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December 25, 2009

Friday Flashback: Microwave vs. Crockpot

Which leadership development philosophy do you choose?

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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.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 1:01 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

December 24, 2009

Video of the Week: Merry Christmas!

Let Linus remind you what Christmas is all about.

It's been more than 20 years since I first saw this, and I still get tears in my eyes every time. Literally, every time. Merry Christmas from all of us here at SmallGroups.com and Christianity Today International.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 1:14 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

December 23, 2009

Question of the Week: Curriculum

Tell us where you find your small-group material.

We got a decent response to the poll question from last week, so I'd like to try this again.

And if you want to indicate what specifically you will be studying, please do so in the Comments section. I would really like to know what topics and authors are popular right now.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 1:04 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

December 22, 2009

LiveBooking: "Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus"

Chapter 10 looks at hospitality in ancient times.

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Once again it's time for our weekly tour through Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. When I sat down to read this week, I became excited by just the title of chapter 10: "At Table with the Rabbi." I very much enjoy learning more about the ancient practices of hospitality, and I was not disappointed today.

Culture Nuggets
First, it was good to see the authors address the way in which some people mistakenly attempt to adopt hospitality customs from ancient Israel into modern America. Here's an example:

When Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach in the surrounding villages, he gave them instructions that sound radical to us: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.... And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them" (Mark 6:8,11).

Taking this passage literally, some Christians have gone with little or no money to places that don't have the same high regard for hospitality that existed in Jesus' day. And even though God can provide for them, it seems clear that Jesus wasn't asking his disciples to count on daily miracles to sustain them. Instead, he knew that the talmidim of an esteemed rabbi would normally be warmly welcomed. Any community that failed to treat his disciples with honor deserved to be left behind.

That's a good reminder of why understanding context is so important when we set about reading and applying God's Word.

Application
Speaking of applying, I'm wondering what hospitality currently looks like in the modern West. What are the rules? What are the customs? What are the social norms when it comes to spending time with each other and in each other's homes?

And then to go a little deeper, how do those rules and customs affect what we are all about in terms of small groups and forming spiritual communities?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 1:20 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

December 21, 2009

We're Back!

Dot Com(unity) returns January 4 with a study series from John Ortberg

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We are getting close to January, which means it is almost time to start up Dot Com(unity) once again. Huzzah! We'll get things started January 4th, specifically.

If you're not familiar with Dot Com(unity), you can get a good education on what it is and how it works by looking at our original explanation from last year. Basically, the idea is to get several small groups from around the country studying the same material at the same time. Then, we provide a place on our blog for the leaders of those groups to come together and share their insights, questions, comments, and suggestions.

In other words, Dot Com(unity) is a place where small-group leaders can collaboratively engage a topic of study in order to provide the best environment for the spiritual formation of their group members. Pretty cool, huh?

Now you're probably thinking, So what material will we be studying together? Good question. The answer is: John Ortberg on Understanding God. I have admired John Ortberg as a teacher and writer for several years now, and I am not the only one. His books have sold gobs of copies not because they are slickly packaged, but because they dig deep into the important matters of the Christian life. John Ortberg's words help people understand God and our relationship with Him, in other words, and that's why I am very excited about the chance to work through his study with all of you.

Best of all, SmallGroups.com is providing a 50 percent discount on this study for Dot Com(unity) participants. Just use coupon code DotComOrtberg during the checkout process to receive the discount.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 3:45 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

December 18, 2009

Friday Flashback: What Fires Your Jets about Leading a Group?

Reminding ourselves of what's great about leading a small group can give us new energy.

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I love leading a small group. I really do! But let's face it - we all get a little weary of our responsibilities by this time of year. If we've been leading a group since September, there are days when we wish it would hurry up and end for the summer. It gets tiring to be in charge of a group of people.

So I like to remind myself of why I took on this responsibility in the first place. Some of the reasons I love to lead a group are:


  • Getting to know a group of people beyond surface level


  • Having the joy of seeing Christ change my life as I depend on him


  • Being astounded when God gives me just the right thing to say at the right time


  • Learning to really pray for others, since I feel responsible for them


  • Seeing God increase my sensitivity to others


  • Experiencing joy as I learn to put others' needs before my own for at least one night a week



All of these are red-banner reasons to celebrate. But the one thing that motivates me most to lead a small group is the privilege of seeing Christ change others' lives. That reason alone can keep me going when everything else gets tough.

