Monthly Archives: February 2013

The limitations of a breakfast casserole.

This is the fifth post in a series based on an article from Thom Rainer called, Five Obstacles Facing Small Groups.

The fifth small communities’ obstacle is a lack of intimacy. We use the term community freely, yet there are multiple layers of community. Community in a broad sense is achieved around common interests. The most concrete example of community is your local neighborhood. You may not have any significant conversations with your neighbors, even though you have lived on the same street for years. Normally if there is a series of break-ins on your block or another neighborhood crisis, you start talking to your neighbors. You now share a common interest: the security of your personal property. Although new friendships can begin because of the mutual interest and corresponding conversations, you only experience community on a shallow level.

Rainer emphasizes what I consider to be a crucial point here.  We don’t always understand community, or christian fellowship, in the way God does.  Relationships within the church are meant to be deep and secure, because our relationship with God ought to be deep and secure.  God has made himself knowable to us.  We can read His Word and walk with Him daily through life’s ups and downs.  We can learn His heart and see His hand at work in the world.  He has promised us that we can trust Him, that He is good, and that He won’t abandon us.  In the same way, we ought to make ourselves knowable to others. When we do so, we demonstrate the Gospel of God’s love to the world.  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  Being knowable requires courage and love.

 

I love the notion of koinonia in the New Testament.  It’s a Greek word used to express the beauty of the communion, or community, that happens within the Christian church.

breakfast casserole

The first time the word koinonia appears in the Greek New Testament is found in Acts 2:42-47, where we read the following description of the unity and intimacy that the first believers in Jerusalem experienced:

“ They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the communion (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and to prayer…All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need…They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. ”

True healthy relationships build trust over time.  As we study God’s word together in small groups and encourage each other through life’s ups and downs, something deeply spiritual happens.  We find that there is a depth and security to our relationships that goes beyond casual interaction.

Sharing a breakfast casserole doesn’t create community. Sharing our hearts over breakfast casserole does.

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Every small group owns the whole mission of God

This is the fourth post in a series based on an article from Thom Rainer called, Five Obstacles Facing Small Groups.

 The fourth small communities’ obstacle is a segmentation of the mission of God. The mission of small communities is not to teach the Bible only. Every expression of church owns all the mission of God. Your smaller community owns the mission of God. You have been called and empowered. The danger of segmentation is great. The smaller communities say that is not their role. Our purpose is to get through the study, they think.  Instead, every small group could adopt a nation in the world or a people group. We are going to go. We are going to connect. We own the mission of God.

segmented church

Here is what I like about this statement:  It reminds us who the church is and what we are here for.

For instance, we believe that the church is people, not a place on a map or a set of activities on a calendar.  Church is people.  The temptation is for us to compartmentalize (or segment) church.  We are tempted to think that Sunday School is a compartment of church.  We are tempted to think that the worship service is a compartment of church, and the same with missions studies, and discipleship studies, and so on.  The flaw in that thinking is that church is not a collection of programs.  Church is a collection of people.

In light of this truth, that church is a collection of people not a collection of programs, we understand that compartmentalizing church is impossible  and unbiblical.

Jesus shared with us that our most important desires must be to love God with everything we’ve got, love our neighbor as our selves, and seek to change the world by making disciples through missions and ministry.  We have expressed this great commandment and great commission in the following phrase: Worshiping God, Strengthening Families, Changing Lives.

We shouldn’t have stand alone programs that create worship experiences.  We  shouldn’t have stand alone programs that strengthen the family of God.  We shouldn’t have stand alone programs that seek to change lives through missions and ministry.

We should have people (complete disciples) who are committed to worship, connected to the family of God in small groups, and engaged in missions and ministry that changes lives.

The difference is that between whole disciples who are engaged in the full work of God, and good church members who participate here and there in good programs.

To Rainer’s point: the goal of each of our small group Sunday School classes is to build whole disciples who are engaged in the full work of God, not just good church members who are regular Sunday School attenders.

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Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Studies God's Word Together, Sunday School, Wants to Grow | Leave a comment

Finding security in the right things, not the easy things.

This is the third post in a series based on an article from Thom Rainer called, Five Obstacles Facing Small Groups.

