Archives For Ben Reed

The mechanics of getting people connected to the “perfect” small groups is one of the more difficult parts of small group ministry. Helping them find the small group that works based on their schedule and close to their home or work becomes an overwhelming task. If you have more than a handful of small groups at your church, playing the match-making game with a church attendee wanting to join a group can grow into a full-time job. Remembering which groups are “open,” what they’re studying, the age demographics, childcare situation, and where they meet is difficult to keep straight.

But it’s so vitally important.

Because as you and I both know, helping someone find a group that works for them can be one of the most important spiritual catalysts in their life.

For most of us, our systems are outdated. We’re still using spreadsheets to look for the “right” group…or we’re trying to keep things straight in our heads. Or if we’re tech-savvy, we’re using some form of technology that’s available. Which, between me and you, is not a good idea. Most of the technology out there today wasn’t built for groups…it was built as a church database.

That’s why I really love the technology that my friend Eric Murrell has built. It’s called Groups Engine, and it’s designed with one thing in mind: to help get people connected to small groups. It’s a system that populates your groups onto a maps software to give people a visual representation of where groups meet, and give them a chance to quickly and easily join the group they want.

It also gives a church the chance to filter groups (based on gender, location, etc.) and post that filter, with locations, on their site. For instance, a church could use the software to highlight all of the women’s groups, and post that on a specific page on their website. It’s brilliantly simple. And brilliantly focused on getting people into small groups. Or all of the groups that meet in a neighborhood. Or all of the financial groups, especially during a sermon series on giving.

I threw a couple of questions at Eric to give you a better understanding of what the software does.

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Why did you create Groups Engine?

Eric Murrell: In my role as the communication director at Long Hollow, we’ve done several large pushes to join a small group over the past few years. As a part of those, we always pushed people to the web to find a group, and each time our inboxes would fill up as folks became frustrated with the search tool our content management system provided; we ended up just manually matching people up with a group on a one-by-one basis. After encountering that situation for the third time this January, I began work on Groups Engine. I wanted to create something that included powerful group search, but in as way that was beautiful, easily understood and painless to manage.

What does Groups Engine offer that other church management systems or church social networks can’t match?

Eric: In my experience, most of the existing tools out there are extremely ridged and narrow in scope. There’s a lot to mention here, but here are a few of the biggest differences in my mind…

1. Ease-of-Use – There’s no point in having a groups tool if both your visitors and your staff hate using it. Groups Engine offers elegant groups search that every user can understand, and a refined group management system that your staff will actually keep up-to-date.

2. Flexibility – Every church does groups differently, and Groups Engine was built with that in mind. It takes only seconds to change the colors, add and remove columns from group search, or even change labels throughout the Groups Engine browser. Your staff can also use our simple embed code generator to build custom group search on several pages of your site. Imagine a page of just women’s groups, or maybe just the groups related to one of your campuses. It’s a big win for many ministries.

3. Maps – If you have a lot of groups that meet off campus, a map view is essential for getting people plugged in. Groups Engine generates this automatically, and it’s one of the first options your users will see.

4. Mobile – Groups Engine was built from the ground up to look great on phones, tablets, and every other device you can throw at it. Your visitors won’t have to wait until they get home to find a group on your website.

5. Reporting – Our intuitive report library is lightning-fast, and gives you access to the data you need most: groups lists, leader lists and overview of recent group contacts. No learning a complex new system. No waiting for a report to load on a server.

6. Contact Management – Groups Engine’s streamlined contact system may be our most popular feature. Visitors to your site can contact group leaders with a simple form, and group leaders can follow up with your staff with just one click (no log in required). Your group staff can now spend their time doing ministry instead of badgering group leaders to log in and update a database. Small Groups can often be the lifeblood of the church, but it’s harder to see them in action and get people plugged in.

Thanks Eric!

The software’s just $99, which if you’ve ever looked at church software before, you’ll know just how inexpensive that is. Take a further look at the software HERE.

 
image credit: Creation Swap user Boaz Crawford

image credit: Creation Swap user Boaz Crawford

*que sad music*

Oh gosh. Wow. How do I say this?

