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November 30, 2012

A Very Special Thanksgiving

Eating with new friends

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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.

posted by Amy Jackson at 8:00 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

November 8, 2012

Book Controversy and Nasty Back-and-Forths

There's a more helpful way to approach controversial books.

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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?

posted by Amy Jackson at 8:56 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

November 2, 2012

Tragedy and Suffering

What to do in the face of hardship

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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.

posted by Amy Jackson at 8:00 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

November 1, 2012

Should We Focus on Spiritual or Physical Needs?

Or can we do both?

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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.

posted by Amy Jackson at 8:00 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)