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January 29, 2013

Develop Your Facilitation Skills

Why your leadership matters


Do you know how important your role is, small-group leader? Without you, your group will not run as smoothly, and group members won't get as much out of discussions. It's easy to believe that if you have a mature group your presence doesn't matter. But that's simply not true.

Consider how easily your group members go off on tangents during your discussion. Do you gently bring them back? Or observe what happens when someone shares something that makes them vulnerable. How do others react? Do they attempt to lighten the mood through humor? Just sit silently waiting for you to make the next move?

Sure, many meetings—the "normal" meetings—may make you feel like you're not all that necessary. Group members share great insights, are open in their prayer requests, and enjoy themselves. But what happens when there's an awkward moment? Or when there's a disagreement? Or when two group members are on opposite ends theologically?

Leaders who are able to facilitate group discussion well will recognize these moments and take steps to validate group members and help move the discussion along appropriately—not too fast to neglect and gloss over what's happening, but not too slow to dwell on the situation for too long.

Facilitating discussion is really an art, something you can continue to improve on as you gain more leading experience. But if you want to grow in your facilitation skills, you'll need to be intentional. Read about how to facilitate, especially in unique situations. Start with The Basics of Facilitating and Tips for Facilitating a Group Discussion. Then learn how to deal with specific group dynamics issues in our digizine Troubleshooting, including four of the most common small-group issues.

Another great idea is to reflect on your facilitation skills. After each meeting spend five minutes reflecting on the discussion, answering the questions below. If you co-lead, work through these questions together.

What went well? Did the group go off on any tangents? Was I able to bring the group back? If so, how?

Did the mood change at any time? For what reason?

How did the group members handle the change? How did I handle it?

Did I encourage multiple members to share their thoughts, or did one or two dominate the meeting?

Did we start and end on time? Why or why not?

How deeply did group members share? Or did they stay at surface level?

What can I do differently next time to facilitate better?

How have you grown in your facilitating skills? What has helped the most?

posted by Amy Jackson at 9:15 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

January 22, 2013

What Does It Look Like to Be a Christian?

Remembering that life isn't black and white


The women's group I lead consists of several women who are fairly new to the faith. As we read through our book, talk through the weekend's sermon, or discuss a passage of Scripture, it's inevitable that questions arise. And their questions seem to center on application: What does this mean for me? What does this mean for the lifestyle I'm used to?

For those of us who have been in the church for some time—or have been part of the Christian subculture for some time—these questions may bubble up well-rehearsed answers:

Of course it means you shouldn't live with your boyfriend—you're just going to have to move out immediately.

Of course it means that line of work isn't okay—you're just going to have to quit your job.

Of course it means you shouldn't be friends with her—you're just going to have to distance yourself.

It can be easy to forget that life isn't simply black and white. And while we might be able to identify the ideal, that doesn't mean it's immediately possible.

A recent blog post from Out of Ur reminded me of this ever-present dynamic in my group. The post discusses a new trend of "insider Christians" in other parts of the world—people who are following Christ yet are not willing to leave the cultural and religious communities, especially in Hindu and Muslim communities where the religion is enmeshed in the culture.

The story of these insider Christians forces us to ask the same thing that the women in my group are asking: "What does it look like to be a Christian?" As Christians further down the road, we need to carefully consider our answer. We can't sell the gospel short, but we also can't underestimate the difficulties of their situations—and the potential for God to work within it.

So I'm curious, how would you define, in a nutshell, what it looks like to be a Christian? And is that picture for all Christians everywhere and at all times? Share with us below.

posted by Amy Jackson at 9:33 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

January 11, 2013

Invisible Wounds

Ministry to people with mental illness


When someone in our small group falls and breaks a hip, we know how to respond. We visit the hospital, send encouraging cards, and deliver meals.

But do we know what to do when someone is diagnosed with mental illness?

Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds, a book on mental illness and the church coming out in April, has first-hand experience with mental illness in the church. Amy's mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and Amy has learned a lot about living with, loving, and ministering to people with mental illness.

In a radio appearance today on "This Is the Day" on Moody Radio, Amy gave several tips for ministering to people with mental illness—and they're tips for all of us. Statistically, we will all encounter people with mental illness. There are 12 million people in the U.S. alone with a serious mental illness (1 in 17 adults) and 25% of all Americans have some form of diagnosable mental illness.

Simpson reminded listeners that it is a great first step to refer people with mental illness to appropriate doctors and therapists. But that isn't enough. We must commit to walk with them through the process, helping to deliver holistic care. Simpson said to remember to smile, make eye contact, and say "hi." Help remove the stigma by regularly mentioning mental illness in group discussions, studies, and prayers. Ask how treatment is going. And remember that there is hope for all in Christ.

For a full-length article on this topic, read Amy's article "Through a Glass, Darkly" from our sister ministry Leadership Journal. And stay tuned for more from her book later this year.

And if you're struggling with this now, use our Bible study Ministering to Those with a Mental Illness to work through some of your questions.

Amy Simpson is also the managing editor of Gifted for Leadership and the marriage and parenting resources from Today's Christian Woman.

posted by Amy Jackson at 11:26 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

January 9, 2013

The Tensions of a Broken World

What exactly is our role?

broken%20ornament.jpg offered a lot of resources and articles on missional living in 2012. I’ll admit that it’s a topic close to my heart, and I truly believe small groups have a huge opportunity—and responsibility—to develop Christ-followers who are engaged in the mission of God.

But not long after you begin to look for opportunities to love on and serve others in your community, you’ll run into the realities of living in a broken world. There are systemic injustices that keep unfortunate situations perpetuating. There are long-term prejudices that make people afraid to step out in faith. And there are sin patterns that are so ingrained that it’s hard to truly make a difference.

And yet, God still calls us to participate in his mission of restoring the world to what it was meant to be by ushering in his kingdom.

In an excellent excerpt from The Cost of Community, Jamie Arpin-Ricci discusses this tension and helps Christ-followers understand their role.

When it comes to missional living, Arpin-Ricci is the real deal. For another excerpt from his book, read Rich and Poor Find Solidarity in Christ.

posted by Amy Jackson at 10:48 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)