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The CRC that nurtured my growth as a child taught me that Jesus saves and is present for me to reach out to in prayer in times of need. There were also lessons about discipleship that the church of my childhood never taught me. 
July 10, 2012 0 2 comments
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The Coffee Break idea started forty years ago and has grown into a missional movement of the CRC and many other denominations. Hear are some themes that might ignite kingdom growth in Coffee Break and small groups today.
June 26, 2012 0 2 comments
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Small groups are small organizations. Small Groups and leaders can envision, model and practice spiritual transforming patterns. Jesus did that with his disciples. He led with prayer and dependency on the Word of God. He sent them out to do what he did, then brought them back for debriefing. The disciples followed...
June 19, 2012 0 0 comments
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Melissa is a mom to active young children and her husband works long hours. She felt like her life was spinning out of control. Convinced that she’d keep perspective if she could to find even minutes alone with God, she asked her triad to hold her accountable to do that. She now finds regular...

June 11, 2012 0 0 comments
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God’s call to make disciples is undeniably clear. The strategy of how to go about disciple making can sometimes get fuzzy. Well-designed small groups of 8 – 12 are great environments for spiritual growth until the primary objective is lost and the natural tendency towards social fellowship...

June 5, 2012 0 6 comments
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How does Alpha work? Alpha is a practical introduction to the Christian faith, where guests can explore the meaning of life and ask questions in a non-threatening, relaxed setting. The traditional Alpha course is 10 weeks long and includes a day or weekend long retreat half-way through the course. Alpha is simple and includes...
May 29, 2012 0 0 comments
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Looking for a way to mobilize more people in evangelism in 1999, a few of us at church stumbled on to the Alpha Course. We were drawn to it because it offered a simple way to involve people in bringing the Gospel to their friends. We got a small pilot group together, followed the instructions, and went for it. 
May 21, 2012 0 0 comments
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A metaphor that has helped me understand and lead small group ministry is this: Growing a small group discipleship ministry is like growing a garden. Small group coordinators and leaders must ask gardening questions. How would you answer these questions about your small group ministry? 
May 14, 2012 0 3 comments
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"Time flies when you're having fun."  I guess I would say that would be my mantra too having been the guide of the Network's Small Groups section for some sixteen months or so.  I don't know where the time went. And now that I'm moving on I thought I'd just do a little reflecting.
May 7, 2012 0 1 comments
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The Sonship material comes in various formats, some which are shorter and less intensive than others. When considering how to use Sonship, it should be noted that more is better. However, being exposed to the material in any of several formats has value.
April 25, 2012 0 0 comments
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Read an interview with Todd Murphy, a pastor who has incorporated the gospel into his own life and the life of his church. Learn how people who have been in the church all their life have been dramatically changed. In addition, discover how outreach is radically different when people in the church believe and live out the gospel in their own lives.
April 17, 2012 0 0 comments
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Sonship is written and taught from a Reformed perspective, and it moves our great theological truths from our heads into the nitty gritty of life. Its perspective is life changing and practical and sets a foundation for other forms of discipleship.
April 9, 2012 0 18 comments
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Discipleship. Spiritual Formation. Christian Formation. Spiritual Transformation. Missional Discipleship… Have you heard these terms and wondered which each meant?
April 2, 2012 0 0 comments
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I know for myself that I lead by doing and coming alongside potential and present leaders to encourage, support and train them.  It is usually the case that when there is a lack of leadership it is because there is no environment or atmosphere of leadership development happening in the church.
March 27, 2012 0 0 comments
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If you're going to include PB small groups as part of your disciple-making ministry, you will need to spend more time than most on a plan to initiate intentionality on moving people forward in their spiritual growth. People's natural tendency will be to stay comfortable and not become disciples or at least as Jesus intended them to.
March 13, 2012 0 0 comments
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A recent comment by a reader mentioned their understanding of small group ministry was that everything from the choir to a group of people from the church who met to talk about gardening or scrapbooking was a small group. For years CRHM encouraged churches to adopt the Principle-Based...

February 21, 2012 0 0 comments
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Even though I've been writing and posting in small groups for over a year now, I haven't necessarily covered what you've been looking for.  Here's your chance to challenge me with some ideas for articles and blogs.
January 30, 2012 0 4 comments
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I’ve been looking forward to working my way through Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram.  If you read my review of Launching Missional Communities or my 5 part interview with Mike Breen, you know that if anyone has a handle on making disciples in the post-Christian...

January 16, 2012 1 0 comments
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This is a question I have been wrestling with for some time now.  There is such a disconnect from what people say they believe and follow and how they actually live.  Just recently I heard of two more (seems to be rampant as of late) marriages that have ended in divorce because of infidelity.  ...

January 5, 2012 0 2 comments
Q&A

Our church has just hired a part time ministry coordinator for small groups.  We want to equip her as well as possible and have some ideas about training but wonder if there are good ideas out there.  What should be on our list of things to have her experience and learn and participate in as she...

