The most important question

Consider the following:

A small group leader is frustrated.  His members are passive during discussion time.  They wait eagerly but they won’t participate.

In another group within the same church, the leader spends hours each week preparing.  But after a time of eating and fellowship, nobody is ready to settle down and listen.

In yet another group, someone feels lost and alone.  He is waiting for the leader to notice his pain.  All the while ignoring the overtures of the other members.

Quite seperate symptoms.  These, and so many other problems beside, all point to a common cause.

That cause is a failure to understand an answer to one of the most important questions that a small group ministry can answer.  The question is this:

Where is the holy spirit?

That kind-of question can be off-putting.  It seems pie in the sky.  It seems so theoretical and so theological.  It’s the sort of question that can be devisive.  It’s the sort of question that we can spend our whole lives arguing about and not feel like we’ve made any progress on.

I’m not going to offer an easy answer.  I don’t think there is a single correct answer at all.  But I do believe it’s critical that a small group within church has an answer to that question, has committed to some sort of guiding belief.  I believe that the process of asking this question and being consistent about the answer will guide nearly everything a group does.

There are two extremes that a person might take on this question, in terms of small groups.  On one side is the position that the Holy Spirit resides within the leader alone.  The other extreme is that the Holy Spirit resides right in the middle of the group, between the interactions, discussions, and debates.

If we believe that the Holy Spirit is working mostly though a leader then that leader is (among other things) a teacher.  Wisdom is coming from this persons understanding.  Training this kind of leader involves helping him to communicate and discern God’s intent.  Training this kind of group involves teaching them to be good students and listeners.

This is a fairly traditional model.  Adult Sunday school classes usually operate on this sort of idea.  Some churches call their small groups “cell church” or “mini church”.  The idea seems to be that the leader is quite similiar to the church pastor except that his or her flock is much smaller.

At the other end: all people bare a responsibility for finding the truth.  Interaction is much more important than teaching.  Disagreement is critical to success.  The leader of this group is less a teacher and more a facilitator, working at bringing the best out of everyone.

This kind-of model is sometimes identified with post-modern or emergent mind sets.  It is emphasizes the importance of the relationships.  There are fundamental differences not only between the scale that church pastors and small group facilitators operate on.  There are also fundamental differences between the nature of what they do.

In the examples given at the beginning of this post, there was a disconnect.  That disconnect existed between the ideas of the leaders and the ideas of the members about where the Holy Spirit resides.  A leader who believes that the Holy Spirit resides in the middle of all of them will place a high value on interaction and will expect interaction.  A group that disagrees with this leader is waiting, quietly and attentively, to be taught.

On the other hand, a leader who believes that he is charged with teaching, with dispensing knowledge, might easily work hard at preparing.  If the group is interested in finding truth among them, he is likely to be quite stressed out.

A member of a group might expect the leader to minister to his pain.  The leader of that group, though, might think about the priesthood of believers.  He might believe that the members are all ministering to each other and that it is not his sole responsibility to be taking care of individual needs.

There are countless plusses and minuses, hundreds of ramifications to the question, “Where does the Holy Spirit reside?”  It’s not easy.  In the act of saying “We believe that the role of a small group leader is…” we open ourselves to all sorts of criticism.

There are problems with whatever model a small group is operating from.  There are valid criticisms of the most leader-centered model and the most group-centered model.  There are problems with every single compromise between the extremes.

But not admitting our position doesn’t prevent us from taking a position.  Every one already has a belief about where the Holy Spirit is, whether they realize it or not.  Members have expectations on leaders regardless of whether this is discussed.  Leaders have expectations on members, regardless of whether or not these have been admitted.

In the end getting everyone on the same page is incredibly important.  Over the long haul, it minimizes conflict and increases satisfaction. 

 

 

 

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Offering financial help within a small group

I want to talk about when and how we should give money to each other.

I had started this post quite differently.  I had all these things to say about the growing decentralized power structure in the church.  They were deep things, and they were probably mostly true.

But they weren’t really important.

