over children, that's child abuse. And when we use the Bible as a weapon or a method of control, that is textual abuse."
That idea needs to be shouted from the rooftops. So many people feel like the Bible is a club to be wielded against those who need it. They feel that change happens through bludgeoning with verses. And this happens in small groups all the time. If someone's opinion is different than mine, I stone them with BIble verses until they submit or shut down.
This needs to stop. But how? As a group leader, what should we do when this starts happening in our group?
Very good stuff from one of our favorite authors!
If you're not familiar with Heather Zempel, you need to go to SmallGroups.com right now and search for what she's written there. It's all great stuff. You can also go to her blog, which is called Wineskins for Discipleship.
Today at Group Life, Heather talked about the reality of mess in small groups. Specifically, the fact that messes are given in any place where human beings come together. I intellectually agree with everything that Heather said, including different ways to engage and address the messes as a process for growth.
But I've not experienced a lot of this recently. I'm in a pretty clean group right now, and I guess that scares me. Are the group members just not opening up? Am I not providing the right kind of atmosphere for them to open up? Is it possible that we're just in a time of little trouble right now, and we really all like each other as much as we claim to?
I wish I had answers to these questions, but I'm pretty blank right now. I'm going to chew on this for a little while, but I'm curious what all of you are experiencing, as well. Got mess? (reminds me of those milk commercials.) And if not, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is that your fault as the leader, or the fault of your group members?
Is deep, personal confrontation really realistic?
I'm sure most of you are familiar with Dr. Henry Cloud from the "Boundaries" series of books and videos, but you might not be aware that he is also a big, big advocate of small groups. He speaks regularly at different conferences, and he's got a pretty cool book out called "Making Small Groups Work."
Dr. Cloud's talk at the conference today was very cool, but there was one thing that kept bugging me as he spoke. He told several different stories about different groups he's been a part of or heard about, and all of the stories dealt with some kind of deeper interaction or confrontation. For example, he talked about someone from his group telling him that they were bugged by his habit of not hearing what people said and just talking about what was on his mind. There was another story about a guy who was beaten down by his father, and the group encouraged him to call his father on the phone right then and there and disagree with him three times.
Lots more stories like that, and they all had the common thread of confrontation within a group—not confrontation like this person talks to much or sings too loud, but confrontation like, "I want you to be a better person, so I am going to tell you the areas where you are weak so that the group can help you get stronger."
And that sounds really cool to me, that idea. But I've not experienced it in a group. And frankly, I'm not sure I have the guts to initiate something like that. Spiritual growth and education, yes. If someone confesses a sin, I'll be there with support and whatever they need. But personal confrontation with the sins and bad habits of another person? Not right now.
Is that a place I need to grow as a group participant? As a group leader? Or is that kind of experience not realistic for a small group that is not led by a professional psychiatrist?
Here's a quick video clip from Traci
Why the soul of a group leader is the most important thing
I'm listening to Mindy Caliguire speak at the Willow Group Life conference. If you don't know of Mindy, she is a powerful and growing voice in the world of spiritual formation. She's got good stuff to say in several books, and I'll actually be talking with her early in November, so you'll be able to see that interview.
Mindy also has good stuff to say here at the conference. She's talking about the soul—especially the soul of a small-group leader. According to Mindy, there are many things she used to think were the most important qualifications for a group leader. All the usual stuff -- listening skills, Bible knowledge, hospitality, etc. But now she has only one answer. The most important qualification for a small-group leader is that he or she is leading from a healthy soul.
And that reminds me of some really cool research that was conducted by Jim Egli and some other folks who made a nationwide study of several hundred churches. They looked at churches who were doing small groups well, but specifically at small groups that were healthy. And they discovered some common habits of healthy small groups.
Here are the biggest two:
1. The vast majority of healthy small groups had group leaders who had a regular and fruitful devotional time with God every day.
2. The vast majority of healthy small groups had group leaders who prayed for their group members by name every day.
Those sound like group leaders who have healthy souls, to me.
I haven't thought of this before...
I just listened to the first session here at the Willow Creek Small Groups conference, which featured Dave Johnston. He's the pastor at Church of the Open Door in Minneapolis, MN.
He was talking about spiritual formation, which is a pretty common topic. And he gave three non-negotiable elements of change. The first and third were authenticity and grace. And those are also pretty common—good stuff, but common.
But sandwiched in the middle was the idea of courage. It takes courage to be authentic. And I think that is huge. I have not heard that word connected to community and small groups before, but I sure think it should be. What better word for the emotional strength it takes to remove all the masks in front of other people? What better word for what it takes to confess sin?
Let's talk about this a little more: how does Courage fit in with your experience of small groups?
