Monday, November 28, 2011

Facing Unrealistic Expectations

What do you expect of your small group members?

Faithful attendance? Promptness? Having read this week’s study materials? Must all members come prepared to talk about the latest NFL battle, have a fresh joke in their arsenal, and bring a gooey baked good? Warm hugs at the door? Working toward BFF status?

Here’s the question at the heart of it all; are your group’s expectations of each other realistic?

Similar to the expectations wrapped up in a marriage—that a spouse will meet all my needs—small group participants often have expectations that simply go beyond what’s reasonable. The desire can be something like this: close friend, trustworthy confidant, accountability partner, prayer warrior, Bible scholar, and pastry chef.

Let’s not forget a few more items of utmost importance for group members: great parenting skills—exhibited in near-perfect kids, a fairytale marriage, a strong sense of humor, and a nice pad (complete with a man-cave) to host the whole shebang!

The problem with this thinking is that every group and every group member will collapse under the weight of these unrealistic expectations.

Sinners let each other down. Period.

We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We all bump and bruise each other. As Christ-followers, we often fail to live up to our own expectations—much less the expectations of others.

Unfortunately, our lives are messy. We don’t always pray as we say we will. We don’t have perfect children. Our marriages often lack grace.

So, what are we to do? How should we engage with others who just don’t live up to our expectations? Consider the practical counsel of The Apostle Paul regarding life among other fallen members of a Christ-centered community.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you…Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:13-15

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Facilitators of Reconciliation

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of leading a number of new small group leaders through an evening of training. I love that!

We spent a few hours revisiting the Biblical foundations for small groups, unpacking the vision our church has for community life, examining the different developmental stages of an individual small group, and we worked through the nuts and bolts of structuring a healthy meeting.

Those things were great.

But there was one portion of our evening that I enjoyed working through more than any other—presenting small group leaders with the weighty challenge of their call to be ministers of reconciliation.

In their classic book on small groups, Making Small Groups Work, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend explain clearly the role of a small group leader—what it is and what it is not.

“God has not called you to be moral police who set people straight. He has called you to help restore life unto Himself in the way it was created to be. The Bible’s word for this is reconciliation. God’s purpose is to reconcile things back to Himself and to use you in that process.”

This is something that should both energize and intimidate each of us who lead a small group of God’s people. Energize, because you have been given the gift of walking alongside His children and pointing them to the Reconciler. Intimidate, because God has given you this significant responsibility. You are not the one who does the work of reconciliation, but you will be used in the process. That’s powerful!

Often times, the leadership of a small group can be draining, unrewarding, even discouraging. Yet, if we take time to re-evaluate the calling—as a facilitator of reconciliation—it just might inspire us anew.