My experiences I think are more relevant to this topic than my contemplations about it.   I have been on a bunch of different sides of this issue.   This is probably why I don’t have clear solutions and easy steps.

During some of the darkest periods of my life I have been in a position of having to accept a sum of money from my small group.  (And actually, other groups that were quite close to mine.)

On more than one occasion I have been on the other side of that coin.  Within a small group I have given financially to someone else in need.

Currently, one of my ministry responsibilities is to work with groups that have needs that are larger than can be met within the group: I facilitate communication between groups, and do my best to direct people to amazing people and resources outside and inside our church.

I probably don’t need to spend much time elaborating on how difficult this is.    We have all looked at our brothers and sisters in need and wrestled with all sorts of things:

* How much should I sacrfice to give to the people in need?  How much should I ask my family to sacrifice so that we can give?

* How can I assess their decisions without being judgemental?  Am I just feeding into foolish decisions by giving them a gift?

* How many details am I owed by someone in need?  How much do I have the right to know how they got into this situation?  How much do I have the right to know about how they will use the money? 

*  Do I trust them with cash or make sure the money goes to what it is intended to go to?  How much do I have the right to dicate how my assistance is spent?

I think we’re all good at memorizing the scripture that supports wherever we come from on this issue.  I think we’re all equally good at ignoring the scripture that does not support where we come from.

What I want to do is simply offer up a few observations about financial need and then sketch out some implications that these observations have to small group management.

#1) There are very few problems which are completely about the money.

It’s almost a cliche to point out that the ways in which we handle our money is an extremely spiritual issue.  This is a cliche because it’s true.

Having financial troubles is so often a symptom of bigger issues.  It was for me.  As I look back, I think that maybe God was trying to get my head out of the sand through these financial challenges.  As I look around, I suspect that I’m not alone in this.

What’s worse is that financial troubles are causes of bigger issues, too.   There are intense emotional issues involved with financial troubles.    We live a society that has made an idol out of self sufficiency.  It’s a very shameful experience for most people to be in financial trouble.  It’s also a fearful situation, anxiety provoking and stressful.  It can cause profound relationship problems and tie into feelings of being a poor parent.  Finanical diffuclties attract blame and fear and shame and anger.  We ignore these at the peril of everyone.  

#2) There are few problems which are completely divorced from money

While it’s true that money is rarely a problem that occurs alone, it’s equally true that there aren’t many problems which don’t have a financial side.  There are many reasons which might prevent us from talking about the financial aspects of problems.  But this does not mean that they are not there.  As we wonder about how best to care for people, it’s important to wonder about whether there is a financial aspect to the issues we are helping each other through.

Even if there are little or no financial impact to the crises, helping the person through might require some money.  Perhaps they need professional services which they would not normally have access too.  Perhaps one way you wish to show your support is through some kind-of gift.  There is a certain way in which giving a hurting person money is a crass response.  But one form of mercy that we can offer people, sometimes, is simply the ability to get some relief.   If a person is hurting it would be crass to simply hand them a $50 and walk away.  But if a person is hurting, and that money was used to purchase a gift card to a local movie theatre, the relief might be just exactly what the person needs.

#3 It’s human nature to be a short-sighted helper.

There is a disconnect between the support we offer people and the crises that people experience.  This disconnect is located in our attention span.  Many crises last so much longer than the help we recieve from people.  When folks have given so much, after a while, it’s so hard to ask for more.  I know of so many cases, though, where those being supported in all kinds of ways wish that those helping and supporting them had paced themselves a bit more.  Sometimes we jump in, meeting all the needs that we find.  And then… we burn out, wear out, run out of resources.  And the person we were trying to help, they are back where they started.  We wanted to rescue them but all we did is offer them a brief reprieve.

A few implications

One of the things that’s worth noticing about the 3 observations above is that financial need does not exist in a vaccuum: they are often part of a larger pattern of problems, nearly every problem has a financial side, and people tend to have less endurance than problems.  In knowing how best to respond, it is sometimes helpful to recognize that the ways we serve people don’t exist in a vaccuum either.

