Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Special Announcement - "Youth Empowered" Coming in 2020!

I am so excited to share the news for the upcoming release of my newest book, Youth Empowered!

In the last ten years, the church has seen a steady decrease in youth involvement and even an exodus of students leaving the church altogether. To properly address this, the church must embrace the calling to implement a different youth ministry model that is bold, attractive, winsome and effective.

Within an ever-shifting high-tech culture, students are finding it a challenge to make their faith relevant and tangible within a post-truth society. With the widespread use of technology and social media, youth ministry has inherited new layers of complexity that have never been witnessed before. Today’s youth are hungry for genuine truth that is just as relational and caring as it is honest and clear.

But how do we make such a drastic cultural change in the church while staying convinced that the roles of the parents and the youth pastor are just as vital as they ever have been?  The first step is to trust that today’s youth are just as effective in ministering to their peers as their youth pastor is. As students are given the opportunity to positively impact their world around them, they become inspired to explore their faith more within the environment of their youth ministry.

Youth Empowered is a book that will help guide parents and youth pastors to successfully mentor tomorrow’s church leaders by accomplishing two primary goals: To help church leadership minister alongside their students (rather than at their students), and to help their students learn how to utilize their spiritual gifts before they graduate (rather than hoping that they figure out how to get involved after they graduate from high school).

By challenging traditional models of youth ministry, this book will address varying strategies that cater to small, medium, and large youth ministries. As a result, Youth Empowered will assist any church navigate through the challenges associated with launching a student-led youth ministry, regardless of its current size.

Stay tuned for more information in the New Year! Please forward this post to a youth pastor or youth minister that you know so that they can subscribe and receive updates on this exciting resource!

Due to observance of the holiday, next week there will not be an edition of Focusing On Jesus. Merry Christmas and may God Bless you and your ministry!!

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This blog has a focus on small groups, men's ministry, and youth ministry. Join us for the journey by subscribing and sharing this post!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Stop Doing These 3 Things in Your Youth Ministry

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”  ~ Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)

When we speak to our youth, how do we fashion our words? In Mark 10, we see where Jesus understood how important it is to minister to the youth effectively and to build them up. Instead of rebuking the youth or turning them away, Jesus insisted that the young ones should have the ability to engage with Him. In this scenario, we see that the all-powerful and perfect Savior of our world showed us that we must not be a barrier between our youth and Christ. Check to be sure that these three areas in your youth ministry are not stumbling blocks that are preventing your youth from engaging Christ.

Stop Holding Back On Tough Discussions
Are your students trusted to be able to handle tough topics? They have seen and experienced enough of this world to know that they are no longer in need to be fed “book report” summary sermons on the Bible. They are ready for the real stuff. They are ready to digest the meat of the Word of God and determine what it means to apply it to their everyday lives. You can talk about drugs, sex, cyber-bullying, suicide, pornography, abortion, cutting, gossip and everything in between. If you don’t, the world will. More than likely, their friends are quite outspoken on these matters. In my experience of working with 7th and 8th graders, even these students are ready to join in on the conversation. After all, they are already looking up these topics online on their smartphones. These topics are important and real for today’s youth, and their understanding of them directly impacts their understanding of who they are in Christ.

Stop Talking Down to Them
Are your students respected and treated like adults? When addressing them or talking about them, do you or your leaders call your teenagers “kids”? These little things may not seem like they matter, but they are the small nuances that our youth pick up on. Today’s youth expect to have a place at the table to impact the world around them, and the words we choose can affect how the leadership perceives and treats their students. Calling a 17-year-old student a “kid” can be condescending and inconsistent with a youth ministry that wants to engage their students on an equal footing and in a respectable manner.

Stop Preventing Them from Owning their Faith
Are your students allowed to become involved in your youth ministry? The youth of today have come to the realization that they are no longer just consumers of the world’s information. They are also contributors. As a result, they increasingly view their world through the shared experiences of those around them. While this is most prevalent in the realm of social media, this can spill over into the church as well. Students want to impact the lives of those around them in a positive way, and oftentimes they are simply just looking for guidance to find out how.

But how can we do this? What can we do to empower our youth? I’m thrilled to say that next week we will be sharing a very exciting announcement to address this topic! Share this article with the youth ministers and youth pastors that you know so that they can subscribe and receive next week’s message!

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This blog has a focus on small groups, men's ministry, and youth ministry. Join us for the journey by subscribing and sharing this post!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

3 Things New Believers Experience in Small Groups

As we enter a new year, some group leaders may be considering the idea of opening up their small groups and welcoming new members. Should you choose to open your group up, you may likely be introduced to a person who is a brand new believer in Christ. This season of a new believer’s life is crucial, and the Lord has chosen you to guide this particular person through their very first small group experience. As a new believer attends your small group, there are three key components that they will begin to experience:

Truth Through Community
In the information era that we live in today, we are not lacking in our access to information. Instead, where we are lacking is the level of relational connectivity through which truthful information is communicated. Truth is best conveyed through relationships and a small group becomes an excellent way to incorporate relationship-driven truth into a new believer’s life. In some cultures, a new believer may be ignored, shunned, or ostracized from their friends and family after they give their life to Christ. When the world mocks them or tries to shame them into remembering who they used to be in their old life, the new believer’s small group becomes a home base for them to receive more truth, a rock upon which they can anchor their new life to.

