How to-equip-envision-experience-small-group
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in...5
×
 

How to-equip-envision-experience-small-group

on

  • 500 views

 

Statistics

Views

Total Views
500
Views on SlideShare
500
Embed Views
0

Actions

Likes
0
Downloads
3
Comments
0

0 Embeds 0

No embeds

Accessibility

Categories

Upload Details

Uploaded via as Adobe PDF

Usage Rights

© All Rights Reserved

Report content

Flagged as inappropriate Flag as inappropriate
Flag as inappropriate

Select your reason for flagging this presentation as inappropriate.

Cancel
  • Full Name Full Name Comment goes here.
    Are you sure you want to
    Your message goes here
    Processing…
Post Comment
Edit your comment

How to-equip-envision-experience-small-group How to-equip-envision-experience-small-group Document Transcript

  • Small Group Life Rick Thomas Envision - Equip - Experience
  • Dedicated to the faithful members of The Counseling Solutions Group, Inc. Membership Site.Your gracious partnership in the Gospel has made this work a reality. I thank God upon every remembrance of you. 2
  • Small Group Life Envision - Equip - Experience The Counseling Solutions Group, Inc. A 501(c)(3) Rick Thomas Competently Training & Compassionately Counseling for the Glory of GodCopyright © 2011 by Rick ThomasPublished by The Counseling Solutions Group, Inc.120 Goodridge CourtGreer, SC 29651www.RickThomas.NetScripture taken from the English Standard Version. Copyrighted © 2001 Crossway,Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.This publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted inany form or by any means without the express written permission of TheCounseling Solutions Group, Inc.You may not alter its content or reproduce in any way that alters any of its content.Printed in the United States. 3
  • Small Group Life How to Equip, Envision, & Experience a Dynamic Small Group Rick Thomas Introduction!............................................................................................9 Chapter One!.........................................................................................10The perfect place to be imperfect!...............................................................................10 Carl, the angry guy!............................................................................................11 Jerry, the addicted guy! ......................................................................................11 Brice, the humble guy!.......................................................................................12 Suppressed transparency!................................................................................13 Break the rules of etiquette for the glory of God!............................................14 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................16 Chapter Two!.........................................................................................17What is your group about?!..........................................................................................17 Progressive sanctification!................................................................................18 Take this quick test!............................................................................................18 Your union with Christ!......................................................................................18 Mutual care! .........................................................................................................19 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................21 Chapter Three! .......................................................................................23Fellowship!.....................................................................................................................23 Here’s the Scoop on Fellowship! .......................................................................23 What is biblical fellowship?!..............................................................................24 4
  • Fellowship requires community!.......................................................................25 Two caveats:! .......................................................................................................26 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................26 10 questions to spark biblical fellowship!........................................................27 Chapter Four!.........................................................................................29The ministry of the Spirit!.............................................................................................29 #1 – Regeneration!..............................................................................................29 #2 – Humility! .......................................................................................................29 #3 – Serving!........................................................................................................31 Pursuing the gifts!..............................................................................................31 Commune and expect - Don’t grieve and quench!..........................................33 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................34 Chapter Five!.........................................................................................36The cure for shallow small group life!.........................................................................36 Understand and live in the Gospel! ...................................................................37 Model the Gospel!...............................................................................................38 A picture is worth a thousand words!...............................................................38 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................40 Chapter Six!...........................................................................................41 How to do small group life together!................................................................41 Enjoying, sharing, and doing life together:! .....................................................42 Things that will keep you from doing life together! .........................................44 Questions for reflection:!...................................................................................46 Chapter Seven!......................................................................................48 5
  • Rent to own!...................................................................................................................48 Take the rent or own test!!.................................................................................48 Why does it matter?! ...........................................................................................49 The gift of poor leadership! ................................................................................49 Guess what?! .......................................................................................................50 How to complement his limitations:!................................................................50 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................51 Chapter Eight! ........................................................................................53Your leader’s job!...........................................................................................................53 Plus, he is your small group leader!!................................................................53 The leader’s purpose: application! ....................................................................55 The small group is about application!..............................................................56 Tips for a small group leader! ............................................................................56 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................58 Chapter Nine! .........................................................................................59Budget sin into your small group experience!...........................................................59 An uncertain sound!...........................................................................................59 Small groups are conflict opportunities! ..........................................................60 All in the family!..................................................................................................60 Embracing conflict!............................................................................................61 Deniers, avoiders, and the fearful!....................................................................61 To ignore sin is to neutralize the Gospel!.........................................................63 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................64 Chapter Ten! ...........................................................................................65Care-filled confrontation and correction!....................................................................65 6
  • Confrontational tips! ...........................................................................................66 Humble perspective! ...........................................................................................67 All correction is speck fishing!..........................................................................68 Let’s get practical!!.............................................................................................69 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................70 Chapter Eleven!.....................................................................................71Gospel-motivated discomfort !.....................................................................................71 The Gospel assumes discomfort!.....................................................................71 People with problems! ........................................................................................71 Uncomfortable questions!.................................................................................72 Inviting personal change!..................................................................................72 The problems observed!....................................................................................73 10 ways to freak out your small group!............................................................73 Change is here to stay!......................................................................................74 The birthing process!.........................................................................................75 Just when you thought it was safe!..................................................................76 God is about change!.........................................................................................76 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................77 Chapter Twelve ! .....................................................................................78The local church!...........................................................................................................78 The dearest place on earth!...............................................................................78 It’s a body thing! ..................................................................................................82 Acts 2:42-47 revisited!........................................................................................82 An appeal from your pastor!..............................................................................83 The similarity between your employer and your church!...............................84 7
  • Questions for reflection!....................................................................................86 Chapter Thirteen! ...................................................................................87How do your friends help you to mature? - A Final Appeal!......................................87 How do you want to do life?!.............................................................................87 How friends are chosen?!..................................................................................88 The quality of your friendships!........................................................................89 The small group antagonist!..............................................................................90 It’s bigger than you think!..................................................................................90 Sin’s progression will take its toll on you!.......................................................91 I need to be rescued!..........................................................................................92 Help your friends!...............................................................................................93 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................94 Conclusion! ............................................................................................95Sample Application Questions For Rick’s Small Group!...........................................95 Dearest Small Group!!........................................................................................95 Think about a specific person who annoys you!! ............................................96 Let’s get personal by digging a bit deeper:! .....................................................96 For Further Reading! .............................................................................98 Meet Rick Thomas!...............................................................................99 8
  • IntroductionWhile the Bible does not formally command the institution of “small groups,”the idea of a collection of likeminded believers who desire to come togetheron a weekly basis to spur one another on to a greater depth of love andaffection for our Savior is an excellent idea.The kind of activity that happens in small groups has always been afundamental part of the work of the church, as many biblical passagessupport: And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46). As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10). And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24).Lucia and I had been considering and praying about starting a small group atour local church. God blessed that desire and answered our prayer. After ourinitial launch meeting we began a seven week study through the book WhySmall Groups? Published by Sovereign Grace Ministries.This book was helpful in getting our minds focused on what a small groupcould look like. During that season I began writing an adaptation to WhySmall Groups? for our small group. This eBook represents that adaptation.Because there is some overlap between my thoughts and the thoughts fromWhy Small Groups? I am offering this eBook as a free gift. You are welcometo pass it along to anyone you think it may minister to. 9
  • Chapter One The perfect place to be imperfectWhat do all of these things have in common? • Failure • Community • Hypocrisy • Friendship • Lust • Reconciliation • Confession • Anger • Humility • Dysfunction • Repentance • Sin • Body of Christ • Prejudice • Arguments/disagreements • Disciplines • ForgivenessThere are probably several good answers to the question above. I can thinkof at least two: • The list represents the commonality of the human condition: all Christians have these things in common. • The list also represents some of the things you should be talking about with your closest friends. 10
  • Now read the list again. How many of them belong to you? You should havesome familiarity with everything in the list. Lust caveat - Lust could mean anything from sexual lust to jealousy, envy, anger, and an assortment of other things that represent what you don’t have, but desire to have. Anger caveat - Anger has many synonyms like frustration, disappointment, criticism, huffing under the breath, rolling of the eyes, and grumpiness.The big idea that we need to grapple with is what does community look likein our lives and how are we contextualizing ourselves in community in orderto mature in true righteousness and holiness. Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. - Ephesians 4:24 (ESV)Carl, the angry guyCarl has been a small group member for over two years. From an outsidelooking in perspective, he seems to have it all together.That is most definitely his goal, as far as how he wants to be perceived; heloves to be perceived as having a stellar reputation.What his small group does not know is that he is an angry man. His wifeknows it. His kids know it. His anger has leaked out among a few friends,but his group does not know the real Carl.He is very much stuck on himself and craves people’s approval. It is veryimportant to him to be in control, on top of things, and to have it alltogether.Carl is a Christian. He is also a fake.Jerry, the addicted guyJerry has been a porn addict since he was seventeen. He’s thirty-one now.He’s been in his small group for a little over a year. He and Carl are friends. 11
  • They spend many weekends together because their wives, Sherree andJanelle, hit it off.Jerry sensed that Carl is not what he claims to be, but Jerry is thinking,“Shoot, who am I to judge him. I’ve got this secret porn addiction.”Jerry’s plan is to be clean for six months to a year before he tells Janelle, hiswife. His thought is that if he can kick the habit, then he can talk about hisaddiction as though it was something in his past, rather than a currentstruggle.In his twisted thinking, he wants to maintain his reputation, project humilitybefore the group, and then gain some accountability just in case he istempted again.His plan, like Carl’s, keeps him in control of the situation; rather thansubmitting to and being humbled by the foolishness and weakness of theGospel—both Carl and Jerry want to maintain a certain amount of control (1Corinthians 1:18-25).Brice, the humble guyThen enters Brice to the group.Brice is a young Christian who has not learned the ropes yet. What I mean isthat he has not been contaminated by Carl’s and Jerry’s hypocrisy.He has not embraced the value of hypocrisy or the art of deception. He isstill naive enough to believe the Bible and to talk as though it is really real.He’s a newbie to small group life.Carl and Jerry have measured transparency. They “leak out” certain thingsabout themselves during small group in an effort to show their humility.They give the perception that they are part of the group, while not trulybeing in the group.Brice is amazed at their honesty and openness. From his perspective, it isradically different from the nonsense in his office. As the saying goes, “It’seasy to impress the fifth graders.” 12