December 29, 2011 0 10 comments
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December is busy enough. So who wants another event?  Why not maximize your normal December activities by inviting someone along. Or you could use the most of the December opportunities to grow and start new small groups in January.  Here are some good things to consider...
December 12, 2011 0 0 comments
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Asking good questions is almost an art form in my opinion.  I'm talking about well-phrased, intentional, smart questions that open people up to get to the heart of the matter.  Smart, well-placed questions can take your small group to a whole new level of sharing and growth.
November 28, 2011 0 0 comments
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For many years within the small group realm there has been a lot of discussion on whether small groups should be open or closed. Perhaps our default mode especially in our CRC communities is to err on the side of being comfortable and thus short-circuiting true discipleship... This repost has a lot o reads but would be better with some discussion :-)
November 22, 2011 0 0 comments
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If you're in charge of small groups at your church I believe you will find this helpful.  I've had to learn these skills the hard way and they do work, believe me.

NOTE: the links in this article.  I know you'll appreciate those as well.

akd.

...
November 14, 2011 0 0 comments
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It seems the my consulting conversations as of late tend to focus around programmatic thinking.  There a more and more churches that are either just now beginning to start and develop small groups or are reassessing them.  Frankly I'm surprised that some churches are just beginning small groups...

October 31, 2011 0 0 comments

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Thanks Allen for taking us along for the ride.

Tim Brown... wow!  lots of interesting  controversies about grace, gospel, faith leading to sanctification, assurance, etc., etc..  in the links you provided   but the bottom line for me is simple.   Saved by grace through faith.   and then, "shall we sin more, so that grace may abound?"   Christ talked more about obedience, than He did about grace.   Although He exhibited grace in his life and actions.  And in his death and resurrection.  

Lately, I've heard the quote, "judge not, that you be not judged", used as a way of muting the commands of obedience.   It is a way of neutering the authority of elders and pastors.   It is often used as a way of reducing the commands of Christ in our daily lives.  

We can debate the theological precepts forever, but the bottom line is that our desire to follow Christ is always fighting with our sinful nature.   We are sinful saints.   When we stop fighting against that sinful nature, then sin wins.   Pray for the Spirit to fill us, to win the victory over the daily sin in our lives.  Scripture says that no one who follows Christ continues to sin.   Don't make excuses for it, and don't try to justify yourself in your sin.    Believe it and do it right.   

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

For what it's worth, "Sonship" teaching has been somewhat controversial within Presbyterian circles, not because of its name but because of its theology.  Number 19 in this paper by John Frame gives some of the background: http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/2003Machen.htm  An account of a conference on "Sonship and Sanctification," which included presntations "for" and "against" is: http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/news/2001/06/greenville_conference.php

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

Thanks for a good review Diane! The ten months my wife and I spent going through the Sonship material with Drew Angus was one of the most profound experiences in our spiritual growth. As a pastor of 15 years and student of discipleship and leader development, I highly recommend this course. The material is solid, reformed in its approach, and carries out its goal of personal transformation. I wish more CRC folks were aware of this rich resource. As Drew pointed out, WHM's more recent "Gospel Centered Life" is also an excellent course and more user-friendly for small groups and newer Christians.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

I have tried to send this as a pesonal email through the network site, but it won't go through, so I'm posting it here. . .

Hi Allen,
Read your last post and wanted to take it "off-line", so that the back and forth between us doesn't get circular :)
I understand your final post and appreciate that you have a responsibility to moderate that thread. I also agree that the issue will not be "resolved" in any text-based, on-line dialogue. However, your previous post (at 3:02) gave me the impression that my comments were not welcome, that they "distracted" from the "real" conversation we should be having, and that I should take them somewhere else.
Your further post clarified in a more effective way, for me. They were less personal (i.e. not directed specifically at me) and I understood that you heard my comments, not just that you wanted them to stop.
The conversations did not seem circular to me, as they were responses from different people, with different emphases.
It's difficult to have a real conversation online. I bless you in your role. I trust, in general, it's more 'fun' than 'friction'. :)
Colleen

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

I get that and I think your point was clearly made early on.  And I have no problem with dissenting dialogue, but that issue won't get resolved here but has been highlighted. Points were made and stated and it looked as if it may continue becoming circular or ad hominem in nature.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

I believe that the conversation about language and how we tell the story should be part of every thread, so that we think carefully about how we use language and how we engage with those who may not know the story, or may feel that the story doesn't apply to them.

I commented on this thread because of both the language/wording of the title of the material and because of the content of the recommended study.

But, you have made your point and I will agree to disagree. However, if we can't have a dialogue with dissenting voices, it's not much of a conversation.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

I think we should be shouting that God loves people.  I'm afraid that the focus of egalitarianism is side-tracking any discussion regarding the quality and content of the curriculum that others -- as have been vocal here -- have appreciated, both male and female.  To dismiss a curriculum strictly on the title being perhaps "outdated" would be a grave misfortune and perhaps suggesting one's own passionate agenda is more important than the value in the progam and the main point; discipling others into a closer walk with Christ and thus reaching others for the kingdom.

