July 2008

I’m reading Erwin McManus’ latest book Wide Awake. The book itself is about finding the passionate life that we’ve been made for—a message with a great deal of appeal to me. But during my most recent reading I came across this passage in the book:

If you don’t know what your non-negotiables are, you won’t negotiate anything. You’re afraid to let go of anything because later you might discover that was a non-negotiable. When you don’t know what’s really important, you treat everything the same. Adaptability is not the result of a hollow core, but of clarity and conviction about what is at your core. Don’t confuse being rigid and unchanging with having convictions.

McManus makes this point in tandem with a believer’s tendency to abdicate. That is, often we choose between the extremes of absolute control—fed by fear—and utter abdication—fed by despair.

A friend of mine says, above all things, we must remain engaged. I would add that we should be willing to remain in the tension, what another author refers to as the agony of will—the willingness to confront discomfort, fear, and stress. A reality of our post-Fall world is that we live, breathe, and work in an environment that is less than ideal–or at least not what God intended. Given this reality we must still make choices between two less-than-ideal options.

You can see the margin for error here and this margin only increases when we live unaware of our non-negotiables, our core. As small-group leaders and pastors have you asked your groups to be intentional in knowing who they are? Clarity and conviction, according to Wide Awake, allows us to be adaptable. Consider for a moment Daniel, Hanaiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Daniel 1:9-16). They were willing to embrace the changes that came in their new climate in Babylon, but they would not allow themselves to change their core.

If we’re truly looking to influence our communities and beyond; to represent justice and join Jesus’ redemptive mission, we’ve got to know who we are. Knowing the non-negotiables and having clarity contributes not only to spiritual formation but also opens the door for adaptability … and being able to adapt puts the “mobile” in small groups. Being able to adapt allows us to work through the culture we’ve been given without compromising our core.

We’ve observed it in our churches- in the available volunteer pool, in quality leadership, in the demographics of those connecting with small groups and ministry, even in worship style. It is the feminization of the local church. And, on its wake is riding decline, irrelevance, distrust, and hypocrisy. I am certainly not saying that every problem in the church can be traced to a lack of masculinity. However, God’s Word is clear that with maleness comes major accountability and responsibility. Therefore as leaders in our families, groups, and churches, we must take ownership in discipling men to be men- warriors who are wild and dangerous- a reflection of the God-man. How do we do it? Through building intentional relationships with men and settling for nothing less than healthy real redemptive community. Simple right?

I’d love to hear back some proven, practical ideas for reaching and discipling men.

In order for a small group to be authentic, it helps to remain aware of these 7 perspectives:

The Mysteries of God Found in the Bible
Even God has secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29). As we’ve grown up surrounded by empiricism, vast amounts of information, and the cognitive focus of the modern age, we have been led down a theological path that requires us to come to final conclusions about everything … assuming we’re smart enough. There is a place for proposition. There is also a place for awe and wonder. Allow the mysteries of life and faith to captivate.

That Life Is Messy
Life is a series of surprises—some good, some bad, and some downright debilitating. Ecclesiastes 3:4 just blows out of the water any proposition that summarizes life as formulaic and mundane. Small groups should acknowledge this without giving into it.

Personal Imperfections
Yes, you have imperfections. If you don’t think you do just ask your spouse. (I prefer to own up to it without asking my spouse.)

That God Is Always Present Even When He Feels Distant
God doesn’t always seem close to us. There are times His silence during our struggles is intended to help us face our deep desire for connection and intimacy with Him or to persevere with hope through those dry times so that He can bring unexpected joys to us and others through them. God’s presence can be manifested in authentic community.

Honor Others as Individuals Without Having to Agree with All They Do and Say
God created us as individuals, and no two of us are exactly alike physically, philosophically, or spiritually.

Confessing our Failures at the Right Time with the Right People
Fear of exposure makes the mere thought of confession seem intimidating. Many people are afraid to become vulnerable. In a small group, the confession of sin will be most possible if members naturally, by their own accord, confess to those specific people in the group they have come to trust.

Satan Is at Work in Our World

To most people, Satan is a fictional character instead of “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31) until Jesus returns to establish His eternal kingdom. Satan is an enemy who is on the attack, “looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He destroys friendships, family members, and belief systems. He kills hearts.

A small-group leader has three ways to get work done:

  1. Do it by yourself.
  2. Boss everyone else around.
  3. Work in team.

    Working as a team means getting the best from every team member. You get their minds, their bodies, and their hearts. They are passionate because they have been given ownership. As their input is given, received, and utilized, even the most backward person begins to feel good about themselves and the group. My problem has always been trying to do “it” all by myself. Although my intentions, at least I think, have been honorable, I have realized that this approach cheats members from being a part of something bigger. (And, I’ve concluded, it’ll flat wear you out.) The magic word for small groups here is “invitation.” Good leaders extend the invitation that God has given us to join Him in His redemptive mission.

    “The apologetics of the 1970s and ’80s are useful if you are teaching in a church camp, but it’s not that relevant to the claims the New Atheists are making, which are very different. The New Atheists are really surfing the waves of 9/11, equating Islamic radicalism with Christianity. These are not questions addressed by C.S. Lewis or Josh McDowell.” Dinesh D’Souza, author of What’s So Great About Christianity?

    This Christianity Today article describes an unexpected surge of interest in apologetics. Read more here. Keep in mind how effective and accommodating your small groups and small group ministries can be in equipping members to counter the arguments of the New Atheists. Be very intentional in your Bible study. An understanding of the differences between community and redemptive community is also crucial.

