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Starting Online Small Groups

The Coronavirus outbreak has opened a new chapter in starting online small groups. Online small groups aren’t a new thing. I was in an online small group on CompuServe in 1992! That might make me the grandfather of online small groups. But, online groups might be new to you.

The Pursuit Church in Minot, ND just launched online small groups off of their online service on March 22, 2020. This church of 1,500 already had about 60 small groups. On that Sunday, 30 people stepped up to start new online small groups. Could you imagine increasing your small groups by 50% in one day. You can hear Tara Wiley tell The Pursuit’s story along with seven principles of starting online small groups.

The Freebies mentioned in this video are available here.

If you want to jump to a specific point of the video:

What You Need to Start Online Small Groups (Point starts at time code indicated):

  1. A willing, caring person to initiate (8:50).
  2. A system to connect (13:58).
  3. A platform to meet on (18:10).
  4. Curriculum to guide (25:14).
  5. Just-in-time training and coaching (30:49).
  6. Follow up and feedback (34:51).
  7. Supervision and accountability (35:59)

Case Study: The Pursuit Church, Minot, ND (44:17)

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This Week’s Question: What are the underlying sins behind prejudice, discrimination, and isms like racism, sexism, and chauvinism?

 

Sin, in the Old Testament, was defined by the law (a series of dos and don’ts), and Israelites could not decide which rule, law, or command they adhered to. James reports, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2:10).” Therefore, one had to follow God’s entire law to be deemed righteous. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, acknowledged He did not come to abolish the law (Matthew 5:17-20), but to fulfill it; and in doing so He established a new covenant by which mankind will be judged: Romans 14:23 teaches, “… for whatever is not from faith is sin.” This New Testament standard differs from the Old Testament in which sin was defined discreetly. Today, those who lack faith in the Godhead, Scripture, or God’s commandment to love – commit one (or more), of the following sins: lust, pride, or fear, which is the basis for this post.

 

I John 2:16-17 describes sin generally, “For all that is in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” John, in this passage, identifies three carnal sins: (1) Lust of the flesh; (2) Lust of the eyes; and (3) Pride. The motive behind lust is envy and one commits lust of the eyes when he/she covets (or desires) what does not belong to them. It may be money, power, possessions, or people (like another’s husband or wife). Whenever that which is coveted is dwelt upon (rather than relegating it to a fleeting thought), a sin is committed. Lust's inherent danger is it entices us to act immorally. Therefore, the commission of a lustful act (whether robbery, infidelity, or surrendering to a vice), is the sin John calls lust of the flesh. Unfortunately, strife (which is defined Biblically as “a partisan and fractious spirit which does not disdain low arts”), regularly accompanies envy in The Bible. James addresses the envy/strife tandem by saying, “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work (James 3:14-16).” Having a lustful heart, whether it is followed by action or not, is condemned by God.

 

The third sin espoused by John is pride of life which is defined Biblically as “an insolent and empty assurance, which trusts in its own power and resources and shamefully despises and violates divine laws and human rights.” Pride, in my opinion, is America’s greatest sin, and is a sin many must answer to when he/she comes before God’s judgment. Pride is the spirit that credits Christopher Columbus with discovering an inhabited land that resulted in Native Americans being decimated on their own soil. Pride is the spirit that initiated the slave-trade and relegates African-Americans to second-class citizenship, despite the fact that America’s foundation was built on the backs of this disenfranchised people! And pride is a pervasive spirit behind trumpism, nationalism, racism, sexism and every other ism that plagues Americans from all walks of life, and others around the world!

 

James 2:6 castigates a person who gives favorable treatment to a rich person because he/she is well dressed and accessorized (James 2:1-3)! James’ argument is the rich are the ones who oppress, sue, and blaspheme God’s Name. So the question is why do people of humble means cater to tormentors? The answer in one word is lust. The poor lust for the crumbs that can be thrown their way, while minimizing the pain inflicted upon them by the rich and powerful. This scenario may explain why poor whites, en masse, do not stand with African-Americans in their fight for civil rights – gains that, rightfully, would benefit them also! Poor whites, despite their poverty, acquiesce because they still command better jobs, better education, better healthcare, better housing, better prospects for rising above their station, etc., than their African-American counterparts. So the sin of lust is a primary motivator for kowtowing to the rich, but another is pride.

