Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Do You Really Care About Each Other?

Do you really care about the other members of your small group? Not just a passing “I’ll pray for you” sort of thing. I mean the kind of care that you don’t mind if someone called you in the middle of the night sort of care and concern? I’m talking about a “you-hurt-when-they-hurt” experience?

Recently, I met with a small group leader who shared his story of Christian community heartbreak. He and his young family had attended their church for many years. They were connected in a church-based community. They attended worship regularly. People knew them. They were cared for…or so they thought.

In their deepest hour of need, their utter lack of community broke their hearts. This man told me that in the midst of a family crisis—the sudden and severe illness of his infant child—the lack of community was deafening.

No phone calls. No emails. No visits. Nothing!

When his local body of believers had a golden opportunity to be The Church—they let him down. In a word, he and his wife were “heartbroken”.

Today, their child is healthy. And so is this couple. They’ve become an integral part of a vibrant small group at our church, and he told me that his engagement in a Christ-centered community that loves well is something he does not take for granted.

In a couple’s deepest hour of need, their Christ-centered community needs to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Can your group count on each other?

It’s a question that you absolutely must have an answer to—an honest answer.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Your Small Group Can Learn from John Piper v. Rob Bell

By now, you’ve probably heard about the skirmish between two heavyweights from the Christian pastorate. John Piper v. Rob Bell. A disagreement over a doctrinal issue. It's created a very public controversy. In case you aren’t familiar with the situation, here’s a summary:

• Rob Bell, Founding Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, has written a new book titled Love Wins. The promotional materials—a video clip and the publisher’s summary—could lead one to believe that Rob is teaching a doctrine called universalism. Simply put—everyone goes to heaven.
• John Piper, Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Bible Church, makes a concise yet direct statement through Twitter about what he knows of Bell’s latest work. The tweet said simply, “Farewell Rob Bell.”
• CNN and other popular media outlets ran with the “story” and made the controversy even larger.
• A wave of tweets and Facebook posts ensued. In amazing numbers!
• Many Christians took sides. Either (1) Bell has moved away from orthodoxy, or (2) Piper is mean and judgmental.

I’m not going to write about who’s right or who’s wrong. I’m not going to attempt to sway you to a particular side. What I am going to do is connect with the reality of why such a thing happens within the Christian community.

Two words: Doctrine matters!

Doctrinal Christian beliefs are orthodox for a reason—faithful Christ-followers and brilliant scholars from generation to generation have studied the Word of God and found them to be true. They’ve withstood multiple tests throughout many turbulent years of church history. And they remain.

Doctrine matters!

Consider the words of the Apostle Paul when addressing the issues surrounding church leadership (Overseer/Elder) in Titus 1.
“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Titus 1:9
When publicity for Bell’s Love Wins suggested that he might be taking a position that stood outside of orthodoxy—Piper refuted. He didn’t waste time. He didn’t mince words. He was direct and to the point. Period.

Was Piper’s response hasty? Perhaps. Was it harsh? Possibly. Was it necessary? That’s what we must wrestle with and consider…

Doctrines are derived from systematic study of the Scriptures. They are not opinions. They do not fluctuate due to a cultural trend or a political agenda. They hold firm. This is precisely why religious trends have never destroyed what God is building—His Church.

Doctrine matters!

As followers of Christ, under submission to the Word of God, we have a responsibility to hold true to the long-standing doctrines of our faith. Moreover, we have a commitment to the teachings of our Savior.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
Jesus gave us this exhortation. To teach new believers everything that He commanded. And He taught us to obey these things. In order to obey, we must know what Jesus taught. Pretty straight-forward stuff! Clearly, Jesus is suggesting that doctrine and obedience cannot be divorced. This is true in a small group, a mid-sized community/Sunday school class, or a congregation. To live out our faith, in practical tangible ways, we must know what Jesus taught. It shouldn’t be ignored, dismissed, softened, or patronized.

So, read it. Study it. Discuss it. Live it. Because doctrine matters!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Is Your Group Falling Apart?

Is your small group falling apart? Be honest. Are you having trouble with attendance? Has an outside offer of a movie or a ballgame taken precedence? When people do show up for your group meeting are they often late? Is their preparation lacking? Do they seem generally disinterested?

All of these things are signs that your group just might be coming apart at the seams. Busyness and too many other things to mention are taking their toll on your community.

What do you do about it?

Talk. Discuss. Bring the issue into the light. Like any relationship, talking is critical! Talk about your perceptions. Talk about your group’s expectations. Not in a shaming manner, of course, but in a way that communicates your genuine care and concern for the disconnected members. Sometimes, people just need a phone call or a one-on-one conversation to know that someone cares. They just need to know that people care.

Give people an opportunity to discuss what’s really going on in their lives. When you do so, you give group members a voice. You give them a chance to discuss what’s really going on in their lives. You open the door for folks to give feedback on the group and potential ways to improve your time together.

The worst thing a small group leader can do is ignore the issue. Commitment issues rarely fix themselves. Fact is; everyone else in the group sees what’s happening. Others sense a lack of commitment, promptness, preparation, etc. If they see the leader ignoring trouble, they’ll quickly lose confidence in your leadership and your commitment to shepherd the group.

Be intentional. Talk about it. The conversation just might save your small group.