June 2009


“Ice-breakers… I hate these things!” If you’ve been a small group leader longer than let’s say… three weeks… you’ve probably heard a proclamation like this one. These seemingly unnecessary conversation pieces are vital to a healthy group meeting as they offer an easy to answer question that anyone can respond to and, if the question is chosen well, without much cringe factor. Since everyone hears his/her own voice early in the meeting, if the small group leader uses the moment well and affirms each group member for responding, every group member will most likely verbalize thoughts and ideas later in the conversation.

 

Thought you might like to see a list telling you what the attitudes, responses, realizations, and outcomes you can expect.

 Attitudes Toward:

  • Anticipation
  • Apathy
  • Hesitation
  • Disgust

 Common Responses:

  • Laughter
  • Oh, wow! “I didn’t know that about you.”
  • Follow-up questions (Beware of the follow-up questions as they can get out of hand and take up a lot of time.)

 Realizations (thoughts that often go unstated):

  • “We have something in common.”
  • “You had a different life before I met you.”
  • “We have journied down the same paths.”
  • “I would like to know more about your story.”

 Outcomes:

  • Levels the playing field
  • Connects group members via common past experiences
  • Creates a conversational environment

As I was coming home from the gym last night (and yes, it’s the first time in months I’ve been able to say that. I swam some during my pregnancy, but that was it. It’s one of my bigger regrets and next pregnancy I will try to stay more in shape. Not that I was in shape in the first place.)

Um, where was I?

Oh, yes. I was driving home last night, feeling a throbbing pain on the back of my left heel. I’d worn my ankle brace because I have this tendency to hurt myself, particularly at the Y. My ankle is still healing up from its last sprain and I really did not care to wipe out on the treadmill in front of those bodybuilding guys who I am SURE are always laughing at how fat and out-of-shape I am.

I am an Observer by nature, and although I spent my time on the treadmill watching Good Eats (really, WHO watches Food Network while working out? I’m an idiot), I was also watching those around me. The guy beside me holding onto the side rails of his treadmill and doing a funny walk. The skinny elliptical girls. In my plain sight were two girls doing stretches and ab exercises on floor mats–and taking breaks to text on their phones. (Texting kinda baffles me. I don’t feel the need to be that connected to people, I guess.)

Anyway, the drive home. Right. I was annoyed at myself for wearing a blister into my heel. Earlier last night, I looked down at my foot and said, “I’m bleeding.” I didn’t know how it happened. I’m constantly noticing bruises on my legs from unknown sources. I fall down. I guess I’m just a klutz.

I wondered, driving, what it would be like to be somebody who did not do these things. Someone “cool.” Maybe an elliptical girl, skinny–which I have never been–and someone who doesn’t go to bed at 9 p.m., doesn’t feel like she always wears the wrong thing to work, and doesn’t randomly hurt herself on a consistent basis.

Really, most of the time, I’m OK with being plain old awkward me. I just wonder what’s it like to be on the other side. Do you know? Maybe nobody thinks they’re cool. Maybe everyone deals with the same sense of insecurity.

I’m learning. Learning to be me. Learning that it’s not so bad after all. My husband loves me the way I am, all kinds of crazy and everything. Libbie seems to like me (or at least my, ahem, chest). I have great friends, wonderful family, all who don’t seem to run away when I come near them. And most of all, I have a Father who seems to adore me no matter how much I screw up. In fact, He promises it.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Photo courtesy of Garrison Photo via Stock Exchange

This post was originally published at Vanderbilt Wife, May 2009.

There seems to be a revolution taking place in Iran. Seeing news-casts, reading on-line articles and blogs, and catching glimpses of film smuggled into our world through the internet makes this revolution obvious. But long before this revolt began there was a silent mutiny taking place, an insurrection that really does offer the people of Iran freedom… inner freedom, eternal freedom. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have political power but he cannot overcome the power of the Holy Spirit when believers gather together in the name of Jesus. Watch the video to get a glimpse of Jesus at work as believers gather in this troubled Islamic society.

strange11While visiting a friend’s blog recently, I was reminded of a verse from Scripture that really impacted me soon after conversion:

 “For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” Acts 17:20

Since I did not grow up in an evangelical Christian home, there were a lot of things in those early years as a Christian that really sounded strange to me.  Because I was attending college at a “party school” I had plenty of opportunities to see just how strange I had become as I lived them out.  It didn’t take long before I was labeled a “Jesus freak” and other less attractive terms, but nothing about those labels seemed strange any more.  They seemed right.  It was always so cool when someone would be intrigued by the things I had to say and wanted to know more.  Those who were sensitive to spiritual truth were attracted by my weirdness rather than my sameness.

