August 2009


I’ve become a big fan of Tim Keller. His practical understanding of biblical non-negotiables, his commitment to being the church, and his amazing intellect are a perfect mix to bring clarity to cluttered conversations. Below you’ll find an excerpt from his article, “Missional Church.”

If you’ve ever wondered what makes a small group missional you’re about to find out.

“What makes a small group ‘missional’? A ‘missional’ small group is not necessarily one which is doing some kind of specific ‘evangelism’ program (though that is to be recommended) Rather, 1) if its members love and talk positively about the city/neighborhood, 2) if they speak in language that is not filled with pious tribal or technical terms and phrases, nor disdainful and embattled language, 3) if in their Bible study they apply the gospel to the core concerns and stories of the people of the culture, 4) if they are obviously interested in and engaged with the literature and art and thought of the surrounding culture and can discuss it both appreciatively and yet critically, 5) if they exhibit deep concern for the poor and generosity with their money and purity and respect with regard to opposite sex, and show humility toward people of other races and cultures, 6) they do not bash other Christians and churches–then seekers and non-believing people from the city A) will be invited and B) will come and will stay as they explore spiritual issues. If these marks are not there it will only be able to include believers or traditional, “Christianized” people.”

Much thanks to Dr. Keller for removing the clutter from the Missional Small Group conversation.

My sister recently showed me this hilarious video.

I think around 1:50 where the lyrics go: “He is like a Mountie/He always gets His man/He will zap you any way He can–ZAP” is especially classy. According to the ever-knowledgeable Wikipedia, this band, Sonseed, was actually a serious Christian band in the early 80s.

But really. How many people do you think see this and think, “Yep–cheesy Christians! Going around singing silly songs about Jesus.” And move on, never taking a second glance at the Christianity we know to be true.

It kinda makes me a little bit ill.

Because under the surface of cheesy songs and VBS*, there is a God who calls us to adventure and an epic life with Him. A life that’s going to be wild and full of those characteristics we identify with fairy tales: twists and turns, a Villain, a beauty to be rescued, a Hero-Redeemer. These themes crawl all over His Word, and He is still infiltrating our lives with them today.

I DO have a friend in Jesus. I’ve been “zapped” by His amazing grace and led into the wilderness to find my way to a promised land. I’m craving adventure, setting out to find my way by holding His hand.

* I would never knock VBS. It’s a great thing to lead kids to Him.
** If you’re interested in diving more deeply into this adventure with God, may I suggest our MORE series?

missions

I read an interesting article that was tweeted to me recently by @desiringgod explaining the reasons for differentiating between evangelism and missions. Because the term missional is being used more frequently now, I wonder if that isn’t the reason for the timing of Piper’s article. I have seen some great shifts in the way we do church and the way we are being the church because of the missional movement. This article reminds me that as I encourage our folks to be more missional here at home and in fact more missionary, I still need to offer that unique challenge for people to forsake all to go to the dark corners that will never be reached “as we go.” Check out the article and let me know what you think!

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/AskPastorJohn/ByTopic/7/4153/

Your small group members are about to get back in the tempo of normal life. School is about to begin again. They may need to be reminded that times of rest are important. Below you’ll find a Bible study from the Serendipity Bible for Groups you may want to use soon.

 

 

 

Ice-Breaker: What is your favorite way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

 Read Hebrews 4: 1 – 12

 Bible Discussion: 1. What do you remember about the origin of the Sabbath? 2. What is the “rest” promised by God: Sunday off? The Pomised Land? How do verses 3 – 10 support your answer? 3. Did God withdraw his offer to the original people who were given the promise? What happened? 4. What is the warning to those who are reading this letter? What does it mean that God’s word is “living”? Active? That it penetrates?

 Going Deeper: 1. How would you describe your spiritual diet right now: Healthy?  Balanced? Pretty good? Sporadic? Could be better? Terrible?  2. What have you found helpful in keeping a regular devotional life?

