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?

 

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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.

_______

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.

_______________

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?

 

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Is your church really safe?

Ben Reed —  April 15, 2014 — 1 Comment

Is your church safe? I don’t mean “we have police officers” and “we have hidden cameras” and “I’m packing heat on my pew.”

Is your church safe for you to be you? Can you be the you that doesn’t have it all figured out? That has more questions than answers, some days? Can you be the you that you are on the inside that nobody else sees? The you that wonders how in the world a God that loves justice could also love you? The you that you’re ashamed of?

Is it safe to for you to bring your doubts?

Fears?

Questions?

Struggles?

Victories?

Insecurities?

Quirks?

Gifts?

Doubts?

Is it safe for you to bring the full force of these and not be shunned?

Not be cast out?

Not be shamed?

Not be laughed at?

Not be marginalized?

Not be made to feel “less than”?

Maybe a bigger question than, “Can you?” is “Do you?”

Do you lead the way in vulnerability? Because if you don’t, they won’t. If your current church environment doesn’t afford you this luxury necessity, create it. If you’re waiting for someone else to give you the permission, you now have it. I’m granting it to you right now. Be you. And when someone else brings their junk, don’t take a step back. Take a step forward towards them and with them. Give grace, mercy, and patience. Give truth in love. Give space for continued exploration.

If we have a Savior that died for us, and was the ultimate example of welcoming sinners, we as the Church should be the most welcoming environment on earth. The safest place to still be “in process.” The place where when you join our community you instantly feel at home. You may not be able to put your finger on it, but our people should feel like your people. Our group, your group. Our home, your home. Our grace, your grace. Your story, our story.

By our posturing, may we, the Church, be certain we’re not telling the world, “Fix your junk before you come in here. Otherwise we will boycott, marginalize, slander, and shun you.”

The safest place you’ll ever find yourself is in a small group community that simultaneously knows and loves you. (Tweet that)

Jesus was a “friend of sinners.” (Matthew 11:18) Are we?

 

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photo credit: iStockPhoto user Digital Skillet

photo credit: iStockPhoto user Digital Skillet

Getting your small group to like you isn’t something you may have explicitly set out to do. If you did, you’re pretty self-centered. And there’s a great chance that nobody really likes you.

There. I said it.

While you may not have set that out as a written goal though, it’s on the back of your mind whether you’re a leader or a group member. Don’t lie. You want to be liked. And that’s not a terrible thing. If you didn’t care what others thought of you, you’d probably be a jerk. Caring what others think (while not being dominated by that) shapes our responses, and helps us become more loving and generous. If you didn’t care what others thought of you, you’d dress like a slob and never shower. So please, please keep caring.

If people genuinely don’t like you, and you’re a representation of Christ for them, then there’s a great chance you’re acting as a barrier for them to enjoying Jesus. It would be wise for us to not be a barrier.

How to you get your small group to like you? Well you can start by taking a shower before group. Then, let’s get to the more important things.

How to get your group to like you

Listen intently.

Listen way more than you talk. When you think you’ve listened too much, you’ve just started the process.

Share your story.

You’ve got a story of loss. Victory. Defeat. One that makes much of God, and His power to change your heart and shape your journey. Share that. It’s a gift.

Be authentic.

Nobody likes a fake leader. We all want to know that the person we’re following is the person we think we’re following. Be real and open and honest with your struggles and victories.

Be consistent.

Show up and engage. Week after week after week. On the weeks that you feel like going, show up. On the weeks that you don’t feel like going, show up. On the weeks when you’re too busy, show up. Consistency builds trust.

Go over and above.

Have coffee with a group member outside of your group’s meeting time. Invite a couple over to your house for dinner. Text them when you know they’re going to have a difficult day. Reach beyond the “normal” and “expected.”

Love unexpectedly.

Call on their birthday. Offer to watch their kids so they can go on a date night. Buy them a book that’s made a difference in your life.

Give grace when it’s not deserved.

I know, I know…grace “deserved” isn’t really grace. But there are times when you give grace and it’s expected. But when it’s not deserved in the least. When it hasn’t been earned. When everybody in the room expects you to go 100% truth in the moment…go 100% grace.

Learn their kids’ names.

Do this one today.

Remember their birthdays and anniversaries.

Go ahead and plug them into your calendar now, and set yourself a reminder. Trust me…they’ll notice this.

Share a well-timed truth.

Don’t just sit in your big comfy chair and drop theological bombs on your group. Listen well, and share a well-timed, well-pointed, well-applied truth. One that’s informed in the moment, and that walks the nuances of a deep relationship.