I didn’t think this day would come. I mean, I really liked you. We clicked. We laughed. We cried.

*eye contact ceases*

For a while, this was really good. But…well…it’s me, not you.

Um…

*insert awkward silence*

I’ve changed. I guess.

*que sweaty palms*

This just isn’t working out.

I’m just not in love with you any more.

But I still like you. But not like I used to. And I know someone else that you could see.

*que the ugly crying*

Ever felt like you wanted to break up with your small group? Know it’s time to move on? Maybe your schedule changed. Maybe you added baseball practice on the same night as your small group. Maybe Thursday nights aren’t the same for your family as they were a year ago. Maybe you’ve started taking a night class.

Maybe you know it’s time for you to lead a group of your own.

Maybe the group isn’t accomplishing what it needs to accomplish, and you’re ready to be more intentional with your spiritual growth.

Break-ups are never easy. But the quicker you rip off the band-aid, the less painful the whole process becomes. If you wait years to do what you know you need to do today, you’ll cause undue pressure on you and your group.

If it’s time to break up, here are some pointers.

How to break up with your group

In person.

If you don’t have the guts to break up in person, you’re a coward. The gravity of this decision necessitates an in-person conversation. Your group loves you, and you will greatly devalue their love, and their impact on your life, if you just stop showing up and assume that they get it. You owe it to your group leader, and to the group, to be clear and forthright. An email, or a text, or just abandoning your group with no explanation isn’t the way to go.

If you’re going to break up with your group, go mano-a-mano.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  – Jesus, Matthew 18:15

(the principle application is when your brother has sinned against you, but whether he has sinned against you or not, difficult and sensitive conversations like this are best handled in person)

 

With honesty.

If there was something that bothered you about the group, be honest about it. Help the group leader know what could be done to improve the group. Choose how honest you want to be in front of the whole group. Don’t go out scorched earth. For the group leader.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. – Paul, Ephesians 4:15

 

With encouragement.

Your group wasn’t all bad, was it? Did God do ANYTHING? Then encourage your group leader by helping them see how God used them. We all need encouragement, daily. Leaders especially. Most group leaders consistently wonder if what they’re doing is making any sort of an impact in people’s lives, and if God is doing anything. You leaving the group feeds their fears and insecurities, so help reassure them and assuage their debilitating fears.

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. – Paul, Hebrews 3:13

 

Quickly. Rip that bandaid off.

Don’t wait a year to do this. Don’t wait months to do it. If you know you need to break up with your group, prolonging the inevitable makes things more difficult when the time comes. It’s going to be a hard conversation, but it’ll only get more difficult with time. Call your group leader today and schedule a coffee meeting.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. – Jesus, Matthew 5:23-24

(the principle here being that if there’s something between you and your brother, there’s something between you and God. Take care of it immediately.)

 

By starting a new group.

There’s hardly a better way to break it to your group leader that you’re leaving…to start a new group. There’s hardly a better confirmation of God’s work in and through your current group than for you to take the step of faith to start a new one. Don’t just leave. Leave FOR something. Don’t abandon community.

“[Don’t neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some…” (Hebrews 10:25)

The sum of the above “break-up rules” is to cover everything you do with love.

Ever had to break up with your group?

 

I recently got to interview Tim Cooper, director of leader training and resources at North Point Community Church, and organizer of their upcoming small groups conference ReGroup (which is a must-go-to conference for anyone on a church staff or that serves in small group leadership).

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1. Be honest, Tim. It’s your job to put this conference on. If it wasn’t, is this still a conference you’d attend?

Before I was on staff at North Point, I paid to come to several North Point conferences. I’ve always been a fan of the passion and excellence that North Point puts into Community Groups. Now it’s a privilege to get to be a part of putting on a conference so other churches can see our approach. So, yeah, I’d attend.