 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.

Encouragement this week came in the form of a Sunday School lesson and a sermon.

Why should that surprise me? But it did. Sunday everything hit home, boom boom boom.

“Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17, HCSB

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for me. The lovely accident on the stairs was only the highlight to several weeks of worrying over the house, many projects at work being due at the same time, a baby with continuous constipation and teething leading to continuous whining and crying, and trying to keep sane as a working mom with a husband who 133 miles away.

At times, I feel that I’m consumed by everything that’s going on and worry about whether our house will ever sell, whether I can be a single mom during the week, whether I’ll go insane when we do move to Chattanooga.

This year has been full of God’s plan trumping our plans. I would have never imagined what we are going through right now. And yet, I truly believe it is God’s plan for us–better than we could imagine. He’s given me this specific time for a reason, and I believe that is to grow closer to Him and develop patience and perserverance.

It’s all going to work out for good. For that, I am ever thankful. I am so glad I have a church family that continues to challenge and encourage me.

supermanSmall Groupologist Rick Howerton is fond of putting a note of authenticity to what is typically a mundane question when he asks, “How are you doing REALLY?” Recently I had an opportunity to have lunch with a friend I spent some of my high school and all of my college years with. Right away I asked him how he was doing, he said “fine.” There was a pause. The word “really”  hung in the air for a moment before he added, “I don’t know. Sometimes I think bad thoughts.”

“Like what?”

“Like, ‘I wonder what would happen if I just left.'”

“What do you mean, ‘left’?”

“‘Left’ as in ‘left and never came back.'”

Of course we talked our way through it for a few minutes. He wasn’t serious. At least, wasn’t serious in considering walking out on his life. But what he was saying was how tired of the routines and the mundane of life he has become. This can’t be uncommon in men getting close to 40 or thereabouts. The word my friend used was “trapped.” In an email exchange I had with yet another friend in this demographic I got the following:

“I wake up a lot of days and have the same what I’ll call malaise. It’s like the new day I’m facing is the exact same day I had yesterday and tomorrow doesn’t promise to be much different or better.”

Now that’s just being honest. Who can’t relate to something on the level of Groundhog Day at least for stretches (for me it tends to be Janaury-March). Neither of these men would describe the lives as bad or their families as anything other than a blessing. I’ve known them both for most of my life and can honestly say that I love them. They’re both very successful at what they do. But I do wonder what the sum of these conversations is and what implication it has for the larger culture of today. In what ways have we both robbed ourselves and, perhaps, been robbed of adventure—which would seem to be part of the issue at hand.  I saw an article today in another publication about getting men to church and how we need to find a way to get more men to church. Apparently we’ve lost Superman! Until we get to the heart of what’s REALLY going on—until we get honest about recovering our hearts—that will continue to be the question.

Whoever titled the book Sticky Church deserves a bonus. Make it big too. If there’s one question church leaders are asking it’s, “How can I get guests to stick?” 

And if I were a wealthy person (which I’m not so don’t call) I’d give Larry Osborne a million bucks myself. Why? Because Sticky Church points out that small groups are what guests stick to. The insinuation… Slam a guest up against a healthy small group and they just might stick. Thanks, Larry. I’m glad another influential senior pastor has given small groups the value they deserve. 

While I don’t agree with everything that is espoused in Sticky Church I can state that I am psyched about the info found in the chapter I was asked to blog about,  “Still More Ways that Small Groups Change Everything.” 

 A few amazing facts Larry points out in this chapter:

  • Small groups foster deeper honesty and transparency than any mainstream ministry utilized in the average local church.
  • About transparency in small groups and how it affects the entire church… “…the honesty that naturally takes place in small groups begins to leak out into the entire church.”
  • Spiritual disciplines are exercised more often when people gather in small groups because, “a small group takes our good intentions and puts them on the calendar.”
  • One of the best gifts a church can give her kids is parents who are growing and that growth takes place when parents are in a healthy small group.