As we discuss relevance more and more frequently and as we strive to be relevant in this quickly changing culture, I pray we won’t become too much the same, too familiar, too normal.  There’s a fine line between contextualizing and compromising and in our search for relevance, we may find that we become irrelevant due to our “sameness” if we’re not careful.

I’d be curious to hear from some of you guys: How do you walk the line between being strange yet relevant?

You know those couple days before vacation, when your brain can only think about how good it is going to be to sit in a Jacuzzi half the day and read a stack of novels?

I’m totally there.

So, enjoy this nonsense.

abouthebookRead this interesting bit in Andy Crouch‘s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. In the paragraph below, Andy surmises that God gives us room—freedom— so that we may be able to fulfill the roles we have been created to fill:

[God] makes space for the man to name the animals; he makes room for the man and the woman to know one another and explore the garden. He even gives them the freedom, tragically but necessarily, to misuse their creative and cultivating capacities. God is always willing to be present, walking in the garden in the cool of the day, but he is also willing to grant humankind their own cultural presence. Without this gracious carving out of space, they would never be able to fulfill their destiny as divine image-bearers.

God certainly gives us room. Room to fail and room to grow.  Is the “carving out of space” that Andy describes perhaps most available to us through small groups as we “carve” mission, purpose, and spiritual growth out of our days and our lives?  A redemptive community of believers would seem to embody all the requisites for taking the greatest advantage of the room God has given us for exploration along these lines. The small-group environment you foster and facilitate is the perfect culture for the sort of freedom described here.

 

 

 

 

A friend of mine had a moral failure. Following his drastic mistake he wrote these words:

 Today is trash day. I love it. With a plastic trash bag in hand, I scoot through the house emptying the trash cans from each room. Then, I roll my green and blue bins out to the curb. Then the magic happens. By the time I wake up tomorrow, a truck will have come by, taken my garbage and hauled it away. I HAVE to do this each week because I don’t have room for more than a weeks worth of trash at a time.

And, a personal confession: I like the blue trash bin better. It’s the one for stuff that can be recycled. It’s not that I’m a huge environmentalist (though I do care), it just ‘feels’ better to know that my trash will be put through a process and made useful, good, clean. Cool stuff, this recycling thing.

Now, if people can do this weekly with garbage (garbage in….good stuff out), don’t you suppose Almighty God can take our garbage and re-cycle, then make us useful again?

So, if you wanna throw me away….hey, at least throw me in the blue can.

 Because small group members love one another deeply and in most instances are close friends with the spouse of a person who has fallen, it hurts so much more when one of those group members has a moral lapse of any kind. Our disappointment is evident, our anger is extreme, and our verbal and visual responses leave nothing to the imagination. These sincere emotions and vivid reactions can keep groups from doing what it takes to help the wrongdoer put the pieces of her/his heart back together. We tend to allow the errant group member to throw themselves into the green can and never be heard from again. A few things we must remember:

  •  God is in the redemption business, groups work in tandem with Him to restore broken hearts and people.
  • God is the only judge.
  • Satan longs to hold people captive, Jesus longs to set people free. We do not want to stand guard on those being held in the cell of sin. When we do we aid the enemy.
  • We may be the one needing a healing community someday.
  • God will someday use the person your group welcomed back into God’s community of believers to warn and bring healing to others who struggle with the sin that wreaked havoc on his/her life.
  • Leading a group to restore a fellow believer is long, hard, tedious and fulfilling work.

A term we toss around a lot up here on the 9th floor is redemptive community. Just in case you hadn’t noticed.

In our products, we urge Christians to be a part of small groups. Love one another and build each other up. Help each other see your true selves, diarming one another of the lies Satan’s convinced us are truth.

Never do we see the effect of community so greatly as when we are clothed in grief.

My grandpa died this past Saturday. While he was 86 and had congestive heart failure, it really wasn’t expected. I think he was ready, he was old, he is in heaven. And all that jazz. But, we still grieve. It’s natural.