Join us all day!
It's about 8 in the morning, and I'm here at the Willow Creek Small Groups Conference! I'll be live-blogging all day, so be sure to check back often to hear what's being seen and said at this important event.
I'll also be tweeting regularly, so be sure to check out our Twitter page. Our name is @smallgroupscom, and the hash tag for the conference is #grouplife.
October 19, 2009
An interview from Leadership Journal raises some interesting questions
I came across an interesting interview in the recent issue of Leadership Journal. The subjects of the interview were from River City Community Church—a multi-ethnic ministry located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. Leadership talked with Daniel Hill, who founded the ministry, along with several key leaders of the church.
Here's a brief excerpt of their conversation:
What kind of person is attracted to River City?
Hill: Most of our new people are white. But there's a revolving door with the white community here. They have a romantic notion of being part of a multi-ethnic church, so many of them get frustrated and leave when they realize how difficult it is to erase their assumptions about the way church is supposed to be.
What assumptions do white people carry into the church?
Arloa Sutter (pastor of community life): When I came I said, "Let's just start small groups! Everyone wants to be in a group, right?" The fact is small groups aren't as important to other ethnicities as they are to white people.
Small groups are a white church thing?
Hill: White people rely on small groups to connect. Other ethnicities form community more organically, more relationally. Immigrant communities find fellowship within extended families. In the city a lot of community happens on the front porch or sidewalk. So non-whites aren't as eager to set up structures and systems like small groups.
Carlos Ruiz (coordinator of community groups): I think whites really value efficiency.
Antoine Taylor (director of Sunday morning ministries): And releasing that value is really hard for a lot of them. They perceive other ways of operating as inefficient or disorganized.
Jennifer Idoma-Motzko (elder): They say it's not the right way to do church. And I respond bluntly by saying, "You mean it's not the white way to do church."
Obviously, there are some pretty strong statements there, and they raise several important questions:
1. Are small groups primarily a "white" way to do church?
2. If we assume that non-white ethnicities connect more easily and organically than whites, does that mean small groups have no use in those communities? Or can they be a supplement to those organic connections?
3. Are small groups really about efficiency? Is that the appeal they bring to churches, whether white or otherwise?
I've got some thoughts on these questions, but I would really like to hear what all of you think before I let loose.
Just a quick announcement about Dot Com(unity). We're going to be taking a break from this feature of the blog until January.
There are a couple of reasons why, but the main one is just time. I'm still trying to get some bugs fixed with SmallGroups.com, and so the blog has kind of been pushed to the side a little bit in recent months, including Dot Com(unity). In evaluating the past couple sessions, I don't think I have the time to do this well right now, so I'm going to take a break until I can give this cool idea the effort it deserves.
Stay tuned for some changes and new features on the blog once I'm able to get things finished off with SmallGroups.com!
October 14, 2009
Is Jesus' presence more significant in bigger gatherings than smaller gatherings?
While reading through some online newsletters, I happened across an article that really made me think. The article was by Chip Brogden, and was titled: “Gathering: But Not for the Better!” Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“Jesus made it clear that ‘where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there I am in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18:20). Just two or three! I thank and praise God that Jesus did not say, ‘Where two or three THOUSAND are gathered together, there I am.’ He did not say, ‘Where two or three HUNDRED are gathered together, there I am.’ And He did not say, ‘Where two or three DOZEN are gathered together, there I am.’
Jesus also did not say where the two or three had to be gathered together. He did not specify a church building or a living room meeting. And He did not say how many times a week they had to be gathered, or if the gatherings had to be structured or unstructured, open or closed, inside or outside. By establishing His Presence in the midst of a group so small as two or three, Jesus repudiates our fascination with large numbers. Anyone can gather a crowd if you tell them what they want to hear.
May I say that a large group has no more of the presence of Jesus than a small group. The numbers are irrelevant. Either Jesus is in the midst, or He is not. If Jesus is not in the midst of us then having a large group of people will not compensate for Him not being there. I would rather sit on the living room floor with three people and have Jesus in the midst than sit in a service with three thousand people where Jesus is nowhere to be found. Of course, Jesus can sometimes be found in large groups of people, but as my wife says, He tends to get lost in the crowd.”
I think most of us would say Jesus presence in our midst in small gatherings is just as significant as in large gatherings. However, this is one of those truths that most of us accept intellectually, but struggle with in application. Why do I say that?
Consider how we view the significance of some of our “gatherings.” I was reading an email that came through promoting a small-groups conference. In one of the speaker bios it said the following: “…he planted a Church in the Midwest and transitioned it to a home group based church. When he left, there were 300 people in church and 400 in home groups.”
