What’s your small group story?


Today’s post is by Ben Reed. Ben is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN area. In addition to pastoring, preaching, and writing, Ben has a great passion for coffee. Good coffee, that is. And CrossFit. But not at the same time. You can journey along with Ben at BenReed.net and learn more about his new book, Starting Small, at smallgroupblueprint.com.

Nobody ever stated it outright, but the way our local church was structured growing up made me feel like the Sunday morning experience was the most important aspect of my walk with Jesus. Maybe it was self-imposed, but I felt like if I missed a Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, Tuesday evening, Wednesday evening, or the random youth trip, I’d be smote. Or smoten? Or smitten? No… that’s something else entirely.

It’s easy for churches to slide into this mindset, because whether you like it or not, Sunday morning is coming. It doesn’t matter what kind of dreaming, strategic planning, or structural work you do throughout the week. If you don’t prepare for Sunday you’ll fall flat on your face.

So you dump more time. More resources. More energy. More staff. More planning. Into ensuring Sunday morning is air-tight.


Don’t get me wrong, corporate worship is vital to our faith. It’s an environment that corrects, teaches, energizes, and worships Jesus.

But without relational connection, The Church isn’t the Church. At best, it’s a show. At worst, it’s a complete waste of our time, energy, and resources.

You and I are the Church. Not the buildings we build. Not the walls we construct. Not the pews we sit in.

The Church exists outside the four walls of our church buildings. You know that, right?

That’s why I wrote Starting Small. To promote small group health. To lay out a strategy for starting small groups, no matter the size of your church. No matter the location. No matter the demographics.

And to help small groups become more effective disciple-makers.

I’ve told my story through group life, failures and all, to help build healthy, authentic, biblical, God-honoring small groups around the world.

What’s your small group story?

Ben has kindly offered two copies of his new book, Starting Small, to give away to readers here. How do you win? Simple: share your small group story—what have you loved; what’s been most challenging? Ben will pick his two favorite answers at the end of the day Wednesday. Winners will be notified by email. 

Think About What You're Reading

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

I read a silly amount of books every week/month/year, and I’ve realized something:

The ones I enjoy the most are the ones with discussion questions.

Recently my men’s small group has been working our way through The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard (it’s a great book, by the way), and one of the most helpful things about it—even more than the content itself—is the discussion questions and application activities.

It’s really easy to read a book (or scan it in some cases) and say, “Yep, I’ve got it. Next!” Especially for me.

I read very quickly, I retain a lot… but if I don’t dwell on the content, it just sits in my head and doesn’t affect my life.

I find that I have to make the time for application. Discussion questions force me to do that, to dwell on the content and chew on its implications.

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul is a great one for that, as is Doctrine by Driscoll & Breshears. Both of these contain great questions that are beneficial to personal study or small groups.

Now, there are some things that don’t require discussion guides, obviously. If you’re reading Amish Vampire Romance End-Times books, for example—okay, that might require some discussion (but not of the book itself).

Rescuing Ambition, which I reviewed yesterday, had a lot of questions within the text, which was great. It made me stop and think about the book.

I also appreciate how Francis Chan periodically writes, “Okay, stop reading this book, go watch this video here, read this passage of Scripture and look at what it says about XYZ.” That’s smart; it pushes the reader to interact with the text and not just let it wash over him or her.

So what do you do with a book that doesn’t have any questions?

Ask your own!

As a general rule, I have a few questions for every book I read:

  1. What is the main idea the author is trying to convey?
  2. How does the author support his/her idea(s)? Scripture, tradition, history, illustrations from real life examples…
  3. Do I agree with the author’s main idea? Why or why not? And can I support my position with appropriate Scripture? (Questions two and three are essential for anything labeled “Christian Living,” “Spiritual Growth,” or “Theology,” I’ve found.)
  4. If these ideas are true, what is one practical way I can apply this truth today?

A great book is one that doesn’t just challenge the way you think, but challenges you to think.

