Care is a Partnership

Care is a Partnership

It's important that you foster a collaborative relationship with a church staff member now—even if it's currently smooth sailing in your group. You'll want that relationship in place in the event that one of your group members enters a difficult season.

Pursuing Reciprocal Relationships

Pursuing Reciprocal Relationships

One thing you can do to find community as a leader is to pursue reciprocal relationships. They require two ingredients: depth of relationship and frequency of interaction.

Finding Community As a Leader

Finding Community As a Leader

As a leader, sometimes leading is a ministry. You pour into others even though they may not be capable of pouring into you. You may not always find community—strong, reciprocal relationships—in your group.

Leading and Living the Three Vitals

Leading and Living the Three Vitals

We believe that to grow spiritually a person must focus on his or her relationship with God, with other believers, and with unbelievers.

Connected vs. Busy

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At times, we all feel overwhelmed by our schedules. In the blink of an eye, there's something scheduled every night of the week and we have to make decisions about what to drop. In order to create some margin, we may even entertain the idea of dropping our small group. I'm all for creating margin. Without margin, all areas of our lives suffer. But creating margin is about more than just creating time; it's about creating quality. What we say "no" to may be the thing we most need.

There may be brief seasons where being in a small group just isn't possible, but by and large, being in groups is the lifeline of what keeps us connected in true community. If we let the busyness of our schedules bump small group out of the picture, we may be unintentionally making two decisions: Saying "no" to being connected with others, and saying "yes" to being disconnected.

When we mistake busyness for connectedness, we jeopardize the things that are the most important. Not making time in our schedules to connect with others can be a hindrance to our growth, our family relationships, and, ultimately, our quality of life.
Here are a few thoughts about being busy versus being connected:
Busy people have conversations; connected people have relationships.
Busy people talk about life; connected people share life.
Busy people manage a schedule; connected people rest in the relationships.
Busy people view life as an ugly mess; connected people view life as a beautiful mess
Busy people run on empty; connected people are filled up by their relationships.
Busy people burnout; connected people grow.
So, are you just busy or are you connected?

Setting Group Boundaries, Part Two

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We all agree that setting boundaries for group members is necessary for maintaining group health. But how do we approach a group member that refuses to live within those boundaries? How do we manage the tension between extending needy members grace and delivering truth? Here are some ideas to help you manage this tension:

Be compassionate. Start with compassion. At first, it may be difficult to discern real need from "real needy." If you enter into the fray with compassion, your heart will be ready to respond appropriately.

Be aware. Watch how the other members of the group respond to a potentially needy member. Look for signs that your other group members are growing tired or detached from the group. Look for rolling eyes, sidebar conversations, or even reduced attendance.

Be prepared. Needy group members tend to dominate group discussion. Look for an opening to draw the conversation from the needy member and back to the group. You can do this by simply saying to another group member, "What do you think about that?" Always keep your ears open for a pause where you have the opportunity to bring the group back on task.

Be assertive. You'll probably have to address the needy member. Because of low self-awareness, needy members rarely resolves issues on their own. Be willing and prepared to address the issue when the time is right.

Be quick. Address the issue as quickly as possible. The longer it continues, the harder it is to rein in and the more potential for damaging relationships inside the group increases. Waiting also increases the likelihood that someone else in the group will address the needy member in a less than ideal way.

Be discreet. Addressing needy people in a public forum isn't best. It drives them away and potentially causes more damage. It's best to address the issue outside of the regular group meeting. If it's helpful, you can bring your apprentice along for the confrontation. This lets the needy member know that it's not just one person's opinion.

Be humble. You want to balance speaking truth with a humble spirit. People tend to discount what they hear from someone they consider self-righteous or arrogant.

Be accepting. Communicate acceptance. It's easier to accept a difficult truth when you're confident that they accept you as a person. If you're not, then what they say comes across as rejection.

Be sound. Focus on adding truth rather than pointing out errors. People don't abandon what they think or believe just because someone presents a good argument.

Be thorough. One conversation probably won't resolve all issues. Be ready to have follow-up conversations. Encourage needy members to go down a road of self-discovery. Let them know you're on their side and want to help them grow.

Be a leader. Lead needy members to self-discovery. Preaching to them puts them in a position to defend their beliefs or behaviors. Asking good questions positions them to discover truth on their own.

