While a graduate student at a notable school in the great state of Georgia I participated in a seminar class that studied the works of Edmund Spenser. (“Why?” you ask. Holding down a full-time job allowed limited options. But you make the most of it.) We spent a little time on lesser works like Muiopotmos and “The Shepherd’s Calender,” but the bulk of the semester we spent on The Faerie Queene—a 1,000 (not a typo) page poem that addresses practically every aspect of Elizabethan culture. It’s actually fascinating, assuming would-be readers can manage to stay awake.

The Faerie Queene employs allegory in treating its subject. The allegory takes place on two levels: the Christian and the political. The former takes up the story of the Red Cross Knight and examines the moral, philosophical, and religious of the human condition. The latter draws from various allegorical manifestations of Elizabeth I while diving very deep into expressions of the political, social, and religious conversations of the day. But that’s not important. (I included it because I’ve waited more than 10 years to be able to find a way to use this information. Admittedly, it’s a stretch.) What is important, though, are the knights that represent Justice, Chastity, Courtesy, Temperance, and Friendship. Each has a charge to carry out and each has his, or in the case of Britomart, her, own personal villain—or obstacle standing between him or herself and his or her duty. It’s epic in a poetic, Renaissancey, got-to-read-it-so-I-might-as-well-enjoy-it kind of way.

Each knight has his own villain, that is, except Cambell and Triamond—the knights of friendship. In Spenser’s Faerie Land Cambell and Triamond must battle almost every character and practically every allegorical expression of social depravity, wickedness, and evil over the course of The Faerie Queene. And believe when I say, that is a long course. Presumably this is because true friendship, authentic community, stands to do the most damage to the many villainous plots and schemes both in the fictitious Faerie Land as well as the real world that it has been created to represent.

During my late 20s and 30s a friend and I would debate the merit of friendship and whether it belonged in the pantheon that includes justice, temperance, and chastity. He, ten years my senior, passionately believed that friendship belonged in the most lofty places. I, on the other hand, really just didn’t get it. Not only did friendship not belong on the grandest stage, but maybe it was even trivial. Don’t get me wrong, I had friends and loved them. And even though I had intimate friends I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand community. Maybe it isn’t until a little later in life that we can truly appreciate the depth of community, what its absence means to our spiritual health, and how God works through group life, authentic relationships, and intimate friendship.

It’s no happenstance that Cambell, Spenser’s Knight of Friendship, possesses a ring that renders him almost invulnerable because the ring had the power to heal Cambell’s wounds—his battle wounds. That’s because what was true in 1590 is just as true now. There is power in community. There is strength in community. God heals through community. Episode 7 of Small Group Life, Connections, in which we examine the many connections of our life, addresses the levels of community in our lives and leads groups on a journey into the ways we are connected, should be connected, and must stay connected. These connections represent the cords of Ecclesiastes 4:12—and Cambell’s ring.

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‘‘What are you doing tonight?” is a phrase I’ve heard my friend Lynnette say more times than I can count. We met our senior year in high school but didn’t really get to know each other until college, where we became best friends. Lynnette and I have been through a lot of junk together. She’s the absolute only human who knows all my secrets. And she’s always had an uncanny knack for knowing when I need company—whether I say so or not.

All grown up and years beyond college, Lynnette’s a married mother of three. Several years ago she and her family moved out of state, but until that time we were together more often than not. I’m not talking about the two of us doing girl stuff. We did some of that, but mostly Lynnette embraced me as a part of her family. She would invite me over even after her craziest days of driving the mom taxi and cooking dinner and doing laundry and running errands. It didn’t matter what was going on in her life; she still took time for mine.

None of my evenings at Lynnette’s house ever looked the same. Sometimes she cooked and sometimes we just ordered pizza. I remember nights of homework, playing with the kids, watching movies, or helping with baths. It never really mattered to me. I just loved being in the midst of a family.

Although I would guess it was the farthest thing from her mind, Lynnette is the one who first taught me about true, authentic community. About what doing life together really looks like. I don’t remember lots of other details of what we did through all those years, but what I do remember is how Lynnette made me feel. And that is what challenges me to want to do the same for others.

It wasn’t about a spotless house and a perfect meal and keeping me entertained. It was about loving me.

You may have sensed God nudging you to open your heart—and maybe even your home—to someone. The perfect time may not be when everything is just right. The perfect time may be right now.

By inviting others in to do life together, you could change your little corner of the world. Lynnette inspired me to look beyond waiting until my house is perfect and the menu is just right. I really don’t have to be Martha Stewart. It’s about relationships. It’s about loving others. It’s about accepting and being accepted. It’s what we’re made for.

