Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fix My Small Group Exercise

I have never done this sort of exercise here at the blog before so this should be interesting. Take a few minutes to read the article from Outreach Magazine in 2007 Fix My Small Groups! and then take a few minutes to rank the problems discussed. After having read Fix My Small Group!, I have rated each problem as follows:

1) We can't find solid small group leaders - Far too often the person who is selected to lead is the one who is willing to step up. In my experience, the same group of folks are always the ones we find in most of the ministries of the church. The old 80/20 rule has been in force in EVERY church I have ever been a part of. That doesn't mean all of those folks are equipped to make disciples. Also, rarely have I seen leadership training in place. This is a must!

2) Our small groups lack structure - It would be easy to say this is a symptom of the first problem which at times is true but I believe this is a larger issue. More than poor leadership of the group, this is a failing of the church to ensure there is a basic structure for groups to follow. This is just an opinion but I believe where this is an issue, there may also be found an issue within the leadership of the church itself.

3) Our small groups lack authentic fellowship - Without outreach and discipleship at the heart of the group, it becomes little more than a social event. Socializing is certainly an important aspect of group life but there is more, much more we ought to be there for. Weak leadership contributes to this problem.

4) Our small group members are not committed - The lack of authentic fellowship contributes to this problem. It is difficult to be committed to something when it feels like the members are simply going through the motions.

5) Our small groups are inbred and exclusive - Again, I return to the leadership of the church, not the small group itself. This problem is permitted to persist, in my view, by leaders who insist on avoiding conflict. Don't be afraid to ruffle a few feathers. These groups have something to offer or they wouldn't have such exclusive members. In love, we can change such groups.

6) We can't get new church members plugged into existing small groups - Well let's see, we're exclusive and inbred, inauthentic, uncommitted, disorganized, and our leader is the person with a pulse who got more or less drafted into their role. Gee, why won't those new members join one of our small groups? Oh wait, this isn't really a large issue since we don't have very many new members anyway. Sound familiar? What I have seen (even ass recently as this past Sunday) is someone come for membership, they are greeted and welcomed into our fellowship, and then told which class they should go to. Yep, that's it. After a few weeks they find all of the other issues we have and many decide not to bother. Who can blame them!

As we already learned (and some of us have perhaps experienced), the small group ministries of many churches do not have these issues. However, many do! For me, it is all about growth. Before anyone jumps on that little sentence allow me to clarify. What I mean by being all about growth is discipleship; growing into the likeness of Jesus Christ. True followers of Christ will disciple others and those groups so focused will grow and multiply naturally. Alas, I feel many of the issues discussed here are symptoms of the larger needs of the church itself. Too many are worried about numbers when they should be more concerned about disciples. When our churches create an environment where discipleship can occur, the body of Christ will multiply. Effective small groups are the best way I am aware of to accomplish the task of discipleship.

Looking forward to your feedback!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Biblical Support for Small Group Ministries

We do not need to go far into the OT before finding Scriptural support for small groups. We see that it is not good for us to be alone.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man.”
The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.… And they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Gen 2:18, 22, 25 ESV)

This simple yet powerful passage tells us a great deal about what God wants for us and our own misguided desire for independence and even equality with God. What we fail to understand far too often is that only God can bring us into community with one another and with Him.

From the Gospels we find a number of foundational passages in support of small group ministry. Jesus himself at the beginning of His public ministry assembled a small group.

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.(Mark 1: 16-20 ESV)

Jesus worked in groups of two or more even though when we think of a groups the 12 Disciples most often come to mind.

Finally, the elsewhere in the NT, we find several passages in Acts in support of small group ministry.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32–35 ESV).

Small groups are of one heart and look after each other in their shared physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. Helping each other and holding each other accountable are hallmarks of a strong small group.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Is There a Biblical Approach to Planning?

It occurs to me that I have been rather inactive here at the blog so I thought I should remedy that this morning! In my quiet time recently while studying the Old Testament, the thought crossed my mind: is there a biblical approach to planning? Common to both Exodus 4-6 and Joshua 1-3 is the fact that the key to success of both Moses and Joshua was spiritual rather than in their military skills. In Exodus, God tells Moses of His plans for the people of Israel to leave Egypt. Though Moses offered excuses why he was unable to do as God instructed, our Lord already had a plan and carrying it out was not optional.

Thus, in the mind of this seminarian, there is indeed a biblical approach to planning. Planning has a tremendous impact on the effectiveness of ministry. We see in Joshua 1-3 that the planning for Joshua to become the leader of the Israelites began before the death of Moses (Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9). Once Joshua assumed command, he presented the objective (crossing the Jordan River in three days) to his officers and gave them instructions to prepare for the task ahead. The purpose was to take possession of the land God had promised. We see later in Joshua 3:5 instructed the people to consecrate themselves in preparation for the wonders the Lord would do among them the next day.

We see a clear objective laid out for the people. Goals were laid out to prepare to meet the objective. And then the process began as planned. Not surprisingly, the Lord does have His plans laid out for us! That plan includes the call to leadership. God chose Moses. God chose Joshua. They were the instruments to be used in the fulfillment of God’s divine plan for humanity and we are still talking about them today. My take-away from that aspect is this: when God calls obey and answer.

Telling an MBA that planning is a waste of time is likely to begin a lengthy discussion. In my own experience both in the secular world and in ministry, planning the activity is an ongoing process that continues even once something is begun. Without proper time devoted to planning, there can be no measureable goals. Without measureable goals, a standard cannot be established and used to measure performance. If performance cannot be measured, there is no way of determining if the standard is being met. How in the world can a process be undertaken without having made plans to allocate the resources needed to execute the plan? The way my brain is wired, planning is as second nature as breathing!

Additionally, I would argue that God is a planner! We see in Exodus 4-6 that God had plans for Israel that included Moses as their leader. We see in Joshua 1-3 that God’s plan for Israel would be fulfilled even after the death of Moses. Before this we see God had already planned on Joshua becoming the leader of Israel (Num. 27:18; Deut. 34:9) upon Moses’ death. If planning is important to God, it should be important to His children!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Cherokee County GA Graduations Held in a Church

Congratulations to the Class of 2011! You have reached a major milestone in your lives and you have every reason to be proud of your accomplishment. Many of you will be heading off to college in the fall while others will seek employment or consider military service. Regardless of your future plans, now is a time to reflect on what you have accomplished. Enjoy this time, things only get more difficult from here on out!

All five high schools in Cherokee County GA (my county of residence) held their graduations ceremonies at First Baptist Church Woodstock in spite of having been threatened with legal action by the liberal Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington D.C. based organization. The county says the facilities, which seat 7,500, are the best value for the county costing only $2,000 to hold all 5 graduation ceremonies. The size of the facility allows students to invite an unlimited number of family and friends. AU contends using the church facilities amounts to government endorsing religion and is awaiting the outcome of similar cases in other parts of the country before deciding whether or not to pursue legal action against Cherokee County.

For my part, I am pleased that the county officials voted to move forward with the graduations at the church. Holding the ceremonies at the church certainly provides the county with the best value which is good stewardship of the taxpayer's dollars. Further, a comparable facility would cost around $40,000 and does not exist in the county. I could go on but will refrain other than to applaud the courage of Cherokee County officials for listening to their constituents on this issue. Bravo!