Friday, July 30, 2021

Being a Navigator of Discussion

 


During my undergraduate studies, I pursued a degree that required me to take some of the more challenging math courses that the university had to offer. One particular course I had to take was Calculus 3 (also known as multi-variable calculus). After a few weeks in, I quickly realized that my instructor for the course was terrifying. Not only was his teaching style unapologetically abrasive and unsympathetic, he would laugh at and criticize his students who answered his questions incorrectly in class. In my stubbornness to try to see it through, I unfortunately ended up failing the course which meant that I had to take it once again. The next semester, I chose a different professor, who was arguably the kindest, gentlest, and most sympathetic math teacher I had ever had the pleasure of studying under during my undergraduate career. I’m happy to say, the semester ended up with a completely different result and I ended up acing the course.

Becoming involved within a church’s small group ministry can sometimes feel similar to this. Oftentimes, the small groups we join will yield an incredible experience that is exactly what we need in our lives from week to week. Yet there are times when we hear of an individual who mentions that their small group leader is not allowing enough time for group conversation or that the group that they had signed up for is not aligning with the expectations that they held. While the good times in our groups can help transform our lives for the better, the less-than-positive experiences can leave us wanting to try another group. But this does not have to be the case, and we small group leaders can implement some strategies that can help lessen the number of negative experiences that occur within the church’s small group ministry.

Adhering to Group Expectations
Revisiting an older article from our archives, a reflection on expectations can help us pause and meditate upon what exactly our group is trying to accomplish. By establishing the levels of Love, Learn, and Serve ahead of time, there becomes less of a chance for confusion or dissatisfaction as the group continues to meet throughout the span of its life.

Navigators of Discussion
In their book Creating Community, Andy Stanley and Bill Willits encourage group leaders to promote participation, explaining that “since shared participation creates broader ownership of the group, all group members should be encouraged to participate often in the facilitation and leadership of the group meeting. This essential also reminds leaders to promote participation by being navigators of discussion, not teachers of curriculum. The difference is critical. Every time leaders ask open-ended questions, they are inviting participation. More than sharing the right answers, we want people to share their lives” (emphasis mine). In a post-Covid world, we stand to benefit more from a community that gives us a space to share our story and to let us live out our faith. This key point ties in directly with the “Love/Learn/Serve” breakdwon, where there are distinct differences between how a class is led versus a small group, or how a community service-oriented group is organized versus a prayer group.

Balancing Content with Life-Change
For new group leaders, being at the helm of a group can at times feel daunting. What if no one wants to open up and be vulnerable when answering my questions? What if I feel that I don’t know enough about the topic to lead a conversation? This is the beauty of a discussion-lead small group that leans on materials like sermon discussion notes or a community book: leaders have the content to fall back onto. If it occurs where there are not that many individuals who care to open up a given week, then that’s okay. In such a case, the group is able to use the book (or sermon notes) as fuel to help drive the interaction between the group members. While answering the previously prepared questions, group members can slowly open up at their own pace and eventually come to the realization that they are establishing connections with one another. Nevertheless, life and its challenges still occur (even in the midst of us attending small groups). If the discussion at the beginning of a group meeting reveals that a member of the group is experiencing some major life changes and that they are in need of prayer, then the group can shift gears and minister to those who can benefit from an extra helping of grace and love. Exploring multiple options like these of where to take the group can encourage the group leader to be in alignment with the Holy Spirit’s direction and also help foster an environment that can generate more organic positive life-change to occur within the lives of each group member.


Thursday, July 15, 2021

Prayer and Jesus, the True Watchtower

 


In his writings, legendary evangelist Smith Wigglesworth said, “The Word of God is not to be prayed about, the Word of God has to be received. If you will receive the Word of God, you will always be in a big place. If you pray about the Word of God the devil will be behind the whole thing. Never pray about anything which is ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ It has to be yours to build you on a new foundation of truth.” If you paused for a moment there to make sure you were reading that right, then you’re in good company. When I first had read that, I too had to double back and try to understand what he had meant. I remember thinking, “Why should we not be praying about the word of God?” Yet as I paused further to reflect, I eventually realized that although the difference between the two appears to be subtle, it becomes a bold and powerful perspective on prayer once we understand it and apply it to our lives.

In our last article, we discussed how Satan is like a circuit court judge and how Jesus’ authority and ruling will always be able to overpower the efforts of the evil one. In addition, it was mentioned that a case must be filed and submitted to a higher court before any review and overturning of ruling can be declared. In the Christian context, this method of spiritual “appeal” for us is our prayers, and if we believe that the wrong judgment was made upon our lives by the devil, then we confidently appeal to the Lord in our time of prayer.