 Okay, Larry… I can’t pay you for your comments but I can sure thank you for them. So… thanks. Thanks for reminding the world small groups are the glue that holds a church together.

To connect to the rest of the tour go to http://www.smallgroups.com/articles/2009/stickychurchblogtour.html

A wonderful site launched this week for Christian women. (in)courage is dedicated to bringing women together in community. The posts from this week have been heartfelt, inspiring, and tear-jerking for me.

Launched by DaySpring, the Christian unit of Hallmark, the site has the look of an especially fabulous greeting card and makes you want to prop your feet up and stay a while.

Many of my favorite bloggers are part of the writing team there: Angie from Bring the Rain, Mary from Giving Up on Perfect, Jessica from The Mom Creative, The Nester from Nesting Place, Jen from Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, and Robin from Pensieve.

I feel that this Web site encompasses much of what Serendipity promotes. If you’re a woman, I’d encourage you to pour yourself a cup of coffee and find your way over to (in)courage.

I missed a very intriguing article back in 2008. A great friend and co-writer of Small Group Life Manual passed the article The End of Small Groups to me. It was written by Jason Jaggard who is a part of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles. He is also an adjunct professor at Golden Gate Theological Seminary.

 

The crux of the editorial… Don’t form small groups, help people find friends.

 

A few comments that caught my attention:

 

Point #1: “…every human being does community naturally.”

Point #2: “Small groups usually start out great, but then (stop me if I’ve heard this one) they begin to lose their energy after a month or two and the group divides itself into two camps. In the first camp are the committed members who would go to a root canel every week if they made a promise to. In the other camp are those who find something else to do – are sick, had a root canal to go to – instead of going to the boring small group.”

Point #3: “… I’m calling for and end to small groups and crying out for a shift toward friendship. Healthy people don’t need small groups – they need friends. Somehow the world has survived without the strange concoction of the “small group” that churches readily and sincerely embraced in the ‘90’s.”

Point #4: “Rather than a “plug-n-play attitude toward relationships, we should be holding high the value of creating healthy relationships.”

Point #5: “At Pepperdine University we’re currently trying and experiment. “… we are going to try a short-term structure called “risk groups.” We’re meeting four to six times, have dinner together and, after small talk and such, will answer only one question: What risk do I need to take this week to become the person I long to be?”

Point #6: “Will they make friends during this time? Yes. Will some choose to hang out after their risk group has come and gone? Probably. But it will be on their terms and guilt free – because they want to, not because some religious organization is telling them they have to.”

 

Okay… I gotta tell ya’…

  • I’m on board with much of what Jason is saying.
  • I think I’d really like Jason. Sounds like he too is a revolutionary.

 

A few points Jason and I would probably enjoy conversing about (Jason, please forgive me if I’ve accidentally misinterpreted some aspect of this article. As someone who is questioned more than quoted myself, I know that can happen.):

 

Point #1 above: I don’t believe every human being does community naturally. In fact, most people seem to need help finding one and knowing how to live in community. Many people go to bars to find community, others come to the church. And in both of these settings those involved need help knowing how to live with one another, in community. In fact, much of the New Testament is helping people know how to live in community because they are unable, even with the Holy Spirit and God’s guidance found in the Bible, to do it where it doesn’t destroy itself.  It seems it is fairly unnatural to live in community. Community is one of the things the enemy has been trying to separate us from since the fall. And he’s done a very good job of it.

 

Point #2 above: There is most certainly a third category… those groups that help people find a community, train a small group leader to facilitate community, and continue to be a motivated community for a lifetime. Please know that I’m not insinuating that a group will come together psyched and dancing in the streets through every era of the group’s relationship. Every relationship has it’s flow of ups and downs things to suffer about together and to celebrate together. Every relationship whether it be a dating relationship, a marriage relationship, buddies we golf with weekly, a local church, has it’s times of anticipation and its eras of apathy. Maybe the groups Jason mentioned need to stay together through the era of apathy so they can experience all of the stages of substantial relationship. Experiencing all of life together, not just the exciting times is necessary if someone wants to be involved in an authentic healthy Christian community.  