 

James 2:2-3 also describes that perpetrator treating a poor person with disdain, while verse 6 unequivocally states that he/she has contempt for that person. This scenario parallels the attitudes of white nationalists, other hate groups, and seems to be of the same ilk behind white privilege. Pride enables “privileged whites” to believe they are superior to non-whites (vis-à-vis, African-Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants), and condone inhumane treatment towards these, whom they consider, “pariahs.” Therefore, many rallied to the “make America great again,” campaign slogan, to bolster their power, whether real or perceived! The problem is even that slogan has a prideful undertone! In fact, it sounds very much like the attitude of King Nebuchadnezzar before God changed his heart to that of a beast (Daniel 4:30ff). It is interesting that before Nebuchadnezzar’s transformation, Daniel warned him by saying, “Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity (Daniel 4:27).” That same prideful spirit also caused the death of King Herod in Acts 12:21-23. Hopefully, this knowledge will be a wake-up call for anyone with a prideful heart who wants to do God’s will because “… God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

The sad reality is even poor whites may be tormented by the rich and powerful, but they, too, are tooled with an arsenal that includes torment, and use it against non-whites. The senseless Treyvon Martin killing, the inhumane treatment of border immigrants, and the steady proliferation of white nationalism are further evidences of sin cloaked in white pride and coupled with fear! John 4:18 teaches “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” To reiterate what was said in an earlier post, the sin of fear is a motive behind the inhumane treatment immigrants experience today; it is also a motive behind the hostility and rage African-Americans experienced during slavery which persists today; and is a motive behind the annihilation of America’s indigenous population. It has been projected that whites will become a minority, in America, which is contributing to the unfounded fear some whites in this nation are experiencing.

 

In conclusion, it can be proven that lust, pride, and fear are the sins behind other forms of discrimination like sexism, chauvinism, and homophobia. However, while John effectively described the sin, he also outlined the antidote for overcoming the sin. In I John 4:18 he states, “…But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” Love for one’s fellow- man or woman is the perfect antidote for overcoming the sin that so easily besets us: It draws Christ’s Disciples closer to God; It aligns our priorities with God’s priorities; It helps us to see others differently because we understand that we are all in this fight together; and It prepares a home in Gloryland that outshines the sun for Saints who overcome the destructive sins of lust, pride, and fear. James’ summation is this: “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” The truth of the matter is love trumps hate!

 

Next Week’s Question: James 2:5 teaches that God has chosen the poor of this world? Why has He done so?

 

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Suddenly, Everybody has Time for a Small Group

Unless they offer an essential service, suddenly everybody has time for a small group. The #1 excuse people give for not joining a group is that they are too busy or they don’t have enough time. Small Group Pastors know what they are really saying is, “Small group is just not a priority.” I get that. But, now the “I don’t have time” excuse has been erased, and small groups should become a greater priority — even if they can’t meet in person.

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Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Why do you need to start new groups during a pandemic?

Whether by choice or by mandate, people are staying away from other people right now. Church services have gone online. School has gone online in many places. While people are making their best attempts to curtail the spread of a disease, isolation and loneliness coupled with a steady intake of cable news and social media is a breeding ground for fear. Isolation and fear come straight from a page in the enemy’s playbook. The devil is having a heyday with this.

People have spiritual and emotional needs. With all of the conflicting information and no one to discuss this with, the monsters in our people’s heads just become bigger and bigger. Last week I wrote about practicing the “one anothers” of the Bible while in quarantine. People need more than worship and a sermon to reassure them and help them deal with what’s going on. Beyond that some people have practical, physical needs. How is your church keeping up with older people or people with medical conditions. We must find a strategic way to care for our members. Here’s a tough thought — your people can find a better online service. How you help them right now will determine where they go and where they give after this is all over. This is fertile ground for the enemy to do his work. This is a tremendous opportunity for the church to do its work.