But if we are to appeal to the Lord with a Wigglesworth approach, what might that look like? For example, if  the devil is trying to make a judgment that brandishes us as a hopelessly lost person who is forever enslaved by our past sins, we don’t just simply pray: “Scripture says in Isaiah 1:18 that ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool…’” Rather, a prayer that receives and imbues Scripture into our hearts may instead sound like, “Lord, my sins were red as scarlet, but God, you have made them as white as snow through the perfect sacrifice of your Son Jesus Christ so that my crimson red sins can be made as wool in the realm of the eternal!”

Or if we feel that the devil is trying to make a judgment upon us that tries to disqualify us from serving in the kingdom of God due to the insecurities we hold over ourselves, we don’t just simply pray: “Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 12:7 that “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Rather, a prayer that receives and imbues Scripture into our hearts may instead sound like, “Lord, I believe your word and your word says that I have been blessed with a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good of the kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit empowers me in one or more areas of my life to be more than a match for Satanic forces.”

This is what Smith Wigglesworth meant in the difference between praying about Scripture and receiving Scripture within our hearts so that we own our faith within our prayers. Praying with such conviction bolsters our hearts and our minds as it allows us to reach for levels of holiness that are essential in today’s day and age. 2020 clearly made it known that the path ahead is slated to be challenging journey for the world as a whole. Similar to a group of travelers who decide to venture into the wilderness, they will look at the surrounding landscape from a higher vantage point in order to get a proper view of what to expect. Once they climb into an outpost or a watchtower, they are able can see not only a proper path to pursue, but they can also be aware of any alarming situations like predators that are lurking about. In a large field with tall grass, a lion can successfully remain unseen and prowl without being noticed, but the same lion looks quite foolish to any onlookers if they can easily see it from a watchtower. This is precisely what we are called as Disciples of Christ to do: to operate on a level that is completely different than the evil one. Because we are lifted up and protected by Jesus who is our outpost and solid foundation, the devil’s attempts at spiritual warfare are unable to be hidden from us and we can then clearly see his presence and any dangers that may lay ahead.

To help us capture this essence and this passion in our prayers, allow me to leave you with one last quote from the writings of Smith Wigglesworth: “I never saw a man get anything from God who prayed on the earth. If you get anything from God, you will have to pray into heaven; for it is all there. If you are living in the earth realm and expect things from heaven, they will never come. And I saw, in the presence of God, the limitations of my faith, there came another faith, a faith that could not be denied, a faith that took the promise, a faith that believed God’s Word. And from that presence, I came back again to earth, but not as the same man. God [gives] a faith that could shake hell and anything else.”


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Supreme Court and Jesus, the True Judge

 

We must acknowledge an important spiritual reality of the world that we live in: it is the reality that Satan is the ruler of this world’s fleshly-driven affairs. Such a statement need not catch us off guard, for 2 Corinthians 4:4 informs us of this, explaining that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”, NIV). While the book of Revelation gives us the perspective of the eternal and informs us of the defeat of Satan before the forces of God, one of the biggest mistakes we Christians can make on the topic of spiritual warfare is to underestimate the evil one and forget that the battle is still ongoing here in the physical realm (a fight in which we find ourselves caught in the middle). Rather than ending up as collateral damage from the continuous onslaught that Satan hurls upon this earth, let us refresh our understanding of his limitations so that we are more properly equipped for the spiritual confrontations that lay ahead of us.

As much as he might try, we know from Scripture that the devil can never obtain the ability to judge as justly or as righteously as God. After all, Jesus is the one true judge, as seen in our previous article on this series which covered Revelation 19:11. In addition, we can revisit the words of Jesus Himself, who in John 8:15-16 said, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me”; and in John 5:30, where He said, “My judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”

Even with the lordship of Jesus established, it won’t stop the devil from trying to become a judge with the same kind of power. But according to 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Revelation 19:11, Satan’s reach and jurisdiction is only within this earthly realm. He doesn’t have authority in the eternal, and if you and I are claimed by the Lord, then the devil has no chance of being able to snatch you or me out from the hand of Jesus (John 10:28). Thus, his attempt to judge you and me from his ramshackle, pitiful throne can only be done on earthly, temporal terms. In other words, his actions are unable to touch eternity and his jurisdiction stops at the edge of time. Yet while he may be the ruler of this world, Matthew 24:35 reminds us that “this earth will pass away, but [the words of Jesus] will never pass away.” When this earth passes away, Satan's throne will be destroyed with it.

In the end, Satan may try to gather all the material he can to try and judge us. However, even if he recorded all of our actions and all of our sins, the spiritual reality is that he still has absolutely no power over God in the eternal. Even on this earth, he struggles to gain a foothold in the lives of the alert Christians who understand Luke 10:19, where Jesus says, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Indeed, once we believe that Jesus has given His disciples this authority, the snake may bite but it has been de-venomized. For us, we walk in confidence, knowing that the sting of eternal death has been removed.

