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April 18, 2013

Green for God's Glory

Celebrate Earth Day with your group

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Since I was young, I’ve had an interest in being “green.” I was a careful recycler. I reused odds and ends for craft projects. I cared about preserving the outdoors. Of course, during my teen years I took more than my fair share of ridiculously long showers. (Apparently water conservation wasn’t that important to me.)

As I got older, though, my green lifestyle took on new meaning. When I started following Christ late in high school, I made the connection that being green wasn’t just a nice thing to do. Instead, I began seeing creation as something God created and gave us to take care of. Over the next few years, my interest in living an environmentally friendly lifestyle turned into a passion—a God-given passion.

Since then I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a school, a church group, a women’s event, and even a garden club about the importance of conserving the environment, and it’s been a joy. To me, going green is one way we usher in the kingdom of God. We are called to be good stewards of the blessings God has given us—and that includes the earth. On top of that, many of the choices we make here affect our world-wide neighbors in negative ways—which means we’re failing at the command to love our neighbors. For instance, the pesticides that are required for conventional cotton farms have a terrible effect on the health of the workers, most of whom are in poor countries.

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, use our three-session study Creation Care with your group or use the single-session study Going Green for God from our sister site, ChristianBibleStudies.com. Consider ways that you, your small group, and your church are going green for God. Then brainstorm ways you can do even more.

Here are some ideas:
Start bringing your own bags when you shop
Use reusable water bottles and pitcher filters instead of disposable water bottles
Take your lunch in reusable containers
Reuse your current belongings before buying new ones
Recycle everything possible at small-group meetings (including plastic cups)
Eat snacks off of washable plates instead of paper ones
Limit the copies you print off for your group: e-mail out our downloadable studies to save paper
Start a recycling campaign at church
Set up a free paper recycling service (like Abitibi) for your church
Start a community garden

Share with us below: How are you living an eco-friendly, sustainable life?

posted by Amy Jackson at 2:52 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

April 11, 2013

How Should We Measure Spiritual Growth?

Lessons from the Twelve Conference

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I attended the Twelve Conference today, a huge online gathering of small-group leaders and point people. So far, it’s been a great learning experience, and I’m so glad that many SmallGroups.com writers are represented, including Ben Reed, Carolyn Taketa, Rick Howerton, and Spence Shelton.

One of the discussions today was about how to measure spiritual growth. If you’ve ever tried to measure it, you know just how difficult it can be. After all, simply recording attendance, number of groups, and number of new people in groups doesn’t give us an accurate picture of spiritual growth. These speakers, though, came up with some great questions to ask to gauge spiritual growth:
1. What are you doing today that you weren’t doing yesterday?
2. How are you growing in the areas of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5?
3. Are you following Jesus today better than you used to?
4. Are you growing in the one another commands of the New Testament?

When it comes to assessing groups, you might ask:
1. Have we created a safe environment where people share authentically?
2. How deep are your prayer requests?
3. What stories of life transformation—healed marriages, reconciled relationships, etc.—do we have as a group?
4. Are we developing and sending out new leaders?
5. Do we focus just on ourselves, or do we also focus on others outside our group?

How do you measure spiritual growth? Share with us below.

For more insights from the Twelve Conference, follow along with us on Twitter today.

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

April 8, 2013

Followers of the Wounded Healer

Wisdom for relating and ministering to those with mental illness

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It's pretty apparent when someone breaks a leg, like Kevin Ware of the Louisville Cardinals did during the Elite Eight NCAA basketball game last week. Legs aren't supposed to bend like that. When someone is struggling with mental illness, though, the signs aren't as clear. And while Ware will receive no shame for breaking his leg, chances are that a person with Schizophrenia will. No one will tell Ware to heal faster, yet many will ask those dealing with depression why they aren't feeling better yet, telling them simply to cheer up.

But our shaming and prodding will do no good for the person with mental illness. And that goes for those who are seeking to help people with mental illness, too. When your son with depression commits suicide or your mom with bipolar disorder causes a scene at the grocery store, you don't need any shaming or prodding either. You and your loved one need grace and love and reminders of God's light.

Ann Voskamp shares on her blog how she's seen the church deal with mental illness, including her mom's—and how she wishes the church would respond. She writes:

Our Bible says Jesus said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick." Jesus came for the sick, not for the smug. Jesus came as a doctor and He makes miracles happen through medicine and when the church isn't for the suffering, then the Church isn't for Christ.