I think of Sarah*, who was separated from her husband. They are now back together, raising their kids in a godly manner. Donna struggled from a low view of herself and God because she was abused as a child. She's now leading a group of her own. Shanna didn't know the Bible at all, but now she's learning to apply it to her life and to reach out to others.

By the way, each of these persons was in a different group from each other. Altogether they've spanned almost 20 years of my life. I've never seen a lot of dramatic, instant results. So that's why sticking with it, even when it gets tough, is worth it in the long run. You truly do get to see lives change.

What is your favorite thing about leading a small group? Share it with us so that you can be reminded of why you do this every week, and so that we can be encouraged through you.

*Names changed

posted by Sam O'Neal at 9:33 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

December 17, 2009

Video of the Week: Dallas Willard

Excellent thoughts from a leader in the world of spiritual transformation

I found this week's video on the LiveStream account of Monvee.com, which you can access here. If you're not familiar with Monvee, I have a feeling you will be soon. It has been branding itself as "the future of spiritual formation," which would be kind of a laughable claim if it didn't have people like John Ortberg and Dallas Willard in its corner. Those names make me want to learn more, and I am in the process of doing so. (And I will pass on what I learn to you, as well.)

Now for the video. This is an interview with Dallas Willard on several topics intersecting with spiritual transformation, and it is outstanding stuff. Outstanding. My favorite part comes about 7 or 8 minutes in, when Willard talks about grace and effort. "Grace is not opposed to effort," he says. "It's opposed to earning."

Here's the rest.

Watch live streaming video from monvee at livestream.com

posted by Sam O'Neal at 12:00 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

December 16, 2009

Question of the Week: Meeting for Christmas?

Here's our first official poll!

Just a quick question this week, and I thought it would work best to go in Poll format:

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:40 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

December 15, 2009

LiveBooking: "Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus"

The three feasts surrounding Jesus' crucifixion offer a wealth of detail and depth to our understanding of the event.

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Once again it's time for our weekly tour through Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. I just finished reading chapter 8, which has some very interesting things to say about the Jewish feasts that surrounded the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

Specifically, Spangler and Tverberg focus on the feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits. There are a lot of fascinating nuggets and tidbits in regards to the different Jewish beliefs, legends, and symbols attached to those feasts—especially in connection with Jesus' resurrection.

For example, they mention a Jewish tradition of breaking off a piece of the matzah bread before the Passover meal (the seder) and hiding it. This piece is called the afikomen, and it is brought out at the end of the seder and broken and eaten by all the participants.

Here's more:

...in Jesus' time, the afikomen referred to "the coming one,", meaning the longed-for Messiah. The tradition was that the whole piece of matzah represented all of Israel, and that the Messiah was "broken off" from the people and hidden away. The appearance of the piece at the end was symbolic of the coming of the Messiah, fervently expected at the time of Jesus. When Jesus held up that particular piece of bread and said, "This is my body," he was making a shocking claim to be the Messiah, the Christ.

Cool huh? There's a good bit more where that came from, but I don't want to steal too much thunder from the authors and spoil their keen insights.

One more thing, though. Reading this chapter reminded me of the value of learning about the different feasts initiated and celebrated by the Israelites throughout the Old Testament. They provide some shocking clarification and "wow" moments, especially in regard to Jesus and the New Testament.

You and your group can learn more with our 6-session Bible study called Seeing Christ in the Jewish Feasts.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 2:05 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

December 11, 2009

Friday Flashback: Something Bigger!

Getting to the root of our small-group ministry calling

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Through all the hype and trendiness associated with various small-group philosophies, it's critical that we not lose perspective on what God is doing behind it all. I was reading a recent article by Scott Boren who was taking a fresh look at the writings of some of the early pioneers of the modern small-group movement.

Scott noted these earlier writings focused on something bigger than just getting people into small groups. Click on the link above or below to read the entire article, but here's a summary of what Scott gleaned from his research:

1. Their primary concern was not on church growth, number of groups, or what percentage of the church was in groups. They realized that group participation was not the end goal, but a means for accomplishing God's greater mission. They had a vision for the redemption of creation and for empowering people to have a role in this redemption. Groups helped them do this and groups would often grow as a result. But there is little talk about how many groups, how people join groups, or other technical questions.

2. The pioneers had a keen focus on the quality of life within the groups. They were looking for the kind of life that reflected the Kingdom of God as represented by Jesus. These were not simply study groups that met once a week or twice a month. They were groups that knew they had a call to be salt and light in the midst of the world.

