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Four new Coffee Break webinars are scheduled for August. Join from the comfort of your own home or as a group!

May 12, 2015 0 1 comments
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People often think that we must make a decision, "Do we serve our families or serve the church?" Daphne Kirk's blog, The Day of Joshua, helps us imagine how we can serve WHILE discipling children.

April 28, 2015 0 0 comments
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Take a look at North American Christian community through the eyes of Latin theologian, Goizueta. And, let's consider how our culture impacts the church.

March 9, 2015 1 6 comments
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When making disciples in a church context, it’s important to use the right tool for the job. Our church is focusing on 2 specific tools: Triads and Huddles. Which tools do you use?

February 23, 2015 1 4 comments
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If you “feel the need for speed,” then starting a movement of discipleship in your church is probably not for you. Discipleship is not a fast process.

February 16, 2015 1 5 comments
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Jesus used questions to engage people in God's story. This article, from the new Coffee Break newsletter, provides helpful ideas for all types of small group leaders who lead Bible discovery conversations.

February 3, 2015 0 0 comments
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More and more adults know less and less about the Bible. What curriculums or strategies have worked well for you in teaching adults an overview of the Bible?

December 8, 2014 0 0 comments
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What ingredients are necessary for a discipleship model that will raise up men and women, boys and girls who look and act like Jesus?

October 14, 2014 1 1 comments
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Plans are underway for a “refresh” that will energize Bible discovery, invigorate small group leaders, and enliven the evangelistic mission of sharing God’s Word with our friends!

September 8, 2014 0 1 comments
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The story of a car salesman and his new found love, Jesus Christ, and the call to make disciples. How are you doing in the field where God has placed you to disciple others?

September 3, 2014 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

“I will be visiting a close relative in the next couple of weeks. My relative is not a Christian. I would love to give them a pamphlet or small book which explains the gospel. What would you suggest?”

August 5, 2014 0 3 comments
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Bible engagement is critical for spiritual growth. What kind of small group enviornment encourages Bible engagement? What kind of leader can help cultivate such a group?

July 21, 2014 1 6 comments
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Small Groups carry a lot of weight in churches. We expect that if people participate in groups they will grow and change. What change are we working toward and how do we know if it happened?

May 13, 2014 0 0 comments
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A Bible study for new Christians who would like to have a better understanding of the stories of the Bible.

April 9, 2014 0 0 comments
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This is the final blog in a five part book review series on the books by Mike Breen and the 3DM Team on missional communities. Today, Ruth Kelder shares her report on Breen’s newest book, Covenant and Kingdom and how the "assignment" to read it gave her valuable, new insights about scripture.

April 8, 2014 0 2 comments
Resource, Book or Booklet

This is part four of a five part book report series on Mike Breen and the 3DM team’s books on missional communities. The reports have been prepared by leaders who are on the journey of developing a discipleship ministry in their churches...

April 1, 2014 0 0 comments
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First CRC in Denver is trying something new with their Sunday School. Read about their intergenerational Sunday School experiment and what they have learned from it! 

February 12, 2014 0 2 comments
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CrossPoint’s discipleship strategy may be the simplest and most used word in our vocabulary, yet the most difficult of words to truly live out – LOVE.  The Shema (found in Deut. 6:5) gives a complete picture of what a disciple looks like and does.  CrossPoint has shaped our call to be disciples who disciple in three simple steps...

January 23, 2014 0 2 comments
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Here's the take away: There is not a one-size-fits-all discipleship strategy. Jesus discipled his own disciples differently as they grew in faith. How are our churches equipping people in all varieties of faith development.  Mike Johnson shares his wisdom and expertise about faith development in today's blog.

January 19, 2014 0 0 comments
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Drew Angus and Paul Ingeneri join the conversation by sharing tools for growing adult new believers.

January 4, 2014 0 0 comments
Q&A

We're hoping to do a mid- year ministry fair to highlight some existing groups and new groups that are starting, but it is the first time that we have ever done a ministry fair.  Right now we're thinking of doing it right after the morning service, with various tables set up around the...

January 3, 2014 0 1 comments
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Western Seminary is offering a course on Commonly Misunderstood Verses of the Bible for small groups. The 12 week format, starting January 7, is very flexible. Your group can register for only $50.00. What a cool opporunity for those groups that like to go deep! Learn more here...

December 17, 2013 0 0 comments

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Great review Rachel and good words Ben! The two things I would add is first, what Mike Breen says over and over again about how discipleship is the engine that drives missional living and missional communities. There's a lot of focus on MCs these days, and rightly so. But Breen is right that without discipleship at the center it's hard to have the power, sustainability or reproducibility you want to see in your missional work. A second comment is how much we're resonating with the biblical framework they provide for discipleship in their book, "Covenant and Kingdom: The DNA of the Bible." Very reformed! Very refreshing! Like Ben, we're using huddles and life shapes as one of our tools for discipleship with great response. As we live missionally these tools are helping us be like Jesus and do the things he did. 

