March 2011


There’s no telling how much time has passed since I set out to write this post. It’s not that I’m stumped—I know what I want to say. What puts me on hold is figuring out how to say it. I want it to be just right. Not too long, not too stale, and in keeping with every writer’s dream, moving to at least someone out there. So I sit. And stare. And eventually shut it down for another day. After awhile, days and weeks have passed and I have nothing to show for it.

In some ways, this description fits the pattern of my faith—or should I say unfaith—as well. God plants a thought in my mind and gives evidence of its importance in my walk with Him. I feel excited to envelop myself in it, but what happens is—well, nothing. Nothing outward, at least. I research the thing. I pray about it. I may even talk about it with my best friend. But days and weeks pass and I have nothing to show for it.

I’m not stumped. I hear what God is encouraging me to do. But the compulsion to fully know and understand the details of the thing so I can proceed with perfection keeps me from actually moving forward.

See, I’m not much of a risk-taker. Somewhere deep down I’ve formulated the belief that I can’t honor God if I don’t take the exact steps He has planned for me. I don’t feel safe relying solely on my own judgment. You can imagine the time I’ve wasted trying to figure out what those steps are. For fear that I’ll mess up, I’ve become a passive Christ-follower. And isn’t that just the kind of Christian the Enemy loves?

Not at all what I was going for. The opposite, actually.

God’s so good, you know? He’s beginning to show me a bigger truth that has brought incredible amounts of freedom for this rule-follower. Picture a toddler about to take his first steps. For weeks, his parents have been working with him, teaching and encouraging and exemplifying what it means to walk. And finally, he steps. One foot. Then the other. He may go in circles or in a line. He may take one step or ten before falling down.

What do you imagine the parents are doing as they watch? What do their faces look like? I’ll tell you. They’re proud. They’re excited. They’re high-fiving and hollering as though their team has just made it to the Final Four.

Here’s what they’re not doing. They’re not marking Xs on the carpet for the little guy to step onto. They’re not picking up the toddler’s feet and planting them just so. They’re not even holding onto his hands and steering his body. And I can promise they’re not disappointed that he took only three steps instead of seven.

We’re the toddler and God is the parent. He doesn’t mark out every single step He wants us to take in life. Instead He shows us the goal, and then He watches proudly as we do our best to mimic Him. Whether we take one step or a hundred, He’s there watching like a proud Daddy. He celebrates progress—even baby steps.

What about you? How often do you let fear (or laziness or control or fill-in-the-blank) render you passive?

Don’t let anything get in the way of your willingness to fully give yourself to what God has put on your heart to do. You’re free to move!

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Philip Nation, blogging as a guest at www.edstetezer.com, posted “Flash Mobs and the Search for Community” earlier this week. In the post Philip cites our need to be a part of something larger—and these flash mobs meet this need even if for a few minutes, actually longer once you figure in the planning and practice.  And I’ll be honest … I love these videos. There’s something instinctive and primal about what appears to be the spontaneous overflow of sheer joy and celebration. And I especially like the connection to a great story like The Sound of Music because it has the potential to point us to the Larger Story of the gospel. But I agree with Philip in that there is a greater lesson to be gleaned from the flash mob: People want to be part of a community on mission.

“Flash” is on the money in describing this phenomenon. I think we can all recall moments of …. something. There are whiffs of a certain fragrance that remove us from the present while certain mornings and evenings possess the power to make life seem “just right.” Still, there are other times that Wordsworth describes as offering “the presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts.” These moments “flash” within and around us just like these musical mobs that you can find all over youtube. But like so much, the flash is only marginally or briefly fulfilling. It is a poor substitute for those things real—like real, authentic community. Like deep, sincere discipleship. Like earnest, heartfelt devotion and prayer. While some flashes provide glimpses of Eden and the paradise to come, others leaves us completely empty and wanting, commensurate to the donut of the human condition.

Read Philip’s post and join the conversation by clicking here. And as you think through your community-building enterprises, curriculum, and small-group activities be sure to avoid the donuts.

Bill Donahue at the Building Biblical Community video shoot

Former small-group pastor and small-group pioneer Bill Donahue recently addressed the notion of “story” at churchleaders.com. Bill has been involved—one way or another, as group member and leader, at smaller churches and Willow Creek alike—in small groups for a long time. The only conclusion we’re left to draw is that he’s managed to pick up a thing or two during his association with the more-than-20,000 groups with whom he has been in touch.

The post, Learn How People Are Shaped By Their Stories, describes the path to be taken from isolation to community that begins with a close examination of one’s story. This notion of my own “story” and how it continues to play itself out in my life was introduced to me early on in my tenure here. Admittedly, initially I was somewhat skeptical about what appeared to be a very self-centered approach to discipleship. In fact, in some ways it seemed to run counter to everything I thought I had been taught. But over the years I’ve come to understand the role my story plays in my life, the impact it has, and how God continues to reveal not only truth about who I am through a careful examination of my own story, but also the truth about who He is, through such as examination. Bill’s post calls attention to both of these by products.

As small-group leaders we should always been mindful of the many stories represented in the room. The cumulative effect of these stories contributes to our understanding of God, ourselves, the ways we relate to one another, the way we process external events and circumstances, and our own conclusions about the world around us. One of the reasons “The Question” is so significant in group life is because only through a great question can we begin to re-construct the story—the role the enemy has played, plot twists and turns, disorientation, the heroes and villains. Sure, discussion is great and keeps us engaged, but the ultimate goal of any group must be transformation. What Bill is describing in this post, most importantly, is a means to transformation through the story God is revealing through each of us.

For additional work in this regard check out Robert Mulholland’s Invitation to a Journey and The Deeper Journey. We also have several resources specifically created for drawing our stories out into the group space—certainly not for the timid, but perhaps the most redemptive exercise in small-group ministry—in the Canvas series we created with Pete Wilson and the MORE series inspired by Ron Keck. We also took great lengths to integrate this model for transformation in the God + the Arts series (Finding Jesus in the Movies, Finding Redemption in the Movies, Finding the Larger Story in Music).

I’ve heard it said that we are “always being spiritually formed.” It’s true, either we’re being spiritually “re-formed” or “de-formed” throughout our days and weeks and months. One of the seminal points in Syd Field’s book Screenplay is this: “know your story.” God as the ultimate and final teller of our stories knows this … and He is inviting us to join Him.