June 27, 2010
Is there a difference?
A couple of key components of our connection to God and others are fellowship and relationship. I recently explored the difference with our group. Here’s how I described it:
Relationship is the substance of our connections: things like family or blood relatives, as well as covenant relationship like marriage or adoption. Even beyond that, relationship can also be defined by association (church family, workplace, neighborhoods, students, etc.), or just the frequency in which we connect with people (if I see someone often, then I might say I have a relationship with them).
Fellowship, on the other hand, is more like the “life” and energy of our connections with people. It’s the quality of our relationships. It’s something that is added to relationship that adds life, impact, and even sweetness. It means literally sharing in common which is modeled in many of the one another commands of the New Testament, like: love one another, spur one another on, forgive one another, carry one another’s burdens, and many more.
But the question is: can you have relationship without fellowship, and is that a good thing or not?
I used an object illustration with our group to help understand the difference. I put pieces of two kinds of chocolate is a small cups. The chocolate I put in cup #1 was pure dark chocolate—nothing added. I had people try it. Some people like it, while some think it’s very bitter tasting. But like it or not, it’s the real deal. Pure chocolate. It’s good but it doesn’t necessarily have everything in it that people want in chocolate. It doesn’t have that sweet taste we’ve grown to love in chocolate.
In cup #2 I put rich milk chocolate. If you like chocolate at all, you are going to say it’s the real thing. Give me some more!
I told everyone, “Keep in mind, that cup #2 has the same substance as cup #1, but there is more added to it. And that more makes all the difference in how it tastes.”
That’s at least a simple picture of the distinction between relationship and fellowship. Relationship is like cup #1. It’s the real substance, but for some people it’s good and for others it seems bitter. Fellowship is like cup #2. It also has the real substance, but it has other things added that makes it much richer.
That’s a simple illustration, but the difference came home for me in a small group I was part of several years ago. We met together weekly for a couple of years and saw each other in-between group times as well. There is no question that by the definition, I had relationships with those people. But, I didn’t necessarily look forward to being together; it was just something I did. There came a time when our group multiplied and I moved on to be in another group. When I left that group, I didn’t have that sense of healthy grieving like there should have been. Sure I remained friendly with those folks, but not really connected in any meaningful way.
It became obvious to me that while several of us had a relationship, we lacked much depth of fellowship. Looking back, that bums me out. Because, we never poured much life into that substance. And because of that, it wasn’t very sweet and I’m not sure how much impact we really had in one another’s lives. I have learned from that experience that relationship is great, but fellowship is where life change happens.
Maybe you can identify with a situation you’ve had like that. I think most of us can. We all have examples of family or work associates that we interact with frequently—we have a relationship with them, but not much fellowship. And, of course, hopefully we can think of many examples of people we have relationships with, and rich fellowship as well. Obviously, we can’t have fellowship with everyone we are in relationship with. We just don’t have the time or emotional capacity to handle that. But, the question is: Are most of our relationships void of fellowship? I told my group that is something worth considering because fellowship is where life and sweetness happens.
June 25, 2010
Hilarious, and maybe a little too close to home...
A parody of NBC's "The Office" that focuses on small groups. Do I need to say any more?
June 22, 2010
Check out Mark Howell's "10 Essential Small-Group Leader Skills."
Just wanted to point all of you to a neat article available right now on Mark Howell's website, MarkHowellLive.com. Actually, it's a compilation of articles. The Ten Essential Small-Group Leader Skills, to be precise.
I recommend you take a look, because it will certainly be worth your time.
If you're not familiar with Mark Howell's website, it's a good one. Mark does a great job of writing about issues facing both small-group leaders and champions, and he posts something new (and free) every day. He also posts content specifically for small-group leaders from time to time, and he's collected the best of the best in the article compilation mentioned above.
So check it out.
June 16, 2010
How will you empower the next generation of leaders in your small group?
Summer gives us some pause to think about who might be the emerging leaders in our small groups—which people are ready to take the next step? Fore exampe, I have several people in my group that have been leading in many ways, but are not necessarily recognized "officially" as leaders.