Not every situation will be resolved in a desirable way. But if you use some of these ideas, they'll give your group a greater chance of success. In the end, God is responsible for the outcome. We're responsible for our attitude and actions when helping lead our groups.

Setting Group Boundaries, Part One

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Most of us have been in a group or two with one group member who dominates the group experience. Maybe there's been someone who tried to dominate every group you've been in. It's important for the health of our groups and for our growth as leaders that we learn how to set boundaries for dominant group members. If one member of the group dominates the group experience, the real issues of growth and care for other members may never be addressed. Individuals who don't grow and aren't cared for will carry that experience into their future groups. They may even decide that community isn't worth the effort. And if leaders don't set boundaries, dominant group members will carry that pattern of behavior into their future groups as well.

We can't “kick the can down the road” or “run out the clock.” The opportunity to create and sustain a healthy group is now. But first we have to set boundaries.

This is never easy. But the more you do it, the better you get at it. In the long run, it's easier to set boundaries at the outset of the group than to have to rein someone in six months into the life of the group. How do you do this?

First, clearly establish from the beginning that small group is not a support group. While care is part of the experience, the small group isn't equipped or designed to be a recovery group or a place for counseling sessions.

Second, address the distinction between caregiving and caretaking. God calls us to provide care in times of need, but we're not caretakers for individuals in our groups.

Third, establish at the outset that spiritual growth is a goal for the group. That means group members are willing to listen and apply insights and actions suggested by the group.

Finally, group is a place for accountability. Community allows God to restore and reconcile us to him through our relationships with others. Isaiah 61 says, "He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners." What greater charge can leaders have? When we proclaim biblical truths, those truths become the key to breaking through the barriers that hold a needy person hostage. Those truths shine a light where darkness has thrived for years. As leaders, we have the opportunity, challenge, privilege, and responsibility to deliver truth.

Setting boundaries is essential in helping lead groups well. But there are times when group members refuse to live within the established group boundaries. Part Two of this post explores what to do in that kind of situation.

Uncomfortable Conversations

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You’re listening to your friend describe the person he or she is dating and the thought bubble in your head is screaming, “You shouldn't be dating this person!” But you leave your friend’s company, having said nothing . . . and then spend the next few weeks having imaginary conversations about what you should have said. Or worse, you have conversations with other people instead of with your friend. How do you approach uncomfortable conversations? There isn’t a step-by-step guide, is there? But there are some things you can keep in mind before, during, and after.

Before the conversation . . .

Pray. Pray. Pray. Smother this situation in prayer—for wisdom, for humility, for timing, for the fullness of grace and truth. When you think you've prayed enough, pray a little more.

Identify your friend’s spiritual location. Where is he or she spiritually?  Would your friend say that he or she is a follower of Christ?  It’s absurd to expect someone who isn't living in the Kingdom to live by Kingdom values. They didn’t sign up for that (yet).

Understand the scripture “unequally yoked.” Read 2 Corinthians 6:14. This is the biblical go-to in challenging a believer who is dating a non-believer. Is this the situation with your friend or are you just not a fan of the person he or she is dating?

Examine your own heart. Ask yourself, “Do I want to be right more than I want God’s best for my friend?  Have I put in the time to build relational equity so my friend knows I'm on his or her side?  Is my heart broken for my friend or am I just angry?

During the conversation . . .

Think timing. Relationships aren't efficient. Adjust your expectation that you can waltz in, say a few lines, drop the mic, and walk out.  You might have the right stance, but is this the right time?  Also, big issues usually require more than one conversation.

Present God’s best. What does God want for us in terms of our dating relationships?  Focus on what Scripture says about dating wisely.  Avoid your own commentary or Christian cultural “deal-breakers” about how dating should look.

Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions. Asking questions allows you to lead your friend to the answers, rather than telling him or her the answer.  It helps identify the tension in being unequally yoked.  Telling someone what to do or think is condescending and patronizing. Questions to ask your friend to help identify the tension:

  • As you’ve talked about your faith with your significant other, what have you heard that’s encouraged you?
  • Have you identified your "non-negotiables"? These are values you won't compromise in a dating relationship.
  • Are there areas you’d like to see him or her grow in relationship with Christ?  Could you marry your significant other if nothing changed?
  •  What would you tell someone in your position?
  • If the most important thing in your life is something you can't share with your significant other, how will you build intimacy?

After the conversation . . .

