What might Jesus say if He visited your small group?

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I wonder what would happen if Jesus stepped into your small group this week.

  • Would he cry? Laugh? Yell? Flip over tables?
  • Would he sit down and eat some nachos with you?
  • Would he grab a cup of coffee and stay late?

If Jesus came to your small group, I think there are a few things he’d say:

You’re too easy on church people.

Jesus was never easy on people that claimed a relationship with God. He was much tougher on them than he was people outside of the Church. He held them to a much higher standard, and called them to be living, breathing examples of the Gospel. And when they weren’t, he let em have it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”- Matthew 23:27-28

You’re too tough on lost people.

Groups should be the place where “outsiders”feel comfortable exploring, disagreeing, and bringing the full weight of themselves into the conversation. And when they sin, we should expect it. Don’t be surprised when lost people act lost.

Speaking to a woman caught in adultery, Jesus said:

“Woman, where are they (your accusers)? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.”And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more. – John 8:10-11

You’re too stingy.

Groups should be the place where our combined resources make a dent in the Kingdom. Our generosity should shape neighborhoods, shake families, and leave people shaking their heads at our love.

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. – Luke 6:30

Generosity is costly and formative. The strongest small groups are marked by lavish generosity in various forms. All too often, we in small groups just think, “What’s in this for me? How am I going to grow? How should I change?”It’s not all about us.

Why so serious?

People take spiritual growth too seriously. Too heavily. Too ominously. Spiritual growth happens in the serious moments, but it also happens in the laughter and the fun.

Jesus didn’t say this, but I can only imagine he obeyed it:

Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. –Psalm 126:2-3

When they heard the people’s mouths filled with laughter and their tongues singing songs of joy, they said, “They must serve a great God!”Laughter and joy became attractional for the church. Outsiders began to notice the community of God-followers because they were laughing.

Just 1.5 hours?

Spiritual growth is much more all-encompassing than 1.5 hours. In no way can you expect to grow if you just spend 1.5 hours together in a week. Small groups build relationships with one another. Phone calls, cups of coffee, texts, lunches, and other relationship-building times are a must.

Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus not just teaching, but spending time with, his disciples.

What are you producing?

So many small groups have no idea where they’re headed. They think that small group is about the curriculum. Or about the meeting. Or about the project. The reality is that all of those are just the backdrop for the real mission: creating disciples.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”- Matthew 28:18-19

Let’s eat!

Eating together is such a vital part of the success of a small group. It gives depth to relationship as you meet one another’s physical needs, it gives a natural reason to congregate together (everyone’s got to eat), and through providing food for one another you inadvertently put a bit of yourself into your meal.

We see multiple examples of Jesus eating with his disciples, both before and after the resurrection.

What do you think Jesus would say to your small group?


Ben Reed is the author of Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint. He is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. Ben is also an avid Cross-Fitter and coffee drinker. But not at the same time.

Photo credit: Sathish J (CC)

Lapel clipper or boy bander?

Bere Gratis live performance

Most preachers I know are pretty particular about their microphone preferences.

They know their options – the lapel clip, the pulpit stand, the handheld, boy band-left ear, boy band-right ear, etc… and they’ve made their choice.

As a boy band lefty myself, I even have a routine for how the cable is run down my shirt, paper-clipped to my collar, and tucked the appropriate way into the appropriate pocket of my pants. It’s odd, I’m aware, but preachers want to know they’ve done as much as they can to ensure the message is delivered well.

This mentality of course impacts sermon development also. I know pastors, whose primary responsibility is to preach, who give 40+ hours of prep to each message. Others with less time are no less consumed with finding the best angle, the memorable phrase, or the knifing illustration. Preachers feel the weight of ministering the Word and work accordingly.

This is how it should be. 1 Corinthians 12 informs us that God’s purpose, His primary calling for some men, is to be His mouthpiece for His people. “God has arranged members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. (v.18)” “He has appointed in the church… teachers. (v.28)”

Preachers are designed to deliver sermons to the church. They love to talk and their people love to listen because that is the way God wants it. That is the way the body needs it. So, preachers take seriously their God-given mandate to teach, even if that means spending 30 hours studying and learning the ins and outs of sound equipment.

