Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Element #4 for Successfully Leading a Small Group: FOCUS

My assumption is that the members of a healthy small group are sharing their lives outside of their normal meeting times. A healthy small group should have "extra" events that bring them together for purposes beyond studying the Bible. I call these events, the group FOCUS.

These events might be meals, parties, trips, or better yet service projects, or missional activities. Taking a small amount of time on a regular basis to focus on upcoming events will enable a group to accomplish these kind of extra life-sharing events.

One group I was once part of loved to party. Every summer we had several parties at homes, parks, and other places. Using tools like email and Facebook enabled us to focus on these events even when we weren’t meeting regularly

More importantly, our group also had several missional/service focuses over the course of the year. Once every month we gathered to serve at a local soup kitchen. Each Thanksgiving, we assembled a couple "meal baskets" to give to other families. At Christmas, we adopted one or two families and showered them and their children with gifts. We facilitate all these projects by taking a few minutes out of our meeting time each week to FOCUS on the FUTURE.

Here are some simple questions you can ask during your focus time to help your group be more strategic in it's extra life-sharing activities:
·       What events or projects are coming up in the next few weeks?
·       Is there a cost? Who will collect the money?
·       Who will be participating?
·       What do we need to bring for this?
·       Who will be responsible for each aspect of this event?
·       Who will send out reminders?

If your group doesn't currently engage in missional or service projects, let me encourage you to start as soon as possible!

In Defense of the Seeker Church Movement

(I know the "seeker movement" is a thing of the past. But it spawned a whole new way of thinking about church that continues to be emulated and panned today. These thoughts came out of my daily reading this morning)

1 Corinthians 14:20-26 is about tongues and prophesy. It's part of Paul's exhortation to do things decently and in order when the church gathers. His argument in these specific verses revolves around whether tongues and prophesy are for believers and unbelievers; and to make his point he quotes an old testament passage.

This topic is difficult and complicated. The context into which Paul was writing was unique and means we cannot make an exact transfer of Paul's instructions from Corinth to now.

However... I think there is a secondary principle in Paul's words that is at least worth a mention.

As I read these instructions, I notice three assumptions Paul has about the Corinthian worship gatherings. These assumptions seem to be somewhat universal in nature, and therefore are worth noting:
1. Nonbelievers were present at the worship gatherings and this was expected.

2. The presence of the nonbelievers at the worship gatherings warranted the Corinthian's attention and in Paul's opinion should have impacted what happened at the gatherings.

3. The salvation of the nonbelievers because of what happened at the worship gatherings was a desired outcome.

In the past few decades of the American church, much has been said (good and bad) about the "seeker" movement. I am one who prefers to change bathwater without changing babies, so I would suggest there is some good in the seeker movement, but as in any movement, there are always elements to be reformed.

From these short verses in 1 Corinthians, I think we can develop a basic understanding of some Biblical principles which encourage a seeker-type church:
1. We should expect and encourage nonbelievers to join us in worship.

2. We should give consideration to the presence of nonbelievers when planning our worship gatherings.

3. One important outcome of our worship gatherings should be the salvation of nonbelievers.
What could be better than seeing people who were once at odds with God worshiping Him and declaring that "He is really among you!"

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Element #3 For Successfully Leading a Small Group: FAITH

The third element of a healthy group is Expanding Faith. Essentially, this means helping the members of your group be formed into the image of Christ. In my opinion, this is the primary purpose for your group's existence; therefore, it should be the primary focus for you, the small group leader.

This element requires the small group leader to know himself (or herself). While many leaders are capable of preparing an effective Bible study or discussion on their own, some group leaders will need help if they are to consistently lead their group in faith expanding gatherings. Fortunately, if one knows where to look, it is very simple to find materials that will work for almost any group.

