5 Things Small Groups Do Well

I’ve lived and served in small group life for nearly 5 years, on staff at Grace Community Church.

Small groups have become my heartbeat. Connecting people in biblical, authentic community has become the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, and what keeps me up late at night.

photo credit: iStockPhoto user Digital Skillet

Over the past 5 years, I’ve seen lots of folks thrive in small groups…and many die on the vine. I’ve noticed that there are certain things that small groups can never be…and certain things that at which small groups excel.

Those qualities that a small group does well are summed in 1 Thessalonians 5:14:

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

 5 Things that Small Groups Do Well

1. “Brothers” 

Small groups help people “belong.” This is absolutely essential in our walks with Christ. That we have brothers and sisters to whom we belong, and are connected with at a deep level. This is the foundation for the rest of the verse, and the foundation for living life in community.

2. “Warn those who are idle”

We’re not talking about an “idol.” The word here is “idle.” Speak truth and hope into the lives of people who are stuck. Who forget that living life as Jesus follower is one of action. One of serving and loving and giving and going. Some of us need to quit planning, and start doing.

3. “Encourage the timid”

Fear is a reality for us in many different seasons of life. It grips our hearts and keeps us in bondage. Which is why we need other people. We need others to encourage us when we need to take that step of faith. We need to know that others have our back when we might fail.

4. “Help the weak”

Oh, how often I’ve needed this. And how incredible a bond you form with someone when they help you in need. When small groups rally around people in their group, or others in their community, there’s a deeper level of relationship than is found in most other areas of life. Helping the weak is something that healthy groups do well, especially when we realize that we can use our pain to help others.

5. “Be patient with everyone”

We’re all at different points in our spiritual journeys. And at various points, each of us can be a difficult person. The way we treat each other reveals our theology. Whether we’re walking through a mess ourselves, helping others deal with a mess, or trying to figure out what God’s got next for us and we’re just fearful or resistant, we need others to be patient with us…and we need to learn to be patient with others. Just like God’s patient with us. And it’s impossible to practice patience on your own. Being that we’re all broken sinners…small groups give us a great chance to exercise patience with one another.

Notice one key component of all of these: they’re active. None of these can be accomplished while you’re passive. None can be accomplished if you just look at group life as a sponge. If you expect that following Jesus is about sitting around.

If you go expecting to sit and soak, you’ll dry up. If you go expecting to give deeply of yourself…expect to be filled.

Question:

Have you seen any of these fleshed out in group life? What else do small groups do well?

 

 

 

 

10 Simple Ways to Encourage your Pastor

Truth: “Hey preacher man, good sermon!” is nice…but come on, we can do better than that, right?

We can do better than the shoulder squeeze with the solemn look in the eye. Better than the slow head nod of approval. Especially when we remember that our pastor spends hours each week pouring out their heart on stage, ministering to and in our communities, and shepherding hard-heads like us.

image credit: Creative Commons user ThisIsAGoodSign

The work of a pastor is often lonely, difficult work…we need your encouragement.

Encouragement isn’t that difficult, but it takes being intentional.

10 Ways to encourage your pastor:

1. Appreciate the work they do throughout the week, not just on Sunday. You know that being a pastor is more than a Sunday gig, right? We don’t love that you-only-work-one-day-a-week ribbing, by the way.

2. Take notes on Sunday. This is a great way to encourage your pastor…at least act like you’re going to work diligently to remember and apply their teaching.

3. Email them on Tuesday and let them know you’re still working through your notes from Sunday.

4. Deflect criticism on their behalf. Your pastor likely takes a lot of heat. Some may be deserved…much of it likely isn’t. Instead of joining in the criticism, stand up and show your pastor some love. Help others see the good side of your pastor.

5. Speak well of your local church. Your pastor takes great care and spends much effort to present and grow a beautiful local church. Speaking well of your church is a great way to encourage and honor the work your pastor’s done.

6. Serve. I don’t mean that you should necessarily bring your pastor dinner…you should serve others in your local church. This is unbelievably encouraging! Your pastor’s desire is not to be the only one who does ministry.

7. Pray for them. Often.

8. Speak well of their spouse. A pastor’s spouse is married to the ministry. They often do ministry themselves, and end up carrying the burden of their spouse as they lead. It’s a tough spot to be in. Speaking well of your pastor’s spouse helps your pastor feel like you’ve got their back.

