Friday, December 31, 2010

Small Group Resolutions for the New Year

Happy New Year! It’s time to set some resolutions, err goals, for community life in the year ahead. So, allow me to make a few suggestions for you (small group leader) and for your small group as you begin 2011.

Maybe your group is already doing well on the following items. Great! Keep it up. Maybe your group is struggling in a few areas. Let the following items be a resource of recommitment. Either way, take a few moments to read through and evaluate the following. I believe you’ll find them helpful.

Here are a few suggestions:

Be Faithful – Whether you meet weekly, bi-weekly, or something else. Be faithful to your small group time. Life is incredibly busy for everybody. Guard and protect your group time!

Be Gracious – Nobody wants to be a part of a shaming community. Nobody! Remember, you—and every other person in the group—are the recipient of God’s amazing grace! (2 Timothy 1:9) Strive to put into practice the gift of grace that you have received.

Be Authentic – It’s easy to hide behind masks. Masks can look like a great career, a perfect marriage, outstanding kids, a holy lifestyle, etc. Yet to be part of a healthy small group, you must lay down your mask! Authenticity comes when you are honest with yourself and others about your career struggles, marriage difficulties, parenting challenges, and faith questions. It’s worth the risk.

Be Intentional – Every important relationship you have takes effort. Your spouse. Your kids. Your parents. Your friends. Your co-workers. They all take time and investment. Be intentional about investing in the relationships within your small group.

Be Others-Focused – Wherever you see a need—within your small group, your church, or your community. Put the words of Philippians 2:3 (…consider others better than yourself) into practice.

Be Fun – It should not be a chore spend time with your family of faith. Small group life should be enjoyable—even fun! Do exciting things. Laugh together. Enjoy the group of people God has sovereignly brought together.

Love Jesus – The ultimate goal of small group community is to draw you and the others in your group closer to The Savior. So, whatever you do—strive to live out the words of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel.

“…‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ ” Matthew 22:37

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Overcoming Regrets in the New Year

At the end of a calendar year, we often take a few moments to look back over the past 12 months and evaluate. We sort through the good things, the fun times, and the mountain-top experiences. Problem is; the past year also had its fair share of bumps and bruises and stuff that we’d rather forget. As a leader, small group or other, reflecting on the last year is a mixed bag.

So, the question is: How do we learn from our mistakes? How can we overcome the tough stuff?

Here are three tips to navigate the next year with more grace and truth:

1. Confession
Bring your “stuff” before God. Ask Him to forgive your actions, your motives, the things you said, and the things you did that were sinful.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
As a Christ-follower, your confession is not for your salvation (justification), rather it is for our purification (sanctification). It allows us to be up-to-date with our Heavenly Father.

2. Confession – Part II
The Father has forgiven you, because of the work of Jesus on the cross, but your brother or sister in the faith may not have. So, confession must now take on a horizontal element—you should ask the person(s) you wounded or hurt for their forgiveness.

“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16
The Biblical context is one of illness. The practical experience for you and me is one of a relationship that is wounded and unhealthy. Confession brings healing and restoration.

Did your mistakes hurt others? If so, seek forgiveness.

3. Pray Together

Praying together brings unity. It brings closeness. It unites the hearts of men and women in community. That’s why it’s critical for believers to pray together.
Yet it’s very difficult to come before the throne of God with another person with whom you are at odds. So, once confession and forgiveness have taken place—pray, pray, pray!

Mysteriously, God can, and often does, bring unity through your faithful humble pursuit of Him.

Let’s learn from the mistakes of the past year. Let’s not allow regrets to disrupt or destroy our community. Instead, let God work in and through each of us as we humble ourselves before God and our friends.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Three Gifts

It’s Christmas Eve. Time to celebrate the coming of the Baby King! Time to follow the lead of wise men and worship the Christ Child. These Magi sought out Jesus, worshipped him, blessed him with gifts (Matthew 2:11).

In this holiday blog entry, I’m following the Magi’s lead. I come bearing gifts. Obviously, not for the Baby Jesus. Instead, I come bearing three gifts for a special group of Jesus’ followers—small group leaders.

This Christmas, I want to bless every small group leader with three important items for small group health in the coming year. Here goes:

1. Commitment
This has to be the number one threat to small group life in 2011. Let’s be honest; people are over-committed. You are. I am. We all have too many good things going on in our lives.

Whether it’s your son’s basketball game, your daughter’s piano class, or your spouse’s office dinner party—everything seems to be fighting for our time. We try to carve out time and space for Christ-centered small group and find it a challenge to be faithful to our weekly or even bi-weekly commitment.

What gives? Too often, the small group and the relationships within are the first thing to go. Ouch!

In our world of too many options, I give you the gift of commitment. It’s not a perfect attendance badge, rather a gift that whatever schedule you and your group can agree upon—you have people who are willing to put commitment into action.

2. Communication
Who doesn’t like to know what’s going on? Whether we’re talking about a board meeting or a basketball game, a financial statement or a family situation—everyone likes to be in-the-loop.

Small group leaders and small group members alike could use this gift. Too often we assume that everyone knows when the next small group meeting is, or that you won’t be there because you have family in town. Not so!

Encourage everyone in your small group to make the extra effort and communicate. A phone call, a text, an email, anything that keeps you connected amidst the busyness is a good thing for the health of your small group.

3. Christ
This is the best gift of all! And not for the obvious “church” answer that you might expect.

The gift of Jesus into a small group really shakes things up. He makes things happen. He transforms peoples lives, marriages, families—entire small groups!

As Jesus takes His rightful place at the center of your small group, you will experience dramatic changes! The fruit of the Spirit will be present in people’s lives in tangible ways. You’ll pray more in-tune with the heart of God. You will begin to witness God at work more specifically.

Jesus is the bond that links believers together. Welcome Him into your group anew this holiday season.

May you and your group receive—and enjoy—these gifts!

Have a fantastic Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The “Wow” of The Word

I talked about the Bible today. That’s good, right? I’m required to talk about God’s Word considering my vocation, right? I’m supposed to talk with small group leaders about the Bible’s impact on their group, right?

Well, I was meeting with a small group leader this morning who made a short, yet powerful, statement that I have not heard before. It went something like this, “The people in our group have been so deeply immersed in the Word of God over the years, that our small group time always has depth.”

This group of empty nesters is not made up of super Christians. They’re just men and women who have been intentional and faithful to allow the Scriptures to impact and guide their own faith journeys. They are Godly, Bible-centered believers who have believed the words of Hebrews 4:12.

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12
And because each individual Christ-follower in this small group has been touched by God’s Living Word, the entire group is able to experience God in powerful tangible ways. The Word has penetrated the lives of these believers!

This leader’s comment reminded me of a small group curriculum by Group Publishing called God Sightings. It’s a tool that encourages and facilitates people to learn to see God in every day life.

In the God Sightings companion guide, group participants are encouraged to, “look past the pages to God himself. Discovering the Author, not just the literature.”

This small group has looked to the pages. They’ve discovered the Author. And the words on the page are not mere literature—but life!

* * *
If you’re interested in learning more about Groups’ God Sightings curriculum material, check out

Friday, December 17, 2010

Is Someone Praying For You?

I got an email from a small group leader this week who told me that her and her husband pray for me and my family regularly. This was a nice surprise!

Not that I don’t get encouraging emails—I do. But rarely do I receive an email letting me know that someone is praying for me. As a pastor, I don’t hear those words often. So when I do, it means a lot.

Prayer is one of those things that you don’t expect from someone, but it is sure a huge encouragement when you learn that someone has been bringing you, your family, your concerns, and your ministry before the Father.

In his classic work Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders writes, “The spiritual leader should outpace the rest of the church, above all, in prayer.”

I pray regularly for our small group leaders and for their groups. I pray for their faithfulness to Christ. I pray for their personal needs that I’m aware of. I ask God to work in them and through them as they shepherd their small group. I don’t often, however, tell our leaders that I’m doing so. Perhaps I should?

As I considered this couple’s faithfulness to me, my family, and my ministry at our church, it caused me to consider a strange question; do you know if someone is praying for you? Is someone you minister alongside lifting you before God in prayer? Is one of your small group brethren interceding on your behalf? If not, would it be too weird to ask someone to do so regularly?

This question requires humility and vulnerability, but it might be critical to you, your family, and a future of a healthy small group ministry.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Disagreement-Fueled Discussion

I enjoyed some scintillating discussion yesterday. It was fueled by the early chapters of a book that none of the members of my small group really agree with or enjoy.

This book, which I will intentionally leave un-named, is written by a guy who loves Jesus. It’s written by a man who clearly desires to live authentic, biblical Christianity. Yet his writing is one sweeping brushstroke of broad generalization after another. It offers a stern critique of many things that all of us in the group hold high.

