November 2009

Bible study is a vital part of the discipleship process. But Bible study that instills knowledge without unveiling the larger story (God’s story) or the context of the story God is telling can be debilitating. Knowledge-based Bible study may lead to lists of do’s and don’ts that place individuals in the box of man-sized expectations without ever unearthing our Father’s God-sized power, love, grace, mercy, holiness, and justice.

When your group gets together take them on a Holy Spirit led journey into God’s great narrative, the Bible. A few things you’ll want to consider:


  1. Remind your group that the Bible is “the story” told through many stories. It is the story of redemption unveiled through many diverse situations.
  2. Put God’s expectations/do’s and don’ts in context. Every announcement of do’s and don’ts takes place in the context of an individual or a community’s story. Guide your group to discuss these rights and wrongs in light of the context in which that particular story is being told. But be sure the group doesn’t conclude that they are not held to the same standards as those in the story being discussed. Context doesn’t erase commandments.
  3. Guide your group to discuss who God is in light of his actions and activities. Every story reveals something about God, a personality trait or an attribute of His character. Some of the most life-transforming conversations a group has takes place when the group spends time discussing who God is in light of how He performed in a real life situation. I assure you, the group will see a much bigger God than they presently perceive to be when discussing the complexities of God’s character, actions, and decisions. This will stretch them but it will give them a more realistic view of Him.
  4. Allow each character in the story to come to life. When discussing the various characters in each story, interpret their statements and/or actions in light of who they are, who they represent, the role they play in the society they were in, and the culture in which they existed.
  5. Guide each member to conclude which character in the story most intersects with their own. In most instances each group member sees something of themselves in some character in the story. Help each group member conclude why they do. It is very possible that some unstated pain or loss or reason for celebrating God’s power in the past will become known for the very first time.




I just want to wish you a happy thanksgiving.

If you haven’t seen the movie The Fourth Kind, you may not understand the term. The Fourth Kind is an encounter with aliens… not just an encounter. An encounter of the fourth kind means you are kidnapped by the little extraterrestrials.

I’m hoping that all of you, especially those of you who live life doing ministry in a local church, are abducted by your own family and carried into a great game of cards, a movie that you can completely escape in (The Blind Side is a winner, I promise.), or an intimate evening with your wonderful spouse. I’m praying you experience community of the fourth kind.

I am thankful for so many things this afternoon. I want you to know that I am thankful for you.

Have a super Thanksgiving.

Rick Howerton





Give thanks

With a grateful heart

Give thanks

To the Holy One

Give thanks

Because He’s given

Jesus Christ, His Son

For nature and nurture, for family and friends, for food on the table and a house that won’t sell, for a sweet, healthy daughter and employed loving husband, for a job until January and especially for my Lord forever, I give thanks.

Thankfulness around the Blogosphere:

20 Little Gratitude Attitudes / InCourage
Thanksgiving Week / NanaHood
Embracing the Strong Will of My Child / We are THAT Family
I Am Thankful / Jason Boyett
The Ultimate Feast / Kitchen Stewardship
A Month of Giving Thanks / SugarMama Baking Company
Permission to Hope / Bring the Rain

I’ve been around ministers and ministry my whole life. My dad was a church staff member then went on to be a senior pastor. My first church position was as a music and youth pastor (I was 17 years old when I started in this role.). I attended a Christian college to study for ministry then went on to get a seminary degree. My journey then took me to work for a denominational entity for ten years followed by nearly ten more years serving in the local church. And for the last ten years I’ve been doing God’s bidding as a church consultant. Ministers and ministry have been my life.

There have been various hot topic issues/debates that we pastor types have deliberated on through the years. Each of these issues has some word that accompanies the conversation. A few of those words… “women,” “authority,” “inerrant,” and in some traditions the term and idea of “elders,” created some ecclesiastical tension. At present it seems the word that comes up most is “reformed.” Over the last twelve months I’ve been reminded by at least four senior pastors upon arrival at the church that the church is “reformed.” And in most of these situations it seemed to be the term that gave the church her sense of identity.

Now please know that I have no concern at all whether or not a church is reformed. I never bring it up while working with a church. No need to disturb my primary reason for being there, to enhance the work of Christ through Christian community.

I must confess that for me, this is a topic whose bottom line is yet to be concluded. In fact, it may be one of God’s great mysteries. After all, one of the most biblically oriented denominations in the world, Southern Baptists, don’t agree on this issue. So mysterious is this matter that the presidents of two seminaries funded and accountable to the Southern Baptist denomination debated one another at their own convention. That is, Dr. Paige Patterson of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (who is a focused Arminian) and Dr. Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (whose belief tilts tall toward Calvinism). Even the great scholars don’t come to the same conclusion on this one.

But I am reformed. You see, when you look at a thesaurus some of the words that are synonymous with the word reformed are “rehabilitated,” “transformed,” “changed,” “converted,” “renewed,” “new,” “improved.” Each of these words describes what God has done and is doing in those who are His followers. Upon becoming a follower of Christ we knew instantly that we had been rehabilitated, transformed, changed, converted, renewed, made new, improved, … reformed.

