Finishing Strong

This is the time in the semester when many leaders are starting to feel tired and the issue of burnout starts to creep in. All of us who have ever lead a small group have felt this way at some point in time and we want to share with you some three tips which where shared on North Point Church's Group Leader Blog

1.) Remember your purpose.

Burnout or boredom are often byproducts of misunderstanding your role as a group leader. It’s your job to create a safe environment where people can grow spiritually and connect with one another. You provide opportunities, but it’s up to group members show up, join in, and be real.

2.) Be proactive.
When you’re faced with a challenging group situation or difficult interpersonal dynamics, it’s easy to become reactive. You may feel whipsawed and helpless. This can lead to a desire for a break from leadership.  Instead of running, re-engaged with a clear purpose. Remember why your group exists (to grow people to spiritual maturity), and do something to engage in that purpose. Maybe you need to take on a service project. Maybe you need to shake up the way you pray for one another. Maybe you need to have a conversation about tensions within the group and make an effort to reset everyone’s expectations of what being in group is all about. Being proactive can reinvigorated and refocus your group.

3.) Ask helpful questions.
Your job as a leader isn’t to make people take the next step on their spiritual journeys. It’s to offer encouragement and guidance. Taking the next step is up to them. One of the best ways you can encourage and guide your group members is by asking questions—questions that encourage them to move in God’s direction and help them to own their spiritual growth. 

Here are some examples of helpful questions:

  • If this group is the best group you are ever a part of, how will you be different at its conclusion?
  • What is holding you back from moving to a more intimate relationship with God?
  • What can you do to step out of your comfort zone?

Don’t give up on leadership. Remember that God grows you through the ups and downs. Even when you face challenges and difficulties, God will use them to grow you. Keep encouraging those you lead. Keep asking the questions that no one else is asking. Don’t let leadership get boring.

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10 Great Fellowship Night Ideas

We are reaching the point in the semester where many groups are starting to thinking about planning a fellowship night. Rick Howerton who is the Small Groups & Discipleship Specialist at Lifeway Church Resources wrote a great post on 10 ways you can plan a fellowship night for your group.

Fellowship is so much more than events. I sometimes describe biblical fellowship as “a common lifestyle shared by people with common values, making similar sacrifices, and experiencing common communal experiences.”

People who live a life of biblical fellowship are authentic and vulnerable with one another, meet one another’s needs, and do life together — truly. Bible study groups who enjoy biblical fellowship can honestly say that they have shared laughter and tears.

This kind of fellowship seldom happens if the only time a group gets together is for group meetings. Gatherings away from the group time are essential if the group is going to experience transformational fellowship.

Following are a list of options that may be helpful to you and your group as you brainstorm ideas of things you can do together this winter.

  1. Gather around a bonfire snacks and conversation.
  2. Go on a snow skiing adventure.
  3. Host a game night to unleash everyone’s competitive side.
  4. Have a viewing party for the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four.
  5. Enlist group  members to open their homes for a progressive dinner.
  6. Go sledding in a local park.
  7. Attend a concert together.
  8. Venture out for a night of karaoke. (This may not be for all groups.)
  9. Enjoy a movie night at someone’s home or go to the theater together.
  10. Get together to watch an awards shows on television.

We would love to hear your and experiences. What are some things your group has done that aren’t listed?

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in Prayer

4 Suggestions to Deepen your Small Group Prayer Time

 

We’ve all been there. Sitting in a living room, having just finished a Bible study, your small group now turns to a time of prayer by soliciting requests. Sally shares about her cat Freckles. Freckles is old and has a bad hip—so she asks for healing for Freckles. You can’t quite imagine the apostle Paul praying for his sick cat, but you don’t want to be a jerk so you join the others by bowing your head and praying for Freckles.

Something doesn’t seem quite right, but you’re not sure why. This repeats itself throughout the meeting and from week to week. A single man shares about being really busy at work and requests prayer for energy. A couple shares about their upcoming trip to Colorado and asks for traveling mercies. Someone else shares about his second cousin just diagnosed with breast cancer. Your group dutifully bows their heads in earnest prayer. A newly married couple in the group shares a praise: marriage has been better than they could have ever imagined. Smiles and prayers of thanksgiving go up to God.

