I recently came across this fascinating video about a World War II propaganda poster from Great Britain. The poster features a burnt-orange background and an outline of the royal crown, along with the words “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Designed for distribution during times of attack or invasion, the poster was never actually circulated to the public. In fact, nobody would even remember it existed if not for the owners of a store called Barter Books in northeast England. They liked the poster, had it framed, and hung it on one of the walls of their store.

In the years since, the poster has become one of the iconic images from the 20th century.

“Keep Calm and Carry On.” I think that would’ve been a great slogan for a war-torn world more than 70 years ago.

And I think it’s a great slogan for small-group leaders today.

Bad Stuff Will Happen

If you happen to lead a small group, or if you’re thinking about leading one in the future, there’s at least one thing I can promise you: Bad things are going to happen.

Not terrible things. You won’t need to contend with murderous Nazis or anything like that. But bad things will happen for sure.

People in your group will experience conflict, for example. Or you’ll spend a lot of money buying a curriculum series that bombs. Or someone you really like will leave the group because they’re “not being fed.” Or your church will decide that your group has become too large and needs to be split.

Or all of the above.

When those things happen, you’ll be tempted to throw your hands up and walk away. Maybe you’ve experienced that temptation in the past. Maybe you’re experiencing it now.

You don’t have to be pushed around by those negative circumstances, though. You have the ability and the capacity to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Because the success or failure of your small group is not dependent on your abilities as a small-group leader.

It’s Not Up to You

That’s worth repeating: The success or failure of your small group is not dependent on your abilities as a small-group leader. In fact, if it were up to us to produce healthy and growing small groups, we would always fail.

Think about it: You are not able to transform ten people from spiritual infants to spiritual giants by meeting with them once a week. You are not equipped to change peoples’ lives by cooking up some nachos and writing a few discussion questions. Billy Graham is not equipped to do that.

Rather, any spiritual growth that occurs in a small group has its source in God. It’s the Holy Spirit that transforms people and conforms them to the image of Christ. Not you. Not your ability to purchase the perfect Bible study.

In other words, any success that your small group experiences can be credited to God. It’s not up to you.

So, when those bad things happen, you don’t have to worry that they will prevent people from growing spiritually. You don’t have to worry that your failures will somehow damage the people you care about.

You are free to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

—Sam O’Neal is author of The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders (coming in May 2012 from InterVarsity Press) and an editor for LifeWay Christian Resources.

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Do you appreciate beautiful island ambiance? Are you a surfer? Are you a fan of Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, or AnnaSophia Robb…or even Hercules (Kevin Sorbo)? Do you love Carrie Underwood? Do you like movies that make you cry?  For all of these reasons or just for one, you should consider going to see Soul Surfer this weekend. This is a movie that also models a faith that is not perfect but real.

About a month ago I was invited to a preview of the movie, and honestly my main reason for attending was because it was a free date night with my wife.  Little did I know how my heart would be engaged that night, however. Now, I am definitely not a cryer.  There are a couple of movies with tear-jerking scenes that have caused me to quickly wipe my eye before anyone could see, but this one had my eyes welled with tears throughout.

The film is based upon the real life story of Bethany Hamilton, a teen sensation surfer in Hawaii who lost her arm in a shark attack. The character development that takes place in the movie is remarkable given the length of time they had to work with; consequently, most viewers will come away being able to relate to this family and wonder how their own might have handled the adversity that the Hamiltons are forced to face.

From a faith perspective, the movie is inspirational. While God is directly mentioned in only a few scenes, He is all over the place. Reminds me of the book of Esther in that way.

It’s difficult to call Bethany’s story a tragedy, and she certainly wouldn’t want us too. Conversely, we can view it as a triumph–the triumph of faith over fear and amazing accomplishment in spite of adversity.

If you can organize a trip to see Soul Surfer this opening weekend–with your family or your small group—you definitely won’t regret it. The movie is getting great publicity and the well-known cast should also allow your friends who are not Christ followers to feel safe in attending. You’ll have ample opportunity for conversations about faith afterwards.

(And for my missional, country music-loving friends, there’s a great segment with Carrie Underwood leading a mission trip to Thailand that may inspire your group as well! ;-))

 

“86 years have I served Him, he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”   -Polycarp at martyrdom

As I’ve been studying through the seven churches of Revelation, I’ve been drawn once again into study of the early Church. Since most of my missionary time was spent trying to “unlearn” much of church form and tradition in order to strip myself of cultural baggage, I guess I had gone on kind of a multi-year fast from one of my favorite educational passions: Church History.

One of the great inspirations of the early Church was Polycarp, pastor of the Church of Smyrna. When you read Jesus’ letter to this church in Revelation and then cross-reference Polycarp’s story, what results is a beautiful portrait of courage in the face of adversity. Here’s a link to part of Polycarp’s bio: http://www.polycarp.net/

Here are just a few of the questions I’m pondering:

– As we strive for relevance, are we as a church still modeling this kind of courage in the face of adversity?

– As a church leader, is this the kind of courage I model for those in my circle of influence?

– If Jesus were to write a letter to my church or small group, what would He say?