As a church staff, you are working hard to transition worship and sermons to online services, but what about the social time people spent in the lobby or even in the parking lot. How are you meeting your members’ need for connection? This is the time to launch new groups. Groups could meet on a video platform. Groups could meet on a free conference call line. While many are forced to be apart, there are ways to be together.

How to Start New Groups

Starting new groups online is not so different than starting groups offline, except you have one advantage. People need connection more than ever. Now is the time to get all hands on deck and start as many groups as possible. Churches must mobilize the most people they can for ministry right now. Your people need personal care like never before. You can do this. Here’s what you need to get started:

A willing, caring person to initiate.

If there was ever a time to bypass bulky requirements for group leaders and get all hands on deck, the time is now. Invite every person who will willing and caring to start a group right now. If you are insecure about that method, then review a copy of your church’s membership roster. Who would you feel good about? Call them and invite them right now. Who is willing and caring? Remember, they suddenly have time for a group.

A system to connect.

Once you have invited people to lead these groups, then ask them who they know who would be interested in a group. Take a week and have them invite everyone they know inside the church or outside the church to join their group. Then, invite the rest of your congregation to sign up online or even give out some names for leaders to call and invite to their group. The idea is that everyone in the congregation would have someone to connect with personally every week.

A platform to meet on.

Some localities are still allowing meetings of groups less than 10 people. If people are comfortable meeting in person, then they can. Personally, I would recommend an online option like a teleconference or a conference call. This will prohibit any unnecessary contact and potential spread of disease. Teleconference services such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and other services offer a stable platform and an easy way to connect online with video. Most services offer a call-in number for those who might be less tech savvy. For a comparison of video platforms, click here. If video is not a good solution because of the internet service in your area, then a free conference line could work as well. Several services are available.

For families with children, encourage them to meet later in the evening when their kids have gone to bed. Wear headphones to eliminate background noise. Mute yourself when you’re not talking. And, do not take your device into the bathroom with you!

Curriculum to guide.

Your groups could start with just a weekly check in to see how everybody is doing. Start the meetings by allowing people to debrief what’s going on in their lives and in their minds. Another great way to start a new group is to ask people to tell their stories or at least the part of the stories that they’re willing to tell. This is an important way for the group to begin to understand each other and have context for what they share in the group.

For new leaders I have discovered that it’s best to use some sort of video-based curriculum that contains the teaching on the video. This makes things safe for both the new leader as well as the pastors. The new leader doesn’t have to be the Bible expert, and the pastors don’t want the new leader to teach or be the Bible expert anyway. By giving them a curriculum that you’ve created or a curriculum that you trust, you could assure that the group will follow the topic that you’ve given them and have a great meeting to encourage each other, build up their faith, and grow spiritually in an unusual time.

Just-in-time training and coaching. Don’t skip this step!

There won’t be a lot of time to train these leaders at first. I have discovered that if you recruit an established leader to follow up with new leaders, you create a win-win situation. The new leaders get help and support right when they need it, and the experience leader gets a trial run at being a coach. Once the trial is over, you can determine whether the new leaders will want to continue and whether the coaches should continue.

Just like groups can meet over a teleconference or conference call, training can also happen in the same way. In the last church I served we had an immediate need for coaches. I knew it would be difficult to add another meeting to an already busy schedule which included all of the coaches leading their own small group, so we met together on a conference line at about 8:30 at night for 30 minutes and did this for about six weeks in a row. Why did we meet so late? Well everybody was home from work, finished with dinner, and their kids were hopefully in bed. With all of these distractions removed, I was able to conduct the training and get these new coaches started. The same can be true for leader training, but I would recommend letting the coaches do the work for at least the first six weeks, then offer more formal training when the leaders are ready to move forward and when the leaders feel like they actually need the training.

Follow up and feedback.