I just started a Huddle this past week! I had a little anxiety as I started the huddle as it is a much more directive form of discipleship than what I've done in the past. But the four guys in my huddle responded well and seem excited to grow. I think Breen and co. are totally correct that there is a discipleship crisis in our church. It is one of our primary callings as pastors (along with preaching the word and administering the sacraments), but we tend to put all our eggs in the Sunday morning basket, and spend the rest of our energy on programs, while actually doing very little discipleship. I also think its clear that Sunday school and Christian school (even Christian college) are no substitute for the kind of discipleship that Jesus had in mind for us to be doing. You can go to Christian schools your whole life and not really be a disciple. I'm an example of that. I don't think I really learned how the gospel applied to my life in a practical way until a mentor discipled my wife and me during my first year in full time ministry (after seminary). This is not to say I didn't know my theology or know the Bible. Discipleship is more than learning information, right? It's walking with Jesus, obeying him, and becoming more like him as you enter into relationship with the Triune God.

This sounds wonderful! Please post a sample lesson for us to see!

Hi, I would like to hear more about this or if Mrs. Shirley is able to post or email a lesson that would be great. I found this through a google search when looking for information in how to start a story group for survivors of sexual abuse. I thought about this after reading "To be told" by Dan Allender. Also, I ran across the "Telling the stories of life through guided autobiography" by James Birren  and these are basically what I envisioned. I like the simple format of the Hook. Book. Look. Took. and obviously from the great turnout many others did as well. 

I like that this is not just a small groups story, that Danell explained how this is just one part of how this vision for Discipleship is implemented across multiple ministries. Thanks, Danell!

I organized one of these last August, a few weeks before several our our ministries re-started for the Fall season. A few weeks ahead of time, I contacted all the leaders of ministry and asked them to participate, and nearly all did. I created signs with bright colors with the "Fair" concept and purchased inexpensive ($1) plastic table cloths in assorted colors to place on the tables and suggested everyone have candy or some kind of giveaway to entice visitors to stop by.

I encouraged the leaders to provide information (a display) about their ministries and required them to have a brief "job description" of what is involved for someone volunteering in that ministry (our office staff helped with these, and we saved them so this will be easier next time!). I provided sign up sheets for each ministry so they could collect names of people who were interested.

Some ministries had clever giveaways, for example:

- "Free hairnets!" - from our ministry that helps serve meals at a local organization

- "We can always use 'S'MORE' volunteers" with a S'mores snack mix

- Our Sunday School ministry made a posterboard with a sample lesson plan so people could easily see what it would be like to teach.

- Our Cadets team brought out some of their activity gear (bows & arrows, tools, etc.)

We encouraged all church attenders to consider visiting the fair, not just because they might want to sign up, but to learn about the other ministries at the church so they could help direct guests or friends to a ministry that might serve them.

Overall, we did not end up with a lot of sign ups this time around, but overwhelmingly people appreciated the opportunity to learn about ministries. 

I also planned lunch for all the ministry leaders afterwards as a thank you for their service to the church and for helping with this event in particular.

Our Prayer Summit for Classis Alberta North is happening on the first Sunday of 2014.

More details at www.discovertrinity.net . On Facebook, look for "Lord, Hear Our Prayer: CAN Prayer Summit 2014"

 

Nate & Allen, awesome stuff... thought provoking to say the least.

@ Nate - I am realizing [-bowling reference coming-] the lane of orthodxy is much wider than what seminary taught.  There is a lot of room, but things can still jump into the gutter if not handled properly.  Really excited to see oversight by you and your elders... I think that's critical.   As for the slower aspect...I think slower is better.  Innovation feels great, but innovation unchecked and unordered leads to a fast start but major fizzle down the road.  Releasing missional communities should be like how we handle our children... tight at first, seasoned with grace, fully pushing them out the door, seasoned with grace.

@Allen - What's retirement?  Yes... the two paradigms are certainly at odds with each other, but the answer isn't one or the other, its BOTH / AND (bullet point above).  I am serving a church that has two churches in one.  They fit your paradigm description to the T.  I am convinced that each side needs to "seek understanding, before being understood."  The missional minded people and their directions leaves them isolated from a greater work of the Spirit and the institutional minded people and their directions leads to plateau and even death... So I affirm your vision work and dialogue with your church.  It's not easy and even downright frustrating.  The BOTH / AND is the solution... It's matter of truly asking ourselves, do we really believe the gospel and are we willing to live it out?  If so, both paradigms can live in harmony.  In fact, are dependent on each other.  Which in turn, IMHO, has been the bibical approach all along.  There is nothing new under the sun... 

I don't know much about the the immigrant church, so I can't really comment.  Drawing from the name you've given them, doesn't the immigrant church already have mission in their DNA or they wouldn't have been looking for something better...or bigger...or deeper... a greater expression of the Kingdom? 

 

Sorry I meant to say, "discerning the institutional church's role in all of this."

