Small Group Fireplaces: #4 – Group Members Pray for One Another

When you add another log to the fire, you know what happens. It is soon ablaze itself and it eventually helps keep the other logs burning as well. But the log must be touching the other logs. Set a fresh log outside the fireplace and not much happens. This is what we love about community: We fire each other up. But we’ve got to be touching each other.

I know, this idea of touching one another sounds a little … well, intimate. I’ve read books that say we shouldn’t use the word intimacy to describe the relationships in a small group–we might scare some folks away. But when I read the Bible, especially the gospels and Acts, I see intimacy all over the place. Jesus touched people, physically, emotionally, spiritually. He had compassion for them. He washed their feet, touched their faces, allowed them to touch him. 
Perhaps our fear of touching people is keeping God’s church from reaching the world.
Prayer–real prayer–is an act of intimacy. That’s why, I believe, Jesus’ brother connected confession with praying for each other (James 5:16).

Care and prayer for one another in the group go hand in hand. This is a 24-7 thing, not just a once-a-week-at-the-meeting thing. It is also a one-another thing, not just a leader thing. The New Testament shows a church that naturally cared for and ministered to one another. Healthy small groups are places where everyone is involved in ministry to one another, not where one person serves and cares for everyone else.

I want to try to find ways to connect people like logs in a fire in the groups I lead. So, within the first few weeks of a new group, I pass out index cards and have everyone write their name and contact information on one side and things they would like regular prayer for on the other side. At the end of the meeting, we put the names in a hat and everyone draws a card. They meet with that person after the meeting to talk, share other prayer requests, minister to and pray for each other. (This means each person will meet with two different people after the end of the meeting – the person they are praying for and the one that is praying for them.) They are to continue praying for that person every day as well as contacting them to encourage, pray out loud for, and build accountability with their partner. Of course there are many variations on this simple assignment. Whatever methodology you use, what’s important is getting people to pray for one another and thereby touch each other’s lives.

Praying for each other, along with confessing our sins to one another, is part of the community-life dynamic duo that is powerful and effective. Get your group members praying for each other, and they will be transformed–because they are being prayed for and because they are praying. Your group will be transformed from a good group to a great, transformational group. This will fire them up! 
And leader, don’t forget that this starts with you, as you model praying for your group members. 
This is #4 in a series I’m calling “Small Group Fireplaces.” Read the first three here:

Your Small Group Can Be a Fireplace (but it’s not the fire)
Small Group Fireplaces Series: #2 – Leaders Pray
Small Group Fireplaces Series: #3 – Groups Pray

Small Group Fireplaces Series: #3 – Groups Pray

When groups pray together, it’s like adding logs to the fire.

This is part three of a blog series I’m calling “Small Group Fireplaces.” In Part One, I stated that small groups can be the fireplace, or the environment, where revival and transformation can occur, but it’s not the fire, or even the match. In Part Two, I began describing how your group can become this kind of environment or fireplace, The first vital principles is prayer: Leaders pray for and with group members.

Today I want to share a few thoughts and ideas about group prayer. A fireplace with one log burning is warm and comfy, but if you want the fire to continue burning hot for a long time, you place more and more logs on the fire.

I give special attention to prayer in meetings. I remind participants that prayer is more than just asking God for things. It is communicating our feelings and thoughts to him. I try to steer the group away from sharing surface-level requests: Aunt Mary’s sick cat, the missionaries in Botswana, a friend of a cousin whose mother is having her appendix removed. Those may be legitimate things to pray for, but group prayer has a particular purpose, which should center on the group and its mission.

Keep your group prayer times creative. For instance, focus prayer times on specific needs or topics. Take a night and pray only for our families or friends at work, or spend an evening praising God for his grace or his power; use prayer times to confess sins to God and to one another (James 5:16).

I know that most groups pray together, but I’ve seen lots of groups miss out on God’s transformational power in prayer. Challenge your group as you pray to ask God for things that only he can do. Then, when he does, remember to take time to thank him–with great joy!–for what he has done. 
Don’t be a one-log group. Get everyone involved in prayer, and watch God do what only he can do. 

Next Post: Group Members Pray for One Another.

Small Group Fireplaces Series: #2 – Leaders Pray

Small groups have no more chance of initiating revival or transforming people’s lives than an empty fireplace has of starting a fire. Your small group should be a fireplace–an environment where God will do what only he can do in changing people’s lives. But you are not the fire, or even a match.

I began this blog series by describing what a small group is and is not (read it here). Today I’ll begin describing how your group can become a fireplace. Each of the next several posts will focus on just one vital calling or assignment that you as a leader or your group as a whole must accept and put into practice to become a healthy environment where God can build fires. 
TODAY’S ASSIGNMENT: You as a leader must pray everyday. Simple. But perhaps the most vital thing you do.

