July 2009

I’m really, really busy today. So I thought I’d just throw out some great posts I’ve read recently for you to peruse. (Mostly ones I’ve shared on Google Reader--I LOOOVE that thing!)

Keeping It Real, a post on being genuine in the midst of struggles, from Stacy.

Say It Out Loud, on useless conversations in our heads, from Laura.

Breathe On Me, from one of my best blogging friends, OhAmanda.

Legalism Vs. Authenticity, from a real-life friend, Scott.

Scars, from the very fabulous Amy Beth, who has just returned from Egypt

Read anything good lately you’d like to share with the Gypsy Road readers? Or have you written a good post on themes we deal with here? I’d love to see it!

I love the crazy ministry God is allowing me to do. I love my wife and dog too, I’m just don’t see them much. August is going to be especially exciting as I’ll be at Collegiate Week at Ridgecrest, North Carolina then on to Layton, Utah for EQUIP 2009 followed by a stop in Columbus, Ohio for the Connect3 conference, then will jump a plane to Texas for the 2009 Church Leadership Conference and then a few days later I’ll be headed to Chattanooga, Tennessee to speak at Silverdale Baptist church and will hang out with the staff the next morning and then without even thinking about it (If I thought about it I’d probably wanna take a train back home just to see what the place looks like) I’m off to Gainesville, Georgia to lead small group sessions and just two days after that I’m on to Memphis, Tennessee and then two days after that will lead sessions at the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Super Saturday in Elizabethtown, Kentucky and on the 30th I’ll land in Bowling Green, Kentucky where I’ll preach on Sunday morning at Christ Fellowship Church then stick around to do a small group training session for the small group leaders in Bowling Green.

I know what you’re thinking… That’s one long run on sentence. Well, my life sometimes seems to be just one exciting run-on sentence and I love it!

I’d be honored to lead training or speak about small groups for you or your church. Just call me at 615-251-5862 if you’re interested. We’ve gotta see the world transformed through groups that make Jesus the centerpiece of their experience and that allow the Holy Spirit to be their teacher.

newenglandchurchMy husband and I are in the midst of an impending move to a new city. While the move is not imminent for me (I am staying in Nashville until we sell our house or I go insane), my Mr. and I have been tossing around qualities we’d like our new church to have for months.

We were lucky to avoid the church hop when we moved to Nashville nearly five years ago. We visited two churches. The first one was just not a good fit. The second one we never left. It is a wonderful church, where we feel that God is moving and the staff is truly seeking His heart. We have Sunday School, but we don’t have what we would classify here as small groups. [I know. And I’m writing for this blog!]

We love our Sunday School class. But working for Serendipity these past six months, I’ve unearthed a deep desire to be a part of small-group life. So I put that on our list of qualifications: a church with small groups.

I think for moving to a city where we know no one, having a small group to build into would help tremendously. With a tiny daughter and no family nearby, I need help and friends. I’m going to be a stay-at-home mom once we move, and I am not the kind of person who can stay in the house all day every day. I will need community.

What are your tips for finding a small-group church? While we both enjoy traditional-style worship, we’re aware it’s less likely we’ll be able to find a church with that and small groups. We’re open to a more contemporary worship style. We’d like to find a somewhat large church with a great children’s program. What’s the best method of going about this? And hey, if you know of any Chattanooga churches that fit this, e-mail me and let me know!

Also, what have your church hop experiences been like? I’d love to hear.

I love Disneyland. I love Disney World. During a recent trip I had the opportunity to visit Disneyland for the first time. Watching a street party on Main Street during which the cast member/performers sang the chorus to “Celebrate You” over and over again, my older daughter said—half out loud, half to herself—”that’s kind of selfish.” And so in the middle of the self-proclaimed “Greatest Celebration on Earth” there was slightest touch of sadness. The exhortation to celebrate in-and-of-itself is fine. Even though I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read about Walt and each visit to the parks, the chorus “Celebrate You” over and over again began to ring more and more false and empty. Ernest Hemingway once wrote that there’s death in every joke. Sadly, I found something akin to the same death, even if just for a moment, there on Main Street, Disneyland USA. For that moment there was no depth. The stakes of life were not high—which is what so many find so appealing about theme parks. That is to say for these the confines of the park are insular and womb-like. For most of us Disney World is a respite from the battles of life—an en hakkore of sorts. But for others, I’m afraid, it represents a permanent abdication of the great battle between ultimate good and ultimate evil to which noble hearts are called. The irony, of course, is that the great Disney animated features almost all tap into this aspect of who we are. The poet Tennyson charged us in the Ulysses: “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Redemptive community challenges us to “stand in the breach” and not abdicate the good fight.