You wonder, Is this what small group prayer is all about? The prayer requests are near and dear to each person who shares, yet they seem to lack depth. They’re not shallow, but they’re also not substantive and seem to miss the bigness of God. They hover on the surface when your group is longing to go deeper with one another and with God. What should you do?

Navigating the Tension

There is a tension in prayer. We don’t want to be cynical, hard-hearted, nit-picking prayer police who point out the shallowness of other peoples’ requests. And we know that God desires for his people to pray with freedom to ask God for anything. Jesus doesn’t just throw out things like “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7) without really meaning it. If Jesus meant you can only pray for the really important or spiritual stuff he would have said so.

Yet Jesus makes answers to prayer conditioned on faith (Matt. 21:22), asking in Jesus’s name (John 14:14; 16:24), abiding in Christ (John 15:7), persistence (Luke 18:1-8), having right motives (Jas. 4:3) and asking according to his will (1 John 5:14). And then we get verses that tell us just to ask (Matt. 7:7-11), to pray without ceasing (1 Th. 5:17) and to bring all of our anxieties and concerns to God in prayer (Phil. 4:6). So what should we do if our small group prayer times seem unusually skewed towards asking for stuff (petition), interspersed with some prayers of thanksgiving? What do we do if many of the things we pray for skim along the surface without ever getting deeper?

Praying is a learned skill that takes time, discipline, and work. Corporate prayer is shallow because private prayer is infrequent. Recognize that we all have room to grow in learning to pray to God together. Be gracious with one another. Yet learn to guide a small group’s prayer time. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Remind the group what they’re doing.

Asking, “We have about 15 minutes left, anybody have a prayer request?” will inevitably solicit shallow and circumstantial requests of the “daily bread” variety. The way you’ve framed the time has devalued its very significance. Take the opportunity to remind the group what prayer is. Instead of saying, “Any prayer requests?” ask, “Now as we move from studying God’s Word to praising him through prayer, what are some things God’s Word has revealed to us?” Remind the group that prayer is communicating with the God of the universe through the access purchased for us by the costly sacrifice of the Son and enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit. We can reflect back to God praise, adoration, thanksgiving, confession, and petition in light of his revelation. We are approaching a holy God through the mediation of his beloved Son, in whom we have union and fellowship. Help the group be awed by what they will embark upon so that the oft-neglected aspects of small group prayer—praise, adoration, confession, and thanksgiving—will become natural responses to what God has revealed.

2. Let Scripture guide your prayers.

If your group has just concluded a spirited study of a passage of Philippians (or whatever book you’re studying), keep your Bibles open and let Scripture guide your time of prayer. God’s revealed Word provides the content and trajectory for our prayers. Pray the commands from the passage you just studied, asking God to help you obey. Praise God for truths revealed in the passage, thanking him for who he is and how his power, wisdom, and majesty are revealed. Let the Scriptures guide how you pray. If you group has discerned the “big idea” from the passage, pray for those revealed truths to transform you, your small group, church, community, and world. If you’ve glimpsed an aspect of God’s character, thank God for revealing it to you and praise him for his unchanging character. Ask for God’s name to be hallowed in your life, in your community, and among the foreign peoples where your church missionaries are ministering.

Tim Keller, in his book Prayer: Experiencing Intimacy and Awe with God, describes Martin Luther’s method of meditating upon a passage by discerning the instruction of the text (what does the text demand of me?) and then turning it into thanksgiving (how does this truth lead me to praise or thank God?), confession (how does this truth lead me to confess and repent?) and petition (how does this truth prompt me to appeal to God?). Providing your group a simple grid to move from the study of God’s Word to praying God’s Word will broaden the content of your prayers.