Leading a small group and coaching is important work so you must inspect what you expect. If you’ve asked your coaches to call the new leaders every week, then you need to call the coaches every week and hear what’s going on with the groups. As a pastor, you want to know what’s going on with your people especially during a crisis. Your coaches can give you the needs that you need to address that maybe they cannot. You also get an accurate picture of what’s going on in your small group ministry. If you wait for a report, you are already in the weeds.

Do for your coaches what you expect them to do for your leaders. Just like your people need the care of a leader and your leaders need the care of a coach, your coaches need care from you. Now that your schedule has changed, it shouldn’t be too hard to pick up the phone and give each of your coaches a call.

Supervision and accountability.

While you have successfully given away the ministry to new leaders and new coaches, the only thing that you cannot give away is the responsibility for the ministry. The buck still stops with you. I don’t say this to make you nervous, but I do say this so you will avoid an entirely hands off approach. The coaching structure is effective, but it cannot run on auto pilot. While you are not in the day-to-day care of leaders, you cannot be completely out of it either. This is still your baby.

The End Result

In this climate, everything you do is essentially a startup. You cannot call a meeting and gather people on campus. You cannot do on-site training. You can’t even visit your people in their homes. But you can start online groups that will accomplish all of this. This may go against your personality. This may go against everything that you’ve done before. But the message is the same — We are better together even if we are apart.

By starting new small groups right now, your people will feel less lonely, less isolated, and less fearful. These groups can help your people build their faith and experience the care that they deserve. And the hard truth is that you cannot create that with an email.

My hope for you is that the end result of starting online groups will be at the beginning of something new for your ministry and your church. Pastors and staff cannot possibly meet all of the needs of any congregation. And they shouldn’t. Now more than ever, you need to get your people to engage their gifts and serve others in groups like never before. Don’t waste this moment. Suddenly, everybody has time for a small group!

How to Start Online Small Groups Replay

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Promoting Community While Social Distancing

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, people need each other more than ever before, yet they need to avoid each other more than ever. Christians believe faith is more powerful than fear. As the news media and government agencies continue to discuss the critically important topic of the spread and impact of Coronavirus, it’s easy for anyone to give into fear, especially when they are isolated from others.

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Courtesy of @kenwmurphy via Instagram

Worship services are forced online as groups of 10 are being discouraged to gather. For smaller numbers, social distancing is encouraged where people should stay six feet away from each other. Whether by mandate or by choice, people are cautious about meeting with any size group. Isolation, though, tends to amplify fear. How can we promote community and social distancing at the same time?

Reframing Life and Ministry

The only thing missing from everyday life amid a pandemic is personal contact. The church may not be meeting within the four walls of the church building for an hour on Sunday, but the church can function as the Body of Christ despite the lack conventional church services.

Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians 12 that every member of the Body is important and that every member has gifts. Rather than meeting in weekend services to check off the church box for the week, members can and should be challenged to embrace their deeper calling. Who can they serve? How can they encourage? How can the church be the church outside of the four walls of a Sunday service? We really should be asking these questions anyway.

When we think of small groups in particular, often we focus on practicing the “one anothers” of the Bible.

“Love one another” (John 13:34; John 15:12).

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Romans 12:10).

“Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).

“Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16).

“Stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13).

“Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).

“Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other” (Ephesians 4:32).

“Build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

“Encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).

“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

“Pray for each other” (James 5:16).

There are 59 of these statements in all. (For a complete list, check out this post on smallgroupchurches.com LINK https://www.smallgroupchurches.com/the-59-one-anothers-of-the-bible/

There are only a couple of these statements that should be avoided in a climate of social distancing:

“Wash one another’s feet” (Mark 9:50) and

“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Peter 5:14).

All of the other “one anothers” can be practiced among believers even in isolation, quarantine, and social distancing.

Reframing the Practice of the One Anothers

What is available to believers who are in isolation or self-quarantine? We have computers, tablets, smartphones, messaging, social media, telephones, streaming video services, and televisions. People communicate more while they are apart than when they are actually together it seems! Now take the communications devices available to people and pair them with the one another statements.

