The past six weeks have been crazy busy around the LifeWay Small Groups halls. And the majority of my time has been devoted to a resource that will release in February. It’s called Stolen, it’s with Chris and Kerry Shook, and it’s compelling … to say the least.

Kerry and Chris Shook founded Woodlands Church, formerly Fellowship of The Woodlands, in l993. Since then the church has grown to 17,000 in average attendance each weekend. It is one of the fastest-growing churches in America. Kerry and Chris wrote the New York Times best-seller One Month to Live: Thirty Days to a No-Regrets Life as well as Love at Last Sight: Thirty Days to Grow and Deepen Your Closest Relationships.

Here’s a little bit about this six-week study: Over the course of our lives the Enemy works hard to rob us of the treasures God has set aside for us—our inheritance, strength, peace, dreams, joy, and passion.  In this creative small-group Bible study, Pastor Kerry Shook and his wife, Chris, use specific biblical examples to lead you into a discovery of the ways you can reclaim these treasures. From illustrations of how Paul was able to find strength in God’s promise to the Shunammite woman who had allowed her dream to die to how we see passion play out in the story of the prodigal son, you’ll discover the bigger picture of who we are in Christ and all He intended for us to experience.

Watch for more information coming soon. But first check out this message from the Shooks. And get ready for a journey to reclaim what is rightfully yours!

Until next time,
Signe

“There’s something about the word fresh that changes everything.”  Kerry Shook

As I type this blog post, our latest Platform resource—Fresh: Reviving Stale Faith—is on the way to the printer. While editing this project, Kerry Shook both challenged and inspired me.
Let’s see—meditation, fasting, and silence. OK, so … I have a tendency to get focused on my to-do list, my agenda and often forget to carve out time to meditate on God’s Word on a regular basis. And fasting … well, I’ve never fasted in my entire life. And then there’s silence … my friends who are reading this are laughing out loud right now because being quiet and still are definitely not strengths for me. Honestly, I’m embarrassed to admit those things here. But I bet I’m not alone.

Does your faith ever feel stale? Are you maybe a little intimidated when you think about carrying out these spiritual disciplines in your own life but at the same time you’re at least a little curious—and a lot ready for a fresh faith? Then this study is worth checking out.

To the ancients, daily life included spiritual disciplines such as meditation, fasting, and silence. But our modern world has all but abandoned these time-honoring principles, instead relenting
to overcrowded agendas, busy schedules, and fast-paced, frantic day-to-day routines, leaving us with a faith that’s stale and tired. Yet it’s fresh faith that’s appealing. It’s fresh faith that feels active and alive. It’s fresh faith that makes a difference in this world. In this addition to the Platform series, Kerry Shook explores the ancient disciplines of meditation, fasting, and
silence and reveals the irony of how patterns of the past are really practices that promise to revive our faith.

Kerry is senior pastor of Woodlands Church, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He and his wife Chris founded Fellowship of The Woodlands, now Woodlands Church, in 1993. Since then the church has grown to 17,000 in average attendance each weekend.

The six small-group sessions are:

1.  The Art of Focus — the benefits of meditation
2.  The Art of Discipline — the strategy for meditation
3.  The Art of Restraint — the purpose and power of fasting
4.  The Art of Emptying Yourself — how to develop a plan for fasting
5.  The Art of Margins — the power of silence to reduce our stress and express our faith
6.  The Art of Silence — how silence can empower communication and increase our sensitivity

Fresh: Reviving Stale Faith will be available December 1 … check it out!

Until next time,
Signe

I always dreamed of growing up to be a kindergarten teacher, marrying an incredible man, and having children. You know the dream — it’s the one with the white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a dog — it’s happily-ever-after. Today I am more than grown up (in other words, I won’t be admitting my age here). I haven’t found that incredible man or the 2.5 kids. But I do have a dog and a white picket fence, so I guess that’s something. Lots of times I have wondered why God took my life in this direction. I’ve screamed at Him, cried to Him, and even stopped speaking to Him because He didn’t give me what He promised He would. After all, He did say He would give me the desires of my heart, right?

Today I know the true answer to that question, and I remember clearly the day I found it. It was one of those feeling-alone-and-sorry-for-myself days and I was talking to some of my close friends about it. Through a lot of tears I remember saying, “I don’t understand why things haven’t worked out for me to get married and have a family. The Bible says God will give me the desires of my heart.” With a heart of compassion, one of my friends looked at me and spoke as gently as he could. “I don’t think that’s really what that means,” he said. Turns out my friend was right.

Somehow I got the idea that “He will give you your heart’s desires” (Psalm 37:4), meant God would give me anything I wanted. I missed the point. And missing this point ultimately affected my relationship with the Lord because I came to feel He wasn’t trustworthy. I thought He made a promise to me that He didn’t keep.