It is similar to the difference between a circuit court judge and a Supreme Court judge. If you don’t like the ruling of a circuit court, you can continue to appeal until eventually it can make its way to the Supreme Court. The devil is like a circuit court judge. He has some level of power and he can make a ruling in one direction or another. Should we accept the ruling of the circuit judge, we must live with the changes that such a ruling may bring upon our lives. However, if we feel that we are still in the right and that our case has not been properly heard, then we can appeal. For us Christians, this means that we have the ability to appeal to a higher authority: A higher judge, THE Supreme Court judge: Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, it is not enough to merely claim that the devil circuit court judge was wrong. From the legal perspective, a higher court will not make a ruling to overturn the lesser circuit court until the case is brought forward to the higher court. In other words, the case must be filed before any action is taken by the higher court. In the Christian circumstance, our method and our vehicle through which an appeal is made is prayer. In our final article remaining in the series, we will explore this concept further on what our prayer “appeals” can look like and how we can put our previous knowledge in this series to use.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Revelation and Jesus, the True Ruler

 

In our last article, we took the time to establish how Jesus is the true king. In this week’s article, we will build upon this truth and explore how Jesus is the true ruler. To help us refresh our memories on this key concept, let us make a short stop in Revelation 19:11-16. “11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (NIV). What an amazing image of Jesus. This portrayal of our Lord and Savior on His magnificent steed is placed right in the middle of the process where the destroyers of the earth are being undone one by one. But who are these destroyers of the earth and where is this piece of text within the greater span of Revelation?

When observing the structure of Revelation as a whole, it tends to reflect a pattern where a sandwiching format is often used. Among other smaller formatting patterns, Revelation scholar Craig Koester notes that the book of Revelation consists of 6 vision cycles that are book-ended by an introduction and conclusion on either side. Each of the 6 individual vision cycles within the book begin and end with the presence of God and/or John commenting on what he is seeing in the heavens. Yet this isn’t the only type of pattern you’ll find in this cryptic book of the Bible. There is another sandwich-like pattern that you’ll find in the book, namely the introduction of and the undoing of the destroyers of the earth (this takes place throughout the course of vision cycles 4,5 and 6).

Throughout the text, Revelation depicts three primary destroyers of the earth: first we have Satan (we see in chapter 12 that he is thrown from heaven to earth); second, the beast and false prophet (scholars typically combine these two together and these two are introduced in chapter 13); and third, Babylon the whore (introduced in chapter 17). In the order that these three destroyers are introduced, Koester also notes that they are disposed of in reverse order. First, Babylon the whore is undone by the beast in the same chapter that she is introduced, chapter 17. From here, the beast and false prophet are conquered next in chapter 19. Finally, Satan is thrown from earth into the abyss and lake of fire in chapter 20. So here in the excerpt of text from Revelation 19 where we are currently focusing, this places us right in the middle of the destroyers of the earth being addressed (The beast and false prophet are actually disposed of in the few verses right afterward in verses 17-21). In this moment of the Bible, we are witnessing one of the most powerful, awe inspiring, and quite frankly terrifying descriptions of the perfect power that Jesus Christ administers against the forces of evil. These destroyers of the earth are the most powerful forces that hell could possibly be sent to fight, yet they are absolutely decimated by our magnificent Lord.

But this stunning portrayal of our perfect and powerful Lord isn’t new to Revelation. If anything, Revelation perfectly encapsulates what has been shown throughout Scripture up until this point. Isaiah 11:3-4 says, “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked” (NIV). In addition, Psalm 9:8-12 says, “He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done. For he who avenges blood remembers; he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted” (NIV). 

Indeed, what we see here in Revelation 19 is a perfect representation of who the Messiah is described and depicted within the Old Testament. Jesus is the true fulfillment of the Scriptures, and we see Him to be the one true ruler who is able to execute such judgment in a truly objective and flawless manner (a feat that no person except the Son of God can do). Jesus is the only ruler with perfect judgment who we can place our faith and trust in).


Thursday, June 3, 2021

Robin Hood and Jesus, the True King

 

Disney’s 1973 film Robin Hood is a classic tale of adventure, romance, and dispensation of righteous judgment. The film depicts a state of England where the de facto king at the time (named Prince John) is unfairly taxing the people of Nottingham to such a high degree that their very livelihoods are severely affected. Later in the movie, we see Prince John raise the taxes so high that he imprisons the people of the town who are unable to pay their abhorrently high dues. Everyone understood that Prince John was ruling unfairly, and that it was only a matter of time before his brother, the real king (King Richard), would return and resume his rightful place on the throne. Yet even though the people only needed to wait Prince John out, life under his rule was still exceedingly difficult for the townspeople of Nottingham.

In the midst of this state of affairs, we see the dashing Robin Hood, branded as an enemy of the state because he was robbing from the rich and giving back to the poor. While there is a subplot of Robin Hood pursuing his childhood sweetheart Maid Marian throughout the course of the movie, the greater path of the story follows the unfair imprisonment of the townspeople of Nottingham (due to the high taxes) and Robin Hood’s efforts to free the townspeople from the grasp of Prince John. At the end of the movie, not only does King Richard return and ensure that his people remain free, but we are also informed that Prince John and his minions are placed under arrest and Robin Hood is pardoned.