So, I posed the question: Do we toss the book aside and move onto something else? Or do we press on, knowing that we’ll get a birds-eye view of a perspective that is not our own?

To their credit, everyone indicated a desire to continue—even if the book may cause each of to fling the book against the wall a few times!

Our first group time digging into the content of the book stirred a spirited discussion. It caused us to evaluate our own thinking, our own biblical worldview, and our own application of Scripture. It drove us to the Word of God. It helped to solidify some of our own beliefs, not just what we thought we believed. Our time together was a disagreement-fueled discussion—and it was rich!

Usually, most of us use study materials that somehow stimulate the position we already hold. Our reading and subsequent discussions typically move us, ever-so-slightly, in the same direction we were already heading. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is good reason for us to stay within orthodoxy. Yet, some times, it’s helpful to dig into a resource that takes a different approach to the way we live out our faith.

Disagreement with an author’s perspective fueled our discussion—and will continue to in the weeks ahead. Don’t be shy about letting it fuel yours.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How Not to Scare Away New Members

In my last blog post, I encouraged all of us to consider the reason for welcoming and integrating new small group members. We examined the “why” question.

This time around, I want to focus on the practical aspects of welcoming in new group members. Let’s dig into a couple of ideas on “how” not to scare new people away. Here goes:

1. Be Warm
Welcome in new members by doing something fun, relaxing, and non-threatening. Meet at Starbucks for coffee. Host a barbeque. Get together for an evening at the local movie theatre. Introduce yourselves, watch a film together, and then set aside some time afterward to hang out and talk.

Do something that you would feel comfortable doing with mere acquaintances. (Because, many times, that’s what new members of your group are—acquaintances.) You don’t really know them, nor do they know you. Expecting people to jump right into the social dynamic and rhythm of your small group is a stretch. So do everything you can to make the transition easy—not forced and awkward.

2. Be Real
Everybody wants to make a good first impression. The group wants to appear welcoming and not at all like the local chess club. The new members understand that all eyes are on them. The pressure can be stifling. Let the air out of the balloon!

Encourage everybody in your small group to be themselves. (Frankly, why bother putting on a show? The new members will see the real you soon enough.) Talk about football, work, the kids, and last Sunday’s sermon-stuff that you’d normally kick around at the beginning of your typical small group gathering.

Then be intentional about introductions, not just the cursory name and where-you-work stuff. And, never underestimate the power of an ice breaker. Sure, they’re cheesy. But they’re also helpful in getting acquainted with each other. And that is the primary goal for the initial meeting(s) when welcoming new members.

Strive to welcome people in a casual non-threatening way that you would enjoy entering—and you’ll be just fine!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Why Should We Welcome New Group Members?

I learned something this weekend. As I prepared to host and lead my quarterly small group leader training event, I discovered the topic we were digging into—welcoming and integrating new group members—goes largely unaddressed by publishers and church leaders alike. Why? Is it because there’s an assumption within the church that we all do this well? That it comes natural for Christians to welcome other Christ-followers into their community? I believe that’s an unsafe and reckless assumption.

Most of us enjoy the idea of new people or couples experiencing what we have—great Bible-based discussions, rich times of prayer, and great friendship. Yet when it comes to actually welcoming, and seeking to integrate, the new member(s), the idea is easier than the reality.

There are plenty of practical “how” questions to ask, and I’ll address some of those in future blog entries. But the best place to begin for a group entertaining the idea of a new group member(s) is by engaging with the “why” question. Why should we welcome and integrate new people into our Christ-centered community?

Let’s look at the words of The Apostle Paul when he wrote to a deeply divided Roman Church. He writes these words:

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”Romans 15:7 (ESV)
Writing to this divided church community (Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians) Paul exhorts every believer to welcome or receive every other believer—as you have been accepted by Christ! Why? Because it brings glory to God when we do! When we welcome and receive and accept other members of the faith—God is glorified.

This is not to suggest that just because a person or couple desires to be a part of your small group that you should welcome them in without discernment. Fact is; your group may not be the best fit for them. Yet a healthy posture to take is to consider welcoming and integrating them in.

But what might that look like? Is your group ready to do that? Or have you become too inward-focused? Stagnant? Unwilling to change?

These are tough questions to ask and even tougher to discuss. Yet the “why” question is worth approaching. Both for your group, and for your potential future group members.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Still Battling Commitment Issues

I began the week with a blog entry about a group leader who had commitment issues within his group. Those issues, slowly, over time, eroded the foundation of this leader’s group and ultimately let to the group’s end.

These issues happen all the time—often becoming more acute this time of year. So, let’s take a look at a couple more ideas to help your group overcome the craziness that surrounds the holidays and stay connected.

Bring your Family Calendar – Make time to plan. Discuss the different schedules represented by each family. Hammer out details for the entire month, and into the new year, if possible. Don’t let an unevaluated schedule rule your small group, instead talk your way through the busy holidays and use schedule to your advantage.

One leader I know has a group calendar that he brings to each weekly meeting. Not to beat people over the head with administration, rather to make sure things the group doesn’t suffer from one family’s change in scheduling.

Communicate Faithfully – Who doesn’t like being thought of or remembered? Keep this in mind about the relationships you have in your small group during the holidays. Schedules may separate you. Travel may send you to different parts of the country. Yet something as simple and short as a text message, a personal email, or a quick phone call communicates value!

Push against the temptation that we all battle this time of year. Don’t allow the wave of Holiday events, travel, and good things to take time and focus away from your efforts to stay connected. Closeness and commitment serve as foundational elements of your small group community any time of year.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Battling Commitment Issues

I heard from one of my small group leaders over the weekend about the challenges he’s faced with commitment issues. Here’s a brief summary:

● The leader wants to meet regularly, some others in the group do—but most don’t.
● He wants to study the Word of God, some others in the group do—but most don’t.
● He wants to be intentional about doing life together, some others in the group do—but most don’t.
● The leader makes the call. The group is dissolved after two years together.

This happens. Commitment wanes over time. Kids’ schedules ramp up. Job responsibilities increase. People lives get increasingly hectic. Most of us are busy running ourselves ragged with good things. The problem is; many of us are choosing merely good things instead of better or best things.

To overcome this busyness—and make small group life a priority—requires an entire shift of people’s minds in the 21st century. Church-centric living was central to the early church, and a reality for many throughout church history—church life was their life. Today, unfortunately, participation in The Church has become just one of the many options on the smorgasbord of life.

How do you get people to commit and make your weekly small group time a priority amidst the pressures and busyness of life? Great question! Allow me to make this suggestion for your group as you head into one of the busiest times of the year.

At your next small group gathering, consider reading Acts 2:46-47 (see below) together. Then discuss what this sort of commitment might look like for your community amidst today’s challenges.

* * *
"Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” -Acts 2:46-47 (NIV)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Away A Blessing

Thanksgiving causes most of us to take an inventory of our lives. We acknowledge the relationships that mean the most to us. We get a bit nostalgic about the highs—and even some of the lows—of the last year. We get together for a meal with family and friends and typically begin by giving thanks to God for his graciousness to us.

Have you done the same with your small group?

Have you acknowledged the significance of the friendships you’ve established in your small group? Have you discussed the highs and lows that you’ve traveled together during the last year? Have you enjoyed a meal together where you’ve been intentional about giving thanks to God for his blessing upon your lives? There’s no better time than Thanksgiving to be intentional about this type of small group experience!

Last week, a small group I have the privilege of being a part of took time to celebrate each person by speaking words of affirmation. It was a humbling, goose-bump creating, God-honoring, praise-inducing time of blessing each other.

Our leader handed out a piece of notebook paper. We wrote out the names of each person in our group. Then the leader encouraged us to write down all the gifts and talents that come to mind when we think of the person he named. We did this focusing on each person for about a minute as we worked our way around the room. Once everyone’s name had been read aloud and all their attributes had been written down we turned our papers into the leader.

Then the blessings flowed! Our leader read each person’s name and followed it by reading all of the things people wrote down about them. He acknowledged verbally all of the gifts that others see in us. Then he said these powerful words, “This is how God has blessed you. We’re glad you’re here.” It was a rich time of blessing for each person in our group.

As you get together with your small group community around Thanksgiving, be intentional to bless each other and communicate how thankful your are for the role that each person plays in each other’s lives. Very few of us ever receive such a gift!

Friday, November 19, 2010

After the Break-Up

Last night my wife and I went out with some close friends. We enjoyed some great conversation over dinner, and then went to a comedy show. We all laughed more in one hour than we’ve probably laughed all week. It was a great time!