Give your resources.

You can’t give everything to everybody. But you can give significant, needed resources, to your group members. In a way that’s much faster, more efficient, than applying for aid from government, or even parachurch, organizations.

Be yourself.

If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re contemplative, be contemplative. If you’re patient, be patient. If you’re the life of a party, be the life of the party. If you’re an intellectual, be an intellectual. Be the you God created you to be.

Anything else that you do that engages your group to enjoy being around you?

 

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We all have an opinion on small group life. Some of us lean towards “small groups are amazing.” Some of lean towards “small groups are just plain difficult. And awkward.” Rarely is someone neutral when it comes to intentionally building spiritually-formative relationships with others.

I’ve been a part of life-giving small groups that I long to gather with week in and week out. Ones where I leave with more of Jesus than when I came. I’ve also been a part of groups that seem to suck the life right out of me. Ones where I give, but get nothing in return. (I think that has to do most prominently with small group dominators, but that’s another post for another day)

iStockPhoto, user: Noriko Cooper

iStockPhoto, user: Noriko Cooper

Healthy small groups teach us more than they often set out to teach. We are molded and changed in so many ways, because God uses others in mighty ways to make us more like Jesus. In fact, you can’t be like Jesus without others. It’s impossible. You can’t serve others, love others, be generous with one another, or accomplish any of the “one another” commands in Scripture by yourself.

9 unintended benefits of small group life

1. Not everybody thinks like you do, and that’s ok. (Tweet that)

Sometimes, our pride needs a swift body check. We need to run after a fly ball in center field and crash into the wall. We think we’re the only ones with a corner on the “right” answers, and we need subtle, and not-so-subtle, reminders that there are other ways to think.

2. Not everybody thinks like you do, and you can still love them them. 

Loving those who can, and will, love us back is barely love. Loving those who think and act differently than we do is more challenging, and takes more faith. It’s more risky and more difficult. Just because someone thinks differently doesn’t mean you can’t go out of your way to love them. Hanging around people that think like you do is more dangerous than living life with different people that stretch you.

3. Jesus followers can have fun. (Tweet that)

Maybe this post was written just so you’d read this benefit. If you’re a Jesus follower, please don’t check your humor and love of laughter, fun, and general frivolity at the door. After all, a cheerful heart is good medicine. (Proverbs 17:22)

4. People desperately need you.

You have gifts. You have a story. You have experiences. You have a living, breathing, active relationship with Jesus. And other people need you. God has created us to work interdependently, and though you may not have been valued for your contribution to the Church in the past, small group highlights the value you bring to the table. (1 Corinthians 4:12-31)

5. You desperately need people.

You may have gifts, but you don’t have them all. It becomes quickly and readily apparent in group life that others are wired and strengthened differently than you. Which is beautiful! No longer do you have to be all things to all people. You can be the you God created you to be, and lean in on others as they’re being who God created them to be.

6. Prayer works

Don’t believe me? Try it. Try asking for prayer. Try praying for someone else. God uses the prayers of the righteous to accomplish His work. (James 5:16)

7. The bible is living and active.

As you’re discussing the Scriptures week in and week out, you’ll find God speaking right into your story, as if the Bible were written just for you, where you’re at in life. He’ll speak through others in your group, using the Scriptures as the Truth you need to think, and live, differently. (Hebrews 4:12)

8. Confession brings healing. (Tweet that)

The more comfortable you grow with your group, the more you’ll be willing to be open and honest with your faults. As you confess, you’ll find healing. (James 5:16)

9. Dirty hands clean your heart. (Tweet that)

The more you love people, the dirtier your hands get. The more deeply you love others, the more likely it is you’ll get burned. Serving people well necessitates getting messy. Because people are messy. And the more you love, serve, and give generously of yourself, the more you begin to look like Jesus.

Are you in a group? Any other unintended benefits you’ve found?

 

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The Pastor’s Kid

Ben Reed —  March 25, 2014 — 1 Comment

I’m not a pastor’s kid, but I’m raising two of them. And I’m scared to death.

My prayer for my kids is often, “Lord, help them to not, because of me and the church where I serve, hate your bride.” It’s easy when daddy spends his work day, and many evenings, serving a local body of believers, for kids to grow bitter. Instead of seeing life transformation and community-building, grace-infusing work being done, they see a “job” that takes daddy away from home. They see a group of people that expects more out of them than they can give. They have unfair expectations thrust on them that they didn’t choose, but were chosen for them.