There’s a wide variety of philosophies when it comes to "setting apart" leaders for the local church in general. In some cases, they are appointed or elected. In other cases they are apprenticed. And in some cases they volunteer (without qualification) based on some type of announcement or need.
But is there a "right" way to raise up or recognize new small-group leaders? How should they be set apart and accepted into service? Once again the variety of philosophies varies greatly, from "If they can breath, they can lead" (or if they can read a study guide or press a DVD button, they can lead) to requiring hours of training and on-the-job experience before a person can lead. And everything in-between. To make things more confusing, we’ve all known a person who didn’t carry the title of “leader,” or wasn’t elected or appointed to the position of leader, but we would say without hesitation, “they are a leader.”
The real question for me is this: How we get to the point where the people we elect, appoint, apprentice, or set apart are the same people that others look at and say, "Yes, that one is a leader”?
The key is figuring out who those people are early on in the process and then building our leader development process in such a way to stimulate their leadership gifts. If the people of whom we say “they are a leader” are not the people we are regularly setting apart as leaders, then I believe something is wrong with our leadership development.
I know from personal experience this is a topic that can generate lively discussion. Leadership development varies widely from church to church and from group to group. I’m curious what your experience has been. Do you raise leaders who may not have much leadership experience or gifting? Or do you recognize those individuals who are already exhibiting leadership gifts? Or are you doing both?
I should also say that, regardless of how we funnel people into leadership, what becomes of them once they are recognized as “official leaders” is also a very important piece to leadership development. So how do you take care of the leaders you already have?
June 15, 2010
A few questions about a recent report from Leadership Network
I recently came across an article from Leadership Network called Breaking the 50 percent Barrier, which gives advice on "How to increase small-group participation in your church."
Here is one of the sentences that caught my attention at the beginning: "Leadership Network invited several innovative small groups pastors to explain how they have broken the mythical—and for some churches, seemingly impenetrable—50 percent participation barrier." I was a little surprised, because I had never heard of this mythical barrier. I am aware that several churches and models proclaim a goal of 100 percent participation in small groups. I've heard North Coast Church (one of the churches profiled in the article) talk about their 80 percent participation rate. But I didn't know that 50 percent was a magic number.
But that's just a minor thought. The important question that I have been chewing on for several minutes this morning is this: What is the benefit of keeping track of attendance percentages? And that's a legitimate question, not a sarcastic airing of my opinion. I am honestly curious why churches spend the amount of time and energy they do on tracking attendance numbers and small-group participation.
Any thoughts? As group leaders, do you have to turn in attendance reports? How often? Does your church put a lot of emphasis on the percentage of people that are part of the small-group ministry? What reasons do they give?
Just curious. :)
June 10, 2010
Have you evaluated your preparation routine lately?
Like many small groups, our group is not meeting as routinely during the summer (we are meeting once or twice per month during the summer and doing more service/outreach/fellowship when we are together). It’s during times like this that I am reminded about my own preparation routines prior to small group gatherings. When we are meeting every week, I don’t think about my preparation routine so much as I "just do it." But after a break from the routine, it gives me the opportunity to evaluate the way I prepare for our small group gatherings.
Am I praying enough? Have I connected with our group members in between our regular gatherings? Do I have a purpose in mind for our next group gathering? Have I prepared the agenda sufficiently to know what we will do and yet still be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading? Is it time to remind our group of our vision (to reach out, to multiply, etc.)?
There are many "things" to consider when preparing for gatherings. It's helpful from time to time to consider what those "things" need to be. Small Group Consultant Jim Egli has a blog where he shares many ideas for small groups. In one of his older entries he shares some of his own small group preparation and thoughts about small group ministry. I would encourage you to check it out.
Take the opportunity this summer to consider your group gathering preparation routine and take it to a new level in the Fall of 2010!
June 2, 2010
Giving the Holy Spirit full sway to release our appetite for the Father
One of my favorite authors and speakers is Larry Crabb. I’ve heard him speak on several occasions, and his definition of spiritual community is one of the most powerful ideals he shares. He defines Christian community this way:
“Reaching with supernatural community power into the depths of another person’s heart so that the evil in our hearts that rules so often unrecognized in how we relate is clearly identified and exposed as hateful and that the Holy Spirit is given full sway to release our appetite for the Father.”