This stuff if very timely for me as well, Brian.  Kudos on going for the DMin.  I thought about it, but decided I wanted to enjoy my last 15 years before official retirement age -- although I hope I don't HAVE to then.  Anyway, I am in process of discerning the church's (institution) in all off this.  I wonder if there are not some opposing paradigms in the midst of all this that are creating the strain between the "Mission" communities and "Church" communities.  The MC believes they are being church in the intentional everyday, the way it was originally intended with a gathering once a week or every-so-often to corporately celebrate the Spirit's work.  On the other hand, those in the "Church" institution see church more as a place and an event led by the scholars and layity who know their stuff, thus minimizing the need for the rest to "really know their stuff".  Discipleship is minimized and Church is separated from the everyday being on mission to, if nothing else, just living a good moral life.  Those are two very different paradigms at odds with each other.  

How does an immigrant church community see themselves on mission if it was never in their DNA from the outset?  Mission then becomes a program (outreach), is something you sign up for and do from time to time. But like the institutional church, mission is a separate entity from your life -- a thing on your list of things to do.  It's not part and parcel of who you ARE, your identity, like it seemed to be for those early Christians.
 

So my question then is how do we connect those two paradigms in a healthy way and is it even possible?

Good thoughts, Brian.  Now that I understand your initial question better, I would also add that our MCs are coached by the pastor (me) and are accountable to the elders.  I sometimes think we worry too much about heresy springing up in things we don't tightly control.  The goal of our MCs is to announce God's kingdom and make disciples.  As long as there is strong accountablilty to that goal, I believe orthodoxy will take care of itself.  MCs described by the names you mentioned are indeed more like house churches.  Soma Communities are a good example of MCs that have a strong tie to an organization.  I wonder, however, if this makes them slower to multiply?

Great thread on a timely and necessary discussion, especailly for the CRC.

I am currently working on my D.min at Fuller Seminary around this whole community idea, but that doesn't make me an expert in any way.  I am pleased to see something unfold in Larry's comment and Nate's as well.  Both have expressed that there is at least, in someway, the idea that the Missional Communities that have formed or are being formed, are tying back into the larger congregation.  Standing on the window sill of this massive conversation looking out at the landscape, if connection to the originating congregation doesn't happen, something tragic will be on THE CHURCH'S doorstep before we know it.  The unintentional killing off of thousands of churches all for the sake of being missional.  Let's not forget what has brought us this far.

The idea of missional communities, if practiced the way people like Guder, McNeal, Van Gelder, Zscheile, etc. are promoting, then lets call them what they are.  Church plants.  But keep in mind, it's inevitible that missional communities are going to need some sort of institutional or organizational capacity or things like theology and sacrament will derail faster than my fantasy football team at crunch time.  Culture has a sneaky powerful way of shaping any community that is relying on the hospitality of the stranger or "target" of the missional community.  Jesus can quickly become something other than Jesus because we are all broken and fleshly.  Hence, IMHO, the NEED to tie into the larger church.  Accountability with the rule of faith and life is necessary, but accountability is taboo in our me first culture.

two more cents...

   

 

Home Missions is partnering with ECO Presbyterian (a new presbyterian denomination) in creating a pathway to bring missional communities into established churches. We had our first gathering/training a couple of weeks ago. ECO is having Faith Alive both edit and publish the materials.  One of the very good things about the ECO missional community strategy is that is has both training and coaching for those who are establishing missional communities. Also because it is working with established congregations it seems to have a good feel for how to bring MCs into that context. This work is just beginning but we hope to see it ramp up in the next 6-8 months.

This is a good discussion on this.  It is heavy on my heart and plate. I've been trying to see if our church could even get back to the missional community aspect of the church.  I long for this in myself.  We already live like this and have begun to more intentionally form a missional community.  Our people don't know what to make of the way we live.  When I bring up the Missional Community to our leadership they look at me with blank stares and wonder what planet I'm from. They're in a programatic mode. I encourage reading.  I can't get anyone to look into this with any sort of desire or initiative.  I'm personally struggling with this and whether or not God is saying something new to my wife and me.

We discovered that about 5% of our congregation had the pre-existing qualifications to lead an MC.  I'll get 2, maybe 3 MCs out of that.  So I've started a process of developing missional leaders that can lead an MC down the road.  It's hard to have patience, but I believe that God will use what we're doing now in wonderful ways in 5 years.  All that to say I really believe you have to start with the leaders and build from there.

Sam, I think I understand what you mean by the term "missional community strategy."  But I want to be clear that I don't see MCs as just another strategy (like direct mail or seeker sensitive worship).  For us, it is the future of our congregation.  It's more than a way to reach unchurched people.  I believe it's what God is leading us to become - a congregation of MCs.

It was interesting to talk to different people at the conference. People are applying the missional community strategy in a variety of ways. One leader told me they learned that they needed to start with vision. They wanted to launch 25 MC's. It didn't work. they regrouped and discovered 12 leaders with a very specific mission focus - local elementary school, a neighborhood, or a topic like homeless people, etc.. People gathered around the vision into 12 MC's of varying size. Some MC's have two or three groups (about 30 - 40 people) others have 8 - 12.