I don’t know if something about that quote stands out to you as much as it does me? And, it’s NOT that there were more people in home groups than in the worship service. While having the numbers reversed may not be the norm, it’s becoming less unusual. No, what stood out to me was the terminology: “there were 300 people in church and 400 in home groups.” 300 were considered “in church” and the 400 were just in “home groups.” Does that terminology say anything about how we view the significance of Jesus' presence in various group sizes?
Somehow, even in churches who declare they are small-groups based and not exclusively big-group-gathering based, the two or three gathered with Jesus (small group) still aren’t considered the “church.” We still drool over the big number gatherings, particularly the once a week worship gatherings, and our language, our promotion, and our resourcing seems to prove that out.
I could be wrong about my conclusions and I’m not trying to discount the impact or role of larger gatherings, but does our terminology reinforce the idea that Jesus shows up more significantly in the large crowd as compared to the two or three gathered? Does that thinking create any problems in how people might value small group gatherings verses large group gatherings? Just wondering. Let me know what you think.
October 8, 2009
Don’t settle for what you’ve always done
My experience with rock climbing has been limited to the artificial rock walls and high ropes courses. But I appreciate that rock climbing, like small groups, is an activity that is risky enough that it should be done in community.
If you are not familiar with rock climbing, you typically have one person climbing while someone else holds the safety ropes. The person holding the safety ropes is called the “belay.” When the climber is ready to proceed up the rock, the procedure is to communicate with the belayer. "On belay" means that the belayer is operating the belay device, ready to "catch" the climber in the event of a fall. "On belay" essentially means, "I've got you, it is safe to proceed." "Off belay" means the opposite: "I am not manning the belay device, so exercise extreme caution." Many climbing accidents happen because of poor communication between the climber and belayer.
I was reading an article on BusinessWeek.com that talked about the routines of rock climbers and noted the risk involved as climbers interact: “Can you think of two phrases that sound more alike than ‘on belay’ and ‘off belay?’ While they might be distinguished easily in an indoor climbing gym, put two competitive, adrenaline-filled people on a sheer cliff with the wind whistling by, a waterfall in the distance, gear clacking against the rock—and it's not difficult to see how such errors occur. Why on earth, I wondered, would climbers continue to use the terms when they are obviously not the best signals for the task? ‘I guess climbers have always done it that way,’ was their uneasy answer. The terms are remnants of a stupid routine.”
This article made me think about our small groups. How many stupid routines are we doing in our small groups that, at best, are creating ineffective Christian community—and at worst, creating dangerous spiritual situations in our groups? Things like breaking confidentiality, gossip, being more focused on curriculum than relationships, running out of time for prayer, and the like.
One way to eliminate dangerous routines is to start talking about our routines regularly—meaning more than just once a year. There’s no better time to evaluate than right now! The Business Week article also suggested some evaluation questions to help start conversations about routines. I have adapted these questions to a small group setting:
- In the past 90 days, what were our three most important accomplishments together? [Push the group to not settle for answers like "we finished the curriculum." Instead, teach them that accomplishment is about life change.]
- In the past 90 days, what were the three most important ways we fell short of our potential? [Here, you are tapping people's discernment about important things the group ought to be emphasizing, but isn't.]
- In the past 90 days, what are the three most important things we have learned about our routine? [This is the toughest one—asking people to learn and apply what they've learned about routine life in Christian community.]
October 4, 2009
Here's what we've all been waiting for.
When we first started this study on spiritual gifts, I mentioned that I was happy to see it contained more than a spiritual-gifts inventory. And we've certainly been exposed to some interesting and thought-provoking material over the last four weeks.
But I'll admit that I'm ready for that inventory now! And you're group members are probably ready, too. So let's get to it.
I would recommend that you have your group members take the gifts inventory during your actual group meeting this week. There are several reasons why this is a good idea, including:
- It guarantees that people will actually take the assessment. Let's face it—things assigned as homework often get forgotten.
- It allows for people to have their questions answered during the assessment, in case anything is confusing.
- It allows for group discussion after the assessment.
And yes, I do recommend that group members go around and talk about which spiritual gifts were highlighted on their assessment. This is a great time to get some personal reactions. Is anyone disappointed with what the assessment suggest? Excited? Is anyone really confused? These are great topics for discussion, and for learning more about the people in your group.
Here's a question for the extended Dot Com(unity)...uh...community: How involved should group leaders be in encouraging and assisting their group members to start using any new spiritual gifts that are discovered during this assessment? Should group time be used in the coming weeks to focus on people using their gifts? Should accountability relationships be set up?
What's the best way to help people use the gifts they've been given?