Friday, February 26, 2021

Inner Healing Within Small Groups

 


In our post-Covid environment, small groups are becoming one of the best primary points of entry for new attendees within our churches. Even if our social circles may have shrunk within the workforce or within our social engagements, our hunger for relationships still has not dissipated. Theologically, we understand this because we are made in the image of a God who exhibits perfect relationship within the Trinity. But how does this spiritual truth impact our ability to grow inward within our small group ministries, and how might this contribute to our small groups’ ability to minister to the deepest spiritual needs of our fellow group members?

In this next series of posts, we will unpack and explore how small groups are able to minister at some of the most profound levels to heal the soul. While some of our wounds may be buried deep or are carefully tucked away to help us function as close to normal as possible during the day-to-day, there are times when the presence of the Holy Spirit can fall upon a small group and meet one or more individuals in a powerful way that brings a wound or a lie to the light.

Yet for our purposes here, we will tread carefully. Our conversation on inner healing will not be meant for scenarios or seasons of life that are devastatingly urgent. Indeed, small groups can never and should never be considered a replacement for professional counseling. Nevertheless, there are moments when the Lord chooses to use a small group to either initiate a journey of inner healing or to walk alongside someone and be a partner for them in the journey of inner healing (It will be these scenarios in particular that this new series will focus on).

In his book Healing Care, Healing Prayer, Dr. Terry Wardle’s exploration of inner healing prayer provides an in-depth look of  how it allows us to not only identify the wounds of this world but also replace their dominion over us with the affirmation of God’s love. Writing from the personal experience of his own “dark night of the soul,” his multiple books over the years have empowered both the caregiver and the individual who is receiving care throughout the inner healing process. While Dr. Wardle’s book mainly focuses on the model and structure of inner healing between a caregiver and a single person who is receiving the care, here we will instead reflect upon the core principles of his text through the lens of a small group ministry.

Throughout this new series, we will discuss topics such as how group members can help to contribute toward inner healing, what the group leader’s role is within such a process, and how prayer can be utilized to engage the Holy Spirit within the group setting. Since the journey ahead requires great care and respect, it bears repeating that small groups are not meant to replace counseling (nor could it be promised that small groups are as effective as or more effective than professional care). Nevertheless, I have witnessed the impact that the presence of the Holy Spirit can make within the small group setting and it is very possible that the Lord may soon choose one of our upcoming small group meetings to stir the hearts of one or more of our group members. To help us prepare for such an event, let us prayerfully explore and meditate upon what we group leaders can do to help our group members meet the person of Jesus Christ in a powerful and transforming way.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Spiritual Plumbing of the Heart


A Home of Surprises
Before my wife and I were handed the keys to our new home in 2013, we already knew that we had signed up for a home with some home improvement surprises. One surprise in particular was a severe issue with the plumbing. During the inspection phase it was realized that the kitchen stack was not properly draining to the pipe that led to the city’s sewers (easily deduced by looking down the access of the city-bound pipe while running the water upstairs). What surprised us even more was that the blockage was so bad that the kitchen sink would begin to fill up as we continued to run the kitchen tap. One experienced plumber diagnosed the problem, explaining that the stretch of underground pipe between the kitchen stack and the rest of the house’s plumbing had likely rotted, and that the pipe was clogged up with food, grease, earth, or a combination of all of the above. Basically, every time we ran the kitchen faucet, the water went straight into the ground, underneath our house.

After deciding to go through with closing on the house, we quickly scheduled a professional plumbing company to come in and carve into our basement floor. Using jackhammers and shovels, they broke ground and began to dig up the shockingly degraded pipe. The expert that quoted the job was 100% correct. Apparently, the home’s previous owners made it a habit of pouring grease down the drain. Over the years, the iron piping rotted away, causing a complete breakdown in the underground plumbing.

Spiritual Plumbing
Plumbing in our homes is not unlike the plumbing that we maintain in our spiritual lives as we communicate with God. Last week, we discussed how we are called to be filled with the Spirit on an ongoing basis. This type of lifestyle requires us to be diligent with the plumbing of our hearts. In our homes, blockages or even damage can occur to the plumbing of the house if we dispose of grease down the kitchen sink or refuse to utilize a garbage disposal. Likewise, continuously absorbing a diet of worldly entertainment and habitually acting upon sinful temptations can cause severe disruption in our spiritual lives (aka blockages of the Spirit).