Rainer states:

“The third obstacle to small communities is when they become a reflection of past practices. Churches with a strong history and tradition can be closed to deeper discussions and questions. They have done groups a certain way for years. The way is safe. The connection is important. Group life is a tool of God for His purposes, not an institutional expectation. Groups provide the opportunity to live life on life.”

There are few things that can stand in the way of  “what God has for us next” more than “the way we have always done it”.

always done it that way

A discipline we in the church have neglected to nurture is the discipline of honoring tradition without being enslaved to it.  The way we have always done things is important.  It got us where we are now.  But what is more important is the confident knowledge that God has something greater in store for us, and that it will require flexibility.

I am happy to say that my sense of PSBC is that the majority of the people are indeed flexible.  I have been overwhelmed by the heart and commitment of the people in this church to see God’s Kingdom grow.  But we are all human, and we must resist the temptation to be comfortable in what is known.  I struggle with it.

That is why it is so important to understand the core values that make Sunday School so meaningful.  Things like: a desire to grow, serving others, reaching out together, taking care of one another,  and studying God’s Word.  If these things sound familiar…they should.  These are the core values we have agreed on that make Sunday School W.O.R.K.

A commitment to these values helps us preserve the most important things about small group life, even as we boldly face a future that will require flexibility.  We must find security in the right things, not the easy things. I hope all this talk about change doesn’t scare you.  I do not believe in change for the sake of change.  But I do believe in changing when it is necessary to  be obedient in making room for the growth God has for us.   Change doesn’t always mean reckless risk.  Healthy change requires strategic, calculated, well communicated risk.  That takes time, and prayer.

It is important to understand that Sunday School is a tool of God to accomplish discipleship.  It is an end to a means, it is not the end in itself.  WE are committed  as a church to strengthening families.  We believe that the church is the family of God.  And while we work to build up strong individual families, we believe that building up the Sunday School is how we will build up our collective family of faith.

I am so excited about where God is leading us.  There is a sense of expectation and excitement here every weekend.  We must hold tightly to God and the values He has established so that we can wisely move forward.  Unless the Lord builds a house, it’s workers labor in vain.  Build it Lord, and use me as you see fit!

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Less monologue, more dialogue in your small group.

This is the second post in a series based on an article from Thom Rainer called, Five Obstacles Facing Small Groups.  

Rainer states:

Another obstacle to transformational small communities is that teaching is valued more than learning. We have already pointed out the danger of only recruiting the uber-qualified as leaders for classes and groups. The goal must be that people are joyfully learning, not that one person is happy teaching. Leaders should focus as much on application of the truth as the delivery of it. For small groups to be transformational, they should include monologue and dialogue. Leaders of groups should always have these questions in mind:
How well are members applying God’s truth?
Where is each participant with the Lord?
Remember the agenda is Christ being formed in the lives of those involved in your small group.

Last week we discussed  the idea that discipleship is the end goal of small group learning, not only scholarship.  Life change, or transformation, is our goal.  This week we have a look at another obstacle.  As a teacher, it’s is easy to get caught of in the act of teaching to the degree that whether or not people are actually learning is lost in the effort.  Don’t get me wrong.  We need teachers who enjoy teaching.  Lessons from teachers who don’t enjoy teaching are painful to endure.  However, I remember having a teacher in Sunday School who was so enamored with his lesson, illustrations, and finishing his outline that the class never actually engaged with the content.  We may as well have ordered the lessons on podcast and  listened at home individually.  That misses the point of Sunday School.

The goal must be that people are joyfully learning, not that one person is happy teaching.

That makes me laugh, but it’s true!  Effective small groups have monologue and dialogue.  This is part of the reason that I like to refer to Sunday School units as small groups, not classes.  Classes can very well be all about the lecture.  Small groups engage each other in life in the context of God’s Word.empty class

Rainer concludes this point with 2 questions.

How well are members applying God’s truth?

I think that one of the most effective ways to drive this result is with good questions.  Good questions encourage interaction with concepts and ideas.  Practical questions force learners to apply the truth to their lives.

Where is each participant with the Lord?

Teachers are leaders, and leaders spend time in prayer and meditation about the spiritual state of their followers.  When teachers are considering this question, the lessons they teach will be much more relevant and effective.  Ask the Lord for guidance in discerning the hearts and needs of your people.

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