Monthly Archives: October 2012

When someone in the group faces crisis.

I recently read a resource that I thought was insightful about helping  members of your small group who are in crisis and struggling with depression.  Given my family circumstances over the past week and how much support we have received, I felt that this was a good week to share it.

For those of you who don’t know, my wife’s grandfather passed away last Wednesday.  He was a giant in our family.  We received a call the weekend before and were notified that he was really beginning to struggle.  After a good but difficult visit we began our trip home, only to hear that he had passed away shortly after we left.  We returned a couple of days later for his funeral and burial.

We got home this past Monday evening.  On Tuesday morning I woke up to the news that my dad was in the hospital and needed emergency surgery to install a pacemaker.  My parents live an hour away, so I immediately went to be with them.  I am thankful to say  that the surgery went very well and the pacemaker is doing it’s job.  He is recovering well at home.  It was a long 48 hours from the time I learned of his  situation to when I took him home from the hospital.

Over the course of these couple of weeks, we have received numerous sympathy cards and text messages of support.  It meant the world to hear from you all.  We were away from home, and missing work, not to mention missing our church family.  Your efforts to reach out and express care and concern reminded us that we are loved and that you supported us.

Everyone goes through those difficult seasons of life.  Everyone needs to be reminded that they are loved; that their absence has been noticed, and that they are missed.  Everyone needs to know that they have the support of their church family and friends when they are walking through dark times.


Is there someone in your small group that is struggling right now? Has your group responded to encourage them?  Does your group have a plan to care for one another when someone faces a crisis?

Sunday School that WORKS is Organized to Serve, and Keeps People Connected.  We mobilize when someone needs ministry.  We don’t let each other walk  down difficult paths alone.  We live out the gospel in one another’s lives.  We rescue those who need to be rescued.

Here are some ideas that I hope will be helpful:

Care Tips

When a person is experiencing depression, it’s difficult to know how to be present with him or her in the darkness. You want to let your friend know that you are caring and supportive, but you may feel drained by the heaviness and pessimism when you are with the person. Here are some tips to help you serve your friend:

Actively listen. Encouraging your friend to talk about his or her sadness will foster understanding, which can help the person feel a sense of control over his or her emotions instead of feeling controlled by them. Although the feelings may frighten you, don’t be afraid; just listen as you would to any friend.

Spend time with your friend. When a person is depressed, the natural tendency is to hide from others and try to recover on one’s own, but that’s exactly the opposite of what is needed. A depressed person needs other people! Your presence will help shoulder the burden of depression, allow for rest, stave off loneliness, guard against thoughts of suicide, and provide strength.

Suggest enjoyable activities. Share your joy! Suggest activities that your depressed friend once enjoyed or those that you enjoy. Even if your friend seems resistant, there is a part of him or her that longs to do enjoyable things—it’s simply buried under depression. Be persistent!

Exercise. You will be helping your friend immensely by committing to regularly exercise with him or her. Do it once a week, twice a week, even daily—any little bit will help! Play a sport, take an exercise class, or walk together after dinner.

Prepare meals. When a friend is depressed, he or she may lose the motivation to cook and the desire to eat. Offer to prepare meals for your friend or to cook together. The food and the fellowship will be invaluable!

Be nonjudgmental. Depressed people judge themselves every day, so the last thing they need is a friend who judges them, too. Communicate patience and grace. By doing this, you may help your friend become more patient and gracious toward him or herself.

I love and appreciate every one of you.  Remember to be busy building up momentum for November 4th.  Spread the word that the Fall Festival is next Wednesday night, and it will be a truly spectacular event.  Help us get the word out to friends and neighbors to bring their families and share in the fun!