Sanctification Through Accountability
For the new believer, accepting the larger truth of Jesus as their Lord and savior is merely the beginning of the journey of being a Christ-follower. Indeed, helping a new believer to understand their faith, giving them guidance along their walk, and providing encouragement to them are all extremely important components to the overall process of sanctification. This ongoing process is the journey through which we become more Christ-like for the remainder of our time here on Earth, and small groups are a stellar way to assist the new believer in this realm. Through the vehicle of relational truth, small group members are able to minister to one another and create a system of accountability that challenges each other to grow in a specific area of their lives. Within the context of a small group, the new believer doesn’t have to drink from the proverbial “fire hydrant of holiness,” desperately trying to soak it all in and get it all right by tomorrow. Instead, they can come back the next week and continue to work at their faith (at the speed of which the Holy Spirit is moving within their lives).

Knowledge Through Learning
With there being an abundance of information that is accessible to us, we are tasked today with the responsibility of discerning that which is accurate and that which is not. For new believers that may be coming from a different faith or an atheistic worldview, the knowledge that they have may be misinformed or uninformed. Since small groups encourage dialogue to take place, a new believer’s pursuit of knowledge can be catered to their personal situation. From week to week, conversation has the ability to be based upon the circumstances that they are currently experiencing or the questions that they ask. As a result, the information about Christianity that they receive in the small group can serve as a backdrop for which their ongoing accountability can be placed against. In other words, the new believer will not only discover what to do today as a Christian, but also why they are called to do so and how they can get there.

We are all called to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4:12). By encouraging a new believer to join a small group as soon as possible, the church can help foster consistent spiritual growth and prepare the individual to eventually utilize their own spiritual gifts for ministry. When a new believer begins to achieve these three key components through their small group, they will then experience supernatural change in their life and the lives of others around them in a powerful way that reflects the incredible love of Jesus Christ.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

Scripture tells us that all good things come from God (James 1:17), and this certainly includes the amazing food that we will all be having this weekend!! This time of year, we pause to reflect on what we are grateful for. This year, I am especially thankful for each of you and for all that you do the kingdom of God! May the Lord abundantly bless you and your ministry. May He expand your boundaries and protect you from the evil one. And may He receive His due glory for the incredible love that He showed through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. God bless you and Happy Thanksgiving!!

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This blog has a focus on small groups, men's ministry, and youth ministry. Join us for the journey by subscribing and sharing this post!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Leadership Gifts vs. Leadership Roles

What is leadership? Some say it is a gift, while others say it is a role. The truth is, they’re both right! However, the two are not the same. Within the context of ministry, this is an excellent conversation that applies to both existing leaders and prospective leaders.

Leadership as a Gift
1 Corinthians 12:7 helps us understand that every person possesses within them a spiritual gift that can be used to help bless the Kingdom of God. Another way of helping us understand this incredible verse can be noted through a quote from author Henry Blackaby, who says that “A spiritual gift is a manifestation of God at work through you.” The spiritual gift of leadership is indeed one of the gifts that can be given to us through the Holy Spirit. Those that exhibit the spiritual gift of leadership have the ability to cast their vision, encourage others, and organize a project plan to assist in accomplishing a mission. Author John Maxwell often equates the term “leadership” with the term “influence,” and this ability to utilize one’s influence can be exhibited from any level of seniority within an organization. While having the spiritual gift of leadership can assist in leading groups within ministry, it is not a requirement to lead a group successfully.

Leadership as a Role
There are moments in our lives when we are placed in a role of leadership within our day-to-day activities. If anyone has ever become a parent, they quickly realize that they have now become a leader for their children, regardless of their level of readiness. If the company we work at needs a new product launch to be coordinated successfully, we may be tapped on the shoulder to see the plan through, even if our job title is not “Project Manager.” Likewise, if our church has an opportunity to expand and grow in an area that has huge potential for ministering to an unreached group of people, God may call us to help stand in the gap. In order for us to be able to identify and raise up new leaders within our church, we must focus on presenting ministry opportunities as leadership roles, instead of opportunities that require the individual to exercise leadership gifts.