With this technology, how do we “encourage one another daily” as stated in Hebrews 3:13. The reality is most people don’t see each other every day. But, given the technology in our hands, we could text or message encouragement to one another daily. Just the other day a friend in Florida came to mind. I texted to see how he was doing. He was discouraged. In a short text, I encouraged him. His response was, “I think that’s just what I needed to hear today. Thank you.” I wasn’t in the same room with him. I wasn’t even in the same state with him, but I was able to encourage him. How can we encourage one another daily when we can’t see them in person? Use what we have!

The same goes for these other “one another” statements as well.

“Love one another” – We can do this anywhere at any time.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” – We can call to check on each other.

“Honor one another above yourselves” – We can think of others before we think of ourselves. How is the pandemic affecting those we know? How about our neighbors?

“Live in harmony with one another” – Distancing may promote harmony in some ways. But in light of a global pandemic, we can also put our differences aside.

“Stop passing judgment on one another” – Everyone acts differently in different situations. Be as gracious in social media as you would if you were talking to the person face to face. People are already anxious. We don’t need to feed into this.

“Serve one another in love” – Can you spare a square? If someone is in need and you have the ability to help, then help them. You might need to make a “no contact” delivery and leave some toilet paper on their doorstep, but you can serve.

“Carry each other’s burdens” – When you call to encourage someone, you can listen. You can empathize. You can’t give them a hug, but you can care.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other” – Life’s too short. Let it go.

“Build each other up” – When people are isolated, their thoughts and our enemy can get the best of them. Lift them up. Send a text about what you like about them. Post a verse. Leave a voice mail.

“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” – We need reminders to move forward and not get stuck. While stuck home from work or school, we have time on their hands. How can we help others?

“Pray for each other” – We can pray over the phone. We can even pray on someone’s voice mail.

Meeting with Your Small Group Online

Hebrews 10:25 instructs us “…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…” Often these instructions are taken for worship services, which today have moved online. The author of Hebrews is more than likely speaking to smaller home gatherings. This is your small group. You could take the risk and meet together in-person. But, let’s face it, we don’t know where the Coronavirus pandemic is going to go. Your group might meet, but some might choose to stay away – either out of caution or out of fear (Remember: “Stop passing judgment on one another”). If we can’t meet in person, we can meet online.

I was part of an online small group on CompuServe in 1992. There was no video or audio. It was basically a chatroom and a message board. It seems like ancient history now, but this was back before most people had ever heard of the internet. On my dialup modem, I connected with Greg in southern California, Trish in Chicagoland, David in California, and a couple in Idaho. Greg wasn’t even a Christian at the time, but he joined our Christian forum because it offered low priced, flat rate service. One day Greg informed the group that he received Christ as his Savior. We all converged on Greg’s house in San Dimas, California for his baptism. Years later, Greg was a groomsman in my wedding. Since moving to the East Coast, we don’t see each other very often, but we still connect.

With online technology today, it’s easier than ever to host groups online. You get to see faces and hear each other’s voices. It’s much better than my CompuServe days! To meet in online groups, you have to pick a platform. I prefer Zoom, which offers both a paid and free service. Group members can connect by video, audio, and/or telephone. I use it every day for staff meetings and coaching groups.

To make group meetings work best, you have to eliminate distractions –close other windows and notifications on your computer, tablet, or phone. Use ear buds or headphones to prevent audio feedback. Make sure there is nothing distracting in the environment where you are sitting. Then, just focus on your group meeting.

Over the years, I’ve heard people object that people who meet online can pretend to be anyone they want and won’t necessarily present their real selves. I’ve discovered this is also true in in-person meetings. It’s up to group members to choose how much they will disclose about themselves and how vulnerable they will be. Remember: speed of the leader, speed of the team.