That’s why I’m pumped about Barnabas Piper’s new book, The Pastor’s Kid (releases July 2014). Because I don’t want my two children to grow up despising the church.

Check out this trailer.

 

 

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To measure the impact of a book,

don’t count the pages.

Count the coffee stains that mark late nights and early mornings.

Number the highlights, underlines, notes, and scribbles.

Note the dog ears, screenshots, and Facebook shares.

Watch how your thinking shifts and your attitude morphs

as questions increase.

Notice your patience rise. Your love of life swell.

 

Life never slows down,

until you find yourself buried neck-deep in line after line,

page after page,

thought after thought,

crescendoing with an abrupt crash that leaves you marked.

It changes your world.

It whispers into your past and present.

Into the future a book beckons.

 

It’s time to wrestle your nose into a good book.

One that will challenge you to think,

to love

to grow

to change

To measure the impact of a book,

don’t count the pages.

Count the coffee stains that mark late nights and early mornings.

 

What are you reading right now?

 

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I never wear my shoes in the house. Shoes bring in dirt.

On top of that, I’m more comfortable without them on. My at-home routine when I finish the day is to take my shoes off and put them in the basket beside the front door. After that, I feel like I can relax.

I don’t choose to take my shoes off because I feel like I have to. Or because my wife expects it. Or because it’s something I’ve done since I was a child. I do it simply so I can relax.

Small group time

Just a few weeks ago, we started a small group in our home. When I came in that Tuesday evening before people started arriving, I continued my normal routine. I took my shoes off, placed them in the basket, and started getting our house ready.

30 minutes before we started, I got my shoes back out of the basket. I put them back on my feet, tied them, and wore them until everyone in our small group had gone home for the night.

Then I went back through my routine. I took my shoes off, placed them in the basket, and sat down on the couch.

I didn’t accidentally wear my shoes during small group. I didn’t forget to take them off. And I’m not self-conscious about the smell of my feet. (though you may be conscious about the smell of my feet, I’m not. :-))

I wore my shoes to help people feel welcomed.

Many people don’t like to take off their shoes in others’ houses because

  • they’re self-conscious about the smell of their feet
  • they have dirty socks
  • they didn’t cut their toenails
  • they’re worried about the dirt in someone else’s house
  • they don’t take their shoes off in their own house
  • they feel more relaxed with their shoes on
  • their feet are cold

And if they feel like they have to take their shoes off, they’ll either:

a. Not. And feel guilty.

b. Take them off. And resent you for it.

So I chose to wear my shoes, and help people feel comfortable coming just as they are. Not having to bend to the rules of our family, or change their routine to fit our culture. I wanted them to feel like their wasn’t a hurdle they had to jump over, that they don’t have to at their own house, to engage in our group.

If keeping my shoes on helps someone feel more comfortable, welcomed, and loved, I’ll wear my shoes every week.(Tweet that) Small group is a blend of cultures, values, and traditions. Some people value keeping their shoes on.

If you want to love people well, go out of your way to serve them. (Tweet that) Surprise and delight. Make the best coffee in town. Let them sit on the couch nobody else gets to sit on. Let them eat off of the forks you reserve for special guests. Kindle the fire if it’s cold. Crank up the A/C if it’s hot. Open your home, open your life, and open your heart-shaping, will-bending, costly generosity (Re: Luke 14:12-14).

And if you want to create a culture that values people right where they are in life, let it start with your shoes. (Tweet that)

How do you creatively welcome people into your life?

The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. – Acts 28:2

 

 

 

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I wish I could forget

Ben Reed —  January 31, 2014 — 3 Comments

Ever said this? I bet you have. There’s something that’s happened to you that you wish you could wipe from your memory forever. You wish it would never pop up when you hear that song. Or visit that restaurant. Or smell that smell or see that movie. You wish you could go back to the time before it ever happened because the reminder is so deeply painful.

I was recently meeting with someone who had been deeply sinned against. He had been hurt by someone else, and he made the statement, “I just wish I could forget that this ever happened.”

Maybe you’ve said something like that.

You wish you could forget

  • that relationship
  • what she did to you
  • how he treated you.
  • when your dad left.
  • when you failed at ___.
  • when you quit ______.
  • the pain of divorce.
  • when you started your addiction.
  • when he hit you.
  • when you got fired.
  • when you had to ask my kids to forgive me.
  • the time he sinned against you.
  • the time he sinned against you again.
  • the time he sinned against you again and again.

It would be easier to just forget this pain, wouldn’t it?