Why am I writing about this? Because we used to do life in small group community with this couple. We used to get together regularly for Christ-centered discussion, prayer, and interaction. That’s right, we “used to”. Our group stayed together for a year and a half. But it didn’t last. Commitment issues, differing expectations, and contrasting goals moving forward brought the group to an end.

After the initial awkwardness of the small group “break-up”, we re-connected with this couple. (Also, we still talk with everybody from our old group, we just don’t spend time together.) We talked about what went wrong with our group. We talked about what we could have done differently. And we agreed that the relationship we had established with each other within the small group context was worth developing.

In spite of the awkwardness we faced going through our small group break-up, both couples chose to invest in each other. We now get together about once a month. We talk about the Scriptures. We discuss theology. We have game nights. We laugh together. And we enjoy each other!

Not all small group break-ups have salvageable relationships beyond the life of the small group. Sometimes group members grow apart over time. Their needs and interests change. The time you spent meeting regularly in community has come to a close—and everyone is ready to move on. There are no relationships to pursue once the group has ended its run.

What we cannot allow to happen is for a small group break-up to cause divisions or factions within God’s church. The Apostle Paul addressed this potential division in his first letter to the church in Corinth.
“I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” 1 Corinthians 1:10-11
When a small group disbands, or has a full-blown break up, it can and should be done amicably. And once it’s done, there just might be some personal relationships to continue to pursue.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The ‘Want-To’ Factor

Last weekend, I was invited into another ministry area of our church to form and launch new small group communities. At the behest of this community’s pastor, I was asked to work with 80 individuals to teach on authentic biblical community, to cast our church’s vision for small groups, and facilitate some table discussion.

In all honesty, it went O.K. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. Some participants were deeply engaged, others appeared less-than-thrilled with the morning’s events. I couldn’t help but begin the self-evaluation game in my head as the morning session came to a close: Was I doing something wrong? Was I off my game? Or was it something completely different?

After an hour and a half leading this group, it hit me—these people did not voluntarily submit to joining a small group. They didn’t choose to be there. They were guided into this Small Group Launch experience by the pastor of this ministry. He knows the specific needs of this group, and believes being involved in a small group could meet some of those needs. Yet, from the feedback I was getting up-front, many didn’t see things the same way. Someone even told a fellow participant they were feeling a bit “coerced” into forming a small group.

Clearly, coercion is not a recipe for small group success. It’s not fertile soil for authentic Christ-centered community to grow. If participating in, or leading, a small group is nothing more than a guilt-fueled experience of going through the motions—it’s not worth the time!

This experience has caused me to consider the ‘want-to factor’ of engaging in small group community. Do people want community? Are they willing to pay the price—with their time and/or emotional investment? You’ve got to want it. You’ve got to desire connection. You’ve got to need and long for it, if community is to truly come together and grow.

Are people in your church feeling coerced into small group community? Or do they have the ‘want-to’? It’s a tough question to ask. Yet, for long-term growth, it’s a question worth pursuing.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Stop Talking!

My wife and I watch Survivor. It’s one of the few television shows that we carve out time for each week. The show has three primary draws for us: First, we doubt we could ever go through the brutal stuff participants battle for 39 days. (The bug bites—just not for us.) Second, we enjoy the beauty of the show’s backdrop. The lush greens and soothing ocean blues from remote locations we’ll likely never get to see is awesome. Lastly, we love watching the social interaction. How people from all walks of life, all physical and athletic ability levels, and all socioeconomic and education levels interact. It’s intriguing!

(Warning: If you’ve not yet watched this week’s show—stop reading! Come back after you’ve seen it.)

This week, one of this season’s most powerful players, Marty, was sent packing. He survived long enough to get to the jury (final 12), but not to get close to the million-dollar prize.

Marty was a keen strategist from day one. He took the outwit aspect of Survivor’s outwit, outlast, outplay game description very seriously. And for more than three weeks, Marty did just that—outwit many of his opponents. He was savvy. Yet in the end, he fell prey to what ousts many players on Survivor—the tongue. The dude simply talked too much!

Does this ever happen in your small group? Do you have someone who’s a valuable member of your group, someone who everyone loves, yet their mouth seems to have an extra gear? They dominate every discussion—whether they know anything about the issue or not. Their prayer requests are long, and their prayers are even longer. Do you know this person?

The problem we have in small group community is that you can’t just vote them off the island! They’re part of us. So what can we do?

This is where a good small group leader will put his facilitation skills to work. He’ll strive to put the brakes on the chatty guy and seek to draw out the quiet guy. Using something like, “Thanks for your input tonight (Insert Talker’s Name), it’s been helpful. But we haven’t heard from a number of others. So let’s get their views.” Providing this sort of leadership, sometimes repeatedly, can help the talker begin to recognize there are others in the group who have something to offer.

This is not easy, just necessary. Talkers drive people crazy—then drive them away. Don’t let this happen in your small group. You can’t vote them off, but you can curb the talking.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Growth, Growth, Growth

This weekend, we wrapped up our three-week event known as the Small Group Launch. This is where we form and launch new small group communities. We launched out nine new small groups. I’m encouraged!

This marks 44 new small groups, formed and launched, since the beginning of 2010. Speaking simply of numbers, this is the most fruitful year we’ve had forming new groups at Woodmen Valley Chapel. I’m excited that we have about 500 people in community who were not experiencing small group life a year ago. We’re growing, and that’s a good thing.

Yet is numerical growth an accurate measurement of success? Allow me to answer my own rhetorical question with a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’.

First, the ‘Yes’. If people were not interested in engaging in authentic biblical community—it would point to a church-wide problem. It would suggest that folks are not hearing a consistent message from the church leadership emphasizing the importance of Christ-centered community. It might suggest that folks are punching their religious time card at the weekend service and are interested in little else. So, the fact that we have hundreds of people passionate enough to connect with the church about being connected with other believers is a huge positive.

Secondarily, our life-stage model for linking people together is connecting individuals and couples who are going through the same stuff of life. This connection is very practical, and very real. So the number of groups launched is something we rejoice in.

Yet that’s not the whole story. Which brings us to the ‘No’ of my rhetorical question—numerical growth is not enough. We’re seeking spiritual growth in our small group communities. Growth in our knowledge of who God is. Growth of who we are in relation to Him. Growth in Christ-likeness. Growth in an ever-deepening understanding and experience of God’s amazing grace. Growth!

As you might imagine, this one is much harder to quantify. Yet it’s something that we strive for in all of our small groups. As our people engage with Scripture in an honest and authentic way, they grow. As our people engage with each other, speaking truth into each other’s lives, they grow. As our people engage in acts of service toward one another, our church, and our community, they grow. This growth is measured in stories told, and in faithfulness shown to each other.

Growth. It’s something we unashamedly seek—both numerically and spiritually.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Free to Grieve?

Could someone cry in your small group? I mean really breakdown and let the tears roll. Is your group that kind of safe place?

I met with a small group leader, who, like me, lost one of his parents within the last six months. He lost his Mom. I lost my Dad. We talked about our feelings of sadness, we scratched the surface of our struggles, and discussed how to best serve and minister to the parent who’s been left behind. It was a helpful time for both of us. Neither of us cried. But, had we gone much further, my sense is that we would have. And that would have been fine.

Crying and showing emotion with another person, or group of people, is one of those things that many of us want to be free to do—yet we often hold back. Why?

Often we hold back because we aren’t sure how others will respond to our pain and loss. We’re not sure if others are safe. We just don’t know, and the pain of our loss could be made worse by the insensitive comments and attitudes of others.

Is your small group a safe place to be open about pain and loss and grief? Are you safe people? If you lost a parent or a close friend could you be real about your struggle? If someone got fired from their job, would your group “go there” emotionally with the hurting person?

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, ask yourself (and the others in your group) what it would take to become a place of genuine acceptance and real comfort? What sort of honest discussion needs to take place before you can get their? A small group doesn’t grow tight just because you meet together once per week. It takes intentional acts of authenticity. It takes the regular sharing of our stories—the good and the tough stuff.

One idea that many groups have found helpful is the personal timeline of positives and negatives. Here’s the idea: draw a timeline of your life that includes your three highest points and your three toughest things. We all have both. This activity helps the optimist engage with some of their challenging times, and it helps the pessimist recognize that they’ve enjoyed some good things too. This facilitates group members being honest about their joys and their pain. It also helps to hear the stories of others and know that they’ve dealt with “stuff” too.

This is not a personal baggage dump, rather honest engagement with our own fallenness and the daily battle we all face living in a fallen world.