Before I even start inviting people to a new group, I begin praying – for me as a leader, for the group as a whole, for individuals who will be invited to the group. I pray for people by name, especially those who are not believers, and I ask God to begin working in their hearts. Basically, before any seed is to be planted, I’m asking God to prepare the soil of my heart and their hearts. Or, in keeping with the original metaphor, I’m sweeping out the fireplace and opening the damper before placing logs on the hearth. 
When the group begins to meet, I take time each day to pray for each person in the group. Beyond that, however, I take time each day to pray especially for one or two individuals. For instance, if there are ten people in the group, I write two people’s names on each of the weekdays of my calendar in a given week. I consider it part of my responsibility as a leader to hold them up to my Father in prayer every day. And I encourage other members to do the same.
Would you like to know a little trick for stoking the effectiveness of your prayers for group members? This is a secret that Jesus practiced all the time. It’s a secret that seems rare, however, in our busy, me-centered world. Are you ready? Here it is … spend time with group members. Invest individually in their lives. (By the way, you can’t effectively do this with a group larger than four unless you are sharing leadership with a core team.) Serve them. Hang out together (and not just on Google). Eat meals together. As you get to know your group members personally beyond all the small talk, you will know how to really pray effectively for each of them. 
Prayer is by far the biggest accelerant for revival and spiritual growth. And leader, it starts with you. 
How are you doing when it comes to praying for your group members? What tricks have you learned? 

Your Small Group Can Be a Fireplace (but it’s not the fire)

Our country needs revival. Our churches need revival. And some believe small groups are the answer. They aren’t. Small groups have no more chance of initiating revival than a fireplace has of starting a fire. No programs, methods, philosophies, or forms can bring about what only God can do. Regardless of how biblically sound, culturally relevant, and structurally effective they are, small groups do not themselves bring rebirth.

Even the best small group leader cannot bring revival. No amount of training, spiritual giftedness, or holy passion will bring it about. Only God creates, initiates, and orchestrates revival. Only God. 
Jesus told his followers that he could do nothing on his own but only by the Father’s initiation (John 5:19; 6:38, 44: 7:16; 8:28). If God’s Son worked from this viewpoint, how can we claim that our methods, models, or ministries can do anything? No, our small groups are not the answer. A newer model is not the answer. A new system from a big, growing church is not the answer. What they’re doing in some faraway country is not the answer. Better leadership training is not the answer. Even this blog post and the books I’ve written are not the answer!
Jesus is the answer. We can do nothing apart from God. The Holy Spirit is our real leader. Small groups can be the fireplace where the fire starts, but let’s get rid of the notion that small groups are the fire – or even the match. 
How can your small group(s) become a fireplace? I’ll write more about that in the next several posts. 
This post is adapted from a section of Leading from the Heart, Chapter 6. 

What Our Church Learned by Surveying the Health of Our Groups

“Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.”   — Proverbs 27:23

“Several years ago, our senior pastor asked me a simple question: ‘Are our small groups healthy?’ I could tell him all the reasons why I thought they were healthy. I could tell a few stories. I could talk about what I had observed. But I could not prove our groups were healthy. So we developed a simple diagnostic instrument using an online survey tool and sent it to all our leaders to learn more.”

This is the first paragraph of Appendix B in my book, Small Group Vital Signs. In this appendix I provided the background of our church’s small group health assessment, why we conducted it, how we implemented it, and what we learned. I discussed each of the seven vital signs individually, exactly what we learned as a church, and I provided some overall analysis that will probably apply to other churches as well. I may be biased, but I think this appendix is worth the price of the book!

 For the Small Groups Point Person: What Our Small Groups Ministry Learned
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Check out the Healthy Small Groups page for more information, free articles, a link to the free Small Group Health Assessment, and free downloads! 

When Your Picture of Your Daddy Has Been Twisted – Cinda’s Story

I first met Cinda (not her real name) in the apartment building laundry room. I learned quickly that she lived with her boyfriend, Nick, and was taking classes at the University of Cincinnati. My wife, Heidi, and I got to know Cinda and Nick over the next couple years, hanging out with them at the apartment-building pool, playing cards, and just sitting around chatting.

When we began an investigative study of the Bible, Nick responded quickly. I had the opportunity of helping him accept Jesus as his Savior and Lord and I baptized him in the chilly waters of our pool early one Sunday morning.

Cinda was not so quick to respond. For a long time, I wondered if she ever would. It’s not that she didn’t believe what Nick, Heidi, and I believed; she did. It’s not that she had reservations about the Bible, Jesus, or living as a Christ-follower. She was fine with all that. She saw the changes God was bringing about in Nick, and she liked that–she liked it a lot!–and she wanted God to do the same for her.