While I agree words are important and how we use language, the nature of this thread is in regard to the content of the curriculum and not "words" per se.  I believe the discussion on the use of language in our denomination belongs somewhere else on the Network but not this particular thread.  It is becoming clear that that discussion is not going to be resolved here.  And as the current guide I do not want the thread to stray from its intent.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

I agree that we can argue about words until the cows come home. We are not talking about the word 'man', we are talking about the word son.

And quoting a list of scriptures does not prove your point.

The english word 'son' is exclusive and does not reflect the witness of the whole story of scripture or of the life and witness of Jesus.

If we agree that God loves the female that he made and there is no distinction in his love between male and female, then we should shout that story from the rooftops. We (those who have the responsibility of telling this great story) should not make those who don't know the story work so hard that they have to twist their language to fit in. They should not have to learn a secret code about what we "really" mean by the word son. . .wink wink. . .in order to get the point.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

We can argue about words till the cows come home.   Fact of the matter is that "man" is often used to mean mankind,  which includes boys, and girls, and women, and men.   When the term is used, it implies an equality in significance of all of the human race, genders, ages, colors, languages, ethnicities.   Trying to remove that meaning, is simply highlighting the differences rather than the similarities (which is the exact opposite of your intent).  

It is quite obvious that "sons" refers to both males and females.  See below. 

Matthew 5:9
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Romans 8:14
because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Romans 8:19
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.

Romans 9:26
and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

Galatians 3:26
[ Sons of God ] You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,

Galatians 4:6
Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

Hebrews 2:10
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.
   Hebrews 12:1
[ God Disciplines His Sons ] Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

Are you advocating that we take whatever words we find in the modern english translations of our bible and make them mean whatever we like? Son means male. Sonship means relationships between parent and males. Adoption is more inclusive and applies to both male and female.

Sonship is exclusive, not inclusive. And regardless of whether you would like it to be inclusive, or not, it speaks to inequality, not its opposite.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

An interesting concept, Greg.  More bible based than "self-based".   That both men and women can be "sons of God" seems to be much more egalitarian than our present day concepts of gender equality.  It leaves no room for distinguishing any kind of difference between sons of God and daughters of God, in terms of God's love and salvation for us.    Thanks for your words. 

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

 

Really?  The concept of adoption including the full rights of sons for male and female is offensive?  For Paul, the awesome news of the gospel was that all of us, male and female, could share the full rights of sons (Romans 8:14, 19 etc).  This means we get the full inheritance!  It is a concept that needs to be explained, but not forgotten in a struggle over language.  Sonship describes and defines the incredible love given to us in adoption.

This  discipleship course is about understanding God's love and grace in Christ so as to apply it to every area of life.  In other words, it has nothing to do with "lording it over others."   It emphasizes humility brought about by repentance and faith.  I struggle to see how such biblical concepts are out of date.  

I can positively affirm that the Sonship material has been an incredibly powerful tool of transformation in my life, in the life of my wife, and within my congregation.  It has opened the hearts and minds of many to see the radical, life-transforming power of the gospel.  It has changed the language of our church to be focused on repentance, faith, forgiveness, reconciliation, and gospel-inspired evangelism.  In other words, this discipleship program has brought authentic revival and renewal to a congregation that desperately needed it.  

So what does it teach?

1.) Cheer up, you are a lot worse than you think.  The first third of the course deals with our need for the gospel.  This message is not merely the key to heaven, but the key to authentic Christian living.  Theologically speaking, the first third of the course deals with the topic of total depravity so as to pastorally affirm our current need for the gospel.  It points to repentance and faith as the true marks of faith.  It focuses on how we do so many things to change the subject so we do not have to deal with our need.

2.) Cheer up, God loves you more than you think.  The second third of the course deals with the good news of the gospel.  It pastorally applies the concept of justification by faith to every area of life.  This section continues to probe deep within our hearts to illuminate how the Love of God allows us to give up the idols of control, addiction, anger, and lust which are nothing but cheap substitutes for God's grace and love in Christ.

3.) Cheer up, God can use you more than you can imagine.  The last third of the course deals with application of the gospel.  The material includes the topics of forgiveness, how to engage in constructive gospel-centered conflict, and gospel-centered evangelism.  

All of these topics are firmly within the Reformed faith, but so often we forget them.  This discipleship course is a reminder of what adoption is all about.  

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

Thank you for the background - I did understand the biblical reference and the emphasis on adoption and the freedom that comes from being united with Christ. I'm not surprised that a study on this topic, with the intensive, mentored approach that you mention would be effective.