If viewed through the lens of Christianity, one can’t help but notice some similarities between Prince John and the behavior of Satan. First, we see that Prince John is a temporary king who everyone recognizes to not be the ruler with true power (He may be in power right now, but everyone knows that it won’t be for long, once the real king returns). If we compare this to Satan, we know that the devil may have some power now over this earth, but it won’t be forever and his ability to rule will end the moment that the true king returns (2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation chapters 19-20).

Second, Prince John employs his sheriff and snake advisor and other guards to do his bidding, while he runs away when disarmed and, like a big baby, sucks his thumb out of raging jealousy at the mention of the true king’s name. We see this in the spiritual realm too, where the devil has an army of demons and appointed generals to do the evil biddings of the army of darkness, while he too cowers and runs away at the very mention of the name of Jesus Christ (James 4 :7-8).

Third, the taxation policies of Prince John are impacting the townspeople so much that they are unable to live their lives in a way that the true king would want them to be able to live. Once again, this is quite like Satan’s treatment of us on how the shame, the guilt, and the torment that we are now experiencing at the hands of the devil is not God’s desire for how we are to live our lives (James 1:17-18). In other words, this Prince John is a fake, pseudo-king who tries to bring judgment upon the people of Nottingham when in reality he holds no true power and is destined to not only fail but will also be shackled and condemned himself.

What if we looked upon the devil like we view Prince John from the 1973 Disney film Robin Hood, bemused at his raging jealousy while knowing in the back of our minds that his reign will be ending soon? What if we saw today’s spiritual warfare from the lens of eternity, where we know the fake king is imprisoned and the throne of the true king will inevitably be restored? It is here on this concept where we will pause and reflect. Throughout the span of the next few articles, join us as we will meditate upon the perfect judgment of Jesus Christ and how no other person in the earthly or spiritual realm (not even Satan himself) can come close to the power of Jesus Christ.


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

3 Ways We Can Hear the Voice of God

 

The topic of hearing the voice of God never fails to stir up the interest and conversation of fellow Christians (and at times, even from individuals of differing faiths or of no faith). Yet if you encountered a new believer who wasn’t quite sure of what to think on the matter, what would you say? In his book Hearing God, Dallas Willard eases his readers into such a conversation. In his wonderful book, he gives loose guidance that recommends checking three points of reference, sometimes referred to as the “three lights” which we can consult when determining what the Lord would have us do. He says that these are 1) Circumstances; 2) Impressions of the Spirit; and 3) Passages of the Bible. Let us briefly explore each of these three as an introduction to this noteworthy topic.

Circumstances
For us to believe that God is speaking to us through the events of our lives, then it seems likely that our circumstances are causing disruptions in our lives that are large enough for us to pause and ask, “Why am I here?” or “Is God trying to tell me something?” While it is also true that our circumstances could be markers or guiderails to help us make decisions that are more in line with the will of God, the circumstances we experience will inevitably provide God with more of an opportunity to show us His eternal perspective. While there is a slight pierce in the truth of his words, Henry Blackaby’s voice brings clarity to the matter, telling us that “when you face confusing circumstances, don’t blame God. Don’t give up following Him. Go to God. Ask Him to reveal the truth of your circumstances…When He becomes the Lord of your life, He alone has the right to be: the Focus of your life; the Initiator in your life; the Director of your life. That is what it means for Him to be Lord.”

Impressions of the Spirit
Feeling an impression of the Spirit is hard to describe with words. Yet, once we begin to recognize the voice of God, the movement of the Spirit can be almost unmistakable. Similar to how a child is able to discern their parents’ voices amid the cacophony of noises on the busy playground, we also can develop a keen ear to know when the Lord is reaching out to us. Rather than expecting a constant stream of theophanies like the burning bush in Exodus 3, Willard explains that such impressions of the Spirit are actually the most common path for hearing from the Lord for those who are living in harmony with God. He continues, mentioning that “as we become used to the idea that God is friendly and helpful, that He desires to straighten, inform and correct for our good as well as to comfort and encourage and that He really does love us, then we can begin to pray heartily with Psalms 139:23” (“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”, NIV).

Passages of the Bible
Available on-demand for any person who has a Bible nearby, the Word of God remains as an inerrant and consistent source of truth for the Christian faith. Willard annotates that while our modern interpretations provide more scholarly insight than centuries prior, we must refrain from depending upon the human translation to be a replacement of the voice of God. Indeed, he says that “our dependence as we read the Bible today must be on God, who now speaks to us in conjunction with [the Bible] and with our best efforts to understand it” (emphasis mine). Legendary evangelist Smith Wigglesworth shares in his book Faith that Prevails a quote that I could not break apart or shorten, for it was just too good and needed to be read in its entirety: “A man gave this remarkable testimony concerning the Word: ‘Never compare this Book with other books. Comparisons are dangerous. Never think or never say that this Book contains the Word of God. It is the Word of God. It is supernatural in origin, eternal in duration, inexpressible in value, infinite in scope, regenerative in power, infallible in authority, universal in interest, personal in application, inspired in totality. Read it through. Write it down. Pray it in. Work it out. And then pass it on.’”