There seems to be Reformed with a Capital -R and reformed with a little-r. Reformed with a Capital-R would obviously be what the Holy Spirit has done and is doing through and in us. Little-r would be the debatable topic of predestination/Calvinism.

Small group leader, might I suggest that it is much more important when your group is together to discuss what it means to be reformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, reformed with a Capitol-R, than it is to debate reformed theology, reformed with a little-r?

The little-r debate will rage on, and in most instances lead to no final conclusion.  The Capital-R conversation always leads to hope and help and healing. And isn’t that what we want for every person in our small group?

P.S… Please know that I am not suggesting that discussing this issue is out of bounds. In fact, your group members need to have some understanding of the two camps before the conversation erupts in a setting away from group life. But when it becomes the driving force behind most of the group’s conversations, it may become a disease in the small body of Christ you are discipling.

Three weekends ago, we had a small first birthday party for my daughter in Chattanooga, our sort-of-home. My daughter and I live in Nashville still as I continue to work at LifeWay and wait on the sale of our house, while my husband lives in a rental house in Chattanooga and works full-time as a teacher theredryleaf. Most weekends he returns to Nashville, but every few weeks Libbie and I try to spare him the drive and head down his way. Her birthday was a lovely, pumpkin-themed Fall event.

We visited this weekend again, the temperate Tennessee climate allowing for cool mornings and glorious afternoons. It is still in the 70s around here during the afternoons–a rare occurrence for mid-November, even in the South, but enjoyed by all those who fear snow as I do.

As I drove home in the late afternoon on Sunday, I noticed the trees for the first time. Those limbs that had just three weeks ago held vivid oranges and reds were now turning brown. The glorious time of Fall was over; the trees hummed of a long Winter to come.

Just three weeks. It seems like such a short time. In that time, though, my baby has turned into a confident walker. She can navigate the stairs of our townhome. She trails behind me, uttering a near-constant stream of “nonononono!”

It all goes too fast. My baby is a toddler. I can still barely put together the words that I am old enough to be someone’s mother, and already we’re thinking of when to start trying to have a sibling for Libbie. Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not.

Never have these words from Ecclesiastes seemed to scream at me more loudly: “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” I firmly believe we feel time slipping through our fingers so quickly because we are meant for eternity. Our souls are eternal and yet our minds struggle against that: “Wait! Why is everything going so fast? I’ll be dead before I know it!” But friend, if you know Christ, there is so much more for your timeline past death. While it cannot be fathomed, it is there.

My mind, clinging to what is known, battles against the rapid watch hands of Time. But my soul, deep within me, breathes a sigh of relief as it considers life beyond this world. Does yours?

The manuscript for Episode 4 of Small Group Life Barbarians: A Call into Unchartered Faith is making its way into production. (Boy do we work ahead. Would you believe that this doesn’t release until next fall!) Because there’s the sense that maybe we as a culture have become somewhat soft—or perhaps better put, tame—in our faith of late, and because there’s a least a chord of applicable truth in Mick’s words to Rocky in Rocky III, the Small Group Life staff has undertaken production of Barbarians as a means for challenging believers to be more willing to confront life’s messes, challenges, and even opportunities in the spirit of Deborah, David, John the Baptist, Moses, and, yes, Jesus. And so we can address potential blind spots of a barbaric spirituality, we’ll also take up the story of Jephthah and his rash vow. I love this topic.

“But then the worst thing happened that could happen to any fighter, you got civilized.” Mickey to Rocky in Rocky III

One of the challenges of creating a small-group experience of this sort was just how to break this notion of a Christian barbarian into individual study topics—all able to stand-alone in an open group environment yet maintaining some sense of progression. I was planning to include a list with short descriptions, but decided that it might be best to leave that open for the time being. Regardless of where we land, you can expect Episode 4 to be streamlined, missional, and spiritually provocative in that the experience we create is expected to take you and your groups on a journey.

“A barbarian invasion is taking place even right now. They are coming from the four corners of the earth and they are numbered among the unlikely. From the moment Jesus walked among us the invasion began. And just as with those who crossed paths with Him here on earth, those who are most religious will be most offended and indignant.” Erwin McManus, The Barbarian Way

Episode 3: FREEDOM is in production, Episode 2: MISSION is being printed, and Episode 1: FORMATION is now available. This is a brand new series created to be affordable, flexible, and easy-to-use yet uncompromising in the biblical content and small-group experience you would expect. Got any ideas about Christian barbarianism or any of the topics, you can comment here, DM IAmAgonistes through Twitter (brand new), or go to our Facebook fan page.

It takes courage to forgive when everyone else is throwing stones. Do it anyway.

It takes courage to correct when everyone else is justifying a friend’s wrongdoing. Do it anyway.

It takes courage to embrace the outsider when everyone else is ambivalent. Do it anyway.

It takes courage to die for someone else when everyone else is living for themselves. Do it anyway.

Jesus did.

Guiding your small group to do what’s relationally correct no matter the cost is essential for their spiritual growth. Model these things, remind them of these things, praise them when they do these things, and you’ll create an astoundingly healthy relational environment.


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