There are two different things I mean by this.  The first is that it helps to demystify troubling questions by recognizing that money is not really any different than any other way we might serve a person.

I participated in an interesting discussion.  There was a great need and someone who was normally a dedicated, 10% tither found himself wondering if he might channel some of the money which would normally go into the collection plate toward that need.  This is a complex question.  I don’t think I’ll try and answer it here.  But for my purposes, the next step was an interesting one.

The next step was simply to observe that we feel that God is owed a variety of things, in addition to money.  Some of us feel that we owe God our time.  We work in a ministry, for example.  It is illuminating, I think, to explore the tithing question in this way:

What would you do if you saw a great need that you could meet with more time?  Would you channel the time that you normally feel is owed to God in the direction of that need, even at the expense of the church?

Or consider a second example: we might be grappling deeply with whether to give to someone in financial need.  Our hesitation might fear from the fact that we are enabling the person.  Giving them a financial gift might allow them to continue on a sinful or destructive path.

It does not answer all our questions, but it does help, to recognize a parallell.  We watch people who have troubles all the time.  We know that we can rescue them by doing all sorts of things.  It’s worthwhile to ask ourselves: how do we determine when to help and when not to, when it’s not a question of money?

The second thing I mean, when I say that we shouldn’t financially serve in a vaccuum is that we should do our best to offer support in a comprehensive way.  Money might be one way we take care of people… but it should not be the only way.  There are some ways in which money is easy.  It allows us to stay out of the dirt and still feel like we’re helping.  I think that our love will be most evident when it is multifaceted.  This helps also deal with concerns around enabling others.  Perhaps with the financial gift will come assistance in preventing the problem from happening again.

 

 

 

Template #2: Good questions to ask about (almost) any nonfiction book

Last post, I shared a number of discussion questions that a small group might apply to any book or chapter of the bible.  Today, I’m going to share some template questions that can (more-or-less) be applied to other things a small group might wish to study or discuss.

Template #2: For a chapter of a Non-fiction book other than the bible

1.  What is the title of the chapter?  If there is no title, what brief phrase would you give the chapter as a title?  What do you think most people think of this topic?  What did you think of this topic before you read the chapter?  What did you think about this topic after you read the chapter?

2.  What was your favorite part of this chapter?  Why?  Do you have an example from your own life that demonstrates this principle?

3.  What parts of the chapter did you have trouble understanding with?  What parts of the chapter did you disagree with?  Why?

4.  How would you summarize the authors most important points in the chapter?

5.  Does the author use any verses from scripture to support his points?  Read the wider context (perhaps the whole chapter.) Do you gain any new insights into this idea?  Read it in a different translation or paraphrase.  What new things do you gather from this?  

6.  Is there any scripture that the author didn’t use that he might have to support this point?  Is there any scripture that might contradict this point?

7.  Overall, what did you think of this chapter?  Rate it on a scale of 1-10.  Defend your answer.

8.  Did the chapter make you aware of anything you should be doing differently in your life?  What specific steps are you going to take this week in changing your behavior, attitude, etc?  How can the group support you in this goal? 

9.  Is there any glaring part of this topic that you are still unsure about around this topic?  Can you suggest any good resources to anyone that might help them clarify this issue?

Reccomended/Approved Small Group Curricula

One of the things I’ve been working at doing, as small group director for Fellowship Church, is create a list of approved and reccomended curricula for our small groups to use. 

These resources were chosen because they tend to be interactive and application oriented, and they avoid unnecesarily divisive issues that will create more problems than they solve.   These resources are arranged under 3 different categories.  These categories correspond to the 3 vital relationships we are pursuing and the 3 of the key values of our small groups.  (Each of the relationships corresponds to a value so there are only 3 categories, not 6.)