  • Brice is impressed and he is grateful for his new group.Suppressed transparencyYou can imagine what a surprise it was to Brice the night Carl’s wife,Sherree, blurted out, “I can’t take it anymore. I’m leaving Carl. He’sintolerable.”From that point, she shared through tears his many unexposed secrets. Shetalked about the threats, his condemning ways, and even the physical abuseto her and the children.It was not a pretty picture. Sadly, it did not have to come out the way it did. Behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out. – Numbers 32:23 (ESV)All of us struggle with suppressed transparency. Just like Adam before us,our native tendency is to grab the fig leaves and cover up the shame in ourlives (Genesis 3:7).In one sense, it is a form of insanity. Read the list at the beginning of thischapter again. That is your list. It is my list. It represents only part of whowe really are. • Why do we want to pretend that those things do not belong to us? • Why do we want to suppress our transparency?It is even more mind boggling to think that we can add many more things tothe list above. Here are a few more of my sinful companions. Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV) • Arrogance • Self-righteousness • Self-deception • Dishonesty • Impetuousness 13
  • Please explain to me why I would want to hide these things from my friends?It is even more insane to participate in a small group that talks aboutsanctification, yet refuses to let the group in on our dirty little secrets.Break the rules of etiquette for the glory of GodHere are three things you should know when it comes to participating insmall group life, or with any close group of friends.Everyone is afraid - Rarely will someone be like Brice; most people willhide their shame.There is a difference between talking about intentional sanctification andactually practicing it.If you want the kind of vision that I am describing here, then you’re going tohave to stop complaining about it and start pursuing it by your humbleexample.When we began the process of looking for a small group, we prayed thatGod would bring a few likeminded people into our lives: people who wouldembrace a transparent pursuit of mutual sanctification for the glory of God.Value the community - Don’t settle for anything less than a group offriends who want to do intentional sanctification together.Did you know that it’s okay to be humbly dissatisfied with superficiality? Youdon’t have to be mad about it, but you can be righteously dissatisfied.Ask God to give you the grace to where your fear of being exposed trumpsyour desire for this kind of community.Carl and Jerry were deteriorating by the day with their relationship withChrist and their respective families. They were living in unexposed sin, whileparticipating in a small group that was designed to fight sin.It’s like becoming sicker while in the hospital. It is not supposed to be thatway. Carl and Jerry did not understand or want to understand the value ofcommunity life. 14
  • Fortunately, Carl’s wife had enough gumption to spill the beans. Though itwould have been better for Carl to humble himself, mercifully his wifebrought his need before the group.In time, he was able to get some help through his community of friends.If you try to grow in your sanctification outside of the body of Christ, thenyou need to adjust your view of the body of Christ and how it can be aninstrumental means of grace to change you.Resist the temptation to dismiss this eBook - Some of you reading thischapter, have hidden sin in your lives.It may be hidden from your spouse. It may be hidden from your group. Yourealize the truth of what is being said here, but you are afraid of beingexposed. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. - Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV)I appeal to you to pray right now and ask God to give you a grace that willenable you to email your small group leader or close friend immediately soyou can confess your sin and work through its crippling impact on your soul.There is no sin that has taken you that is not common to all of us and thereis no sin that has taken you that is outside of God’s grace to repair. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)Will you do something about it today? Trust God. Die to yourself. Be honestfor the glory of God. You are no different than me or any person in yoursmall group. 15
  • The list above belongs to all of us.Questions for reflection 1. As you read this chapter, how did the Spirit of God speak to you? 2. Will you share how He spoke to you with a close friend? 3. Name at least two practical ways you can change in order to be a more effective member in your small group. 16
  • Chapter Two What is your group about?As Christians, one of our main objectives in life is to move further andfurther away from the sin that impacts our hearts and lives, while at thesame time, becoming more and more conformed to the image of our greatSavior.A strong and purposeful small group is a wonderful context for this sortprogressive change to take place.Sadly, a common complaint that I hear from some Christians is that theirsmall group life is more about socializing and less about compassionatelyand competently getting into each other’s personal struggles.They talk about a lack of intentionality from others in helping them fight agood fight against sin, and of how they get so little help in understandingand applying Gospel-centered solutions to their lives.In cases like this, the small group actually becomes something of adetriment to the lives of the individuals in the group—and to the overallhealth of the local church.In response to the lack of care in small group contexts, some members aretempted to think along these lines: I do not need another context or opportunity in my life to reinforce, marginalize, or neglect the sin that is present with me. There are too many places and opportunities for me to either be tempted by or become involved in sin.This kind of thinking tempts them to underestimate or devalue the role ofthe small group in their lives. They become apathetic and find themselvestempted to leave the group or shrink back from participation with the group.Unfortunately, far from contributing to the growth and restoration of thegroup, this sort of thinking inevitably ends up reinforcing the problem. 17
  • Progressive sanctification Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives. (Wayne Grudem)The main purpose of a small group is sanctification, but sanctification will nothappen if the members are not envisioned and equipped to serve each otherin their sanctification.Take this quick testLet’s see if you are ready for a Gospel-centered, Gospel-shaped communitythat is focused on your personal sanctification: If someone in your grouppointed out what she thought was a sin in your life (without first gettingwritten permission), how would you feel? 1. Become offended and express it? 2. Become offended and internalize it? 3. Dissolve into tears? 4. Point out the obvious sins in her life? 5. Thank her for her care and concern, while asking more questions about how you can change?Your union with ChristAs a Christian you will never be more justified than you are today; there isnothing you can do about it—or should want to do about it. Being in Christ isan indissoluble union that your good or bad works cannot alter.However, justification is not the same as sanctification. Once justified(saved) you then have the opportunity to change in a progressive way(sanctification). Justification is a work of declaration: God declares yourighteous because you are in Christ.But sanctification is a work of transformation: because you are in Christ (andthe Holy Spirit is in you), God gradually makes you righteous through theoutworking of the Spirit. 18
  • The more you cooperate with God’s Spirit in the matter of sanctification, themore you will be conformed to the image of His Son.One of the ways you can cooperate with God’s Spirit is by contextualizingyourself inside a small network of believers who have a singular desire toengage each other in the wonderful work of sanctification.Mutual careIn the Why Small Groups book, C. J. Mahaney quotes an illuminatingpassage from Bruce Milne that highlights the biblical motivations for meetingtogether in small, tightly knit communities: The Christian life is inescapably corporate. Teaching on Christian holiness has frequently concentrated almost exclusively on the “holy man” or the “holy woman,” to the neglect of the biblical concern for “the holy people” or the “holy church.” The ideal of the “omni-competent Christian individual,” able to meet every spiritual challenge and live a life of unbroken victory over sin and the devil has undoubtedly produced remarkable examples of Christian character; but, as every Christian counselor knows, this emphasis has driven many to a lonely struggle ending in despair and disillusionment, or, worse, in the hypocrisy of a double-standard life. This whole approach needs re-examination. The bulk of New Testament teaching on the Christian life, including the major sections on holiness, occur in letters addressed to corporate groups, to churches. All the major exhortations to holy living are plural–”we,” “you” (Ro. 6:1-23; Gal. 5:13-6:10; Eph. 4:17-6:18). Similarly all the New Testament promises of victory are corporate (1 Cor. 15:57; 1 Jn. 5:4; Rev. 15:2). In other words the apostles envisaged the Christian life and Christian sanctification in the context of a loving, caring fellowship. (Bruce Milne, Know the Truth, 94)In the place of the omni-competent Christian, we have an omni-competentChrist who zealously cleanses His imperfect Bride, the Church—for His sake,for His Father’s sake, and for the sake of the members of that Church. 19
  • And so the local church is intended to be one of the primary means of andcontexts for sanctification in the lives of individual Christians.Sadly, from years of counseling experience, I can say the overwhelmingmajority of people who come to me for counseling are not connected to alocal church in a way that practically, daily, impacts their sanctification. Stillothers are connected, but not affected.For these, I have commonly found that their local church either has (1) a lowor limited view of the process of sanctification, (2) fails to teach them how toprovide deep, caring contexts where sanctification can happen.The importance of these contexts should not be underestimated, as R. C.Sproul says, It is both foolish and wicked to suppose that we will make much progress in sanctification if we isolate ourselves from the visible church. Indeed, it is commonplace to hear people declare that they don’t need to unite with a church to be Christian. They claim that their devotion is personal and private, not institutional or corporate. This is not the testimony of the great saints of history; it is the confession of fools. (The Soul’s Quest for God 151)On the contrary, one of the core evidences of being a Christian is a uniquedevotion and affection for other Christians (cf. John 13:35). There are over30 “one another” passages in our “corporate training manual” that we callthe New Testament.You can download a list of these “one another” passages by clicking OneAnother. 1. How are you engaging your brothers and sisters in your local church, as it pertains to the one another passages? 2. Have you given your friends in your local church permission to engage you at a practical level of your sanctification as it pertains to these one another passages? 20
  • Simply reading your Bible or listening to sound preaching will not be enoughfor you to change. The Bible does not teach this idea. (Re-read the Milnequote.) In fact, the ability to engage in private study is becomingincreasingly more common and is contemporaneous with the rise of literacy-enhancing devices such as portable audio and the computer.Instead, the New Testament teaches a distinct corporate, active, andmutually engaging dynamic where change can take place. While smallgroups are not the only way to pull this off, they do provide an excellentcontext for sanctification to happen.Teaching should not be the primary activity of a small group. There is a timeand place for the teaching of God’s Word, Sunday services. But small groupsare different.Small groups are application groups: where a person takes what has beentaught on Sunday and begins to work it into the lives of people who are partof a smaller, trusted community where they are known more intimately.Incidentally, this is why a “bible study” is not a good replacement for thesmall community group.It is rare for me to counsel someone who does not know the truth (theBible), or some form of the truth. What is more common is the person whohas the knowledge, but has never been discipled to practically apply what healready knows.Too many times small groups become just another teaching venue wheregood people are filled with more knowledge, but they have not beenpractically and lovingly challenged to change and grow. This kind of mutualcare is what a small group ought to be about.Questions for reflection 1. What is the primary point of your small group? How does progressive sanctification fit into the purposes of your small group? 2. If you are married, you are part of another kind of small group, God, husband, and wife. Apply the “Quick Test” above, as it pertains to your relationship with your spouse. How does serving one another in your 21
  • sanctification workout in your marriage? Is there a freedom to care at a level that matters?3. Are you more apt to complain about your small group or more apt to seek God to help you help your small group as it pertains to building into each other’s lives at levels where change should be taking place?4. Is there biblical support for a Christian unwilling to change or uninterested in personal growth?5. Do you have a passion to change? Then you should be glad when you are challenged to grow by another Christian. Are you glad?6. Do you give permission to your small group to ask you questions, to seek explanations regarding your thoughts, motives, and actions where appropriate? Why or why not? 22
  • Chapter Three FellowshipNo matter what local church you attend, you will be challenged to find acontext where people are willingly desiring to be humble and opentransparent, honest, vulnerable, and self-disclosing about their lives withyou.This is not meant to be a harsh critique of any one church as much as acommentary on the fall of Adam, as well as my personal self-disclosureregarding how I struggle with transparency. Being humble and transparentcuts against the grain of my proud heart.It’s important to know that people will never love you the way you need tobe loved. You will have to press the issue in order to get the real help thatyou need.Here’s the Scoop on Fellowship Fellowship is a Spirit-led, humble, transparent, reciprocal community, that focuses on what God is doing in the lives of the participants.After a quarter century of being a believer, I am still challenged as I fightagainst my pride, while pursuing humility in this area of biblical fellowship.Pride easily wins out if I do not fight back. I must resist the temptation tokeep others out of my life.Several years ago I repented of my self-righteousness--and I continue torepent of this life-dominating sin--and began looking for a community ofbelievers who not only wanted to be pursued, but were willing to pursue.Rather than sitting around, expecting others to pursue me, I had to becomethe pursuer in order to find these kinds of relationships. True fellowship isnot a passive activity. True fellowship is not for the timid and true fellowshiprequires a biblical honesty that is typically uncomfortable.Sadly, many of us have come from backgrounds where this kind of honestyhas been held against us. Maybe you have not lived in grace-motivatedcontexts and, therefore, are generally untrusting of others. Maybe yourinterpretative grid on the matter of fellowship is flawed. 23
  • It is easy to be more about self-protection than self-disclosure and it cantake many years to get comfortable enough to let people into the real worldof your thought life. Unfortunately, some people never get to that place, buthopelessly choose to live in that self-torturing, dualistic life where there isdiscordance between who they know themselves to really be and the personthey project themselves to be.What is biblical fellowship?In a secular sense, I suppose it’s true that to fellowship with someone, youmust have something in common with that person. If you want to talk aboutbaseball and your friend wants to talk about Popular Mechanics, you wouldnot be able to have very strong fellowship.Inevitably, one or both of you would become frustrated because you wouldwant to talk about what interests you and he would want to talk about hiscurrent passion.Fellowship requires a common, mutually agreed upon topic in order for twopeople to benefit from the interchange.In my illustration above, I have loosely portrayed fellowship as a give-and-take that occurs when two or more people discuss any common topic thatthey both enjoy. Some people could take fellowship to mean any kind ofmutually encouraging interchange.But neither description of the word is what the Bible means when it uses theword fellowship. Biblical fellowship is an entirely different matter: biblicalfellowship does not necessarily cater to our non-sanctifying interests.In biblical fellowship, we table whatever topics we are passionate about sothat we can focus on topics that the Bible is passionate about. In fact, if wetalk about topics that we are naturally passionate (e.g., baseball, politics,etc.) at all, our goal should be to allow those topics to be a launching pointto explore and enjoy topics that the Bible is passionate about. Allow me tomove from the abstract to the personal: What do you think is the most important discussion topic in the world? 24
  • If you answer this question biblically, then the most important discussiontopic in the world is God, the central point of the Bible.Is there any topic more important than God? Of course not. Nothingsurpasses Him. No topic is better than Him. Nothing should displace Him asour main passion.As John Piper frequently points out: If we are really committed to Christ—and to our own happiness, if we really believe all of that stuff in the Bible,the most important thing in the world is knowing God and loving Him andserving Him.There is no such thing as lasting, significant joy (or lasting significantchange) outside of treasuring this truth.The common denominator in biblical fellowship is God. Fellowship means to participate together, or to communicate things we hold in common. The greatest common denominator between us as Christians is our relationship with God the Father, through God the Son, by God the Holy Spirit. This forms the content of true fellowship. Our relationship with God should be the main topic of communication within our small groups as we participate together to fulfill his purpose in the local church. (Why Small Groups? 11-12)So how do we practice this? What should our context for biblical fellowshiplook like?Fellowship requires communityFirst, let’s note that fellowship requires community. Just as you cannot havebiblical fellowship without God, you cannot have biblical fellowship without atleast one other human. And as we saw above, you can’t have biblicalfellowship without talking about God.Unlike Sunday services, small groups are excellent contexts for God’schildren to talk about Him. They are not as programmatic, which means that 25