3. These prophets were not afraid to "draw a line in the sand" and be ready to let go of those who were not going to enter this radical call. They did not water down the vision in order to keep people. They let other churches take care of them.

4. They trained. And then they trained again. And then they trained some more. They realized that such vision for the church was radically different than the common experience in the American church. They knew that if it was to be practiced that training was crucial. They did not "lower the bar" to get people through classes. Instead they raised the expectations and then mentored people in the practical means of putting this training into practice.

5. They experimented. They did not write about the need to find a structure or model for the next church—one that could be packaged and sold to others. They believed the church should not go from one static form to the next static form called "small groups." These pioneers were using small groups to experiment with different ideas of being God's people out in front of a watching world.

This excerpt was taken from Fresh Insight for Holistic Small Group Ministries, TOUCH Outreach Ministries, Inc. May, 2009—Volume 5, Number 2

posted by Sam O'Neal at 4:00 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

December 10, 2009

Video of the Week: Eugene Peterson

Is it better to study the Bible, or to read it?

I am currently working on a SmallGroups.com training download called "How to Prepare a Bible Study," and one of the things I am trying to cover in that resource is how to best approach the Bible when your goal is teaching others.

So when I saw a video on YouTube titled "Eugene Peterson explains the difference between 'studying' and 'reading' the Bible," I thought, Aha! Exactly what I've been looking for. I figured the video would highlight that most people just read the Bible, like any other book, but don't really know how to study it.

Let's see if I was right...


Nope! As in many things, I was completely backwards. Peterson's idea is that people usually approach the Bible as a tool of study—a book they are trying to get something useful out of. He feels that people don't know how to really read the Bible. That we don't know how to get caught up in the story and allow it to work on us from the inside out.

And by golly, I think he's right.

So what does that mean for us? For our small groups?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 9:39 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

December 9, 2009

Question of the Week: Christmas Presents

Are people in a small group supposed to buy gifts for each other?

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I'm not sure if you've noticed yet, but Christmas is coming soon. So I thought it would be fun to have a Yule-inspired Question of the Week for you: What is the proper etiquette when it comes to giving Christmas gifts within a small group?

Should group leaders give gifts to their group members? Should group members give gifts to their group leaders? Should group members give gifts to each other? If one person brings in a gift for everyone, does that mean that everyone else should go out and get some gifts? Is it appropriate to give a Christmas present to certain people in your small group, but not others?

In all my years of leading small groups, these are questions that I have never figured out. So please help me.

And if you do give Christmas gifts within your small group, let us know some good gift ideas that have worked in the past. (And when I say "good," you should read "inexpensive.")

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:02 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

December 8, 2009

LiveBooking: "Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus"

Exploring a life that is saturated in prayer

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It's time for another "LiveBooking" tour through Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. If you're not familiar with what's going on here, you can find some explanation from our first post on this idea several weeks back.

Teach Us to Pray
I'm going to skim over Chapter 6 pretty quickly—not because it wasn't interesting, but because the information is pretty specific and somewhat technical. The authors go into some very cool detail about Jewish customs with clothing and dress (would Jesus have worn a yarmulke, for example). They also take a look at some of the Jewish influences on what we know today as the Lord's Prayer.

Saturated in Prayer
As I read chapter 7, I was fascinated by the way the lives of Jewish people in Jesus' day were saturated by prayer—especially prayers of blessing and thanks to God. Here's a quick excerpt to give you an example:

In Jesus' time, you would probably have woken up to a rooster's crow. After thanking God for returning your soul to you for yet another day, you may have said: "Blessed is he who has given the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night."

As you opened your eyes you would have prayed: "Blessed is he who opens the eyes of the blind," and then you would have said another dozen or so short prayers praise God for every body part still functioning.

What a way to start the day, huh? And the prayers of blessing kept going throughout the day. Spangler and Tverberg describe blessing prayers for the smell of fruit, for seeing the ocean, or for encountering a particularly beautiful person or compelling rabbi.

"This tradition of blessing God is one that takes a 'glass half full' approach to life," the authors write. "What a great way to avoid negativity and ingratitude, opening our eyes to God's provision! What might the world be like if more of us were to adopt this wonderful Jewish prayer custom?"

That's a good question. But more importantly, what would the Church be like? And how can we adopt these practices in our everyday lives?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:39 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

December 4, 2009

Friday Flashback: Relational Evangelism

That "Great Commission" thing still applies, right?