Hi Brian,

We've been able to maintain a pretty strong connection to the group we sent into the apartment community.  Many of them still attend our Sunday worship service regularly.  We've released them from the ways they were volunteering within the congregation so they could focus on the neighborhood.  But we still see them regularly on Sunday morning.  We make a point of praying for this group in our congregational prayers.  We also try to get a brief update from one of them about once a month during our worship service.

Some of the people from the apartment complex have started coming to our worship service, but most who meet with this group do not.  We were clear that our goal was not to get people to come to our worship services, but simply to help them find a spiritual community on their own turf.  I hope this helps.

This is quite interesting to me... my one questions however, is how does this missional community tie back into the larger church from which it was sent?  Is that even an option or desired within the MC? 

We've drawn on a lot of stuff from 3DM.  Our iteration of MCs is probably a little more oriented around a network or neighborhood than 3DM.  We've decided to start with a missional context, while their MCs start with the community of people in the MC.  So many different ways to skin this cat.  

Allen, if you ever want to talk more, feel free to contact me.

Hi Allen,

What are your thoughts about launching missional communities in a rural setting? Any ideas?

I attended the 3DM Discipleship and Mission conference in Holland this week. I learned (again) contextualizing is very important. The session leaders make it seem like there is a one size fits all strategy, but as I talked with them I learned they all are adapting the concepts to fit their unique situation. I asked one leader if they only have missional communities.  He said they tried that and learned quickly they needed other types of groups. They have missional communities AND alpha, parenting groups, etc. Good to know

Great to hear.  I've been processing for quite some time now how this may be possible in a more rural setting.

I believe that R. DeLange of Edmonton Trinity, of Classis Alberta North is planning this for the first week in January. 

Sam,

Do you know who is planning the Western Canada prayer summit?

 

You can add Classis Alberta North to the list!  Trinity CRC in Edmonton will be hosting a Prayer Summit on January 5, 2014.  It's the vision of Pastor Rich deLange of Trinity and Pastor Walt Brouwer of Classis Alberta North who both returned from April's  California summit with the same feeling that God was laying this on their hearts.  They felt that the best way to start the new year was by being in prayer for our churches, members, ministries and programs.  Planning is well underway, and we hope that each of the churches in our classis will send at least one representative.  Keep us in your prayers that everything comes together for the glory of God. 

You say that your small group loves to talk.  That talk could be introduced as prayer if God were included right from the beginning.

The talk becomes prayer as the awareness of  God 's prescence  increases throughout the time spent together.

Why do we need to repeat our  talk when we have acknowledged that the entire gathering is a prayer to God?

 

Jenny

posted in: Prayer Time Phobia

Interesting question. I also pondered that question. I would love to hear what you think!  

 

Sam, your gardening analogy is interesting.   I like my garden with potatoes as high as my pockets, and peas, beets, carrots doing their thing.  Weeds are probably the biggest hindrance to growing a good garden, with fertility a big second, after moisture, of course.  In your analogy, it would be interesting to imagine what the "weeds" are that we need to pull out, in order for the garden to thrive.  And how do we pick these weeds without hurting the crop we want? 

Planning a garden with others involves sharing input and compromising on ideas. Flowers or vegetables? Perenials or annuals? etc.

Planning a small group ministry also involves sharing of ideas and compromise. 10 people or 20 people per group? Bible study or book study? Keep the same groups or mix them up?

Prayer and communication are definitely important aspects of healthy small groups.

posted in: Preparing to Plant

Hi Craig,

Great question! From my experience there are many different answers!

I have been writing some blogs about how leading a small group discipleship ministry is like gardening. I think it also applies to multiplication. Think about how plants multiply. There is not a one-size-fits all approach. I have some hostas in my flower beds. I can rip those apart just about any time during the growing season and they survive. Other plants start with seed, cuttings or bulbs. Some plants you have to cut back. Other plants need great care and encouragement to multiply.

All of these ideas translate to small groups. Some groups are hardy, easy to split. They understand the vision, have leadership skills, etc - like hostas. Others need great encouragement. Some groups send off one or two member to start a group - like a cutting. Some groups of new people start with a seed vision and launch a new group.

I have also learned that multiplication requires leadership (or gardeners). It is not going to happen without someone praying, casting vision, encouraging and equipping leadership.

What do you think?

 

Great question and topic, Craig. I've been thinking about this too, and eager to hear from others about it.

It seems like a core question is - what's the purpose(s) of a small group? If it's to support each other through the ups and downs of life, that would lend itself to long-standing groups and deep relationships. But if the purpose is to welcome and enfold new members and new Christians, then multiplications seems critical. 

In my own small group experience, we're trying to doing both. And it does lead to some real discernment every year when we talk about plans for the next year, who will be continuing, whether to split, whether to invite new members, etc.

I don't have an answer, unfortunately, but my observation is that the question is really one of 'what's our small group about?'. 