Thursday, May 6, 2021

Stop Overfunctioning In Your Youth Ministry

 

In her book Leaders Who Last, Margaret Marcuson highlights the importance of balance within our lives and within church ministry. Through her book, she recommends that we dodge the tendency to become what she refers to as an “overfunctioner,” or in other words an individual who does not regulate themselves and who takes on too much responsibility for the various tasks at hand. Are we guilty of being overfunctioners within our own youth ministries? One can’t help but wonder if this may indeed be an important conversation to have when considering that the average tenure of a youth pastor is commonly recognized to be between 2 and 4 years. Let us explore more of what Marcuson has to say on the topic to help us achieve a healthy balance of work and life within our lives.

What is Overfunctioning?
Overfunctioning occurs when we have an unhealthy tendency to dive in and do the majority of the work ourselves in order to complete the items that need to be addressed. Marcuson explains that the cause of this overfunctioning oftentimes occurs when we lack the patience and maturity to wait. Perhaps caused by a growing frustration that something isn’t moving as fast as we would like it to progress within our ministry, it isn’t long until the youth leaders, volunteers, and students become accustomed to the youth pastor saying that they’ll take care of all of the odds and ends associated with running the youth ministry. Finally, after a few short years of intense and demanding youth services, we suddenly are surprised to find ourselves in a state of burnout.

What Causes Overfunctioning?
If we look to a church’s adult ministry as an example, the head pastor cannot tackle every single need that may arise within a given service or throughout the administration of the church. Rather, trustworthy men and women of God are appointed over key ministries such as worship, tech, prayer, etc. The good news is that youth ministry can operate in a similar manner. However, if a model such as this is not implemented within the church’s youth ministry and if an increasing number of tasks are being left for the youth pastor to complete, then it may be an indicator that the ministry’s vision is not clear or not clearly communicated. It’s no secret that volunteers and students are eager to be a part of a movement that positively impacts the kingdom of God. Yet outside of Spirit-filled revival, it is typically only when the churchgoers and lay leaders buy into a church’s vision that real movement and transformation both begin to take place within the community. So instead of rolling our sleeves up and oiling every squeaky wheel or setting up every single PowerPoint slide, it may benefit us more in the long run to take a moment and recast the vision of the youth ministry for those who have been placed in our care. Marcuson agrees, highlighting that when we rush in to do the work that is necessary, we are not only robbing ourselves of our own precious personal time, but we are also robbing the opportunity for someone else to have the chance to serve the Lord with the spiritual gift(s) that they possess.

Leadership Brings Emotional Freedom and Flexibility
One of the noteworthy quotes from Marcuson’s text is that “perseverance is one of the chores of leadership.” Such wisdom reminds me of James 5:10-11, where Scriptures say that “we call blessed those who showed endurance.” She explains that leadership is moving from controlling others to managing ourselves; that leadership is when we continue to define ourselves and our goals; that leadership is when we balance individuality and togetherness; and that leadership is when we are clear, calm, and confident in communicating the direction of the vision that we are casting. However, even with these truths established, we still must have maturity to understand that culture change is almost always evolutionary instead of revolutionary. It is when we have this realization that we’ll be able to achieve what Marcuson calls “emotional freedom and flexibility,” where we are “less in a position of blaming them and more in a position to appreciate what [volunteers] give [us] and their strengths” (instead of focusing too much on feelings involved with running the ministry). As we move from resentment of incomplete tasks to gratitude of what our amazing volunteers are already providing, it can help us to become more understanding of others’ spiritual journeys and how our ministry’s vision can fully employ the giftings and strengths of those who the Lord has led to be a part of our team.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Breaking Through Spiritual Languish

 

Last month, the world recognized the 1-year anniversary of the start of a global pandemic, where life as we all knew it suddenly came to a screeching halt and our lives would be forever changed. Now after 13 months, the initial shock of a changed lifestyle has faded, and a different feeling has now begun to creep into our day-to-day lives: languishing. Organizational psychologist and best-selling author Adam Grant recently wrote an article for the New York Times that explores this feeling and what we can do about it. Today, we will review its findings and discuss how applicable this also is to believers within the church.