Leading the People of God
We must not forget the commonly known phrase that the Lord equips the called instead of calling the equipped. Leading a group within the church does not mean that the spiritual gift of leadership must be required. If this was true, then those who do not possess this spiritual gift would become discouraged from stepping into a leadership role that allows them utilize their spiritual gifts that they do have. After all, Jesus’ disciples did not all have the gift of leadership. Nevertheless, they humbly took on leadership roles that would eventually help spread the good news of the gospel to the ends of the Earth. Are there any individuals in your group who are potential candidates to answer the call to fulfill a leadership role within the church? Help explain to them that the Lord has given them unique giftings that are meant to bless the Kingdom, and that the resources of the church will be made available to help them succeed in their leadership role in the best way possible.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

3 Ways that Small Groups Grow

Two weeks ago, we spoke of when small groups have too heavy of a focus on one type of growth, and why a balanced method is encouraged to healthily grow the small group ministry. This week will be a prequel to that discussion, where we will back up and discuss what it means to have inward growth, outward growth, and a third type that was not previously mentioned: upward growth.

Growing through Deeper Relationships
What sets Christianity apart from any other faith is the acknowledgment of the relationship that we have with our Lord. In no other religion do we see the Creator loving his creation so much that He comes down to Earth to sacrifice Himself in the most striking display of unconditional love. This magnificent type of love is echoed within the community of believers and it then naturally spills over into the world. Sharing a meal, attending a Christmas party together, or going to the park, are all opportunities that allow us to take the time to experience fellowship within the group of individuals that the Lord has assembled together for that day. By spending time in community, we have the ability to experience a sliver of the infinite relationship that God experiences with Himself within the Trinity.

Growing through Outward Invitation
There is an inability to restrain the love of Christ. It is impossible, for it is so good that no evil could never stop it. Because it is impossible to contain God, it is inevitable that the church will intersect with the secular world on many fronts. When this occurs, do we let Christ speak through us, or do we attempt to win man over with only our own means? If in our groups we practice the inward growth that was mentioned above, then the world will see the love of Christ on full display. Indeed, if we are unable to sustain genuine and nurturing relationships inside of the church, then we will unfortunately have very little to share with the world that can offer anything better than what it already has. By reaching out to the unchurched or the nonbeliever, we have the ability to incarnate the message of God and extend to them as an invitation to experience the love of Christ through a thriving small group.

Growing through Upward Reach
While other faiths set a goal for the individual to become empty, or infinite, or possibly even a god themselves, Christianity is the only faith that claims that we are unable to achieve salvation by our own works and also that grace is sufficient. While we grow deeper in a relationship with God, we learn to hear His voice and trust Him more. By trusting Him more, we are able to more easily be obedient to His will. And as we become more obedient to His will, we see Him work in our lives in more powerful ways than ever. Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” By reaching upward to the Lord and learning more about who He is and what He has done through His Son Jesus Christ, it helps give the small group more incentive to place the Kingdom of God first in our lives in all that we do, giving God all of the glory and honor that He deserves.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Creativity and Youth Ministry

While an understanding of creativity has traditionally been to celebrate differing viewpoints and expressions of one’s faith, the postmodern interpretation of creativity in the West has slowly been transforming into a movement that is attempting to establish a monopoly in the marketplace of ideas. Buzzwords like “diversity” and “tolerance” are now at times ironic terms that take on meanings quite opposite of their original definitions (especially when a person’s viewpoint is ever deemed to be counter-cultural to the popular viewpoint of the day).

It is in this landscape that our youth are living in, where in order for their creativity to be celebrated, it must acknowledge that everything and anything is morally okay, as long as it doesn’t impede upon the values of the others. Anything less than this is militaristically renounced and labeled as offensive. At best, your voice will be drowned out by individuals who have more followers and who express their viewpoint louder than yours; at worst, you will be shamed, verbally assaulted, ridiculed, or possibly threatened. Today’s youth have a keen awareness of this delicate situation, for they live it every day online and in their schools. But what does this mean for the church and for our youth ministry through the lens of creativity?

            Creativity is a gift given to us by God. No other lifeform on earth possesses the creative capability that humans do, because we are the only ones made in the image of God. Just as God created the world and everything in it, we have been given the ability to take what has been made available to us by God and create new concepts, structures, and new technologies. Not only does our mind have the ability to ponder about what we can do in our future, we also have an imagination that helps us get there. This level of creative freedom is to be celebrated, for the diversity of God’s creation alone reflects this. It is through our church and our youth ministries that we can provide an environment through which our teens can freely express this God-given freedom.

            With today’s youth understanding more than ever that they have the power to be content creators, the youth ministry can become a viable forum for students to share their creativity. In elementary school, we are encouraged to explore our artistic side by drawing pictures, creating a sculpture in art class, or writing a poem. However, students are no longer receiving these types of assignments in high school. Instead, the arts are seemingly placed aside within the education system as we grow older. Through opportunities like spoken word, drama, art, poetry, or more, the youth ministry can allow its students to recapture a facet of their imaginations that used to be so widely celebrated when they were younger.