  • group members are free to explore and probe questions that might distractfrom a service.Unlike sermons (which are like lectures in that just one person talks aboutGod), everyone gets to talk about God.Small groups provide extended time periods for believers to come togetherand dialogue about their faith. This makes it easier for believers toencourage each other. It also makes it easier to correct wrong ideas aboutGod: because wrong ideas come to the forefront in the context of a dialogue.Additionally, the limited size of the small group makes it easier for believersto keep tabs on practical ways to serve each other. Similarly, it makes iteasier for believers to see how God is at work in their lives over time. Asmall group is a robust context for God to change you and for you to makemuch of how God is at work in your lives.Two caveats: 1. God must be the central theme of your small group meetings. While no doubt a shame, it is altogether too common for Christians to come together for an extended amount of time and not talk about the most important Person in their lives. 2. You can only talk about God to the degree that you understand and experience Him. If you do not have a passionate relationship with God outside of your small group, you will not be able to participate in or enjoy the benefits of biblical fellowship within your small group.Questions for reflection 1. Do you think giving your small group permission to probe, encourage, and challenge your heart is a once and for all permission? Or is permission something that you need to give again and again? 2. Consider your own behavior: Are their non-verbal cues that give your small group a “back off” attitude? 3. What are you most passionate about? (This is a different question from “What should you be most passionate about?”) 26
  • 4. Given that a small group’s conversations revolve around the passions of its members, what do you think your small group values most? 5. At your next small group meeting ask your small group to share with you what they have observed about your passion? Ask them to tell you what you are passionate about? 6. How often does your conversation with friends center on what God is doing in your life and how you are experiencing Him? 7. When you spend extended time with another person do you purposely try to move the conversation from small talk to biblical fellowship? 8. Is it wise or biblical to seek out a small group that looks just like you? To what degree, should age, gender, race, class, or political affiliation affect your ability to enjoy biblical fellowship? Explain. 9. Are you experiencing biblical fellowship with your spouse? If you are single, do you experience this kind of biblical fellowship with your closest friends?Please make every effort to answer all the Questions to Think About, even atthe cost of moving more slowly through this ebook.10 questions to spark biblical fellowship 1. What is God doing in your life? 2. How is the grace of God working in a particular area of sin? 3. How can I help you fight the fight against sin? 4. What have you read lately that is helping you in your sanctification? 5. Will you help me in this specific area of temptation in my life? 6. How can I serve you in a specific area of sanctification in your life? 7. What has God taught you recently? 8. How have you applied to your life what God has taught you? 27
  • 9. What does it look like for a Christian to believe in the Holy Spirit? The Father? The Son? 10.How does the work of the Spirit practically manifest Himself in your life?The more you genuinely aim to practice the “one anothers” through askingthese kinds of questions, the more you will enjoy your small groupexperience. 28
  • Chapter Four The ministry of the SpiritThe gifts of the Spirit are a controversial topic in some Christian circles.There is one of two main arguments or positions that most people takeregarding the gifts of the Spirit: • Continuationist - a person who believes the gifts have continued after the days of the Apostles. • Cessationist - a person who believes the gifts ceased shortly after the time of the Apostles.I am not going to bring an amicable solution to the problem of the gifts here.That is too far-reaching and not the intent of this chapter, but I would like tobring a priority to some of the gifts of the Spirit.The real controversy seems to swirl around how many gifts are available tous today and which ones represent the more important ones. This chapterwill discuss the more important ones, by giving you my top three gifts of theSpirit, plus how and why we should pursue the Spirit of God.#1 – RegenerationI think most of us can agree that regeneration is a gift of the Spirit and if itis not possessed by someone then nothing else really matters. If I amunsaved and on my way to hell because the Spirit of God has notregenerated me, then whether I am nice in this life or can even run a smallcountry through my administrative gifting really does not matter.Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). He was right. You must beborn again. Can we agree on this?This is the first and most blessed gift that you will ever receive from theSpirit of God. This gift allows you into a relationship with God and it also setsthe stage for you to receive all of His other gifts.#2 – HumilityI believe humility is the automatic, expected, and unstoppable heartresponse to God’s amazing grace, as experienced through the gift of 29
  • regeneration--the first gift. A Christian who really understands the first giftshould be truly stunned and amazed by the transforming power of the Spiritof God.Those who understand the Gospel and have been regenerated by the Gospelnever really “get over” the Gospel.This Spirit-given heart response to the Gospel is the primary characterquality of the heart which enables us to do everything else in life (James4:6).It most definitely sets the stage for how you practice the other gifts of theSpirit. Humility is often overlooked and generally not regarded as somethingthat needs to be pursued. At every step of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. –J. R. W. Stott We cannot free ourselves from pride and selfish ambition; a divine rescue is absolutely necessary. –C. J. Mahaney Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. –C. J. Mahaney It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. –John Calvin Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to be saying to us, “I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.” Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.” –J. R. W. Stott Fill your affections with the cross of Christ. –John Owen 30
  • I do not ever want to forget what God did for me at the cross. It ishumbling. I am grateful for His kindness to me.#3 – ServingWhile humility is the expected and stunning heart response to the first gift ofregeneration, serving is how we model or mirror a behavioral response tothe first gift.Jesus said that He did not come here to be served, but to serve (Mark10:45). The Savior was constantly observing, looking for how He could blessothers. The most profound act of service the Savior performed for the worldwas giving His life on the cross. This act set the stage for us to receive thefirst gift of regeneration. It also gave us an example to follow (1 Peter2:21-25).What more profound thing could any person do than give his life for you?There is no love greater than this: a man who would die for others (John15:13).Though we probably will not be called to die for another person, we can giveour lives up on a daily basis for others.In our home we talk about this by saying, in a tongue-in-cheek fashion thatno one is allowed to “out serve” the other person. We call it a “race to thebottom.” We’re continually on the prowl, seeking how to “out serve” theother person.This kind of serving is impossible to sustain in a grace-filled enviornment,and I do mean impossible, without the first gift of regeneration and secondgift of humility.If you hope to have a dynamic small group experience, then this kind ofministry of the Spirit must be your life’s breath.Pursuing the giftsWhile I hope to not neglect the pursuit of any gift that God has for me, I doseek to maintain a steady effort regarding the practical implications andapplications of these first three gifts. 31
  • These first three are the ones that set the table for how I respond to life.And because it is so hard to accomplish this, I ask my wife and small groupto help me in this endeavor to do these three things: 1. Never forget the Gospel - Gift #1 2. Seek to walk in humility - Gift #2 3. Constantly find opportunities to serve - Gift #3Though I cannot lose the first gift, because it is a gift, I can be less affectedby this gift. When this happens, the second gift tends to lose itseffectiveness in my heart and mind.Drifting from the cross not only loosens humility’s grip on me, but I becomemore self-absorbed, self-centered, self-promoting and self-serving.I believe that if every Christian wholeheartedly pursued these three gifts,that it would radically change our families, churches, and nations, whilebringing unimaginable glory to God.The Spirit of God is not only the Father’s gift to His church but the Spirit inturn gives us many other gifts in addition to the three I have mentioned.Take a minute to read these passages regarding the gifts of the Spirit: • 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28; • Ephesians 4:11; • Romans 12:6-8; and • 1 Peter 4:11.There are many gifts of the Spirit and, as you may have surmised, theSunday corporate meeting can be limited as far as providing a context forthe entire church body to exercise and encourage one another with thesegifts of the Spirit.Small groups, however, is a much better context for each member of thebody to express their giftings. 32
  • Commune and expect - Don’t grieve and quenchI’m not sure how much time Christians have invested in thinking about theHoly Spirit. In my small Christian world, discussions about the Spirit of Godtend to be fear-motivated argumentation rather than exploring how to berobust Trinitarians.I’m not (necessarily) speaking for the larger body of Christ, but too manytimes we affirm the doctrine of the Holy Spirit intellectually, yet in practicewe treat Him like a weird uncle.All the while, Trinitarian passages like the following tend to be overlooked: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)Let me draw your attention to four imperatives that ought to permeate yourpractical interaction with the Spirit:Commune – Do you commune or have fellowship with the Holy Spirit? Doyou appreciate Him? Do you talk to Him? Do you love Him?Do you thank Him for His work in your life? In order to fully express the giftsthat He has given to you, you must have a vibrant relationship with Him.Expect – When you attend your small group, do you expect the Spirit ofGod to work in the lives of the members of the group? Are you eagerlyanticipating the Spirit to do something? What a difference expectation can make as we begin our small group meetings! It can be the difference between a life changing encounter with God and a superficial time together with no immediate or eternal benefit. When each member comes expecting the Holy Spirit to reveal and refresh, together we taste the power of the age to come. (C. J. Mahaney)Don’t grieve – By not responding to our sin (as we are made aware of it),we grieve the Spirit of God. If we are enjoying biblical fellowship with eachother, in the context of a small group, then there will be many God-ordainedopportunities to have your sin exposed. 33
  • In these moments of conviction we can experience the privilege ofresponding to God by not grieving His Spirit. It is very instructive that it is in the context of inter-personal relationships that Paul wrote his warning, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30). (Jerry Bridges)Because small groups are inter-personal relationships, the group context canbe a boon or a bust, depending on how we respond to the work of the HolySpirit in our lives.Don’t quench – Are you stirring up the gifts that the Spirit has given toyou? Are you exhorting and encouraging others to use the gifts that theSpirit has given to them?Wayne Grudem urges us to cultivate a mindset that notices and highlightsthe activity of the Spirit in the lives of believers: We must recognize that these activities of the Holy Spirit are not to be taken for granted, and they do not just happen automatically among God’s people. Rather, the Holy Spirit reflects the pleasure or displeasure of God with the faith and obedience–or unbelief and disobedience–of God’s people. The Holy Spirit gives stronger or weaker evidence of the presence and blessing of God, according to our response to him. (Systematic Theology 635)You should take note, as my Baptist brothers say, “God laid something onmy heart,” that when He does, it’s time to respond to Him. Without theempowering activity of the Holy Spirit, our small group meetings will becomeshallow (as we flounder aimlessly toward unknown goals) or else over-wrought (as we bludgeon each other into conformity with the Word of Godby sheer grit).Questions for reflection 1. Gospel - Has God regenerated you? NOT have you asked Jesus into your heart, but have you been regenerated, born from above? 34
  • 2. Humility - Are you daily amazed at what God did by regenerating you? How does your salvation impact your heart? Answer this last question practically.3. Serving - Are you daily seeking to model his humility by serving others, particularly those in your immediate family? How do your family members reflect you in the area of serving? Ask your spouse or close friend to help you to answer this last question. 35
  • Chapter Five The cure for shallow small group lifeConsider “Joe.” A regular small group attendee, Joe asked his group’s leaderif he could meet him for breakfast. He wanted to share with him a complaintabout their small group: Joe felt the group was not progressing toward anymeaningful goal and, from his perspective, he knew why.The following week they met and Joe shared several illustrations about howthe group seemed to be stuck in a superficial mode. He said no one showedany interest in getting real.This complaint of Joe’s is one of the more common complaints about smallgroup life. Through the years I have heard many small group participantsvocalize similar concerns. Here are a few (imaginary) grievances: “We meet to go through a book or watch a video and nobody really says anything. I keep my mouth shut and leave frustrated.” (Sue) “My husband and I have been struggling for years, but there is no way I would say anything about it in our group. We’d be the only ones with problems.” (Carol) “It’s a lack of transparency, if you ask me. These guys ain’t about to get transparent.” (Jim) “I would say something, but if they knew what was going on in my heart, they wouldn’t associate with me.” (Glenda) “I shared one time, when I was really struggling through something and the group gave me pat answers, shared some Scriptures, but weren’t really any help. I felt embarrassed for weeks after sharing. I learned from that experience to keep my mouth shut about things that mattered.” (Wallace)A number of years ago I led a small group and over a 12-month period everycouple in the small group came to me complaining about the lack oftransparency in the group. I found it a bit humorous that everyone in the 36
  • group voiced the same concerns, but no one in the group knew what theother members of the group were thinking and saying.Fortunately, God gave us grace as the group changed into a dynamiccommunity that was willing to delve into nearly any personal problem as wewere strengthened by the context of loving and caring friends.There were several things we needed to do in order to turn this group fromjust another innocuous social gathering to a Christ-like caring community ofdisciple-makers.Understand and live in the GospelBefore you can enjoy a loving, meaningful, and intrusive relationship withanother human being, you both need to have an in-depth understanding,experience, and practice of the Gospel in your personal lives.If you do not have a personal and practical experience of the Gospel in yourlives, then it will be nearly impossible to have a sustaining and meaningfulrelationship with another person.The Gospel is Christ—all that He was, is, and will be, plus all that He did, isdoing, and will do. In short, the Gospel is the person and work of Christ. Themore we understand Christ, are affected by Christ, and apply Christ to ourlives, the more our relationships will be transformed by the power of theGospel.Look at what He did: He humbled himself (Philippians 2:5-10) by leaving therelationships that He was comfortable with and entered into a context wherethe relationships needed to change. Christ is a great model for us as weparticipate in His Church.Rather than waiting and expecting these new relationships to changethemselves, He showed Gospel-initiative by being the one to bring aboutchange and did so primarily by discussing, teaching, and modeling what itlooked like to have a dynamic relationship with God, because you cannotmodel what you do not have.So the first step in having a dynamic small group is to commit to building adynamic personal relationship with God. In order to have a dynamic 37
  • relationship with God you must be affected by the Gospel. The Gospel isGod’s plan for changing His church; it is the power of God unto salvationAND sanctification!But there is a definite sense in which you cannot be an agent of Gospel-change until you are changed: If you don’t possess it, you can’t export it.Model the GospelWhatever you want your small group to be like, then you must model thatkind of life before them. This principle is not limited to the functioning ofsmall groups; it has as much to do with the running of small groups as itdoes with running every other part of the Christian race.For example, consider the issue of parenting. It is obvious that parents mustpractice what they preach. How effective would it be for a parent to ask achild to confess and repent of their sin if the parent does not model andpractice the same?Moreover, the bible makes it quite clear that if a parent wants a child to loveGod with all his heart, soul, and mind, (cf. Matthew 22:36-40) then thatparent must own this truth by modeling what she is trying to export (1 Cor.11:1; Eph. 5:1).I want my children to have a dynamic relationship with Christ. I want themto be honest and transparent with me and God. I want them to walk inhumility and integrity. I want them to be accountable to me and others.Therefore, I must not only teach them what to do, but I must show them theway by my example.A picture is worth a thousand wordsWhat is true of the household is also true of the small group. For a moment,let’s consider the small group the Savior led: It was a 13 person men’sgroup. The members had no vision for what He wanted.They were selfish, conniving, sinfully ambitious, critical, and easily swayedtoward the sinful opinions of others. Christ was the only person who had theright vision for the small group. 38