What is Languishing?
To help us understand more about this feeling of “bleh” that we might be experiencing, Grant explains that languishing is “a sense of stagnation and emptiness,” where you’re not experiencing burnout or depression, but instead a feeling that is “somewhat joyless and aimless.” He unpacks this further, highlighting that “when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference.” Our work days become affected as our ability to focus slips; our desire to plan any travel with the family fades as we wonder if any bookings or flights made will soon be disrupted by the ebbs and flows of active Covid-19 cases; our friends who we often kept in touch with begin to drift further away as the days melt together and we find ourselves forgetting to call them once again. I was surprised by how much of the article resonated with me as I began to take inventory of my own personal outlook of the current season. And while this all could certainly be noticed within my work and family life, I couldn’t help but also wonder as to how much this was impacting my faith walk as well?

Working Towards Spiritual “Flow”
To help answer the question of what we can do about this feeling of languish, Grant proposes for us to try and work towards a state of “flow” within our personal lives, a concept that he declares as “that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts.” In the church, this means that we find an opportunity to utilize our spiritual gifts. Grant adds, “Getting more done isn’t just good for performance at work: We now know that the most important factor in daily joy and motivation is a sense of progress.” This means that despite the heaviness or the disinterest that we may be feeling, we step forward and sign up to serve at that upcoming church event, regardless of the level of languish that we may be currently slogging through. It means we sign up for a small group that commits to meeting on a scheduled basis so that we can support one another and live life together. Or perhaps it could mean that we commit to attending church service more consistently and picking up our Bibles to read once again. Whatever it might be, what is important to acknowledge is that these actions likely won’t start with us wanting to do them; the devil won’t allow such things. After all, he knows that once we start to make moves for the kingdom of God, it will lessen his ability to use this feeling of languish to his advantage. To break out of a state of spiritual languish, the commitment to engage must come first before the desire to engage.

No More Waiting
While much of 2020 felt like a waiting game where we were supposed to ride out the storm until things returned to normal, it is growing increasingly apparent for us to acknowledge that we will not return to the church of 2019. Is this pessimistic to hold such a view? Perhaps. Yet the solidification of a new world ahead is becoming more and more affirmed with each passing day. Similar to how air travel was completely redefined after 9/11/2001, our society’s methods of interacting with each other are also in the process of being redefined and forever changed (whether we like it or not). And while we would not want to fault anyone for their desire to continue waiting for a return to the good ol’ days of 2019, the spiritual reality here is that such a stance could negatively impact to the spiritual growth of those around us. Indeed, the devil absolutely delights in keeping us in a Laodicean state of lukewarmness (Revelation 3:14-17). Breaking out of this state requires intentional effort that we will need to be held accountable to.

To help us progress, Grant encourages us to “try starting with small wins.” Practicing this strategy through the lens of Christianity can be encouraging. Rather than thinking that we can win the war against Satan through our own efforts, we employ the power of the Holy Spirit and focus on winning the skirmish that is front of us. We start with one battle. With each victory notch that we can declare on our spiritual warfare belts, the devil appears weaker and weaker as we look back and see his inability to win over the long haul. This week, take inventory of your mental health. Ask for the Holy Spirit to empower you to put something on your calendar that will move you in the direction of a healthy state of spiritual flow.

“We cannot return to the past, but we can learn how to treasure relationships as ends rather than means, and we can recapture a transcending biblical vision of commitment and community that will make us more human and less controlled by our culture.”
~ Kenneth Boa


Friday, April 9, 2021

Small Group Prayers that Spark Inner Healing

The Word of God will forever remain as a testament to the powerful ministry of Jesus Christ. While His divine role as Lord and Savior will continue to impact this world until the earth passes on, His brief period of in-person ministry also gives us an inside look to the divine nature of who the Son of God is and how the Spirit can move within the physical realm. Through actions like teaching, casting out demons, forgiving sins, and conducting miraculous healings, Jesus showed us a tiny glimpse of what the kingdom of God can do when it intersects with our world. Yet apart from His miracles, we understand that many of Jesus’s actions were not conducted solely because of His divinity. After all, many of the apostles and disciples went on to execute similar healings, exorcisms, spirit-filled teachings, and other power encounters that contributed toward the establishment of the early church. Rather, Dr. Terry Wardle postulates in his book Healing Care, Healing Prayer that Jesus’s ability to accomplish these moments of ministry was instead based upon the intimate relationship that He had with the Holy Spirit.

Our Role in Inner Healing Prayer
This spiritual truth is something that we can be excited about as well. Indeed, if the disciples were able to facilitate powerful moments such as these, then, by extension, we too have the same potential when we make efforts to minister alongside the Holy Spirit within our own respective ministries. One such ministry opportunity that we might be able to take part in is what Dr. Wardle describes as “inner healing prayer,” or where “a caregiver partners with the Holy Spirit and humbly positions themselves to be an instrument of His powerful touch.” By doing so, the caregiver is able to facilitate “an encounter with the Living Christ, precisely where the broken have been severely wounded and deceived.” He goes on to explain that “inner healing prayer is a ministry that brings a broken person before the Healing Lord, where they can experience love, acceptance and freedom. The caregiver has the privilege to serve as a bridge that joins a ravaged heart with a Ravished Heart.”

