April 2009

notre_dame_12editedNetflix delivered the Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire to my house more than two weeks ago. My wife and I have been waiting for the perfect, angst-free, quiet, uninterrupted two hour period of time to push the DVD tray closed and watch Man on Wire. If your house is like mine, then you understand how just the thought of such a two-hour span reveals the eternal optimist that lies within me.

I’m not a big documentary fan. But given the Academy‘s recognition, a friend’s Facebook status, and that I liked Winged Migration a few years back, I thought I would give Man on Wire a go. I wouldn’t describe this movie as “must see.” I would, however, encourage anyone with an eye for style, an imagination that is too often found wanting in today’s world, and an appreciation for history to give it a shot. It documents tightwire artist Philippe Petit’s 1974 walk from the top of the South Tower to the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

The reason I would write the first words about this movie here is this: there is a subtle beauty inherent. Beauty is such a significant aspect of the spiritual journey we have accepted. I think much of my reaction has to do with the romance I associate with the world we lost on September 11, 2001. The filmmakers were intentional, I think, in making the World Trade Center a tragic centerpiece in the unfolding drama. But the subtle beauty is also associated with Petit’s “walk” across the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral in his hometown of Paris. I’ve read books on beauty. I’ve tried to write about it. It seems to be always just beyond my words. But there are those moments when you know you’re close. It’s in these times I feel like I should be grateful for what looks and feels like an invitation into something transcendent. For whatever reason, I felt like Petit’s tightwire walk at Notre Dame was his own unique invitation into beauty. Especially when you hear the description from one of those closest to Petit.

“He didn’t want to conquer the universe, just beautiful things.” That’s what close, if not romantically linked, friend Annie Allix said of Petit. Petit was in search of beauty and, by taking his tightwire act public, was–and somehow still is–invited us into his world. Beauty at this level has innate risks. It requires vulnerability. Pursuit. Sacrifice.  And so this is where we can talk about small-group leadership. You can draw your own conclusions, of course. Amid everything else, be sure to extend an invitation into beauty as you go. Conquering the universe is a noble endeavor, but there will be times on the spiritual journey when we we should just be still. Wait. And watch.

Recently I heard an interesting podcast about a research project on group effectiveness conducted at Rotterdam School of Business in the Netherlands.  In this study, groups of college students were brought together to complete some management tasks.  They were unaware that an actor was hired to play the role of a “bad apple” in order to observe the impact on the group.  The bad apple would act like a jerk (“have you ever even taken a business course?”), slacker (text messaging friends during meetings), or depressive pessimist (displaying a lack of energy and enthusiasm, like lying his head down on the table). 

Across the board, the group with the bad apple was far less effective (30%-40%) than the control groups.  Not only that, but it only took 45 minutes for others in the group to take on some of the behavior of the bad apple.  45 minutes!  That’s about halfway into the time of a typical small group gathering.

To the surprise of the research professor, Dr. Will Felps, there was one group that was not impacted by the bad apple.  In that group, there was a person who had exceptional leadership skills.  Dr. Felps said this person listened to everyone, asked great questions, and defused conflict.  Because of this type of leadership, the bad apple did not get in the way of the group’s experience. 

Most people who have led a small group have experienced a bad apple to some degree-anywhere from someone in the group having an off night to ongoing behavior patterns that are, well, unpleasant.  Imagine if, because of your leadership, your small group increased its effectiveness by 30%-40%.  What would that mean for the kingdom of God?  More spiritual growth, more poor served, more hearts transformed, a deeper understanding of God’s character?  Although it’s impossible to measure the impact of your small group, it’s hard to doubt the validity of statistics like those in the study. 

Tara Miller and I recently published a book called Finding the Flow: A guide for leading small groups and gatherings that helps people develop skills that make them better small group leaders.  All of the qualities necessary to become an exceptional leader, according to Felps, are covered plus a few.  To decide if this might be a helpful resource for you or your small group ministry, consider these suggestions taken from Finding the Flow:

1) Spend an evening discussing the topic of listening with your group.  Ask everyone to share when they felt the group was really listening to them versus a time when they felt unheard.  Ask for their thoughts and ideas on how to improve the collective listening of the group.

2) Come up with a list of your top ten most powerful small group questions.  For example: How do you want this conversation to affect your life? What is the impact of this conversation on you?  Keep them on hand for times when you’re having a hard time keeping the conversation flowing. 

3) In your small group, spend time up front-preferably before a conflict arises-establishing an agreement for how conflicts between group members will be handed.  For example:  We will attempt to address all conflicts by going first to the person who offended or hurt us. (More suggestions on specific ways to do this are found in the book.) 

Jenn Peppers | http://www.findingtheflow.org

Co-author of Finding the Flow and co-founder of FLoW, LLC


*The interview, conducted by Ira Glass of This American Life, is thought provoking, entertaining, and well worth the 13-minutes.   It’s based on a research paper entitled How, When, and Why Bad Apples Spoil the Barrel: Negative Group Members and Dysfunctional Groups by Will Felps, Terence R. Mitchell, and Eliza Byington (2006).


I’ve noticed that a lot of believers tend to believe that they can go it alone, that there is no need for authentic Christian community. They sincerely think that it’s easier to be a church of one (which is an idiotic concept) than to do life alongside other followers of Jesus.

