9 truths nobody told you about small group

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

 

 

Should you allow a transgender person join your small group?

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?

 

The car with the different wheel

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image credit: ParkerLineStriping.com

It was a balmy Saturday afternoon, bits of pavement sticking to the bottom of my flip flops as I picked up my 4 year old to carry him through the parking lot. Sweat beading across each of our foreheads instantly, he asked me to pick him up. This also gave me a better vantage point to hear what he was going to tell me amidst the throng of moving vehicles and people.

We were walking in to one of our favorite restaurants, Chuy’s, a Tex-Mex chain that’s opened up in Nashville. He always gets Mac-n-cheese, and he’d already started telling me how that’s what he wanted this time, too. It was hard for me to think about warm, gooey cheese, when that’s about what the black pavement beneath my feet felt like.

There were cars everywhere. Some with their blinkers on, waiting for a spot soon to be vacated. Some whipping through ready to leave. Others frustratedly circling the lot for a better vacancy closer to the air-conditioned indoors. I was glad I was holding Rex.

An old beater car pulled up beside us, turning left back towards the sea of parked, sun-baked cars. The paint was chipping a little. It made grinding noises when it stopped, and screeching noises when it began to turn. The cloth on the inside roof was sagging, held up by a few staples not part of the original design. Smoke billowed from the back end, blending in with the black of the pavement it was blanketing.

Rex noticed something. One of the wheels had evidently been damaged, replaced by a cheaper replacement that barely seemed to keep the axle from falling to the ground. Instead of a new polished, chrome rim with a deep black tire, it was just an old tire with a dusty, dirty rim. It served its purpose, but not well.

It stood out like a…dirty, dusty wheel.

“Ooh dad, did you see that? That car?”

“Which one?”

The one with the different wheel?”

“Yeah, buddy, I sure do. What about it?”

“We should get one like that.”

I chuckled. I told him that something was wrong with the car. That it was kinda broken. He responded:

“Dad. Did you see it?!? It was cool! That wheel!”

I reminded him, again, that this car was broken, and that we didn’t really want a car like this. We’re blessed to have a car that isn’t broken right now. But he was having none of that, as he continued to gush about the cool wheel that we needed to get.

What I saw was a broken-down car at the end of its vehicular rope, hanging on by a thread. It needed work, needed love, and more than anything else, it really just needed a junk yard.

What Rex saw was completely different. He saw something that was out of the ordinary. Something that was cool, and useful, and that we needed. He saw a car that wasn’t done, but that still had life and value.

I wish I saw the world like that.

I wish I saw people like that.

We see weaknesses. 

God says, “I can use that.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

We see crippling failures.

God says, “I’ve still got something for you.” (Judges 16:28-30)

We see an old washed up life.

God says, “Moses was 80 when he led my people out of Israel.”

We see insecurities.

God says, “Be courageous. I’ve got your back.” (Joshua 1:9)

We see someone so young they can’t do anything.

God says, “Don’t let ‘em look down on you because you’re young.” (1 Timothy 4:12)

We see pain.

God says, “I’ll rescue you. Then turn you into a rescuer.”(Galatians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

We see unloved and alone.

God says, “I’ll never leave you.”(Deuteronomy 31:6)

We see useless.

God says,“I am your hope.” (Psalm 62:5)

It’s time we stopped seeing the world for what it is. And started seeing it through the eyes of a God that longs to redeem.

We can start by learning from a 4 year old.

 

 

The audacity

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image credit: Creation Swap user Jeremiah Bauer

Who has the audacity to tell me…

…how to parent?

…that I’m wrong?

…to not be lazy?

…to quit being stingy with my money?

…to forgive someone who permanently damaged me?

…to call me out when my sarcasm stings?

…I need to rest?

…not to go there?

…not to watch that?

…to be friends with him?

…to quit hanging out with her?

…to go to that college?

…I need to quit avoiding him?

…that I have no right to an ego?

…to love those people?

…to tithe?

…that my best life is still yet to come?

…that I don’t have to try to impress him?

…that I’ve got nothing to give him that makes him any better?

…that he loves me, even in my worst moments?

