November 2009

Bible study is a vital part of the discipleship process. But Bible study that instills knowledge without unveiling the larger story (God’s story) or the context of the story God is telling can be debilitating. Knowledge-based Bible study may lead to lists of do’s and don’ts that place individuals in the box of man-sized expectations without ever unearthing our Father’s God-sized power, love, grace, mercy, holiness, and justice.

When your group gets together take them on a Holy Spirit led journey into God’s great narrative, the Bible. A few things you’ll want to consider:


  1. Remind your group that the Bible is “the story” told through many stories. It is the story of redemption unveiled through many diverse situations.
  2. Put God’s expectations/do’s and don’ts in context. Every announcement of do’s and don’ts takes place in the context of an individual or a community’s story. Guide your group to discuss these rights and wrongs in light of the context in which that particular story is being told. But be sure the group doesn’t conclude that they are not held to the same standards as those in the story being discussed. Context doesn’t erase commandments.
  3. Guide your group to discuss who God is in light of his actions and activities. Every story reveals something about God, a personality trait or an attribute of His character. Some of the most life-transforming conversations a group has takes place when the group spends time discussing who God is in light of how He performed in a real life situation. I assure you, the group will see a much bigger God than they presently perceive to be when discussing the complexities of God’s character, actions, and decisions. This will stretch them but it will give them a more realistic view of Him.
  4. Allow each character in the story to come to life. When discussing the various characters in each story, interpret their statements and/or actions in light of who they are, who they represent, the role they play in the society they were in, and the culture in which they existed.
  5. Guide each member to conclude which character in the story most intersects with their own. In most instances each group member sees something of themselves in some character in the story. Help each group member conclude why they do. It is very possible that some unstated pain or loss or reason for celebrating God’s power in the past will become known for the very first time.




I just want to wish you a happy thanksgiving.

If you haven’t seen the movie The Fourth Kind, you may not understand the term. The Fourth Kind is an encounter with aliens… not just an encounter. An encounter of the fourth kind means you are kidnapped by the little extraterrestrials.

I’m hoping that all of you, especially those of you who live life doing ministry in a local church, are abducted by your own family and carried into a great game of cards, a movie that you can completely escape in (The Blind Side is a winner, I promise.), or an intimate evening with your wonderful spouse. I’m praying you experience community of the fourth kind.

I am thankful for so many things this afternoon. I want you to know that I am thankful for you.

Have a super Thanksgiving.

Rick Howerton





Give thanks

With a grateful heart

Give thanks

To the Holy One

Give thanks

Because He’s given

Jesus Christ, His Son

For nature and nurture, for family and friends, for food on the table and a house that won’t sell, for a sweet, healthy daughter and employed loving husband, for a job until January and especially for my Lord forever, I give thanks.

Thankfulness around the Blogosphere:

20 Little Gratitude Attitudes / InCourage
Thanksgiving Week / NanaHood
Embracing the Strong Will of My Child / We are THAT Family
I Am Thankful / Jason Boyett
The Ultimate Feast / Kitchen Stewardship
A Month of Giving Thanks / SugarMama Baking Company
Permission to Hope / Bring the Rain

I’ve been around ministers and ministry my whole life. My dad was a church staff member then went on to be a senior pastor. My first church position was as a music and youth pastor (I was 17 years old when I started in this role.). I attended a Christian college to study for ministry then went on to get a seminary degree. My journey then took me to work for a denominational entity for ten years followed by nearly ten more years serving in the local church. And for the last ten years I’ve been doing God’s bidding as a church consultant. Ministers and ministry have been my life.

There have been various hot topic issues/debates that we pastor types have deliberated on through the years. Each of these issues has some word that accompanies the conversation. A few of those words… “women,” “authority,” “inerrant,” and in some traditions the term and idea of “elders,” created some ecclesiastical tension. At present it seems the word that comes up most is “reformed.” Over the last twelve months I’ve been reminded by at least four senior pastors upon arrival at the church that the church is “reformed.” And in most of these situations it seemed to be the term that gave the church her sense of identity.

Now please know that I have no concern at all whether or not a church is reformed. I never bring it up while working with a church. No need to disturb my primary reason for being there, to enhance the work of Christ through Christian community.

I must confess that for me, this is a topic whose bottom line is yet to be concluded. In fact, it may be one of God’s great mysteries. After all, one of the most biblically oriented denominations in the world, Southern Baptists, don’t agree on this issue. So mysterious is this matter that the presidents of two seminaries funded and accountable to the Southern Baptist denomination debated one another at their own convention. That is, Dr. Paige Patterson of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (who is a focused Arminian) and Dr. Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (whose belief tilts tall toward Calvinism). Even the great scholars don’t come to the same conclusion on this one.

But I am reformed. You see, when you look at a thesaurus some of the words that are synonymous with the word reformed are “rehabilitated,” “transformed,” “changed,” “converted,” “renewed,” “new,” “improved.” Each of these words describes what God has done and is doing in those who are His followers. Upon becoming a follower of Christ we knew instantly that we had been rehabilitated, transformed, changed, converted, renewed, made new, improved, … reformed.

