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.