Cinda’s problem–her roadblock–was this image of God the Father.

This week I’ve been writing about this irresistible image of God stooping down to listen to his children (Psalm 116:2). (See previous posts in this series: #1, #2, #3.) Our God, the Creator of the universe, the all-powerful, all-knowing King, is also our Daddy–a Daddy who bends down to look each of us in the eyes and listen attentively to us.

Cinda could neither understand nor accept this picture of God. Her earthly father abused her and her sisters. I’ll hold back on the lurid details.

I hurt for Cinda. I prayed that God would replace her image of him– an image her dad had twisted–with the truth. We read the Bible together, passages like Jesus’ parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32). Heidi, who had more in common with Cinda that I, talked and prayed with her. Finally, we backed off; we didn’t want to be in the way of the Holy Spirit working in Cinda’s life. A year went by, and one day Cinda announced that she was ready to accept Jesus.

God had not given up on her. He kept reaching out to her, bending down to her, wooing her, until she could see him as he is. She fell into his embrace.

The Bible paints a captivating picture of a Daddy who lovingly bends down to our level so he can place his strong yet tender hands on our shoulders, look us in the eyes, and listen to us. If you are like Cinda, perhaps this picture is difficult for you to understand or accept, because someone has contorted what a Daddy is supposed to be like. Those Daddy’s hands look strong, but not at all tender to you. Those Daddy’s eyes look not with compassion, but cruelty  I pray for you if that’s your case. I pray God will do in your life what only he can do, and that you’ll see what Cinda now sees in her heavenly Daddy.

I see this picture in my mind of God stooping down to my level to listen to me! I can’t get over that image,  and I don’t want to. That’s the same image I want my own children to have of me. A daddy who bends down and listens. A very imperfect model of what our Heavenly Daddy is like.

How to Add More Candles to Your Cake (So You Can Become More Childlike)

It takes maturity to have childlike faith.

This is a vital principle for the Christ follower. It’s fundamental for a Christian leader. It’s basic for discipling someone. This is Part 3 of a series in which I’m exploring one Bible verse: “[God] bends down and listens” (Psalm 116:2). (Read Part 1 and Part 2.)

I defined childlike faith as “complete trust in our Daddy, even when it does not make logical sense in the mind of a wise and clever grown-up.” That “wise and clever” verbiage comes from the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:25-26, in which he thanked the Father for “hiding the truth from those who think themselves so wise and clever, and for revealing it to the childlike.” Truth is hidden from these people because of their own self-righteous attitudes. When you and I grow out of our adolescent mind-sets and become mature, then, and only then, can we become childlike in our faith. Then God, rather than ourselves, becomes sufficient. 
But here’s the rub. Some people, perhaps many people from my observation, are still adolescents when it comes to their faith. Years as a Christ-follower have nothing to do with it. Trust and surrender are the keys.
What keeps people from trusting God rather than themselves? Many things. One that I’ve observed comes from a mistrust of important authority figures in our lives. How can we have complete trust in our Daddy, even when it does not make logical sense, when our trust has been shaken or shattered by a less-than-perfect human mom- or dad-figure in our lives? I want to be very clear. We must be discerning in our human relationships. When we have experienced manipulation and abuse especially from a parent, chances are we will need help to overcome this. We may need to put up some boundaries. We need to do some work in our lives to put more candles on our birthday cake, as one counselor friend puts it. And we need our Heavenly Daddy to help us do all this! But how? How do we make the leap of trust? 
By acknowledging the truth: God is trustworthy. He never fails. He never gives up. He never leaves or forsakes us. He is worthy of our trust even when our human models fail us. 
I want to encourage you as you read this today. Trust your Daddy–your Heavenly Father, that is–audaciously, unreservedly, unhesitatingly. You are not so wise and clever to figure this out for yourself, so surrender that to him. You need him to add more candles to your cake so you can become more childlike. 
I’d love your feedback on this. Have you experienced this battle for trusting God? How so? 

What Our Daddy’s Stooping Down to Us Requires from Us

God is a Daddy who lovingly stoops down to us, and that requires something of us. Yesterday, I blogged about this irresistible image of our almighty God bending down to look us in the eyes and listen to us (Psalm 116:2). Our Father does not expect us to do the impossible–to climb our way up to him; the unholy to strive to the holy, the weak to struggle up to the all-powerful. So he comes down to our level, a Daddy stooping down to a little child–his child.

Does that sound like a paradox? How can it be that God does not expect us to work our way to earn his love, and yet his stooping does require something of us? It’s simple:

God’s stooping down to his children requires us to be his children.

