The Stranger on the way to the story of Everything

As our small groups begin a study of the book, “The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus” the weekly study questions are going to mostly focus on this book.  Each week I’ll try to adress some connections between the sermon and the book, but I want to reward all the good do-bee’s who are doing their homework, so I’m going to try and draw lots from the book.

To find a link which will allow you to download this book for free, or to watch or listen to the sermon, go to

I think I might begin the practice of emailing a thought, question, or interesting point from “The Stranger” every few days.  Whether you attend Fellowship or not, if you’re in a small group or not, if you send an email to, or leave a comment to this post requesting it, I’ll add you to the email list.

“Stranger on the Road to Emmaus” is a really outstanding book.  It’s an exploration of the whole bible from the perspective of looking through the lense of what we know about Jesus.  It doesn’t dumb anything down, but it also doesn’t get it’s head lost in the clouds.  It’s particularly useful for filling in the gaps in the scriptural knowledge of long-time Christians or giving new Christians a powerful, big-picture overview.

At any rate, here’s the discussion questions for Fellowship Church’s small groups on February 8ths sermon and the first chapter of “The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus”

1.  Elijah experienced some things that many of us go through.  We look for God in the huge and so-called miraculous, but fail to see him in the quiet and every day.  Can you share any stories from your own life or others lives that illustrate this idea?  What are some ways that God is in the quiet and every day that are easy to miss?

2.  Another thing that we often do is feel sorry for ourselves because we think we’re the only one following God.  God often demonstrates that we are far from alone, despite our feelings.  How have you seen this dynamic played out?

3.  Marty described God as the ultimate friend.  The ultimate friend would sit with us through pain, would have our backs, and tell us the truth in love.  Chapter one of “The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus” states the meanings and purpose of scripture.  In what ways does the bible demonstrate that God sits with us through our pain?  In what ways does the bible demonstrate that God is with us?  In what ways does the bible demonstrate that God speaks the truth in love?

4.  Read Luke, chapter 24 outloud.  This scene is dramatized on pages 5 and 6 of “The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus.”  What are some differences between the scriptural account and the one written by John Cross?  In this chapter of scripture, what are some ways that Jesus fits Marty’s description of the iddeal friend: some one who suffers with you, who provides for you, who protects you, and who speaks the truth in love?

5.  The beginning of the book states that it’s important to know how the whole of the bible works together.  How well would you say you know the bible as a whole?  What portions do you know the most about?  What portions do you know the least about?  Do you spend much energy working out how the whole bible fits together?  Is there any specific questions that you hope would be answered for you if you got a better understanding of how the whole bible fits together?

6.  Chapter 1 states that we ought to focus on the important themes of the bible.  Can you list 3 themes that you feel are the most important in the entire bible?

7.  Did you find anything surprising in chapter 1?  Did you disagree with anything in chapter 1?  What was the part that effected you the most or that you most agree with?


A Sample Covenant


Last post, I shared the overall blue print for a flexibility covenant.  Somebody requested that I create a sample covenant, so that people could see what one might look like.

The point is not to look at the specifics I chose under each value.  The specific ways that a group is going to enact a value ought to be an expression of the group.  The idea is that this provides a snap shot of how a group might go from the blue print to an actual covenant.



1.  Our goal will be to attend 80% of the groups weekly meetings.  When we don’t attend we’ll commit to calling the small group leaders so that they can plan accordingly.

2.  We’ll commit to speaking the truth in love.  Sometimes this will mean encouraging others.  Other times this could mean saying things to people that might be hard to hear.  By signing this covenant we’re inviting each other into our lives.

Value: Transformation

1.  We will commit to praying for each member of our group individually at least once each week.


Value: Outward Reaching

1.  We will each commit to  participating in 2 formal service projects over the next year.  We will share responsibility for selecting, planning, and implementing these projects as evenly as possible within the group.