Catered Ministry Through Groups
By being in a small group, individuals can get to know one another over a longer period of time and cater transformative prayer to each members’ specific needs. Wardle agrees, explaining that inner healing prayer is best applied when we can see and identify the interrelationships that are occurring within the life of the hurting individual. Oftentimes such connections can be made in our groups as we engage in the type of heartfelt conversation that builds one another up and encourages one another to remain accountable. It is here why we had initially explored what small group members and small group leaders can do within the journey of inner healing. When small group members and small group leaders first take the time to exhibit a tangible Christ-like love and acceptance toward a fellow group member in the physical realm, it can help to create a wider roadway through which the Holy Spirit can transmit the same level of care within the spiritual realm as well.

Being Conduits for the Spirit
Prayer in this type of group environment is not simply just a list of things that are brought to God. Rather, the prayers offered within this setting can be similar to a Romans 8:26 “sigh too deep for words,” where those in the group who may have experienced inner healing in the past can take on the role of the "wounded healer" and intercede for those who are currently in need. Wardle describes this as the essence of inner healing prayer, where it is “a ministry of the Holy Spirit that moves through a Christian caregiver and brings the Healing Presence of Jesus Christ into the place of pain and brokenness within a wounded person.” Let us serve one another and be a blessing by helping our fellow group members take one step further in the journey of healing. Let us be instruments for the Lord and invite the Holy Spirit into our group settings so that He is no longer impeded by any obstacles. Let us partner with the Spirit by encountering Him within this powerful ministry of inner healing prayer.

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Healing Impact of Small Group Leaders

 

For anyone that’s been a part of a small group, we can all relate to the anxious feelings of the first few nights. Right from the start of the very first group meeting, we begin assessing the environment of our small group as we gauge whether or not it’s a safe environment to be vulnerable within. And since it may take a few meetings for the group to navigate through the “forming” stage of group formation, it’s possible that group members may keep their hearts under lock and key until after the “storming” stage passes. Yet despite this, the small group leader can play a role in speeding up the group’s ability to be comfortable with one another and to be more open to the stages of inner healing.

Self-Care and Personal Development
For the small group leaders who work full-time jobs, who are raising families, who enjoy various hobbies, and who also decide to serve elsewhere within the church, life can suddenly become very busy. Indeed, the more we fill our calendars, the more likely we may find ourselves sacrificing our personal time with Jesus for the next event or activity on the never-ending list of things to do. It is here where Dr. Terry Wardle in his book Healing Care, Healing Prayer draws our attention, reminding us caregivers to not only ensure that we remain tethered to the word of God, but to also stay connected to other Christians who are committed to the ministry of the Holy Spirit (I would add that in this context, this would be a group of Christians outside of the small group that the individual leads). While these two activities may be shrugged off as collateral damage under the busyness of the daily grind, they are actually critical for the small group leader. After all, if we do not spend time in the Scriptures, the world will distract us from keeping the Lord’s teachings and commandments at the forefront of our minds. And if we do not engage in community with the body of Christ, we may find ourselves experiencing burnout as we neglect the relationships that can pour life back into us and sharpen our hearts (Proverbs 27:17).

The Wounded Healer
In her book Leaders Who Last, Margaret Marcuson says “we cannot lead others further than we are willing to go ourselves. If we want people to go deeper in the spiritual life, if we want them to grow up emotionally, if we want them to be more authentic, we have to show the way. Leadership starts with us.” Author and leadership expert John Maxwell defines this principle as the “Law of the Lid,” where an organization’s reach and influence can't go beyond where the leader wants to go (or more likely, where the leader decides to stop). This concept can be applied to small groups as well, where individuals may find it difficult to be led to a place of inner healing if the leader has not first been there themselves. Just as we see in 2 Corinthians 12:10, Wardle refers to this as the role of the “wounded healer.” He elaborates, “Only in weakness can the strength of Christ flow through a caregiver to the people who turn to him for help. The wounded caregiver must be touched by the Wounded [Christ] to offer healing to the wounded.” Wardle’s words here are encouraging, for it is when a small group leader experiences inner healing first that they can then be a powerful conduit for the comfort of God that then flows to the others who are placed in their care. By offering one’s testimony of their own journey of inner healing, the small group leader can effectively establish themselves as a “wounded healer.” By sharing their heart, the degree of the leader’s own display of vulnerability can help encourage the other group members to be vulnerable and courageous as well within future gatherings.

