November 30, 2012
Eating with new friends
Over the past 11 months, my small group has helped several under-resourced individuals and families. We've thrown baby showers and housewarming parties and taken people out for ice cream. We've taught people how to cook, donated clothing, packed cabinets full of food, and given countless rides. And through it all, our mission has been to listen—to really get to know the people we're serving—and to bless others. And we've made friends—even with people that may have been afraid of church, people we may have been uncomfortable around.
But what we did last week takes the cake: I had the privilege of participating in a very special Thanksgiving dinner. We invited all the people we've gotten to know this year through our small group to a Thanksgiving feast. We set up tables, decorated, lit candles, and used festive plates and napkins. Our group members pitched in with different food: turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruit salad, cranberries, corn, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, and more. One group member brought homemade pumpkin pies, and another brought a beautiful cake shaped like a turkey. The kids (both our group members' and our guests') played in another room, while the adults sat around, sharing a meal, deepening our relationships.
There's something about food that brings us together, opens us up, and encourages us to share. I learned so much about our new friends as we stuffed our faces. But it was the little things that really excited me. One group member's children made a card for one of our new friends that just about brought me to tears. Another one of our guests expressed honor in being invited to such an intimate gathering, thanking us for being true friends. Another guest's jaw dropped when we packed up the leftovers for her to take home.
What made the evening so special was that celebrating Thanksgiving together is something you do with friends and family—it didn't have the feeling of us helping them. Instead, eating dinner together made us we. It makes me think of Jesus sitting down to eat with all kinds of people. I picture Jesus sitting back, relaxing, enjoying himself, and getting to know the people eating with him. And that's exactly what we did.
I love the idea of asking others to join us, to experience what we're experiencing, to be part of we instead of seeing us as them. We're inviting others to enjoy kingdom living with us, and it's a beautiful thing.
How is your small group building relationships in your community? Share with us below.
November 29, 2012
Festive music and activities for your group
Whether you started listening to Christmas music in August or just last week, it's officially "safe" to listen to it now—the Christmas season is here. And SmallGroups.com has put together a great playlist for you. Joyful Christmas is a free playlist we created through Grooveshark. Play it as group members arrive, during a holiday-inspired worship night, or even at your desk while at work. Enjoy this uplifting playlist perfect for the season.
Looking for great Christmas-themed activities and icebreakers for your next meeting? Try these:
A Small-Group Christmas (Celebration Ideas)
Christmas Carols (Icebreaker)
My Favorite Ornament (Icebreaker)
Nativity Characters (Icebreaker)
Tinsel Time (Icebreaker)
What Is Your Star (Icebreaker)
Your Life as a Christmas Tree (Icebreaker)
November 26, 2012
Encouragement for small-group pastors, directors, and coordinators
I really enjoy reading Ben Reed's blog. He's a regular writer and editorial advisor for SmallGroups.com, and he always shares honestly from his own experience as a small-group pastor. In his most recent post, Ben shares the 10 things nobody told him about being a small-group pastor.
As a former small-group director, I found myself chuckling as I read these truths that I'd learned the hard way. If you've been leading a small-group ministry, you'll appreciate these points—especially number 10.
After you finish reading, let us know below: what do you wish someone had told you about leading a small-group ministry? Let's pool our wisdom and encourage one another in this stressful, messy, difficult, and, most of all, extremely important role.
November 22, 2012
Take 50% off!
We are so thankful that you’re serving in small-group ministry. It’s so important. To thank you, we’re holding a Black Friday sale on all our Assessment Packs. Take 50% off now through Monday.
Our Assessment Packs are perfect to gauge different aspects of your small-group ministry. We know you’ll find them helpful.
Blessings as you live life in community—and help others to do the same.
November 21, 2012
What will your small group do?
As we approach the holiday season, it’s the perfect time to pray about what you and your group can do to meet the needs of people in your community. First of all, as the temperature drops, there is a need for coats, shoes, and hot meals. And as we celebrate family-oriented holidays, many feel lonely without a place to celebrate. Others never open a gift at this time of year and would love to receive something.
Jamie Arpin-Ricci is passionate about getting to know and serve the people around him. And it’s not just at special times of the year or by handing over his gently used clothes. He seeks to live out Jesus’ teachings fully—and that means loving all of his neighbors.