Yes, there were many books published before and during the years when gender equity issues were nascent and beginning to be better understood. That is no reason to continue to use this kind of language. Books and print materials of all genres are regularly re-issued with new and/or edited material, with new covers and imagery and with different titles and by-lines. This is a common and effective method of updating material that has become out of date.

If the publisher wants to continue to promote this material, they should change the title. And we should not purchase or promote material that is insensitive to this issue. We should, instead, be telling the publisher that, no matter how good their material, we won't buy it with that title.

While it may be only one instance of demeaning language, it points to the still deeply imbeded use of words that hurt and disenfranchise. We could strive to do better. We should take every step possible to lift up the radical insistence of the gospel - we are all one in Christ, and none should lord it over the others.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

Some responses have confirmed my fear that individuals would reject the material based on the title. Words matter, and I should have be more sensitive with my explanation.  It is also true that actions speak louder than words. I can only speak to my experience, but as a woman I have found that those who have been discipled by and who live out the principles of this material have not been demeaning toward me. In fact, they have encouraged me to use the gifts that God has given me.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

I agree that adoption does include everyone and that the title `Sonship' is not inclusive. My ministry for 18 years was with the organization, World Harvest Mission, that created the `Sonship’ discipleship material. I have been discipled and deeply impacted by the material and have also had the privilege of discipling many others with the material over the years. A little history might help: The 'Sonship' curriculum was created over 20 years ago and in many ways is dated.... and is certainly not at all slick. The title is based on Romans 8:15. When the curriculum was created the NIV and many other translations of Romans 8:15 said: "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of Sonship. And by him we cry, "ABBA", Father." Since that time World Harvest has created newer discipling curriculum such as `Gospel Transformation' and `The Gospel Centered Life' that do not use `Sonship' in the title. The thinking was that the `Sonship' curriculum might eventually be retired and replaced by these newer excellent curriculums.And indeed these newer curriculums are becoming very popular as discipleship tools. However, people keep using the 'Sonship' course. Even though it is somewhat quirky and could use revision, the gospel applications it contains are  profound and practical for walking daily with the Lord. Many lives have been positively changed by the focus on adoption, learning how to repent of sin and what the righteousness of Christ means in day-to-day relationships. On a personal note It was during my time of using the `Sonship' course that i became convinced  and convicted to adopt an egalitarian position on women for church leadership.  The `Sonship’ course is best used one-on-one in a deep mentoring relationship and takes almost a year to complete.  The ‘Gospel Centered Life’ curriculum is easier to use in a small groups, is user friendly and also has more current language and sensibilities.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

I agree that adoption does include everyone and that the title `Sonship' is not inclusive. My ministry for 18 years was with the organization, World Harvest Mission, that created the `Sonship’ discipleship material. I have been discipled and deeply impacted by the material and have also had the privilege of discipling many others with the material over the years. A little history might help: The 'Sonship' curriculum was created over 20 years ago and in many ways is dated.... and is certainly not at all slick. The title is based on Romans 8:15. When the curriculum was created the NIV and many other translations of Romans 8:15 said: "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of Sonship. And by him we cry, "ABBA", Father." Since that time World Harvest has created newer discipling curriculum such as `Gospel Transformation' and `The Gospel Centered Life' that do not use `Sonship' in the title. The thinking was that the `Sonship' curriculum might eventually be retired and replaced by these newer excellent curriculums.And indeed these newer curriculums are becoming very popular as discipleship tools. However, people keep using the 'Sonship' course. Even though it is somewhat quirky and could use revision, the gospel applications it contains are  profound and practical for walking daily with the Lord. Many lives have been positively changed by the focus on adoption, learning how to repent of sin and what the righteousness of Christ means in day-to-day relationships. On a personal note It was during my time of using the `Sonship' course that i became convinced  and convicted to adopt an egalitarian position on women for church leadership.  The `Sonship’ course is best used one-on-one in a deep mentoring relationship and takes almost a year to complete.  The ‘Gospel Centered Life’ curriculum is easier to use in a small groups, is user friendly and also has more current language and sensibilities.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

I took it as referring to "Son" as in Jesus and not referring to male children in general. I have to admit I did roll my eyes a little bit though - reminds me of singing "A Sonbeam, a Sonbeam."

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

I would never use it and am surprised that you are recommending anything with the title "Sonship".

Seriously. . .do we still need to have the conversation about how language "speaks", and how this title disenfranchises and demeans half of the population?

I'm sorry if this seems antagonistic, but this kind of thing matters. And it matters because of the Gospel! It's not a side issue, something - despite the Gospel - to which we can continue to turn a blind eye. Adoption means everyone. Sonship means only those with a. . . male anatomy.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

I just checked out Faith Alive Resources and found many books on sale.... thank you for posting the link.

Each church has a fellowship or welcoming committee I think?

When people are welcomed weekly, the committee should focus on identifying members and visitors areas of interest and actually keep a running list of where folks might want to serve or be involved. Especially with new members and visitors this 'first impression' makes a tremendous difference psychologically and is living our call to be a welcoming church.