Ask questions. Enjoy discussion.

And think about what you’re reading.

Small Groups: A Beautiful Mess by Ben Reed

Today’s guest post is by Ben Reed. Ben  is the small groups pastor at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, TN. He blogs regularly at Life and Theology, wrestling through subjects such as small groups, parenting, leadership, social networking, and counseling…all from a distinctively biblical point of view. You can follow him on Twitter HERE or on Facebook HERE.

Ever been in a relationship of any kind? Then you know what I’m about to say is true: relationships are messy.

Because of the Fall (Genesis 3), try as we may, building meaningful relationships with others is one of the most difficult things we will try to do. Because it’s not just us that we have to work on.

If our problem is, let’s say, lying, we can work on that. We spend time in prayer. Read books about how lying is a sin. Write little encouraging notes to ourselves on our bathroom mirror and on sticky notes that get lost.  Read books that talk about how the Truth has set us free from lying. Bring others into our story, let them know our struggles, and have them call us to the carpet when we lie.

But building relationships isn’t all about us. You can try all you want, but the fact that you’re trying to build a relationship with a fellow sinner complicates the game. Because it’s not just you that has to deal with a sinner…the other person has to as well. Trying to line up two sinful hearts is an unbelievably difficult task.  So many of us find ourselves gravitating towards isolationism, where we run from relationships. It’s much easier than pursuing them.

But this doesn’t please Christ. For whom did Christ die?

The Church.

And who is the Church?

A body of believers. 

Which means that you, in and of yourself, are not the church. You need others. And they need you.  [Read more…]

Untapped Resources

Photo by Adrian Boca

“Are you in a small group?” 

I get asked that question just about every week at our church. We love small groups and want to see everyone connected to one. 

The first people we met were Bruce and Mary, an older couple who oversee small group leaders.  Just about everyone I know is in a small group. In fact, groups are so much a part of the community’s DNA that it’s generally assumed that you’re going to be a part of one. 

As you can imagine, if you’re passionate about small groups, this is a really, really good thing. 

Back to that question: “Are you in a small group?” 

While I’m involved in a weekly men’s group, my wife and I aren’t in a group together, aside from a course we’re taking.  We’re a single-income family, and the cost of child care for two young children can be overwhelming. 

As I’m sure most parents can relate, even regular social events can be a chore when you add kids into the mix, particularly if there are no grandparents living in close proximity or friends who can be called on to regularly babysit. So when a night of babysitting comes up, it’s more likely to be used for a date night than for a night in small group. 

After all, what man doesn’t love an opportunity to take his wife out on a fancy date to Starbucks? 

The odds are stacked against groups. So what can we do to encourage parents of young children to join (aside from asking them to host one)? 

Look at the resources that exist around us.  [Read more…]

New E-Book: Contending – A Study and Discussion Guide

Jude wrote to an unknown group of Christians, eager to write about “our common salvation;” to share about the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus with the church. Instead, compelled by the Holy Spirit, he wrote the New Testament epistle that bears his name—an urgent appeal warning believers to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered.”

In 2009, I felt burdened to address this issue in the small group I led. I wanted to help our friends there build a better understanding of the necessity of contending for the faith. Over the last several weeks, I’ve adapted the content of that study into a series of article here on the blog, and am now making it available to you in an e-book format.

This 32 page booklet contains the articles based on this study as well as a series of questions for each section to assist you in your personal study or in a small group setting. You will also find a number of recommended resources to help you grow in your understanding of the essential truths of the Christian faith.

You are free to download the Contending Study & Discussion guide and pass it along in electronic or hardcopy formats as you see fit.

It is my desire that this short guide would be a blessing to you as you read it and that you would gain an increased desire to earnestly “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3)

Read the original posts in this series:

Jude: Contending To Keep Us From Stumbling

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

—Jude 17-25—

Two weeks ago, I began a series here based on a small group study I wrote a year ago examining the epistle of Jude, by first examining “our common salvation” of which he was so eager to write, followed by an examination those of whom we contend against. This week concludes this look at Jude’s epistle with the call to persevere and how we should approach those that would cause division among us.