As always, I appreciate your thoughts in the comment fields below or on Facebook at

Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Sunday School, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

One of the most important gifts you can give…

Everyone likes a compliment.  The gift  of  encouragement is one of the most powerful gifts you have to offer as a teacher and small group leader.  One of the reasons that purposeful and thoughtful encouragement is so powerful in people’s lives is because so few people are thoughtful and intentional encouragers.  I have found that when I plan to be an encouragement to someone, and then follow through with them, the impact is surprising.  Most people look surprised, some play it off (while smiling from ear to ear), others simply take a deep breath and say thank you.

Think back to the last person who spoke intentional words of encouragement to you.  Who was it?  What did they say?  How long ago was it?  The answers to these questions will reinforce the need for encouragement in people’s lives.

When we identify traits in people’s lives that reflect growth and spiritual maturity, we reinforce the great things that God is doing in their lives.  We become affirmers of the Holy Spirit’s fingerprints on people’s hearts.

I recently read an article called, “The Anatomy of Encouragement”.  Here is an excerpt that I found helpful on the subject:

Perhaps the key to putting a punch to our praise is looking at the anatomy of effective encouragement. While there is much more to it, here are three simple ingredients to get you started:

Sincere: Before speaking words of encouragement, check your motives and make sure you’re doing it to lift up the other individual, not to gain something for yourself. Solomon warns us in Proverbs 26:28, “A flattering mouth works ruin.” The Hebrew word for “ruin” comes from a root word meaning “to push, drive away or cast down.” If we’re not careful, insincere words can have an opposite effect we desire, pushing people away rather than building them up. I was having lunch with a young man one day who continued to sing my praises throughout the whole hour. While I’m always up for a dose of encouragement, I found it strange because he had never met me. His words were pleasant, yet I found myself pushed away from him rather than drawn to him. Encouragement is always best served with a sprit of sincerity.

Specific: If you want your words of praise to have more punch, then be specific with your encouragement. Notice the specifics of what people do well, and consider how it impacted you personally. Performance is good for a reason, and if we look close enough we can find little nuances that made it special. Many evenings Cindy and I watch The Food Network, and I’m always fascinated at how much detailed feedback the judges give about the look, taste and flavors of each dish. They’re able to praise or critique each chef with great detail because they’ve acquired a sensitive palate that enables them to taste flavors the average person doesn’t notice. In the same way, we must look for and praise the specific detail of an individual’s work. That takes encouragement to a very deep and meaningful level. So instead of saying, “Hey, you did a good job.” You can say, “When you led the small-group discussion tonight, you really asked insightful questions that challenged my thinking in new ways. You have a real gift for making people think. I appreciate you using that gift to add value to my spiritual walk.” Specific encouragement is meaningful encouragement.

Strength Focused: God has gifted each of us in very specific ways. Each day we use and develop those strengths. Over time, as those strengths develop, they become obvious to others. Paul had been around young Timothy so much that he become very familiar with his strengths. And then, in a very crucial time in Timothy’s ministry, Paul told him, “Fan into flame the gifts God has given you.” By giving people encouragement centered on their particular strength, we are in essence helping them fan the flame of their strengths. Giving someone sincere, specific encouragement that is focused on his unique strengths helps him learn something new about himself and deepens his wisdom about using that particular strength. I’ve always said encouragement is one of the most overlooked leadership development tools available to us.

Encouragement is one of those small investments we can make daily that will bring a huge return. Solomon observed, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov. 25:11). The right word spoken the right way at the right time can impact lives in ways we may never know. So what are you waiting on? Give an intentional word of encouragement today!

I hope this article…encourages…you to use this powerful gift frequently and intentionally.    It is an opportunity that every single one of us can take advantage of in the lives of our people.

Once again, let me share these important announcements with you.

*Remember that we are having a high attendance Sunday on November 4. This is the Sunday immediately following our big Trunk or Treat/Fall Festival Outreach. We will be passing out invitations at that event to SS and worship, but go ahead and be talking it up in your classes.