Other experiences and observations?

Great question! In prayer I have time in my own mind to be open to the Paraklete.

Thanks for you comments!

Thanks Sam, I love Bonhoeffer's writings.  These things sound so simple yet seem so difficult for people in a "me first" society. I often wonder if a key reason many of our churches struggle is this very issue of not being able to truly serve one another.  It's so much more than getting some meals together for a hurting family.  We've recently talked about this with our small group leaders and in our council.  How do we walk the journey together?  How do we love unconditionally and live intentionally?

Great stuff Sam.

Thanks

Sam, thank you for this posting. I am leading our adult Sunday School classes this month in a series on Community - What This Means in the Church. It is good to be reminded that, as the body of Christ, we should look to the Trinity as our ultimate example of community. I also have learned a lot from reading Bonhoeffer's book on this subject. Another author I've enjoyed studying is Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche Communities. He has written several books on community, especially as it pertains to reaching out to those with disabilities.

There is a wonderful new series of studies for women that our women's group is doing by Nancy Guthrie, called "seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. So far there are three 10-week studies. The first one covers Genesis, the second covers the rest of the Pentateuch. Book number 4 covers the Wisdom books. The fourth one, which should be published later this spring will be (book 3) seeing Jesus in the History books. For more info., you can visit the website  www.SeeingJesusInTheOldTestament.com

How great that you can share your wonderful SCE project with so many - and have your final report do double duty!

I know what you mean. I hate to spend money too. You can search on their website for freebies. Might be a little out of date, but it's still good stuff.

Thanks Sam,

I really like the organic gardening image as well.  Although I'm afraid the initial steps for whoever may answer the call to tend our small-group garden may have to coach a little transplanting or grafting of some flowering shrubs with untamed vines, as well as the usual opening up to more light and water ;-)

I would certainly still value seeing whatever job descriptions you're willing to share,so that our Ed Team folks and I may consider what aspects could apply to our situation.  Of course, we will also be in need of good training and evaluation tools to offer or suggest...working on downloading some stuff from smallgroups.com right now.

Thanks again for all your insights!

Boy who would have guessed that there's a whole website domain created just for supporting small groups with a name like that?  Sometimes the answer is so much closer and easier than we can imagine!  Thanks for the pointer Steve!  There's a ton of stuff here ...although my genetic sensors are hurting because I may actually have to pay a little for it...I'll let you know if it exceeds my budget :)

Our small groups ("Life Groups") are on a schedule where there are 3 "seasons" per year where church members sign up each season for a group. Because of that, many of the tasks of our coordinator are related to the cyclical nature of organizing and promoting the groups, but here are a few bullet points from our description that might be relevant to working with group leaders:

  • Recruit, Train, Develop and Recognize Life Group Leaders
  • Provide Life Group Leader training
  • Recognize and thank Life Group Leaders
  • Follow up with Group Leaders throughout the season to provide support and assistance as needed

Other tasks that might be helpful for any small group ministry:

 

  • Champion and promote the Life Groups mission: Grow, Connect, Serve
  • Seek out stories of Crossroads members who grew through Life Groups and who will share their story with the church (testimonies) and/or tell the story of Life Groups through videos or other creative presentations.
  • Create and send surveys to church members, and review results for effectiveness of Life Groups
  • Manage Life Groups budget

 

I think training is a big one, and in a scenario where groups are ongoing, providing training on a periodic basis both helps your leaders learn ways to develop and keep a healthy group going.

We run on an 8-12 week season typically, and each leader is contacted as often as weekly through the season. All are contacted after their first meeting, and then the small group leader is asked how often they want to be contacted and in what way (phone or email usually.) I am in a different ministry role, but one that also means that I "check in" regularly with various leaders. Even if they don't need anything, they appreciate a call. Often, however, they have a question or two, and it gives me a chance to help them and just remind them I'm available if they ever need anything. 

We also ask our leaders to help us find future leaders by identifying group members who demonstrate gifts that would make them a good leader. Sometimes these people are asked to fill in as leaders when the main leader can't be there, for example, and/or are approached to lead or co-lead a group in the next season.

I attended a small group training earlier this year that was produced by Saddleback church, and they had a strategy for splitting larger groups into two smaller groups so that the healthy group could multiply. Essentially, the leader would identify 1-2 people in the large group who might make good leaders, and over time, gradually trained them by asking them to lead smaller, then larger portions of the meetings. Or, the one large group would sometimes split into two smaller groups for a some parts of the discussion, then reconvene later to share what they talked about and close the meeting. Over time, then, some groups are able to split and then make room for more members.

They also said that in response to someone who wants to join a group, they will ask them to consider starting a new group (instead of joining an existing group) by finding others who are interested in meeting. They also mentioned that their church has a variety of "off the shelf" materials they can hand out to a leader to make it easy for them to get started, which may not be the case in your church. 

Just food for thought, and I've heard before that smallgroups.com (as a previous poster suggested) is a great resources.