There are many ways to make room for creativity to flourish among our students. For example, perhaps the youth ministry can set up a pumpkin carving evening during the Fall, or work together with the worship team to have a multi-sensory worship experience that invites students to openly craft while the worship team plays. Perhaps the student body would take delight in the occasional “improv night” where the youth ministry invites students to the stage to spontaneously act out Christian-themed scenes with goofy props. Should there be a handful of students that are exceptionally passionate about creative arts, there may even be opportunity to organize and run a student-led stage production that sells tickets and gives opportunity to raise money for the youth ministry.

The youth ministry can provide a unique opportunity in the lives of students to express their faith through a bold medium that is energetic, vibrant, and in the moment. It is an area that may likely be lacking within their lives; if executed strategically, such a youth ministry may satisfy a creative hunger that the students never realized they may have had.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Deciding When to Multiply Your Small Group

Inward Depth or Outward Growth?
When a small group cultivates relationships with the same individuals over a span of multiple years, it can become an excellent example of the close-knit community that Jesus prays for us to have in John 17:22. Such a small group can be a safe haven where great friends can come together and be themselves after a stressful week. The laughs are many and the absences are few. There’s no pressure to impress anyone and each member of the group knows what to expect. For groups that have a rich history, the suggestion of opening up the group to new members can be unnerving. Such an introduction of new individuals can risk disrupting a state of equilibrium that is highly valued among its current members.

The Great Commission AND The Great Commandment
Small group intimacy is a great indicator for positive vulnerability within a group. Individuals feel safe to be themselves and they feel comfortable to trust their fellow group members with privileged information. Should the intimacy of a small group be disrupted by the introduction of a new individual, it can create two possible concerns among its group members: that the group’s cherished atmosphere of vulnerability may become compromised, or that the new member(s) may not be able to acclimate easily into the seasoned group if everyone else is already well-acquainted. While these concerns are valid, they unfortunately aren’t biblical.

When we look to the Scriptures, we are challenged by Jesus to embody both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, where we make disciples of all nations and love our neighbors as ourselves. Although we are tempted to consider these two as separate callings, they are not mutually exclusive. Small group intimacy is wonderful to have, but if we value it too heavily, it can cause us to shy away from anything that may jeopardize its stability. In this scenario, we reach out less often, and the small group eventually enters into a stage of evangelistic stagnation. In other words, the group is great at exhibiting the call to relationships that is seen in John 17:22, but it neglects to consider the very next verse, 17:23, where we are called to engage the world.

Why Should We Multiply?
In Acts 11, we read that persecution caused a number of the earliest believers to disperse. Of those that fled, some found themselves in Antioch and begin to share the Gospel there. When word was received that the number of believers was growing, Barnabas was sent to help give structure to the expanding church (Acts 11:22). Barnabas could have remained in Jerusalem where the early church was steadily growing at home. But he didn’t. Instead, he made himself available for the Lord to use him in an area of the church where the soil was fertile. Because of his obedience to the Lord, Antioch eventually grew to be a central point from where missionaries to the Gentiles were commonly sent.

There are areas of growth in our church that are fertile ground for a new small group to be created, and there are Barnabas’s within our established small groups. When we open ourselves up to having a balanced viewpoint of both inward depth and outward growth, then the church will grow through our small group ministry. Within your group may be a new small group leader that has the potential to reach an area of your community that your church may have previously thought to be unreachable. After identifying potential leaders in your group, raising up an apprentice and sharing the leadership of your group’s responsibilities may help prepare them for the time when the Lord calls them to begin leading a small group of their own.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Navigating the Minefield of Social Media as a Lay Leader (Part 2)

As a quick review, last week we discussed the impact of social media and how the content that we post can be viewed by the unchurched. As a news junkie myself, I understand this all too well. Years ago, I continuously posted content that was viewed as offensive to my friends and family on social media. How do I know? They were quite vocal in letting me know, and the resulting dialogue was often heated and stress-inducing. It impacted my work and my time with family as I would be more focused on drafting up my next rebuttal in my feed’s latest argument.  After years of this behavior, many unfollowed me, unfriended me, and wrote me off as an individual not worth listening to. As the Lord began to get a hold of my heart, I began to realize the damage that I had been doing, and I repented. To wrap up this series, let’s unpack the other two of the three principles to consider when navigating the minefield of social media use as a lay leader within the church.

Who Do You Follow?
Who you follow is more common knowledge than you think. Sure, someone can look at who you follow, but social media platforms like Twitter have a way of bringing this knowledge to the forefront. For example, tweets may appear on your feed of individuals who you don’t follow, and the reason for this is because someone who you follow, follows them. Social platforms do this to innocently connect you with more individuals who you may want to follow, but the unintended consequence of this is that others will know who you follow, whether you’d like them to know or not.
What Do You “Like?”
Similar to the previous section, the posts and content that you “like” or mark as “favorite” may show up on other individuals’ feeds as well (even if they do not follow the individuals that posted the content that you “liked”). Before clicking that heart underneath the post, ask if your followers would be interested in that content as well. Treat it like a retweet or a share, because it is possible that your actions will show up on others’ feeds, whether you intended it to or not.