  • How did the Savior shape this group? Jesus patiently exported His life tothem. It took Him three years to whip this bunch into shape. It would be anunderstatement to say it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.But in spite of the cost, Jesus patiently and carefully loved and served Hisdisciples as He shaped them into the most dynamic small group in thehistory of the church.In time, all of the members (except one) of His small group became smallgroup leaders. As they modeled what Christ taught them, they forged otherleaders. This message was not lost on their generation. Listen to how one ofthe leaders of that generation spoke about himself and the work of Christiandiscipleship—as he coached another leader of his generation: And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)The issue of modeling the Gospel is very important. It was important to theFather—or else we would not have had the earthly ministry of the Son. Itwas important to Son—or we would not have had the ministry of Hisdisciples.One of the interesting things about the four Gospels in the New Testament isthat none of them were written in “real time,” as the stories were unfolding.They were all written after the fact. And what was written? All that thedisciples saw Jesus do and say. They considered it of paramount importanceto deliver to us the life the Savior modeled before them.Christ affected people by His words and by His example. If you want to seeyour small group go from a superficial social gathering to a Christ-centered,caring community of disciple-makers, then let me encourage you to beginwith the following key ideas: Key Idea #1 – Before you can enjoy a loving, meaningful, and intrusive relationship with another human being, be sure you have an in-depth understanding, experience, and practice of the Gospel in your life. 39
  • Key Idea #2 – In whatever way you discern that a member of your small group ought to change, you model that changed kind of life before him or her—in prayerful dependence on strength and timing from God.Questions for reflection 1. Are you amazed that Christ died for you? Why? 2. Do the realities of the Gospel practically affect your daily life? 3. The more you realize the depth of your darkness before Christ came into your life, the more your appreciation for the Gospel will shine. 4. What are some particular ways that God has forgiven you? 5. Jesus said that whoever has been forgiven much loves much. How has God’s grace grown your gratitude? 6. Does receiving the grace of the Gospel in the particular ways you have received it inspire you to penetrate the “darkness” of others in order to impact them for Christ? 7. Do you see yourself as a person on a Gospel-centered mission when you go to your small group meetings? 8. How would you like to see your small group whipped into shape? Are you leading the charge? The adage is “practice what you preach.” 9. When you think about modeling the life you want your small group to emulate, what fears run through your mind? What doubts? 10. What specific ways do you need to change in order to model the life of Christ before your group? 11. Do you see the weaknesses of your group as “their problem,” “our problem,” or “my problem?” Explain your answer. 40
  • Chapter Six How to do small group life togetherJoe was genuinely concerned about what he termed the “shallowness” of hissmall group. Though shallow was probably not the best way to describe hisgroup, I understood what he was trying to say.Joe cared for the people in his group and was seeking a way to be part ofthe solution for a group that was not going anywhere as far as personal andgroup sanctification was concerned.Here’s what I got out of Joe’s description of the group: The group was stuckand no one knew how to change it. With that in mind, I suggested a simple“three step” process for Joe to consider. The first two “steps” are the twoprinciples I shared with you above: Step #1 – Before you can enjoy a loving, meaningful, and intrusive relationship with another human being, be sure you have an in-depth understanding, experience, and practice of the Gospel in your life. Step #2 – In whatever way you discern that a member of your small group ought to change, model that changed kind of life before him or her —in prayerful dependence on strength and timing from God. Step #3 – To go beyond shallow interactions, a small group must do life together and openly exalt the wonders of God in both speech and practice.Consider J. I. Packer’s take on these three steps: Fellowship demands that we share with our fellow-believers the things that God has made known to us about himself, in hope that we may thus help them to know him better and so enrich their fellowship with him. Fellowship is, secondly, a seeking to share what God has made known of himself to others, as a means to finding strength, refreshment, and instruction for one’s own soul.Notice how Packer makes a priority of broadly sharing what God has donefor us, to us, and through us. 41
  • Enjoying, sharing, and doing life together:We will now consider some important ways to share our Christianexperience:Worship together – A small group cannot rise above a person’s personalrelationship with God; and how you express your affection to God, in thecontext of your small group, is an indication of the true nature of yourrelationship with God.Do you have the freedom to lift your hands and worship God in the companyof your spouse, children, and small group? Though it does not really matterwhere you put your hands, it does matter where your heart is regarding yourpersonal and corporate worship of God.I’m using the word “hands” more as an idea of an untethered, uninhibited,and unashamed lifestyle that reaches far beyond the sound of music. This isa matter of the heart and how it is linked to the Father.Are you more concerned about what others may think of you when you areexpressing your affection to God in a corporate context or are you morecontrolled by the opinion of God?Pray together – Spiritual intimacy will be enhanced or exposed by thequantity and quality of the praying that goes on in your life, family, andsmall group.Do you have the freedom to go to any person in your small group and askthem to pray for you regarding specific issues in your life? Would you saythat the relationships that you have with your small group are characterizedas prayerful relationships?Carry each other’s burdens – Closely tied to praying with and for yoursmall group is the task of carrying each other’s burdens. Recently I askedone of the couples in our small group to share their longstanding conflict intheir marriage.Because they are humble, they willingly shared how they have regularlystruggled for over two decades in their marriage. Every marriage has atleast one issue that they regularly have to work through. 42
  • Are you aware of those issues with each couple in your group? You cannotcarry their burdens unless you know what their burdens are.Confess your sins to each another– It is impossible for a group to be realwith each another if there is not a mutual agreement to be transparent.Imagine going to a hospital and refusing to tell the medical staff the natureof your sickness or injury. It is just as illogical to attend a small group andnot share your sins and struggles.Are you the number one sin confessor in your group? Does your small groupknow your sin? See James 5:16.Correct each other – Continuing my “hospital analogy” above, imagine ifthe medical staff knew what the problem was, but withheld the informationfrom you, the information that would aid you in recovering from your illness.Similarly, it is sinful not to serve your brothers and sisters when they needyour loving and appropriate correction. Do you have the freedom to lovinglycorrect your brother or sister in your small group? Do you make it yourpractice to be compassionately bold for the sake of the Gospel with fellowbelievers?Serve each other – When you go to your small group meeting or thinkabout your small group members do you immediately begin to think of waysyou can practically serve them (outside of carrying burdens)?You will serve them according to the degree that you know and love them?How would you describe your knowledge and love for each member of yoursmall group?Do you lovingly press into them, in order to get to know them so you caneffectively and practically serve them?Use your gifts with and for each other– How has God gifted you? Whatare your gifts? A small group is like a machine with many parts— each parthas a significant role.There is no place in small group life for passivity. How aggressive andspontaneous are you in sharing the spiritual gifts that God has given you? 43
  • Sit down with your spouse or a dear friend and reflectively walk through thelist above, beginning with worship together. Share with them your fears andconcerns regarding areas where you need to grow and change.Then give them permission to speak into your life about their observationsregarding the elements above. If you do this, then you will be doing lifetogether at a level that really matters.Things that will keep you from doing life togetherWhile it is crucial that every small group member knows how to be proactivein building healthy small groups, it is just as important that they becomeeducated about what can kill a small group.The book Why Small Groups? covers this topic well, but I would add to thegood beginning laid down there by providing another vantage point on thefour problematic attitudes that John Loftness lays down in chapter two:1. Self-sufficiency – Two common traits of the self-sufficient person are alack of prayer and a lack of intimate human relationship. The former says, “Ido not need God, therefore I do not pray consistently.”The latter says, “I do not need people, therefore I do not allow others intomy secret world.”Both of these individualistic attitudes will isolate a person from God andman; they can kill any small group. You cannot “do life together” if you donot press yourself into the life of God and others.This is part of how the two greatest commandments work out in our lives.Jesus said we should love God and our neighbor as the two greatestcommandments (cf. Matthew 22:36-40).One of the ways we do this is by humbling ourselves so we can developmeaningful relationships with God and man.2. Formality – Cultural expectations and practices can be death to a smallgroup. While politeness can be appropriate, it can also be deadly. I’ve heardpeople say, “Don’t talk about your private lives with other people.” There isno biblical warrant to support this notion. 44
  • In fact, the purpose of the Gospel is to intrude into lives in order to redeemthem. Similarly, the point of a Gospel-centered small group experience is togo beyond the superficialities of our lives in order to get deeply involved witheach other.Furthermore, biblical fellowship is a spiritual activity. It requires theSpirit. John 3:8 gives us a hint as to the work and ways of the Spirit of God: The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.Though you plan and have an agenda for your small group meetings, a wiseleader will be listening, observing, and responding to the Spirit of God.Counseling is the same way: You have a plan, but you are subject to God,who may want to take the meeting or counseling session in a differentdirection.At times rigid expectations and formality must acquiesce to the work thatGod wants to accomplish in your group.3. Bitterness – The following is a list of some of the more common bittercomments that can kill a small group: • I studied for the meeting and we never talked about the book. • They spent the whole time talking about Jim’s issues. I never got a chance to talk. • Marge dominates the conversation. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, she always has something to say. • Why can’t we start on time? • I don’t like any of those songs. • It doesn’t make sense that they let Bill lead this group. • I think her husband (or her wife) is _________. • All the mature people should get together in a different group so that we don’t get hung up with all of these “basic” problems that the new people are having. 45
  • Notice how these bitter comments are dominated by a fixation on self.Somehow, the bitter person has been marginalized—he or she didn’t get hisor her fair share, or wasn’t able to shine, or found that their expectationsweren’t met. At its root, bitterness is wounded pride. Consider how humilitycould redress the situation—or have prevented it in the first place.Also, mark how restoration could not occur unless the bitter person openlyadmitted his or her bitterness.4. Elitism – As the last sentiment on the list of the bitter comments abovemakes clear, bitterness is often tied to elitism. The biblical term for elitism isself-righteousness. Self-righteousness is a “greater than” or “better than”attitude that chokes the life out of a small group.One of the more common ways elitism makes its way into small group life isthrough a lack of sharing. Typically a man who does not share the real issuesof his life is overly concerned about how others will think about him.The non-sharer takes a high view of himself and he does not want others tothink less of him. This, of course, is a mockery of the Gospel.The Gospel says we are the worst of the worst. We are broken and none ofus are righteous at all. The non-righteous man will cry out for thetransforming power of the Gospel.He couldn’t care less about what anyone thinks of him. His desire is to statethe obvious regarding the reality of his soul so he can experience and enjoythe grace that God offers.Questions for reflection: 1. Self-sufficiency – Do you really believe that you need the members in your small group? 2. Do you believe that God thinks this too? 3. What real circumstances could you point to that demonstrate how you have relied on and yearned for the care of others in your small group? 4. Formality – Are you sensitive to the work of the Spirit? 46
  • 5. Can you discern Him and are you comfortable going with Him, especially when He goes in a direction you did not anticipate?6. Bitterness – Are you more apt to complain about what is wrong with your group?7. Or are you more apt to pray for your group, while engaging them to help them change?8. Elitism – Is there anyone in your group you do not care for?9. What if God treated you that way? Share your thoughts with another.10. Will you ask God to change your heart toward that person and then seek to build a relationship with them? 47
  • Chapter Seven Rent to ownAs you have no doubt noticed, small group life is not a spectator sport. Inorder for a small group to thrive, it requires every participant to be fullyinvolved. Without complete involvement by all of its members, the smallgroup will not flourish.Ponder this striking insight from Greg Somerville: Suppose R. C. Sproul taught your small group, Larnelle Harris led worship, Billy Graham oversaw evangelistic outreach, and Mother Teresa coordinated your service projects. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Can you imagine the potential your group would have? Actually, by my definition, the group would almost certainly fail. For in the shadow of such gifted leaders, you would be tempted to leave ministry to “experts” and neglect your own responsibility. And small groups don’t succeed unless the entire group is working together. (Why Small Groups? 34)A successful small group does not necessarily need a gifted leader. Asuccessful group must have committed participants who are activelypursuing one another in practical love.If the members of the group are practically applying the Word of God to theirlives, enjoying biblical fellowship with each other, and are passionatelydevoted to pursuing God, then the chances of the group being healthy andvibrant are high (Somerville).What this implies is that you must own your small group. Giving andreceiving care is not for the experts. It’s your job; it’s your small group.Take the rent or own test! 1. Do you own your small group or are you a renter? 2. Do you show up on time for small group? 48
  • 3. Do you prepare during the week for your small group meeting? 4. Do you pray for your small group members? 5. Do you expect God to do wonderful things during group? 6. Are you ready and eager to share in your group? 7. Are you aware of your role and expectation as a small group member? 8. Do you regularly confess your sins to your small group? 9. Do you regularly encourage other small group members who are struggling? 10.Are you quick to volunteer for serving opportunities?Why does it matter?While most small group members are well aware of the role of their leader,they are usually not aware of their responsibilities, roles, and jobdescriptions as members.Too many small group members do not understand the simple and clearteaching in Scripture about how the whole body must “step up to the plate”in order to ensure the overall health of the body. As Paul urges, [Model yourself after Christ] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:16) And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)The gift of poor leadershipIt has been said that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. Similarly asmall group will be held back by its weakest member. If small group life isgoing to be dynamic, then all of the participants in the group must becommitted to the vision and the purpose of the group. 49
  • Guess what?My children say to me often, “Hey Daddy, guess what?” Their question putsme on the defensive. I have no clue as to what they want me to guess.I realize their question is a colloquial way of saying, “I’m about to tell yousomething that you do not know.” They are not really asking me to “guesswhat.”However, in a small group setting, you do not want to keep your small groupleader on the defensive, unsure about what you are thinking. He’s not thatgreat of a leader. He cannot read your mind.Don’t leave him guessing, so go ahead and tell him what is on your heart;let him in on the secrets of your life so he can serve you. Only God knowsthe thoughts and intentions of your heart, not your small group leader. Wemust learn to cry with David, Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)Do not let pride deprive your small group of your contributions. Open yourmouth and share with your group what is going on in your heart and life.Your group leader is not your pastor and, therefore, his gifting is not asbroad and deep as your pastor. Let him off the hook by coming alongsidehim through group participation.How to complement his limitations:Open your mouth in group – Dead air can be death to a group. Whilebeing quiet is not a sin, cowardice is. If you are struggling with the fear ofman (Proverbs 29:25), then ask God to give you the grace to speak up inyour group. Plan on being the first one to comment at your next small groupmeeting.Meet with your group members outside of your group – Buildingoutside of your group is a great way to make your group meetings dynamic.The better you know your group members, the easier it is to participate in 50