But that wasn’t the case at all. My desires were exactly that—my desires. The desires I had held all my life, the ones that had become a part of who I was. Surely God would want those same things for me.. … but what if He didn’t?

Letting go of what I’ve always wanted out of life seemed huge and risky to me, and I fought it with all I had. But freedom came with the understanding that God was stripping me of everything I’ve known and taking me to new, unknown places. He was preparing me for His desires for my life. The ones that are bigger, better, grander than anything I can ask or imagine. So now I ask myself, What more could any heart desire than that? I honestly can’t think of a thing.

So, what are the things that confuse you? I pray you, as small group leaders and members, consider your small-group community a place where you can work through misconceptions and misunderstandings and speak truth into one another’s lives. For me personally, it made all the difference.

Until next time,
Signe

One of my favorite verses of Scripture comes from Paul’s opening comments in 2 Corinthians:

[Christ] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. —2 Corinthians 1:4, HCSB

I’ve watched this very thing happen recently as several of our close coworkers have been stricken by the beast of new cancer diagnoses. A friend who works on another floor was given the overwhelming diagnosis of breast cancer a few weeks ago. Though I rarely see her up here, she’s been in the office of a coworker often these last weeks. A coworker who herself went through radiation and chemotherapy last summer. When we are in a hurtful situation, we seek others who have come through that hurt, who have struggled and survived. Who can pass on that comfort Christ gives us.

It’s something I see every day in the blogging world. Some of the most popular blogs out there are from women who have lost a child or struggled with infertility. I read blogs from other working moms, wanting to know that I’m not the only person dealing with squeezing 12 hours of quality time in the two-hour block before my daughter hits the sheets for the night.

It’s that same essence of needing comfort in grief, isn’t it? It’s why we need redemptive community to love us whole again, to remind us that God is the God of all comfort, the Healer, the Redeemer, the Forgiver. Someone else has experienced a certain aspect of Him, and they can remind us that He is all we need.

Reflect on whether there is something specific to your story that might help comfort others, and make yourself available to share. You never know who might need to hear your story right then as some encouragement. As Americans we sometimes resist being vulnerable, but it is a key aspect in developing real, healing community with other Christians.

Opinions? Experiences?

 God seems to be directing a lot of Christians to coffee shops so they can make Jesus famous. The latest statistics are showing that millions of people meet in coffee shops for “spiritual conversations” on a weekly basis. Many of these people will never come to church or an in-house small group meeting. This pre-existing audience in need of Jesus is almost untouched. The groups are already there discussing various belief systems, not necessarily Christianity. Many of these groups are mixed groups made up of agnostics, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, and people who are simply apathetic about any belief system at all. Joining or starting of group of this nature will allow an individual to insert the name of Jesus into the conversation as well as sharing the Word of God with the group.

If you decide to start of group of this type you may be wondering how to recruit people to join you… a few ideas:

  1. Simply ask the coffee shop if you can put up an announcement telling what day and time. They will most likely be excited about this as you are bringing consistent business to them.
  2. Invite friends from work, people you meet at the grocery store, neighbors of yours, etc…, anyone who you start a conversation with and you sense a chemistry with them. That sense of oneness may well be from God.
  3. If you are near condominiums or an apartment building go door to door and place a personal letter from you under the doors of people living in the complex. The letter should be written in very personal language inviting people into the conversation. Don’t give your address though. This could be dangerous. And, if possible, follow-up by going door to door asking people if they got your letter and seeing if they’d like to join you. It would be best if you didn’t go into the apartment or condo even if invited until you know the persons you are talking with.
  4. Go to the same coffee shop at least four weeks in a row at the time you plan on having your group meeting. See if there are people who tend to be there consistently on that day and time each week. God may have put a group in place for you already.
  5. Something to keep in mind… Since your goal is to make Jesus famous with a group of people who don’t know of His stardom yet, you may want to see what groups are already meeting in the coffee shop near you. Joining a pre-existing group without leading the group will allow you to share the facts found in the Bible and the name of Jesus just as intently. In fact, when telling how His story has changed your story you may be less intimidating as an equal member of the group.

 

We church planters are always looking for locations and situations where we can connect with people in an environment that is comfortable for both parties. This is it!

If you decide to make Jesus famous in your local coffee shop by being part of a small group of this kind, Serendipity by LifeWay has a resource written specifically for this setting. The series is titled “Soul Cafe.” A description of these studies reads… “Soul Cafe is a series of open-ended conversations developed to drive you deeper into the story God is revealing. Soul Cafe is not a place for being comfortable or indifferent. It’s personal, penetrating, raw. It isn’t for the religiously refined; rather it’s much better suited for spiritual barbarians.” You can find this resource by going to www.serendipityhouse.com.