But, how many give similar effort to helping their people process the truth after it has been taught?

We have a tendency to work-work-work to get the Word delivered, and then chalk up everything that follows to “God’s Word doesn’t return void” and “It’s God who gives the increase.” It doesn’t and He does, but are we really putting our people in a position to powerfully respond to the message of God?

If we do nothing, if we don’t prepare on the backend like we do on the front, people will sit in their chairs, with hearts full and affections stirred, and nothing will happen. Sure, they will commit to themselves to do something about what they’ve heard. To remember it. To meditate on it. To act on it. But instead of following through, they will get together with other similarly moved brothers and sisters to watch a DVD or listen to a lecture about something else from someone else, somewhere else.

Through the Spirit-led, carefully crafted messages of His preachers, God is already speaking powerfully into the hearts of His people, but when pastors fail to intentionally shepherd the flock to respond to that work, much of the fruit is missed. I’m convinced that thousands of beautiful supernatural intentions die every week because the planning stops with the sermon. It is as though we spend several days of our lives preparing a delicious dinner only to fail to provide a fork with which to eat it.

It matters little how much you plan to get your sermon out well if you don’t give your people a chance to work it out well.

Such preparation doesn’t even take as much work as the sermon itself. Providing people the opportunity to process what God is doing in their hearts through the preaching falls somewhere on the difficulty scale between crafting the message and donning the microphone.

The most obvious way for a pastor to provide that opportunity is to create a brief discussion guide designed to help the body share their conviction, clarify their concerns, and respond to the challenges of the sermon. Someone from the pastor’s team can do it. Someone from this team can do it. But somehow, the moments to which the work of the week has led must not pass without consequence. If the church is gathering at other times throughout the week, one of the centerpieces of those gatherings should be sermon-based, heart-exposing, response-generating discussion. If we don’t create such an opportunity, we shoot the foot of our own function in the body.

When God crushes hearts through the work of His preachers, His people need to huddle together to process and respond to what He is doing. The men, be they lapel clippers or boy banders, who give so much care to ensuring the message gets out in powerful ways, must also create the opportunity for that message to be thought out and lived out in powerful ways.


Brandon Hiltibidal is a husband to Scarlet, a daddy to Ever, an owner of the Green Bay Packers, and a strategist for discipleshipincontext.com. Connect with him on Twitter @bmhiltibidal.

Photo credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via photopin cc

Should every Christian be in a small group? Yep!

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Every fall at my local church, we talk about the importance of being in a small group and we invite people to participate in them. This type of thing is happening all across the country, maybe even the world: the call for Christians to participate in small groups. But why is it important for every Christian should be in a small group? Here are three reasons:

Firstly, we should be in a small group is because we need to grow in our faith. Small groups are the place where we take what we learn on Sundays and put our Christianity to practice. In my small group, we share openly and ask questions of the text we’re studying along with the prepared questions. We discuss—often intensely—what the passage means or what issues it raises that we deal with in everyday life. This leads us to discuss the intersection of the Bible and daily life. Our discussions are often passionate and opinions are made known on a wide variety of issues. We bring the mess of our lives in and deal with it together (even with people who we might not know all that well at first). We do all of this because we love one another and want to spur one another onto love and good deeds.

Second, we need to be in a small group because we need accountability and prayer. Once during small group, I got a text from my mom regarding my dad who has dementia. I was close to tears and we stopped our study so I could explain what was going on. I read, word for word, what my mom said and my response to her text message. While this hasn’t happened frequently, I have to say it meant a lot to me that the group stopped and prayed for me. This is what small groups are about, a place where we take seriously what the Bible teaches and apply it in practical ways by caring for one another.

Finally, we need to be in a small group because we need one another’s insights and perspectives. Everyone benefits in a small group when all the members participate. The amount of education we have is not important, we can all learn from one another (I’m a seminary-educated Christian, and I’ve been a believer since I was a little kid, and I greatly benefit from the insights and perspectives of the other people in my small group). We might think we’ve made up our minds on a particular issue, but healthy small group discussion can help us realize we haven’t understood it from all sides (I’ve had that happen many times). We can open up and share what we really think about issues from the Bible, and then discover what the Word of God teaches. We can take what we learn and share it with others. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

This is what small group is about: they help us grow together, the give us accountability, and they open us up to new perspectives. We desperately need this—we desperately need one another. So when your church invites you to participate, don’t wait—join a small group as soon as you can!