 Hi Reese,

I have some small group coordinator job descriptions. However, they are very specific to the congregations. In coaching small group ministry coordinators, I have found the garden illustration to be very helpful. Like a gardener, small group coordinators need to provide continuing vision, care and support for the leaders and groups.  I use the following roles and questions as an outline for coaching small group disicplehsip leaders.

Roles in cultivating an enviroment for growth:

Picture – Who is God calling us to be?

Plan – How will we follow God’s leading in our context? What will our garden of small groups look like?

Prepare – How will we prepare our leaders and congregation for growing people through small groups?

Planting – How and when will we start? stop? What is our growing season? What are the lifecycles of our groups?

Protect and Problem solve – How will we care for leaders and groups?

Pruning – How will we develop leaders and groups for the future?

Propagate - How will we multiply groups and leaders?

Pause and Pray – How will we cooperate with God’s leading?

I'm going to be writing more about each of these roles over the next several weeks. If you would like a sample job description, let me know.

Sam Huizenga

shuizenga@crcna.org

Well Henry, I agree that as the Church, we need to focus and proclaim more of Jesus and His sacrifice - that's why I love the Moravians and Count Zinzendorf...  yesterday's devotional by Oswald Chambers in his My Utmost for His Highest also confirmed what you have shared...

but I think there is a place for personal testimonies as well,even in their weak, imperfectness, to encourage fellow believers...  recognizing that each testimony is a gift as well, and so giving God the glory...  we can have contempt for our part in it, but I think we have to be careful about being contemptuous of what God via the Holy Spirit is doing when He gives us Divine insight/direction/leading/guiding as Scripture tells us He does and will..

in another post you mentioned something about how do we know if it's God or self, or the enemy, and you gave an example of a father killing his children...  a simple test of lining it up with scripture would discern that is not God, He is life, He tells us to choose life, He commands us not to kill...   but some might argue that God allowed His Son to be killed and so indirectly He killed Jesus, because He could have prevented it... but we know Jesus willingly went to the cross for the joy that was set before Him...

and yes, some/many might use it so they can disregard their own responsibility...  I think of the convictions the Spirit has put on my heart, that made sense with Who God is, but were totally counter intuitive from an intellectual perspective... ie giving/tithing whatever you want to call it, particularly in a struggling economy... cutting back on my work, so I could be more available for my family... made NO SENSE economically... by my budget, we should be broke and out on the street, with no assets left...   that hasn't happened, although it has been tight for the last several years, but He has been training us in Prov. 3, spending a lot more wisely, and investing in His Kingdom, instead of our earthly kingdom..  it has been a difficult, but incredible journey of trusting Him and drawing closer to Him, we have seen His outpouring of blessing on our lives so many ways, most significantly with Proverbs 3 wealth aka wisdom (v13-18)!  So those are my weak and imperfect words, but the amazing journey He gave us, is because of Him and Who He is...  for His Glory which includes the supremacy of Christ! (Col 1:18)

 

The thesis of the original blog was that beleivers ought to be in more intimate relationships with God so that they can tell others about their spiritual expriences as a means of leading them to Christ. 

My question:  Why should I want to talk about my weak, imperfect, and incomplete "spiritual" experiences (which I really have no way of evaluating) when I can talk about the perfect,  powerful, complete, and saving "spiritual" experiences of the Risen, one crucified Christ.  I experience the life of faith because of who he is and what he has done and is doing. 

While scripture gives a great deal of info about the life of faith it is very clear that the content of the gospel that is God's power unto salvation is the "spiritual" experiences of Jesus of Nazareth.  I use that name because the apostles do in the book of Acts. In Acts 22:8 when Paul asks - who are you Lord, Jesus responds, " I am Jesus of Nazareth".

It appears to me that most believers think of Jesus primarily in terms of his deity.  Resurrection, however, is not a catagory that applies to deity.  Our flesh was nailed to the cross.  Our flesh, in the person of Jesus , came out of the grave.  At the Lord's Supper we don't talking  about breathing in "spirit" but we talk in very fleshly language about eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus.   As man he earned our salvatiion and is now the glorified man, the first fruits of all believer who shall be raised by him. 

My words about my life are not "gospel".  My words about Jesus life ARE "gospel" for it is not my personal story but the personal story of Jesus himself.

The disciples were not sent out into the world to talk about their life's experiences but about His.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to want to place ourselves at the center and talk about ourselves.  How hard it is to listen.

But as Paul says, and I paraphrase (II Cor. 4:5 - We preach not our own spiritual experiences but we preach the spiritual experiences of Jesus as Lord.

I respond by asksing  how does anyone to what job they are called? 

Our vocal speech is always an expressions of that inner voice that never quits talking, at least mine does not.  We call it thinking.  In my head I have only ever heard one voice.  I have never heard an voice obviously distince from mine.  I honestly can say I have never heard "voices".

Now private revelation is highly subjective.  There are people who claim that God talks directly to them and usually its about decisions that have to be made - what job to take - what person to marry - what mode of transportation to take, etc. 