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It's always good to "reboot" your computer from time to time in order to set everything straight and clear out the "digital cobwebs" from the operating system. I thought I'd do the same with my current thinking and practices about sharing my faith with my unchurched/non-believing friends.

I encourage you to pass these ideas along to your leaders and group members so they, too, can "reboot" for 2009 and be far more successful in helping friends find a genuine relationship with God through Christ, our Lord!

1. Create a true friendship. The goal is to show God's unconditional love and be a true friend. Show them you love them regardless of their current or future beliefs and let the Holy Spirit do his work. They're not a "project."

2. Be real. Real friends show their weaknesses and are not too proud to ask others for help. Show the person that you want a genuine friendship that is characterized by "bi-directional" servanthood.

3. Cross-pollinate. Involve other believers in your friendship with your unchurched friend. It may be just what the person needs to see what following Christ looks like from different perspectives.

4. Treat them like a Christian if they claim to believe. Many Americans think they are Christians because they believe in God's existence. If that's the case, don't hesitate to ask them to pray for you like you would a fellow group member. In other words, call their spiritual bluff and see what happens! This builds contrast for the unchurched person.

5. Give AND take refrigerator rights. Many Christians claim to have friendships with the lost, but they rarely have the person in their home or are a guest in the home of an unchurched person. If you want to make a huge impact on a lost person, simply invite them to your house frequently and give them refrigerator rights. When they do the same for you in their home, you have reached a level of relationship that few people have in America—and God will use it powerfully to bring them to the cross. Trust me on this one.

6. Pray for yourself as much as you pray for them. Ask Christ to shine through you in powerful ways and give you his love and vision for your friend (vs. just asking God to convict your friend of their sins!)

posted by Sam O'Neal at 8:00 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

December 3, 2009

Video of the Week: Flying Solo

Here's a funny promo video that could be useful in preparation for January.

This video was produced by Central Christian Church, and can be purchased at Worship House Media.


posted by Sam O'Neal at 8:00 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

December 2, 2009

Question of the Week: Multiplication

Does dividing a small group produce a blessing or a curse?

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I've kept the Question of the Week on the lighter side recently. We've talked about Thanksgiving side dishes and Christian Buzzwords, for example. But now it's time to get serious.

It's time for a showdown for this Question of the Week—we're talking high noon at the OK Corrall, folks. I want to dig into the topic of multiplication. Specifically, the practice of dividing (or "branching" or "birthing" or whatever term you prefer) an existing small group in order to form two or more groups.

There are lots of diffrent angles and scenarios we can think up on this topic, but I want to keep the discussion focused on the people involved. So here's the question: Does dividing a small group help the attending group members, or does it harm them?

And if you want to get a little background information on this issue, there are two articles from SmallGroups.com that I would recommend (see if you can tell what each author thinks by the titles...):

--Why Dividing Small Groups Is a Dumb Idea, by Larry Osborne

--The Joys of Multiplication, by Randy Frazee

posted by Sam O'Neal at 9:18 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

December 1, 2009

LiveBooking: "Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus"

If you like community, you'll like chapter five.

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Welcome to week five of our "LiveBooking" tour through Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. I can't quite put my finger on the reason, but I was pretty excited by chapter 5. Maybe you can help me figure out why. :)

It's Haver Time
Spangler and Tverberg begin this chapter by spotlighting the Jewish practice of studying with a haver—a friend willing to partner with you in grappling with Scripture. Even more, a haverim was a group of students who learned together, asked questions of each other, debated, and explained.

This quote from the book gives a little more detail:

Was Jesus aware of this approach to studying Scripture? Consider the words of the early rabbis, who said: "When two sit together and exchange words of Torah, then the Divine Presence dwells among them." Now, listen to the words of Jesus: "Where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them" (Matthew 18:20).

Like other Jewish teachers of his time, Jesus affirmed his followers' need for community. What's more, since Jesus is himself the Word of God, it makes sense that he would promise to be present as we come together to study the Scriptures.

Our Westernized minds may struggle with this idea. We tend to believe that the only way to deeply encounter God is through solitary prayer and study. But Jesus implies that his presence will be felt most often in the presence of a small group of haverim.

Can I get an amen?!

So, Which One?
That quote started a question rattling around in my head, and I'll turn to all of you to help me answer it: Where does the deepest spiritual formation usually happen? Alone or in community? Does the Holy Spirit speak best to us in a "still, small voice" when we are alone, or do we best encounter the Spirit when two or three are gathered in Jesus' name?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 1:51 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)