There’s nothing quite as exhilerating as being in a small group when every person is completely sold out to the other group members yet are honored as important individuals. That is, each person is singing her/his part, all the parts are equally important, and the song is in tune. At this point a group will experience it’s own group personality, being one without losing ones self. At this point the group will exhibit life-giving synergy. This kind of synergy can only be experienced when each person in the group is moving forward in his/her own personal journey toward deeper levels of connection, what I call “emotional evolution.” 

  

Most of us have had the unsettling feeling, almost panic, of entering a new small group for the first time. If you haven’t been the new guy or girl in an already established group, you most likely have had the experience of being at the first meeting of a newly formed group. You’ve experienced the first group meeting jitters (for some… anxiety). It is painfully obvious early on that the goal of deep connectedness cannot be reached immediately.

 

God made us in such a way that progressive intimacy is part of our makeup. The term progressive intimacy simply means that our level of intimacy with one another is progressive, moving from minute to amazingly deep over a period of time.  Each of us goes through various stages. So that you can understand the process your group members are progressing through I’ve outlined my perception of this process below.

 

Stage One… Invitation (honored to be part of the group)

Stage Two… Expectation (prior to first meeting emotions arise concerning possibilities for group experience and group relationships.)

Stage Three… Intimidation (new people, new surroundings, need to be loved and accepted overwhelmed by what seems to be the depth of spiritual lifestyles of others)

Stage Four… Inhibition (inhibited because people still don’t know if this is a safe haven or a dangerous relational jungle)

Stage Five… Exploration (exploring their place in the group)

Stage Six… Evaluation (Mental exercise asking questions vital to the individual. Who am I in this group? Do I really fit in? Are these people really accepting me? Do I really accept them?)

Stage Seven… Actualization (An accepting of my role in this group, the people in this group, the leader of the group, etc…) This group does have the shared goal, like passion, and sincerity of heart to see God act that I do.)

Stage Eight… Reconciliation (I know and accept my place in this community of believers, trust them to know my needs and respond, trust them to keep conversations confidential. We are Christian community with like goals and callings. I am reconciled to living the principles espoused in the group covenant.) 

Stage Nine… Exhibition (Because I have learned this is a safe environment and because I have concluded that I am accepted here and that I am a person of worth to these people, and because deep in my heart I realize I am part of this community, I can exhibit the real me.)

Stage Ten… Elation (there is no place I’d rather be. Being me is fun, exciting, and relaxing. I am elated to spend time in this environment.)

 Please know, the length of time an individual is in each of these stages will differ from person to person. Also, some people will skip various stages and move directly to the next. Some will get stuck in a stage and never choose to move forward unless prompted to do so by a life experience, conversation/conversations with a group member, or a planned activity like a retreat or the group being on mission together. And others will go forward then some experience (someone breaks a confidence, attacks them publicly or behind his/her back, etc…) with a group member or the entire group will force them backward and it will be necessity for them to relive prior stages.

 

Small group leader… Know where each of your group members are living and help them move through the stages of “emotional evolution.” It will be worth it!

 

With the election taking place tomorrow I find myself asking this question… What is the truth? It seems like the news media has teams of people who do nothing but inform us when a candidate is telling the complete truth and when they are not. The obvious inference is that they are lying to us. But they’d say they’re simply “spinning.” Candidates and their teams use “spin” when making statements to the press, in speeches, and when asked direct questions, leaving all of us screaming… “What is the real truth!?”

 

One person defined spin as, To provide an interpretation of (a statement or event, for example), especially in a way meant to sway public opinion.” My definition would be more like, “Half truths or all out lies that keep us from finding out what really happened or what you’re really thinking or believe.”

 

Some techniques of spin are (as seen in Wikipedia):

  • Selectively presenting facts and quotes that support one’s position. That is, giving half of the story so that the real story is never exposed. Some people call this “cherry picking.”
  • Non-denial denial – a statement that seems direct, clearcut and unambiguous at first hearing, but when carefully parsed is revealed not to be a denial at all, and is thus not untruthful. It is a case in which words that are literally true are used to convey a false impression. As in the infamous statement made by Bill Clinton when he was physically involved with Monica Lewinsky. He announced, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” It later transpired that the truth of the statement hinged on Clinton’s use of a narrow legal definition of “sexual relations” which had been agreed upon for the purposes of the case – that sex is defined in many legal codes as a person making physical contact with another person’s sex organs. While President Clinton and Miss Lewsinsky had been physical in many other ways he hadn’t made contact with these specific areas.
  • Phrasing in a way that assumes unproven truths
  • Euphemisms to disguise or promote one’s agenda

Spin has become so much a part of our culture that Bill O’Reilly, host of The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News announces that his show is a “The No Spin Zone.” Mr. O’Reilly allows no spin and will drive hard to get to the truth if anyone tries to spin the facts.

 

Spin is a dangerous thing as it misleads and keeps you from knowing the real truth. But it happens in small groups all the time (especially in men’s accountability groups) and is very, very dangerous because, when someone is caught “spinning” the trust factor in that group is greatly diminished.

 

Small Groups must be no spin zones. Leaders, here are a few tips that may make your group a “No Spin Zone.”

 

  1. Create an environment of grace. Remind the group consistently that God always forgives and then tell how and when He has forgiven you.
  2. Model complete honesty yourself.
  3. When you catch yourself “spinning” (which most of us have a tendency to do) immediately say, “Okay, okay, let me tell you the whole story.” Then do it. You’ll be respected for it.
  4. Ask group members to tell the last 10%. Bill Hybels once did a talk in which he stated that many people give 90% of the story but don’t tell the last 10%, the parts that make them look bad or reveal who they really are.
  5. Praise group members when they are so transparent it causes the cringe factor to fill the room. In most environments the cringe factor is sensed at the moment someone tells all. As you praise those who tell all others will note that this is honorable and appropriate.
  6. Consistently remind the group that, when they are together they are in a no spin zone.  

Small group leader… If you can make your small group a No Spin Zone you’ll create an environment where people can be set free.

 

    “…confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16

 

 

 

 

He likes Jesus...
He likes Jesus?!

A few weeks ago I received a link to an NPR story about Bill Maher and what he thinks about Jesus. You may know Bill from his HBO show Real Time or his new film Religulous (Did you catch the insinuation of this new term? It seems to be a mix between the term “religious” and “ridiculous.”) And that’s right where Maher seems to land when it comes to religion.

The article states… “In his new film, Religulous — a satirical documentary in which Maher travels to religious sites around the world, ranging from the Vatican and Jerusalem to a Muslim gay bar in Amsterdam and a Christian theme park in Orlando, Fla. — he describes religion as “dangerous.” He goes on to say that… “the idea of a personal god who responds to prayer, who performs miracles and battles evil in an active way, is the result of “a long, 2,000-year-old game of Telephone.”

Sounds like Bill has a problem with all belief systems that have God in their ideology, including Christianity. But does he? The article continues… “The message of Jesus,” on the other hand, “is not only beautiful but revolutionary,” Maher stresses. “The idea that the meek shall inherit the earth, and that the poor and the powerless have just as much dignity as the powerful and the rich, that was a very new idea at the time — and it has not gone out of style.”

The article goes on… “The shame, Maher argues, is that that message gets lost amid what he describes as “the magic tricks and the bells and whistles and the nonsense” of organized religion.”

I want to ask you a question. Do you think most people who are hesitant about church and/or joining a small group have the same concerns as Bill Maher? If so, why do you think they are so disturbed by “organized religion?” I would really like to hear your comments.