There seems to be Reformed with a Capital -R and reformed with a little-r. Reformed with a Capital-R would obviously be what the Holy Spirit has done and is doing through and in us. Little-r would be the debatable topic of predestination/Calvinism.

Small group leader, might I suggest that it is much more important when your group is together to discuss what it means to be reformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, reformed with a Capitol-R, than it is to debate reformed theology, reformed with a little-r?

The little-r debate will rage on, and in most instances lead to no final conclusion.  The Capital-R conversation always leads to hope and help and healing. And isn’t that what we want for every person in our small group?

P.S… Please know that I am not suggesting that discussing this issue is out of bounds. In fact, your group members need to have some understanding of the two camps before the conversation erupts in a setting away from group life. But when it becomes the driving force behind most of the group’s conversations, it may become a disease in the small body of Christ you are discipling.

Three weekends ago, we had a small first birthday party for my daughter in Chattanooga, our sort-of-home. My daughter and I live in Nashville still as I continue to work at LifeWay and wait on the sale of our house, while my husband lives in a rental house in Chattanooga and works full-time as a teacher theredryleaf. Most weekends he returns to Nashville, but every few weeks Libbie and I try to spare him the drive and head down his way. Her birthday was a lovely, pumpkin-themed Fall event.

We visited this weekend again, the temperate Tennessee climate allowing for cool mornings and glorious afternoons. It is still in the 70s around here during the afternoons–a rare occurrence for mid-November, even in the South, but enjoyed by all those who fear snow as I do.

As I drove home in the late afternoon on Sunday, I noticed the trees for the first time. Those limbs that had just three weeks ago held vivid oranges and reds were now turning brown. The glorious time of Fall was over; the trees hummed of a long Winter to come.

Just three weeks. It seems like such a short time. In that time, though, my baby has turned into a confident walker. She can navigate the stairs of our townhome. She trails behind me, uttering a near-constant stream of “nonononono!”

It all goes too fast. My baby is a toddler. I can still barely put together the words that I am old enough to be someone’s mother, and already we’re thinking of when to start trying to have a sibling for Libbie. Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not.

Never have these words from Ecclesiastes seemed to scream at me more loudly: “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” I firmly believe we feel time slipping through our fingers so quickly because we are meant for eternity. Our souls are eternal and yet our minds struggle against that: “Wait! Why is everything going so fast? I’ll be dead before I know it!” But friend, if you know Christ, there is so much more for your timeline past death. While it cannot be fathomed, it is there.

My mind, clinging to what is known, battles against the rapid watch hands of Time. But my soul, deep within me, breathes a sigh of relief as it considers life beyond this world. Does yours?

The manuscript for Episode 4 of Small Group Life Barbarians: A Call into Unchartered Faith is making its way into production. (Boy do we work ahead. Would you believe that this doesn’t release until next fall!) Because there’s the sense that maybe we as a culture have become somewhat soft—or perhaps better put, tame—in our faith of late, and because there’s a least a chord of applicable truth in Mick’s words to Rocky in Rocky III, the Small Group Life staff has undertaken production of Barbarians as a means for challenging believers to be more willing to confront life’s messes, challenges, and even opportunities in the spirit of Deborah, David, John the Baptist, Moses, and, yes, Jesus. And so we can address potential blind spots of a barbaric spirituality, we’ll also take up the story of Jephthah and his rash vow. I love this topic.

“But then the worst thing happened that could happen to any fighter, you got civilized.” Mickey to Rocky in Rocky III

One of the challenges of creating a small-group experience of this sort was just how to break this notion of a Christian barbarian into individual study topics—all able to stand-alone in an open group environment yet maintaining some sense of progression. I was planning to include a list with short descriptions, but decided that it might be best to leave that open for the time being. Regardless of where we land, you can expect Episode 4 to be streamlined, missional, and spiritually provocative in that the experience we create is expected to take you and your groups on a journey.

“A barbarian invasion is taking place even right now. They are coming from the four corners of the earth and they are numbered among the unlikely. From the moment Jesus walked among us the invasion began. And just as with those who crossed paths with Him here on earth, those who are most religious will be most offended and indignant.” Erwin McManus, The Barbarian Way

Episode 3: FREEDOM is in production, Episode 2: MISSION is being printed, and Episode 1: FORMATION is now available. This is a brand new series created to be affordable, flexible, and easy-to-use yet uncompromising in the biblical content and small-group experience you would expect. Got any ideas about Christian barbarianism or any of the topics, you can comment here, DM IAmAgonistes through Twitter (brand new), or go to our Facebook fan page.

It takes courage to forgive when everyone else is throwing stones. Do it anyway.

It takes courage to correct when everyone else is justifying a friend’s wrongdoing. Do it anyway.