  • the group. Pray and plan for ways you can meet outside of your group withthe people in your group.Be constructive, not destructive – Are you more apt to complain orexpress gratitude? The answer to this question will reveal the condition ofyour heart. Are you more grateful or more critical?Tell your small group leader what you like about your group. Encourage him.His job is not easy. He is more aware of his limitations than you are. A littleencouragement can go a long way.Be dependable – Do you value your small group? Do the weekly orbiweekly meetings have priority on your calendar? Have you ever planned anevent and people were either late or did not show up or showed up abouthalf the time?This can suck the energy out of small group life. Be on time. Let others knowhow much you value and cherish this time. Your faithful attendance will go along way in encouraging your small group leader.Volunteer to serve – Use your gifts in your small group. Ask your smallgroup leader how you can serve the small group. Open your home formeetings. Volunteer for the childcare rotation.Use your administrative gifts to assist your small group leader. Sendencouraging emails to members of your group. Pray for your group membersand let them know that you prayed for them. How can you serve your smallgroup according to your gifts?The most gifted head is useless without a body. Bless your small groupleader by working hard to make the group a success!Questions for reflection 1. From the list above, how do you need to change? 2. Will you share with your small group how God spoke to you through this chapter? ...through this eBook? 3. What is the greatest need for improvement in your group? How can you help? 51
  • 4. Ask your group their perception of you: are you a renter or an owner?5. Are you willing to reveal your secrets to your small group? Why or why not?6. Who is more responsible for the success of your small group? You or your leader?7. What are some specific ways you need to change in order to make your small group a success? 52
  • Chapter Eight Your leader’s jobSmall groups do have—and need leaders. The typical leader is an unpaid,part-time, volunteer employee of his local church. His primary responsibility,outside of his personal sanctification, is the pursuit of his wife in order tocare for her in a similar way in which Christ is caring for His church,(Ephesians 5:25).His next responsibility is to model the Christ-life before his children (if hehas children) in order to motivate them in their relationship with God.Of course with these three responsibilities of self, wife, and children comes avery long list of periphery necessities that assist him in fulfilling his primaryresponsibilities.For example, he works a full-time job to provide for his family. He serves inother ways in his local church. He may mow the lawn, take out the trash,wash the vehicles, belong to a gym, have a hobby, watch TV, have friendsover to his home, and attend events for his children, ad infinitum.And, in his spare time, he jumps in to serve his wife with her unending list ofchores. I’m sure he could add many other things to this list as well.Plus, he is your small group leader!Though you will never hear him complain about his role as your small groupleader (because he carries you in his heart) he does feel the weight ofresponsibility in his care for you as he juxtaposes his affection for you withthe time constraints in his life.His qualifications to be your small group leader are not equal to thequalifications of your pastor. The small group leader’s qualifications revolvearound his… Character: who he is before God; Affection: his love for the body of Christ; and Desire: his eagerness to bring God’s Word to bear on those under his care. 53
  • Ultimately, he wants to live out the Gospel in his life by modeling the chiefcharacteristic of the Gospel, which is serving others. (See Mark10:45 and Philippians 2:5-11.)You may ask, “What is the small group leader supposed to do?” It isimportant to put his obligations in perspective. The following is a list of someof his responsibilities:He extends the pastoral ministry of your church – Though your smallgroup leader is not your pastor, he is a vital participant in how your pastorprovides care for you.The small group leader is a “mini-pastor.” Ephesians 4:11-12 teaches us thatthe pastor’s role is to equip the Christians so they can do the work of theministry.A wise pastor spends part of his time equipping his leaders (small groupleaders if he has them) so they can do the work of the ministry.This not only prepares more leaders for the overall care of the church, but itallows the pastor to focus on his other duties, especially preparing anddelivering God’s Word.He provides a context where sanctification can take place – Sundaymorning is not the best time and place for real authentic care to happenbecause the Sunday church scene is not designed for that. However, a smallgroup context is an excellent solution to address the sanctification needs ofthe people.Sunday morning is an ideal time for hungry Christians to be fed, but thesehungry Christians need more than Sunday morning in order to work out theirsalvation. A context of loving and caring friends set aside for this purpose isessential not only for individuals to grow, but for any local church to grow.He applies God’s Word to the lives of the small group – Knowledgewithout application leads to empty-hearted arrogance. It is rare for me,through my counseling ministry, to teach the people I counsel newinformation. 54
  • The majority of the people I counsel know what to do, but they arefrustrated in that they do not know how to apply God’s Word practically totheir lives. Counseling is not a teaching ministry as much as it is anapplication ministry.On the other hand, preaching is more of a proclamation ministry than anapplication ministry. Small groups are an excellent context to take the Wordthat is preached on Sunday morning and apply it to the lives of the churchmembers on small group night. A good leader is an application guy.He facilitates growth, care, and relationships among the members –Success in a small group is not measured by the size of the group, howmany groups you spawn or how many times you meet during the year.A successful small group is a group that is increasingly dying to sin, whileincreasingly growing toward Christ-likeness. This objective will resonate witha small group leader and he will be determined to ensure his group ismortifying and sanctifying.Obviously, this is a tall order for any person—especially considering yourleader’s personal and family responsibilities. Your small group leaderprobably needs a hug. Have you hugged your leader today? He may be tired.Let him know, feel, and experience your gratitude for him.The leader’s purpose: applicationWisdom is the application of knowledge. A wise man not only knows hisBible, but he knows how to apply the Bible to his everyday life.Many Christians know a lot about the Bible, but where we all need help ishow to practically bring the words of that very old book into our modern dayliving rooms and lives.Knowing the truth does not automatically imply that we will live by the truth—the former does not assure the latter.Knowledge acquisition, as profitable as it can be, is a world apart fromknowledge application. Several years ago, a professor I had gave me auseful definition of wisdom. He said that wisdom is knowledge applied. 55
  • Here are two of the damaging by-products of not cultivating biblical wisdom: 1. Knowledge without application leads to arrogance and relational dysfunction. 2. Application based on inaccurate knowledge leads to foolishness and relational dysfunction.Knowledge and application leads to steady growth toward Christ-likenessand relational harmony.The small group is about applicationA small group leader’s job is to help his small group in the application of theWord of God to their lives. The primary problem will be the member’schallenges in applying God’s Word to their lives in real, specific, and practicalways.But it is the lack of application contexts that has given rise to the biblicalcounseling movement. Granted that a biblical counseling organization canassist a local church in their sanctification needs as long as the para-churchorganization does not replace this local church expectation.A small group is an excellent solution for the application deficiencies in alocal church. Imagine a local church that preached the Word of God soundlyand then provided contexts where its people could go and get theirsanctification issues resolved. That would be a balanced and sound localchurch that was modeling what the NT churches in Paul’s time sought toexemplify.Tips for a small group leaderBelow are four excellent tips to help a small group leader lead his groupmore effectively:Start on time – Show your seriousness and care for your members byshowing up for group early and by starting on time. If you spend the firsthour of a two-hour small group meeting chatting around the snacks, you willsend a clear message to your group: “I’m not interested in yoursanctification.” 56
  • Though your members may not mind you wasting small group time, therewill come a season when they will regret the lack of redeeming this valuabletime. Their season of regret will be when suffering comes to their family andthey are ill-equipped to walk through the suffering biblically.Confess your sin – If you want your group to share the real hurts in theirlives, then lead by example. Share your sins with your group and let themsee how to confess sin. Let them see how to work through sin. Let them seethe freedom there is in confessing sin.Also share the sin in your marriage. They need to know that it is okay toshare the deepest struggles of their lives. Sanctification meanstransformation.Tell them what is wrong with you and how you are appropriating God’s graceto your life.Target the heart – Keep asking questions until you get to the root cause ofthe problems. Our problems flow out of our functional theology, which isrooted in our hearts. While you must address the external issues of theirlives, you must target the root cause of their problems. (See Luke6:43-45 & James 4:1-2.)Keep asking the “why” question until you get down to the real problem.Below is a sample conversation. Though our normal dialogue does nothappen this “cleanly,” the mock conversation below will give you an idea howto take the conversation to a level that matters: • Beth – I got angry at Tim • Rick – Why did you get angry at Tim? • Beth - He said something unkind to me. • Rick - Why did that hurt you? • Beth - Because he misunderstood me. • Rick - Why is it important to not be misunderstood? • Beth - Because I want him to think rightly about me. 57
  • • Rick - Why is that important to you? • Beth - I don’t want him to dislike me. • Rick - Why is his opinion of you more controlling in a heated moment than God’s opinion of you? Romans 8:31-35 teaches us that because of the Gospel there is no more condemnation and we should be living in the good of the Gospel regardless of what is happening in our lives. Why is the Gospel not gripping and controlling you in those challenging seasons?Apply the Gospel - Teach your small group how to apply the Gospel to theeveryday realities of their lives. The transcript above is an example of how todo this.If the Gospel (Christ) is the point of the Bible, which it is, then the Gospel(Christ) should be the point and motive of our lives. A small group that isnot Gospel-centered is off-center.Questions for reflection 1. What are your deficient areas: Do you need more help in understanding the Bible or applying the Bible? 2. Will you let your small group leader know where you need to change and grow and then seek his help so you will be able to change and grow? 3. Will you share with your small group how God spoke to you through this chapter? 4. What goes through your mind when you think about being an extension of the pastoral care of your local church? 58
  • Chapter Nine Budget sin into your small group experienceSomeone once said, “One can acquire anything in solitude except character.”This is a principle that Scripture clearly recognizes. Throughout the NewTestament, sanctification happens more in corporate contexts rather than inisolation.Paul wrote mostly to NT churches, teaching these local communities how todo life together. People, according to Paul’s theology, were an essentialmeans of grace in helping each other to grow in Christian maturity.The primary roadblock to personal growth and relational harmony is sin: sinin our own lives, sin in others, and sin in a fallen world.An uncertain soundDo you remember the first time you heard yourself on an audio recording?Were you surprised at how you sounded? No one else was surprised.Everyone in the room, except for you, knew how you sounded. You were thelast to know what everyone else already knew. As this thoughtdemonstrates, the value of people as a check on your perceptions andperspectives cannot be over-estimated.One of the many kindnesses of God is that he gives us people who arewilling to help us grow closer to Him. • God gives us others to reveal to us our sins. • God gives us others to help us deal with our sins. • God gives us others to encourage us as we live in a fallen world.A rich man is a man who has mature Christian friends who are willing andable to help him grow into spiritual manhood. A wise man is a man whomakes it easy for his friends to care for him by insisting that they be honestin their assessments.Ken Sande confronts some of our selfish responses to care in this passage: 59
  • The Bible teaches that we should see conflict neither as an inconvenience nor as an occasion for selfish gain, but rather as an opportunity to demonstrate the presence and power of God. It encourages us to look at conflict as an opportunity to glorify God, to serve others, and to grow to be like Christ.Small groups are conflict opportunitiesLike death and taxes, sin is inevitable. We are fallen people living in a fallenworld. Sin happens. Sin happens to all of us. The sad truth is not so muchthat sin happens. We understand why sin happens. The sad truth is thatmost Christians are ill-equipped to respond godly to the sin that doeshappen.Reflect on these biblical teachings on sin: And he said to his disciples, ‘Temptations to sin are sure to come […]’ (Luke 17:1) Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16) If we [Christians] say we [Christians] have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8) Brothers, if anyone is caught in any [sin], you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted [to sin]. (Galatians 6:1)If sin is sure to come, then small groups provide wonderful contexts for thepeople in a local church to apply the Gospel to their sin.All in the familyWe see our family similarly. The main point of our parenting is not to stopour children from sinning. That would be a frustrating and impossible task.Our goal is to provide a context for our children to succeed and fail, and torespond godly to both inevitabilities.We want to encourage, motivate, and celebrate with them when theysucceed and we want to comfort, confront, and help them when they sin. 60
  • What better place for my kids to sin than in our family where we can equipthem for life.Similarly, small group is an excellent “family” context for success and failure.A healthy small group embraces the positive and negative of people’s lives,while coming alongside their members to equip them for all of life.Embracing conflict The Bad News — We are sinners who live and sin alongside other sinners in a fallen world. The Good News — The gospel is the perfect solution for sinners who sin in a fallen world.I realize this will not surprise most of you to hear this, but I will say itanyway: we are not in heaven yet! The implication is that when God savedyou—assuming you are a Christian, you were not entirely sanctified.You have not reached perfection. From a Christian worldview, we understandcomplete sanctification to happen only when we reach heaven.The sobering reality for all of us is that the time between God saving us andGod bringing us to our eternal home is a “getting progressively sanctifiedkind of life.” With that in mind, there are at least two ways we can respondto the doctrine of sin as it intersects with the doctrine of man: 1. We can deny that sin exist in our lives. 2. We can embrace this sobering reality by aggressively fighting sin in the context of friends who are trying to do the same for the glory of God.Deniers, avoiders, and the fearfulOccasionally you will hear someone say the Gospel is for our salvation andthe Gospel is for our sanctification. I firmly believe this statement is true andwould further assert that this statement is necessary for any Christian to livewonderfully and victoriously in this life.However, when I or anyone else says the Gospel is for our salvation and theGospel is for our sanctification, there is an unspoken and undeniableimplication that sin is involved in some way. 61
  • The Gospel means there is sin. If there were no sin then there would be noneed for the Gospel. The introduction of the Gospel (Christ) came after sinentered the world (Genesis 3:15).If Adam had not fallen in the garden of Eden, he and we would not need aRedeemer. But we do need a Redeemer and He (Christ) implies sin and sinimplies Him (the Gospel).Most people understand and readily accept this truth when it comes tosalvation. We know we need to be saved from our sin; however, where therub generally comes into play is how we think and live in-between the timeGod regenerated us and the time He takes us to heaven.My response to this concern is revealed in the statement, “The Gospel savesus (redemption) and the Gospel sustains us (sanctification).” We never cometo a place in our lives, pre or post salvation where we do not need theGospel.Therefore, the implication is the same: I need the Gospel to fight sin!Whether I need to be saved or sustained, I need the Gospel. Over the yearsI have run into three general categories of people who struggle with the “sinis present with us” idea:The Deniers – This group of sincere Christians simply say that sin does notexist once you become a Christian. They say, “I am dead to sin.” This is agross misinterpretation of Scripture and is a product of legalism. Legaliststry very hard to separate themselves from sin. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. - 1 John 2:15-16They misinterpret John’s understanding of worldliness by teaching thatworldliness is in the world as opposed to being in the person. John placedworldliness in the heart. 62