9. Start consistently feeding them fresh preaching points every day. By email. And phone calls. And text messages. And Facebook wall posts.

10. Give generously. This is a fruit of faithful, biblical preaching…people growing up in their faith to the point where they’re generous with their financial resources. Give to your local church, yes. But give generously to others. “Don’t let your left hand know what your right is doing.” – Matthew 6:3

Not sure where to start? Pick one for this upcoming week, and bless your pastor. Your local church will be better because of your small investment.

image credit: Creative Commons user ThisIsAGoodSign

 

The 1 thing every leader needs to hear

photo credit: creation swap user Drew Palko

I meet with leaders regularly. Mostly, those are small group leaders at Grace, where I’m on staff.

Nearly every leader struggles with feelings of insecurity about their leadership (I put myself in that boat, too). It’s just part of living life as a broken, fallible human trying to lead people.

Leaders wonder

  • whether our upcoming decision is the right one.
  • whether the decision we just made was the right one.
  • if we’re strong enough for the job.
  • if we’re pleasing the right people.
  • whether we’re being successful.
  • whether we’re the right person for the job.

Leaders say

  • It’s too tough
  • I’m too busy
  • People aren’t responding
  • I still have so much in my life I need to work on
  • I don’t know enough
  • I haven’t experienced enough
  • I’m in over my head
  • There are better leaders out there
  • I’m not the best leader available
  • Do you know my past?

If all leaders, at some level, struggle with insecurity, then all leaders need to hear these words spoken to them:

You can do this.

Moses and Joshua

When Moses was about to die, he knew he needed to pass the baton of leadership for the people of Israel. There was a huge task in front of the Israelites, and they needed a strong leader. Moses knew it wouldn’t be him (we learn this from Numbers 20:12) In Deuteronomy 31:1-8, we see Moses addressing the Israelites in preparation for his coming death. After addressing the people, he called Joshua to him and we read this:

“Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land…”

Joshua was taking on a huge responsibility, following the greatest leader that the nation of Israel had known. I can only imagine the feelings of insecurity that were coursing through Joshua in that moment. A confirmation from Moses was what Joshua, this young leader, needed. He needed to hear from another leader, “You can do this.”

Moses told Joshua that he believed in him. He believed that Joshua was the man for the job. He believed that Joshua had what it took to get the job done. Not on his own, of course…”it is the Lord who goes before you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) In fact, this was so important that Moses affirmed Joshua “in the presence of all Israel.” Joshua needed this encouragement and affirmation.

Encouraging another leader

Every leader needs to hear this from another leader. They need to hear, “You can do this” from someone they respect. They need to hear this from you. It’s vital to their continued growth.

If this is so important, how can you honestly and helpfully encourage and affirm another leader?

Listen to them. Ask good questions. Look to affirm the work they’ve been doing, and speak hope into them. You’ve been where they are, and you’ve had the feelings of insecurity they’re having. Give them these 4 words:

You can do this.

 

 

Shepherding Realities

image via iStock Photo user IB

Self-perceptions are more spoken into existence by others than they are self-taught.

Don’t believe me?

  • Why do you think that some kids feel awkward? It’s because they’re told that they are.
  • Why do some kids feel un-loved? Because they’re told that they never measure up.
  • Why do some leaders perceive themselves to be weak? Because everyone tells them that they are.
  • Why do some wives feel like they never measure up? Because they’re never told that their work investing in their homes is worth the effort.
  • Why do some older people feel like they have no life and wisdom to give? Because they’re devalued by those who claim to love them.

We speak perceptions into existence every day through conversations and interactions we have with coworkers, family members, and the annoying guy at the drive-thru. The words, tone, and attitude you share with others can literally change the way that others view themselves.

I am speaking my son’s reality into existence every day: I tell him that he’s courageous. And strong. And that he’s a leader. And that nothing can hold him back. And that God’s going to use him in big ways. And that my love of him is secure. He can’t do anything to lose it.

Speaking Realities in Leadership

Want to lead someone? Then change their perceptions of themselves. The Bible calls this ‘encouragement.’ Encourage even the smallest step in the right direction. As you feed the work of God in someone’s life, people see where God is working. Your encouragement acts as a new set of glasses, changing the way they see everything. As you encourage with love, people feel loved. As you encourage with grace, people feel graced. As you encourage people with hope, despair melts away. Negative perceptions are overcome with a timely word and action.