The guy who rose from the dead. That’s who.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. – the apostle Paul (Romans 6:8-11)

 

 

Why you should quit listening to your pastor

I’m done listening to my pastor.

D.O.N.E. Done.

All this talk on believing the Gospel. Trusting God through pain. Loving my kids with all of my heart. Believing God’s way is better than my way. I’m done.

stop-listening

Will you join me?

Quit listening to your pastor talk about how much he loves you. About how God has a plan for your life. About how you need to link arms with other people and join a small group.

Quit listening to him when he says that it’s good for your heart to give generously.

Quit listening when he talks about turning your back on your sin. About trusting the God who loves you. About your need to repent.

And when he prays for you…stop listening then, too. Don’t listen when he encourages you to step up and serve others. Or to spend a week this summer at student camp. Or going overseas to share the love and hope of the Gospel.

Stop listening. Please.

Stop listening and start doing something.

Take what your pastor says and start living it. Let it resonate so deeply in your soul that it pushes you to action.

Listening alone is worthless. When the act of hearing Truth doesn’t end in some form of action, it’s not done you any good. As James puts it,

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. – James 1:22

If we listen, and don’t do, we’re a fool. James goes on to compare us to the person who looks in the mirror to make sure everything’s straight…and as soon as they look away, they forget what they looked like. That’s dumb.

So let’s quit wasting our pastor’s time by listening. It’s not doing either of us any good. A storm’s brewing, and we’ve got to be ready. The question is not whether we will have enough knowledge or not. The question will be whether we can do anything about it.

But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete. – Jesus, Luke 6:49

Stop listening to your pastor. And start doing.

 

11 ways to fight well, from 1 Corinthians 13

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image via iStockphoto user contrails

Every couple fights. It’s a reality of living in a fallen world.

But not every couple fights well. Another reality of living in a fallen world.

Couples that learn to grow through their arguments can have some of the strongest marriages on the planet.

I know that 1 Corinthians 13, though often shared at weddings, isn’t a passage just for love in marriage, there are a lot of principles we can learn as they relate to how love acts.

Fighting well, from 1 Corinthians 13

1. Don’t fling old poo.

Stop bringing up past failures. Love keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5)

2. Listen when the other person is talking.

Don’t just be preparing your rebuttal. Love is patient. (1 Corinthians 13:4)

3. Think before you speak.

Love is patient and kind. (1 Corinthians 13:4)

4. Always hope.

Assume the best about the other person. Don’t assume their motive was to undermine you. Assume they love you. Because they’ve already told you that. (1 Corinthians 13:4)

5. Don’t threaten to give up.

Constantly threatening with “divorce” and “I’m going to walk away” erodes the health of your marriage. Thankfully, God doesn’t ever threaten us like that. (Deuteronomy 31:6). Love never gives up. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

6. Stop the yelling.

Don’t yell for yelling sake. When you raise your voice and your temper and your emotions, you only escalate things. And you sound a whole lot like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

7. Always rejoice when the truth wins.

Even when Especially when the truth doesn’t land in your favor, and you lose the battle. (1 Corinthians 13:6)

8. No name-calling.

Love does not dishonor the other person by reducing them to a demeaning, offensive name. Love is kind. (1 Corinthians 13:4)

9. In kind, affectionate ways, touch each other.

Reach out and hold the other person’s hand. Pat their leg. Put your hand on their shoulder. There’s something disarming about physical affection. And, maybe more importantly, there’s something about physical affection that, in the heat of the moment, you don’t naturally want to do. Choosing loving physical affection helps calm your raging heart. Love does not demand its own way. (1 Corinthians 13:5)

10. Keep the details between the two of you. (and a healthy ‘accountability’ partner, if you have that)

When you fight, don’t run home and share the details with your parents. Don’t share them with your friends. Keep them between the two of you. For health sake, though, you may need to have someone safe, who knows you both, that you can share your heart with. Just make sure this is the same person every time, and that this person loves Jesus and has your best interest at heart. Love keeps no record of wrongs…but outside parties do. (1 Corinthians 13:5)

11. Pray before, after, and during.

Loving someone through an argument is something that can only happen supernaturally. It comes from God. If we’re going to love our spouse well, we must ask the One from whom we received love in the first place.