The huge problem that I see - is that the person decides which thoughts in their heads are from God.  Furthermore, God is not the only one who can influence us.  Apparently devils can, I and I suspect the ministering spirits call angels can.  By what standards does a person decide when God is talking?  Many years ago in this general area a man killed his two young sons because God told him to do so.

The only place I hear God talking is in the bible, but since God promised to write his word in our hearts, that content of that word becomes part of the fabric of our being.   That content, in one form or another,  frequently enters into my thoughts.  And that word is primarily concerned with faith and obedience.  We may often be too concerned with what is called God's hidden will for our lives.  I have no idea how to discern that.  But his revealed will is very plain and clear.  That ought to be our primary concern.

Also, saying God told me is the positive side of the devil made me do it.  I believe that both of these are simply ways to escape our human responsibility to make choices and decisions.  I do not know all the reasons why I felt I should go into the ministry.  As a candidate I receive one call.  As far as I knew there were no other options in the works.  We were taught (rightly or wrongly) that our internal calling had to be verified by an external call from a congregation.  The choice seemed quite simple.  I had a viable option set before me.  While believing that Christ is always active in our lives by his Holy Spirit, and asking for wisdom, I made a decision which was entirely my responsibility.  I heard no strange voices or whisperings in my ear.  I honestly do not know any other way of operating.   I blieve that God payed us a huge compliment by not making us robots or puppets that he controls.

"l;iving in the shadow of the church" was simply a geographical statement.  I deeply apreciate the "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12) but my exprience in the instituted church has been both very positive and negative.  My security however, is not first of all in the "church" but in Christ himself (LD 1).  All the blessings of salvation are found in him alone.  Fellow beleiver can be both helpful and disappointing.  I have often been amazed at the instant raport established (by Christ) when you find out a complete stranger is a fellow brother or sister.  How little time we have to really get to know each other.  How eager I am for the return of the risen Lord and the redemptions of our bodies ( our entire persons actually) and the renewal of all creation.  Think of life in this creation with any sin in it.  I have met so many interesting people along the way that I look forward to renewing those acquaintances.  We will never run out of time and nothing can hurt or destroy those friendships. 

Unfortunately, most beleiver have been taught and think that they are going to "heaven" forever.  What is the most common understanding of "heaven".  That is where souls go when bodies go into the ground.  That tends to transfer in the "future heaven"  Many years ago I heard one minister say "do you like to be in church (worship service).  Well you better because that is what heaven is going to be like." 

An interesting fact - that the OT church was never promsed a "heaven" but was promised that they would dwell in the land in peace and prosperity.  The bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is God's eternal commitment to the created order and our own creatureliness.   He already is the new creation that we will some day experience along with the entire creation.   That is the clear NT promise.  Since the NT church is in reality Israel gathering the nations into herself - we too share in all the OT promises - every promise made in the OT was fulfilled in Christ.  Paul says at the end of I Thess 2, and I paraphrase - the greatest thrill of my life will be to see you standing with me in the presence of Christ..  While our lives in this time have eternal significane - the best is yet to come.

It is kind of nice to be able to agree with everyone, with Jim, and Henry, and Bev and Michael Bentley, all at the same time.  Experiencing truth, and delighting in it!   Henry's statement that he lived in the shadow of the church all his life.... how about maybe you lived in the warmth and security of the church, in the sunlight of God's Word all your life?   Same life, same experience, but different perception of that experience, and thus a different experience.... 

Loved all your comments!  

Henry, I have to go with Bev on this one. I'm not “charismatic” enough to hang out in the same room with a Pentacostal believer, but the idea that we don't “experience” the spiritual reality of Christ’s resurrection is simply impossible. We are flesh and spirit humans – not positronic machines ineracting with data. Humans experience truth even when we deny it – the truth of the cross, the resurrection, the Spirit’s calling, regeneration and sanctification – all of it. From what I believe by reading the same Word of God you read, I know that I must experience God’s work – not merely affirm or deny it. From the Word, I alsow know that I am not “superior” to any other Chrsitian, because we all “experience” God’s work in some way. In this continual experiencing, we know what is of God and what is of our self (or the devil) because the Word tells us. God’s Word does not end our experiencing truth – he norms our experiencies. All praise and glory to the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

re-reading your posts, Henry, I have another question for you... how did you know you were called to be a pastor (maybe I'm wrong about you being a pastor, but that's what i understand from you "entering the ministry" in your 20's)?  You say God has never told you what call to take, or what car to buy... so then when pastors are "called"... what do they mean?  