Start the discussions now—before something tragic and deeply painful happens to someone in your group. Then you’ll be prepared, and your group will give someone the freedom to grieve.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Small Group Lesson from the World Champion San Francisco Giants

I’m a baseball fan. My team, the Detroit Tigers, didn’t make the playoffs this season so I was able to watch the postseason without a strong heart tug. I watched this year’s World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers with a genuine eye on the baseball being played.

It was a learning experience—in a small groups sort-of-way.

On Monday night, the Giants captured their first championship in 55 years beating the Rangers 3-1 thanks to a masterful pitching performance by ace Tim Lincecum.

The Giants rode their talented young pitching staff and a collection of castoffs and misfits to their first title since Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. What does this have to do with small groups? Plenty!

The Giants have no one in their day-to-day lineup that would be classified as a superstar—maybe not even a star. (Unlike the Rangers who have Josh Hamilton, the likely American League Most Valuable Player.) In fact, seven of their eight position players in the Series-clinching win were either dropped or traded away by a previous team. Two were even released by their former clubs in midseason! The Giants, who were only in first place for 38 days all season, were truly a group that came together to accomplish something bigger than themselves.

Therein lies the lesson for small groups. This collection of misfits pulled together to achieve something that more gifted teams could not, winning their sports’ ultimate team prize. They weren’t the most talented team, or the most funded team, or the most high-profile team—yet they did something incredible!

Is your small group like the San Francisco Giants? Are you a group of spiritual misfits? Are you a collection of one-gift, low-profile Christians? Be encouraged. God can—and does—use groups like you to do amazing things. Need proof? Look at baseball’s newly-crowned champions.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Does Everyone Have a Place?

I’ve been thinking about your place and my place and everybody’s place this week. Where do you “fit”? What about me? How about Aunt Betty? Seriously, is there a place?

There is a biblical answer to those questions, actually. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 12:12

"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12 (NIV)
Then give that entire section (vs. 12-27) a read. It gives us an answer quickly and succinctly. There is a place for everyone!

For some, the Apostle Paul’s answer is comforting. It provides a home—a place to belong. For others, the answer isn’t quite so positive. This text confronts the fact that the social misfits many of us would like to avoid—are unavoidable. Not only are they a part of our community—Paul reminds us they are an integral part! They may not look like us, think like us, live like us, or even vote like us. Yet they are us!

We’ve formed and launched 46 new small groups at the church where I serve within the last year. We’ve launched empty nester groups, newly married groups, and just about everything in between. The common denominator of all these newly formed small group communities is diversity—each group is filled with a mix of very different people.

Fact is, in God’s community there is a place for everyone. The problem for some of us is that place is not where we want or expect it to be. Our place just might be filled with a group of people who are not nearly as spiritually mature as we are. That place might be a group that has radically different theological positions than we do. That place might be a group that are far more liberal in their lifestyle than we are. That place might be a group of people who don’t “fit” anywhere else.

So a better question just might be; can I handle the place God has for me?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When a Key Leader Leaves

I talked with one of my best small group leaders today. We talked about a few of the cool things going on in his group, a few of the interesting happenings in his life, and a few of the intriguing opportunities that God has recently been providing for him.

That’s when he dropped the bomb every small group pastor dreads. He informed me that he was sensing the need to step aside from his small group. God was opening some other ministry doors for him and for his wife.

Breathe. Exhale. Inhale. Ouch that one hurts!

This leader is moving on for good reasons—kingdom reasons. Yet that doesn’t make the sting of losing one of your best any easier. Frankly, it’s a weird feeling. On one hand, you’re excited this leader is mature enough to make such a decision and be obedient to the call of God. Yet there is a personally painful side that hurts to invest in someone and see them move on.

In the study guide, Growing Others, author Carl Simmons engages with this transition, “You know it’s a good thing, but it can still be painful to let someone you love and have shared life with move forward without you…when that time comes, hopefully you’ll both recognize it for what it is and take joy in it, despite the sadness that comes along with letting go.”

As a small group pastor, I have to trust what God is doing in this person’s life and in what He will do through him in the lives of others. It simply cannot be a silo-esque ministry mentality! These types of decisions are about leaders’ recognizing and submitting to God’s kingdom purposes—not about my ministry. So I listen. I encourage him. I offer him the best possible counsel. And I pray for his future ministry.

Then, in my own moments, I consider the “plans” and dreams I had for this small group leader—for his continued and potentially increased involvement alongside me. And I’m challenged to submit to the reality of Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.”

So God’s work in small groups moves on—without this small group leader’s involvement as I had planned. I’m choosing to trust that God’s plan is much better than mine.

* * *

Join the conversation and share your thoughts, experiences, or insights about losing one of your key small group leaders.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Look in the Mirror!

When was the last time you looked in the mirror? Not in the way you might be thinking, rather in a spiritual self-examination sort of way? Frankly, a mirror isn’t even necessary. It simply serves as a metaphor of self-awareness.

Do you ever take the time to consider you? Do you ever examine your own faith journey? Do you ever evaluate your spiritual leadership?

Seriously, if you’re a spiritual leader of any kind, knowing yourself is of critical importance. To lead, you have to engage with:

• An understanding of your faith heritage
• An honest look at your faith journey
• The reality of God’s call on your life
• How you’re stewarding your specific God-given gift(s)
• An understanding of your strengths and weaknesses as a leader

These are just a few of the items that are critical for a spiritual (small group) leader. To truly know who you are, how God has created you, and how you are using these realities for His kingdom purposes is critical for any leader who is genuinely pursuing Christ-centered leadership.

This week, I’ve been in dialogue with a pair of small groups who are struggling because their leaders’ have not looked in a mirror lately. In spite of the group members’ strongest attempts to break through the leader’s fog, they cannot gain the attention of the person who is supposed to be their shepherd—leading them and caring for their needs. Instead, both groups are wandering because their leaders have not spent time evaluating their own leadership.

In his book, Practicing Greatness: Seven Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leadership, author Reggie McNeal writes, “The single most important piece of information a leader possesses is self-awareness.”

Before your next small group meeting, take a few moments in front of the mirror of soul-examination and self-awareness. How are you doing? How about your leadership? How would those you lead/serve answer that question? Would they respond with affirmation?

If you don’t know the answer to these questions—it’s time to become more self-aware.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Less-Than-Best Friends

Time to engage with an honest question; how many of the people in your small group do you really connect with? Be honest—you’re not best friends with all 12 members of your group.

The reality is that you probably enjoy the company of one or two couples more than you do the rest. You likely talk with one or two individuals more than you do with everyone in the group. Your interests are probably more closely aligned with a couple specific people in your group than they are aligned with everyone’s. That’s just how it is.

You’re not going to be best friends with everyone—you weren’t in elementary school and you’re not going to be as adults.

Yet God has still placed you in a small group community with these people—some who’ve become your closest friends and some who’ve not.

I discussed this issue with a small group leader yesterday. He told me that the couple he and his wife were closest with in his small group had left the group (on good terms) within the last few months. They had to wrestle with disappointment, disillusionment, and the honest question of whether or not they wanted to continue.

They pressed on. They fought for a community that was centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ and not mere likes and dislikes. They sought authentic Biblical community. And their group has bonded in a way they could not have imagined! It doesn’t take away the sting of missing their closest friends. But their group has grown into a level of authenticity before God and before each other that is far richer than a simple friendship.

Christ-centered community is about more than friendships with people we like. It’s deeper than that. It’s about journeying through both the fun and the not-so-fun with people who are less-than-best friends. It’s about doing life together with our brothers and sisters in faith.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blessings, Surprises, and Appreciation

I received a surprise yesterday—a pleasant surprise.

I met with one of my small group leaders and key ministry partners to catch up on some significant things that God has been doing in his life. We talked about life-changing stuff that he has allowed me the privilege of walking through with he and his wife. The stuff that literally changes the course of your faith journey 180 degrees. Awesome, powerful, humbling stuff.

I love those types of meetings, because I am given the amazing opportunity of being ushered into a front-row seat of the amazing work of The Father in someone’s life. As a pastor, this is one of the best perks of my job!

Then something interesting happened. He handed me a card.

The card communicated how much he and his wife have appreciated my friendship and support during this exciting time in their lives. I was humbled. But there’s more. They also included a gift card to a local restaurant for me and my wife to enjoy a night out. What a blessing!

As a pastor, I don’t get many “thank yous”. I know the pastors and ministry directors I work alongside don’t get much positive feedback either. This is not a complaint as much as it is the reality of life in the church today. So, when we do receive a note (or a gift) of appreciation it really ministers to us.

Have you thanked your pastor for his ministry recently? Have you told the person who provides leadership to your small group ministry how important they are to you, your group, and your church?

A little encouragement goes a long way!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tossing Judgment Around

This week, I learned of a small group situation that troubled me. Judgment was being tossed around like the pigskin at an Indianapolis Colts game.