Today’s post is by Dave Jenkins. Dave is the Director of Servants of Grace Ministries. You can follow him on twitter@DaveJJenkins or read more of his work at servantsofgrace.org.


Photo credit: NBC

Links I like

It’s Back — The “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” and the State of Modern Scholarship

Albert Mohler:

The so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” is back in the news and back in public conversation. The story first broke in a flurry of sensationalism back in September of 2012 when Smithsonian magazine declared that a papyrus fragment had been found which would “send jolts through the world of biblical scholarship.” Well, it didn’t jolt much of anything.

If you did what Disney characters do, they’ve be creepy

HT: Barnabas

New Kindle deals!

There are some pretty great new Kindle deals on right now, including one of my favorite books on evangelism by Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, for 99¢. Also on sale:

An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew Davis—99¢

Atheism Remix by Al Mohler—$1.99 (seriously, just get this!)

Preaching the Cross by the Together for the Gospel speakers—$3.99

Truth Endures by John MacArthur—$3.99

And finally, Francis Chan’s books are on sale:

5 Common Small Group Myths

Steven Lee:

What you believe about your small group will dictate how you approach potential problems when they arise. If you buy a house knowing it will be a fixer-upper, then you approach that faux wood paneling in the family room as an opportunity to upgrade and improve. Whereas if you buy your dream house and find out the basement floods, you’re pretty disappointed and discouraged.

In the same way, people are often disappointed in their small group because they come to it with the wrong expectations. Here are five common myths about small groups, and the corresponding truth that corrects our wrong thinking.

A Generation of Ham’s

Mike Leake:

I am convinced that we are a generation of Ham’s and not Shem and Japheth. We glory in exposing sin and shame instead of covering it. Certainly we should “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” I think we’ve got that part down for the most part. What we lack, however, is a love which covers sin instead of exposing it.

The God of Joyful Tears and Sorrow

Trevin Wax:

The delivery room is a place of great pain, but also joy as a woman awaits the arrival of new life from her womb. The graveside harbors a family’s great grief, but also, an insuppressible hope and joy as we feel the birth pangs of a world that is passing away and look forward to the world that is to come, a world in which a little girl whose first sight was the eyes of Jesus will receive her little body back and bow before her Maker, a world in which God Himself will wipe away our tears, a new world born out of the pain and suffering of the old.

 

Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax

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From my earliest days as a Christian, bad Bible teaching frustrated me, but it was all around me. A steady diet of “how-to” sermons and “what does this mean to me” Bible studies left me feeling twitchy. I wanted to “go deeper”—even though I had no idea what that meant.

Initially, I thought it was all about technique. So I started a Bible study where we more or less just focused on the Bible. We covered the basic questions pretty well: “What does the text say,” and “what does it mean?” But what I missed pretty consistently was “How am I to live in light of this?” The people in our group wound up getting their heads filled with knowledge, but not necessarily having any sort of heart transformation come as a result.

I continued to stumble along through our Bible study, slowly figuring out that going “deep” isn’t just about good information, nor is it about good application. It’s about helping people see Jesus clearly in all of Scripture, and how we might become more like him as a result. But you know what would have helped me get there a lot faster? Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax.

In this book, Trevin cuts to the heart of the “going deeper” dilemma by providing a succinct analysis of the problem at hand (our lack of depth and failure to see how everything centers on Jesus in the Scriptures), a powerful exposition of the gospel itself, followed by three practical chapters on what it looks like to show Christ in the Scriptures, from exposition to application to mission. [Read more...]

Is it the method or the message?

Discipleship can be tricky business. You don’t always know what’s going to work with an individual, a small group or the larger congregation. Sometimes we think the solution to discipleship is giving people more books they won’t read. Sometimes we think it’s talking only about how we apply the truth to our lives (even if we don’t necessarily talk about how we arrive at said truth).