 

 

 

 

5 ways to not be like Gollum

You’ve heard of Gollum, from The Lord of the Rings, right? That weasely, sneaky, under-handed nasty thief whose sole focus in life was the Ring. He didn’t start out that way. He started out as a curious, “quiet-footed” hobbit. Check out a bit of his backstory.

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Gollum’s downward gaze shaped who he became. Instead of letting his curiosity help him explore the beauties of God, he let it drive him into the dark places. Smeagol became Gollum because he didn’t “look up.”

Curiosity is a gift from God…until you let it lead you to dark places. Instead of your curiosity looking for shadows of hope and grace scattered throughout the earth, it can lead you to search in dark corners of self-pity, self-hate and loneliness. Curiosity can lead you to your sin, your “dark places.”

When your gaze is always “downward,” you’re setting yourself up for a life where you’ll be dominated by your shame, guilt, and failures. Gollum is the prototypical person who is fully aware of their “thing,” their addiction, their “thorn in the flesh,” and who has made their life, and everyone else’s, revolve around that addiction. Gollum is so marked by his addiction that his whole existence revolves around it, and like a vortex he has sucked other people into his pain.

Time to look up.

26 Look up into the heavens.
Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
not a single one is missing.
27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.

How do you take positive steps away from your sin, and help ensure that your addiction and recovery don’t become your identity? How do you make sure you don’t consume others in your road to health? How do you ensure you’re not dominated by your guilt, shame, and fear?

6 Ways to Not Be Like Gollum

  1. Get outside. Enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. As you do, you’ll find the dark places of your heart a bit brighter. (Isaiah 40:26)
  2. Get outside. Remind yourself that there is a God…and that it’s not you. He’s all-powerful, you’re not. He knows all things…you don’t. He created the stars. You didn’t. (Isaiah 40:26-27)
  3. Exercise. There’s something healing about working strenuous, physical activity into your routine. Growing physically weak reminds us that God’s strength is perfect. (Isaiah 40:29)
  4. Serve someone else. Gollum served, and only thought about, himself. If you want to get out of your rut, do something for someone else, in a way that your favor can’t be “returned” back to you. Make life not about you.
  5. Remind yourself of the times that God has loved you and breathed hope into your story. (Isaiah 40:27)
  6. Trust in the Lord. (Isaiah 40:31) Easier said than done, though. Which is why you can’t do this on your own. Everything else can be done, just between you and God. But trusting in the Lord is too difficult to try to do by yourself. Bring someone else into your journey, and give them the freedom to speak hard, life-giving Truth into your story. 
Ready to grow in your faith? Time to look up.
 

6 Social Media Rules Every Pastor Should break

There are lots of social meda “rules” that form over time. Just as with any product or service, usage often determines the unspoken set of ground rules. And if you’re not careful, those “rules” can pigeon-hole you.

And nobody likes a pigeon hole. Well, nobody but pigeons.

image credit: CreationSwap user Paule Patterson, edits mine

Whether you’re a pastor that’s a casual user or a power user, a rookie or a veteran, there are certain rules that you should adhere to. Rules that will help you with engagement…and help you not come across as

1. Completely out of touch with culture.

2. A self-centered self-promoter.

3.  A person that others unfollow when they read your updates.

So here are 6 rules that every pastor should break daily with social media.

6 Rules Pastors Should Break

1. Only quote the Bible

We know that you’re in love with the Bible. We get it. But there’s got to be more to who you are than random quotes from Scripture, right? Didn’t Martin Luther say anything good? CS Lewis? Can’t you come up with anything worth saying that’s at least remotely original? How about reading your Bible and applying it…and making that an update?