3. Get to the heart of the issue.

Many of us do not naturally discern what we really need. But Scripture opens our eyes to see our true needs in light of God’s holiness, power, grace, and love. Perhaps someone shares a prayer request about being busy at work. This requires more information to know how to pray. To pray for more hours in a day or for this person to magically become more efficient is not likely to happen. Ask a few questions to better discern how to pray for this person. Is he busy because of a demanding and overbearing boss? If so, how can he live out his role as a God-honoring employee and make wise decisions on talking with his boss or prioritizing his workload? Is his busyness merely a symptom of an unhealthy desire to succeed, please others, or make the most money possible? Does he idolize his own success and the admiration he receives from others? Does he need to grow in contentment, gratefulness, and joy?

God cares about our “daily bread” requests, but he’s also interested in exerting his kingdom and will in our hearts and minds. God is conforming us to his image from the inside out. So for Sally’s cat Freckles, you can pray not merely for the health of the cat, but more importantly, for Sally’s fear, anxiety, and loneliness that are being revealed.

4. Let Scripture evaluate your prayers.

Scripture is the best judge of our prayers. Do we generally communicate with God in various types of prayer (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication) or do we typically just list off our requests? Do we begin by praising God for his character and asking for his name to be hallowed as the Lord’s Prayer instructs? Furthermore, Scripture helps us discern why some of our prayers are actually unbiblical. Praying for a new Lexus to show up on your doorstep probably doesn’t pass muster for being “daily bread.” Keller writes, “One way petitionary prayer can actually do us harm is if we see it as a means to say to God, ‘My will be done.’ We are prone to indulge our appetites, telling God in no uncertain terms how he should run the universe. Such prayer neither pleases God nor helps us grow in grace.” Does your small group just repeat and rephrase the request—“I pray for healing for Nancy’s cancer”—or do you apply the gospel of Christ to the situation? Pray for healing from cancer, but also pray for joy and trust in Christ, confidence in her eternal destiny, patience with nurses and doctors, opportunity to encourage and witness to others, and ultimately that God would be glorified through this trial.

More could certainly be said about cultivating a safe space for confession during a small group prayer time, following up prayer requests with questions of how things have gone, or praying for each other throughout the week. Yet the reality that we can approach a holy and awesome God together should awaken in us delight, joy, and praise that is reflected back to God in our prayers. Our ability to have access to God, corporately and individually, is blood-bought by the Savior. We pray to know and love God—not merely to list our requests. We pray to declare, again and again, that God is God and we are not, and to be amazed, humbled, and grateful for the blood of Jesus that makes it possible for us to approach the throne of grace.

 - Steven Lee serves as the pastor of small groups and community outreach at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. This article ​was published on the Gospel Coalition website on January 13, 2015

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5 Tips for Asking Great Questions

Here is a great article written by Dan Mancini from the Group Leaders Blog at NorthPoint Ministries.

 

Asking great questions is as much an art as it is a skill. But developing that question-asking muscle is essential for great leadership. Asking great questions is the most effective thing a leader can do to create conversational environments where people can experience healthy relationships and spiritual growth.

Jesus did this better than anyone in history. In the Gospels, he’s asked a ton of questions — everything from “Are you the Son of God?” to “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” He rarely responds with an answer. Instead, he tends to ask questions that lead people to consider the truth, think about their own experiences, and reflect. Jesus understood that asking great questions helps people to process what they’re thinking and feeling and to really own the answers they discover. Providing quick, simple answers doesn’t usually do that.

When it comes to asking great questions, Jesus sets the bar high. You probably won’t be as quick or insightful as he was (I’m not, that’s for sure). But it’s still a great idea to work on your question-asking skills, and to look to Christ for inspiration. You won’t change overnight, but in time you’ll find that your ability to ask better questions will create a better environment for your group members to grow.

Here are five simple, self-explanatory tips for asking great questions in group:

  1. Ask open-ended questions, not those that can be answered with a yes or no.
  2. Ask questions that evoke feelings, make people think, and lead to insights.
  3. Ask questions that have more than one right answer.
  4. Ask questions that encourage group members to share personal examples.
  5. Ask questions that stimulate group members to apply what they’re learning.

Responding to questions by asking good follow-up questions engages everyone in the group. As you guide the conversation, make sure responses connect your questions to the topic you’re discussing, pave the way for you and your group members to talk about your personal struggles, and encourage self-discovery by allowing people to arrive at their own conclusions with the help of the group discussion.

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