“They’re not serious about your faith.”
“They’re judgmental of everyone in the group.”
“They don’t want to pray enough.”
“They don’t know how to have fun.”
Have you ever heard this sort of thing before? I’m sure you have—unfortunately! Two questions come to mind: First, what can you do about it? Second, should you do anything about it?

Allow me to respond to both questions.

First, you can do something about it. Yet that something may not make a great deal of difference because the injured parties just can’t—or won’t—forgive. They’ve already left the group, mentally and emotionally. They’re done.

Yet there is hope if people can hear and practice the lost art of forgiveness. Living in Christ-centered community is hard. That’s why the Apostle Paul exhorted us with so many “one another” passages in Scripture. The one that applies to this difficult situation perhaps more than any other is found in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love." Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)
As we humble ourselves before God and take view of His amazing grace, we recognize our own sin—our own issues. It makes judging others much harder when you have an honest view of your own “stuff”.

Second, you should do something about it. Because community is hard it takes work. It involves personal sacrifice. It comes with a cost. That’s why the Apostle Paul gives us a strong exhortation in the following verse:

“Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” Ephesians 4:3 (NLT)
He writes, “Make every effort”. That means we are to work at it. We are to strive for unity. We are to fight for peace!

When judgment creeps into your community—and it often does—take heed of the Apostle Paul’s words. Begin with a posture of humility. Seek to forgive. Then make every possible effort to be unified.

This can stop the football-like judgment game. And it just might save your small group.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Are You Getting Enough Face Time?

How much time do you get with your small group leaders? That’s a question I had to ask myself about two years ago. Do I spend enough one-on-one time them? Am I truly available?

Because face time is important, I’ve made it a personal goal to meet with at least two small group leaders per week. That’s a minimum. Lunch, coffee, a meeting at the church, or a simple drop-in at their place of employment (when appropriate) is the means. Connecting and investing is the goal.

The church where I serve has more than 6,000 participating in worship each weekend. That makes it easy, unfortunately, to miss people for weeks on end. That certainly is not ideal, so I have to be intentional—both about meetings with me and about linking leaders with other leaders.

To do this, I’ve implemented a pair of opportunities that are working well. A quarterly gathering of leaders called a Small Group Leader Symposium and a monthly time called Coffee and Conversation with the Small Group Guy.

The symposium is our venue for ongoing leadership development and for linking leaders with leaders. Each quarter, we examine a specific issue pertaining to small group leadership. You know, stuff like dealing with the EGR (extra-grace required) person in a group, maximizing your time together, and leading your group into God’s presence in prayer. I’ll do a time of teaching and digging into the issue, then provide discussion time for leaders to dive into the issue together and then share ideas. These times are not one-on-one opportunities with me, the small group pastor, but they do provide face time for leaders with me and with other leaders.

The coffee and conversation time is all about face time. Each month, I plop myself down at a local coffee shop for two hours in the late afternoon. The goal of this time is to be available to leaders for dialogue—small-group related or other. There’s no official agenda. It’s simply an opportunity to connect and converse. Sometimes just a couple leaders will drop in during the two-hour window. Other times, I’ll have six or more. It’s about being available!

I believe my role is a small group pastor is to pour into the small group leader as they pour into the lives of those in their small group. So, being available to talk, pray, and discuss issues is critical.

Whether you oversee 10 groups or 100—face time is important. Go out and get some!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

“I Don’t Like Our Book”

How do you like those words? If you’re a small group leader, you likely just shivered reading the title of this blog entry. It strikes at the core of your leadership. It questions your judgment. It can halt the progress of your group.

Earlier this week, I interacted with a leader who is dealing with this issue. It may seem like something simple, but there are many questions to consider. Do you press on? Should you dismiss the person’s opinion? Do you take a group poll? Is the book’s subject matter (finances, evangelism, missions, etc.) the real issue—not the book? Do you punt the study like a football on Saturday afternoon? How should you handle this situation?

Allow me to make a few suggestions:

1. Assess the Person – Unfortunately, some people won’t like or approve of any book your group selects as a resource. They tend to be contrarian—no matter the subject or author. Is this that person? If so, you need to listen to their concerns, but not give up on the resource immediately. Learn the root of their distaste for the book. Then use discernment about the validity of their concern and/or issue. If you’re not dealing with a contrarian, get the facts of their book angst and then proceed.

2. Assess the Group – Ask a few others from the group for their honest opinion. Is the book or resource connecting with people’s head or heart? (A resource needs to do one—at a minimum—and preferably both.) If group members are not being challenged to a deeper understanding of God or a deeper understanding of whom they are before God—the resource is not worth continuing. Be sure to get group feedback before making the final decision.

3. Assess the Cost – Punting a study resource comes with a cost—both financial and in group momentum. Are these costs worth it? Get group feedback. Evaluate and make your decision with this in mind.

4. Develop a New Plan – If your group has decided to move on to another resource, find a clear next step. This will help you avoid the loss of momentum. You can do this by coming to the next group meeting with a few book ideas and/or study suggestions. Then, quickly transition into another study.

Don’t let the dreaded phrase, “I don’t like our book” get you down. Take a few moments to asses, develop a new plan, and move forward with confidence.

Friday, October 01, 2010

What is Learner-Based? It’s the ‘L’ in Group’s R.E.A.L Philosophy!

How do you learn? I mean really grasp and understand something?

Do you just read and retain? Do you discuss the different elements with a knowledgeable friend? Do you break the content down into an acronym? Or does it come down to brute memorization?

How do you learn?

Fact is; we all have different styles of learning. Some of us are visual learners. We see an image or watch a short film and we’ve got it! That’s why pastors everywhere are always looking for the most poignant illustration possible—they make the point stick.

Others learn with their hands. They have to touch something. Tear it apart. Then put it back together.

Still others have to read and re-read. Some need to study and study and study some more. Essentially, it comes down to face time with the material.

I was reminded of my own learning style last week when I was asked to teach the Greek alphabet to my son’s second grade class. As I was preparing my “lesson”, I couldn’t help but think of the hours I spent in seminary beating the Greek alphabet and language into my head. I had to read and re-read. Memorize. And then I met a group of fellow students to sort through our questions and discuss. My learning style took far more time than many of my classmates, yet that’s what I had to do to learn Biblical Greek.

Group Publishing recognizes that each of us have different learning styles. Within a small group of adults, likely many different styles are represented every time we get together. The question that Group is asking is a good one—what will it take to help everyone learn?

Group also went one step further. They have incorporated many of these styles (visual, interpersonal, etc.) into their study questions and activities.

In R.E.A.L.: Surprisingly Simple Ways to Engage Adults, author Carl Simmons writes, “To help people reach this level of understanding, our questions are surprising, specific, and personal.”

Simmons also adds a trio of elements that could spur others on to deeper levels of learning: interactive experiences, film, and music. Adding these elements into your study may bring the story or content to life for the different learning styles represented in your living room.

How do you learn? If you don’t know, it’s time to find out. Think through a few of the descriptions presented above. Ask your spouse. Ask others in your small group to help you discern how you learn most effectively.

But don’t stop there! Work to find the learning styles of each person in your group. This will help everyone become more consistently engaged in your study time—because they’re actually learning something!

Why? So you can unleash the power of learning in your Christ-centered community!

* * * * *
This is the fourth and final blog entry on Group’s R.E.A.L. philosophy. I want to hear which element most resonates with you? Which element has challenged your thinking? The top two responses will receive a copy of R.E.A.L.: Surprisingly Simple Ways to Engage Adults for everyone in their small group!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is it Applicable? Examining the ‘A’ in Group’s R.E.A.L Philosophy

How many times have you heard a pastor deliver all the great factual information you could ever want, need, or possibly ever use in Outburst: Bible Edition—yet wondered what in the world the Bible teaching has to do with you?

I have! I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing you have too.

The reason this sort of teaching leaves us wanting more is simple—mere facts rarely connect with the heart. That’s why the application of a Biblical truth or a specific passage is so critical. Application is the stuff that brings life change!

That’s why Group Publishing places such a high value on creating study materials that are applicable. It’s an element at the core of their small group DNA. It’s the ‘A’ in R.E.A.L.

Remember, Group’s believes that: Learning that’s R.E.A.L. is…

In this third blog entry, we’re going to look at the importance of application in group life. Are you learning more about God and His Word? That’s great! (And I mean that, not in some patronizing way. It truly is a good thing.) But the better question just might be this: Are you learning more about God and His Word and putting it into action?

This question is what drives Group’s efforts to not only deliver the facts in their small group studies, but take the next step and encourage you to do something with what you’ve just learned. They give you practical take-home ideas to put your faith into action. That is precisely where the power of community comes into play. You have the opportunity to encourage and challenge others to action!