Last fall at the Catalyst Conference, I caught up with Stewart McWilliams from Fellowship of the Rockies in Colorado Springs where we talked about Catalyst, the book “Tribes” by Seth Godin, and Serendipity Small Group Workshops. Stewart had recently hosted a Serendipity Small Group Workshop with Rick Howerton for his small group leaders as well as other ministry and group leaders from area churches. It was a great success for everyone in attendance both as a learning event and as a small group networking opportunity.

If your church would be interested in developing your group leaders by hosting a Serendipity Small Group Workshop contact Rick (Rick.Howerton@lifeway.com or 615.251.5862). You can also view our calendar to see if a workshop will be in your area for your group leaders to attend

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When a small group gets together for Bible study, the goal should be to find out what God is saying.  But a conversational bible study can turn into a night of shared ignorance. How does that happen?

  • Opinions supersede the search for truth
  • Consensus leads a group to believe there has been right interpretation when in fact, the majority misconstrued what God was actually saying.
  • An outspoken group member is so animated no one is willing to question he/she because of the level of tension that will be created.
  • Group members voice quotes from various celebrity voices (in most instances this will be an author more than one person in the group has read) allowing that public figure to be the final word. Bottom line… it’s possible that the opinion of an imperfect human being is allowed to trump the all knowing author of the book you’re studying… God.

There are some things a group leader can do to keep the Bible study time from becoming a night of shared ignorance.:

  • Take the time to study the passage so you know what God is saying.
  • Give group members permission to question one another’s opinions.
  • When a group member shares and opinion, ask he/she how he/she came to that conclusion.
  • Remind group members that reading Christian authors should not replace daily time in the bible.
  • Make sure group members bring their bibles, especially those with study bibles. Oftentimes a group member reading the notes found in a study bible will be able to clarify the true meaning of the passages that are causing confusion.
  • Choose curriculum that includes commentary. Serendipity by LifeWay small group resources do this. www.serendipityhouse.com
  • Make sure the right voices are the final word. Sometimes a Christian author, communicator, teacher, or curriculum writer is given so much credibility by multiple people in the group that the group chooses to refer to that Christian leader’s opinion each time a passage is being discussed. Remember, some Christian authors may not be as biblically astute as you are. And many have a different doctrinal bent than you and/or your church.
  • Remind group members that sometimes there is no clear cut understanding and that it’s okay to live in the mystery, that God can think in dimensions humans cannot. Deuteronomy 29:29
  • Allow people to share their perspectives but be certain, before the meeting ends, that God’s opinion is the final word.

Covenanting has gotten a bad rep in small group circles as of late. Some believe if you covenant you’re revealing a lack of trust between group members. Others seem to be concerned that someone in the group may be hesitant to join the group if they have to agree to ANYTHING. And some just don’t want to have to discuss it with their group because it may cause friction early in group life.

Covenanting in small groups is essential as it gets everyone to commit to equal levels of responsibility and activity. Some of the benefits of covenanting as described by Serendipity House are:

A. It will give the group an agreed upon purpose/vision

B. It is a road map to get to destination

C. It is a framework for managing potential conflict

D. It creates healthy boundaries to function in

E. It eliminates unspoken expectations

You can relieve some tension if the group in involved agreeing to it. This should be a process that follows a step by step procedure that goes something like this:

Step 1: Share a completed covenant like the one above with the group. Toward the end of a group meeting give each member of the group a copy. Tell them why a covenant is necessary. Some of the important reasons for covenanting are, the group has an agreed upon purpose/vision, it is a road map to get to the destination, Christian community, it is a framework for managing potential conflict, it outlines healthy boundaries to function in, and it eliminates unspoken expectations. Ask them to look over the covenant in the upcoming week and that the entire group will agree to the covenant before it is finalized.

Step 2: Discuss each aspect of the covenant. When the group members come back the next week, spend this session discussing each aspect of the covenant. Reach each point of the covenant. When someone is hesitant about a point noted in the covenant ask them what concerns them about that. Ask the group what they believe will be lost if that aspect of the group covenant is dismissed.

Step 3: Work toward consensus. You may need to discuss the covenant agreement for three or four weeks before finalizing it. It may be necessary to rewrite some aspects of the covenant. That’s okay. But you don’t want to lose the parts of the covenant that will keep the group from accomplishing authentic redemptive community. These would include, Participation, Confidentiality, Support, and the Mission of the group.