Overall, the expectation is that a group has participated in atleast one resource from each of the categories each year.  With the time remaining in that year. the challenge I’d like to lay out to small group leaders is this: spend more time in the areas where you believe your group needs the most help, not in areas that you are naturally gifted and aware in.  This isn’t always fun but it’s so important…

I’d also like to encourage strategic, varied decisions around the length of the studies and the format.  If you’ve just finished a long book, spend a couple week doing short-video driven studies.  On the other hand, if you’re entering a time in the calendar after a period when attendance is tough, take on something more in depth that might renew group cohesion.  (For example, if attendance has been spotty over the Summer, once the school year resumes, jump into something longer and in-depth.)

In the interest of length, I omitted synopsis of these materials.  I have included links to the web pages of materials that have them.  Use these sites are other resources such as Amazon to get a synopsis of books you are unfamiliar with.  Or simply ask me or someone else.  Virtually all of these resources have been used by one small group or another.  In fact, extra copies of some of these materials are around.  Check in with me on this if you have any questions.

The last thing I want to say before I print the list is PLEASE HELP!

If you have ideas from your own reading, or items that I forgot that were on previous lists I’ve circulated, please let me know.  Remember, our 2 biggest criteria are relevance/applicabality and docrtinally sound/not unnecesarily devisive.

Though I’ll leave comments below, I will also incorporate approved suggestions into this list.

Small Group Leaders: If you’re using resources not on this list please check them with me before you purchase them.  It’s really important that all the small groups are on the same page in terms of the sorts of things we’re learning.

Intimacy with God/ Transformation

Blue Like Jazz -Don Miller

A book

Author website including study questions: http://www.donaldmillerwords.com/resources.php

 

Bible 101 Small Group study Guides

 Series of 6 session studies on the following topics: Foundations; Times & Places; Cover to Cover; Study Method; Interpretation; Parables & Prophecy, Great Themes;  Personal Devotions by Willow Creek

Website: http://www.willowcreek.com/group.asp?groupid=56

 

Nooma: (most of the Noomas deal most directly with Intimacy with God/Transformation.  If they are more directly related to the other topics they are listed below.)

DVD series featuring Rob Bell & Discussion questions

Website with brief clips & discussions:  http://www.nooma.com

Each nooma is a stand-alone, one-week study

 

Purpose Driven Life a book by Rick Warren

Website: http://www.purposedrivenlife.com/en-US/Home/home.htm

Video-tape video components; countless study guides, workbooks, and devotionals available.

 

I became a Christian and all I got was this lousy T-shirt by Vincent Antonucci

Book,

Website: http://lousytshirtbook.com includes discussion questions, illustration videos, activities, song lists, etc.

 

Velvelt Elvis by Rob Bell

Book

 

Siezing your Divine Moment

Erwin McManus

Book

 

This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley

book

 

Influence With Outsiders/Outward Reaching

 

Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America
By: Mike Yankoski

A book

Author website including discussion questions, video, testimonies etc:

http://www.undertheoverpass.com/uop/home.php

 

Nooma: Bullhorn; Rich

DVD featuring Rob Bell & Discussion questions

Website with brief clips & discussions:  http://www.nooma.com

 

Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels

Website: http://www.justwalkacrosstheroom.com/

Book includes discussion questions; there are also independent study guides with different questions, and a DVD component to this.

 

Case for Christ by Less Strobel

Book with discussion questions, a movie based on the book is also available

Website: leestrobel.com includes newsletter, blog, videos, etc.

 

Community With Believers/Authenticity

Crave: Intimacy

DVD featuring a short film and observations by Irwin McManus with study questions

 

Crave: Meaning

DVD featuring a short film and observations by Irwin McManus with study questions.

(A stand alone study; might be combined with the other 2 in the Crave series)

 

Nooma: Flame; Mathew, Name

DVD featuring Rob Bell & Discussion questions

Website with brief clips & discussions:  http://www.nooma.com

 

40 Days of Community By Rick Warren

a video curricula and study guide

website: purposedriven.com

 

Sex God By Rob Bell

Some discussion questions are included in the end notes.