2. Now that you’re in the third year of hosting re:group, what have you learned? What will be different this year?

We sent a survey to everyone that attended last year and there were several breakouts they specifically requested. Based on some common themes, we’ve added five to this year’s list of breakouts. In particular, Bill Willits is leading a breakout called “Transitioning to a Group Model.” It’s the most requested topic in our survey results, and Bill has a ton of wisdom to bring to the table. I’m really excited for attendees to hear what he has to say.

3. What are you most looking forward to this year at the event?

Two things come to mind. First, we don’t pretend we have all the answers. We still have a ton to learn. So, the oppportunity to interact with other ministry leaders and to hear about their challenges and successes is really exciting. Second—and I think this is related to my first point—I love it when others churches get to meet our team. Most people coming to re:group know who Andy Stanley is, but not many of them know our Groups staff. They’re a collection of humble, wise, and gifted people that care so much about helping groups ministries thrive. Watching other churches interact with our staff is always one of my favorite parts of any conference we do.

4. Why should someone peel back the curtain on North Point’s small group system?

Figuring out how you build or grow a groups ministry at your church is tricky. It’s a real uphill struggle for a lot of churches. At re:group, you won’t just be exposed to our approach to groups ministry; you’ll get a lot of practical information about how to implement and grow a culture of groups. You’ll get to see what it looks like when a thriving church is all-in with groups. That can be great motivation for senior pastors and other leaders trying to create a thriving groups ministry.

Are you going to ReGroup?

 

When God calls, you’ve got to go.

Well, I guess you don’t have to go. But to not go would be disobedience, and that’s not a choice I’m ready to commit to. So my family and I…we are going. With buckets full of bittersweet joy.

At the end of the month, I will be joining the Saddleback Community Church staff on the groups team!

This is a very bittersweet move for us. We’re leaving behind so many great relationships at Long Hollow. And beyond that, all of our family connections are here in the middle Tennessee area. We’re leaving what we know, who we love, and where we naturally find comfort. We’re leaving behind a culture that’s woven into our DNA. We’re leaving behind our Tennessee roots.

But to be joining Saddleback, and the work God’s already doing through them in both Southern California and around the world, is for us a step towards something that we feel like God’s been preparing us for for a long time.

We never saw our road at Long Hollow as just preparing grounds. We never treated it as such, either. We poured every ounce of our hearts, our lives, our energy, our minds, our bodies, our ideas, our love, our pain, our laughs, our screams, and our tears into the mission God called us to at Long Hollow. We never felt called through Long Hollow. We felt called to Long Hollow.

But at the end of the day, aren’t all experiences training grounds for what’s next? Doesn’t God always use people and places, whether good or bad, to shape our hearts for the next step? Don’t all things work to make us more like Jesus? (Romans 8:28-29)

So we’re moving. With as much excitement as we have fear. With as much eager anticipation as we have sadness.

With boldness we are taking a courageous step of faith.

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In basketball, there’s a concept that’s vital. And it’s something that’s rarely seen by the person unless they’re watching intently. The casual basketball viewer won’t see it, because the casual viewer watches the ball. The ball is where the action happens. Scoring, passing, steals, and blocks all happen AT the ball.

But what happens away from the ball is often just as important.

image credit: UKSports.com

image credit: UKSports.com

 

It’s a concept called “moving without the ball.” It’s pretty self-explanatory, but just for the sake of clarity allow me to explain in further details.

Moving without the ball means you move even when you don’t have the ball, with the express purpose of creating the next play, receiving the next pass, gaining the next rebound, or blocking the next shot. IF you don’t move without the ball, you’ll be caught in the wrong position at the wrong time. Or, said more accurately, you won’t be in the right position at the right time if you don’t move when you don’t control the ball.

If you don’t move without the ball

  • You’ll never get open
  • You’ll never score
  • You’ll be out of position when the time is right
  • You won’t be ready to steal
  • You’ll get left behind
  • You’ll constantly be wondering where the action is happening
  • You’ll not be in the action of the game

In a 48 minute game of basketball, the game is dominated by moving without the ball. To a casual observer, the person moving without the ball looks goofy, like they don’t know what they’re doing. Like the game is happening in spite of them. But the casual observer doesn’t know just how important it is to position yourself to be ready.

