February 29, 2012
Talking about suffering in small group
I hope you're ready for some discussion because I've got a big question for you.
It never ceases to amaze me how deeply people are hurting, specifically as I listen to prayer requests during small-group meetings. It's enough to make your heart break. And if you aren't currently hurting, chances are that someone close to you is. Suffering is simply part of our earthly existence.
So what do you say when a group member turns to you and asks what place suffering has in God's compassionate will? Not why suffering exists . . . but what God might be doing in and through it. How would you respond in a way that is true to the Word and recognizes this group member's deep suffering?
Share your responses with us below. Let's see if we can come up with a helpful answer together.
February 28, 2012
And lets us know all the effort is worth it.
As February ends, we've got a bit of cabin fever here at the offices of Christianity Today. We're a little antsy, our attention spans are growing shorter, and we need something to keep us going. So I figured you might, too.
In our Fall 2010 digizine, SmallGroups.com interviews John Ortberg in an article called "No, You're Not Crazy!" Ortberg shares his wisdom with small-group leaders, inspiring us to keep on.
SG.com: How do you feel that small groups as a whole have impacted the kingdom of God? What have they brought to churches, and to the Church?
Ortberg: I think it was Robert Wuthnow who said that the small-group movement is the biggest social revolution in America. In an era where people have become increasingly mobile, uprooted, and disconnected from family structures, I think small groups have become a huge vehicle for people to experience relationship, intimacy, and community. And in a lot of cases that comes to people who might not have it otherwise.
SG.com: If you had a chance to encourage a group of small-group leaders, what would you say?
Ortberg: I would say: "It's worth it." When I was at Willow Creek Community Church back in Chicago, a common message we delivered to people in ministry was, "You're not crazy." In those times when you think: Man, this is really hard. Nobody was talking tonight, or I've got a really difficult person in this group, or I'm feeling like I don't know how to lead a discussion—you never know when God is going to use a moment, a session, or a connection with somebody else. You never know when a person is going to show up with a broken heart, and God's going to choose you and your group to be a vessel of grace. You don't carry the outcome on your shoulders. But when you show up and offer a devoted spirit—it's worth it.
What do you do when you're feeling discouraged? What quotations, Scripture, or reminders motivate you to keep on? Share with us below.
Be sure to check out all our past digizines, and look out for a new one coming this July.
Less than 48 hours to take advantage of our sale!
Have you taken advantage of our sale? If not, you better hurry. We're changing the prices back on March 1! Receive 25% off our ten most popular resources of 2011. From our always popular Small-Group Leader Orientation Guide to a study on using your spiritual gifts to studies from John Ortberg, Tim Keller, and N.T. Wright, there are lots of resources to take a look at. Buy them now and use them throughout the year to grow and strengthen your ministry.
February 21, 2012
Learning from the introverts among us
While it's been difficult for me to admit for most of my life, I've finally become comfortable saying that I'm an introvert. For those who know me well, it's really not surprising—after all, I primarily spend my working hours alone in an office typing on a computer, reading books, and manipulating words.
It's taken me a while to realize that being an introvert doesn't mean I don't like people. And it doesn't mean I'm super nerdy (although, I am a little nerdy). It means that I'm highly sensitive, easily over stimulated, and better at working alone—at my own pace with few distractions. On the positive side, introverts tend to have rich inner lives, are able to concentrate for long periods, and have fewer but deeper relationships (in fact, many introverts struggle with relationships that consist only of small talk).
Recently, I started reading a book on introversion: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. She explains that one-third to one-half of people are introverts, yet American society greatly favors extroverts. She gives a history lesson of how that came to be, and talks about her visits to places in the U.S. that exemplify this fact.
Would you be surprised to know that one of the places she visited was Saddleback Church? She explains that evangelical Christianity highly favors extroverts: we want funny, engaging teachers that move around the stage, lots of time to casually fellowship and mingle with one another, and elaborate, highly sensory worship settings. We expect true followers to be involved with many groups, and to attend all the group activities offered (like retreats, women's and men's events, and family events). We expect true followers to express their faith publicly and vocally.
Now think about the types of people we desire in our small groups: people who share often, easily mingle during fellowship time, and strike up conversation with newcomers. And these are good things. We see these as signs that someone is actively engaged—both with the group and in their relationship with Christ.
But what might an actively engaged introverted group member look like? Have you experienced that group member who listens intently for the majority of the meeting, but shares a nugget of truth that blows the group away? Have you noticed those group members who seek out the newcomers by quietly welcoming them and getting to know them one-on-one? Are you aware of the person in your group who quietly yet actively listens to other members, encouraging them by leaning forward, nodding, and smiling?
While we like to see people living out their faith in highly visible ways, consider this: there is a lot of activity happening in the introvert's mind and heart, activity that is important yet often overlooked. And this way of life isn't against the grain of Christianity. In fact, Scripture tells us to meditate on the Word. We have countless examples of historic Christians engaging the contemplative life. Even the modern theologians we look up to must spend countless hours alone with God and his Word. So maybe introverts have something to offer our extroverted culture—the reminder to slow down, to reflect, to "chew on" God's Word, to go below the surface.
How can you encourage and empower your introverted group members? How can you change your perspective of what an actively engaged group member looks like?
What about you? Are you an introverted group leader? Check out our Leading as an Introvert resource.
February 16, 2012
Ben Reed shares what he learned while looking for aluminum pans
Let's face it—most leaders are really busy people. We are not only small-group leaders, but also parents, sisters, brothers, friends, teachers, construction workers, pastors, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers (okay, maybe not that last one). All that to say, leading our weekly small group is usually not the only thing we have going on. And sometimes we get caught up in the busy-ness and forget about the mission: people.