The sooner people can be involved at the small group level the more 'at home' they will feel.

posted in: It's Your Page

Good one.  I know there are a lot of churches out there with such groups or churches that started many groups under the formerly supported small group model of Principle Based Small Groups.  In that model anything could be a small group as long as there were a few people involved.

posted in: It's Your Page

That's a great topic, Jan. In my own church, we've often remarked on the same phenomenon. What are the similarities between those groups and what we more typically think of as a small group? And what are the important differences? And what can each type learn from the other?

posted in: It's Your Page

I do think small groups are at the heart of successful church life -- I'm wondering about how already existing groups can and do function as small groups even though they weren't established with that in mind, a church choir, for instance.  What do you think? 

posted in: It's Your Page

Good stuff here,

One thing I would suggest is that your SG Coordinator get some coaching.  And since you're in Jenison MI I would suggest contacting  Sam Huizenga at the CRC Home offices who can set your director up.  I would also encourage the church to expand the library to include some of the books -- or all of the books -- suggested in the Forum discussion Small Group Resources.  If your director was very involved in Coffee Break I would suggest some broader reading to deepen a SG philosophy for the whole church.  

I'm also available for consultation with her online, by phone or skype.  Just let me know.

 

Yes! Very, Very familiar with Jenison....In fact, I volunteered at Community CRC before coming to Calvin in the late 70's. The pastor there, PAstor Dave Struyk was my roomate at Calvin and we still keep in touch. The small groups definitely works better in a suburb to rural area where there is an extreme amount of disconnect throughout the congregation due to distances. 

And now that I'm rested, the authentic community thing is something I don't have to tell you, but it's because 2 things primarily. 1) Due to our fallen nature we daily regress toward our selfishness and wanting to be our own God, meaning we become independent and don't need other and 2) because society as a whole is marketing in a way that continues to drive us to be impersonal beings in relation to others (eg social media, online education, computer marketing) Anything and everything that entices us to not speak, see or relate to other people.

However, the biggest way to combat that (and don't set your goals to high, because it is a slow uphill process) is realizing, accepting and understanding it is happening and consciously and intentionally planning ways that bring people together. OK, there's something to chew on for a while....PS I'm in PEI, Canada....presently at a CRC.

We're in Jenison, Michigan, a suburb of Grand Rapids.  Lots of CRC's around here-- some of which are still isolated from their broader communities.  Glad to hear that you're being nurtrured in your home faith community and that God is blessing the work there!  

Shalom!

Not sure what the make-up of your church is; since I came from a CRC background, 40 yrs ago we were still in isolationist mode....however, the small groups that was started in a small evangelical church I attended after we moved to an area where there was no CRC. (I know, hard to believe, eh?) so the hesitancy was all mine, most likely from my upbringing.....but having married a dynamic non-Dutch CRC person, I was dragged "kicking & screaming" - sort of how God does it to us selfish sinners who love our sin like a pig in the mud -  and I am a better person because of it. As an aside, our church grew during those years from 125 members to over 800 members. I'm not saying that it was due to the small groups, but I'm sure it was an critical ingredient to it's success, in how we formulated our relationships amongst a core group of family ties.

Authentic Community is tough, because it takes time and that's the one commodity that we guard. That would be another lengthy conversation and I've been up since 1:30 am PEI time, so I'm signing out.....Ok, I admit it, I'm guarding my time ....LOL wishing you lots of luck with your small groups...jsut curious where the church is located?

Thank you Albert!  Your comments on the skepticism you had initially leads me to wonder:  Why is it that we are so often leery of the very thing that God created us for:  Authentic Community?   That's a conversation that I'm having with our new Small Groups Ministry Coordinator-- hoping to uncover some insights and some ways to overcome that hesitancy in the people in our church who aren't involved in SG's.  

Dave:

OK....so I didn't read everything....sorry!

You're Coordinator is a she, so I messed up there, and I see someone else suggested this resource also.

I was very skeptical 20 years ago when we begin small groups and my wife even had to drag me kicking in screaming (in typical Dutch stubborness....but I survived and I must say it was probably the best experience I and my family have had!!!

There is a great resource called, Seven Steps to Effective Small Group Ministry;

BY David Stark

If he's never had any experience with small groups it has some great tools for structuring a program.

Just remember to tell him SMALL GROUPS WORKS....but make sure you give it time for the relationships within the groups to develop.

Perhaps also marriages often fall apart because of a lack of understanding of sacrifice and love in general.   If sacrifice and committment are not modelled by parents and the church, then we should not be surprised that children will not learn what those things are.  Our society, including christian society is often more influenced by a humanistic (self-directed) attitude towards marriage, as towards life in general.  In fact, this humanistic philosophy tells us that sacrifice is absurd and ridiculous, and that self-fulfillment is the answer.  We demand to be happy;  it is our right, or so we say.   If we are not "happy" then we start to look for a way out.   A way towards happiness of our own making.   Self-fulfillment.  Which at a certain level is not much different than selfishness.   The irony is that in our search for happiness, we usually lose it.  Even if we were to sacrifice for others, merely to make ourselves happy, we would still not find happiness.   Only our pleasure in serving the God who made us, the God who redeemed us, can really be lasting and whole. 