    “That little bit of sadness in the mornings you spoke of? I think I know what that is. Perhaps you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”
    the movie Unbreakable (2000)

    Unbreakable gets lost in the recent spike in superhero movies: Spiderman, Batman, Ironman, Hancock, The Fantastic Four, Superman—even Laura Croft. Admittedly, part of the problem is that Unbreakable was released more than 8 years ago and was the follow-up to writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s wildly acclaimed The Sixth Sense. If you haven’t seen Unbreakable, the movie focuses on David Dunn–a man who has never been sick, never been hurt, the only survivor of a horrific train wreck, and who can bench press a ton of weight. Even though all the signs are there, he never, not once, stops to wonder if he has been created to be more than a security guard. Instead, like the man by the pool at Bethesda, he is content to greet each day the same, allowing today to flow seamlessly and effortless into tomorrow (John 5:4ff). See, David Dunn is a superhero cut from the same cloth as the ones mentioned above, yet he has never donned a cape, attempted a rescue, searched his heart, been touched with passion, or even tried to fly.

    Have you stopped to wonder why these superhero movies are so successful? Really, the plot lines are fairly consistent, yet the lines at the box office aren’t getting any shorter. It could be that we sense a greater calling on our own lives; that we’re all struggling to find the superhero dwelling within and we allow ourselves—maybe even prefer—to be satisfied watching superhero-ness played out on the screen. Scripture can support this reaction to that “little bit of sadness”.

    • You are seated with Christ in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6)
    • You are God’s “work of art,” created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10)
    • You’ve been given the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)
    • Christ Himself is in you (Colossians 1:27)
    • You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)

    The truth is, yes, we are more than tainted by the fall and Original Sin. We cannot begin to fathom what was lost, but neither can we begin to fathom what we have to re-gain. And maybe the taint resulting from the events of Genesis 3 and the stain of sin—as true as this is—do not represent what is truest about us.

    Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that God delights in us with shouts of joy. When we talk about redemptive community, we’re advocating a community that works together to demolish the enemy’s strongholds in the lives of group members. We’re advocating a community working together to help each member find the superhero inside. True, honest, and authentic redemptive community creates an environment in which the Holy Spirit can work in making us become more than what we are.

    To gain early buy-in from potential group members you need to give them some understanding of the following things. Small-group consultant Rick Howerton calls these, “The Top Ten Questions of Small Group Members.” These are questions that may not necessarily be asked, but are definitely playing on the minds of most persons on the other side of the invitation:
    1. How much of my time is this going to take?
    2. What are we going to do with our children during meetings?
    3. Will there be homework? If so, how much?
    4. Am I going to have to talk or can I just sit and listen during meetings?
    5. Will I have to pray out loud?
    6. Who else is going to be in the group?
    7. How much do I have to know about the Bible?
    8. How many weeks or months is this group going to last?
    9. If I don’t like it can I leave without anyone being angry with me?
    10. What are we going to be doing during meetings?

    Consider your answers to these questions as you build your small-group ministries. It’s a good practice to answer, as much as possible, as you describe small-group life and articulate the small-group vision.

    If you’ve wondered where Brian gets his nickname “Agonistes” from, here is an interview to get his response to this burning question!

    Looking for a vibrant small-group meeting? Here are 4 distinctives of a successful small-group on the road to redemptive community.

    1. Questions and opportunities for group members to tell their stories before getting into Bible study. Many groups utilize “ice-breaker” type questions.

    2. Interactive and more discovery-oriented Bible study. The discovery approach to Bible study is one of the expectations of small groups today.

    3. Some level or variety of experiences. This can range from creating events as part of the meeting, utilizing the five senses, to engaging a video or movie clip with applicable follow-up questions and conversation.

    4. If media is used, the group should focus on a screen for no more than 15 minutes. The longer a group turns away to watch a TV or monitor, the more good group dynamic is lost.

    With all due respect to The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Seabiscuit was actually the best movie of 2003. And, given that Return of the King represented only a third of the TLOTR trilogy, Seabiscuit was also the best small-group movie of that year. (Our criteria in making this determination is top-secret, proprietary, very complicated, and is apparently different from every other system we’ve found.)

    Accordingly, Seabiscuit starring Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, and Chris Cooper, makes for great small-group discussion. Keeping in mind that it is rated PG-13, we suggest making the next meeting a Movie Night! Tradition suggests a dinner comprised of spiced mustard-glazed ham, green beans with lemon, corn pudding, and derby pie—very common items on the first Saturday in May in a certain Bluegrass State.

    Take a moment to discuss these questions with the group before the movie:

    How do you define the term “redemptive community”? How is “redemptive community” different from a normal community?

    Describe a time when you believe God worked through someone else to redeem an event, a particular mess, or something else in your life.

    What do you think Isaiah 61:1-2 implies we all need?

    Here are a few questions for discussion after Seabiscuit with relevant Scripture included.

    How do the characters’ similarities in this movie mirror what we oftentimes see today in the lives of the people around us?

    Wounds can be handled in many ways. Read Jeremiah 6:14 and talk about what this verse says about the way we sometimes handle the wounds of others. What do you think is being criticized in this verse?

    Read Proverbs 20:5. How do you think asking clarifying questions and seeking to be discerning in one another’s lives apply to healing? How is it demonstrated in Seabiscuit?

    Read 1 Peter 4:8. From the movie, can you remember scenes where empathy (deep love) played a critical role in each of these character’s redemptive journey? How do you think these scenes help us understand 1 Peter 4:8?

    When we are moved by a story it is because it is either borrowing from the larger story of life, from our own story, or both. Which is it for you? What part of this movie made you stop and think? Why do you think this is the case?

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