Which is More Important?
Since that season when the Lord got a hold of my heart, I committed to filter my content through the lens of Scripture and post only life-giving content. Yet, even though I am now more cognizant of my social media presence, I still wonder to this day how many people in my social media network I lost connection with. I wonder how many I could have retained and how many would have been able to hear of the good news that I am sharing now, had I just simply given more prayerful consideration to the articles and comments that I was publishing. Over time, my heart was pierced and I came to the point where I needed to decide which was more important: being right, or giving God the glory He deserves.

Romans 14:13-19
“13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (NIV).

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Navigating the Minefield of Social Media as a Lay Leader (Part 1)

When we became lay leaders in the church, we each took the plunge and placed ourselves in the public spotlight. While all Christians are naturally called to pursue a lifestyle that exhibits Christ-like behavior, becoming a lay leader within the church amplifies such a calling. For anyone serving in ministry for a season or more, we quickly discover how impactful our actions may be on the spiritual journeys of others (See below for Romans 14:13-19). As a result, it becomes vital to fully embrace the practice of Lifestyle Evangelism, where our actions become a form of evangelism toward those we interact with on a daily basis. While Lifestyle Evangelism is generally understood within the context of the community or inside the walls of the church, we sometimes forget how this calling also extends to our use of social media as well. Although the early years of social media was established on rather basic privacy settings, today’s age of social media has implemented settings that are at times challenging to navigate. This week and next week, we will unpack three key principles to consider when navigating the minefield of social media use as a lay leader within the church.

What Do You Post?
Beginning with the most easily understood principle to consider, Christians are called to filter their posts through the lens of Scripture. What is the content that you are sharing? Does it breathe life into others? Do the posts that you create or share include content that could be considered controversial by some of the individuals that follow you? Today’s social feeds are a raging battleground of warring political views and politically correct culture. While a lay minister does not lose their freedom to share their personal views on a platform like social media, the fact remains that we are all ambassadors of Christ, regardless of our political affiliations. As secular-minded individuals read the content that we post and share, we are subconsciously associated with Jesus and our posts are viewed as a representation of Christianity and the church. Paul says in Romans 14:14-15, “But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.” He may be referring to the eating of clean and unclean foods in his passage, but the principle is relevant: Those that perceive our posts as offensive will find it difficult to reconcile the principles of Christianity with an “ambassador of Christ” who is perceived as an offensive person.

Next Week
Stay Tuned for next week’s email to unpack two more principles of social media use that we are called to consider as lay leaders!

Romans 14:13-19
“13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (NIV).

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

3 Steps to Identify Future Leaders in Your Small Group

When I first became a Christian, I wasn’t sure if I was qualified or gifted enough to serve within the church. Even after getting acquainted with the community, I continued to believe this for months until a leader in the church invited me one evening to help facilitate a breakout conversation during a small group. From there, another opportunity arose for me to become involved. And then another. Somewhere along the way, I began to realize where God was calling me to serve, but it all started with that first invitation.

Small groups offer an incredible environment to help build relationships within the church, but did you know that they also can be used to identify future leaders and equip its members to serve the community? According to Scripture, 1 Corinthians 12:7 informs us that everyone has at least one spiritual gift. In other words, each person is able to help bless the Kingdom of God in at least one way. While not everyone may be ready to become a lay minister today, the Holy Spirit is constantly working in each of your group members’ hearts. What if one of your group members is ready to start serving at your church, but they are not sure where to begin?

Step 1: Finding the Opportunity
The first step is to draft a list of activities that are available to do within your group meetings. Depending on the comfort level of your group members, this could range from something as small as leading a devotional, to something as large as being the point contact for an upcoming service project that the group is planning. When considering potential opportunities, resist the temptation to offload a task just for the sake of lightening your workload. Instead, draft a list of all potential opportunities that can be shared (except those that can only be completed by the small group leader).  

Step 2: Identifying the Individual
When identifying and calling upon the first apostles, Jesus did not make a public announcement at the temple. Instead, He approached each of them directly and personally invited them. He affirmed that He saw something in them and noticed their willingness to be led by the Lord. While we aren’t selecting apostles here within our groups, the principle is similar: mass invites aren’t typically effective. Instead, take the time to prayerfully consider which individual you’d like to propose a potential opportunity to (From the list of activities you previously generated). If the Spirit is impressing a certain individual upon your heart, it is possible that the Spirit is also working in their heart at the same time to get them more involved. Your invitation to the person not only affirms and validates the presence of their spiritual gifts, but you also can become an agent of the Holy Spirit when sharing with the person that God may have something planned for them. The goal would not be to force anyone into a ministry opportunity, but rather to locate where God is already moving within the group and then to become the bridge that connects the individual to the opportunity.