*The theme will be “Whooo’s looking for you in Sunday School? We are!” I  have been passing out 700 owl cut outs for you to use as commitment card decorations. Our attendance goal for the day is….you guessed it…700! Directors will be discussing individual class goals with teachers.  If you  haven’t gotten your owls yet they are in your box in the SS office.

*Remember as you contact those who haven’t been recently to invite them in the context of, “We miss you and this will be a great day to get reconnected with the group!”, and not “We are having high attendance Sunday and we need you to show up so our number is high.” This is an opportunity to communicate VALUE to people!

*We are doing well with Fall Festival sign ups, but we still need help with certain areas.  Encourage participation from everyone! Remember to invite friends and neighbors! We Now have 30 people signed up for the Trunk or Treat.   If you are not at a place in life where you have small kids to get ready and walk through the event, this is a GREAT opportunity for you to serve and bless young families who do!

Sunday School is the church Organized to Serve. The Fall Festival is a chance to put our values into action for the Kingdom!

Always feel free to share your thoughts in the comments field below or on facebook at

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

3 Big Questions (and some really important announcements)

Rob Bentz has written a great article detailing 3 questions that should be addressed in every Sunday School lesson.  I agree with him that these are three aspects of  any thorough treatment of a scripture text.  Have a look at these and see what you think.  As always, I hope that these insights are helpful to you in your lesson preparation!

A Head Question:

Every time your small group meets, you should strive to engage with the intellect (the head). We should be challenged to consider the truth presented to us from the Scriptures or other Bible-based materials about the character of God. Whether your group is a collection of mature believers, people who are new to the faith journey, or somewhere in the middle, it’s always helpful to consider afresh who God is.

This model is something the Apostle Paul regularly used when he was writing one of his epistles. He began with a truth/fact of about God, before moving to his heart-level impassioned plea for action.

A Heart Question:

This is the question that brings authenticity and rootedness to your small group community. When you use discussion questions that cause group members to tell a bit about themselves—not just about what they think—you’re creating authenticity. Authenticity creates depth. Depth grows roots. Discussion questions that cause people to examine their own lives, their marriage, their parenting, etc. Questions that stir something deep within our hearts, bringing real-life to the forefront of group life.

A Hand Question:

After the head has been convinced of a biblical truth, and the heart has been compelled to respond, the hands should be challenged to act. Always close out your meeting time with discussion questions that lead a Christ follower to some practical application. This will help take the discussion from theory to practice, from simply a nice idea kicked around in someone’s living room to a gracious act at the local community center that brings God glory.

Keep these few announcements in mind…

*Remember that we are having a high attendance Sunday on November 4.  This is the Sunday immediately following our big Trunk or Treat/Fall Festival Outreach.  We will be passing out invitations at that event to SS and worship, but go ahead and be talking it up in your classes.

*The theme will be “Whooo’s looking for you in Sunday School? We are!”  I just ordered 700 owl cut outs for you to use as commitment card decorations.  Our attendance goal for the day is….you guessed it…700!  Directors will be discussing individual class goals with teachers.

*Remember as you contact those who haven’t been recently to invite them in the context of, “We miss you and this will be a great day to get reconnected with the group!”, and not “We are having high attendance Sunday and we need you to show up so our number is high.”  This is an opportunity to communicate VALUE to people!

*We will send out Fall Festival Sign ups next weekend as well.  Encourage participation from everyone!  Remember to invite friends and neighbors! We need 20 more folks to sign up for Trunk or Treat participation.  If you are not at a place in life where you have small kids to get ready and walk through the event, this is a GREAT opportunity for you to serve  and bless young families who do!

Sunday School is the church Organized to Serve.  The Fall Festival is a chance to put our values into action for the Kingdom!

Always feel free to share your thoughts in the comments field below or on facebook at

Categories: Organized to Serve, Studies God's Word Together | Leave a comment

Tell Me The Story Again

I used to have a very limited view of the importance of the Gospel.  As scandalous as that sounds, I suspect that I am not alone.  I used to think of Christianity as an Olympic size swimming pool, with the gospel serving as the diving board.  I thought that John 3:16 was just the beginning.  Once you understood and embraced that “God so loved the world”, you moved past it and swam into the deeper waters of the faith.