 

Epic by John Eldridge

Book, film available with discussion questions

More resources: http://www.epicreality.com/author_story.html#top

 

 

Tips for Small Group Leaders: Tough Questions, Part II

Here is a link to a post where I explain why I believe small group leaders should often resist the urge to offer up answers to questions that can be seen as tough. If we’re not answering questions, the natural question is this: Just what should a small group leader do when tough questions arise…
The truth is there is no one-size-fits-all, easy answer. There will be times that you will do too much. There will be times that you won’t do enough. But realize that you have a wide number of options open to you. Consider these:
#1) Pray Do it right there on the spot. But pray for real: it’s such a tempting thing in these circumstances to use prayer as a soap box to broadcast what you really think is the answer. While giving the appearance of prayer. This is a bad idea for all kinds of reasons, of course.

#2) Know how your church leadership would like you to do with tough questions before you get to them. You will get questions that are hard to answer. If your Small Group Pastor, Director, or Coach hasn’t given you some direction in this area already, you’d be wise to seek some direction out.
There are several different layers of support you should ask for.
A) If you have good reasons to expect a certain question will come up, you might ask for the specific response leadership would like you to give.
B) If you feel over your head, you ought to ask for a contact person for you to go to with questions and concerns.
C) You might ask for go-to people and useful resources that you can direct questioners to within the church.

#3) Validate the importance of the question O.K. Most of us are probably sick of hearing about active listening, the importance of restating what we hear, and all those related skills. But the truth is, the reason that so much is made out of these is because they are so very import. It’s likely that the person asking is nervous about the question they are asking; they probably know that it is a good/tough question. You response will create a community that feels safe in asking these questions. A few specific ways to validate the importance of the question:
A) Emphasize with the aspects of the question that you also struggle with.
B) Comment on the importance of the question. What are the stakes of choosing right or choosing wrong in this case.
C) Thank the questioner for their courage in asking the tough questions.

#4) Pass the buck to somebody else. Many of us rarely tap into the power we have when leading a discussion. The ability to ask a specific person who might be gifted and wise in a certain area is tremendous. If the question is one which requires a sensetive response, ask a sensetive person if they have any suggestions. If it’s a complex theological issue turn to your resident theologion. A variety of things are accomplished through this technique. First, you demonstrate your faith in the other members of the group. Secondly, you avoid positioning yourself as the dispenser of wisdom. Thirdly, you put the question in the best hands within your group… Or perhaps outside of your group. Perhaps you can suggest that the questioner brings the question to someone outside the group who you know is well-suited to answer it. Maybe you’ll ask for permission yourself to bring it to someone. If nothing else, asking the group for counsel, asking them if they know anyone with the right kind of discernment for the issue at hand is always an option.

#5 Engage in a content-to-process shift. The content of a question is the meaning of the question itself. The process is the question of how the question is formed, and why the person is asking it. A content-to-process shift is a way to change the focus of ourselves and our group.
Ordinarily we focus on the words people say. Sometimes, though, what someone says is not so important as why they say a thing. This is often the case with questions.
A person who questions the reliability of scripture might in fact really want to know if God is trustworthy. If it appears that a person is wrestling with a certain aspect of God, it might be the case that the person is really wrestling with this aspect of themselves. A person who asks why the pastor did such-and-such might really be asking if the pastor is a good person.
Sometimes the questioner might be aware of the thing they want to ask. Other times they may not. Either way, the tricky part of a content-to-process shift is to go about it in a way that does not look like you are condescending to the questioner.
I find it helpful to go about this in the form of a question; when possible I draw a connection between myself and the other person by saying things like “You know, sometimes when I ask those sorts of questions, I eventually find out that the real question I’m not letting myself ask is (fill in the blank) I wonder if that’s the case with you.” Or I might say “I notice that you’ve got lots of questions about (whatever it is) I wonder what makes you so curious about that.”
There are times that this might not be helpful. There are times that people mean what they say and say what they mean. If this is the case, a content-to-process shift won’t generally accomplish much.

#6 Make a plan Often times whatever words you or others might offer won’t change much, no matter how well-intentioned or wise they are. There all sorts of things that a group can plan to do to help resolve questions. After making these plans, a plan to revisit the issue (perhaps at the next group meeting) would be wise.
A) Plan to pray over the issue, perhaps each day.
B) Plan to think it over and communicate through out the week.
C)Plan to seek out counsel from others outside the group.
D) Plan to utilize resources such as condordances and the internet to research scriptural perspectives on the topic.