Gospel-Centered-Teaching

My friend Trevin Wax gets the frustration; more importantly, he’s voiced it in his new book, Gospel-Centered Teaching. What I really appreciate about what he’s written so far—and I’m only just a few pages in, so this isn’t a review by any stretch of the imagination—is he also get where the frustration stems from: it’s that we’re focused on the wrong thing. He writes:

I get the feeling that a lot of leaders are weary of running to the newest fad. Tired of trying to stir up enthusiasm for doing the same old thing. They realize it’s not enough to give the newest method.… I’m convinced that the method is not what matters most anyway; it’s the method. Get the message right, and God will work through a variety of methods. But miss the message, and the best methods in the world won’t bring about transformation. (Gospel-Centered Teaching7)

When we’re focused on methods, it’s easy for people to hide what’s really going on in their lives. It’s easy to hide your personal sin and struggles behind a video curriculum. It’s easy to ignore conviction when reading a how-to book.

It’s a lot harder when you’re being challenged to think in light of the gospel. Discipleship stems from the “therefores” of Scripture. “Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:1 (HCSB); but the message comes first. We can’t walk in light of what we don’t know. That’s what Trevin’s talking about, and that’s what we need more of in our thinking on discipleship, whatever method we employ.

Links I like

10 Errors to Avoid When Talking about Sanctification and the Gospel

Kevin DeYoung:

With lots of books and blog posts out there about law and gospel, about grace and effort, about the good news of this and the bad news of that, it’s clear that Christians are still wrestling with the doctrine of progressive sanctification. Can Christians do anything truly good? Can we please God? Should we try to? Is there a place for striving in the Christian life? Can God be disappointed with the Christian? Does the gospel make any demands? These are good questions that require a good deal of nuance and precision to answer well.

Thankfully, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

What is Christian Bible study?

Good video from Trevin Wax, based on his new book Gospel-Centered Teaching:

Got a dollar? Help make a Spurgeon documentary!

My pal Stephen is making a documentary about Charles Spurgeon. You can help by checking out his Kickstarter campaign here.

Some Reflections on My Brief Foray into Reactionary Writing

Julian Freeman:

Two weeks ago today, I was frustrated. The Christian twitter / facebook / blog world was in an uproar over a controversial conference that seemed to be all-consuming to many. I let it get to me too.

So on that particular day, I gave in to my frustration, and I posted a controversial blog post. Whether or not it was right, it was emotionally charged and reactionary. And a couple of my friends reminded me that that’s not who I am, so I deleted the post.

Since then I’ve been thinking a little bit about that little ‘foray’ into reactionary / controversy-stirring kind of blogging. Here are some of my thoughts as I’ve reflected.

A Millennial Moralism

Lore Ferguson:

Paul admonished the Thessalonians to “Live a quiet life…and work with your hands,” and the oldest American ethos has resurrected itself in like form. In a down economy, there’s been an upside: the aspiration for young people to take the verse to heart (whether they’re bible folks or not). Woodworking, crafting, printing, brewing, and cooking—whatever passion they’re following, they’re following it back to its roots. The American Spirit has gotten in the bloodstream of millennials and they’re putting their hand to the proverbial plow. Pinterest provides a visual smorgasbord of projects just waiting for someone to learn how to do them.

However, I wonder if we’ve ascribed a new kind legalism to work?

Why I dig Piper

We’re going through a study series in our small group on “When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy.” I’ve really appreciated what Piper’s got to say in the second to last part.

The big idea is this: If we want to see God for who He really is, we need to actually understand who the Bible is all about.
The Bible is all about Jesus. Only, solely, continually… And this is a very exciting thing indeed.

This is something I really strive to do in my own study. I’ve been reading through the Bible and asking myself the question, “Where’s Jesus in this passage? What do Leviticus or Deuteronomy teach me about Jesus?” (Just so you know, the answer is quite a bit, but that’s another post ).

When you really get that the Bible is all about Jesus, you really start to see the Bible make sense. If we make the story about us, we lose the real story, and it all goes to pot.

Just some late night thoughts.