To help clear the spiritual blockages in our lives and open up the lines of communication with the Holy Spirit, fasting can be a powerful spiritual discipline that can help us recalibrate on what the Lord is calling us to pursue within our current season. By abstaining from food for a short season, we focus more on God and spend more time with Him through our season of fasting. More than likely, the boost in spiritual clarity that we gain during our fast will help us learn to be less resistant to the nudges of the Holy Spirit throughout the day.

Group Fasting
If your group is interested to try something new during its spiritual journey this year, try fasting for the 24 hours before the group meets. Encourage one another that day through a group-text and fall in prayer to support and uplift everyone as you seek the Lord throughout the day. After trying this for a few weeks, see if the group might like to try a longer span of time once or twice within the next month or two. Prayerfully consider the frequency of fasting, for the discipline could quickly devolve into legalism if the activity itself becomes more important than the pursuit of God. Every individual and group is different, and healthy reflection can assist the group in determining what fits best for everyone involved.


Thursday, January 28, 2021

To "Be Filled" with the Spirit

 

In his book Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today, author John Stott provides his readers with insight on what it means to “be filled” with the Spirit, a verb that Paul speaks of in his letter to the Ephesians (5:17-20). While Stott’s list of four points is meant to be understood in the general sense of practicing Christianity, today let us view each of them through the lens of our small group ministries and how we as small group leaders can interpret the concept within our group experience.

The Command to “Be Filled”
First, Stott explains that to “be filled” with the Spirit is written in the imperative mood. According to Paul, we Christians are marked in the Lord with the seal of the Holy Spirit. This same Holy Spirit acts as a deposit who guarantees our inheritance that God has promised to us (Ephesians 1:13-14). Another way to look at it can be that the Holy Spirit opens a bank account in our hearts and makes a minimum deposit (salvation) when we give our lives to Christ. This bank account can never be closed and God will continue to conduct His spiritual banking in our hearts until we depart from this earth. Paul commanding us to “be filled” with the Spirit can be considered as a call for us to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is indeed a partner with us as we lead our groups. We must not ignore His presence or His vital role when we are ministering to others.

All of us are to “Be Filled”
Second, Stott explains that to “be filled” with the Spirit is in the plural form. Just as we saw from Ephesians 1:13-14, all Christians are marked in Christ with the seal of the Holy Spirit. As small group leaders, we are called to shepherd our flock and to help them realize this spiritual truth. While the evil one may try his hardest to make us forget the fact that the Holy Spirit resides in each of our hearts, we small group leaders have the opportunity to help those within our groups to remember that they too have the indwelling presence of the Spirit. As we minister to our group members, we can pray with them and ask the Lord for more opportunities to invite Him in and to recognize the Holy Spirit’s work throughout our lives.

Our Faith in God’s Grace to “Be Filled”
Third, Stott explains that to “be filled” with the Spirit is in the passive voice. For some, understanding the grace of God may be one of the largest hurdles to overcome as a believer. Whether it is a tendency to practice the extremes of "legalistic Christianity" (where individuals feel we have to earn God’s grace) or "watered down Christianity" (where individuals feel they are covered by God’s grace even if they continuously and intentionally sin with egregiousness), we leaders serve our group members well by periodically revisiting the nuts and bolts of the Christian faith. Should any our members begin to wander and operate within the realm of one of the aforementioned extremes, our prompting for them to consider the Spirit’s involvement in their lives may help them in maintaining a more balanced approach between accepting the grace of God and operating out of joyful obedience to Him.