When I worked on a church staff, I heard more than a few pastors tell me that ministry would be super easy if it weren't for the people (I admit I agreed some days!). But think about it. If it weren't for the people, there wouldn't be ministry.
Ben Reed, a writer for SmallGroups.com, recently wrote on his blog that the way we treat people actually reveals our theology. Makes you wonder what your actions are revealing, doesn't it? Read his post, and let us know what you think below.
What have your actions been revealing about your theology? And how do you want to change?
February 13, 2012
Going against the cultural current of mobility
Have you heard about This Is Our City? The newest Christianity Today publication focuses on telling stories of those glorifying God by serving in their cities. With articles, videos, and more, they offer tons of inspiring stories of Christ-followers serving in the name of Christ.
Last week they posted an article on staying put—that is, choosing to remain in a community instead of moving frequently. In our culture of mobility, it's rare to hear of people staying in one place for long. But what is the cost of all that moving? Specifically, what's the cost to community?
February 9, 2012
The two principles small-group leaders should live by.
In our newest Training Theme resource, Empowering Group Members, Sam O'Neal explains what small-group leaders are and aren't. He states that a small-group leader is not primarily a host, a teacher, a facilitator, or just another member. Instead, there are two principles that all small-group leaders must hold dear. Check out what he says below:
So, what is the primary focus that small-group leaders should adopt? The answer is that of a spiritual safari guide. That will need some explaining, I know, but first give some thought to the following two principles of small-group leadership:
Principle 1: Small-group leaders are to be most concerned about the spiritual transformation of their group members. Everything else involved with leading a small group—recruiting new members, choosing Bible studies, resolving conflict—are secondary issues and should be subordinate to the spiritual growth of the people involved. If people gather together to enjoy each other's company, eat good food, sing songs, maybe do a service project, but don't grow closer to Jesus Christ as a result, they have only created a Christianized version of a Kiwanis Club. Not a small group.
Principle 2: Small-group leaders are never able to manufacture spiritual transformation within their group members. This is something that small-group leaders must understand. We cannot force our group members to grow spiritually any more than we could force them to grow taller. No matter how good we become at facilitating discussion questions, resolving conflict, and making nachos, our people will not become more like Jesus unless they are carried there by the Holy Spirit.
These two principles seem contradictory, at first. If small-group leaders are primarily tasked with a job that only the Holy Spirit can fulfill, how can they lead well? The answer is relatively simple: group leaders need to create environments and experiences that allow group members to connect with the Holy Spirit.
And that's what I mean when I talk about small-group leaders as spiritual safari guides.
Can you imagine a safari where the guide spent all of your time talking about flora and fauna instead of actually taking you into the jungle? Or encouraged the tour members to discuss what they felt a rhinoceros might look and sound like, rather than leading everyone to an actual specimen? Or took off his binoculars and said, "Don't ask me where to go; I'm as lost as the rest of you." Such is the folly of a small-group leader who does not lead—who does not bring his or her group members into the presence of the Holy Spirit by directing expeditions into the mysteries of God's Word, the elements of Truth in this world, and the life stories of other people.
What do you think? Share your thoughts with us below. And for practical ideas on empowering your small-group members to take their next spiritual steps, check out Empowering Group Members.
February 7, 2012
Let's get some discussion started!
I've been learning a lot about the history of pastoral care lately. The idea was to walk with another person into their pain and suffering, praying, asking questions, and helping make sense of next steps. While some churches still have pastors dedicated to this important ministry, I have a feeling that this ministry is happening more in small groups than anywhere else. Small-group leaders are the ones to learn about members' struggles, pains, and hardships, and many times they are the ones that comfort, guide, and encourage along the way. This compassionate care brings to mind the image of shepherd in the Bible, the very word that is at the root of "pastor."
So, should small-group leaders be thought of as pastors? Should they be identified as called-out shepherds of God's flock—even if the flock is only 6-12 people?
What are your thoughts? We'd love to hear them. Share with us below.
February 2, 2012
Rob Bell's thoughts on vocation
I've been reading Os Guinness' The Call recently, and the idea of vocation continues to pop up in my life. Exhibit A: Skye Jethani's recent interview with Rob Bell. Skye Jethani is senior editor of Leadership Journal, Out of Ur, and Catalyst Leadership, and he blogs at SKYEBOX.
When Jethani asks about vocation, Bell states:
The Bible begins in Genesis 1 not with sin but with blessing, not with toil and despair but with life, and creativity, and vibrant participation with God in the ongoing creation of the world–which involves art, and law, and medicine, and education, and parenting, and justice, and learning, and thousands of other pursuits; callings that are holy and sacred in and of themselves. It’s all part of flourishing in God’s good world, which is our home. Here, on earth, is where the story begins and where it ends, and so our work here, in whatever way we co-create with God, is our vocation. . . . What do you love to do that brings more and more heaven into God’s good world? What is it that makes your soul soar? What is it that you do, that your friends and community affirm, that taps you in to who you are made to be?
I believe vocation is an incredibly important concept for small-group leaders to understand. If we are to build up holistic disciples that live their whole, multi-faceted lives for Christ, we must empower our group members to discover and live out their unique vocations—not our careers necessarily, but that thing that we feel compelled to do in life, the thing we must do.
What are your thoughts on recovering the idea of vocation? How can we empower small-group members to discover their vocations?