Check out the exhortation of Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (NIV)

You and I play a significant role in the lives of those in our faith community. Each and every one of us is given a Biblical challenge to consider how we can stimulate each other to put our faith in motion.

Let me spin that truth into a couple of questions: Are you applying the reality of who you are in Christ into your daily life? Are you applying the Biblical teachings that you know to be true into your family situations, your neighborhood interactions, and/or your job dealings?

How is the ‘A’ being lived out in your small group? Share a story of how you are applying Biblical truth to those in your small group. Share it with me and with others. Give us a few new ideas!

The most creative application of Biblical truth will receive a copy of R.E.A.L.: Surprisingly Simple Ways to Engage Adults for everyone in their small group!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The ‘E’ in Group’s R.E.A.L Philosophy

Question #1 – What did you read this week? Can you remember?
Question #2 – What did you experience this week? Do you remember that?

Experience sticks. Simply reading a book or hearing a story, often doesn’t hit home with the same intensity. That’s the basic idea behind the ‘E’ in Group Publishing’s small group ministry philosophy, R.E.A.L.

As you may have guessed, the element that ‘E’ stands for is experiential. Again, the foundation for Group’s approach is: Learning that’s R.E.A.L. is…

In this second blog entry, we’re going to examine the idea and importance of ‘E’ in your small group. The foundational understanding is that what you experience in a small group context has far more lasting impact than merely what you read or hear.

Although basic, this thinking is critical for any church seeking to establish or build a small group philosophy. Why? Because we all know it to be true—experience sticks! We often read things—rich words, powerful truths, vivid word pictures woven together with beauty and grace—that, in the moment, touch us deeply. Yet, unfortunately, we can’t remember the details a week later.
Does it happen to you? I know it happens to me! (Even though I underline and highlight and take detailed notes.)

Read this nugget from R.E.A.L.: Surprisingly Simple Ways to Engage Adults, Group’s handy small group resource, “the more senses we use and more emotions we engage, the more likely a lesson will stick, be unforgettable, and become part of our daily lives.”

This quote reminds me of a small group experience that my wife and I had more than ten years ago. Our small group of newlywed couples was working through a study on marriage. The lesson for the evening was trust and communication. We had all read the chapter, enjoyed some good discussion—but what happened last was what stays in our minds years later. Each couple in the group blindfolded each other. We then gave our spouse directions on where to walk, moving from room to room, for the next five minutes. Then we switched. The person who had been blindfolded following directions became the guide. I still remember many of the emotions, thoughts, bumps, and things that my wife and I said to each other during that experience. The key word—experience!

What is your group doing to experience life together? What is your group doing make your studies unforgettable experiences?

What ‘E’ have you been a part of in your small group that had a dramatic impact on your spiritual life? Share it with me and with others. Join the conversation!

The most creative experience will receive a copy of R.E.A.L.: Surprisingly Simple Ways to Engage Adults.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The ‘R’ in Group’s R.E.A.L Philosophy

Group Publishing has a philosophy when it comes to small group ministry philosophy. That’s a good thing! Group incorporates this philosophy into the creation and formation of their small group resources, studies, and materials. The question is; does the R.E.A.L. philosophy make practical sense in the real world of small group life?

For the next four blog posts, I’m going to be digging into the different elements—and subsequent ideas—that make up the R.E.A.L. approach. I’ll share a few of my thoughts and opinions about each one. And I invite you to do the same. Post a response. Join the conversation!

The foundation for Group’s approach is this: Learning that’s R.E.A.L. is…

In this first of four blog posts, let’s examine the ‘R’ that is Relational.
While it may seem rather basic when considering small group ministry, being intentional about the relational aspect of small group life is a critical starting point. If people aren’t interested in deepening their relationship with God and with others, a small group is not the place for them. Many people like the idea of a small group and being connected relationally, but the reality is a bit too much to handle.

That’s why Group’s emphasis on the Relational element to small group community is spot on. You’ve got to have it to have authentic biblical community.

Yet there’s more to the Relational element. In Group’s helpful small group resource, R.E.A.L.: Surprisingly Simple Ways to Engage Adults, author Carl Simmons writes, “people learn better and retain more when they talk than they do when being talked to.”

I love that! Spiritual growth and transformation happen because people are learning—together. When we allow those who know us best to be involved in our spiritual journey powerful things happen. When we invite others into dialogue and truly engage with each other all group participants can wrestle with Truth together. As we discuss and dialogue in community, our beliefs are strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit in our own heart—and through the confirmation and encouragement of others.

Why do you value the ‘R’ that is Relational as a primary element in small group community? Join the conversation!

Oh, and one more thing; the most intriguing response will receive a copy of R.E.A.L.: Surprisingly Simple Ways to Engage Adults.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bite-Sized Nuggets or a Steak Dinner?

How hungry are you? Do you want bite-sized nuggets of God’s Word? Or do you prefer to dig into a hearty steak dinner? I’m not asking the question for you to respond with the right answer, instead I’m encouraging you to consider the honest answer. How hungry is your group for God’s Word?

I believe that small group life in the 21st Century should have the 1st Century model of Christian community as our foundation. Luke gave us some key details in the book of Acts.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”Acts 2:42
At my church, Woodmen Valley Chapel, we place a great emphasis on these components for doing life together in Christ-centered community—specifically a devotion toward the apostles’ teaching.

Why? Because most contemporary Christ-followers only get bite-sized amounts of the Bible. Most of us rarely sit down, savor, and enjoy the steak dinner of God’s Word. Collectively, it seems that our lives are so busy there is little time for more than a 10-minute devotional reading.

This is not a post to shame anyone into more Bible reading, rather to acknowledge that most of us rarely devote ourselves to the deep study of the truth the apostles passed along.

In a small group setting, we have the unique opportunity to hit the pause button on the concerns of the world for an hour and half each week and reconnect with the Word of God in a rich and meaningful way. The question is; are we taking advantage of the time to do so? Or are we taking bit-sized portions and settling?

Ask yourself this question; Is your group engaging with bite-sized nuggets of the Bible? Or are you feasting on a steak-sized portion of God’s Word?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Are You Aligned?

How’s your vision? Are you seeing clearly? Do you have a solid picture of your immediate future?

This weekend, my church celebrated its annual Vision Weekend. This is the weekend each year where we cast (or should I say re-cast) our church’s vision statement—and the specific implications it has on the upcoming ministry year.

Our worship team, senior pastor, staff, and the children of our congregation made it incredibly memorable for all who worshipped with us this weekend! It was truly a celebration of what God has done (offer us His amazing grace), is doing (graciously giving us soul rest in a fallen world through His Son, Jesus) and will do (redeem us and amaze us with his grace for eternity.)

At Woodmen Valley Chapel, all that we do is built upon the foundation of our vision statement:
“To launch and strengthen a fleet of Christ-following communities who are compassionately sailing through a turbulent culture toward a deeper amazement of God’s grace.”
Working through our church’s unique vision statement once again this weekend caused me to ask myself; are our small groups in alignment with the greater vision of our church? If someone was new to our church and visited a small group would our vision be represented? If someone handed them a copy of our vision statement, would they be surprised?

I believe many would be aligned, because we are very intentional about casting vision, explaining vision, and encouraging our leaders and groups to take ownership of our church’s vision. Most are passionate about strengthening their faith. Many are driven to compassionately engage with our turbulent and tough culture. And nearly all are striving to gain a deeper understanding of God’s amazing grace.

We believe that our small groups should be mini versions of the “big” church. They should represent what our church stands for, what we believe, and what we do in our community and in the world.

Does your group align with your church’s vision?

Friday, September 10, 2010


Last night, the National Football League opened its 2010 season. I watched some of the battle between the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings. As I watched players pounding each other and then bouncing back up ready to do it again, I couldn’t help but think about an issue that isn’t discussed much in small groups—intensity!

I touched a lot of intensity this week. I met with a small group leader who finds himself in the midst of some life-altering family pain. I spoke with another leader whose eyes watered-up when we began talking about the pain of a lack of forgiveness. I prayed with a couple who’s sorting through the pain of a forced family separation due to a job. The intensity of life that pounds us like a middle linebacker is real and it seems to be everywhere!

I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The intensity of life in a fallen world has been on display for a very long time. Read the words of the Apostle Paul in his second letter to the church in Corinth:

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NIV)
This intensity beats on all of us. In some seasons it hits harder than others. Yet the intensity we all face is not always shared openly in our small groups. It should be!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Check Your Pulse!