Discernment in Sharing
But how much of our story do we leaders offer? If we air out too much of our dirty laundry, does that cause us to lose credibility? While this article from April 2019 may be of some assistance, it is still a tough question to answer. Since every situation is different, it is here where the utilization of a mentorship program at the church can help. One popular method of organizing a mentorship program within the church’s small group ministry is referred to as the Jethro model (Exodus 18), where a coach (who isn’t a small group leader) is assigned to serve and be a guide for a collection of small group leaders. If unsure as to if a certain testimony or story is safe to share, running it upline to one’s coach or church staff member can help provide the clarity or guidance that is needed on the matter. If it is an experience that highlights victory in Christ, than it will likely be a positive story to share. Indeed, it is through a celebration of finding new life in Christ where we can establish close connections with one another and support each other through the seasons of life where community and Jesus can impact us the most.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Healing Support of Fellow Small Group Members

 

During various moments within each of our lives, we are confronted with events or circumstances that give us the opportunity to pursue inner healing. Until we are called by the Lord and meet Jesus in heaven, we are exposed to the inevitable pain and challenges of this world. While the hurt and lies that we may have experienced can create spiritual scars on our souls, we tend to find activities, habits, and behaviors to cover up or ignore these scars throughout our adulthood. Yet due to the pandemic, the lockdowns, and the impact on mental health that isolation has made upon us, we have begun to recognize that the events surrounding this last year have acted as a revealing agent, exposing the underlying spiritual struggles that may have lay dormant until now. For example, an individual struggling with self-value and performance addiction may have been able satisfy that gap at the office or on the ballfield; or perhaps a person afflicted by a lack of love and acceptance within their lives may have been able to find temporary solace within the dating scene. However, due to such a drastic interruption to our normal schedules, hobbies, and outlets, many of us were suddenly confronted with the turmoil of our spiritual wounds that we were no longer able to ignore or cover up.

Perhaps this may be partially why the world is now experiencing a mental health crisis, and perhaps this may also be why the pursuit of inner healing has become a hot topic of ministry as of late. During our previous article, we began our discussion on the concept of inner healing, as introduced by Dr. Terry Wardle in his book Healing Care, Healing Prayer. And while his book is certainly an excellent resource for any minister or caregiver that provides care at the individual level, what if we were to instead explore Dr. Wardle’s work through the lens of a church’s small group ministry?

The Structures Inner Healing
Wardle explains in his book that in order to experience inner healing from the wounds that are buried deep within our lives, we must first identify the lies and distortions that the evil one has used to lead us astray. But in order to identify these lies and distortions, we must first walk through the emotional upheaval that comes from confronting the dysfunctional behaviors that had caused the original disrupting life situation. For example, let us propose a hypothetical situation where a man who is a part of a small group shares that his wife has left him (the disrupting life situation). As the group discusses the serious matter in depth, it is discovered that one of the reasons that she had left him was due to the daily heated arguments that would inevitably lead to him inflicting verbal abuse upon his wife (dysfunctional behavior). From here, the man begins to repent in his heart and learn from his fellow group members about the role that God called him to uphold as husband and how such behavior is sinful (emotional upheaval). As the group explores the matter further, the man explains that since the husband was supposed to be the leader of the household, he always had assumed that there was no need for compromise since he presumably had the right to call the shots within all areas of the household (Lies and distortions). Finally, at the deepest moment in the journey, the man discovers that the lies he has believed for so long may likely be linked to the trauma he experienced as a child, witnessing his father severely abusing his mother.

The Group as a Partner, Not a Doctor
Within the context of a small group, one of the most crucial elements for a person’s ability to open up to others in their journey of inner healing is the group’s ability to offer a loving and trustworthy level of grace and support. This hypothetical scenario would not take place without prayer or without the Holy Spirit's involvement, and it would almost certainly not happen within the length of one small group meeting. In fact, there’s no guarantee that all of the aforementioned stages could be completed within the environment of the small group. Yet what is important to note is that the higher the quality of love and support that the group can offer to the hurting individual, the better the chances are for the group to be able to walk alongside the person throughout the journey of inner healing.

The Need to Be Understanding
Still, we must remain practical. Although it would be ideal to believe that all of these structures of inner healing would go as swimmingly as this pretend scenario, we also must be comfortable with the pace at which the individual actually responds to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the man might only offer the surface level of details about his wife leaving him before making the decision to seek professional care. Or perhaps the group is able to help him walk through some of the emotional upheaval involved with repentance before he ends up seeking additional care from their pastor or a counselor. Regardless, what is important to stress here is a reiteration of what was mentioned in the previous article: that small groups are not meant to be a replacement for counseling, and nor could it be promised that small groups can be as effective as or more effective than professional care. Instead, what the group members can strive to do is to be a supportive partner for the individual who is pursuing the journey of inner healing.

Indeed, deep wounds take time to unravel, and an individual that traverses through the experience of inner healing often finds that the complexities of each of these steps are layered upon one another and that they must be peeled back slowly in order to identify the next steps that lay ahead. Some individuals are more introspective in their style when reflecting upon serious matters of the heart, while others need to process their thoughts through the interaction with others. Nevertheless, either style requires the small group to submerge their meetings in submissive prayer while they meet the individual in their current position of the inner healing journey, all the while they continue to support the person with a phileo-like love that upholds and exemplifies friendship, companionship, and openness.


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!