Value: Multiplication

1.  We will make preperations for this group to send out a small group missionaries to form the basis of a new group in 2 years.  We will be better prepared for losing some of our members to this new group if each of us has experience in lots of different areas.  Therefore:

A. Barney and Betty Rubble will commit to serving as apprentices to our current group leaders.  Barney and Betty will be the leaders of the new group and will work over the next 12 months at learning the ropes of small group leadership from Fred and Wilman.

B.  Joe Shmoe and Jill Jones will each lead at least two discussions over the next twelve months.




At Fellowship church, each small group will create its own expression of comitment and devotion to themselves, each other, the church (and most importantly) God.   The categories that they will explore are the values that we place at the heart of our small groups: Authenticity, Transformation, Outward Reaching, and Multiplication.

To this end, this document expresses parameters within which we expect the groups to operate.  While we clearly don’t want a cookie cutter approach, we also want to have some level of uniformity.  If people wanted to get together every week and do nothing but read scripture, that would be an awesome thing to do.  However, it wouldn’t be a small group.  On the other hand, if a group hung out at a bar weekly to play poker, this wouldn’t be a small group either.  (Again, it’s not that I have anything against drinking or poker in moderation.)

With no further ado, here is the framework for Fellowship Church’s flexible covenants.



 Definition:We are engaged in transparent, supportive, and loving relationships with other members of the group and the church.  Our interactions during group meetings will be confidential.

Question to be answered on the covenant: What should we commit to in order to grow these relationships?

Specific areas that the covenant might express this value:

A) Regular attendance  (examples: we commit to X% attendance; we commit to doing Y whenever we don’t attend)

B) Respectful actions (example: we will give others our full attention during the study time; we will refrain from drinking or watching ‘R’ rated movies as a group because these might be a stumbling block to others…)

C) Accountabality  (example: we invite others into our lives and will intervene in others lives in such-and-such a manner if we see…)



 Definition: We are commited to seeking out Christ and conforming ourselves to His image. 

Question: What should we commit to in order to maximize our growth in Christ?

A) Regular prayer for each other.  (examples: we will pray for each other X times per week.)

B) Submission to the needs of the group.  (We will prioritize needs of individuals or activites of the group in such-and-such a way.)

C) Learning and Application of Biblical principles. (examples: we will comitt to __ hours per week of prayer, study, homework, etc. on a regular/semiregular/occasional basis.)


Value:Outward Reaching:

Definition:We will work to bring about the Kingdom of God.

Question: What should we do?  How much should we do it?

A) Social justice (Example: Over the course of the small group we will engage in projects to benefit cause X; we will purchase/not purchase product Y;  We will pray for…)

B) Evangelism (Example:  we will aim to invite X# of people to church/small group; we will seek opportunities to witness to those around us with words and actions; we will be particularly focused on the environments of work/neighborhoods/schools…)

C) Formal service projects  (Example: we will commit to ___ # of service projects; we will commit to ___ hours on service projects…)

D) Informal, spontaneous help


Value: Multiplication

Definition: We are committed to growing small groups through out New England.

Question: What steps can we take toward multiplying?

A) Shared leadership to develop gifts (We will each/many of us will lead a discussion, plan a service project, take on individualized tasks for the life of the group.

B) Apprentice others in things we do within the group (Person A will develop the gift/talent/knowledge about ___ to ____ people.)

C) Seek out to be apprenticed by someone else.  (___# of people will develop the gift/talent/knowledge of ______ )

D) Participate in multiplying groups.  (Specific timeline: by Jan. X will have occurred; by April Y will have occurred, etc.)



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. 




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:


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



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:

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


Purpose Driven Life a book by Rick Warren


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


Website: includes discussion questions, illustration videos, activities, song lists, etc.


Velvelt Elvis by Rob Bell



Siezing your Divine Moment

Erwin McManus



This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley



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:


Nooma: Bullhorn; Rich

DVD featuring Rob Bell & Discussion questions

Website with brief clips & discussions:


Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels


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: 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:


40 Days of Community By Rick Warren

a video curricula and study guide



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: