‘‘What are you doing tonight?” is a phrase I’ve heard my friend Lynnette say more times than I can count. We met our senior year in high school but didn’t really get to know each other until college, where we became best friends. Lynnette and I have been through a lot of junk together. She’s the absolute only human who knows all my secrets. And she’s always had an uncanny knack for knowing when I need company—whether I say so or not.

All grown up and years beyond college, Lynnette’s a married mother of three. Several years ago she and her family moved out of state, but until that time we were together more often than not. I’m not talking about the two of us doing girl stuff. We did some of that, but mostly Lynnette embraced me as a part of her family. She would invite me over even after her craziest days of driving the mom taxi and cooking dinner and doing laundry and running errands. It didn’t matter what was going on in her life; she still took time for mine.

None of my evenings at Lynnette’s house ever looked the same. Sometimes she cooked and sometimes we just ordered pizza. I remember nights of homework, playing with the kids, watching movies, or helping with baths. It never really mattered to me. I just loved being in the midst of a family.

Although I would guess it was the farthest thing from her mind, Lynnette is the one who first taught me about true, authentic community. About what doing life together really looks like. I don’t remember lots of other details of what we did through all those years, but what I do remember is how Lynnette made me feel. And that is what challenges me to want to do the same for others.

It wasn’t about a spotless house and a perfect meal and keeping me entertained. It was about loving me.

You may have sensed God nudging you to open your heart—and maybe even your home—to someone. The perfect time may not be when everything is just right. The perfect time may be right now.

By inviting others in to do life together, you could change your little corner of the world. Lynnette inspired me to look beyond waiting until my house is perfect and the menu is just right. I really don’t have to be Martha Stewart. It’s about relationships. It’s about loving others. It’s about accepting and being accepted. It’s what we’re made for.

Until next time,
Signe

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.

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.

Watching this video of our latest American Idol leading worship led me to reflect on two questions:  What greater things remain to be done in my city? And what can my small group do to see it happen?  See, I always knew watching American Idol was good for our spiritual growth! ;-)

8x032One of the really cool ministry times of the year from my international days was Christmas. Small groups would come together to rent hotel space (though it was illegal to worship together) and invite their friends and neighbors to evangelistic Christmas parties. Homemade tracts were crafted and could often be blended in with the commercial Christmas items that were becoming more popular. Perhaps most effective of all were the special acts of service performed in the name of Jesus during the Christmas season. It was indeed a special time of year, even in a place where Christmas didn’t show up on the calendar officially.

When we consider how our small groups can take advantage of the Christmas season, often we think in terms of parties and presents, candy and caroling. The holidays call out for family and fellowship. How can we be evangelistically intentional though during the Christmas season? Beyond the slogans like “Jesus is the Reason for the season,” how do we really communicate the truths of Christmas to those who are outside the family of God? Small groups have the potential for relating what incarnation is all about in a very real way. Rather than looking inward during the Christmas season as we are tempted to do by the cold weather and the family atmosphere, let’s remember what God did. That first Christmas for Jesus was about leaving family and much of what He knew of life in Heaven. He left the community of Heaven in search of us and to relate to us. What are some ways that we can live out His model? I wonder, what are some things that your small group is doing during the holiday season to be intentionally incarnational among a people who really need to know what Christmas is all about?

If people are going to join your small groups they’ve gotta know about them and you’ve got to connect with the heartbeat of the future small group member. Some people will consider small groups if you touch their warm fuzzy places, others if you can turn on the laughter, other people will consider if you energize them through creativity. I found this video on youtube (I dare you to go to youtube and type in “small groups.” You’ll be jazzed when you see how much stuff is there!).

Check out this animated celebrity small group. This is too cool!

There is a lot of stuff about small groups not only on youtube but on other blogs. You might want to check some of these out. They range from small group company blogs who give answers to small group questions to churches with small group blogs.

Saddleback Small Group Blog

Big Ideas About Small Groups

Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles

Broadway Church, Boise, Idaho

SmallGroups.com with Dan Lentz

Small Groups Guy

(more…)

During a recent small-group conference, author and speaker Leonard Sweet referred to the original “operating system” of the church as MRI: Missional, Relational, Incarnational. Although referring to the mission of the church, MRI can also be applied to small-group ministry.

Missional suggests richness and sincerity in an earnest pursuit to fulfill the Great Commission. To be missional is to push out–locally and globally—looking to find where God is at work. The missional aspect of small-group life applies action to a believer’s new heart.
Relational encompasses the gamut of human experience as we reach out those around us—while also inviting others into our lives. Its intensity lies in shared experiences along the paths of our spiritual pilgrimages. A friend of mine recently said, “I’m on a journey and I’m just looking for people willing to be on journey with me.” To be relational is to understand the spiritual journey and be willing to engage others at that level. To be relational means that you must accept God’s invitation to the adventure He is inviting you into as well. Acts 2:44-46 embodies the essence of what we mean by “relational.”
Incarnational points to a vibrancy in the Spirit and sense of being alive in Christ that borders on being palpable. Incarnational means that the kingdom of God is among you (Luke 17:1).

By contrast, Sweet has concluded that the present operating system of too many churches is no longer rooted in MRI. Instead, many churches today are leaning on methods of attraction instead of being missional; have become colonial instead of relational; and rely on proposition as opposed to being incarnational.

Given their mobility, flexibility, autonomy, and composition, small groups would seem to be the most MRI-accessible; most in-line with Sweet’s assessment of the church’s original OS. So are they? One look at Rick Howerton’s 19 Types of Small Group Members and you’d be hardpressed to conclude MRI as an automatic, however. As a small-group leader or small-group member, take opportunities to assess MRI in your group(s).

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