Encourage courage. Most single people don't date non-believers because they “don’t know better.”  It’s not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of courage.  Pray and encourage your friend to have the courage to be obedient to God’s best for his or her life.

Walk with her or him. Regardless of what your friend decides, walk alongside her or him.  You can represent God’s truth even when you don’t approve of your friend's behavior. God did the same for you, didn’t he?

Did I mention this won’t be easy? I'll be back next week to delve into this topic a little more deeply. In the meantime, how have you navigated uncomfortable conversations?

Community Group Is Worth It

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With so much on our plates and time at a premium, why is joining a Community Group worth it? My wife and I have been in group for almost eighteen years—not because we work for our church but because Community Group is where God has worked most often in our lives. I've grown closer to Jesus through relationships I’ve had in small groups than anywhere else. Hearing about how other group members have experienced God opens my eyes to things I would never have considered otherwise. The people in our groups have also celebrated our good times and supported us during tough times in more and greater ways than I ever could have imagined.

My wife and I were recently reminded of the power of community and what happens when it's missing from someone's life. We were blessed to serve at a Lighthouse Family Retreat in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Lighthouse hosts retreats for families walking though childhood cancer. Over the course of a week, the parents spend time each day in a small group processing how God fits into the picture of what's happening in their lives. Some of them have never been in a small group and don't know what to expect when the week begins. During the first day, the room starts out silent. By the end of the week, it's hard to get anyone’s attention because they’re enjoying each other’s company so much.

On our second day at Lighthouse, we caught a glimpse of the power of community in the life of one man. He hadn't said two words up to that point, but stopped the group about halfway through the discussion. His child had been undergoing cancer treatment for about eighteen months and he'd never spoken to anyone about it—not a single person. Not even his wife. He hadn't wanted to talk about it because he thought everything going on in his head was weird. But after hearing everyone else talk, he realized others were experiencing the same thoughts, fears, and emotions he was. This "community" thing he was in the middle of wasn't so bad; it actually made him feel safe and he wanted it to continue.

The same thing happens in many new groups. Many of our attendees have never experienced community. They have no idea of what to expect. As a church, we believe that in order to grow spiritually, you have to be connected relationally. So, what can you do to help new members of your group feel safe and comfortable?

Relational Versus Informational

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One of the most common questions I get as a Community Groups Director is, "What curriculum should my group study?" You'd think my first reaction would be to pull out a list of the top small group studies by category and find one that fits the make-up and season of life of the group in question.

But that's not what I do. "What curriculum should my group study?" reveals a deeper tendency that we should be aware of in Groups; one that, if we're not careful, can limit the effectiveness of the group experience.

The natural drift for most group leaders is to focus on the study of Scripture, theology, or topical principles from the Word. This isn't surprising. One of the ways many of us came to know Christ was through reading the Bible as well as books theology or the practice of faith.  We think we can plug in the Scripture and studies that were instrumental in growing our faith and voilà!: people grow spiritually and the group is a success. If only it were that easy.

The truth is, Community Group is more relational than informational.

Biblical knowledge is important. Theology is important. Godly principles on marriage, parenting, relationships, and spiritual growth are all important. Without them our walk with Christ would stagnate. But if information was the key ingredient for a growing relationship with Jesus, we'd just pack people into rows, feed them information, and send them on their way.  We'd have no need for community. We wouldn't need to form circles in homes all across the city.

But growing spiritually doesn't work that way.

When we get out of rows and into circles and begin developing deeper relationships, not only are we more open to receive and understand the knowledge that is so crucial to our lives, we also see the way to live out God's truth in our everyday life.  Knowledge is important, but relationships are, in some ways, even more important.

Here are some ideas about how to keep your group more relational than informational:

Value life updates over your study. Always take time to catch up on what's going on in your members' lives. Don't feel bad if you sometimes need to shorten the study time in order to discuss someone's struggle or celebrate someone's victory.

Ask great questions. When preparing for your group, be particular about which questions to include. Avoid questions about demonstrating knowledge (e.g., "Who rose from the dead after three days?"). Focus on questions that tap into people's personal experience (e.g., "When have you struggled to forgive someone?"). Write your own questions if you need to.

Hang out socially. You'd be surprised how well you can get to know your group members by taking a week off of curriculum and doing something fun. Many people—especially seekers and new believers—aren't comfortable letting their guard down at the actual group meeting. Getting out of that setting can help build relational connections.

What are ways you have been able to keep group more relational than informational?