Tip for starting small group #4: Patience

Patience is required for small group leaders on two different levels.  Call it big-picture patience and little picture patience.

Big-picture patience is trusting in God over a period of weeks or months.  There are several areas that this can be hard.  One is in the area of the size of the group.

When it becomes time to sign the covenants it’s easy to think that the size of the group is pretty much set.  It’s easy to believe that the faces you’re looking at are the core of the group.

What I’ve seen is that this is not often the case.   Virtually every small group has grown considerably after the signing of the covenants.  Some have undergone considerable evolution after the signing of the covenants.

There were weeks that it felt like I was spinning my wheels.  Times I’d prepared and struggled and it turned out hardly anybody was showing up.  I was reassured to hear that a small group leader whom I respect a lot, in a similar situation, starting throwing stuff around in frustration.  It was reassuring to know I wasn’t alone.

In these situations, when it seems like it’s going to be hardly anybody, the temptation will be to cancel.  I am increasingly convinced that this is the worst decision a small group leader can make.

Some of these nights that I walk in frustrated that there’s hardly anybody showing up have turned out to be the best nights I’ve had.  Occasionally, folks who think about not showing actually turn up.  (That’s what happened wih the above-mentioned leader: nearly everybody ended up showing up after all) 

More frequently, these nights take on a casual, even intimate flavor that larger groups don’t afford.  Sometimes I wonder if God watches us cancel small group, frustrated.  I picture him saying “The knucklehead!  I engineer this perfect opportunity for close fellowship– just the leaders and one other couple– and they threw it all away because nobody else was going to show.”

I think it’s also important to continue to meet even with mediocre turn out because it sets a precedent, even an expectation.  I’m not saying that we should expect 100% attendance from anybody.  But I am saying that human nature works such that sometimes we fabricate excuses not to show up: I can’t count the number of times that I have not particularly wanted to go to small group and I have ended up so very thankful that I did, as I look back on it.  If this is true of me, the small groups guy, how much more true will it be of somebody who’s just started going!

Meeting regardless of attendance means rewarding those who always show up for their ongoing commitment.  It helps everybody stay in the habbit of meeting together, which is what Paul told us to do.

In a subtle way, it kind-of raises the bar, too.  If I don’t show up on a given week but the whole group cancels, I can think “Well, that worked out for the best.  Nobody really wanted to meet.”  Then, a week or two later, when another reason not to show up rears its ugly head (and we all know that they will!) if I don’t show up, in my own brain at least, I don’t really think in terms of having blow off small group twice in a row.  I can rationalize that the first time wasn’t really my decision, my fault, my responsibility.  And in a certain sense, this rationalization is true… however, if I hadn’t decided not to show, the small group most likely would have met, whether I realize it or not.

The truth is that it takes a certain brand of stubborn determination to meet consistently.  Especially early on.  Eventually it becomes a habbit, it becomes easier.  Easier… but it’s never easy.

 Little picture patience is trusting God for a few moments.  Perhaps you’ve asked for volunteers to share in some aspect of leadership.  Maybe you’ve thrown out a discussion question.  The silence can seem deafening.

As the leader it’s easy to feel personally responsible for that silence… Like it’s my problem to fix by filling.

The truth is, that everyone in a group shares responsibility for the silence.  Everyone bares a burden for filling it.  I say frequently– though probably not enough– that the leader ought to talk LESS than everybody else.  This means that sometimes there will be silences that somebody else will have to fill.

One of the best reasons to have others lead discussions is that standing outside of this role, you can learn a lot.  When I was recently sitting back and listening to someone else lead a discussion, I was interested to notice that I didn’t hold her responsible for the silences, when I was a participant.  I felt like the silences belonged to all of us.

This was a marked contrast to my experience as a discussion leader.