Small group curriculum comes in many forms. If you take the time to look you'll find book studies, Bible studies, topical studies, video-based studies, studies that require homework, and studies that simply offer up a few questions for discussion. As the group leader, you need to know which type of study will work best with your group; and you need to know what subject of study will best help your group expand their faith. I believe the best way to make those decisions is to discuss these matters as a group. (below is a three-step process to help you accomplish this)

 A Three-Step Process for Choosing Small Group Studies:

Sometimes groups have a hard time deciding what to do next. Here is a suggested process for determining what to study:

1. Discuss potential study formats and topics with your Small group.
·       Possible Study Topics
·       Individual Books of the Bible
·       Strengthening your relationship with God
·       Discovering giftedness
·       Sharing your faith
·       Applying Sunday’s sermon
·       Possible Study Formats
·       Video-based Curriculum
·       Video-based Curriculum with Homework
·       Discussion Guide
·       Discussion Guide with Homework
·       Book Study
·       Leader Driven Study (no guide, the discussion leader creates the
·       material himself)

2. Determine which study you desire to do. Sometimes it's easier to narrow down the choices. Use the following choices to reach agreement:
·       Do we want to use the "sermon questions" or find our own thing?
·       Do we want to do a video study (usually includes someone teaching) or
·       do our own discussions?
·       Do we want to do a topical study, a book study, or a Bible study?
·       If we do a book study, is everyone committed to doing the reading?
·       If we do a topical study, will we use curriculum or will one person guide
·       our discussions?
·       If we do a Bible study:
o   What book/passage/section?
o   Do we want to use a study guide or just read and discuss?
3. If appropriate, determine whether or not all members of your group can cover the financial costs required for your chosen study. If necessary, share resources to make sure everyone can participate.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Element #2 For Successfully Leading a Small Group: FELLOWSHIP

These blog posts are based on the assumption that "sharing life" with other Christians should be an integral part of our DNA as Christ-followers. Therefore, given the proper setting, these types of relationships should naturally flourish as long as we aren't quenching the life-giving aid of the Holy Spirit.

Already, I wrote that anyone can lead a small group if they have food. Now, I offer you the second element of a healthy small group, FELLOWSHIP.

"Fellowship" is one of those words that really only shows up in the church setting, so it may need a little bit of defining. Essentially, when we use this word, we are speaking of the unique type of relationships that Christians can only have with other Christians. It is a special kind of life-sharing that is precipitated by the important things we have in common, namely our faith in Jesus Christ.

In the book Why Small Groups?, John Loftness defines fellowship as "participating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common on the deepest possible level of human relationship -- our experience of God himself."

This kind of fellowship doesn't just happen. It needs to be cultivated. In a healthy small group, the leader regularly takes time to cultivate fellowship by building relationships among group members. In my opinion, a significant period of time should be devoted to relationship building almost every time the group comes together. This is the best way to develop true fellowship.

Generally, the best way to begin the process of developing relationships is by getting people to talk to each other about themselves. This is most easily accomplished by asking questions. You can ask silly questions like:
·       If you were stranded on an island, who is one person you'd want with you?
·       If you could have a conversation with one historical figure who would it be? What would you ask?
·       Where would you go for the ideal vacation?

Or you can ask more probing questions:
·       What is the most significant life-changing event you have experienced?
·       Who is someone that has had a deep impact on your life?
·       When are you most afraid? Why?

Often the answers to these questions can be followed by other questions, or they may simply get the group talking and laughing together. At the moment you feel you are beginning to lose control of the group because everyone is so engaged in conversation... you're beginning to develop fellowship!

One other great tool for relationship building is board games. A few games which might be very helpful are:
·       Imaginif
·       Zobmondo
·       Pictionary
·       Taboo
·       Outburst
·       Balderdash

Finally, the following pages contain two lists that may help you develop more ideas for creating fellowship.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Element #1 For Successfully Leading a Small Group: Food

This may seem a bit shallow, but meals are a very important part of our lives. It's no accident that while on earth, some of Jesus' most important interactions with his followers happened over meals. Something happens to us when we share food with other people. Acquaintances become friends and friends become soul-mates over shared meals. Somehow, the presence of food helps us drop our inhibitions and open ourselves to those with whom we're sharing the meal.

A healthy small group doesn't always need food, but food almost always helps a group be healthy. Especially in the early days of the group, having snacks and drinks will help immensely as the group navigates through the awkward waters of getting to know one another.

Potlucks are great and done occasionally can be very positive, but they aren't practical for the group that meets every week. The easiest thing to help facilitate food is to create a snack schedule and make sure you remind people early enough and often enough when it's their turn to bring the snacks. As a leader, you can set the example by providing the snacks the first few weeks.