It takes courage to embrace the outsider when everyone else is ambivalent. Do it anyway.

It takes courage to die for someone else when everyone else is living for themselves. Do it anyway.

Jesus did.

Guiding your small group to do what’s relationally correct no matter the cost is essential for their spiritual growth. Model these things, remind them of these things, praise them when they do these things, and you’ll create an astoundingly healthy relational environment.


Thursday, I performed one of those tasks that somehow got added to my job description along the way: using commentaries published by LifeWay to create Scripture Notes for our new resource, Small Group Life.

About 99% of the time I use the Holman Old Testament and New Testament commentaries since they are complete now. But we didn’t have the commentary for Galatians in our reference closet on the 8th floor, and I was feeling a little too lazy to trek to the library and have to take notes WITH MY HAND instead of a computer, so I grabbed the slightly more complex New American Commentary on Galatians.

As I almost always am when I read a commentary, I was swept away by the new life the commentary breathed into a familiar passage. While I tumble over some of the bigger words in the NAC, the nuances it catches in the original language make the difficult read worth it. And it made my mind go to one of my biggest annoyances:

People–women especially–who rely entirely on Bible teachers for their Bible study.

Chastise me if you like. I think it’s wonderful that people are doing Bible studies together, reading the Scripture, answering questions about life. That is, after all, what I work on day in and day out. We want people to have meaningful experiences with the Scripture together in an environment where they can toss ideas around and lean on one another. But I have met one too many women who will only do studies by a specific author. While I think the authors we work with and read are amazing, appointed people–and mostly incredible speakers as well–they are humans.

If we believe the Bible, we can know that all Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit. I believe that means we all have the power to hear God for ourselves! We don’t have to be taught by man–we can be taught by the Holy Spirit. We have ALL the same books, commentaries, and Bible translations that these teachers have access to. If we are willing to spend some time in research, we can discover truths for ourself.

We also need to remember that because these teachers are humans, their words are not infallible. Just because it’s published in a book doesn’t mean it’s right. Test the words against Scripture and be sure they are true, biblical messages.

In this time of “busy” I think we’ve lapsed into letting others do our Bible study for us. Their job is to write books; our job is to go to work, do laundry, spend time with our kids, and then squeeze in 10 minutes of reading what these teachers tell us and go to bed. I think it’s about time we took responsibility for our own spiritual growth and realize we have just as much accessibility to the Holy Spirit as someone who’s written 300 books.

What’s your opinion on this?

I am a Twitterer.  I tweet therefore I am…

1) instantly alerted to new small group blogposts

2) learning of and connecting with other small group types not daily but minute by minute

3) constantly receiving info telling me of a new small group book that has been published, a small group conference that has just been announced or a concept that a small group peer just thought of

4) asking a question and getting multiple answers back within minutes from other small group pastors and gurus

If you’ve been considering twittering but have been saying things like, “I’ll go into that kickin’ and screamin.” it’s time to put on your steel-toed boots and enter a sound-proof room. Or maybe your phrase has been, “I’ll start twittering when I become one of those nerdy tech types.” Buy an iPhone, replace your PC with a Mac and get a t-shirt that announces, “I Tweet.”   Or maybe you’ve been saying, “When I have time I’ll join the twitter movement.” You may find out, like I have, that being a twitterer may save you time as you are constantly getting the answers to your questions (or being directed to a blogpost or article that can) in 140 characters instead of having to read an entire book.

Because I long to learn from everyone doing good small group ministry, I am constantly working to build my small group tweep list. Below you’ll find 48 small group pastors and gurus that I am connecting with through Twitter. If you’re the small group point person for your church and you don’t see your name (these are in alphabetical order) and you twitter, please, oh please send me your twitter account name so I can follow you by responding to this blogpost. Another option…. go online and follow me (rickhowerton). When I get your request to follow my tweets I’ll choose to follow you.

Feel free to use this list to build your own. I think every person on this list would be honored if you join this network of gifted small group aficionados.

















































One of the most practical gurus in the small group space is Joel Comiskey. I’m a huge fan of his. I subscribe to his blog. This morning he unveiled some information vital to the health of a small group… how to confront when confrontation is necessary. Check out his five guidelines for confrontation.

1. Ask for permission

You might say, : “Jane, can I have permission to share with you something I’m seeing about your life?” This is so important because people feel slighted if we barge in on them and tell them our  ”expert knowledge.” By asking permission before you bring up a problem or concern, you increase the respect your members/leaders feel for you. You’re placing the control where it belongs—in the hands of the person. Asking permission is especially important when the issue is unusually intimate or potentially uncomfortable for the person.

2. Consider timing (this is the area I needed to work on in talking with the brother)

3. Confront ASAP (that is, talk about the matter when it’s still fresh; don’t wait until it’s no longer relevant)

3. Separate the person from the wrong action

4. Avoid words like always and never

5. Affirm him or her as a person and a friend

P.S. If you’re not subscribing to Joel’s blog, you might want to consider it.


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