Do Not Be Surprised

We should not be surprised that there are a great many who would seek to lead God’s people astray. The serpent has been doing this since the beginning (see Genesis 3) and he is still hard at work today. Among those professing to be Christians today are fierce wolves who will not spare the flock (Acts 20:29). We have been warned throughout Scripture that this would be the case. And although it can be discouraging, we must not despair because it is a sign that Christ’s return is closer: [Read more…]

Jude: Contending Against False Teachers

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.

—Jude 5-16—

Last week, I began a series here based on a small group study I wrote a year ago examining the epistle of Jude, by first examining “our common salvation” of which he was so eager to write. It is critical for us to understand “the faith once for all delivered” for which we must contend—because knowing what is right is critical for us to distinguish what is wrong.

As Jude continues down this road, so do we, looking at what he (and the rest of Scripture) tell us about those who have “crept in unnoticed.”

Perverting the Grace of God

Jude verse 4 tells us that, “certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

This is a pretty serious charge, isn’t it? To say that some among us—leading, teaching, writing books, blogging, making videos—that some of these are not servants of Christ at all. They’re servants of Satan seeking to destroy God’s Church? Without question it is, but it’s one to which all believers must pay careful attention. [Read more…]

Don't Just Lead – Learn to Let Others Minister to You

The following article was originally published at SmallGroupTrader.com

A few months ago, my wife and I made a big decision and left the first church we ever went to and joined another church where we live. Up until that time, we’d been running a small group that, due to a variety of circumstances was coming to an end; and after joining our new church, we found ourselves, for the first time in two years, not leading a group.

In some ways it was refreshing. No study to prepare. No questions to email. No house prep… The first couple months in particular were actually a much needed respite for us individually and as a family.

After about three months of getting settled, I decided to join a new small group—a weekly men’s group. Every Friday mornings, I wake up at a ghastly time and grab some breakfast (although I’m not sure it counts as food) on the way over to the meeting before digging into a discussion of the book we’re reading. And to be a part of a group, for the first time in a long time was equally refreshing (and yes, that can happen at 6:30 AM).

Why? Because I realized I had burnt out a bit. I’d been going at top speed, trying to do as much as I could to help as many as I could…but I wasn’t letting anyone do that for me. It’s really easy for leaders to forget that they need to be ministered to as much as they minister to others.

Because of the responsibilities that often come with leading a group, it can sometimes feel like you’re just not part of the group. Maybe, for whatever reason, you don’t feel like you can be as open as others. I know a number of people in church leadership who have expressed that they feel they can’t be a part of a group unless they’re leading it. It’s “expected” of them. Because of this expectation (legitimate or not), these leaders invest, invest, invest… but aren’t being invested in. It leaves them spiritually dry, sometimes a bit bitter, and more than a little exhausted.

So here’s my encouragement to you: Do not just lead a group—be in one. Learn to let others minister to you. No matter who you are—a pastor, a ministry leader, a small group leader—let other people invest in you, encourage you and build you up in your faith. None of us are not so important, so spiritually mature that we can neglect this aspect of our lives. Talk to your existing one and repent if you’ve been doing this. Join another one if you have to. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Learn to let others minister to you.

Thanks to my friends at SmallGroupTrader.com for giving me a reason to write this.


DVD Review: Vintage Jesus DVD Curriculum

Vintage Jesus is a twelve-part DVD curriculum featuring Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA.

Based on Driscoll’s 12-part sermon series from the fall of 2006, and the book of the same name published in 2008, Vintage Jesus answers 12 of the most important questions about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

If you’ve read the book or watched the sermon series, you’re not going to find anything new in terms of content, but it’s no less compelling. Truly, Vintage Jesus is Vintage Driscoll.