Step 3: Coaching the Group Member
Once the opportunity is identified and the individual has volunteered, then you will be able to begin coaching that individual. Does this take time to guide someone through the completion of their task? Yes, but if the right person is identified with the best-matched spiritual gifts, it should take less time to coach the individual than the time you would have spent preparing (and doing) the task on your own. Through its small group ministry, the church can help promote a safe environment through which its group members feel comfortable enough to take risks and baby step into ministry endeavors that challenge them appropriately (according to the level of spiritual readiness that they find themselves in).

The Ripple Effect
The ripple effect can be powerful. By inviting a group member to do something as simple as leading a devotion, you could possibly be sowing a seed that inspires the person to grow into a disciple of Christ who then eventually mentors and impacts the lives of tens, or hundreds, or even thousands. After all, we must not underestimate the power of an invitation, for we only need to briefly reflect on the fact that the incredible size of the Christian church started with one person who extended personal invitations to only twelve.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

3 Ways God Transforms Pain Into Blessing

As we dive into conversations with our small groups, we often hear of challenging or painful experiences that our group members are going through (or had gone through before). Although pain and suffering did not come into the world until after the Fall, God still uses pain for His glory by turning our situation around and blessing us in ways that sometimes can only be understood in hindsight.

Pain teaches us
We may be familiar with the statement that Jesus makes when He says “I am the vine” (John 15:5), but do we willingly grant permission for God to prune our branches when it is necessary? Whether it is outright sin or whether it might be subtle activities that distract us from pursuing a relationship with Christ, it is possible that pain is occurring in our lives as a way for God to teach us. While it may be challenging to consider this as a form of love, Scripture reminds us that it is because of God’s love that we are disciplined: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” (Hebrews 12:5-7, NIV).

Pain equips us
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4, NIV).
While a season of pain certainly isn’t ideal for anyone to experience, it is possible that our circumstances could in fact be a training ground for the very ministry that the Lord is calling us to. While it is difficult to objectively see such a possibility in the middle of the pain, James 1:2-4 reminds us that we eventually begin to see how such an event can shape and form our character (and maybe even our spiritual outlook on life). By going through the circumstances ourselves, we are able to look another person in the eye and say to them “I know exactly what you are going through, and here’s how I saw the Lord move in my life during that same season...”

Pain draws us closer to Him
In his well-known Bible Study “Experiencing God,” Henry Blackaby says that one of the ways that God communicates with us is through our circumstances (the others being Scripture, Prayer, and the church). There may be seasons in our lives where we are on auto-pilot or wrapped up in the busyness of our day-to-day. While God always is trying to communicate to us through His still, small voice, it is possible that we may not be tuned into the correct frequency in order to properly hear Him. When we encounter challenging events in our lives, God uses them as opportunities to stand beside us, comfort us, and help us recover. Indeed, many have said that only a painful event could have ever grabbed their attention and could have helped them realize how lost they were without the active influence of the Lord in their lives.

These three items are oftentimes more clearly understood after the pain passes. When ministering to someone who is in the middle of a challenging season of life, we look to Jesus to show us how. Let us have the heart of Christ who experienced sorrow alongside His friends and even wept with them. He showed compassion for those who were in pain, and He ministered to them without hesitance. May the Lord abundantly bless your time with your small groups, and may the power of the Holy Spirit reveal God’s will through the seasons of pain that we may experience through our lives.

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Personal Connection Takes Time (And That's OK)

Pleasing Others, Not Ourselves
We are called to serve others and care for our neighbors, but what does it mean for small groups? Allow us to look to what Paul says in Romans 15:1-2, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” Or another way of saying it might be: that we are to please others, and not ourselves. Paul isn’t being condescending here when speaking of weak vs. strong. Indeed, his aim is for “harmony in accordance with Christ Jesus” (v.6). Yet in order to gain such harmony, we are called to address the spiritual needs of those who we are able to serve, just as Jesus had done by coming to us and sacrificing Himself on the Cross (v.3).

Personal Connection Takes Time (And That’s OK)
As we sacrifice for others, serve others, and please others just as Christ had done for us, we make a personal connection with those that we care for. This isn’t “pleasing” others in the manner that neglects their spiritual needs or enables them to continue sinning. Instead, we effectively “become all things to all people” as encouraged to do in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, while also “bearing one another’s burdens and fulfilling the law of Christ” as communicated in Galatians 6:2. It is this type of connection that takes time as we build long lasting relationships. Should we enter into our small groups with this expectation in mind, then our season as small group leaders will be blessed tremendously as we enjoy the journey that the Holy Spirit has in store for us.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

FREE eBook! "Leading a Small Group"

Attention Small Group Leaders!
Our free eBook "Leading a Small Group" is now available for download! In it is a compilation of the best Focusing On Jesus blog posts on small groups, with new and improved material. It's all in one document and easily accessible for small group leaders who are either just beginning or looking for insight on how to tackle common challenges associated with leading a small group. We pray that this free resource blesses your small group ministry in a powerful way. Be sure to download your copy today!