To “Be Filled” on an Ongoing Basis
Finally, Stott explains that to “be filled” with the Spirit is in the present tense. Instead of thinking that we only need to “be filled” with the Spirit once during a single event, Paul’s message is better to be understood for us to continue being filled with Spirit on an ongoing basis. If we revisit the banking metaphor again, the Holy Spirit is the one who makes the deposits and does the “filling” (we merely have to open the door to let Him in). However, what is important for us to understand is that the deposit frequency of the Holy Spirit may be heavily influenced by our willingness to keep our doors open for Him to conduct His spiritual business. If we begrudgingly open our doors for only one or two hours a week during church service, then we may be making it more difficult for God to actively transform our lives in an impactful manner. As small group leaders, we have the ability to help our members “open the doors” more often during the week and to keep God on their hearts by consistently hosting our mid-week group meeting and then initiating quick catch-ups during the week via emails, text messages and brief phone calls.

 

 


Thursday, January 14, 2021

2021 - A Year for Belief

 

While the year of 2020 may have been tumultuously chaotic, it seems that one of the only things everyone seems to be unified on is the act of saying farewell to one of the most negatively disruptive years in modern history. Yet the mere act of flipping the calendar month doesn’t necessarily mean that our lives are suddenly changing for the better. Indeed, many of the effects of the previous year have carried over into the New Year as we are still collectively hit hard by job loss, sickness from Covid-19, mental health concerns from the lockdowns, cancellation of momentous in-person events, and a variety of other challenges in our lives that seem to have been amplified by the events of the previous 12 months. Nevertheless, there does exist a part of our lives that we can proactively focus on and build upon in 2021, and that is our level of belief. Reading of the Gospel of John can assist us in the exploration of this concept, especially chapters 11-12. From these two chapters, let us extract 2 key elements that the Bible reveals to us on how we can increase our level of belief.

Engaging in His Work
One of the most fascinating moments of Jesus’ ministry is recorded in John 11 where we witness the resurrection of Lazarus. Upon Jesus’ arrival at the village, Martha states, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:21, NRSV). But before we concentrate on Martha, we must not lose focus of Jesus’ underlying goal: this story is not about increasing Martha’s belief in Jesus (after all, Martha confirms her faith quite clearly in 11:27). Instead, this Gospel story is about increasing the belief of His disciples! In a shocking moment of transparency, Jesus confessed earlier in the chapter that He was glad to not have been near Lazarus when His friend died because it would end up increasing the belief of His disciples (11:15). 

The resurrection of Lazarus was a pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry. From this point forward, we see that Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews (11:54). Rather, the events that transpired ended up solidifying the belief of His disciples so much that they were inspired to remain with Him. Even though the disciples may not have fully understood what Jesus had meant when He first invited them to travel to Lazarus, what was important was that they had enough faith to trust Him and follow Him (11:16). Similarly, if we are engaging in His work and doing ministry alongside Jesus like the disciples had been doing, He will increase our belief as well and inspire us to make the kingdom of God a priority in all that we do.

Staying Humble
On the heels of the Lazarus story that was intended to bring glory to God (11:4), John 12 drives this concept of glory further through three movements: First, Lazarus who recently shook the dust of death off of his shoulders is sharing his testimony and bringing many Jews to Christ (12:11); second, Jesus acknowledges His calling of being a sacrifice as He simultaneously invites God to receive His due glory (12:20-28); and third, John explains to his readers that the love of human glory is a dangerous stumbling block that prevents individuals from believing in Christ (12:37-45). Woven throughout each of these three portions of the chapter we see the theme of redirecting attention to God the Father. 

When we refuse to give glory to God, the negative impact on our lives can be powerful. First, we can become so consumed by the pervasive politics of our day-to-day lives that we would rather punish anyone who is taking away our clout than to focus on kingdom work (12:11); second, our obsession with worldly glory can spiritually blind us to the point where we become oblivious of when the Lord departs from us (12:36); and third, our rejection of Christ and the usurping of his glory will cause us to remain in spiritual darkness, thereby placing us in a position where we will be judged accordingly (12:46-48). It is when we stay humble that our belief is able to be increased, for it helps us recognize that we were never meant to be recipients of glory, but rather God the Father, and only Him.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Exponential Small Group Growth in a Post-Covid World

 

In the February 2020 Lobby Conference hosted by Small Group Network, Saddleback pastors Steve Gladen and Dave Alford tag teamed and tackled one of the most anticipated topics of the event: Exponential Growth in Small Group Ministry. Here, let us review three of the key takeaways from this momentous presentation by Steve and Dave.