What’s Good

Driscoll’s presents with passion and authority a Jesus who demands to be worshipped—A biblical Jesus. And it’s a breath of fresh air. He shows participants not only Christ as our incarnate example, but also our great and exalted King. Covering the whole of Scripture, he gives us an understanding of how the Bible is all about Jesus and addresses some of the more common critiques related to Christ and Scripture.

Particularly compelling is Driscoll’s (correct) assertion of Scripture’s inerrancy. A case in point: When addressing the issue of the virgin birth, Driscoll comments briefly on a popular author who wrote that if we found out that Jesus wasn’t really born of a virgin, we wouldn’t really lose anything. Driscoll illustrates that this is anything but the case: If you lose the virgin birth, you actually lose everything. If Scripture lies about Jesus, you lose Jesus and you lose Scripture. This is a hard, but necessary, correction.

What’s Great

What you will find less of is Driscoll’s often ribald humor. [Read more…]

Experimenting with Style: New Article at The Small Group Exchange

SmallGroupExchange.com recently published an article of mine on study techniques for small groups. I’m now:

One of the greatest challenges we’ve faced in our small group is our study technique. How do we study a book of the Bible or a topic in a way that’s interesting, challenging and informative? How do we develop a technique that doesn’t just spoon-feed, but encourages active participation and study?

We tried a bunch of different styles and techniques, and it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that we finally found one that works for our group. But before I get to that, perhaps it would be wise to discuss what we did wrong along the way.

Read the rest at the Small Group Exchange.

Finding Direction

Thursday night we had small group, with a few members missing. During the course of our study of Jude, the conversation turned to a place where we really realized that we need to take some time and find out what we want from a small group, and what God has brought us all together for.

This is really exciting. I’m incredibly enthused at our group really spending some serious time figuring out what our values are—what are we coming together to accomplish in each others lives. Are we strictly a Bible study? Do we need to become more socially-minded in our focus, not to the exclusion of study, but to actually try to apply it and have the conversations we maybe don’t feel we can ask in our typical group format?

I really don’t know, but it will be interesting to find out.

One of my favorite things to come out of the night was an expressed desire to actually be studying independently, and coming together for discussion (and correction where needed). I think this is the thing that I am anticipating the most, as I have been feeling very convicted of late about how our group runs in this regard. Currently, we have a bit more “formal” teaching, despite my best efforts to move to more of a discussion-based format. While I love formal teaching, I don’t know that the small group setting is the most appropriate place for it.

The thing that excites me most about all of this is that it’s step to finding some direction in one of the many areas of my life where I feel more than a little lost.

I spoke with a mentor and good friend about this the other night; honestly, I’m wrecked emotionally. I’m exhausted, physically.

But I’m getting more out of Scripture than I have in a little while. I’m reading it with a hunger, that while I can’t say it’s ever been missing, has really intensified. Maybe it’s that desire for the law that the psalmists wrote about repeatedly (which I’ve gone on about at length at least once). What he told me was that it’s because God is taking my head knowledge and turning it into experiential knowledge. That God has ordained this time in my life to draw me closer to him.

Just sitting here thinking about this has made me realize something: If that’s the purpose for everything that’s been going on over the last seven weeks, it’s worth it. I want to come out the other side a more mature and godlier man. Only time will tell.

An Unregenerate Sheep in the Fold – new article at SmallGroupExchange.com

About a week or so ago, my friends at Small Group Exchange posted an article I wrote on what to do if you think someone in your small group isn’t actually a Christian.

Here’s a snippet:

You’re sitting in your living room after small group, reflecting on the conversation of the evening. While you’re reviewing the night, you remember something a group member said that catches you off guard:

“I don’t know why we put so much emphasis on the Bible… it’s just a book.”

As you pray over this, you recall other similar comments, and become increasingly concerned that this person may not actually be a Christian.

And, you’re right. They may not be.

Read the rest at SmallGroupExchange.com