In seeking to live out Jesus’ teachings, he’s studied the Sermon on the Mount extensively. In this article, he looks at the first beatitude: blessed are the poor in spirit. Soak in the wisdom from this humble Christ-follower and consider what you can do to live out this beatitude.
For more on missional living, see The Meaning of Missional.
November 14, 2012
Consider these questions before choosing
Choosing a group study can be challenging. You may have group members in different life stages, with different spiritual needs, or with different interests—and somehow you’re supposed to find one study that works for everyone.
Rachel Gilmore suggests considering the goals of your group and gaining a general idea of different types of small-group materials available. On top of that, though, you’ll need to know your group members, and she gives several questions to consider:
• Have any of these people done a group study before, or is this a brand new experience for most?
• Do I have any non-believers or seekers in this group?
• Do our members attend worship regularly at our church? Another church? Not at all?
• How willing and/or able are the participants to do homework in between meetings?
• Do the people in my group like to talk, or do they typically keep their thoughts to themselves?
• Can our members discuss different perspectives/opinions calmly, rationally, and respectfully?
• Does my group see me more as teacher/instructor (having more knowledge) or facilitator (I'm the tour guide in this learning journey)?
• How much time do I personally have for study and preparation?
• How comfortable is our group with incorporating technology into our study time—such as watch a DVD or have follow-up conversations on Facebook?
• Do any of our members have any special learning/physical needs that would impact learning/group discussions?
As you consider these questions, you’ll be able to choose a study that meets the needs of your group members. For more on finding the right study, and for the rest of Gilmore’s article, see Find the Right Study for Your Group.
November 9, 2012
Resources to get your small group ready
If you're on Facebook, it's hard to miss all the people participating in 30 days of Thanksgiving. Each day, people around the country (and perhaps the world!) are posting something that they're thankful for—from friends and family to the right to vote to a good hair day.
To get your small group in the mood for Thanksgiving, we have two great resources for you:
First, be sure to listen to our free playlist full of songs of thanksgiving for all Christ has done for us. You can even use it as background music at your next meeting while you're chatting or enjoying snacks.
Second, use our Bible study A Life of Giving Thanks. This four-week study will help your small-group members discover the importance of a thankful heart—regardless of their life circumstances.
Personally, I've been learning a lot through my small group's discussion of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It's a wonderful story of how one woman chose to be thankful every day despite trying circumstances. Consider using it with your group or for your own enjoyment.
November 8, 2012
There's a more helpful way to approach controversial books.
What do you know? There's another book controversy.
I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of it. Well-known leaders read—or simply read about—a book, post something on their blog, and others—having read or not read the book themselves—fight over their opinions. It's exhausting just thinking about it! And it shows a lot of disunity to the rest of the world.
Recently, I came across a well-written blog post on Out of Ur that reminded me of an important role small-group leaders can play in helping avoid these back-and-forths. Instead of banning a certain book, telling everyone they shouldn't read it, or, on the flip side, condoning everything in a book, perhaps we can help group members understand how to biblically interact with books—whatever their message may be.
This is a key skill that disciples need to develop. Think about it: We work through tough passages in the Bible that we may not agree with at first glance, but we don't tell people to stop reading them. Instead, we teach them to inductively study the passage, weighing different scholarly opinions. Why can't it be the same for books?
In the Out of Ur post, Matt Mikalatos writes that, "the best way to protect our people from dangerous ideas or books is not to prevent them from interacting with them, but to teach them to interact with them well." He suggests we learn to "read with our Bibles and our minds open."
I believe that it's rare that we'll read a book and completely agree or disagree with everything in it. Instead, we'll find certain views that we agree with, and others that rub us the wrong way—all in the same book. And there's value in that: I've learned so much from books that represent views I greatly disagree with because it's helped me better understand the issues and better love the people who hold those views.
Teach your group members to read with open Bibles and open minds, comparing an author's views with those in the Bible. Help them consider all possibilities, and come to their own conclusions, not simply taking the author's words as fact. Jesus calls us to be thinking people who live out his teachings in our place and time, not robots who simply do as programmed.
How do you help group members determine what is true, right, and pure? How do you help them to articulate their own beliefs?