 I saw this video on youtube and just had to share it with you. As you’ll see, the main character gives a plethora of reasons why a person doesn’t join a group. But hang in until the end!

freedomThere’s a line in the song “Desperado” (can you believe that was 1973?) that laments, “Freedom, oh freedom, well that’s just some people talkin’.” The point of this particular lyric, at least as I have understood it, is that “freedom” either isn’t possible or just doesn’t exist. The statement being made is that there is really no such thing as freedom. This line from “Desperado” presupposes not only bondage, but also the inability to escape it.

As you know, when Jesus stands to unroll the scroll in Luke 4 he reads from Isaiah and announces that he has come to “set free the captives” and “bind up the broken-hearted.” Freedom, therefore, is the birthright of those with new hearts; for those that have accepted Jesus as Savior; for true disciples of Christ. “Of course! So what are you looking at me for?” one of your long-time small-group members might ask. A fair question.

Many—if not most—of us that proclaim this freedom, are not actually free. That group member might be very adroit at “acting” free yet fall categorically under Jeremiah’s words in 6:14: “They have treated My people’s brokenness superficially, claiming ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Here God is saying through His prophet: “You may say you’re fine, but you’re still wounded. You’re still a captive.”

A recent project here at work has spurred these thoughts. We’re already working on the third release in the Small Group Life series, the first issue scheduled to be available this winter. The topic of SGL 3 is Freedom: Freedom Was Enough. Galatians 5:1 tells us that freedom was enough: “it was for freedom that Christ set us free” (NAS). What this passage does not say—that this freedom is conditional—is what echoes so loudly and clearly through the centuries and within our hearts’ collective memories. We have been set free simply because God does not want us living in bondage. We have been set free because that’s how we were created to live. As we have been creating this experience I’ve been forced to consider the true implication of my freedom. The freedom we’re promised is so big.

How many in your groups are living with hearts fully awake and alive and free? If asked how much more freedom is possible, I only know that the answer is always going to be “more.” We want people to consider putting away freedom as cliche while embracing freedom more as a lifestyle void of fear, bondage, legalism, or manipulation of the many false selves. Instead, freedom must begin with the heart and move outward. And we must be bold enough to step into what certainly can be an uncomfortable world of complete freedom that is totally void of the impediments that enable paralysis.


Just reading over a little book by C.T. Studd that was often an inspiration to me while working in the Last Frontier.  It’s called “The Chocolate Soldier” and here’s one of my favorite quotes:

“THE OTHERWISE CHRISTIAN IS A Chocolate Christian, dissolving in water and melting at the smell of fire. Sweeties they are! Bonbons, lollipops! Living their lives in a glass dish or in a cardboard box, each clad in his soft clothing, a little frilled white paper to preserve his dear little delicate constitution.”

You can read the booklet in its entirety at http://www.wholesomewords.org/missions/msctserm.html.  Hope his words serve as an inspiration and a challenge for you in missional living!

Jesus’ resurrection is the most historic event in all of human history. Every great small group leader wants be certain his/her group members realize how they have responded to this amazing moment in time.  But… If you’re like me you do not want to purchase an entire study for just one small group experience. Below you’ll find questions for a small group experience taken from the Serendipity Bible for Groups

This experience will allow your group members to consider their response to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.



 Ice-Breaker: Describe a time in your life when you mistook someone for the wrong person.

 Read John 20:10 – 18

 Bible Discussion: 1. Would you have responded more like Mary or like the disciples? Why?  2. Does Mary appear to be quietly grieving, or more hysterical? What finally breaks through her grief and confusion (v. 16)?  3. What term (v. 17) does Jesus use for his disciples here? What is new in their relationship from now on (see 15:15)?

 Going Deeper: 1. How has Jesus spoken your name in a time of grief? 2. What does it mean to you that Jesus is your brother?


 In case you haven’t heard of the Serendipity Bible for Groups… The Serendipity Bible for groups has a Bible study like the one above for every passage of Scripture in the Bible.

Remember this… Everyone needs what small group offers. As you think about where you will find the people who will be in your small group, think of the community and all the people in it, not just your church.

When starting a group any of the following ideas may help you in connecting with people who might be thinking about joining a small group. These ideas come from group leaders around the country.:

1. By Mail: Prepare a letter that gives the following information: a) that you are starting a small group, b) what the group’s goal will be, c) how long the group will meet, and d) why you’re starting the group. Mail the letter to the people you are inviting then follow up with those individuals via telephone three days after they receive the letter.

2. By Meeting: Having an open meeting at your church is another way to become aware of people who would like to be in a small group. Use the worship guide, posters, and announcements from the pulpit to make people aware that a new small group is looking for people who will make up the group and that there is going to be an open meeting for anyone interested in becoming part of the group.

3. By Personal Invitation: The most effective way to welcome people into your life is by personal invitation. If you choose to recruit the people in your group by a face-to-face conversation, be certain you make this invitation substantive. Make the people you invite aware that the group will be more than a weekly meeting, it will be a group of people deeply involved in one another’s lives.

4. By Presentation: Churches with the necessary resources are making people aware of small group opportunities by utilizing dramatic presentations and video spots in worship. Following these presentations there is an announcement that will most often announce the date of an meeting for those curious to join a group or telling attendees that there is someone at a kiosk in the church lobby that will answer any questions an individual might have about the group.

5. By Media Outlets: If the goal of your group/groups is to reach the community, running newspaper adds, radio spots, even television commercials announcing opportunities is effective. Make sure interested parties are made aware of a website they can go to for more information or a phone number that can be called to speak with someone to get more information. The website as well as the individual taking phone calls should be able to tell the caller when the first meeting will be, that that meeting will be a Q and A time with a sign up for the group taking place at the end of the meeting.