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Communicating With Your Small Group

For some individuals, joining a small group may be a huge commitment. While some may be new believers who have just been plugged in to your group, others may have waited years before finally trying out “the small group thing.” For folks who are experiencing the small group experience for the first time, your efforts of communicating with them could significantly impact their understanding of how small groups operate and function. By consistently staying in touch with your members during the lifespan of your group, you can help them get the most out of the group while at the same time setting yourself (and even your future small groups) up for success.

Before the Small Group
Before the start of your group, effective communication with your group members will accomplish 3 things: first, it will cover various administrative details, such as group expectations, content overview, group calendar, and other small details; second, it will help establish your preferred method of contact, should they have any questions; and third, it will communicate your willingness to personally connect with each of your group members. By reaching out directly to each person that expresses interest in your group, the small group experience starts with relationship right from the start. By the time of your first meeting, you will have already gotten to know your group members a little and possibly even built a little rapport with them.

During the Small Group
In today’s age we’re all busy. With such busyness comes the chance that a group member may get distracted or forget that your group is meeting (especially if your group meets less frequently). Staying in touch with your members will benefit the group in a few ways: first, it will allow for the group to feel more connected during the week (especially through group texts and/or group emails); second, it will increase the likelihood that an individual will remember to attend the group’s meeting that week; and third, it will establish a dependable system through which group members will expect to receive updates from you (possibly lessening the number of simple information-based questions that are sent your way throughout the week). To help create a cadence, weekly emails can be used to communicate important administrative information pertaining to the group (i.e. calendar changes, content development, handouts, etc.). Group texts can be used as well and can be reserved more so for weekly devotionals, prayer requests, funny messages, or other pieces of information that need to be shared quickly. If the schedule permits, connecting individually with each member throughout the span of the group can help increase the level of connection between you and your members and offer more checkpoints for accountability as you mentor them.

After the Small Group
When the group completes is goals or is no longer working towards completing its goals (See our post on group formation here), then it is helpful for a group to officially end when it is the right time. Yet even when a group is ending, it is important for its members to take the time to celebrate and officially end the group. To assist, the group leader can arrange for a mixer, a meal, or a fun event that brings everyone together to reflect on the successes of the group. During this final gathering (and perhaps even the weeks that follow), it is an opportune time for you to promote the next steps that may be available for your group members (whether it be joining your next small group or a different group that better suits their current spiritual season). If your small group ministry is large enough, entertain the idea of sending out a church-wide survey to all participating small group members to gather feedback and discover what elements of the small group ministry can be improved upon. In the end, the goal is to help build a mindset within the culture of the church that spiritual growth occurs not only on Sundays, but also Monday-Saturday, 52 weeks a year.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Power of Student Prayer

For many students, a common battlefield of spiritual warfare is to work at developing discernment over which thoughts are of truth and which thoughts are not of truth. Similar to the movie Inception, the devil has a knack for planting lies in our minds and then trying to convince us that they are our own thoughts. The student may think that they’re not smart, not worthy of friends, or not beautiful, but it’s impossible for these thoughts to have come from God since we are made in the image of God (and God is none of these things!). Because of this, it becomes important for us to establish that these negative thoughts could have only come from the evil one. Once our students begin to understand that the root issue lies in the spiritual realm instead of the physical realm, our youth gain a better understanding of why they can engage in prayer within their current context. Naturally, the youth ministry would still help them learn to engage in intercessory prayer, meditative prayer, prayer of petition, prayer of thanksgiving, and other types of prayer, but the instructions on the various ways on “how” to pray can wait until after the more foundational conversation of “why” we pray is discussed first.

For our youth that finds itself immersed within this particular area of spiritual warfare, encouraging the practice of healthy introspection can be beneficial. Indeed, there is a difference between the practice of self-ameliorating and the practice of self-examination. On one hand, self-amelioration is when a student spends hours comparing themselves to their peers, jockeying for position within the social hierarchy of high school, or editing and filtering photos of themselves to hide the imperfections that they have grown to dislike. On the other hand, self-examination is a prayerful process of introspection that meditates on what the Lord may see in us through His eyes. 

Once we gain a glimpse of the Lord’s perspective, it helps us see what is holding us back from pursuing a deeper relationship with Christ. While the youth pastor and youth leaders are certainly able to lead the youth ministry and its students in a session of prayer, one can’t help but wonder as to which might inspire a student to pursue the act of self-examination more: seeing an adult praying about what the youth should do, or seeing one of their peers crying out to the Lord and asking for their fellow students to receive a breakthrough?

