Driving your Small Group Discussion to Life Application

As leaders, we understand that the discussion is at the heart of the Small Group meeting. It's where we open the Bible and really delve into what it says about ____. The challenge often becomes we are so fixated on 'I learned this new insight' or 'I now know this key piece of Biblical knowledge from this passage' that we neglect to then ask how to apply it. 

Starting this week, we would like to challenge you to really drive home the application portion of your discussion time. If you use the James or Ezra-Nehemiah Bible based curriculum, we have made it really easy for you as there is a section on the discussion guide for application. Here are some ways that you can maximize that section:

  • Consider 'cutting out' some questions in earlier sections in order to leave sufficient time for the application section. This can be challenging as it is toward the end of the guide and can be quickly 'glossed over' as you are wrapping up. Planning to allot the proper time for reflection and sharing with the group can maximize it's impact and retention.
  • Challenge your group to share some specific examples of how they are are going to apply what the questions are challenging them to do. This drives the application home and makes it more meaningful and personal.
  • At next week's group meeting, take a few minutes at the beginning and ask the group how they did with applying what they said they were challenged to do. This will not only build accountability in the group, but can also help younger believers start to see the importance of applying scripture to their lives and not just learn it.

Focusing on the application of scripture to our daily lives can be very daunting and a bit challenging at first. But the reward is the impact that it can have on our spiritual lives. Plus, it is a huge part of why we have Small Groups! Isn't it much easier to apply the Bible's truth to your life when you are walking with others who are trying to do the same thing? Our prayer is that God will use this experience to really make an impact in the lives of the people who attend our Small Group and ultimately our world.

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Biblical Principals for Care in Small Groups

Sarah was facing her biggest nightmare. She had resisted leading a small group for years because she lacked confidence in her ability to give wise counsel to the problems of others. Her pastor had finally convinced her that she did not need to worry. "It rarely happens", he told her. She has been an excellent leader, and her group has grown closer. Lately, however, group members have become more open and are turning to her to solve their problems. She has spent hours on the phone with several members of the group. After one late night "crisis" conversation, she slept through her alarm, missed an important meeting, and was reprimanded at work. 

Feeling inadequate and overwhelmed? Many Small Group leaders feel exactly the same way when faced the reality of being the person that others in the group are turning to for help and support. Here some tips to help leaders be prepared to meet the basic care needs of their group members.

  • Your role is to bear burdens…not to carry loads.

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you may also be tempted. Carry each other's burdens (baros) and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself without comparing himself to somebody else. For each one should carry his own load (phortion)." Galatians 6:1-5

If we understand the "law of Christ" referring to our call to

"love one another as I (Christ) have loved you", then we need to see the distinction between the Greek word for "burden" (baros) and "load" (phortion) used in the New International Version.

This passage tells us that we are to bear one another's burdens (sufferings). That is, we should come alongside and support a person emotionally. We can do this by listening to, encouraging, and praying with people who are experiencing pain or testing.

However, this same passage indicates that each person is responsible for carrying his or her own load of problems. When we take responsibility for another's problems, we do it at the expense of their self-respect, their self-esteem, and their sense of self-responsibility.

  • Understand the limitations of the Small Group care system.

A Small Group is designed to:

  • Love one another (John 13:34)
  • Be devoted to and honor each other (Romans 12:10)
  • Live in harmony with each other (Romans 12:16)
  • Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
  • Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
  • Bear with and forgive each other (Colossians 3:13)

A Small Group is not designed  for:

  • Making people happy
  • Fixing people's problems
  • The way a person responds or behaves

When care becomes more than what the system was intended to do, it places a strain on the leader and ultimately the group. Know the limitation of the system and when it is breaking down.

  • Know when to ask for help

Some issues go beyond what is expected of a leader and their abilities to provide care in a small group. People dealing with these issues should be referred to the care of a specialist or to one of our pastors. Contacting Tennyson Smith, our Pastor of Prayer & Care is a great place to start if you are feeling like you have a situation that is bigger than what you can handle.

Meeting basic care needs and bearing the burdens of others are what Small Groups are designed and best suited to do. When leaders understand and are able to set limits and supply care at a level in which they and the group feel comfortable and capable of providing, our group will be the centers of care that they were designed to be.

- adapted from an article on small groups.com on July 12, 2006 entitled "Biblical Principles for Pastoral Care in Small Groups" by Brian Pierce 

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First Night Survival Guide: Preparing for and leading your first meeting

So you agree to lead a small group. And right now, you're really questioning why you said yes. You've had some training, found a study, talked with your pastor or director, and even had a few people say they're coming. But now it's just two days before your first meeting, and you're not feeling very prepared. You find yourself panicking, wondering what you'll do if no one talks, or if your entire group is made up of weird people.

Leading a small group isn't rocket science, but it can be a bit intimidating, especially the first time around. Here are a few tips to make your first group meeting go smoothly—a survival guide, if you will.

Preparation

It's true: Failing to plan is planning to fail. So consider these four things while preparing for your first meeting.