Regarding spiritual intimacy, I think of Eph. 1:17-18, where Paul prays for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know God better - as one example of a scriptural call for intimacy... I believe almost every time the OT talks about "knowing" God, it is the same Hebrew word (yada) that He uses for marital intimacy...  will our knowledge/experience be limited?   of course, because God is an infinite God, and so we can only know a very small part of Him, a drop in an ocean, but even that drop that we can know is beyond amazing...  Scripture uses the analogy of husband and wife, between Jesus and the Church (Eph. 5:32 -  and song of songs for almost 2000 years, it's only in the last 100 years or so, that some no longer support this analogy in song of songs - which is an entire discussion)...

   that   thaand that the eyes of our hearts are enlightened, so we can know the hope of our inheritance...  eyes of our hearts refers to a spiritual experience... this is our inner being, also referenced in Eph. 3:16, where the Spirit is working in us...  our faith is Spirit and truth... it takes both working together...  Paul says he does both when he prays in I Cor. 14:14-15...  praying in tongues is a spiritual experience...  the peace that passes understanding is a spiritual experience, becoming new creations in Christ is a spiritual experience (2 Cor 5:17)...  having our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh (Ez 36:26), having His Spirit dwell in us, is a spiritual experience...  I have testimonies of when He has melted my heart, when my heart was getting hard and cold, and aloof and proud, and in less than a moment He melted it, it was not emotionalism, because there wasn't enough time for that, but there were "triggers" that He used...  was there dialogue with God during these times... oh yes...  they were terrible and beautiful experiences at the same time, and I'm so glad He didn't let my heart stay hard... 

King David talks about praising Him with all our "inmost being" ...  so that our youth is renewed like the eagles - that sounds like a spiritual experience...  that "deep rooted assurance" of faith mentioned somewhere earlier (i think it's referred to in  HC Q&A 23), is a spiritual experience - it's that you know that you know in your inner being through a gift of the Spirit, even though there is no tangible "faith" to show other than through our actions... 

those are just a few examples from scripture that I can think of off the top of my head... 

Hebrews 6 talks about the elementary teachings, which includes faith in God (v1), and growing/maturing beyond that... I know this is a difficult passage with various interpretations, and maybe you interpret this differently, if so I would be interested in knowing how you view this...

as for "hiding" our works, interestingly Matt 5 tells us we are a light on a hill, and we are not to cover it up...let your light shine before men SO THAT others may see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven...  they are for HIS GLORY!!!

One of my favorite passasges is II John 4 where he says in effect - I rejoice to see your children walking in the truth.  One of the things that I am most thankful for is the great cloud of witnesses that I have come to know in my experiences in life.   Since my father was also a minister I have lived in the shadow of the church all my life.   What has frequently amazed me was the instant raport I have experienced when I discovered someone was a fellow believer.   That bond of fellowship is forever.  I have enjoyed many experiences with fellow beleivers.  I have also shared their sorrows and even on one occasion actually wept with a brother.  I have listened to believers talk about their inner pain and frustration.  But most of the believers I have meet have not defined their lives primarily in terms of "spiritual" experiences.  As far as I could tell, they thought about human experiences and living with fellow believers by faith and in obedience to Christ and his word.  All of this is medaited by Christ and his word and Spirit.

I am sure you are aware that there is a long standing tradition that defines spiritual experience in terms of the soul's direct and immediate contact with the essence of God.  When I here people say they have heard God speaking to them or they have a great sense of God's presence I suspect that they are operating out of this tradition.  This tradition greatly minimizes created reality or even negates it.  The soul is good, the body is bad.  To become truly spiritual one must get the soul out of the body.   Can you imagine that salvation is defined in terms of death. 

While the tradition of pietism does not go that far it trends in that direction.  I have met  charismatics who were very uncomfortable with the concept of Jesus in the flesh.  One thing I thought of after I post my previous comments was the sermon on the mount where Jesus warns (Matt 6:1) "Take heed that you do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father who is in heaven."  He then mentions giving alms, praying and fasting.  I take this to mean that we are not to parade our religous and spiritual life before men. 

Having said that, I believe that if Christ has first place in our minds and hearts and we seek to grow in his grace and knowledge that there will be some kind of difference seen in our lives.  But I also beleiver that since our lives are hidden in Christ ( Col 3) that we probably can't see it in ouselves.  Paul says someplace that he does not even judge himself.  When Christ is revealed then we will know what our lives have really been about and what Christ has done with and in them. 

When I entered the ministry in my early twenties there were seniors who told me that the older they became the more they saw their sinfulness.  That certainly has been true for me.  I don't see much in my life to brag about or to set before others as an example.  But along side of that there seem to be a growing conviction that every thing scripture says about Christ is true.  That he is the Living One, that he is risen and both Messiah (Christ) and Lord, that I belong to him and that he is the only hope that I have in life or death.  But that conviction although I believe a result of the Spirit's work thorugh the Gospel, is not the gospel and I do not go around telling people how strong I think my faith is.  For even though it may seem very strong in my heart and mind I have no way of evaluating it.  All I know is that when I read scripture it keeps confirming what I have known all my life. 

John Calvin insists that God in his naked majesty cannot be known.   He can only be known through the person of the mediator.   There is only mediated knowledge of God in Christ.  And that knowledge comes into a real world of people in their everyday lives. 

Since "spiritual experience" can be a vague concept - perhaps it might be helfpul to express your understanding of what that means to you.

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