Without your encouragement, though, they’re going to continue feeling an absence of love and grace and motivation. Without your encouragement, they won’t know which direction to head.

  • Encouragement focuses not on what is, but on what could be.
  • Encouragement focuses not on past failures, but on future hopes.
  • Encouragement focuses not on current shortcomings, but on timeless Truth.
  • Encouragement focuses not on overwhelming fear, but on a big God.
  • Encouragement focuses not on weaknesses, but on gifts and strengths.

Through encouragement, you have the chance to shepherd a person’s reality of themselves.

Correction may be warranted at times, but right now, just point out the bright spots. Help them see what you see.

There’s someone in your life right now that needs encouragement. Let them hear it from you today.

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14

*image via iStock photo user: IB

 

Encourage to death

My son is a climber. Whether it’s onto a chair, into my lap, or onto the coffee table that he’s not supposed to be on, the boy loves the challenge.
But our couch is just a little bit too tough for him to easily climb. Maybe it’s a bit too tall. Maybe it’s the difficulty of the cushions that give when he pulls up on them. Maybe it’s the slick fabric that covers it. But nonetheless, he finds it extraordinarily difficult to climb.

But today, he did it. By himself!
Want to know the secret of how he did it?

I encouraged him.

“Great job, Rex! You’re almost there! Keep going! You can do it! Not much further…”

I saw that he was almost finished fighting.  He was just about to throw in the towel and go back to climbing other, less difficult things.  But when I encouraged him, I saw him smile.  And try harder to make it.  Instead of giving up, sliding back down the front of the couch yet again, he decided to push forward.  He believed me…that he really could make it.

Laugh all you want, but I’m convinced that my encouragement helped him have the confidence that he needed to accomplish something he had never done before.

And you’re no different.

You need encouragement. Encouragement that what you’re doing matters. That all the hard work you’re doing for the Kingdom really is making a difference. That the hours you’re spending trying to be a better husband really is paying off. That the Race is worth finishing.

And those you’ve been called to lead need encouragement, too. And you’re called to encourage them. Why?

Because this life is too difficult.

It’s too dreary.  Too painful.  Too mind-numbing.  Too long.  Too short.  Too lonely.  Too confusing.  Unrewarding.  Unfulfilling.  Unrelenting.

And we become hardened.  Calloused.  Distant.  Uncaring.  Unmotivated.  Easily swayed.  Easily angered.  Depressed.  Disbelieving.  Drifting.

Without the encouraging words of a friend, a fellow journeyman, we’re all likely to give up.

The sin in this world is incredibly deceitful, and very quickly (the verse below seems to say that this can happen in 1 day) causes us to drift away from the God we love.  It creeps in to the dark recesses of our hearts and finds a home, convincing us that fighting the fight of faith is too tough.  And it’s right.

Stay strong, brothers!  The fight for your heart is worth it.  Hold fast to the end.  Push on through.  And ask for some encouragement along the way.

While you’re at it, why not give some out, too?

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Hebrews 3:12-14)

 

Cultivating the drone

Do you celebrate volunteers who do exactly what you ask them to do?

Or do you encourage creativity, outside-the-box thinking, and pursuing God-given passions?

Teaching people to punch a button is easy.  Raising up (and giving space to) leaders who are creative and innovative is not.

Raising up creative leaders is:

1. Messy – When you ask somebody to think outside of the box, it ceases to be “clean, concise, and manageable.”

2. Decentralized – It’s difficult to have a two-hour training on this stuff.  It’s more about cultivating an environment than about transferring information.  And allowing creativity to permeate each person (rather than having those you lead simply parrot back a response) means that you won’t be the sole trainer.

3. Slow – Since it’s not chiefly about transferring information, it takes much longer.

4. Difficult to replicate – Many times, this process differs from person to person.  Creativity is unique to the individual, and thus not exactly duplicate-able.

5. Risky – Asking people to think outside the box means that they may go off in a direction that you didn’t intend.

However, I think that it’s worth dealing with each of the above.  Because in the long run, organizations that embrace and encourage creativity will produce innovators who work through plaguing problems, promote development, and help a company (or a church) sustain long-term growth.

If you’re content doing things the same way you’ve always done them, then you’re going to raise up leaders with that same value.