Ministry doesn’t have to stop because of a pandemic and social distancing. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities for the church to be the church. The persecuted church in Acts 8:1 couldn’t stay with the apostles in Jerusalem, but they did spread the message of the Gospel throughout Judea and Samaria just as Jesus commanded them in Acts 1:8. How can we use this circumstance to fulfill Jesus’ command? We don’t need church buildings. We don’t need “official” ministries. We don’t need church staff to lead the meetings. Now is a time to be the church more than ever. My hope is even when we go back to weekend worship services, we will never go back to “normal.” The church should continue to be the church.

For more information on online small groups:

How to Host an Online Group by Jason DeGraaff (Offers a comparison of teleconference services).

How Online Small Groups Work by Jay Kranda

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Speeding Up Your Recovery

Although I’m grateful for all the good accomplished through the Recovery Movement over the years, I get perturbed by its tendency to assign people to long-term victimhood. The philosophy seems to be, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic,” even if God has transformed your life and you’ve been sober for decades.

And things aren’t much better if you attend a recovery group for grief, divorce, overeating, codependency, or some other trauma in your life. It’s as if they hand out scarlet letters at the door, reminding you of your past.

When a friend recently attended a divorce recovery group, the leader told him that for every year of marriage, it generally takes several years to recover after a divorce. This is nonsensical, of course. My friend had been married for more than 30 years, so it would take him at least 60 years to recover based on the group leader’s formula. The leader’s prognosis was pretty disheartening to say the least.

And then the divorce group leader made another misguided statement: “There is absolutely nothing you can do to speed up your recovery. You just have to endure the pain until it subsides.”

Okay, I know what he means. You can’t take shortcuts. For every trauma in life, there will be some pain that simply must be endured. But does that mean there’s nothing we can do to speed the recovery? That’s both ludicrous and unscriptural.

We’ve all met people who are so full of unforgiveness and bitterness after a trauma like divorce that they’re prolonging their recovery. In fact, I’ve known people who will never recover in this life, because they won’t let go of their offense. Instead of the initial wound killing such people, their life is undermined by the infection they allowed to set in.

Just as we can do things to hinder our recovery, I believe we can position ourselves for faster and more complete healing.

Isaiah 58:8 describes this in a context of fasting, seeking God, repenting of wickedness, and serving the poor: “Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily.” Isn’t that good news? Yes, healing is a process that may take some time. But when you take the right steps, “your healing shall spring forth speedily.”

Years ago, the Lord showed me that discipleship is basically a matter of 5 Connections: God, People, Truth, Character, and Service. Remarkably, these same five components can speed along our emotional healing and recovery from difficult situations:

Connection with GOD: In His presence is healing balm and fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). That’s the ultimate key to any kind of positive transformation we seek (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Connection with PEOPLE: Even though most emotional traumas are caused by other people, it’s also likely that God will use our relationships with people as an important component of our recovery. It’s an indisputable fact of life that positive, truth-speaking, encouraging people can help to speed our recovery, while negative, cynical people will just prolong our pain and foster more toxicity.

Connection with TRUTH: When we’ve gone through a life-altering situation, we must be careful to remain grounded in the truth of God’s Word rather than our transitory and misleading feelings. Satan uses our emotional traumas as opportunities to speak his lies, so it becomes more important than ever to cling to the truth about who God is and how much He loves us.

Connection with CHARACTER: Too often, people who are hurting try to self-medicate their pain through alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, toxic relationships, or other destructive activities. Such things are a great way to go from the frying pan into the fire. Instead, we should use any emotional trauma as a time for God to expose and heal any wicked or hurtful areas of our heart (Psalm 139:24). We also must carefully monitor our lives and take preventative action if we see some kind of bad fruit developing.

Connection with SERVICE: One of the greatest ways for us to receive healing is to reach out to heal the pain of others. Like the man who had a shriveled hand in Mark 3:1-5, our disability can be healed when we stretch out our hand in obedience to the Lord.

Those of us from a charismatic or Pentecostal background might prefer to think that all emotional healing should come from a supernatural, instantaneous touch from God. Just come to the altar for prayer, and everything will be alright.

