January 31, 2012
National Community Church has taken its training online.
Heather Zempel from National Community Church in Washington, D.C., and writer for SmallGroups.com, recently blogged about NCC's new way of training small-group leaders.
In her blog post, she shares that they have started doing online training so that leaders can train at their own pace in their own timing. When finished, their answers to the questions in the training are sent to the staff at NCC and a face-to-face interview is scheduled. So far, they're very happy with the results.
Read the blog post to get the full picture, and check out this training module on choosing a study, part of their online training.
Then let us know: how do you train your small-group leaders? Are you happy with your results or do you wish it were going better?
January 25, 2012
Using questions to minister
During a graduate class I’m taking, my professor held a discussion around Galatians 6:1–2. He asked the class what Paul meant by saying we "fulfill the law of Christ" when we carry others' burdens. Further, he asked us if we considered carrying others' burdens central to the Gospel or more of a peripheral duty.
His questions got me thinking. What does it mean if a central part of kingdom living is carrying others' burdens? What does it say about evangelical Christianity's emphasis on personal prayer and Bible study? And what about corporate worship? How often do we attend in order to hear from God or experience him for ourselves instead of connecting with others there?
Carrying others' burdens was central to the early church. We read in Acts 2 that early Christians "had everything in common" and provided for one another so no one would be in need. Paul also wrote often about not being a burden unnecessarily (see 2 Corinthians 12:14, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, and Hebrews 13:17). And he had plenty to say about bearing with one another by putting on compassion and patience (Colossians 3:12–13, Ephesians 4:2).
We also have God's example in carrying other's burdens—namely, our own. Psalm 68:19 says, "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." And in Matthew 11 and Galatians 5, Christ is painted as the one who frees us from heavy burdens.
So, it appears that carrying others' burdens truly is central to following Christ. But what does that look like? And how can small groups help fulfill this?
Last week I sat in a coffee shop near my home reading, when a man who seemed fresh out of high school asked to sit at the table with me. I was surprised by his request, and a bit irritated as I wanted to sit by myself silently enjoying some coffee and a book. A couple of times he tried awkwardly to start a conversation as I read my book. I gave him quick answers before returning to my reading.
Then I realized this was an opportunity, to get to know this person who is created in the image of God. So I tried awkwardly to start a conversation. I asked him questions about his day, his job, and his drink. It turns out, he was lonely. He wanted some human contact. He just wanted to have a normal human conversation with someone. And for whatever reason, I seemed safe. We talked for nearly an hour that day about aquariums and schools and movies, and I realized in my heart what I'd known in my head for a long time: questions can minister to others. They can show that we care, that we see them as real, living, breathing humans who deserve love and respect, and who have something to offer the world.
So, my first thought on carrying others' burdens is this: perhaps a great place to start is simply to be with the person, asking questions, getting to know them as another human being, helping to carry their loneliness, fear, or doubt.
What do you think? Can questions in themselves minister? How have questions ministered to you? How have you ministered to others by asking questions? Share with us below.
Check back over the next few months as I continue to flesh out the idea of carrying others' burdens.
January 12, 2012
A forty-day journey exploring big questions about God and faith
Imagine a book that answers big theological questions in easy-to-understand terms while still giving satisfying answers—questions like these: Is God real? Do all roads lead to heaven? and How can a good God allow suffering? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
But when a co-worker recently gave me The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, I was pleasantly surprised. It consists of 40 daily readings and six small-group sessions. The idea is to do the study over six weeks. Each week has a theme question and each day discusses subsequent questions. And they really are big questions: Is God real? Is the Bible true? Do all roads lead to heaven? Each daily reading discusses a major question in about three pages and includes a fourth page that allows the reader to respond, including a main idea to chew on, a verse to remember, a point to ponder, and space to reflect on personal feelings about the question.
My initial thought after seeing the questions is that the authors would inevitably make one of two mistakes. They’d either explain these huge questions in theological terms that no normal person knows, or talk in terms so simple and fluffy that they don’t actually answer the questions. Luckily, this book does neither. While safe for seekers (it uses accessible language and explains things concisely), this book makes clear its position: God is real, can be trusted, and desires a relationship with each of us. The authors use easy-to-understand language and simple—but not simplistic—intellectual arguments that don’t require a degree in theology (or physics, for that matter) and provide satisfying answers to real questions.
While we might believe these questions are those of only non-believers, these questions also surface in the lives of many Christians. One week’s question struck me in particular: If Christianity is true, why is the church full of hypocrites? Even more practical, one week discusses discovering our purpose and another discusses how we can change our behaviors.
Additionally, we can get a lot to support our faith from the book. One daily reading discusses the books of the Bible, categorizing them, and explaining how we got the Bible we read today. Another week discusses what Muslims believe, including a brief history of the religion, its view of God and the afterlife, its main teachings, and a description of Qu'ran. (There are similar sections on Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity as well.)
At the back of the book, you’ll find a six-session small-group plan. It includes icebreaker questions that go along with the week’s questions, Bible readings, seven discussion questions, and a challenge for the week. The discussion questions include both knowledge-based questions to go along with the daily readings and questions that get to the heart and help readers apply what they’re learning. I think the questions would be beneficial in any adult small group, and could easily be adapted to fit the group's needs.
In the introduction, the authors state that knowledge can give us confidence in God, ourselves, and our faith. And I believe that confidence can help us submit to God, trusting him to rule our lives and guide our steps. Consider The God Questions for your next small-group study.