If you’re a church planter and you want to delve deeply into small groups that transform a community, don’t miss Exponential, one of the best church planting events for 2009.

“The glory of God is man fully alive.”

Saint Irenaeus

So what is meant by “fully alive”? If true, then what application does this have for us as small-group leaders; as small-group members? This is one of the weightiest ideas I’ve come across.

A Road Map for Spiritual FormationTo prepare for a new project we’re creating I’ve had to catch as much as possible what’s going on in the spiritual formation conversation. One of the books I’ve read recently–M. Robert Mulholland’s Invitation to Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation–employs a bit of Jungian psychology to its understanding of the spiritual pilgrimage. Like most of us, I am only an amateur psychologist and my “practice” has been limited to my attempts to understand my spouse, my mother, and my teenage daughter. Again, I assume a very common application of one’s psychological skills. Apparently, Carl Jung concluded that human beings have four essential preferences that shape the way they relate to the world around them and process the stuff (my word) they receive from the world.

Preferred Focus
• Introvert (inner world of self and ideas)
• Extrovert (outer world of persons, events, and things)

Preferred means of receiving information
• Sensing (physical senses)
• Intuition (inner urgings of the spirit)

Preferred means of processing the “stuff” received through sensing or intuition
• Thinking (cognitive process of reasoning)
• Feeling (reliance on stirring of the heart)

Preferred relationship to the flow of life
• Judgment (closure, completion, control)
• Perception (open-ended and laid-back approach)

The differences between the introvert (I) and the extrovert (E) are not particularly insightful. The extrovert is a people person who not only enjoys company, but is energized by it. The introvert prefers solitude to fellowship, reflection to action. Keeping in mind that this is a preferred focus, or “default”, I believe I am an introvert.

Mulholland distinguishes the intuitive person (N) as a problem solver that first solves the problem, then wants to move on to the next. This person does not like repetition and grows impatient with details. The sensing person (S), on the other hand, receives information primarily through physical senses. The sensing person likes routine and details and finds comfort there. Initially I thought I’d fall categorically into sensing, but after reading Mulholland’s description I am closer to intuitive as a preference here.

The third pair of preferences, thinking and feeling, suggest the means for processing the data received through intuition and sensing. Thinking persons (T) do not show emotion easily and tend to be uncomfortable around those who do. They are very analytical and logical and tend to make decisions in an impersonal way. Feeling persons (F), however, are very sensitive to how others feel. They like harmony. They have a need to please others and sometimes let their decisions be influenced by others’ likes and dislikes. This one was tough for me, but give myself an “F”.

The final pair, judgment (J) and perception (P), is an easy distinction: closer, completion, and order vs. open-ended as a preferred way for dealing with the flow of life. I concluded my own assessment as an INFP.

So why is this important? I would recommend reading the book–not a difficult read and very helpful to anyone called to lead a congregation of any size or composition. But Mulholland uses this method as a springboard to unpacking the holistic spiritual pilgrimage and understanding the spiritual disciplines. Basically, a person’s non-preferred methods for shaping the world and processing information become his or her “shadow side”. Because Mulholland believes that to be conformed more and more into the image of Christ, we must not be allowed to habitually default to our preferences. We must put ourselves in positions that force us to exercise this “shadow side” in order for God to form us more holistically. In other words, we need to “get uncomfortable.”

But more than just getting uncomfortable, Invitation to Journey contends that these shadow sides point us to a set of personal spiritual disciplines. In addition to the classic disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, worship, fasting, study, and retreat, Mulholland concludes, my shadow sides suggest to me those areas that need unique, personal attention in order for me to become more Christlike. In other words, it’s in those areas where I am least Christlike that God most wants to work with me. I need to be more inclusive and engaged. More concerned with the details of my work, home, and spiritual journey. I need to be more prayerful about showing emotion and, maybe even more important, being comfortable around those that do (instead of trying to “solve” their emotions) and be less open-ended and more concerned with closure and order. If allowed to default to my preferences time after time, my spiritual formation will become more and more self-referenced and less and less holistic. For instance, because I tend to be more introverted, my natural spiritual path is reflective. Because of this, one of my personal spiritual disciplines would be action i.e. I need to get out more, put action to ministry.

I don’t know if there is a tool to use for assessment out there, but the book does a really decent job of describing each preference and spiritual paths of each as well (pp. 51-73). How cool would it be to help each member of your small group develop personal spiritual disciplines for a more holistic spiritual pilgrimage and more intimate relationship with God?

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