Choosing Growth over Control
The Book of Acts is one of the best resources we have to understand the growth of the church during its formative years. A brief read through of this section of Scripture can quickly show us that the church preferred growth over control as they would preach to thousands and then baptize them shortly afterward. As witnessed throughout Acts, explosive growth was a good problem to have, for it established a foundation upon which its teachings could stand upon. Similarly, we too must be okay with the mess that new small groups may create. Instead of focusing primarily on if a new small group leader is maintaining sound theological discourse within their very first meeting, we are challenged to celebrate the fact that Jesus is being discussed at all and that members are coming together to form community. But doesn’t bad theology and misinformed teaching create more complication for the kingdom of God? Yes, however just as we see in the Bible, doctrine and teaching was provided shortly after Acts through the writings of the Epistles. Just as how Paul conducted “on-the-job” training via letters to the churches he was mentoring, we too can choose growth first and then later practice the approach of surgically addressing any theological concerns through a consistent roll-out of bite-size trainings.

A Culture of Groups
While we all wish our congregants would be fully devoted followers of Christ who are consistently serving, attending a small group, and in-the-know of the church calendar at all times, the reality is that many of our churchgoers only step foot onto church grounds for Sunday service (or online for virtual Sunday service). In other words, Sunday morning may in fact be the only shot we have to help promote small groups and/or explain the benefits of small groups. If our churches only mention small groups twice a year at the times when there are coordinated group launches, then this means that the typical church attendee only will hear about small groups 4% of the year (even less if they miss one or both of those two services!). If the church’s leadership agrees that small groups are one of the most important ministries within the community, then we become challenged to display the fact that small groups are indeed a part of our church’s DNA. To help execute this, some strategies can include: (1) head pastor buy-in (where the senior pastor becomes one of the most vocal proponents of small group ministry and even attends a group themselves); (2) Church calendar events that strategically funnel individuals into newly created groups (and/or church events that don’t interfere with the weekdays on which small groups typically meet); or (3) Consistent small group promotion from the pulpit (Not every message needs to be a small group sermon, but every message can contain a shout-out or a 30 second tie-in to small groups).

Lowering the Barriers
In a post-Covid world, small group ministries have found themselves challenged to embrace new methods in facilitating and nurturing community. While meeting in-person will always be the ideal method of meeting in groups, what we do know is that the concept of virtual groups is here to stay. During this time that we find ourselves in, what type of group is easy to duplicate, is able to meet both online and in-person, is easily sustainable, and also is easy to lead? As we arrive on the other side of the widespread disruption that Covid-19 had brought with it, sermon discussion groups may very well be the perfect type of “growth over control” group to launch within our church’s small group ministry. A sermon discussion guide is not only able to empower anyone to host a group and facilitate engaging conversation, but it also allows what Steve and Dave encouraged us all to practice during last year’s Lobby: rather than simply telling our groups what to do, we instead provide for our groups the destination we want them to reach while utilizing the values we want them to use in order to arrive there. Even though a model of sermon discussion groups chooses growth over control, it does so within a framework that provides its groups a set of guardrails within which to operate. In other words, groups are not grown without oversight, but instead are grown within a model that becomes quite appealing to a post-Covid world where both in-person and online groups are meeting on a regular basis.

 

While Dave and Steve’s presentation alone was well-worth the cost of the event, the Lobby Conference was packed with an immense amount of information that was applicable and highly relevant for any church’s small group ministry. This year, due to Covid-19, Small Group Network’s 2021 Lobby is going digital, and it will be opened up to even more attendees and also offered at a fraction of the cost it usually takes to attend. In addition to receiving wisdom from some of the biggest names in small group ministry, attendees will be able to choose from over 40 breakout sessions to attend that are being offered by additional voices within small group ministry (including yours truly). To help kick off 2021, this conference will be one of the best events to attend as a small group point person, and I hope that you’ll consider signing up and joining us on February 23-24!