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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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, 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.

Follow on Twitter @SeanBuono

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