After the tearful phone call with my mother, some time being held by my husband and remembering, I retreated to the computer to spend some no-brain time playing a Pogo game. But first I stopped by Twitter.

twitterscreenshot

And of course, Twitter feeds into my Facebook account. Within the night, I had 16 sympathy notes on Facebook, 4 on Twitter, and multiple e-mails offering help. My cousin told me she’d keep Libbie during the funeral if we wanted, even though she lives an hour from where it will be. My co-worker said she’d watch the baby while we packed, if needed. When I shared at work, I got many encouraging e-mails and a circulated prayer request.

While this has certainly not been the sudden, overwhelming grief of an unpexected tragedy, I still appreciate so the comfort of community. Of knowing that many, many people in my life care about me enough to reach out when I’m hurting. That Christian friends grieve with me and yet rejoice that Grandpa is at home, finally. I’m not sure that we realize how vital community is until we’re thrust into a time when it is essential to our well-being.

Acts tells us that the first Christians met together every day: “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house” (Acts 2:46). And the writer of Hebrews urged his readers: “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). Community is important. Christ lived in community with His disciples, the Bible urges us again and again to join together in it, and God desires to have community with us. It’s all over His Word.

Don’t get to the point where you need the love of a redemptive community before you seek it. Whether it’s a small group, a close-knit group of friends, a Sunday School class, or even Facebook buddies, find it now and start communing. It is totally worth the time to make dear friendships.

 

 

 

If the masses are going to be part of your small group ministry the Senior Pastor is vital. There are some critical things the Senior Pastor can do for the ministry that no one else can. A few of those are:

 

 

 

  • Cast vision for the small group ministry (at least every thirty days) from the pulpit.
  • At every opportunity remind decision-making church leaders (elders, deacons, finance team, trustees, etc…) how important this ministry is to the church.
  • Tell stories of lives changed through the small group via video, testimonies, or as sermon illustrations.
  • Encourage church members to join a small group.
  • Come to small group events and training opportunities, stay for a few minutes, and thank the leaders for all they are doing and tell how much it means to the accomplishment of the church’s mission.
  • Be a sounding board and friend to the person spearheading the small group ministry.
  • Make small groups one of the expectations of church membership.
  • If necessary, let the church know of the need for small group leaders and apprentices and who to talk to to become a leader or apprentice.
  • Go to bat during the budgeting process asking for money for the training of leaders, the nurture of leaders, and the resources leaders need.
  • Be in a group (or lead one) and talk about it.

 

 

 

 

identityHave you ever had an identity crisis?  A few days ago at a football practice, I was answering a question that I have answered hundreds of times before: “So, what do you do for a living?”  I answered, “I develop small-group discipleship materials for a Christian publishing company” and we went on in the discussion to other topics, mostly about our children.  After some time to reflect, I am realizing that this conversation has occurred numerous times and I’m never quite comfortable giving the little word or phrase that people expect to hear.  Should I have just said, “I’m an editor” or “I’m a preacher” or “I’m a former missionary” or something altogether different?  I must admit that I identify with some of those titles more than others, in ways that bring me varying amounts of comfort.  But should I really be comfortable packaging myself so neatly with any of them… and why does this seem to matter so much to men anyway?  A lot more questions where those came from!

While working in East Asia, I always tried to answer that question in a way that would lead to a spiritual conversation. After all, saying “missionary” or even “Christian” wouldn’t help to define me very well, especially among the Muslims who lived around us. Often I would simply say, “I am a follower of Asa (Jesus), how about you?”  This answer usually baffled the listener to some degree so he would ask, “Why are you here?”  This led to some wonderful conversations about God, Who He is, and how much He cared about the neighbor to whom I was speaking. So why don’t I answer questions about my profession or identity just as creatively here?

Perhaps it’s because I’m still struggling with a bit of an identity crisis… like the guy above.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t understand the culture that I grew up with or the people around me in my native country as well as I did those who were a world away.  If I’m going to be used by God to accomplish His purpose in the lives of those around me, though, I need to get a handle on the most important aspect of my identity:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ; certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:20

Pray for me as I continue this journey, and I’d love to hear some ways that you guys use conversation starters to act as ambassadors for Christ.

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