There’s a lot in that statement. He expands on this statement further by saying the real battle to maintain community is helping one another overcome the suspicion that God is not good and that I need to take over. Sometimes we recognize that easily, other times we don’t. One of the main purposes of Christian community in our small groups is to help encourage one another as we face skirmishes in that battle.
Part of helping one another is walking with one another through trials of all kinds. We need to help one another see that God often allows us to go through things that are very crushing and discouraging in order to get us to the point where we are hopeless and helpless before Him. At that point, we can know there is nowhere else we can turn but to the Lord. However, going through that process alone can be very discouraging and create bitterness rather than growth. That’s why we absolutely need Christian community in order to truly grow. Where else can people really get into healthy growth processes other than in some type of intentional small group?
June 1, 2010
Should there be a conflict between "couch time" and "street time"?
I had a chance to watch the above video from Alan Danielson this morning, and it's got me thinking a little bit. Actually, I can't tell if I'm thinking or reacting, which is one of the reasons I'm typing my thoughts out here (so that the rest of you can correct me, if needs be).
Here's the main thing I'm reacting to: "If Jesus and his small group, the 12 disciples, were here in this world today, you know where they would have small group? Not in a living room on overstuffed couches.... For Jesus and his small group, that was the exception, not the rule."
First, I need to say that I am a big fan of Alan Danielson. He's written several great pieces for SmallGroups.com on why small groups need to be On Mission, and I think his message needs to be heard. I also know Alan is not saying that small groups should never gather together in people's homes, since he has produced some great "on the couch" resources for small groups over the years (through LifeChurch.TV and Bluefish).
But this is a message I have heard from several sources and in several different guises recently: If Jesus were around today, he wouldn't participate in what we see as "normal" small groups. Therefore, what we see as "normal" small groups must be wrong and ineffective. .
And I'm not sure I agree.
First of all, it's kind of tough to translate Jesus' behavior from the 1st century into an equivalent behavior today. Certainly Jesus spent most of his public ministry "on the street." But we need to remember what office Jesus was serving under—he was a new rabbi, and one of hundreds of rabbis operating within a 10-mile circle. And the job of a new rabbi in that time and culture was to travel from village to village, teaching about Torah in the synagogues and gathering disciples that wanted to follow in his footsteps.
Would Jesus behave the same way if he lived today? I don't know that we can say so for sure. He may very well have set himself up as a local pastor and launched his revolution through the narrow arms of a local church.
That's probably quibbling, so let's get to the two big questions that Alan's video has me thinking about:
Question 1: Can a small group function without "couch time"?
I often hear people talking about our need to "get off our couches" and do something in the world. And I heartily agree that a group of Christians seeking to become more like Jesus should invariably make an impact in the community around them.
But can we also state that being "on the couch" is not a bad thing? That it can be beneficial, and even God-approved? After all, beside the Upper Room, it seems that Jesus and his disciples stopped regularly in the homes of different people in order to be refreshed and engage in times of learning, fellowship, and prayer—Mary and Martha's home comes to mind, in addition to Simon's mother-in-law and the house of Levi the Tax Collector.
I guess what I'm saying is: Let's know throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, we need to be on mission as a small group. But we don't need to feel guilty about taking time to enjoy fellowship with each other in the comfort of overstuffed couches; and we certainly should not abandon time spent in our living rooms worshiping together, praying together, and delving into the mysteries of God's Word together.
Question 2: What is the proper balance between the couch and the mission field?
So, if we say that a small group should be involved in both "couch time" and "street time," the next question is: Which of those should be our priority? Should small groups spend more time learning, praying, studying, and fellowshiping—or should they spend more time serving?
I don't have an answer to that one, and I would love your thoughts.
Obviously, most small groups in our culture are heavily waited on the "couch time" side of the question. I know mine is, and I'll confess that I do feel guilty about that. I need to lead my group into more times of mission and service.
But where's the line? What is the correct amount? How do we engage in those activities without burning out? Those things I just can't say.