The other influence or accompanying factor with so many failed marriages is the lack of respect for "marital relations".  By stealing these relations from the institution of marriage, and treating them as mere experiments and trials and testing periods, we have created an atmosphere of trialling that carries over into marriage itself.   Here the irony is that premarital sex is a really good indicator of failed marriages (although there are exceptions).   Premarital sex, including cohabitation prior to marriage was supposed to reduce divorce, but it seems to actually increase the level of divorce and marital insecurity.   Of course, it does not do this by itself;  it is really the attitude that permits stealing sexual activity out of marriage, which continues its battle against marriage later for those who do get married. 

God is greater than the mistakes we make before marriage, and in our time of marriage.   Therefore these trends and our mistakes do not have to determine   our future behaviour, provided we understand forgiveness, sacrifice, and committment. 

While it is true that we are not perfect as our Father in Heaven, yet God asks us to be holy (every Christian), and so we are to try to model our marriages after the love and grace that God shows to us sinners through his mercy, love and forgiveness  through Christ.  If we did that, our rate of successful marriages would be much higher than the present rate.   And it starts with us, with me, not with the "other".   And when we pursue obedience, we will often find   unexpected happiness. 

Great post Allen, and certainly a topic highly deserving of our communal attention. If married couples who attend church divorce at rates similar to the general population, our witness to the world is badly damaged. And has been.

My wife and I attended "Reformed Marriage Encounter" in Oregon decades ago. Was great. I don't know if that is done anymore. I've been involved in divorces over the years from the lawyer side of things. That, plus my own marriage of course, produces this two cents.

Every bit of help couples can get with "how to live together as husband and wife" is helpful. And to that extent, seminars, studies, etc. are all worth it. Still, at the end of the day, the key to keeping married couples married (and married well) is that both of them take seriously their vows to remain married, no matter what. Our nation is now a "no-fault" divorce nation. Thus, it only takes one to divorce, and that means one of the two can divorce for whatever reason. Were I making the laws, I'd go back to a "fault divorce" system (which has its own difficulties, and that's a big subject of its own), but I'm not and so we live with the no-fault system which allows one marriage partner to unilaterally demand and receive divorce (and half the assets, etc).

Beyond that, I think it's helpful for couples to distinguish between "liking each other" and "loving each other." "Liking each other" refers to the feelings couples have that gave cause for them to marry in the first place.These feelings will come and go, sometimes because of "internal" things we can do something about (just not doing the many things a good spouse should do), and sometime because of external things (financial, health -- stuff that happens to couples that are largely unavoidable).

To "love each other" means to commit to what is best for the other (your spouse in marriage), regardless of what you feel. And in the marriage, it also means to stick with the marriage, regardless of whether you "like" your spouse or not.

Certainly, "liking" your spouse makes it more easy to "love" your spouse, but "liking" doesn't guarantee "loving."  The converse is also true: "loving" your spouse will make increase the odds you will "like" your spouse (and eventually almost always does in the long run) but again, "loving" doesn't guarantee (at least in the short run) "liking."

Were a poll taken (and honestly answered) of all married couples who "made it," I doubt even 1% would say (honestly at least) that there weren't times when they disliked their spouse. What carried them through, I would suggest, is that they both were so committed, had so meant the vows they said, that their dislike for eachother was simply trumped by their "love," that is, their commitment. To express it in a cliche, "divorce wasn't an option."  In time, that commitment (unconditional decision to "love") was again rewarded because they found themselves "liking each other" again (what the world calls "falling in love").

This is one of those places where our society's morphing of the meaning of words does us harm. If new couples regard the words "like" and "love" the way our population uses them, the trouble starts immediately because those words will be repeated far more often than the wedding vows.  1 Corinthians 13 is a fantastic dictionary for the word "love." It never mentions feelings.

Great!  Many thanks for pointing me in some good directions.  

Hi Dave,

Congrats to you and your church on your new s.g. coordinator!  A great decision!  I believe firmly that every church should make small groups/community life a high priority...to really see true discipleship and care for one another happen.  I was a s.g. coordinator at my church for a couple of years (and then resigned when my baby arrived).  I will say to check out www.faithalivesresources.org --go to small groups and then scroll down to last one called "program support--s.g. tools".  The red and yellow books were overpriced at 22.99, but I see that they are on sale now for 5.99, so at that price, they are well worth the money.  The books are called "Launch adn LEad YOur own Small Group"  and "Seven Steps to Effecive Small Group Ministry".  Talk to your local home missions reps.  They should have s.g. ministry experience or recommendation.  Coffee Break conventions (now called Small Group conventions) are always a blessing--not sure how often they are offered.  Saddleback Church had some decent stuff 6-7 years ago, but I haven't looked at it lately.  A big thing to keep in mind is that small groups are more than just a Bible study group.  Small group goals can be formed with many different types of groups formed.  (The books listed above will explian more.)  I could go on and on.  You or your  coordinator can write me if interested. 