  • In order for the “deniers” to be true to their theology, they have to do a lotof ignoring, or re-categorizing or, justifying of their sin. These responses arean untenable position because it leads to personal frustration and relationalconflict.The Avoiders – This group puts their fingers in their ears and screams,“Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-” ad infinitum. They are sincere and reallywant to live for Christ just like the deniers want to live for Christ.Sadly, they are stricken with the same…dare I say it…put your fingers in yourears…SIN!!! There! I said it. If you say you have no sin, you make God a liarand the truth is not in you. (Those are John’s words to Christians in 1 John1:8, not mine.)In order to be an avoider you, too, have to re-categorize, ignore, andrationalize your sin away. The avoiders generally go from conflict to conflict,rarely ever resolving their conflicts.The Fearful – This group knows they sin, but they try very hard to ignore itbecause they don’t want to be found out for who they really are.Transparency is a frightful proposition for them.To be open and honest about their most personal struggles is not a “bestcase scenario” to them. This is also called self-righteousness.Many times these people come from discouraging and condemningsituations. For example they may have had harsh dads or they were part ofa legalistic religious culture.They run to grace, but over-react by denying the truthfulness of theirsinfulness. They honestly can’t juxtapose sin and grace the way Paul did.(See 1 Timothy 1:15-16)To ignore sin is to neutralize the GospelTo avoid, deny, or respond fearfully to the real and objective sin in yourpost-salvation experience, is to mock and devalue the Gospel. To say youhave no sin is to say you have no need for the Gospel. 63
  • This is a dangerous and heretical position for any believer or unbeliever totake.If an unbeliever did not believe in sin, he would have no need for the Gospel.Jesus did not come for the “healthy”; He came for the sick. If the believerdid not believe that he sins, then he, too, would not need the Gospel.And this brings us to the value and beauty of small groups, for those of uswho are willing to deal with our sin. Sanctification is a community event, ashared life between fellow sinners who have been saved by the grace of God.A small group which embraces the reality of sin and the potential of conflictsin brings, will position itself to be able to resolve its conflicts in ways thatglorify God.Questions for reflection 1. Do you sin? 2. Do you believe you need others to help you walk through your sin? 3. Do you believe others need you so you can help them walk through their sin? 4. If you said “yes” to the three questions above, then how are you setting the example by personally confessing your sin to others as well as others knowing and experiencing your care for them when they sin? See 1 John 1:9 & James 5:16. 64
  • Chapter Ten Care-filled confrontation and correctionMany years ago an elderly lady in our church approached me about acomplaint she had with a friend of hers. Her friend was an “irritant” and shewanted me to do something about it.Though I do not remember who this lady was or exactly what her complaintwas, I’ll never forget her reaction when I told her that in the spiritof Matthew 18:15-18, she needs to go and confront her friend.Let’s just say my dear friend was terrified: her eyes widened and her mouthdropped slightly and she whispered something to the effect of “I can’t dothat.”The thought of confronting another person about their sin is a difficult thingfor Christians to do.After all these years of bringing negative observations into people’s lives as acounselor, I still struggle with this obligation to others and obedience to God.As I told my dear friend, this is not so much about bringing correction toyour friend as it is about honoring your heavenly Father. As Mordecai told hiscousin Esther, And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14)Though Esther was not bringing critique to the king, she did need to “step upto the plate” and honor God in a very difficult situation by saying some hardthings. I have made a strong argument throughout this eBook that God usesthe context of community to help us grow in our sanctification.And because of the inevitableness of saved sinners, sinning against oneanother, there will always be opportunities to honor God by carefully andlovingly confronting others.A few days later my dear friend came back beaming. She obeyed the “go”imperative of Matthew 18 and God surprised her with grace and a restored 65
  • friendship. Those two ladies remained friends and deepened their affectionand care for each other.Confrontational tipsThe following are a few good tips that will serve you as you seek to serveyour friends in the area of care-filled correction:Affection – You should not confront a person who you do not have affectionfor. If I confront a person who I do not “carry in my heart,” there is a goodpossibility that I will not confront them carefully or lovingly.Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 and note the affection that Paul had for theCorinthian church, prior to his confrontational letter to them. As you readthe text, you will see and feel the affection this man had for the Corinthians.He genuinely loved them.My elderly lady friend loved her friend. This was one of the reasons it wentso well. Be very careful about confronting folks you do not have an affectionfor.Thanksgiving – Paul said that he spent time before God, thanking God forthe Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:4). Are you thankful for the person you areabout to correct? Does the person know you are thankful to God for them?Gratitude to God for the person you are about to correct will make a hugedifference regarding how you correct them. And the person you correct willbe able to discern your gratitude for them as they experience your love andcare for them by your correction.Patience – The Gospel informs us that God was very patient with us as itpertained to how and when we changed. When we finally learn something after years of trying we can easily be tempted to impose our own unrealistic self-righteous timetable on others in order to change them. (C. J. Mahaney)Typically when I am impatient with an individual it is because I’m askingthem to change in an area that I have somewhat mastered. However, I 66
  • typically do not think about or let them know that I may have spent 5, 10, or15 years growing in and applying grace to that particular situation.When this kind of self-righteousness grips my soul, I have to preach theGospel to myself by reminding myself how patient God was and is to me.Encouragement - always begin your time of correction by encouraging theperson you are about to correct. Most assuredly they have done somethingright, Right? Even Paul was able to encourage the Corinthians!Identify evidences of God’s gracious activity in their lives and let them knowabout it.Are the people you generally correct more aware of your correction or yourencouragement? The Lord loves the people He corrects and He corrects in acontext of grace and love. What is the primary context in which you correctpeople? (See Hebrews 12:6)Think the best – in Philippians 1:6 we learn that God will complete what Hebegan in all Christians. God is a finisher! Are you more prone to bediscouraged or complain about an unchanging Christian or are you moreprone to rest and trust in God to finish what He has begun?In the heat of the moment it is imperative that we preach the Gospel toourselves. It may seem bleak and they may be irritating, and change seemssuch a long way off, but God is a finisher. Can you rest and trust in His goodwork in the life of the person you are correcting?Humble perspectiveWhat are you more aware of when you think about correcting anotherperson? Are you more aware of your sin or their sin? How you answer thisquestion will have a real and practical effect on the person you arecorrecting.Christ made an appeal in Matthew 7:3-5 that when it comes to addressingthe sin of others it is essential that you approach them with the awarenessthat there is a log in your eye and a speck in their eye. He could not beclearer: 67
  • Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (The Savior)All correction is speck fishingAnytime you are confronting and correcting an individual you are addressinga speck, not a log. And trust me; this is so easy to forget. Paul seemed tonever forget that he was the worst sinner he knew (See 1 Timothy 1:15).Though he did not grovel in what he was before God saved him, he neverwanted to forget what he was. This is counter-intuitive thinking for the self-righteous Christian and the self-esteem advocates of our world.But for Paul it was a healthy way to think about himself and others. Thistheological point was a key component when it came to correcting others.Rarely was he harsh or unkind or uncharitable to anyone. He was acutelyaware who the biggest sinner was...it was not the one he was correcting.I have asked many counselees over the years this question: “Who do youthink is the biggest or worst sinner in the office right now, from myperspective?”I know that the correct answer to that question will guard my heartregarding how I think about myself and them. It will also mitigatetemptations to sin through unkindness, harshness, uncharitable judgments,condescension, impatience, and general rudeness.Incidentally, I have committed all of these sins with many people God hascalled me to serve through the years. I say this to my shame. And everytime I sin in any of these ways it is because I get the log/speak dynamicturned around.The way I preach the Gospel to myself in order to adjust my heart rightlybefore I bring correction to another is by telling them the following: 68
  • I do not know what all you have done, but this is what I have done: I put Christ on the cross. And no matter what you have done I see my sin, from my perspective, to be more grievous.(Remember, I am sharing this from my perspective, not theirs. If they arehumble, they will want to argue the point and say that they are a worsesinner than I am. That is a healthy argument for two Christians to have.)Let’s get practical!Here are four tips that will serve you well if you make them part of how youcorrect others:Examine your heart – Make sure your motives are right. As noted earlier itis essential that you have their best interests in mind, rather than your own.If you are not other-centered in your correction then you can pretty much beassured your correction will not go well for you or the person you arecorrecting.Assume you missed something – We’re not omniscient. There have beentoo many times in my life when I assumed I had all the data needed tocorrect someone, only to find out after I corrected them that I did not knowthe whole truth.It happens more often than you might think. You and I are not God. Goahead and assume you don’t know everything there is to know about thesituation.Ask questions – If you assume you don’t have all the data, then you’llmore than likely ask the other person questions, rather than makestatements. A wise man will ask questions rather than assume he alreadyknows everything when correcting someone.Here are some sample questions: 1. This is what I heard you say. Is that correct? 2. This is what I heard. Tell me what I am missing? 3. You know that I can miss things from time to time. Will you help me fill in the blanks so I can understand better? 69
  • 4. The other day I heard you say _________ and it sounded a bit harsh from my perspective, but I probably misunderstood. Can you help me with this? What am I missing?All of the questions above approach the other person with the “log in youreye” rather than telling him he has the log in his eye.Confess your sins – A person who is humble enough to share theirsinfulness with another person is releasing the other person from the fear oftransparency. Once he knows you struggle, then he will be more than likelywilling to let you know how he struggles.It is hard to confess your sins to a perfect person, unless that person isChrist. Let him know, with specificity, how you are flawed and watch himrelax and open up right before your eyes.If you plan to correct others, with the hope they will listen to your correctionand respond by confessing their sin, then model it for them. Let them seeyou do the very thing that you want them to do.Questions for reflection 1. Do you have genuine affection for the members in your small group? 2. Do you give thanks daily for the members of your small group? 3. Are their certain members in your group with whom you struggle to be patient with? How do you need to change? 4. Do you typically think the best or worst about certain members in your group? How do you need to change? 5. Do you generally make more statements or ask more questions when trying to walk someone through their issues? 6. Do you lead the charge in confessing your sins to your group or are you more apt to let others do most of the confessing of sin? 70
  • Chapter Eleven Gospel-motivated discomfortOne of the implications of the Gospel is the theme of discomfort: the Gospelmakes people uncomfortable. Two thousand years ago the unsaved Jewsstumbled over the Gospel while the unsaved Greeks proclaimed it as foolish(1 Corinthians 1:18-25).In our day many Christians, including me, respond as the unsaved Jews andGreeks by defaulting to various forms of selfishness and self-protection,rather than living out the authenticity of the Gospel.At times it seems easier to dismiss the Gospel rather than to boldlyembrace, engage, and model the Gospel.The Gospel assumes discomfortWe see discomfort modeled for us in Philippians 2:5-11. Christ left theeternal abiding place that he shared with His Father to come to earth to livefor a brief time as a sinless human among sinful humans. He temporarily setaside what He had always experienced for the opportunity to radically affectothers. He did not have to do this. Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. (Luke 9:58)This was amazing love! This was the Gospel in action! The man who had noplace to lay His head was not a comfort-craver, but a people-pursuer. Selfishor self-protective living is antagonistic to Gospel-centered living. And there isno place where our cravings for self and self-protection will show up morethan in the context of relationships.People with problemsChrist did not have a people problem in His first small group. He got alongperfectly with his Father and the Spirit. But when He left that small group tostart another small group, He was constantly dealing with people problems.Thankfully, He never lost His focus or His purpose. Since He was not aboutHimself, self-protection and personal comfort were not driving motives forJesus. 71
  • For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)He was so dialed-in on His purpose that even if it cost Him His life He waswilling to lay it down for the greater good. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)His point and purpose were not focused on the personalities or the problemsof the people, but on how He could effectively serve them in order to changethem. I like to say that Christ had “peripheral vision.” His awareness wasoutside of Himself.He had both eyes on others, not one eye on others and the other eye onHimself for personal security sake. His focus was on how to help others bebetter than what they were before He interacted with them. He lived andmodeled an uncomfortable life so others could have an incrediblycomfortable life in Him.Uncomfortable questions 1. Fear – What one thing in your small group intimidates you? Christ is brave. 2. Anger – What one thing in your small group bothers you? Christ is patient. 3. Ignorance – What hinders you from being transparent with your small group? Christ is truth.Inviting personal changeChrist was not shy about discussing the sin He observed in His world. Healso was not shy about bringing Gospel-centered solutions to this sin. Hestated the obvious, whether it was the problems observed or the solutionsoffered.His honesty was refreshing in His day and people flocked to Him to hearabout the problems He observed and His recommendations for overcomingthese problems. 72
  • The problems observedA strong small group is made up of individuals who possess the courage,integrity, honesty, transparency, and grace to state the obvious aboutthemselves: we are flawed.An incredible thing happens when a flawed person tells the truth abouthimself: he releases the person he is talking to from the bondage of hiding.We, like Adam, love our fig leaves. We love covering our true selves up. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. (Frederick Buechner)There will always be a gap between who we are and who we presentourselves to be. The gap itself is not the issue, but the size of the gap can bea problem.If you really want to glorify God and bless your small group, then Irecommend you lead the charge in letting them in on your dirty little secrets.Be real. Be honest.10 ways to freak out your small group 1. At your next small group meeting share with them one of your “little secrets.” Let them into your real world. 2. Tell your group how they can specifically speak into your life regarding one of your secrets. 3. The next week, after you do #2 above - lead the group by telling them how you did and then challenge them to ask you specific and practical questions. 4. Publicly encourage a member in your small group. Share something good they have done that has blessed you. 5. Go to someone in your small group and let them know how you have been thinking sinfully about them. 73
  • 6. Ask the person to forgive you for your uncharitable judging of them and then have them pray for you. 7. Ask someone in your group what one of his bigger struggles or sin issues is. 8. Ask him for permission to speak into his life as often as needed. 9. The next time you two come together, ask him specifically how he is doing with the issue he revealed to you. 10.As soon as your small group leader asks the group about the book or sermon you’re discussing, immediately speak up and let the group know how God has convicted you of a specific sin and how you have been appropriating God’s grace throughout the week for that specific sin.Change is here to stayYou cannot talk about the Gospel and not talk about change. Change is anunderstood and expected outcome of the Gospel. When a man is introducedto and affected by the Gospel, change becomes his life-long companion.I’m not just talking about the life-long change that begins at regeneration,but a comprehensive change process that affects every area of his life. Backin the day the Jews really had a hard time with the idea of a world flippingover: But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.’ (Acts 17:5-6)Rather than make fun of these Jews, I empathize with them. I understandthe turmoil in their souls. If all you have ever known is being redefined,challenged, changed, and redirected, it can be more than you think you canpossibly endure.God is a game-changer. Sadly, the Jews rejected God’s plans and persistedin doing things their own way. Though they were wrong, I understand. 74