2. Keep up your “professional pastor” persona.

You’re not a walking Christian zombie, are you? You don’t only read Christian books, only watch Christian movies, and only eat at Christian restaurants, do you? There has got to be more to you than the Christian subculture. Building relationships with those outside of the faith isn’t going to happen if you’re tweeting YouTube videos out like this one, of Michael W Smith from the late 80s. Gotta love the vest. I think the song should’ve gone, “Nobody knew I could rock a vest like this…”

3. If you’re frustrated, complain. A lot.

Twitter can become a megaphone for you to voice your complaints about a lot of things: culture at large, politics, “other” pastors, or even your own church. Complaining doesn’t become you, though. In fact, Paul urges us

Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, especially on Twitter… – James 5:9 (additions mine)

 4. Never update during “work” hours.

Give people an inside peek into who you are and what you do during your normal day. A behind-the-scenes, if you will. Social media can be a great voice for Truth and engagement throughout your week. Don’t have time to update during your work day? Schedule updates when you’ve got a few minutes.

5. Never share personal information.

Bologna. Share who you are. Share what you value. Talk about your family. Talk about your struggles. Share your pain. Your joy. Your victories.

6. Only follow other Christians.

If pastors want to bring hope to the hurting, grace to the downtrodden, and Truth to the places where people engage, we’ve got to track along with those outside of our Christian bubbles. And here’s a freebie for you…nobody judges your theology by who you follow on Twitter and Facebook.

 Question:

Do you interact more on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or on your blog?

 

This is awkward, but…how’s your present?

Creative Commons user Marc Wathieu, edits mine

It’s “sexy” to talk about your past. Where you’ve been. The grit you’ve experienced. The pain you’ve had to bear. The crazy life you used to live. When you talk about your past, you get looks that say

Wow. You’ve come so far!

OR

Wow. You’ve overcome so much!

OR

Wow. You had a lot of fun!

It’s “sexy” to talk about your future, too. Nobody gets upset when you’re talking about where you’re headed in life. Whether you’re talking about heaven (where there will be no tears or crying or pain) or something a little shorter in focus (your goals and aspirations), these are fun conversations. When you talk about where you’re headed, it’s cast in a bright, positive light. Nobody clams up talking about that!

But your “present”? It’s not so sexy to talk about where you are right now. In fact, it’s quite awkward. And I’m convinced awkward conversations need to be had.*

It’s not cool to say,

“Yeah, I still struggle with ____.”

OR

“I still need help with ______.”

OR

“That thing that we talked about last week…I messed up again.”

The awkward humiliation

It’s humiliating, really. It’s like saying, “I know I told you I was headed to Nashville, but somehow I ended up in St. Louis. You told me to turn left, but I just went right.” Silly, no? Turns out they didn’t listen to directions, look at their map, or heed the signs that said, “Nashville, turn left.” And they did this for 450 miles.

Talking about your present struggles is like swallowing a spoonful of medicine. You know it’s going to help, but it tastes rancid going down.

Talking about your present struggles admits, “I’m not where I need to be,” “I’m not who I appear,” and, “I don’t really know how to get where I want to go.”

The beeline to shame

Where we go wrong when someone begins “talking about their present” is that we make a beeline for shame. Instead of the Prodigal’s father, we play the role of the older brother (Luke 15:28-30). Our arms are crossed and our head swiveling back and forth in judgment. We say things like “How are they going to ever learn?” or “Someone’s got to give them the truth.” or “If they’d only followed God like me” We think it’s our job to convict their hearts with the truth.

When we’re quick to convict, we inadvertently shut down a potentially life-changing moment of confession.

The good news about grace is that grace doesn’t keep a record of how many times you’ve messed up. In fact, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” (Romans 5:20) Grace celebrates a step in the right direction. Even when it’s followed by two steps backwards.

Grace welcomes home

Grace doesn’t mean that you become a doormat that’s walked on. It means you welcome someone home when they “talk about their present.” More than likely, conviction’s already happened. (hint: that’s why they’re talking with you!) Your role isn’t to convict…you can let the Holy Spirit do that. He’s better at it than you are, anyway. What someone needs, in their moment of taking a step of faith by saying, “I’ve messed up…again” is a “welcome home!” embrace.

Next time someone opens up an awkward conversation by sharing something they’re counting to struggle with, try being full of grace. Try showing them that we serve a God who never leaves or forsakes us (Deuteronomy 31:6), even when we’ve followed a stupid decision by a stupid decision. In those moments, you’ll find that truth acts more like a weapon.

Grace is what’s needed, because grace moves the ball forward. Shame throw it backwards.

* catch up with the “this is awkward” series HERE.