Moving without the ball isn’t sexy. But it’s vital.

The same is true in ministry.

Moving without the ministry ball

There are times when you, in your role, have “the ball.” These are the busy seasons of ministry, when the spotlight is on. For me, this happens during small group signups and launches. It happens during our church-wide alignments. During these seasons, it’s all-hands-on-deck for our team.

But for the most part, I don’t have the ball. It’s apparent “down time.” And if I don’t move, plan, strategize, recruit, train, and mobilize, when the ball’s passed to me I’ll be caught flat-footed. I’ll be left behind. The infrastructure won’t be ready, the plan won’t be in place, and my heart won’t be in the place it needs to be.

That’s why the casual church observer thinks pastors just work one day/week. Because our “time with the ball” seems like a waste of time. All the casual church observer sees is the time when we’re in the spotlight, highlighting our ministry, getting people into serving and growing, preaching, teaching, and executing. They don’t always realize that executing at the right time in the right way is loaded with lots of “moving without the ball” times.

If I don’t work to prepare myself spiritually, either, I’ll be dead in the water. I’ve got to spend time allowing God to refresh, recharge, and equip me for the work ahead.

That’s why I read books, meet with other pastors, and go to conferences like Re:Group (which is a must-attend event, by the way. To get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the healthiest small groups ministry will help you strategize, and become better in your local context).

Moving without the ball isn’t sexy. But it’s vital.

Strategize, shift, train, recruit, and prepare. Because the ball’s coming your way.

 

The Mulligan

Ben Reed —  July 1, 2014 — 1 Comment

In golf, there’s a shot called the Mulligan. It happens when you hit a terrible shot, and want a do-over. It’s a free re-tee. A concession from the rest of the people playing with you that that shot didn’t happen.

image credit: photo-dictionary.com

image credit: photo-dictionary.com

And they’re glorious. Before the last shot, you were embarrassed. Frustrated. Angry. Confused. Lost in the woods. Ready to quit.

Now? There’s great potential. You have the whole fairway in front of you. The green is wide open. You’re still on your first shot. Still on the tee box, at least as far as the group, and more importantly, your scorecard, is concerned.

Mulligans put you back at *zero.* They erase the mistake.

Mulligans in life

Don’t you wish you could take a mulligan in life?

There’s something you did that you regret. Someone you hurt. Somewhere you went. Someone you trusted.

You dropped your savings on something. You were hurt by someone.

Maybe your mistakes were made public, your life on display as a spectacle for others. Maybe someone else’s stupid decisions affected you. And you’d like your mulligan to cancel out her choices, too.

And you want a mulligan. You’d like to wipe the slate clean.

You’d like to move on as if that never happened. As if he never did ______. She never said ______. You never did ______.

That’s exactly the kind of shot that God gives us. Check this out:

‘He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.’ – David, Psalm 103:12

Do you know how far the east is from the west? Infinite. Because the east and the west never touch. Ever. East is never west, and west is never east. “As far as the east is from the west” means that God has completely removed your sin from you. It can’t be further from you. It’s even better than a mulligan, because it’s like God says, “Go ahead. Take a free shot. But…oh wait, I’ll tee it up for you. And I’ll hit it for you. And I’ll forget you ever even had a bad shot.”

David goes on to say of God:

‘The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.’ – Psalm 103:13

A father doesn’t hate his child that needs a re-do. He has compassion for them. “He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.” (Psalm 103:9) We may hold on to our hurt, our despair, and our frustrations. We may cling to our past failures. But God offers “steadfast love” to us. He redeems us from the pit.” (Psalm 103:4) In fact, the moment we turn to God we find Him running to us! (Luke 15:20) He’s not standing ready to condemn us all over again. He’s removed our sins from us.

You need a re-do today. A God-sized mulligan. Go ahead. Re-tee that ball.

We serve a God of second chances.

 

Ahh…small group life. You’re in…by the duping of your pastor. Or by the guilting of your wife. Or because you thought you were signing up for a free vacation.