November 6, 2012
Wise words on dual citizenship
As we head to the polls today, let us consider these wise words from James W. Skillen, former president for the Center for Public Justice:
The followers of Christ are certainly a called-out community, called out from sin to become a community of obedience to God. But they are not called out of God’s creation. Think for a moment of the biblical language used to characterize Christ’s followers: bride of Christ, the children of their Father in heaven, brothers and sisters of their elder brother Jesus, joint heirs with Christ, a community of priests, disciples (students) in the school of a new teacher, and certainly citizens in Christ’s kingdom. The primary referents in all of these metaphors are the very creaturely realities in which the people of God live.
To live as a member of God’s family, I do not disown my parents but rather obey them as unto the Lord. Likewise, in order to participate in the Christian community as a citizen of Christ’s polis (kingdom), I do not take leave of my citizenship. Rather, I act as a citizen in obedience to the Lord in accord with teachings such as those in Romans 12 and 13. The church, then, is not an alternative to any of these creaturely realities. It represents, instead, the fulfillment of them all in Christ. . . .
Instead, to be authentic Christians, to be able to serve our civic neighbors throughout the world, Christians need to be involved as real citizens in real governments, exhibiting a genuinely Christian public ethic. Such a responsibility will include working for the restraint of personal vengeance. And it will entail the exercise of official, publicly accountable punishment of those who commit crimes and unjust aggression.
Turning from injustice, faithlessness, hatred, and greed in every sphere of life requires constructive, communal service by those who are being redeemed from sin. When Christ, by the power of the Spirit, has finished making all things new, we will then be able to sing with the saints of all ages, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).
May we all take seriously our call to hold dual citizenship and make our voices heard in today's elections.
Skillen's words have been excerpted from Dual Citizenship: A Christian Perspective on Government.
November 2, 2012
What to do in the face of hardship
When tragedy strikes, our faith can be rocked. Whether it's a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy, the loss of a friend, a difficult situation with a child, or a change in plans, we may begin questioning the goodness of God. And that's one of the reasons that living in community is so important—we can receive support and encouragement in trying times.
Use one of these meeting add-ons to ground your group members' faith:
God's Grace and Strength
Use subgroups to help group members explore God's grace in the midst of hardship.
Journal for the Journey
Explore keeping a blessings journal to remember all God's done.
We've even put together a free playlist for you on Grooveshark that's called: "Even When It's Hard." Play it when you're doing the activity "God's Grace and Strength," or whenever your group members need to ground their faith.
SmallGroups.com also offers several Bible studies that cover this topic, including:
2 Corinthians: Hard Knocks, Unbreakable Faith (4 session study)
Learn a perspective on hardship and suffering that is needed in today's world.
Living In Between (3 session study)
Deuteronomy may be a painfully honest book, but it promises God's presence through the pain.
Our Powerful Helper (6 session study)
God provides comfort when you need it most, and the power to persevere.
Perspectives on Suffering (4 session study)
Investigate how we can remain faithful in suffering by God's grace.
Is your group struggling right now? Handling Tragedy in Your Small Group provides help.
November 1, 2012
Or can we do both?
Have you felt the tension between helping people and preaching the gospel? Should we focus on spiritual needs or only care for physical needs? Or can we do both?
Many of us have felt this tension in our small groups, too. We feel the need to help our group members study and understand the Word. At the same time, we see physical and emotional needs that need to be met.
And when our groups serve in the community, we feel the tension. Is handing out food at a soup kitchen helping to spread the gospel—even if we never utter the name of Jesus? Should we include information about the gospel when giving financial handouts?
Krish Kandiah of the UK Evangelical Alliance shared his views on this tension at the Nines conference last week. He said that when we feel the tension, we tend to do one of two things:
Cling to the quotation we ascribe to Francis of Assisi (though there's no record of him speaking or writing this): "Preach the gospel; use words only if necessary."
Or, we decide that when preaching the gospel, only words are necessary.
To put it another way, when faced with the tension, we simply choose a side, focusing just on helping people or just on telling people about Jesus.
However, Kandiah points out an important fact: Jesus was an integrated person who handled this tension. We don't just have the red letters in our Bible; we also have what he did. Both his words and actions were important in ushering in the kingdom of God. In fact, if there ever was a person who could get away with doing only one of these, it was Jesus. And yet he gave us a different example. He showed us that we are to both live and speak the gospel. And in doing so, we will carry the message of God's redeeming love into the world.