I was shocked to realize that the deeper the water I swam into, the clearer it became how wrong I had been.  It turns out that the gospel doesn’t serve as the diving board into the pool of Christianity.  The whole pool itself is the gospel.  Trevin Wax puts it well, “…the Bible is the sweeping narrative of God’s work to provide the reason and the means by which we can be redeemed [The Gospel]. Further, it is through those who have been given new life that He continues the ministry of reconciliation to those who are in darkness.”  Wax continues,

The Scriptures recount how God worked through those who were faithful to His covenant and regardless of those who rebelled against it. Throughout all of the Old Testament, in fact, we learn how God is on a consistent mission to reestablish the relationship with humanity that has been cast into ruins by our sinful nature and sinful choices. In the Gospels, we witness how God—by personal means—reestablishes relationship and abolishes death for His people. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, the mission of God continues through the church in the command to disciple the nations. His mission is the impetus, mode, method, and compulsion for the church. The church declares the veracity of and demonstrates the transformative power of the gospel to a pained world. The mission calls us to grow in maturity and engage in ministry. The most beautiful of all lives is the one fully cast into God’s work in the world.

And at the end of the Scriptures, we see this one great lesson in The Revelation: God wins. He is glorified in all things, victorious over all powers, and has extended mercy to draw men and women into a covenant relationship with Himself.

The theme of the Bible is the gospel.  The need for the Messiah, and the promise of his coming fills the pages of the Old Testament.  The accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection which bear the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are commonly known as, “The Gospels”.    The New Testament continues to unveil the power of the gospel message and it’s impact in the lives of the thousands who would become the church through the ages.  We are a part of that great story.  The central problem that humanity faces is the need for Jesus and the Good News of his gospel to reach us and redeem for us what we cannot redeem for ourselves.  There is no need that haunts the human heart which is not met in the gospel.

That’s why it is so important for us to preach the gospel to ourselves so frequently.  That is why it is so important to tell the story to ourselves over and over again, so that in every moment of tension in life; we find peace in Jesus.  When the stress of financial debt weighs heavy, we remind ourselves that the condition of our souls is of more consequence than the condition of our credit scores.  A man whose sin debt  has been paid in full by the Savior will see any other debt in appropriate context.  Does that mean we don’t work to pay our bills? No, but it means that Christians who live in the light of the gospel don’t  get lost in depression when seasons of financial difficulty come our way.

How often should the gospel be mentioned in Sunday School?  Every week. “But my lesson this week is out of Leviticus.  It’s not about the gospel.”, you might say.  The elaborate and overwhelming descriptions of the sacrificial system described in Leviticus reminds us how seriously God takes our sin and our need for atonement.  The temporary atonement provided in the book of Leviticus points the way to the glorious and ultimate atonement provided by Jesus in the gospel.  The gospel is present in every passage.

In our lesson preparations, we should be able to see Jesus in the light of every text, and every text in the light of Jesus.  Jesus is the key to unlock every text because every text fulfills its main purpose when it reveals Jesus.  Listen to His own words,

Luke 24:25-27

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures.26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

You may be teaching from the Old Testament this week, but look for Jesus.  When someone shares a need in class that seems overwhelming, tell the gospel story.  When you read a passage of scripture that tells of a hero of the faith, ask yourself how that person points to Jesus.  When we remind ourselves often of the power of the gospel, we remember our purpose and place in the world.   Through the gospel we see that mankind is far more sinful than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope.  The bad news is that it took the death of the Son of God to cleanse us from our sins.  The Good News is that the Son of God willingly took the punishment for our sins, so we could become righteous in the sight of God.  This is the story that should be the framework of our lives.  Go tell it on the mountain.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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