But that was 6 weeks ago. And you’re finding out that what you expected isn’t what’s being delivered. And what you were sold isn’t being given. Group isn’t exactly what you thought it would be.

I don’t know what the hook was that got you “in,” but that won’t be the hook that gets you to stay. Allow me to tell you what nobody else told you when you signed up. And let me show you why each truth will serve you greatly.

9 truths nobody told you about small group

1. You won’t want to go.

As much as you like it, most weeks you won’t want to go to small group. You’ll start making up excuses about your excuses. Then your excuses will start making up excuses.

But isn’t the same thing true about almost anything in life that’s good for us?

2. You won’t make best friends with everyone in the group.

You’ll encounter people that rub you the wrong way. Speak out of turn. Don’t speak at all. And ones that can’t cook a pot of chili to save themselves. These aren’t necessarily people you’d want to hang out with on Friday nights.

But it’s not about making best friends. It’s about growing spiritually.

3. God will change you. And it’ll be painful.

How often in life do we choose what we know will cause us pain, and what we simultaneously know will cause us growth? Very rarely. This is your chance to grow in a safe, loving environment that wants God’s best for you.

Strap on your big boy shoes. 

4. God will use you. And it’ll be difficult.

You thought small group was about you, didn’t you? You thought you were the one that was stretching in this process. You thought the group, and its growth, its challenges, and its joy was about you. Boy, were you narrow-minded. And even though your story isn’t done, and you’re not where you know you want to be spiritually, God’s going to use you. He’s going to use your journey, and the wisdom He’s given. He’s going to use your insights into Scripture. He’s going to use your prayers.

You’ll find yourself surrounded by a group of broken work-in-progresses. And by the grace of God, you’ll be contributing to that work.

5. There are “better” ways to spend your time.

At least that’s what you’ll tell yourself. You need some “me” time. Your kids need you at home. You’re behind in emails. You’re hungry. You’re tired. You’re crabby. You…need to play golf.

There ARE better ways to spend your time. But carving out a couple of hours every week is time your soul needs. Choosing what we need over what we want helps us to mature.

6. You’ll be offended.

There will be times when you’re offended to your core. Sometimes the offenses will be off-base, out-of-line. Sometimes you’ll be offended on behalf of someone else. But the ones that sting the most are the offenses that are rooted in truth. The ones where you know they’re right as their words slice you like a surgeon.

You’re going to be hurt. In the best way possible.

7. You’ll be the offender.

You’ve offended people before. People at work. Family members. The guy that you cut off in traffic. But the difference in offending someone in your small group is that you will have grown to really love them. And you’ll feel just as pained as they are.

You’ll grow to love the people in your small group. And at some point, in some way, whether it’s implicit or explicit, you’ll offend someone you love. In truth and love.

8. It won’t feel natural. For a long time.

Small group will feel awkward and forced. You’ll wonder why in the world you signed up. These people don’t feel like “your people,” and they’re likely not going to be people you’d naturally hang out with.

These are exactly the kind of people God wants to use to grow you.

9. The information you gain isn’t all that important.

A lot of people sign up for a small group because of the content of the study. But that’s just the backdrop. The content you gain will only serve as long as you SEE it lived out in the lives of your group members.

Content is only a part of the value of a group. It’s a small piece of the pie.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – the apostle Paul, Hebrews 10:24-25

 

 

We’re better together

Ben Reed —  June 4, 2014 — 4 Comments

This is a guest post from my friend Jonathan Pearson, Orangeburg Campus Pastor at Cornerstone Community Church and Assistant Director of The Sticks Network. He’s also the co-creator of MillennialLeader.com, an online community for young leaders. Jonathan’s written a new book, Next Up: 8 Shifts Great Young Leaders Make. Trust me…it’s a book you want to read.

 

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We’re better together.

That sounds like a line from a romantic comedy, but it’s so much more than that. The idea that we’re better when we work together and when we’re doing life together is one that is true in every relationship sense and in every area of our lives.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

We’ve been to the place where someone disappoints us or we don’t get something from someone or something when we expect and we retreat to ourselves. We get so upset at the faults of others or even ourselves that we pull back and retreat to solitude. The result, when left alone for too long, is the life begins to fall out of us… little by little.