Food won't bring spiritual growth. But food will help open people up to the process of sharing their lives with one another, and that will lead to spiritual growth. On it's own, food can't make a group healthy, but it can be the first element to creating a simple and successful group experience.

Almost Anyone Can Lead a Small Group

Leading a small group can be intimidating. Many people are afraid that they are not capable, or gifted, or intelligent enough to lead a group of people as they follow Jesus together. I think they are wrong.

Matthew 28:18-20 is a passage often described as the “Great Commission.” In these verses, Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and make other disciples. Interestingly, though, He did not tell them to do this in their own power or using their own strength. Rather, he makes it clear that they will be able to accomplish this because He has been given all power. Jesus’ authority is what makes it possible for us to make disciples.

If you are a disciple of Jesus, you have been empowered by Him to make other disciples. Not everyone can lead a small group, but almost anyone can. Of course there are a few qualifications that every small group leader should have:

  • They must be a follower of Christ.
  • They should be a mature enough believer that they know their way around the Bible and can help others understand at the very least the “big story" of God's Word (creation, fall, redemption, restoration)
  • They should be able to avoid constant awkwardness while carrying on a conversation
  • They should be willing to be welcoming and inclusive will all who join the group (this will likely require a bit of patience as well)
  • They probably need to be comfortable praying aloud in public

While these may seem like a lot of qualifications, they really aren't. I would suggest that anyone who has been a Christ-follower for a year and who has actively participated in a group of some kind should be able to fulfill these standards.

That said, I think just about anyone can lead a small group. My next several blog posts will outline four simple elements of a successful small group meeting. If you pay attention to these four elements, you will be able to effectively guide your small group meetings.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

10 Things I Think About World Vision

If you don't know what all the stir is about, that's fine. You don't really need to; your eternal destiny doesn't depend on it. If you must know, google "World Vision".

Essentially it's this:

  • World Vision announced they would no longer oppose employing people who were in gay marriages.
  • Then they changed their mind.
  • In the midst of that, a lot of people got really mad.

I wasn't going to post anything about my thoughts on this, but I decided to... not because I think it is so important that I say something about this issue, but because I really want to say something about the more important issue which is:

How we talk to each other. How we talk about each other. How we listen to each other.

When I first read of World Vision's decision, I knew instantly what would happen. It was predictable. A huge amount of people who were loud and visible took the easy route. They responded in ways which lacked the grace and nuance necessary to appropriately represent Christ as ambassadors of his kingdom.

Generally, the easy responses were this:
1. World Vision is run by terrible Christians and I'm withdrawing my support from this organization.
2. Anyone who would withdraw support from children because they don't like gay people is a terrible Christian.
Predictable. Sad. Easy. Wrong.

I don't know everything, but for what it's worth, here's where I am:

1. I currently support financially many organizations, including some which have no obvious Christian affiliation (Kiva, etc.)

2. I don't currently sponsor children through World Vision.

3. If I did, I wouldn't have pulled my support of those children because of this decision. (I do not believe gay marriage is part of God's plan for humanity, as He revealed it in His Word.)

4. Initially, I thought anyone who pulled their support of World Vision was wrong, that they were choosing the wrong battle and the wrong hill to die on. In my heart, I judged them as less discerning as myself and labelled them as overly fundamentalist.

5. Today I was presented with evidence which proved me to be in the wrong. I was shown a compelling arguments for why it was appropriate for someone to pull their support of World Vision based on this decision.

6. The argument I heard did not convince me to change my own opinion. I still would not pull my support.

7. The argument did convince me that there were many Christians who agonized over this decision and sincerely wrestled with their conscience before making a very difficult decision.

8. I chose to assume that everyone who pulled their support from World Vision did so because they were convinced in their heart that honoring God required them to do so. (I got that idea from 1 Corinthians 13 which says, "love believes all things")

9. I also chose to hope that everyone who pulled their support from World Vision found another place to invest that money so that children around the world could continue to benefit from their generosity. (I also got that idea from 1 Corinthians 13 which says, "love hopes all things")

10. Finally, I decided to remain silent on this issue because I didn't want to add my voice to the cacophony of Christian voices sowing discord across the kingdom.

Then I thought perhaps I could just say this...

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

and this...

So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.
For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.