The truth is that even if others do hold us responsible for the silences, even if people don’t like them, this doesn’t change much.  Silences can be powerful.  Sometimes that’s the only time we hear God speaking to us, is in those silences.  Sometimes we run away from silences for this very reason.

Because it’s no fun to spend an evening in a conversation that  is punctuated by numerous awkward silences, this might be a good thing for folks to experience.  It might lead them to question themselves, to wonder why there are these silences.

Perhaps as good leaders we can even call this for what it is.  What would happen if, when a silence erupted, we didn’t give up on the silence.  What would happen if we didn’t find a way to express the answer we were looking for.  What would happen if we said something like “Nobody is answering much tonight.”  or “That’s a long, awkward silence.  Does anybody have any thoughts about why that question was is so hard to answer?”

Big-picture or little-picture patience can be taken too far.  There’s a point at which it is simple foolishness, even insanity, to expect things to change if we keep doing things in the same way.

Patience is only a virtue if we’re doing everything we can.  Sometimes people aren’t showing up because we haven’t created an irresistable environment.  In fact, almost by definition, if they are not showing up, we haven’t created an irrestible environment.  Sometimes the silence comes from people feeling unsafe to answer or simply confused by the question.  

It’s so hard to find the line… I don’t have a hard and fast rule… But Jesus’ illustrations, as always, help.

He so often spoke about growing plants.  This is such a great image because a gardener doesn’t actually grow the plants.  God does.  A gardener creates an environment that fosters growth if he is good at what he does.  If he’s not so good, the environment isn’t either.

Small group leaders are gardeners.  They create an environment that fosters growth.  Growth always takes time.  Seasons in our souls are not like seasons for a plant.  They aren’t measurable by a calendar. 

Ultimately, a good gardener will know he’s on the right track because he’s reaping one harvest after another.  As brutal a bottom line as this is, a small group leader knows he’s on the  right track in exactly the same way:  S/He experiences the harvest of watching people grow in Christ.  Not growth that they are responsible for, simply growth that they created an environment for.

Good gardeners occasionally have bad luck.  Bad gardeners occasionally have good luck.  The good news is that none of us is stuck.  None of us are hopeless.  We can always get better.  It’s just a matter of balancing patience with realism. 

  

Small Group pitfall #3: Not taking care of yourself

There are two temptations that I’ve struggled with in my role as small group director.  Both are related, in some sense, to not taking care of myself.  The first way that it’s tempting not to take care of myself is that it’s tempting to not engage in critical activities like prayer and reading scripture.  The second way it’s tempting to not take care of myself is to act like a spiritual super hero.

It’s funny how we can’t escape some ways of categorizing the world, even when we know those categories are wrong.  One wrong-headed category that I engage in all the time is dividing the world up into God-stuff and Not-God stuff.

There are all kinds of problems with this scheme.  The problem I’m focused on right now is this: I rationalize that work I do for my small group counts as God-stuff.  Since this is the same category that I place things like prayer and scripture reading, I can think ‘well, I can skip out on spending time with God today, because I spent all this time planning for Small Group.’

That’s not how it works.  God expects me to do lots of stuff, I think.  He wouldn’t be pleased, I think, if I decided to quit my job and let my kids go hungry so that I could pray more.  Part of the way He grows us, I think, is to challenge us with increasingly complicated balancing acts.

And it is a balancing act!  But when I’ve been investing time into my relationship with God I’m in a much better position to lead.  Preparation or other work that feels specific to my group goes so much smoother when I’ve mantained a balance.  When I fake it, and go all-out on investing all my time on these external things, it is so much more difficult.  It ends up taking more time anyway.

The second way I can fail to take care of myself is by acting like a spiritual super-hero.  If I see myself as to much the leader and not enough a member, I rob myself of all sorts of things.

It can be scary sometimes.  I do have the fear when I’m vulnerable and honest and open that some body is going to think– or say “What right does this guy have to be running the show?”

But when I’m looking at things in the right way, I get it.  The person who is vulnerable, who is admitting his fear, doubts, and failings… That is exactly the sort-of person we want running the show.