Archive for the ‘Fellowship’ category

Essential Practices of the Small Group Leader #7: Be an Encourager

March 16, 2009

“A pat on the back, though only a few vertebrae removed form a kick in the pants, is miles ahead in results.” – Howard Hendricks.

Have you ever been discouraged? I have. Most likely, you have too. Maybe you were doused by the “cold-water committee,” or received harsh criticism for something you did or did not do. Maybe life just came along and gave you a swift kick in the shins. Now, consider your small group – chances are, that some or all of them have faced something discouraging recently:

– job stress or job loss
– financial worries
– health concerns
– spiritual doubts
– struggles with relationships
– fear of the future
– guilt over poor decisions
insert source of discouragement

As small-group leaders / Sunday School teachers, we need to be encouragers to the people in our groups. Unfortunately, some of those same people fear that they will receive more discouragement by attending church or a small group. Hopefully, that’s a false impression but, as the saying goes, perception is 99% of reality. Our job is cut out for us to overcome that perception and become effective encouragers.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

The Apostle Paul called on the Thessalonian church to be encouragers (and encouraged them for doing so). The Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines encouragement as:to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope :hearten <she was encouraged to continue by her early success> b: to attempt to persuade : urge  <they encouraged him to go back to school>2: to spur on : stimulate <warm weather encourages plant growth>3: to give help or patronage to :foster.”

Did you catch those key words? inspire . . . courage . . . spirit . . . hope . . . persuade . . . urge . . . spur on . . . stimulate . . . give help . . . foster . . . Encouragement involves action on the part of the encourager. Encouragement may come through our words but often it will come through our deeds. It’s not enough to simply say, “I’ll pray for you,” though that is always a good thing to do. Sometimes encouragement comes through the time we spend with a friend, the sweat we break in helping with a task, or the tears we shed grieving with a friend. There is a sense where encouragement involves a divine stubborness – a willingness to stick with a friend when no one else will. That’s part of our job. In fact, it is one of the most important responsibilities of a small-group leader.

There’s a side benefit for the encourager. If you have been feeling discouraged yourself, you will find that encouraging others will lift your own spirit and give you a greater sense of perspective. As you help and encourage others, it takes your focus off of your own concerns.

Our groups give us a great vehicle for encouragement. Hopefully your small group is a place where people feel free to share their burdens and bear one another’s burdens. If people cannot find hope, help and encouragement within the family of faith, then where? As the leader, it is your job to set the tone and example.

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. Hebrews 10:25

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Essential Practices for the Small Group Leader #2: Connect with your Group

December 17, 2008

“There cain’t nobody teach me who don’t know me and won’t learn me.” – A Student

There’s an old cliche’ that goes like this: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It may sound corny, but it’s true. Your ability to effectively teach in a small group setting is directly related to how well you connect with the group.

When I say “connect,” I’m speaking of building relationships based on concern and trust.  It really takes more than just sitting with a group one hour each week to build relationships. It takes an investment of time and energy beyond the classroom. Be a friend and you’ll make friends.

Of course, some people are easier to relate to than others. When we encounter difficult people in our groups, there’s the danger of becoming ambivalent, even bitter. That’s when we have to intentionally love like Christ loves.

David Hansen, author of The Power of Loving Your Church, writes:

“The bind we face is we cannot do pastoral ministry without love. . . to overcome ambivalence we must make the choice to love like Jesus . . . We abide in Christ by loving one another in the fellowship of believers. Sadly, instead of knowing us by our love, the world knows us by our programs.”

If the people in our groups feel as if they are only participants in a church program, they will eventually drift away when they become hurt or tired or bored. If they feel connected, however, because they know that they are loved – at least by the leader – they are more likely to perservere. The group leader must do the hard work of loving his group through words and deeds – the feelings will follow afterwards. Maybe. But our growing to become Christ-like is not based on our feelings. It is based on our obedience.

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” – 1 John 4:11-12 (NIV)

Please pass the Tofu

December 11, 2008

I have observed a change in the nature of pot-luck suppers over the past 40 or so years. In my youth, it was a matter of honor and pride to provide home-made items, fresh vegetables, pies and cakes baked from scratch, and Southern fried chicken. The chickens were often home-raised and dispatched to their eternal reward by one of the younger family members. Said chicken was plucked, cleaned, quartered, and fried in lard in a cast-iron skillet. (Can’t you just feel your arteries hardening?) Even the organs such as the liver, hearts and gizzard were added to the skillet! All of these wondrous offerings were presented on wood trestle tables adorned with tablecloths – a marvelous culinary spectacle!

In the late 1960’s to early 1970’s a subtle change began to occur. Fried chicken began to arrive in buckets festooned with the visage of a genteel Southern colonel. Home-made items still dominated, but some of the cakes were from *gasp!* CAKE MIXES. Even some of the vegetables were rumored to originate from cans instead of local gardens. Yet these interlopers were tolerated, although usually left for the late-comers to the pot-luck supper.

As time passed and people became more health conscious, salads of various kinds began to appear: fruit salads, tossed salads, three or more bean salads, seven-layer salads, and the mysterious “congealed” salad. Who knew what lurked in these salads?

The 1980’s brought a new and sinister turn: The advent of “chicken fingers.” Most of us knew that chickens did not have fingers so we viewed these interlopers with suspicion. They did not have bones. Some did not even have skin! Surely this was not chicken as God intended. To make matters worse, many of the desserts arrived in plastic containers from Wal-Mart. It was now common to make the pot-luck experience a convenient exercise rather than a celebration of the talents of the local cooks and gardeners. Old timers shook their heads sadly as they chewed their chicken nuggets, canned corn, pasta salads, and frozen pies. Oh, the humanity!

Today, the church pot-luck is a shadow of its former glory. To be sure, we enjoy fellowship with one another and thank God to be a part of the Christian community. Still, many of us miss the days of steaming mounds of fried chicken with SKIN and BONES. We long for fresh vegetables, real mashed potatoes (no instant spuds for us!), pies and cakes baked from scratch using age-old family recipes. And, please, spare us the plastic forks and spoons that are guaranteed to break when we plunge them into our congealed pasta and tofu sorbet (just add water, microwave for 20 seconds, pop in the freezer, and you’re done!)

Hey,  you gonna eat that chicken finger?