Until next time,
Signe

Most church plants have no option… they’ll be doing small groups. They don’t have the space to have any other kinds of adult classes on Sunday morning and even if they did, they need every person who makes up the church to set-up, tear-down, be sound technicians, musicians, greeters, etc… In most church plants the only ministries a church can offer adults will be worship and small groups. 

If the church is going to flourish it’s vital that these first small groups have the right DNA, the DNA that will be passed on from one generation of small groups to the next. 

There are some aspects of that DNA that must be in place and must be kept in place. These are principles from Acts 2:42 – 47. When these are working together God will do amazing things. A quick list… 

  • The Bible being recognized and studied as words coming from God
  • Friendships that are built on the principles of biblical Christian community which means those in the group are one body. When one person suffers everyone else feels their pain (and responds to comfort the one who is suffering) and when another has something to celebrate everyone senses their joy and celebrates with them.
  • Recognizing Jesus as the centerpiece of group life and helping one another grow to become more and more like Him.
  • Potent prayer, group prayer that anticipates God is going to respond to our requests.
  • Meeting one another’s needs no matter what the cost is to those who make up a particular group.

 It doesn’t matter what kind of small group system the church planter has determined to propagate. It doesn’t matter if the church is doing open or closed groups, using curriculum or discussing the Sunday sermon, is involved in a 40 day campaign or simply meeting at the coffee shop with a few other believers for spiritual conversations, if these components are not part of group life, the groups will not reach optimal effectiveness.

 If you would like to know more about church planting and small groups come join us at the Exponential Conference in April.

Dan the Man Flanagan
Dan the Man Flanagan

Last week I was in Elizabethtown, Kentucky speaking at Severns Valley Baptist Church. One of my life-long (since attending Campbellsville College anyway) friends and mentors lives about thirty minutes from E’Town. We never sat down and discussed his being my mentor nor do I believe he purchased a book telling him how to be one. There was no proclamation of roles or declaration of expectations. I simply saw a man I respected who was in my life path. I chose to watch him do life, ask him how to do life when necessary, and allow him to be one of the people I call on when life becomes confusing or I’m considering some big decision. As I climbed into my red Mitsubishi Lancer and headed down 65 South toward Nashville, I began to mull over what he has done for me throughout the span of this organic mentoring friendship. I soon realized that the ways he has influenced me is what every great small group leader should be doing for any small group member willing to allow it. Check it out…

 

  • Model consistency. He is always the man he has always been, no matter who he’s with or where he is.
  • Model calling. After exiting full-time ministry he took on some major positions for the Commonwealth of Kentucky and in retirement is on three major committees for the state of Kentucky. He was the bi-vocational pastor of a church for 15 years while working full-time for the Commonwealth of Kentucky and in retirement (while serving on these committees) continues to preach and teach and help out other ministers like myself who need words of wisdom and guidance.
  • Tell the truth. No matter how much it stings he wisely gives me the straight up concerning decisions made or things I’m considering and, in most instances, does so by guiding me through questions asked. I think I’ve figured him out… he wants me to discover the truth without his declaring it to me himself. Now that’s wisdom!
  • Verbalize affirmation. When he notices I’ve done something right he tells me and is wise enough to only affirm when it’s warranted. Verbalizing words of affirmation when those words are insincere or unwarranted diminishes words of affirmation when they are deserved.
  • Imprint clichés that will last a lifetime. He once said to me, “Plan your work and work your plan.” I’ve been doing it ever since and will live by this principle for the rest of my life.
  • Sacrifice financially to help out. He and his wife anonymously paid the down-payment for our first apartment. My wife and I eloped when we were college freshman with $50.00 in our pocket and a borrowed car. I found out they had paid for this 20 years later.
  • Keep them grounded. When my ego flies too high he takes me out to his farm, drives me around in his truck, let’s me see God’s handiwork and I remember how small I really am compared to the God of creation. Oh, yeah… If he needed to he’d give me a paternal, subtle, verbal butt-kickin’.
  • Let your life teach the Bible. He is one of the most authentically biblical people I know. He knows the Bible and chooses to live it and prove its truth through his actions and sacrifices.
  • Be a friend. Many years ago our relationship transitioned from college student and college pastor to being peers. Having a friend who happens to be a mentor means I no longer see him as above me or walking before me rather walking beside me where I not only hear his declarations about life but I can learn from him as he does life.

 

Paul told the young pastor, Timothy“… the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim. 2:2)  Four generations of discipleship/mentorship is noted in this one sentence. Small group leaders should pass on to their small group members, and especially the apprentice of the group, what God has taught them through those who have gone before them.

 

Thanks, Dan the Man Flanagan! I’m doing my best to pass on to the next generation what you’ve passed on to me and I’m sure hundreds of others who have wandered into your life path through the years are doing the same!