 

Thanks Freda, for opening up this discussion!  And thanks to all of you for giving such great ideas. 

I am doing a workshop on this theme, this Saturday (Oct. 15) at our Day of Encouragement, in Hamilton, ON.  I look forward to an open dialogue about Women’s Ministry, to wrestle with the dynamics of our changing cultural context.  I am excited to read of the interest and enthusiasm from the rest of you as well!  Perhaps I’ll see some of you at my workshop.  It’s important to keep the dialogue going as we seek to do relational ministry with women to bless the neighbourhoods and communities in which we’ve been planted.  I look forward to more comments & posts.

Blessings to all of you!

Women absolutely need women!

I got an idea from a group of friends in Pittsburgh to start what we call a Soup Group. A small group of women I collected from different spheres of my life meet for prayer and a simple meal of soup and bread. It started off as a once-per-month event, where we'd meet in a different person's home each time. During the summer, since attendance was much more sporadic, we had pot-luck hors d'eurvres and focused on building relationships. By the end of the summer, we'd decided we'd rather meet twice per month! It's been such a blessing to see the friendships blossoming over the dinner table, between women who were strangers one year ago. 

At first we started out sharing over the meal, and then praying after. However, starting this fall we felt we needed more structure and guidance, so we're learning to pray through the Psalms. We covenanted to practice what we learn from our reading each week, and to pray for one other specific person in the group. 

One thing I loved about the neopolitan themed retreat was the ages and stages mix. Our group certainly meets a need: we often fall through the crack between college-and-careers groups and small groups at church made up of young families. We're almost all between 20 and 30, newly married, no children, university friends have scattered, and we're building communities around our new situations in life.  However, we plan to have some "guest pray-ers" join us for a meal to tell us about the power of prayer in their lives, and the different stages their prayer lives have gone through (read slightly-older-women!). 

That passage from Hebrews could be our Soup Group slogan! I think women's fellowship needs to be so much more than coffee break and our churches need to develop ministries that address that. However, women can and do often build these circles of Christian support around themselves all on their own! So I would encourage anyone out there reading this to look around, find leaders or develop your own leadership potential, and listen to the Spirit's prompting about what kind of group you could create. It could have any kind of focus: one that I've thought of myself is fellowship amongst first-time women office-bearers. There is so much potential!

Thanks for your encouraging words, Freda! :)

-Barb

That's so exciting that you use listening prayer.  The Heart to Heart Ladies Dinner I attend also used that method of prayer a number of times and it was such a blessing to us as well, even though we are still on a learning curve with the listening part.  Its so much more comfortable and easy to pray for our needs or our neighbour's needs , much harder to stop and listen for God's response to our needs and how we can bless each other with that.  Thanks for sharing and passing on the study guide information.  I hope others will be blessed by it as well.

Hi,

I really appreciate your expressed sentiments about women.j

I am part of a group of women who meet every other week for prayer. The Lord has led us to listening prayer. We listen to some music, pray thanksgivings and blessings together and then we sit quietly and listen. Later, those who want to, have opportunity to share what they've heard from the Lord - It's amazing how it all fits together and feeds, refreshes and challenges us. Our God is an amazing God - and as hard as it is to do - I cherish these listening prayer times with other women.

Some of the women in this group first got to know each other in a different group of women, which was also very spiritually uplifing and wonderful. A group of us studied "Bethesda, Come to the Water: A Bible Study Guide for Women". It was fun for me, because although I am the author, I was able to just come to the study as a participant while someone else led the group. It was truly a blessing and I would recommend the study guide to other women. It's available through Faith Alive.

The common theme in both these groups is that a space was created, a space for quiet, a space for acceptence, a space for deep sharing. We miss it if all we do is hurry on to the next thing. Our Lord wants to bless us, we have to put ourselves in a position to receive His blessings.

What a wonderful idea!  Thanks for sharing your event, Barb.  I love the passage you chose for your brunch.  It gets at the heart of the reason   we need to keep meeting together, that we may encourage each other on toward love and good deeds. Woman do need to keep meeting together for its in community that we are encouraged  and there are so many creative ways of doing community just as your brunch so clearly shows.  I'm glad to hear you will continue meeting together as women of faith and I hope your comment has encouraged more women to step out in faith and reach out in love to other women.

