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.