While that kind of immediate remedy is surely possible, the Lord often prefers to take us through the process of healing. Why? Probably because the 5 connections in the healing process are the very same connections we need to become more like Christ. Just as sanctification and discipleship aren’t instantaneous propositions, emotional healing may take more than a single prayer.

If you’ve been struggling to break free from some kind of traumatic experience or relationship, don’t despair. God has a plan for your recovery—and it doesn’t have to take as long as you’ve thought.

Make a decision today to forgive and release those who have wronged you. Then engage in the 5 connections in the Lord’s unfailing process of recovery and transformation.

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How's Your Small Group Prayer Time?

How’s the prayer time in your small group? Is it something you look forward to or groan at? Are you seeing answers or do you assume that even God is bored? Here’s a resource that will help you. Evaluating Prayer in Your Small Group is a new assessment tool from SmallGroups.com. And I have two articles in it.

Continue reading at Why Didn't You Warn Me?

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2011: The Year of Relationships

On New Year's Day of 2010, I began a new practice that I'm continuing next year. I had read John Eldridge's New Year's Eve post about his annual practice of asking God for a theme for the coming year. Last year, I heard God say the word more. Since 2009 had been a very difficult year, that word really scared me at first. I did not think I could take more of the same. But then I heard God complete the theme: more Jesus. See my 2010 New Year's Day blog here to read more.

The past year has still been a tough year. It wasn't more of the same from 2009, but there were definitely lots of challenges. I got through 2010 because of God's fulfilled promise of more Jesus.

I spent more time with Jesus on a regular basis this past year, and those times have been rich and rewarding. But more than just time spent with him, I have sensed more of his presence and power in my life than ever. Like monster truck rallies, I felt MORE POWER! I'm hoping for even more of that in 2011.

Over the last several weeks, I've been asking God for a theme word or phrase for next year. What I believe I'm hearing is relationships. This is a key word for me right now. I desire for God to strengthen my relationships on every level:

  1. Continue to grow in my relationship with my Father. That's where it all starts! If I have a strong relationship with him, I believe he will strengthen my other relationships as well (see Matthew 6:33).
  2. Continue growing in my relationship with my wife, Heidi. Next to my Father, this is my most vital relationship. I still have a lot to learn here!
  3. Continue to invest into my relationship with my kids, Jordan, Dru, Sarah, and Annie. I want to be a good steward of what God has entrusted to me, and, next to Heidi, they are the best gifts and responsibilities he has given me.
  4. Invest into my relationships with our small group leadership team and leaders. I tend towards the task-oriented/achiever side of leadership. Like many other small group pastors I know, I love vision and implementing it through strategies. (Alan Danielson wrote a great six-part series of blogs titled "The Problem with Small Group Pastors." Start here to read this series. See his Triple-Threat Leadership graphic here.) I desire to be a more relational leader, and it takes effort and Christ's power to move in that direction. This year, I'm going to be very intentional about this.

I believe I needed more Jesus before I could successfully strengthen and build my relationships. God is at work, and I can't wait to see what he does in 2011.

How about you? What theme is God giving you for 2011?

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Solitude First

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I've been blogging a short series about our inner life, discipleship, community, and ministry, inspired by an article by Henri Nouwen years ago in the Spring 1995 issue of Leadership. Find the most recent blog here.

A short excerpt from the blog that you may find interesting:

It seems to me that in today's church culture, we put everything else in front of solitude.

  • Some put discipleship first. They say it all starts here. That we have to teach people how to grow and serve and share their faith.
  • Some put evangelism first. Our first priority, they say, is to carry out the mission to make disciples.
  • Some put leadership first. Everything begins with leaders who model the abundant life and bring others along, right?
  • Some put community first. After all, they say, all of this good stuff happens in the environment of authentic Biblical community. So we have to build small groups.

Jesus said, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." We seek God's Kingdom by being committed to the King.

Pleasr check out the rest of the blog here and I'd love to hear what you think.

Feel free to subscribe to my Small Group Leadership blog at http://smallgroupleadership.blogspot.com/.

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