I wanted them to say it all together, like one Body, for us to say it all together to each other because there's not one of us who hasn't lost something, who doesn't fear something, who doesn't ache with something. I wanted us to turn to the hurting, to each other, and promise it till we're hoarse:

We won't give you some cliché—but something to cling to—and that will mean our hands.

We won't give you some platitudes—but someplace for your pain—and that will mean our time.

We won't give you some excuses—but we'll be some example—and that will mean bending down and washing your wounds. Wounds that we don't understand, wounds that keep festering, that don't heal, that downright stink—wounds that can never make us turn away.

Because we are the Body of the Wounded Healer and we are the people who believe the impossible—that wounds can be openings to the beauty in us.

Recognizing that different mental illnesses need different treatments, including resources outside small-group ministry, your small group can help those with a mental illness by representing our Wounded Healer to them. Too often we want to send away people dealing with mental illness, allowing specialists to do their work, but as the Body of Christ, we should come alongside those struggling.

What can small groups do to create environments where those struggling with mental illness—and those with loved ones struggling with mental illness—are welcomed and cared for? For a specific example, how might a small group reach out to parents who have recently lost a child to suicide?

For an excellent study on this topic, see Ministering to Those with a Mental Illness.

posted by Amy Jackson at 4:13 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

April 4, 2013

Something More Important than Preparation

Why who you are matters more than what you do

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I read an article recently about the importance of preparing for small-group meetings. While I whole-heartedly believe that preparation leads to positive meetings and the environment for life change, I wonder if preparation truly is the most important thing.

Regardless of our planning and how thoroughly we’ve read our Scripture passage, what our small-group members really want—and need—is a group of people who are authentic, who live their lives together through the mundane, the scary, the frustrating, and the joyful moments. They’re looking for others who don’t always have the right answer, but are willing to empathize with them and pray. They’re looking for people who recognize that life with Christ isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t always have clear black-and-white answers.

So although it is important to prepare for meetings by studying the passage, preparing good questions, and making sure someone is bringing a snack, our preparation isn’t the most important thing. Instead, we need to be people authentically following Christ, people who are outside our safe bubbles long enough to run into hard situations that make us to depend on God even more. People who make mistakes and then claim and apologize for those mistakes. People who are visibly growing more into the likeness of Christ—and are willing to admit it’s a difficult process.

In short, maybe the most important thing you can do for your small group is to be a growing, learning, imperfect Christ-follower.

Imagine the emotional safety of a group led by a leader like that. Imagine how your example would empower your group members to live out their faith. Imagine the thirst for God’s Word in a group of people who are working out their faith each day. Imagine how you might change the world by simply being a small group of authentic Christ-followers.

What do you do to keep yourself grounded in Christ? How do you keep your personal relationship with God as your highest priority in the midst of leadership responsibilities?

posted by Amy Jackson at 12:42 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

April 2, 2013

Fighting Our Hatred of Change

One reason life change is really difficult

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Lately I've noticed a double standard when it comes to change. While it's pretty apparent that most people hate change—after all, many of us go out of our way to keep things the same—we talk about how great change is, especially in small groups. One minute we're complaining about our frustration over a change at work, and the next we're supposed to embrace how the Holy Spirit is prompting us to change into the likeness of Christ. How can a people who hate change (and work against change) be people who embrace change?

Well it seems that will require some change.

Seriously, though, we talk often about changing and becoming more Christlike. And we try to help our group members apply Scripture to their lives, identifying clear action steps. But asking our group members to change fights against an ingrained hatred—or at least wariness—toward change. Yet living out kingdom values requires that we turn societal norms upside down, deliberately making changes in our lives that reflect kingdom values.

Strike up a conversation with your group about change at your next meeting:
1. When have you been upset about change? When have you been excited about change? What made those situations different?
2. As a general rule, when you find out about change coming your way, do you feel excitement or dread? Do you move forward in confidence, or do you try to work against the change? Why?
3. What is our initial reaction when you feel God wants you to change something in your life?
4. What does it look like to embrace change? What does it require?
5. Change often requires a lot of effort. How can we put in the effort required to make positive changes in our life without losing hope and giving up?

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