But remembering the pain of someone hurting you allows you to love them in a way you couldn’t otherwise. It gives you the chance to offer grace where it is not deserved. Forgiveness where it hasn’t been earned. And it encourages you to seek God in a way you wouldn’t otherwise, being forced to lean on Him for support in a fuller way than you may have without the pain.

God doesn’t let us fully forget. Because by leaning more fully on God, and offering more grace, love, and forgiveness, we become more like Jesus.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. – the Apostle Paul, Romans 8:28-29

 

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This is the time of year when people are returning to the gym. You know those guys. Maybe you’re one of those guys.

You have intended to be more faithful in the gym, more faithful to work out. But life has happened. Kids’ sports have happened. Work has happened. Vacation has happened. Sleep has happened. And it’s not that you’ve been intentionally avoiding the gym (ok, well, maybe you have, but just hang with me), it’s just that carving out time to drive across town, get an hour-long-workout in, then drive back hasn’t happened.

Thank you very much, January-new-years-resolutions, for reminding us we need to get back at it.

You want to know the worst thing you can hear when you step a foot back in the gym? The one thing that, more than any other, may cause you to not come back? The one thing that seems benign by the one who speaks it?

Welcome back! It sure has been a while…

Thus implying:

  • You must be lazy.
  • You are really packing on the pounds.
  • You sure do need to be at the gym.
  • I know your kind…we probably won’t see you for more than a few weeks.
  • I see that pudge…hopefully you’ll stick around long enough to work it off.
  • You haven’t been here in a while, so you probably have no idea what you’re doing at all.

That may not be explicitly stated, but it’s often what’s heard, because it’s so easy to bring our insecurities into the gym. When you look around, you see people who work out every day. You see equipment that’s intimidating. And then you see yourself. Out-of-shape. Out-of-time. Tired. Weak. A-little-too-round. Don’t-really-want-to-be-there-anyway. And those seemingly innocuous words fall like a ton of bricks on your fragile psyche.

Instead of asking them where they’ve been, or feigning shock that they’re back, just welcome them. Help them feel acclimated. And remember that being there is better than not being there.

Church returnees

The same thing is true around this time of year in churches around the world.

People are gracing the doors of church buildings in an attempt to maintain spiritual goals they set that they knew they should’ve been working to keep all last year. Maybe that’s you.

You have intended to be more faithful in your spiritual life, more faithful to God. But life has happened. Kids’ sports have happened. Work has happened. Vacation has happened. Sleep has happened. And it’s not that you’ve been intentionally avoiding God (ok, well, maybe you have, but just hang with me), it’s just that carving out time to drive across town, get an hour-long-worship in, then drive back hasn’t happened.

Thank you very much, January-new-years-resolutions, for reminding us we need to get back at it.

You want to know the worst thing you can hear when you step a foot back in a local church? The one thing that, more than any other, may cause you to not come back? The one thing that seems benign by the one who speaks it?

Welcome back! It sure has been a while…

Thus implying:

  • You must be lazy.
  • You must hate God.
  • You are really living a life of debauchery.
  • You sure do need to be in church.
  • I know your kind…we probably won’t see you for more than a few weeks. (churches even have a name for you…C&E. Christmas and Easter attenders.)
  • I see that tattoo…I smell that alcohol…I heard that muttering…hopefully you’ll stick around long enough to work it off.
  • You haven’t been here in a while, so you probably have no idea what you’re doing at all.

That may not be explicitly stated, but it’s often what’s heard, because it’s so easy to bring our insecurities into church. When we look around, we see people who have been following Jesus longer than we’ve been alive. And way more effectively than we ever will. We see processes and procedures and systems that are intimidating. And then we see ourself. Out-of-shape. Out-of-time. Tired. Weak. A-little-too-hooked-on-something. Don’t-really-want-to-be-there-anyway. And those seemingly innocuous words fall like a ton of bricks on our fragile psyche, full of baggage that we bring in towards God, the Church, others, and ourselves.

Church returnees: we’re sorry. We say dumb things to help us feel better about ourselves. Or sometimes we just babble because we don’t know what to say. Please give us another chance. We’re just as broken as you are. We need Jesus as much as you are. We can just be knuckleheads sometimes when words start coming out of our mouths.

Church members: just shut your mouth. Paste a genuine smile on your face. And for crying out loud, would it kill you to just give someone a hug? Or, if you’re not a hugger, give a hearty handshake. Nothing else. No “funny” comments about wondering why they’re here. You’re not that funny…and in fact, you’re offensive. If you say, “Welcome back! It sure has been a while…” they won’t come back. Trust me.

 

 

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