You’ve enjoyed a great summer! The kids have been crowned T-Ball champs (and they’ve already forgotten about it), you took some great pictures from your beach vacation, your garden is starting to produce, your friends have officially dubbed you "the grill sergeant" for your work on the Weber, and your fantasy football team is taking shape.

Let’s be honest—the summer is over! Labor Day has passed. The kids are back in school. And the temps are dropping. That means it’s time to get serious about your small group again. I’m not suggesting you haven’t met and enjoyed some rich times of community, prayer, and study over the summer months. Most groups do. But most groups also struggle with consistency and commitment during the summer months. Camping trips, vacations, and house guests can prove to be major disruptions to any small group.

So, it’s time to check your pulse. Are you healthy? Is the heartbeat of your group still strong? Or are you in need of some care?

Too many times the summer months—and all the fun that comes with them—can prove to be too much for a group to overcome. Don’t give in to apathy. Don’t allow the challenge of recalibrating schedules to overwhelm you.

Here are three suggestions as you strive to re-energize your group after a fun summer of activities:

1. Catch Up – Be intentional about sharing your family’s summer stories. Even if each couple/person has only missed a couple group meetings during the summer, this can be critical to helping everyone feel connected to the lives of everyone else. (And it’s usually fun, too.)

2. Pray – Thank God together for the blessings that each couple/person received and for the memories and good times you enjoyed during the summer months. This will help each of you to feel a greater connection with everyone in your group. Then, transition into a time of seeking God’s will for your group. Submit yourselves before Him, and ask what He wants to do with your group in the months ahead. Seek God’s direction and leading—together!

3. Plan – If you have a group covenant, pull it out. If you don’t, work to develop one for the new small group year. What are the group’s expectations? What are your goals regarding spiritual growth? Service? Evangelism? Missions? Have the needs and interests of the individual couples/people changed? Be honest with each other as you strive for unity.

Enjoy a great start to another year of small group life!

Friday, September 03, 2010

I Like You...I Really Like You!

I met with a handful of small group leaders this week. That’s part of my job—one of the best parts! I met one over lunch, another for coffee, and a few others at a training session. We talked about vocational calling. We discussed our theological commonalities—and differences. We shared ideas on leading a small group of young believers. Good discussions!

I can genuinely say that I enjoyed each interaction. I appreciate each of these leaders for their individual uniqueness and for their strengths and the different thoughts they have about ministry. I’m humbled that I get to journey along in ministry beside Christ-followers like these people! I believe that’s the sort of feeling the Apostle Paul had with many of his ministry relationships. He had a deep relationship of love and concern for the young man he mentored, Timothy. He had a deep longing to spend time with the Christian leaders in Rome. Paul was deeply grateful for the Christ-followers in Philippi who supported both him and his ministry.

“I thank God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you., I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 1:3-8 (NIV)
Are you thankful for the people you serve alongside? Are you grateful that you get the privilege of doing life with these unique Christ followers? Tell them! Let them know of the joy they bring to you and your faith journey. Let them know how thankful you are for their partnership in small group ministry. The Apostle Paul made his thoughts and feelings clear. It’s a good model for leadership in God’s church.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Importance of Preparation

Study guides are standard, books are great, and DVDs are a fresh way for groups to interact with Bible-based materials. Yet, whatever the type or quality of the resource, the biggest difference between a spiritually enriching study time and a painfully boring study time just might be you—the small group leader.

This weekend, we hosted our quarterly small group leadership training event called our Small Group Leader Symposium. We introduced our church’s recommended curriculum for the new ministry year. Lots of good stuff! Recommendations include some classics, some tried-and-true materials, and some brand new DVD resources.

We watched some of the new DVD-based studies together, and we talked about specific resources that have ministered to us personally. And then at the end of our time together, I challenged our leaders with the significance of their role in nurturing a rich study time. I emphasized four key ingredients for success—all focused on the importance of preparation.

1. Read and Re-Read
Unfortunately, most of us have participated in small groups where the leader had clearly not read the chapter or worked through the study guide. They didn’t really know what the chapter was about—much less the key points of the study. What was that experience like? My guess is it subtly communicated; “This wasn’t really worth the time”

As the leader, you’re not required to know every line in the chapter, but you ought to be the most well-read person in the room on the chapter or study. You need to know your way around the chapter, so when someone in your group raises a point of interest you can guide others there and speak to the topic clearly. This communicates value and importance of the material you’re studying.

2. Research
Assuming you’ve read and re-read the materials, consider other ways to add depth to your study time. Is there a video clip that supports the study material? Is there an object to use as a prop that could visually enhance the teaching? Is there a quote or another writing that could be brought in to help others gain a more full understanding? Do some research outside of the study guide and consider ways to further your groups’ growth.

3. Pick the Best Questions
Not all study questions are created equal! Most study guides have far more questions than any group can possibly work through in a one discussion time. As the leader, you know the issues your group is dealing with in life. Spend some preparation time selecting which questions work best for the individuals in your group. Pick the questions that seek to connect with people’s heart—not just their head.

The goal of study questions is not to get through them all—but instead to nurture rich and spiritually-enriching conversation. (Nobody is going to test you on the material.)

4. Take Notes As You Go
As a leader, take notes on how people are processing the study material. Is someone wrestling with a Biblical truth? Was someone challenged by a thought or idea presented in the material? Take note of this—literally. This gives you insight into the hearts of those with whom you’re doing life. This also gives you connection points for ministry opportunities between studies.

Leader preparation communicates value—both of the study materials and of the individual members of your group. Take time to prepare, a rich study time depends on it!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Grief & The Christian Community

I haven’t written a blog entry in awhile. A few weeks to be exact. I couldn’t. I’ve been grieving. Two weeks ago, my dad passed away. He was not in good health, but his death came as a shock.

I’ve been busy phoning family and friends, crying, working with the funeral director, helping my mom, making the necessary travel arrangements, coordinating the memorial service, praying, and missing my Dad. He was not only my father, he was my friend.

In the midst of the painful chaos, my Christian community showed up. They showed up in a big way! Phone calls, meals, prayers, texts, hugs, emails, monetary gifts, cards—just about every possible way that a person can receive support—my wife and I received it. In the midst of the pain of losing my Dad, my family felt a deep sense of peace and comfort and love. Not because of something that we had done, but because of the love of Jesus that others exhibited to us.

My father’s death is the second parental death that our small group has experienced in the past six months. We’re all in our late 30s and early 40s, so I suppose it’s time that we’re starting to run headlong into the mortality of those we love. Yet these things are never expected. Even though we must all die, there remains an unexpected sting of finality that you just can’t prepare for. It hits hard and it hurts.

In times of deep loss, pain, and sadness, Jesus is our source of comfort and strength. In Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 11, Jesus gives us an amazing invitation. He says, “Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”(NLT)

Jesus invites us to come when we’re burdened, when we’re troubled, and when we’re deeply grieved. He invites us to come to Him. But he doesn’t just invite us. He follows up the invitation with a promise. He says, “I will give you rest.”

It is in that rest, the peace that comes from Jesus, where we can truly receive and be ministered to through the service of others. This is the place where the support of the family of faith—the small group—is so critical!

In Group’s Emergency Response Handbook for Small Group Leaders, they give a few key tips to minister to someone who who’s just suffered significant loss like I did. My family has been the recipients of three things the book suggests.

1. Support Your Friend – It’s important the small group keeps in touch during this time.
2. Meet Specific Immediate Needs – Pool the expertise in your small group to help with immediate needs.
3. Remember Long Term Needs – There are many things your small group can continue to do as your friend works through the grieving process.

As I’ve attempted to sort through my grief these past couple of weeks, I’ve seen the love of Christ exhibited in many unique ways through many different people. It has helped to grow my faith and strengthen my appreciation for my faith community.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Leading Tired

You ever get tired? I mean really, really worn out? The kind of tired that makes you want to run the other direction from any sort of decision making? Have you been there? Are you there right now?

I confess; it’s been a very busy summer. At times the summer has felt too busy. Plenty of family stuff, on top of loads of ministry stuff, covered with extra-curricular projects, spiced with social activities. Good stuff. But the sort of stuff that makes a guy tired.

As I mentioned in my last post, our church was a host site for the annual Willow Creek Leadership Summit. I’ve now had a weekend to process much of what the faculty taught. Many things challenged me. A few things inspired me. Yet there was one theme that seemed to undergird everything—overcoming struggles.

Willow Creek senior pastor Bill Hybels set the course of the conference by talking about moving people from one place to another, from here to there. He spent a great deal of time on the large middle segment of time between where you were to where you’re going—from here to there. That’s where people lose sight of the goal, they get restless, and leaders get tired.

Later in the conference, Pastor Jeff Manion of Ada Bible Church in Michigan taught on living in The Land Between. His message was honest, real, and an inspiring exhortation for all of us to let God work in us amidst difficult times of transitions in our lives.