  • It is illogical to think that change is not here to stay. We all experience it. Weall know we will experience more of it. Change is not the issue, since it is anunalterable part of all of our lives.The real issue is where we place our faith in those moments when we arefaced with change. If our faith is in ourselves, then we will live in fear,comfort, and a desire to control our lives, as we resist what God is doing inand through us.If our faith is in God, then we will live in courage, blessing, and theexpectant hope that God will do wondrous things in our lives.Small group life is one of those areas where change can be uncomfortable.Just when you get in a relationship groove and everyone is bonding, changehappens.The birthing processWhen the Savior’s disciples caught wind that He came to die, they reallystruggled with those new developments. They had an idea of what theirsmall group was about, but seemingly without warning, the Savior threwthem a curve ball.Initially, it took them awhile to acclimate to how the Savior ran things. Andwhen things finally seemed to be going good for their small group, it wastime for radical change.They never really adjusted to the speed in which the Savior was leadingthem. In the garden of Gethsemane, Peter was still showing his resistance tochange when he took a swipe at Malchus’ ear.The dam finally broke at the cross when they all decided to give up on Himas they went back to their previous lives. They did not understand theGospel.What God was doing through the death of his Son was strength and wisdom,but for the discouraged onlookers it appeared to be more like weakness andfoolishness (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). 75
  • Just when you thought it was safeI’m sure the disciple’s heads were spinning. I can’t imagine how theyprocessed all that they saw and felt in three short years. They experiencedthe highest of highs (Mark 9:2-8) and the lowest of lows (Mark 15:34). Butone thing was crystal clear: things were changing.And so it is with us. When Christ comes into our lives change becomes ourconstant companion. Prior to Christ coming to us, we were walking accordingto the darkness of our world. No longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. (Ephesians 4:17-19)But now we live as children of the light: For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:5)God is about changeWere you surprised that just when your small group was clicking on allcylinders that God changed things? You should not have been. Though Godnever changes, he seems to be always calling us to change (Hebrews 13:8).God is about change and it requires us to think rightly about our Him, who isbehind the change.The main question to ask and the best way to think when change happens iswhether God is good or not. This is our starting point when ponderingchange. If God is good, then we know that He will be working for our good.And how do we know that God is good? This question takes us back to theGospel. The Gospel profoundly tells us that God is extravagantly good!There are times in the life of a small group when change is inevitable. Peopleare repenting, changing, and growing. Other people are coming into thegroup. Tenured people are leaving the group. The church is growing andthere is need for a new group to be birthed. 76
  • A leader is identified and is called from the group to lead another group. Onething for sure, if change is happening, then God is at work. Stagnation isdeath. Change is life.While there should be appropriate sadness when change happens, thereshould also be expectant hope that is joy-filled because God has takenenough interest in your local church or your small group to bless it throughchange.Questions for reflection 1. Share with your small group one way in which change came into your life. Talk about how you initially resisted the change and how you walked out repentance. Then share with your group how God blessed you and others with the change. 2. When you hear the word change, what goes through your mind? Do you think about how the Gospel implies change and, therefore, God is up to something for your good? Or do you think about self-protection and control because you do not trust God and the changes He is bringing about in your life? 3. What is one way you resist God as it pertains to the changes you do not like in your small group? 4. If you do resist change, why do you resist it? 5. Are you wholeheartedly committed to the change that God brings to your life? 6. How long does it typically take you to gain new faith for a new venture? 7. Will you accept inconvenience for the greater good of your group or the next group God places you in? 77
  • Chapter Twelve The local churchSmall groups are not the beginning and the end of church life, but merely acomponent of local church life. I have demonstrated through this eBook thatsmall group life can be life transforming and a logical choice for anyChristian.Although I see them as an essential element in the overall health of a localchurch, I do not believe that small groups are superior to the local church. Alocal church is God’s way of magnifying His name in the world, while arobust small group is only one component of that vision. • Do you love your local church? • Is the vision of your local church your vision? • How are you practically fulfilling the vision and purposes of your local church?The dearest place on earthCharles Spurgeon preached a message on the local church as the “dearestplace on earth.” I concur with his sentiments.In our individualist culture the local church has been moved to the peripheryof many people’s experience and is just one of many options that fill acraving for community, as well as the calendar.Read an early descriptor of the local church from Acts 2:42-47: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with 78
  • all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.From this early descriptor I will highlight three of several dynamic values ofthe early church. How do your affections for your local church compare tothe affections of the early followers of Christ?Community – all things common: The community life of the believer islived out in reciprocal relationships. You cannot experience the full measureof your church if you are not seeking to live with one another in community.Genuine, authentic, transparent, and honest relationships are essential inorder to live in community. 1. What parts of your life do you hold back from those who should know you best? 2. Is your church life experience more about rote duty that fills a spot or Gospel joy that spills out on others?Service – distributing proceeds to all: Giving your life away with noexpectation of anything in return is the heart of the Gospel. You are asteward of God’s stuff rather than an owner of your stuff. And your stuff alsoincludes you. You are not your own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). 1. Are you joyfully giving yourself away to your local church? 2. What is in your wallet? Is it yours or God’s? What does sacrificial giving look like in your life?Worship: praising God – We are wired for worship. This is who we are andwhat we do. The vertical relationship between you and God is the first andgreatest commandment of all (Matthew 22:36-40). The degree of adorationand affection you have for God will determine how you live out your life inthe context of your local church. 1. Is your Sunday church meeting experience primarily a celebration of the Father, Son, and Spirit or some other purpose? 2. How would you generally be characterized: a person of praise or a person lacking passion for God? 79
  • Looking for a solid local church can have many challenges and raise manyquestions. Anyone who has looked for a local church knows thesechallenges. While it can be a faith-filling experience, it can also be a difficultjourney.Occasionally I hear people say something like the following when theycritique a local church, “I like that church, but it is too big for me. I’mlooking for something smaller.”Though I think I understand their sentiment, it is an unusual critique from aNew Testament perspective. Numerical growth in the NT was generally a signof God’s blessing rather than an indication of a problem. The early churchflocked to God and to each other as God added to their number.Think about this: it is not unusual for an employee to enjoy the benefits andopportunities that come with a larger organization. You don’t normally hearthe “large church rationale” regarding a job or a school, though I realizethere are some exceptions: 1. This company is too large. I’m looking for a company with fewer employees. 2. This school is way too big. I want to go to a school with just a handful of people.God adds people to His church according to His good purposes. A large localchurch does not automatically mean there is a problem because of its size. Itcould be that God has chosen to bless a local assembly by increasing itsmembership. If God’s blessing is on the church, then making God’s blessinga negative is not wise or biblical.Of course I’m not saying a small church is not experiencing God’s blessing; Iam saying the size of the church, whether large or small, is at times toomuch of a concern for some Christians.You do not read of New Testament believers complaining about the size oftheir local church. There are more important things to consider whenchoosing a local church. 80
  • Even an employee of a large corporation typically has a small group offriends that he associates and works with. This is normal and expected. Hedoes not feel the pressure to get to know every person in the organization.A good employee’s primary objective is to support the mission and values ofthe corporation within the smaller sphere in which he was hired to work.A large local church should be viewed similarly. A large local church that isfunctioning biblically will have smaller contexts in which the members of thechurch can fulfill the “one another” imperatives of the NT.A small group is an excellent context for Christians to enjoy the benefits ofbody life, while supporting and fulfilling the greater mission of the church.One of the sadder by-products of the seeker-sensitive movement over thepast three decades is the creation of a new category for Christians, as itpertains to their devotion to the local church. That new category is “churchattender.”Never in the history of the church has there been such an accommodatingcategory for the Christian. Perhaps the greatest single weakness of the contemporary Christian church is that millions of supposed members are not really involved at all, and what is worse, do not think it strange that they are not. (Elton Trueblood)This lack of commitment to the local church is part of the problem with manyChristians who are struggling. Active involvement in the local church, whichimplies living in authentic, reciprocal relationships with other genuinebelievers as laid out in this eBook, is a wonderful solution for peopleproblems. Many churches imagine that the less they ask or expect of believers, the more popular they will become and the more contented the worshippers will be. The reverse is true. Those who ask little find that the little they ask is resented or resisted; those who ask much find that they are given much and strengthened by the giving. For it is only as lives begin to intersect in sacrificial ways that the church starts to develop its own 81
  • internal culture, and it is only in this context that the reality of God will both weigh heavily on the church and be preserved in its life. – David WellsIt’s a body thingAs a counselor I am not able to provide the long-term care in the way thatpeople need to be cared for. No para-church organization can do this and nopara-church organization has been called to do this. Long-term soul care isthe job of the local church.Let’s get personal: I am not going to stop sinning in this life. I wish I couldstop sinning in this life, but I’m a realist. I’m a Christian who sins. Sadly,that is how I roll. And because of my sinfulness, I need to be cared for.This is one of the primary reasons I am committed to my local church andmy small group, which is a component of my local church. I need help!!For the glory of God and the sake of my wife I plead with my local church tocome alongside me to care for me so I can mature into the man God wantsme to be.Acts 2:42-47 revisited And they were not devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, or to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And grumbling came upon every soul, and many wondered and critiqued the things being done through the apostles. Though they believed, they were a group of individuals. And they were selling all kinds of stuff in order to keep the proceeds because they were quite greedy. Whenever they felt like it they attended the temple meetings, while beating it to the restaurants afterwards. They received their food with glad and gluttonous hearts, superficially praising God because they craved the favor of all the people. And the Lord added more regular attenders to their number day by day; and the church continued to be weakened. 82
  • A pastor is a man who is called to care for his people. More than called, hewill be held accountable for how he cares for his people. Hebrews13:17 elevates the seriousness of the pastor’s call by stating that God willhold him accountable for how he cares for his members: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.Peter also weighed in on the seriousness of the call in 1 Peter 5:2-3 wherehe employs the metaphor of a shepherd and his sheep: Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.James came from another angle, while speaking to the seriousness of thecall, when he said teachers will be held to a higher standard ofaccountability. Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)An appeal from your pastorOnce upon a time I was part of a pastoral team in a local church. And it wasthe verses above, along with a few others, that helped me understand theseriousness of the call God had on my life during that time. Caring for peopleis important to God and it is important to me; however, it is not humanlypossible to care for everyone.A person who attempts to care for everyone will not be able to care foranyone well. But when a person committed to our local church, we were notonly humbled by their commitment, but sought to bring consistent andpractical care to them.However, there was another group of people where the lines were not asclear. They were ones who were not committed to the local church and it was 83
  • difficult to discern what level of care I should provide for them. At times Iprayed this way: Dear Father, I do love these people. You know I love these people. But dear Lord, it seems like no matter how much I teach or plead, they won’t commit to this body. God, would you be so kind as to change their hearts? Would you move them, if it’s your will, to plug into our local church—or would you please lead them to a church where they would be in faith to plug in and commit? Lord, I do not want to be held accountable for them if they are unwilling to commit. Please give me the words to say to them that would encourage them to plug into this local body or some other. Amen!The similarity between your employer and your churchYou can draw a few analogies between a person’s commitment level to hisjob and his commitment level to his local church. His commitment, or lackthereof, will determine how long and to what degree he would work for anyemployer.If he was not committed to his employer, at some point he would be calledinto the employer’s office and asked a few questions that could gosomething like this: 1. Do you believe in what we are doing as a company? Do you understand and believe in the vision and values of our company? If so, are you willing to commit to our company? 2. We are not the only employer in town. It is really okay if you do not work here. There are other jobs you can find. Please be free to look elsewhere. I don’t want you to feel like we’re twisting your arm. Though we would like to have you, you are also free to go somewhere else. What would you like to do? 3. I need to know what you are “in faith” to do. Are you in faith to be here, to work for me? Or do you believe you should work for another 84
  • company? Again, where you land is not the point, but landing somewhere is the point. 4. How can I help you to get plugged into this job or another job with another company? Please let me know how I can serve you. 5. I need to know which direction you are going. I have a board of directors that I am responsible to. It is not physically possible to commit to every person who walks through our doors. However, we are eager and excited to commit to those who believe they are supposed to be here. Do you believe you should be here?In the same vein, this is what I used to tell my potential church members: Let me care for you. It would be my joy!! However, your commitment is the key to the how, the when, the why and the what of my pastoral care. God is holding me accountable to some people, but not all people who walk through our doors. This is why we try to draw a line so we can work hard, wisely, efficiently, and with much joy. I am not saying we have “cornered the market” on how care should be done. We are always changing, but it has to look like something and this is what it looks like for us, at this time, in this church. Maybe you would prefer a different model of care. If so, praise God!! Let me help you find that church, with your preferred model of care so you can commit.Ultimately, the Church is not yours or mine; it’s God’s. Likewise, a localchurch does not grow because of what we can scheme and manage. There isno magical formula to achieving a vibrant church life.There is the Gospel and through it we are reminded that God has given usgifts that we ought to apply in the wisest ways we can—like small groups—and trust Him for the results: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 85
  • For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-8)Questions for reflection 1. Is the size of the local church an important factor when you are looking for a local church? If so, why? 2. What are your top five values, in order of priority, when you are looking for a local church? 3. How are you experiencing authentic, reciprocal relationships in your local church while supporting the greater vision of your local church? 4. Are you a member or a regular attender? Why? 5. Would you say your commitment to your local church is greater than your commitment to your job? …your hobbies? 6. From your pastor’s perspective, why is it essential for you to commit to the local church that God has given him to care for? (See Hebrews 13:17 and 1 Peter 5:2-3.) 86