 

Point #3 above: Me too. Healthy small groups are made up of people who have become friends. Also… the world has survived without many avenues to relationship in generations passed. Generations passed didn’t seem to need assistance in helping people find one another due to the fact that most people were with the same friends and extended family in the same town for a lifetime. Is it possible that small groups are helping to connect individuals to future friends due to the transient nature of the world we live in? I’m wonderin’.  

 

Point #4 above: No doubt about it. Jason is dead on!

 

Point #5: I am asking this question, not questioning Jason’s statement: Is it our goal (or am I simply dabbling in semantics) to become all we long to be or to allow Christ to shape us into His image through accountable relationships? This is an issue many people seem to be debating now.

 

I do wonder if Jason’s primary concern with this article is “structuring” small groups. If so, even this one question, “What risk do I need to take this week to become the person I long to be?” invites structure into the group experience.

 

Point #6: The insinuation of this statement seems to be that small groups formed by churches drive people to group by guilting them into joining up, that guilt is the outcome of joining a group. My experience has been that most people find more freedom and are set free from guilt by being in a healthy small group.

 

Okay… before someone thinks me attacking Jason, please know that I simply caught wind of the article, read it, and had some knee-jerk reactions.

 

The truth… I think this is an article that is vital to the small group conversation. Jason is right, too many churches add people to an organizational system of group life without leaving the freedom for the group to naturally become friends being guided by the Holy Spirit to the next phase of doing life together, really.

 

Thanks for an article that will stretch many of us, Jason.

justice2It often surprises me when I Twitter (@chinavols), or post on Facebook, which posts get the most attention.  I can always count on a lot of “thumbs ups” if I mention my children or if I brag on my wife.  If I post on my favorite college football team (Go Vols!), I can get a lot of cheers as well as jeers for sure. But the topic most likely to bring lengthy columns of conversation is politics. Since that’s such a small part of my life (especially considering the fact that I lived in a communist country and couldn’t have an opinion for eight years ;-)) it seems really strange when I look back and see it monopolizing my space. And then I’m even more surprised to see me filling other friends’ spaces in the same way! So why is politics one of the “big three”? What is at the heart of politics that brings out our passion?

While trying to think through this as objectively as I am able, it seems that at the heart of politics is really the idea of justice. Regardless of which side of the aisle we are on or which side of the issues, at the heart of most political debate lies the concept of justice. Those on the Right want justice for unborn babies. People on the Left want justice for unwed mothers. Those on the Left want minorities to be given an extra boost to be fair. And those on the Right think it is unfair to give one group a leg up. Conservatives see war as a way to bring justice to bear. And Liberals see war bringing much injustice to innocent people. While I have strong opinions about all of these political issues, for once I want to stand on the fence and try to understand what really makes us tick…all of us.

It seems that it really boils down to a sense of justice that dwells deep within our souls. Perhaps it is a key attribute of the image of God that remains with us, quietly working while waiting to fully come alive. Whether it is rightly or wrongly applied by one side or another, I will leave for another day or just leave for you to decide. One thing is certain: we are powerfully moved by our strong desire for justice.

The Bible has much to say about justice in the Old Testament and the New.  Deuteronomy 16:20 reminds us to “Pursue justice and justice alone, so that you will live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.” One of the key things that help me to step back and stop vilifying those who disagree with me on political issues is to remember that there is something deep inside them that echoes the heart of God. When awakened by the Spirit of God, redemption will make all things new and hopefully we will all make decisions, political and otherwise, that fully reflect His righteousness.

So, what are some things that you recognize in those with whom you disagree that are really a glimmer of the heart of God?

Any other thoughts on justice?

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