Step 4: All group members agree to live out the expectations of the group covenant.

On Friday night, I washed the floors of my (huge) kitchen on my hands and knees.

I can guarantee that I have never done that before in my entire life. Maybe I could get into this stress relief through cleaning that so many claim.

Why? Maybe by brute strength, sheer will, I could convince someone to come see our house?

Potential selling points to add to the descriptions:
–I use natural cleaners! Well, mostly.
–We have all CFL lightbulbs!
–I’ll cook you dinner if you come see it!
–You can keep our Adirondack rocker, our coffee table…and anything else you want

It’s extremely disheartening to have had no showings in a whole month. I had such a peace during my husband’s job-search process. Now that we know where we’re going, I want to GO. I don’t want to wait on God.

But I don’t think I have much of a choice.

I’m trusting, trusting that His plan is the best. Better than anything I could dream up in my mere little head.

In the meanwhile, I’ll distract myself by reading His Word … and cleaning. A lot.

Originally published at Vanderbilt Wife.

heroes The past few weeks have certainly seen many of the mighty fall.  Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Steve McNair, oh yeah…Michael Jackson (could you have missed that one on the news?).  While many conversations have taken place around the water coolers and social media sites, most of them I have noticed have not been very redemptive.  At times when our heroes fall, there are so many mixed emotions.  We think back to a show, a poster, a game, a song, and it brings back so many memories.  It also evokes emotions, and emotions can be powerful forces indeed.  When emotions are heightened, people are listening.  People are more open.  And at such times, it would be great if someone could step into the conversation and be redemptive.  Bring the Larger Story to bear. Express struggles, confusion, doubts, and listen to others do the same.  And NOT have all the answers…especially the nicely packaged religious answers.  Usually the right questions will lead people who are not Christ-followers on a journey to answers for themselves.  What do you think this guy valued in life?  Who do you think was important to him or her?  What are you learning from those who are now coping with the loss of this person?  What does the loss of this great person show us about our own hopes and desires?  Without a lot of work, you’ve even got a great small group meeting in the making. Hey, people are listening already and ready to talk.  I can’t think if a better way to honor the memory of our heroes than to allow their lives to be a bridge to redemption for someone who’s still in the battle.

I reached a point this last weekend where I wanted to run away from home.

A long weekend. Bliss, right? For the working mother, three days with child and husband should be perfect. I could play catch-up, endless hours of patty-cake and cuddles.

Libbie, Eight Months

Libbie, decked out in Braves attire for Daddy

Well, endless–that’s one way to put it.

My darling daughter, eight-month-old Libbie, whined relentlessly and refused to nap for THREE. LONG. DAYS.

What was I doing wrong? She had a clean diaper, was well-fed, and has three million toys at her disposal. We tried bouncing, snuggling, walking, ignoring, and even Baby Einstein. Nothing helped.

By Saturday afternoon I was questioning whether I should have waited longer to become a mom. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for it. Maybe I expected too much of this little child. Maybe I could run away and start over, fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming a Broadway star.

And then the guilt starts. Why don’t I have more patience? Why can’t I make her happy? What is wrong with me? How could I even think such awful thoughts about my sweet baby? Obviously, I am the worst person in the entire world and should simply be put in a mental institution. Toting Libbie around the grocery store Saturday afternoon in her sling, I kissed the top of her head and told her I was sorry she had such a crazy mother. I piled ice cream and baby food into my basket, silent tears dripping in her fine baby hair.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” right? So why the guilt? Why the panic?

The preschool minister at our church advised me that times like this are normal. That we feel so inadequate as parents so we will stay continually on our knees, praying for survival for the next 18 years and then some.

For me, times like this come when a) I haven’t been in the Word and in prayer like I need to be; and b) I haven’t been talking about my struggles with anyone. I begin to feel like I am the only person EVER to be this awful of a mother. Having community, friends who are willing to be authentic, is crucial to not letting the panic of motherhood escalate. So much of the time, I feel like everyone else must have it all together, because I don’t see otherwise. We need to be real, people. Be willing to admit that we struggle in parenthood, struggle in our faith, sometimes want to run away to New York City.

I find so much as Americans we aren’t willing to be vulnerable. Pride makes us believe we can’t let on that we’re hurting or need help.

Practice vulnerability this week. Open up to a friend. They might be battling something big and just need an opening. Call someone when their name comes to your mind. It can make a world of difference.

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