What do you do with the parts of the Bible that don't seem to offer much in the way of practical application?
Some scholars estimate there are up to 900 different English translations or paraphrases of the Bible. How can you know which is best for you?
How often do we use words or phrases in our groups that not everyone understands? It's especially important to watch out for this kind of thing when new believers or non-believers are in your circle.
Pointing our prayers to our heavenly Father reminds us of the authority he has, and of a once broken relationship with him that has now been restored through the work of his Son and the power of his Spirit.
We all understand truth. We all understand grace. But most of us do a mediocre job of managing the tension between the two.
I enjoy leading my group. I just hope nobody asks me anything about the Bible.Do you ever think something like this?
To many people, the God of the Old Testament seems different than the God of the New Testament, even though we know he is the same God. In particular, God's punishment often doesn't fit the sin—at least by our standards.
Since I was a kid, I’ve found a passage in Genesis 32 weird and confusing. You know the one I’m talking about. When Jacob wrestles God.
I've always liked this quote from G.K. Chesterton. It's more poetic than theological, but I like how it points to God's boundless, playful creativity.
We talk all the time in groups about how the key ingredient of personal spiritual growth is trust in God. That sounds simple, right? But actually trusting is hard. It's counterintuitive. It feels dangerous.
There's an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in which Calvin is griping to his dad, so his dad explains that life isn't fair. "I know," Calvin replies, "but why isn't it ever unfair in my favor?"
In this TED video, author Malcolm Gladwell puts a new and fascinating spin on a story we're all familiar with . . . or at least think we're all familiar with.
I got to see Gladwell give a longer version of this talk at last year's Catalyst Conference. It may have been the highlight of the conference for me.
To dig deeper, check out Malcolm Gladwell's book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.
Andy Stanley's current series, Ask It, has gotten me thinking a lot lately about knowledge, wisdom, and the difference between the two. Ours is a knowledge-obsessed culture (we are living in the information age, after all). As a result, we tend to confuse knowledge and wisdom. If we have a problem, our knee-jerk reaction is to throw information at it. Read a self-help book. Watch an instructional video. Google it. We want to believe that if we have enough information, it'll solve our problems.
But it's not quite so easy, is it? Sifting through all the information out there to find what's true and helpful is challenging. That's because knowledge tells only half the story. The other half belongs to wisdom. To clarify things, let's take a quick look at some definitions from Dictionary.com:
Knowledge—acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation.
Wisdom—knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.
Knowledge is about knowing (duh). Wisdom is about living. One can't be wise without knowledge, but the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake doesn't make one wise. Application is the path to wisdom. This is so true that you can actually become wise by leaning into other people's application. We can learn from the experiences and mistakes of our parents, mentors, bosses, and friends, without having to repeat those experiences and mistakes, if we listen humbly and thoughtfully.
So, what does all this have to do with group leadership? Well, if you've been a leader for any amount of time, you've probably bumped into group members hungry for knowledge. They talk about wanting to go "deeper" in Bible study. There's nothing inherently wrong with digging into Scripture, but keep in mind that our culture over-emphasizes the power of knowledge to affect change. People often don't grasp that just knowing the Bible won't grow them spiritually.
It's more important that your group's interaction with the Bible is focused on personal application than it is on depth. Going deeper for the sake of going deeper won't change your life. But even a "shallow" reading of Scripture—one that doesn't take into account stuff like historical context, literary genre, or rich theological analysis—can change your life, if you ask, "In light of what I'm reading, how can I change the way I live in order to align my heart and my mind more closely with God's?"
Asking that question is the path to wisdom.
Let's say you're leading a new group. You're just a couple months in and still getting to know your group members. During a group discussion about faith, one of them opens up: "For me, faith is about following what you believe. I don't think it really matters whether or not you have faith in God, Buddha, or Muhammad. I mean, I've met some really sincere people, some really good people, who were of the Bahá'í faith, and it worked for them. They were great people."
All eyes are on you. On the one hand, you don't want to leave error unaddressed. On the other hand, you don't want to shut down conversation. More important, you don't want to shut down relationships. So, what do you do?
Deciding how to respond in a situation like that is more art than science. A lot depends on the nature of the discussion and the relationships among the people in the group. But here are four things to consider when dealing with bad theology:
- You don't have to close the deal. People don't drop worldviews they've accumulated over the course of a lifetime as a result of a single discussion in group. Don't feel like you have to move them from a -5 to a +10 on the faith continuum in one eloquent and polished answer. That's not even your job. Only the Holy Spirit can change people's lives. You're there to partner with the Spirit, but life change is his responsibility . . . and he seems content to refine each of us over time, not all at once. The beauty of God's grace and our salvation through Jesus is that they give us some room to be wrong about a lot things as we grow in our relationship with God.
- Validate the person. Let the person know that you appreciate his or her point of view. Say something like, "I can see where you're coming from on that." This doesn't mean you're validating his or her statement. But by communicating understanding, you minimize the defensiveness that flows from having beliefs challenged.
- Ask clarifying questions.
Don't be quick to offer answers or rebuttals. Instead, ask clarifying questions. It demonstrates an interest in what is important to the person, reveals more about where he or she stands, and leads him or her to self-discovery. Here are some examples of good clarifying questions:
- "Of the faiths that you know about, which one appeals to you the most, and why?"
- "From what you know about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism, do your think those belief systems view themselves as all the same? Why do you think they see themselves so differently?"
- "What have you experienced that led you to view all religions as being basically the same?"
- Draw the group back to Scripture. Pointing the discussion to Scripture re-orients the conversation away from a "what I believe" versus "what you believe" argument. It reinforces the idea that the Bible (not you) is the authority for matters of faith. It encourages group members to make mental connections between biblical truth and what they believe.
How have you navigated error in group discussion? How have you done it well and how have you done it not-so-well?
Do you study the Bible or do you read it? In this short video, Eugene Peterson (A Long Obedience In the Same Direction) breaks down the difference between studying and reading.
If we've been given a "New" Testament, does that mean the "Old" Testament is obsolete? There aren't many church-types who would give a hearty, "Yes!" to that question, but many of us ignore the Old Testament to the extent that an outside observer might assume Genesis through Malachi doesn't really apply to us anymore. So why do we gloss over the Old Testament?
Several weeks ago I came across Eph.1.17 and started praying it on a daily/regular basis.I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. Eph. 1:17