We need others. We’re better together.

We see the example of Jesus. He would retreat for short times to be with the Father, but other than that, he always had people around him. He had 12 that he did life with. Why? It was definitely because of the mission that he was calling them to, but it was also because he knew that he was made for relationship with other people. That even the Son of God needed people around him to live life with.

No matter what you do, how old you are, what your career is, or your family situation, you need people around you. For those of us that find ourselves in a place of leadership, we need people around us to hold us up, to hold up, and to walk through life with. We need people to bounce ideas off of, to glean from, and to encourage us.

We can’t live in retreat.

We can’t live in life alone.

We need each other.

Find good people to put yourself around.

They don’t have to be just like you… Jesus’ weren’t like him.

They don’t have to be perfect… they won’t be.

They just need to be there.

You just need them there.

You just need to be there for them.

Read more about topics like this in Jonathan’s book Next Up: 8 Shifts Great Young Leaders Make. To find out more about the book, go to nextupbook.com. To find out more about Jonathan go to JonP.me.

 

 

There’s a lot of talk about what small groups need to look like. How they need to be structured, what they need to study, and where they need to go.

Through all of this, group leaders can become overwhelmed. Group leaders want to have a healthy group, and instead of adding more to their plate, it’s time to start taking things away. There are tasks that are killing your group. And killing you, too.

Let’s quit those together.

10 things a group leader should stop doing

1. Stop talking so much.

Group leaders need to listen way more than they talk. Listen to stories. Listen for pain. Listen for God’s voice in the midst of their group. Instead, most group leaders want to try to impress their group by how much they know and how close to God they are.

But that’s not what group members are looking for. And they’re not impressed.

2. Stop thinking so much.

Just love people and lead them to Jesus. Don’t make it so difficult. When you’re consumed by “planning,” the heart of the group gets lost. If you want to stop your group from sliding off of the hill, stop thinking so much. Let the Spirit prompt you in the moment. Maybe you’ve been relying on your plans and your agenda more than you have on God leading you. Instead of your leadership flowing out of your relationship with God, it’s flowing out of your to-do list.

3. Stop canceling group meeting.

This has got to quit. Let your group know that the weekly meeting is happening, even if it’s just you and your spouse. Don’t cancel because half of the group is out sick. Let this be an opportunity to get to know the other half of your group in a way you can’t when everyone’s there.

Oh, wait…you, the leader aren’t going to be there? Then it’s a perfect time to give someone else the reigns and help them develop as a leader.

4. Stop meeting every week.

(Hey, it’s my blog. I can contradict myself if I want. :-) ) It might be time to give people a breather. Take a week, or two, off. Recharge for what’s coming. Let people invest in their family. Let people relax. Then come back ready to dive back into small group.

5. Stop sticking with a curriculum even though it’s terrible.

If a curriculum isn’t working for your group, throw that junk away. It’s not worth driving your group into the ground over. You might even put the curriculum down for the night and just study the Scriptures together. Try asking these 3 questions of a text:

a. What does this passage say? (just repeat it in your own words)

b. What does this passage tell me about God?

c. Based on what this passage says, what are you going to do?

6. Stop simply studying together as a group.

Small group life is so much more than just a Bible study. It encompasses doing life together, not just studying together. Serve, pray, go, do, and laugh.

7. Stop viewing group as a 1.5 hour program.

If you want to stop doing something today that will have a huge impact quickly, then stop thinking that your group is relegated to a 1.5 hour meeting once/week. Work it in your schedule to meet with at least one person/week in your group outside of your normal meeting time. At this meeting, just get to know them a little better. Buy them a cup of coffee, and listen.

8. Stop being scared of “obedience.”

Sometimes you’ve just got to push people. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and you’ll probably get pushed back. But small groups help people obey, not just know, the Scriptures.

9. Stop telling people what they have to believe.

Give people space to explore. Push towards obedience, but give people the freedom to explore their relationship with Jesus without feeling like they need to have all of the answers and have all of their life figured out. Let them know it’s really okay to be “in process.”