Communication

A day or two before the group meeting, get in touch with the folks who have expressed interest in your group. You can use the phone, a text, social media, e-mail, or whatever works best for your context and demographic.

Be sure to remind everyone when and where the group is meeting and give them your phone number in case someone gets lost. On that note, be sure your phone is turned on and the ringer is turned up before the group starts. You don't want anyone to miss the meeting because they couldn't get in touch with you at the last minute.

You may also want to ask people to confirm whether or not they're coming so that you can be prepared. It can be tough both mentally and logistically if you expect 15 and get 5 (or vice versa).

Food

Nothing creates conversation like cuisine. I don't know if you've ever noticed, but strangers sitting around a table full of food are much more relaxed and talkative. Food breaks the ice and opens people up. My agenda for the first group meeting is often just dinner and conversation. I want people to start getting to know one another before we dive into a study.

If you don't think you're up for tackling dinner (and I'll be honest, cooking a whole meal for a group of people can add stress to the evening) be sure to have snacks. I recommend the three Cs: chips, cookies, and caffeine. In other words: something salty, something sweet, and something good to drink.

Environment

Create a welcoming environment. People are less likely to stick around if they're uncomfortable. Make sure you have enough chairs. Turn on the lights. Burn a candle to get rid of that funky odor. Put a fresh hand towel in the bathroom.

As a side note: There are some folks with the gift of hospitality reading this who have no idea why this section's here. For those of us without the gift of hospitality, or for those who are perhaps new to having a place to host (ahem, 23-year-old guys just out of college), these tips aren't always second-nature.

Prayer

Prayer is the easiest thing to overlook during the frantic preparation process, but it's also one of the most vital. This isn't just a social gathering or a team meeting. Your goal as a small-group leader is not only to create community but also to make disciples, to help people become more like Jesus. And if you're going to do that well, you'll need his help to do it.

In the days leading up to the first meeting, pray for your group. Pray that God would send the right people and that those who come would connect well and find community. Pray for wisdom and discernment for yourself as the group leader. Above all, pray that God would be glorified through your group.

—Will Johnston is the Small Group Catalyst for National Community Church in Washington, D.C.; copyright 2012 by Christianity Today.

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Be on Mission

During the breakout session of the Small Group Leader Kickoff, Kelly Isenberger, shared about how Small Groups can be involved in missions. I invite you to watch this short video and share it with your Small Group. Getting our groups to 'be on mission' together is a key in mobilizing our church to participate in mission in a greater way. You can email Kelly by clicking here if you would like more information or have questions.

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What Unites us is Greater than what Divides us

This past week has been a difficult one for our state and for our country as we have seen racial tension come to a head with violence. I read about these tragic events while I was at student camp supposedly 'isolated' from the outside world. But unfortunately due to the age in which we live where we can get access to news instantly, I was able to read out the tragic event that took place in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas. As I sat there reading about what was taking place, I was struck by the fact that it has now become easier in our world to hate someone than love them. When we disagree, it has become easier to use violence instead of discussing things rationally. How did we get here? More importantly how to we move forward?

This summer our Small Groups are studying the books of 1 & 2 Peter. These letters where written at a time when the church was under tremendous persecution and was literally under attack. In I Peter chapter 3, Peter writes this, "Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." I see a couple of key points in this text that can help us move forward to address the current situation that we find ourselves in as a society.

1. Be sympathetic (i.e. there is no winner in this conflict) Both sides of this conflict over race have valid arguments. Both sides have lost lives trying to make their point. In the grand scheme of things it does not matter if we are on the right side of the argument! The only thing that matters is to be sympathetic for the loss of life on both sides and not take a side in the first place.

2. Love one another. At the top of this post is a picture of me and Sam Collier. Sam was our camp speaker and lives in Atlanta, GA my former hometown! I love Sam very much and the crazy thing is that I only met him last week! How can you love someone that much when you only just met him? Simple, what we have in common is more than what divides us. Sam is African American. I am white. Sam lives in the inner city of Atlanta. I live in the suburbs of Houston. It's easy when dealing with issues of race to focus on what is different about our worlds. Now maybe I will never understand everything about Sam and where he comes from but I know this; Sam and I both worship and serve the same Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I love Sam because Jesus loves Sam. Sam loves me because Jesus loves me. This is what it means to love one another.

3. Be compassionate and humble. In the coming weeks, more rhetoric and blame is going to be thrown around for why this happened and what we are going to do to 'fix it'. Let me encourage you to take Peter's advice and focus on being compassionate and humble. Resist the urge to post that inflammatory comment on social media. Instead why not bake some cookies and take them to the police station and tell them 'thank you' for their service and for keeping you safe. Pray for our leaders and for wisdom to address this current racial crisis with humility and love.

These are extraordinary times in which we see ourselves living. But the church can rise up and be the voice of love and compassion that is needed at this time in history. As Small Group Leaders we have tremendous influence and opportunity on what this looks like. I pray for our country and for each of you this week. Remember "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8) and what unites us is greater than what divides us.

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