  • Chapter Thirteen How do your friends help you to mature? - A Final Appeal 1. Who are your friends? 2. What are they like? 3. How do your friends help you mature in Christ? 4. What contexts have you created that help you and your friends pursue Christ together? 5. Who are your companions and how do they help you become like Christ?Take a look at this verse from Proverbs about the importance of companions. Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. – Proverbs 13:20 (ESV)Wow! Do you hang around fools?It sounds kinda harsh for post-modern sensitivities, but it is a valid question.In this text, the companion of fools is not a person who does not know thedifference between right and wrong. He knows the difference. He getsmorality.The real issue is that the companion of fools does not care who he hangswith, even if he gets hurt in the process.How do you want to do life?The person who understands how God wants life to happen and is willing tofollow God’s plan for doing life is a wise man. A person who understands howto do life, but chooses to go in a path that is contrary to God will sufferharm. Anyone who hangs with a person like this will suffer harm too.When I was a teenager I chose to hang with people who consistently madebad decisions. In time, I was making bad decisions too. I’m not blamingthem for my bad decisions, but I am saying there is a biblical, formulaicpattern in play here: you hang with fools, you will become one. 87
  • Who speaks into your life? You’re not as independent as you might think youare. Assess the crowd you hang with. You are like them. There is a reasonyou hang with the folks you hang with.I’m not talking about contexts where you have no choice regarding yourassociates, like work. I am talking about contexts where you do choose yourfriends and you can control what you do with those relationships.Your friends will determine the direction and the quality of your life. Theyhave that kind of power over you. Do you believe this? Who are yourfriends? Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV)How friends are chosen?The way we choose friends is straight forward. We choose friends who willaccept and approve us. We do not gravitate toward people who aredisapproving and rejecting. To be rejected is not how people chooserelationships. It does not work that way.How many of your long-term and sustained relationships do you have thatare rejecting, disapproving, and un-accepting? None. I’m talking about realfriends, not acquaintances or forced relationships like what might be foundin a work environment or a classroom.Some of you cannot be friends with your family members because you are aChristian and they are not. Approval and acceptance are big players when itcomes to making and sustaining relationships.Imagine trying to make friends with someone who constantly rejected you.You wouldn’t. You couldn’t. In time, you would walk away from therelationship. It would be like oil and water.However, if you were with a person who accepted you, then you wouldgravitate toward and seek to sustain that relationship. Even our personalrelationship with God is based on His acceptance. That is the only way wecan have a relationship with Him. 88
  • He approves us through the finished work of His Son. Otherwise we would beexperiencing His alienation and wrath. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. – John 3:36 (ESV)The quality of your friendshipsSeeking relationships based on approval is not necessarily a bad thing. Itcould be a bad thing, but it doesn’t have to be. We want to be approved byGod and Paul even encouraged this (2 Timothy 2:15).The real issue is whether or not we have the right motive in our relationshipchoices. If you want to do life with wise people, you will become wise.As far as finding a larger relational context to be part of, one of the biggestdangers in doing small group life together is the fear of being rejected ordisapproved.When this kind of fear rears its ugly head the group will be tempted to dolife in a superficial way. However, if the group purposely desires and decidesto pursue each other the way the Holy Spirit pursues us, then the group canbecome a Gospel-shaped community.If this happens, then the people in the group will mature into a greaterresemblance to Jesus Christ. • Are you more concerned with being accepted in your group or pursuing Christ in your group? • Do you join a group to be accepted or do you join to make progress in your spiritual relationship?How you answer these two questions will determine the spiritual quality ofyour relationships. The point for joining a small group should be to be withfolks who want to pursue life with God together. How is your small grouphelping you become more like Jesus Christ? 89
  • The small group antagonistIf you want to do life together with a group of people, then you’ll have tocome to terms with the doctrine of sin. Sin is the great antagonist in ourlives and it will take the life right out of you and your small groupexperience.You cannot ignore sin because sin does not ignore you. You must meet yoursin and the sin of others head-on. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)Do you and your friends ignore the obvious things in each other’s lives thatneed to be talked about? Do you and your friends take sin seriously? Howseriously are you taking sin?Sin insults the spirit of the grace. While God’s grace does not give us thefreedom to sin, it does give us a new freedom from sin. The fool would say,“I know you saved me and I don’t have to sin, but I’m gonna sin anyway.”This kind of attitude mocks God, His Gospel, and His grace.Grace does not minimize sin nor pretend it doesn’t exist. Neither does graceredefine what sin really is. Grace allows us to talk about sin. Grace gives usthe power to deal with the very thing that harms us. Sin.It’s bigger than you thinkSin is more pandemic than you might think. It is not a compartmentalizedcancer that attacks only one part of the body of Christ. It is pervasive. It willinfect the entire body if you allow it.For example, did you know that all sin against others is a twofer? When yousin against your spouse, you are also sinning against Christ. Your sin againstyour spouse not only hurts her, but it is a personal insult to Christ, becauseit was His blood that was shed for you. 90
  • However, the inestimable glory of God’s grace is that it empowers you toremove sin from your life. I realize you know this. I know that you know thatGod’s grace is sufficient for your sin.But did you also know that one of the reasons you struggle with on-going sinin your life and can’t quite gain victory over it is because you’re trying toovercome it with limited resources? I’m speaking particularly about trying toovercome the power of your sin alone?.One principal area of neglect in the church today is a lack of understandingabout how sanctification happens in the context of community. We all needthe right companions in our fight against sin. • Jimmy wanted to overcome his addiction to meds before anyone found out about it. • William wanted to overcome his anger without his friends finding out. • Leone wanted to sweep her adultery under the rug, hoping it would go away. • Sandra wanted to pretend everything was okay between her and her husband.While their lives may have had some sanctification success, it was more likea roller coaster with several starts and stops along the way. You’ll neverhumble yourself to the seriousness of sin on your own.This is one of the biggest deceptions of sin: it pushes you further into acorner of isolation. • Who knows you? • Who really knows you? • Who really, really knows you? • Do you have people (companions) in your life, speaking into your life at the level of your heart where it really matters?Sin’s progression will take its toll on you Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another 91
  • every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. - Hebrews 3:12-13 (ESV)The Hebrew author is warning us just in case there is evil working in ourhearts. An unbelieving heart in this verse is a morally confused heart.Is your heart morally confused? If so, then you’re on a slow track to a hardconscience. The sinful progression of a morally confused heart leads to anincreasing case hardening effect on a person’s conscience.Your conscience is your highest level of moral reality. It is your moralthermostat. If your conscience becomes hardened, then it will becomeincreasingly difficult for you to discern good from evil.I have counseled many men who are currently harsh, angry, and demandingtoward their wives. They are doing things now that they would never havedreamed of doing when they were dating or first married.The progression of sin has taken hold of their hearts. They are morallyconfused and the hardening effect of sin has kicked in. When you minimize,ignore, justify, or blame your sin away, it will grow bigger. It does notdisappear, though you may wish it so.It gets bigger! That is sin’s progression. Eventually it will control you if youallow it (Galatians 6:1).Hebrews 3:12-13 is an exhortation for believers (companions) to comealongside each other in order to do battle with the deceitfulness of sin. • Are you inviting people to speak into your life to help you adjust sin’s progression in your life? • How often do you think you need this kind of input in your life? • How often are you getting this kind of exhortative input?I need to be rescuedPaul was aware that he was the foremost of all the sinners in his life (1Timothy 1:15). Therefore, it would stand to reason that from his perspectivehe knew he needed to be rescued from himself. He was his biggest problem. 92
  • Though I could make a case against the “mean people” in my life andprobably convince some of you that if these mean people were different, Iwould be better.It would be a lie though.The person whom I need to be rescued from is me. Without question, I ammy biggest problem. I am the biggest trouble-maker in my life. I desperatelyneed people to come alongside me every day, to speak into my life, so I canmore effectively glorify God by my life. • Do you believe this about you? • Are you positioning yourself to receive hard things into your life? • Are you positioning yourself to speak hard things into the lives of others?If not, then you’re either too proud to speak the truth humbly or too proudto receive the truth humbly.If you or I are not positioning ourselves in the lives of other companions tospeak into their lives and for them to speak into our lives, then we are nottaking the Gospel seriously.The Gospel says, “I don’t have anything to prove and I don’t have anythingto protect.”Are you still trying to prove your worth? If so, you’ve missed the Gospel. TheGospel says you will never ever be worthy of God’s approval. Are you stilltrying to protect your reputation? The Gospel says you put the Son of Godon the cross. Golgotha’s hill is sounding an alarm: You are wicked; you didthis!The best thing you and I can do is get over ourselves and then flingourselves into a small group of companions who are serious about the waron sin for each other’s good and God’s glory.Help your friendsIf you are discipling or counseling someone, or if you’re in a small group thatis mired in superficiality, then I exhort you to give them this eBook. Help 93
  • press the truths of this eBook into their hearts with the prayer that they willtake their sin seriously.If they do take these things seriously, then envision them to find a smallgroup that is likeminded. Help them to find the right companions who aredetermined for every member to grow into Christlikeness.Help them to re-examine their friends and the purpose of theserelationships. Teach them how to humbly assess how their friends areserving them in their personal battle with sin. Then show them how to makea difference in the lives of these friends.Questions for reflection 1. Who are your friends? 2. How are they helping you to overcome sin? 3. Are you pressing into your small group because you hate sin in your life and the lives of your friends and you are doggedly determined to make a difference in the lives of the group? 94
  • Conclusion Sample Application Questions For Rick’s Small GroupAfter we finished our initial launch meetings for our new small group, webegan “doing small group life” together. The way we do small group is bypractically applying the Sunday sermon to our lives.We listen to the sermon, take notes, and engage in an application processbased on the sermon. The email below was sent to my small group to “kickstart” the conversation based on a sermon preached at our local church.Each Sunday afternoon I send a similar email, which becomes the launchingpoint for our small group’s discussion. I give it to you so you can see whatkind of questions we ask during our small group time:Dearest Small Group!Here are the application questions for discussion tonight. Please thinkthrough these questions and reflective thoughts and be prepared to sharehow you are doing in these areas.I want us to stay on point (see below) while being specific and practical as tohow God has been working and still needs to work in our lives. Here you go…Text: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9Paul thought about and viewed an unruly group of people through a Gospel-shaped lens. How Paul talked to the Corinthians not only practically helps usin how we should respond to others, but Paul’s attitude and affection for theCorinthians reveals a lot about the kind of person Paul was.What kind of person are you? (Remember small group is not about changingothers or talking about others, but about changing ourselves by talkingabout ourselves. “How do I need to change?”)The Big Idea: The measure and degree to which you understand and liveout a Gospel-shaped identity in Christ is revealed by how you think aboutand respond to others. 95
  • Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45): how youthink about and respond to other Christians (behavior) is directly connectedto who you are (heart).How do you generally think about and respond to others, especially otherswho are not living according to the way you’d like for them to live? Note howPaul thought about and responded to the Corinthians.Think about a specific person who annoys you! 1. How do you view your fellow Christians? Do you generally view them as brothers or sisters in Christ who, like you, are members of the family of God and are “works in process”? Or, do you view them with uncertainty as to whether they will finish what God has begun? (Philippians 1:6) 2. How do you define others? By where they currently are in their progressive sanctification (you focus more on their sin) or by who they are in Christ (you focus more on the Gospel)? 3. Do you tend to lose hope when thinking about others? Or, do you generally focus on the grace of God in their lives? The former is more focused on their sin, while the latter is more focused on the grace of God?Helpful Tips: Here are two helpful tips, in question form, to guide you asyou answer the three questions above: 1. How do you generally think about or talk about others? 2. How do you think of others in your heart or talk about them when they are not around?Let’s get personal by digging a bit deeper: 1. How often and in what ways do you criticize others? 2. How often and in what ways do you become angry toward others? (Note: anger can be defined as frustration, impatience, criticalness, etc.) 3. How often and in what ways do you encourage others? 4. How often and in what ways are you encouraged by others as you think about them? 96
  • 5. Ask your spouse how he/she would generally characterize you: are you more of an encourager or are you more critical? 6. Ask your children (if you have any) how they would generally characterize you according to question #5.While Paul did not withhold correction, as we see in the rest of the letter, wesee in the first nine verses his attitude and affection for the people he wasabout to correct. How much affection do you have for those who need yourcorrection?See you tonight?Rick 97
  • For Further ReadingBonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. San Francisco, California: Harper andRow, 1954.Bridges, Jerry. The Crisis of Caring. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R, 1985.Bridges, Jerry. True Fellowship. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1985.Dever, Mark. 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway,1997.Harris, Joshua. Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with the Family of God.Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2004.Tripp, Paul David. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. Phillipsburg, NewJersey: P & R, 2002.Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church. Chicago, Illinois:Moody, 1996. 98
  • Meet Rick ThomasRick Thomas has been training and counseling in the Upstate of SouthCarolina since 1997. After several years as a counselor and pastor hefounded and launched his own Christian training organization in order toassist Christians around the world regarding a betterunderstanding and practice of Christian discipleship.In the early ’90’s he earned a BA in Theology. Laterhe earned a BS in Education. In 1993 he wasordained into Christian ministry and in 2000 hegraduated with a MA in Counseling. In 2006 he wasrecognized as a Fellow with a nationally recognizedcounseling group.Today his organization represents clients in over 90countries as well as all 50 states through hisconsulting, training, blogging, and coaching.You Can Connect with Rick Today! • Social Media for Rick ThomasIn addition, CSG provides the following services around the world • Christian Counseling for Any Situational Challenge • Counselor Training • Personal Coaching • Church Consulting & Problem Solving • Business Consulting & Problem Solving • Public Speaking & Seminars • Online Webinar Training • Consulting: Business Formation, Launch & Marketing • Distance Education 99
  • A Recommendation…Rick has built an excellent reputation as a counselor,trainer and coach because he has integrity and patience. He is a genuinelykind soul with a great sense of humor.It is no wonder that he is highly sought after as a speaker and teacher! Hehas taken great care in developing wonderful resources for other Christianswho may need a hand in finding good quality material to share with theircounselees.He is innovative and has “thinking out of the box” ways to take what we doto the greatest number of people around the globe through webinar andother media.The material Rick presents on his Counseling Solutions Group website dailyblog and through the Coffee Breaks is fantastic and relevant and evenseasoned counselors will find plenty of wisdom in his writings.I highly recommend Rick Thomas to anyone looking for a speaker, teacher ortrainer, and most certainly as a Christian counselor.–Julie Ganschow - Biblical Counseling for Women 100