Look at what God says about this:

  • “The Lord protects those of childlike faith” (Psalm 116:6). 
  • “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). 
  • “Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these'” (Matthew 19:14).
  • “Then Jesus prayed this prayer: ‘O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding the truth from those who think themselves so wise and clever, and for revealing it to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!'” (Matthew 11:25-26). 

What is “childlike faith”? It is complete trust in our Daddy, even when it does not make logical sense in the mind of a wise and clever grown-up!

When our kids were small they had this kind of faith in me and Heidi. As they grew into adolescents, they began to question us more and trust us less. Now that they are teens and young adults, we want them to grow up, but sometimes we just need them to return to that childlike faith in us, to trust us. That takes maturity.

Did you catch that? It takes maturity to have childlike faith.

Childlike faith takes surrender of my own ideas of self-sufficiency and wisdom. More than anything else, it takes humility. I’ll talk more about this tomorrow!

My God, help me to humbly surrender myself to you today. You are my Daddy! I simply want to do what you tell me to do. Nothing more and nothing less. You know better than I do! 

A Daddy Who Stoops Down

A dad stops what he is doing to bend down and really listen to his child. It’s not that the dad doesn’t have other things on his mind; he certainly does. This dad is making a statement: My child is important. I may have the positional power and persuasion of a parent, but I will stoop down to my child’s level because I love this kid. I want to look into my child’s eyes and really listen.

This is a picture of our heavenly Daddy.

Because he bends down and listens, I will pray as long as I have breath! (Psalm 116:2, New Living Translation)

He loves us so much that he makes us his priority. He bends down. He cares. He listens. He acts.

I love this imagery, this personification of God. He is the Creator of the Universe, all-powerful, all-knowing, the Alpha and the Omega, and he bends down to look his precious child in the eyes and listen attentively. (The New International Version translates the phrase as “he turned his ear to me,” which is not nearly as picturesque; the Revised Standard Version and others translate it as “he inclined his ear to me,” which pictures God bending over to listen, either because he cares enough for me to do so or because my voice is so weak that he must — or both!)

This is exactly what the Father did when he sent Jesus down to us. He humbly stooped down to our level so he could look us in the eyes and feel our pain. He stooped down to wash his follower’s feet. He stooped down to serve us, especially in the ultimate act of service and self-sacrifice when he took on our sins as if they were his own and died on the cross so we could be forgiven.

God the Father stoops down to us. We don’t–we can’t–reach up to him by our own wisdom and work. I’ll come back to this thought tomorrow … because God’s stooping down to us requires something from us, and it’s not working harder or trying to measure up. It’s something so easy and yet it’s something so many of us have so much trouble doing.

For today, just pray, knowing that your Daddy is stooping down to you. He’s listening.

Pay Attention to the Obstacles in Your Life

God is constantly removing obstacles from our path or placing obstacles in our way. Both reveal his compassion and power in our lives. 

Psalm 114 describes in beautiful poetic imagery God’s power on Israel’s behalf as they came out of Egypt on a journey to the Promised Land. This psalm shows Almighty God clearing the way for his people, removing the obstacles in their way, providing for their needs. The earth literally responded to his commands so that his  purposes for his people could take place his way.

It’s not mentioned in this psalm but it’s worth noting that God also put obstacles (forty-years worth) in the way of the Israelites to teach them and bring about his ultimate purposes in his ways.

He still does the same today. When we trust him and walk in his ways, keeping in step with the Spirit, living with a your-will-be-done attitude, we can be assured that he is out in front of us, clearing the way. But when we are off the path he has marked for us, going our own way, pushing our own agenda, he will lovingly place obstacles in our way to deter us from going that way.

Here’s an approach to assessing your walk with God. As you go, as you pray, does it seem that he is clearing the way for you? Perhaps that means you are on the right path, his path. This is the framework of Romans 8:28; God is indeed working for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

On the other hand, are you constantly running into barriers? Is your “Promised Land” becoming more and more of a distant, hazy, seemingly unreachable goal? Do you feel like you’re wandering in circles, bumping into obstacles? Perhaps you are off his path. The most loving thing God does in our lives is not allow us to wander down a path that leads to destruction and death. Obstacles are often his warning signs to us: Danger ahead! Wrong way! Turn around! Yield to Me! 

(This does not mean all suffering in life is caused by God’s discipline. On this planet, in this current age, troubles will come to those who are on God’s path as well as those who are not. I am suggesting, however, that we should carefully, prayerfully evaluate the signs and obstacles along life’s way, especially those that keep reoccurring.)

The first step in the right direction is this: I want your will, Father, not mine (Luke 22:42).

What do you think?