I belong to Anaheim CRC in Anaheim, CA. My friends and I just threw a "Neapolitan Progressive Brunch" for the adult women (18 and over) of our church. "Neapolitan" meaning mixture, we invited women of all "Ages and Stages". :) The devotion was based on Hebrews 10:24-25 "Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching."  The message coincided with the devotion of how  "Women need Women" and the speaker shared a funny story of how she met and made a new friend and how we should NOT give up meeting together but spur one another on in good deeds. We capitalized on the "Neapolitan" theme and every dessert, balloons, cookies, candy, paper plates, tableclothes were ALL in neapolitan colors of brown, white and pink - down to the breakfast casserole! (Hashbrown casserole with ham and egg - brown, pink and white). Each breakfast course included a question like, "Share what brought you to our church and why do you stay?" or "Share an embarrassing moment" or "Give words of encouragement to those around your table". It was such a nice time to laugh together, share and to get to know one another better (name tags were a must.) It was so beautifully presented with alot of attention to "foo foo". (Ladies know what I mean by that! :)). We charged a mere $5 per person. Suffice it to say that, "Women need women" and we'll do something along this line again...soon...we will NOT give up meeting together. :)

Submitted by; Barb Andreas

Thanks Sarah for your comments and for providing a link to your blog.  I really could relate to your July post about needing to slow down  and connect with God.  I am first a child of God and then a wife, mother, and whatever job I have on the go.  Its so often easy to forget that, in all the busy-ness.  Thanks for sharing, and I hope you keep blogging.

I love this idea!  I recently turned over my position as Women's Retreat planner for our church, but remain very passionate about what a great work God can do in the lives of women when we open up to Him.  I actually pitched a blog idea similar to this to the Banner.  I ended up starting a blog but could not mainain the posting on my own.  You can see what I've done in the past here http://www.authenticmotherhood.com/.  I hope your blog takes off.  It's a wonderful idea!

Just came across this resource recently.  I've been reading M. Scott Boren's blog lately and happened upon this gem.  If you are not familiar with his two books, Missional Small Groups and one he cowrote Introducing the Missional Church, get them and read them.  They are exceptionally valuable.

Here's the gem.  Scott has a website of FREE stuff including video teaching via You Tube.  If you have Real Player Pro and something similar with the ability to capture online video you're set to burn them to DVD for your groups.  And Scott gives permission to do this.  

A couple of great studies to check out are The Journey Together: Training Groups for Effective Group Life.  This study is not just training for leaders but the whole group.  It is an excellent study for a new group.  It's similar to Zondervan's ReGroup: Teaching groups to be groups, but is more extensive.  Each person brings something different, both good and bad, to the group.  The Journey Together helps the whole group understand its function and dysfunctions and how to work together.

Another study goes along with the book Missional Small Groups and leads the group toward a more practical understanding and commitment to making a difference in one another's lives and their community.

Here's the link to the FREE stuff on the site. Click Here

Free awesome curriculum?  Who can pass that up?

Enjoy!

Of course when I refer to "comfortable pew" I am referring to those who believe just coming Sundays is all you need.  It should also be comfortable for those who come weary and burdened and need rest for their souls.

We definitely need to do a whole lot more sackclothing in our churches.  Besides our denomination not having evangelism in it's original DNA we have made discipleship into going to church, sending your kids to Sunday school and Christian School,  actually isolating ourselves from the real world and in so doing raising generations that haven't a clue how to really engage it with the Gospel.  But that's not discipleship -- just being a good churchy Christian.

People wonder why I'm out there networking with non-Christians and having a great time playing music and being available to students or participating in the Chamber of Commerce and the local homeless shelter.  Simple, it's what Jesus expects of us as disciples.  If we're going to be true disciples of Jesus he expects us to "SELL OUT"  for him.  And I'm trying to lead our church in that same direction.  There should be no such thing as the comfortable pew unless you've just spent your time reaching out to the lost and those in need and just need a little rest for your bones.  Bring on the sackcloth, we've got a lot of repenting to do.

AMEN... akd.  You da Man. 

"Ninevites" are part of God's redemptive people, as scary as they may look.  A real disciple doesn't sit under a shelter or a vine, he or she, gets in the sackcloth with the people, the king, and the animals and helps them find their right hand and their left hand.  Give me more sackcloth!

Glad that my post could help. I'd like to hear about your ministry. Shoot me an email: rawhite2@gmail.com

What Alan shares reminds me of James K Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom.  This past January at the Worship Symposium at Calvin College he talked about how the mall is a religious institution.  It was eye-opening to me as I began to see more comparisons such as sports stadiums.  We are loaded with consumeristic religion.  This is a great explanation of the lack of committment that churches are finding and we also see that when someone "gets it" in terms of a relationship with God and each other then they die to themselves or to the consumeristic religion.

I just witnessed it this past week at a youth group SERVE project where the kids were allowed to use their cell phones, iPods, etc. but because of the fellowship and worship that they were a part of those electronic devices were rarely used.  Without knowing it those kids understood that consumerism is a fading shot of happiness.

Shalom,

Craig

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