Manion taught from Numbers 11:10-23, which details the difficult time God’s chosen people had living in the midst of The Land Between. They had been taken out of Egypt en route to the Promised Land—but were delayed! They were hungry, frustrated, and tired. They complained. They wailed. They whined.

In the middle of His people’s grumbling, Manion reminded us that God is shouting, “I need you to trust me. I need you to trust me. I need you to trust me!”

Are you facing a tough time of transition? Are those you’re leading getting restless? Are you getting weary of the battle? Are you tired?

Let me give you three tips that I am currently working on/wrestling with in my own life and in my position of leadership.

1. Crush the Complaints
Navigating difficult transitions and living in the unknown are fertile areas for complaints. Keep them in check in your own heart. Crush them in your community. They’re a cancer—they don’t help!

Read Numbers 11:20-23 and see how God deals with complaining. He brings discipline! Most of us would rather avoid this. So instead of allowing complaints to grow, help each other be disciplined to avoid complaining.

2. Cry out to God in Prayer
God loves to answer the prayers of those who are dependant upon Him. Tell God you need Him. Ask for Him to lead you, as you lead others. God loves the humble requests of His people.

3. Trust God’s Sovereignty
Rest in the fact that God is sovereign over what you and/or your group are dealing with. This is not fatalism, rather trusting God to be who He says He is in His word. God knows. God cares. It’s our call as leaders to trust Him—and to help others do the same.

Friday, August 06, 2010

How’s Your Leadership?

Leadership has many shapes, many sizes. Some lead with a loud voice and a louder opinion. Others lead with a rah-rah sort of coach-like inspiration. Still others lead with quiet strength. Fact is; there’s no cookie-cutter approach to leadership.

I’m thinking about the topic of leadership because our church is hosting the annual Willow Creek Leadership Summit. The faculty of the Summit is a roster of prominent pastors, consultants, and international business leaders. Impressive folks who’ve been used by God to do impressive things—all of them!

As I sat through Day 1 of the Summit, I couldn’t help but ask the question; what are the similarities of leading an international ministry, a mega-church, or a successful business compared to leading a small group? All require someone to lead. All have huge God-given responsibilities. All have people who are looking to them for guidance.

Do you think it’s silly for me to even consider the comparison? I mean really, a church of 13,000 people is a whole lot different than a group of 13 adults. Why would I even go there? Why would I even attempt to think of similarities? Because I believe God requires the same thing of all leaders—service. It’s the one quality needed to lead a mega-church or a small group.

In the Gospel of Mark (10:42-46), Jesus speaks clearly of the requirements of a leader.

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
How’s your leadership? The more accurate question is; how well are you serving?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

How Do You Say Goodbye?

How do you say goodbye to a person who means so much to your small group? Do you maintain a stiff upper lip, smack your friend on the back, and wish him the best? Do you go sappy and recite the words of your favorite Hallmark card? Or is there another way?

One of my small groups had to say our goodbyes to a friend and integral member yesterday. He’s a gracious, kind, intelligent, wise, and faithful friend to all of us. He’s deeply committed to following Jesus—that’s why he’s leaving our small group. God is calling him to a different ministry opportunity in a different location. So we were forced to say our goodbyes over a lunch meeting.

Was it hard? Absolutely! But we didn’t tighten our upper lips. We didn’t smack him on the back. We also didn’t get sappy. Instead, what we did was pray. We prayed for his transition. We prayed for his family. We prayed for his ministry. We prayed for God to provide a new community for him to be a part of in his new city.

I didn’t think about it at the time, but we were actually putting into practice something that Jesus advises his followers to do—pray.

In his book, Make Your Group Grow, Josh Hunt unpacks the wisdom of Jesus in Chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel.

“Jesus didn’t leave us in the dark as to how to do this,” Hunt writes. “The second half of Luke 10:2 tells us, ‘So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields’…
In the next verse, Jesus said an interesting thing. ‘Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.’ Jesus told his disciples to pray, and then he told them to go. We should pray and go.”
Our friend is going. So we prayed.

How do you say goodbye?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Got the Summertime Small Group Blues?

How’s your group handling the summer? Getting together regularly? I didn’t think so. How about every other week? Or maybe monthly?

Typically, summer is prime time for T-Ball, camping trips, and big travel plans. These things are great and necessary, but they can wreck havoc on a small group.

For many groups, consistent participation in your small group during the summer months goes the way of your favorite TV shows—on hiatus until the fall. How you handle this time apart can make or break your small group moving forward. I’m serious!

As with any relationship—marital, dating, or small group community—time apart can be approached in two very different ways: with intentionality or with apathy.

Intentionality – Effort to maintain and strengthen a relationship when there isn’t consistent face-to-face contact.
Apathy – Lack of effort or interest to connect with any form of consistency across the obstacles of summer.

If your group members are intentional about staying in touch, encouraging one another, and praying for each other—the time will go quickly. You’ll truly be excited to re-connect once the T-Ball gear has been packed away!

If your group members went apathetic with each other over the summer months, and didn’t bother to pursue one another, the tone of your meeting in the fall will likely be similar to what you practiced all summer—more apathy.

Here are five tips on how you can be intentional with your group members in spite of everyone’s crazy summer schedule.

1. Call – I know it’s old school, but it’s quick. It’s easy. It’s highly personal. And it shows that you value interaction and true communication about what’s taking place in their life—and in sharing a bit about your own.
2. Text – It’s the ultra quick way to say you’re thinking about someone and being intentional about staying connected.
3. Facebook – Most of us are on Facebook at least a couple of times during the week anyway, so why not take a few moments and post something on the wall of your small group members?
4. Email – Send your group an update on your life this summer, share a prayer request, etc.
5. BBQ – Schedule something fun! It doesn’t have to be structured, just something outdoors that will bring everyone together at least once during the summer.

Don’t let the summertime small group blues get to you. Use this time to be intentional in developing your relationships and staying connected. You’ll see your group grow even closer when the fall TV season rolls around!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fundamental Questions

I received a lot of small group questions at church this weekend. It’s a good thing when people ask me why we do things the way we do at Woodmen Valley Chapel. It gives me an opportunity to explain the subtle nuances of our structure and style of small groups.

Our groups are not something out of a futuristic sci-fi film. Instead, they’re based on the elements practiced by the early church. In Acts 2:42, first century Christ-followers were intentional about studying, experiencing fellowship with one another, breaking bread together, and praying. That’s the foundation of small group life.

Yet how we form and set these groups in motion varies from church to church. Some like a geographic model. Others prefer an interest-based approach. And we form our groups in yet another way—by life stage.

So, if you’re a young married couple, you’ll be in community with other young married couples. If you’re an empty nester, you’ll meet weekly with other empty nesters. For those of us somewhere in the middle, we’ll also be connecting with people in a similar life stage.

Is our life-stage structure perfect? Of course not! A life-stage group cannot meet the expectations of everyone. It won’t provide built-in babysitters. Everyone won’t have a personal mentor. You won’t all live in the same sub-division. And everyone is not going to fire up the Harley for a weekend riding excursion.

Yet this small group structure works for our church because we place a high-value on authenticity and truly doing life together. We believe this happens naturally—and most effectively—with those who are working through the same stuff of life.

I received many questions about our structure. Yet for every why and how inquiry, I was drawn back to the fundamentals of small group life—study, fellowship, food, and prayer.

Again, questions are good. They are welcome. The intriguing thing is this; many times my answer is the same. And it’s almost always rooted in the fundamentals. Why? They are the ingredients of Biblical community that have stood the test of roughly 2,000 years!

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Good Problem

I met with a small group leader yesterday. We talked about his job, his family, and our church. Then we got serious about his small group. Boy do they have issues! Are you ready for this? Food issues.

That’s it. Nobody’s leaving the group. There isn’t a relational schism between two couples. Nobody is struggling with a crisis of faith. The groups’ lone issue—too much food!

Will larger problems come? Certainly. But right now, the only thing the members of this community are dealing with is the potential expense of a larger belt and a pair of pants with an adjustable waist for each man. That’s it. What a great season of small group life to be in!

This group meets on Sunday nights and began with the idea of sharing a desert each meeting. Then the women of this group of young empty nesters found that they couldn’t help themselves. Their mothering (parenting) instincts kicked in. The deserts got bigger and more expansive each week. Now, they enjoy (Or, perhaps, struggle through) a full spread of food each week—that includes a desert.

Is your group in a similar good season of life? Praise God for it!

So many times our prayer times as a community are centered on the tough stuff. Yet God loves it when we come to him with hearts of gratitude. Take a few moments together this week and thank God for His favor on your small group.