Without an intentional effort to engage in the spiritual discipline of prayer, students will graduate from the youth ministry with the belief that prayer is only meant for unloading a list of requests onto the Lord. Rather than this unfortunate mindset, a youth ministry that empowers their students to pray can help them become more intentional at communicating with God. Similar to a child that can pick out the voice of their parents within a noisy crowd, students can begin to understand what the still, small voice of the Lord sounds like within their hearts as their peers echo the passionate pleas of the student body. Should a student incorporate the practice of prayer into their lives before leaving the youth ministry, it is likely that it will drastically impact the rest of their lives as they begin to consult the Lord on school choice, career choice, spouse choice, and more.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

When Small Groups Grumble

As group members become comfortable with one another, it is only a matter of time until the spigot of personal opinions is opened. But what happens when the shared opinions take on the form of grumbling? From church politics, to the recent Sunday service sermon, to the food served at last week’s church barbecue, to anything else that the group has on their heart, how can a small group leader intervene before the negative conversation derails the entire meeting?

In Exodus 16, we see the Israelites navigating through the desert, shortly after they are rescued from the Egyptians in Chapter 14. It isn’t long before they begin to grumble and complain to Moses, saying “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt…for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (16:3). Shortly after this complaint, the Lord hears the Israelites and blesses them with bread from heaven and meat (16:12), giving them the strength and sustenance to continue onward.

Although this story is a powerful way to illustrate how God provides for our needs, we also mustn't take the scripture out of context by submitting to every grumble and complaint that arises within the group. In other words, the group leader is called to have the ability to prayerfully discern the reasons as to why the grumbling and complaining is occurring in the first place. Here in Exodus, we see that the Israelites had a legitimate need. In order for the group to successfully make it to the Promised Land, they needed assistance from the Lord for resources that they couldn't provide for themselves. Likewise, in order for the small group to successfully accomplish the goals that had been established at the outset of the group, perhaps the group leader may need to shift course and modify the group’s activities or curriculum to stay on target. 

But what if the grumbling and complaining doesn’t appear to be stemming from a legitimate need? Allow us to visit Philippians 2:12-16 to help us explore:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” (NIV)

In other words, when Paul says that we will be able to boast about not laboring in vain, he is reminding us to keep the larger picture in mind. After the Israelites arrived in Canaan, the hunger and the forty years of eating manna was suddenly justified. If only the Israelites could have seen the bigger picture, perhaps they would have arrived in the Promised Land sooner.

Similarly, if only the small group members could see the amount of prayer and study that the church staff placed on the current sermon series, perhaps they would be more open-minded to what the Lord is sharing with them on Sundays. Or if only the small group members could see that the church barbecue connected five new believers and their families to the church, perhaps the menu choice for that day would not prevent them from coming to the next event. As a result, we are able to more quickly engage ourselves with what the Lord is doing when we intentionally choose to view ministry through a heavenly lens.

Within the context of a small group ministry, we are able to bring together individuals of varying degrees of spiritual maturity. Through their small group, engaging with the community of believers is one of the best ways for a new believer to sharpen their understanding of how the Kingdom operates. Small group leaders have the spiritual gifting and special skill set that allows them to step in and help their group members gain this perspective. And as a result, those involved with the church's small group ministry will be able to have a better understanding of when God speaks and where He is guiding His church.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Encouraging Youth to Serve

It is known that Jesus Christ calls us to conduct acts of service toward others. If you were to ask any student in the youth ministry as to if we should work out acts of service toward others in our lives, surely they would agree. But of all of the students that say we should do acts of service, how many actually do acts of service on a regular basis? 

One article from Pew Research Center cited a study where in order for someone to be deemed “highly involved” in the church, it meant that they attended service on a weekly basis and attended a small group at least once a month. What was fascinating was that the same study showed that only 20% of mainline Protestants were highly active in their church. And since we can deduce that there is a correlation between involvement at the church and actually serving in the church, it’s likely that the going rate of church members who serve is hovering around the same percentage.

Talking with the youth about what service is…that’s all good. But when engaging the youth on serving in the church, maybe we should first ask the question “Why should we conduct acts of service at all?” Take a moment to compare Luke 17:7-10 to Luke 12:35-40. In the first Scripture, Jesus says that we should consider ourselves to serve because we are simply just doing what we are called to do (we are unworthy servants). However, in the second Scripture, Jesus tells the parable of a master serving His own servants when he finds them in the midst of serving. Both ideas about serving are striking, yet somewhat opposite of each other.

Why would Jesus present this paradox to His disciples when talking about the topic of service? The Bible balances on the tightrope between these two concepts because God is not looking for a transactional relationship. If Christianity was a transactional religion, then everyone would do their 10 prayers and weekly community service project and be done with it for the rest of the week.

Instead, it might help for our youth to understand that serving is more like being a part of a team. God wants us to be a part of the winning team, and being a part of such a team means that we become active and engaged servants. Just like if the student was to play on a basketball team, the expectation is that they would collect rebounds, pass the ball to their teammates, and help each other make baskets. If you don’t do these things for your teammates, then you’re not playing basketball, you’re just watching it! Likewise, being on God’s team means that we get in the game and do the things that the coach (Jesus) tells us that we need to do in order to be a part of the experience. The best thing about it is that this team for the Kingdom of God doesn’t last for only a two-hour game…it lasts for the entire span of eternity.

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