10. Stop making group boring.

Shake up your routine. Change locations, studies, discussion facilitators, or prayer time. Plan a retreat, or give some practical homework. Or just throw all of that out of the window and play a game with your small group. Routines are good, but they can work against you if you stick closer to those than you do to the mission of your small group: helping people take steps of faith together.

Anything else you’d add, that a group leader should stop doing?

 

If you haven’t had to deal with people dealing with sexual orientation issues in your church yet, you will. The coming years will bring more and more people who identify as a transgender, transvestite, transsexuals, and others that have, or have not, gone through sexual reassignment surgery. Same-sex attraction is nothing new. We even see the Bible addressing the issue. Culture in America has “normalized” it, though, and if your local church isn’t already wrestling through how they’d handle some of the more precarious and sticky situations, you’re already behind the curve.

I recently received this email from a fellow small groups pastor.

I have a transgender individual who is interested in joining a group. At our church we do not have co-ed groups, so I’m not really sure what’s the best way to proceed.

Let me start off by saying that I don’t have “the answer.” I’m not in the business of creating policies to handle things like this. Instead, I lead relationally, and on a case-by-case basis. That said, there are a few different questions at play here:

  • Is this a sin issue? What is the local church’s stance on this?
  • Is this a place (the local church AND the small group) where a transgender person feels comfortable pursuing Christ? (side note: the local church can believe that this is a sin issue, but still be welcoming)
  • Are they welcome as a small group member?
  • Would they be welcomed as a small group leader?
  • How will the small group respond? With shock and awe? Or grace and love?
  • How will the leader navigate difficult conversations?
  • Can the group accept that someone is “in process” and not make the group revolve around one particular sin?
  • Can the group balance grace AND truth?

Here was my response.

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Wow. That’s a tricky one for sure.

I tend to lean towards grace in these kinds of situations, and allow the Holy Spirit to do what the Holy Spirit’s going to do. If they claim to be a man, I’d allow them to join a men’s group, but I’d let them know where the church stands on the issue. I don’t want them to feel like we’ve “tricked” them into joining so that we can subversively influence them. There should be no doubt as to the church’s views, but also no doubt as to the church’s grace, and stance towards anyone: grace and truth.

At the end of the day, if they choose to honor Christ with their sexuality, they’re going to likely have to choose celibacy. But they’re not at that point right now. So minister to people where they are, and allow the Holy Spirit to change lives. The BEST place for someone to pursue Jesus is in the context of healthy, safe, truth-and-grace-driven community.

This all goes out the window if they’re disruptive. Group isn’t a chance for them to get on a pedestal and talk about their sexual choices. If it comes up, it comes up. But every week will not revolve around it. This needs to be made clear.

And group isn’t a chance for everyone else to “fix” them, either. It’s a chance to pursue Christ together. Everyone in the group has issues to work on, and I’d encourage that person to be open to the way God might call them to obedience. Radical obedience that could completely disrupt what they find their identity in.

Finally, I’d talk with the group leader whose group they may join know, and have a conversation with them to make sure they are comfortable (as comfortable as one might be in this situation) with this person joining their group. It’s a sensitive, difficult issue that not all group leaders could handle. It needs to be handled with much grace, care, and truth, giving space to pursue Jesus, and truth to wrestle with, that doesn’t revolve around one particular sin.

Let’s take another sin as an example. If someone openly struggles with gluttony, I’m not going to bar them from the group. Even if they don’t think that their gluttony is a sin. I’m also not going to structure group so that we talk about food and dieting every week. We’re just going to pursue Jesus together, and I’ll trust that God can change them through the power of the truth in the context of love.

At the end of the day, the Holy Spirit changes hearts. We can pray towards that end.

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I’d love to know how you’d handle a situation like this. (this conversation heated up on Facebook. Feel free to click on over and see what people have said HERE.)

Can they join your group? Could they even lead a small group?

How would you structure your group so that this person has a place to pursue Jesus?