The Ministry of a Bike Ride

What makes church ministry ministry? In fact, what makes the church the church?

I ride my bike each year in a couple charity events. In two weeks, on September 9, I’m riding with some of my cycling friends and a couple thousand others in the Bike to Beat Cancer here in Louisville. I’m planning to ride 100 miles to raise money for the Norton Cancer Institute. (GO HERE to my personal page to donate to this great cause and see more about my ride.)

Would you consider this ministry? I do. It’s a way for me to serve and demonstrate love for others in need. God has given me a passion for this cause, mostly because many people in my life—including my mom, brother, cousin and best friend, and the co-leader of my small group—have been or are affected by it. God has also given me a passion for cycling and an ability to ride. The event makes a difference in our community and the lives of many individuals.

This morning I was pleasantly surprised when I opened an email from our church’s small groups minister, CJ Stephens, asking small groups to join with others to support riders in the Bike to Beat Cancer! (The event starts and finishes very close to our church campus.) They are asking people to volunteer to cheer on riders and assist at the finish line. I’m telling you; if I make it 100 miles, I’ll be overjoyed to see my fellow church members cheering me on to the finish line! I’m proud of my church, Northeast Christian Church or, what we’re now known as, the #LovetheVille church.

This is the church, seeking to reach out to and serve outsiders, not just coddle insiders. This is the church, the body of Christ in action, still making a difference in the world. This is the church, a community of people in communion with God, carrying out his mission in our larger community. This is the church, staying true to declaring the Good News about Jesus and demonstrating his love to the world through our actions.

I’d love if more people from Louisville would also volunteer for the event. You can do that HERE.

I’d also love it if you’d consider donating to this cause and supporting me on my ride. Go to my page to read more and donate HERE.

The Need for Accountability in Groups

CJ StephensGUEST POST by C.J. Stephens, Small Groups Minister at Northeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky

 

I hear the stories over and over again. They vary in subtle ways, yet they’re always about that person in your group—the one who seems to have everything together. Their life is going perfectly. Their family is great. They are making more money than they ever have. They love their job.

And then one day, out of the blue, their life falls apart.

It turns out that everything wasn’t as great as it seemed. Maybe they weren’t in such a great financial position. Maybe their marriage was a sham. Maybe the person was dealing with a secret sin.

I wish I could say this kind of thing never happens in our groups, that it never happens in our church. But it does, and each time, it breaks my heart. It can happen in your group, too, if your group lacks something critical: accountability.

Honestly, I hate accountability. I like to make plans. I like to come up with grand ideas about getting healthy or saving money. But I hate when someone holds me to those plans. I’d rather just make the plan and then give up on it whenever it becomes inconvenient for me.

Yet, I grow the most when I’m held accountable. This is true for your group as well. Your group will grow closer to each other and grow in their spiritual walks when they are being held accountable.

Cross the Line

The major barrier in our groups to accountability is an unwillingness to cross the line. You know the line—the line between comfortable, polite dialogue and discussions about touchy, sensitive topics in your life. So many of our groups never get past the surface level of life. They never move beyond the comfortable. Yet, it’s just across that line where we can ignite the most growth.

I want to give you a word of warning. It takes time and sensitivity to know when and where you can cross the line from casual friendship to speaking truth into someone’s life. The most important thing is that the person to whom you are trying to talk knows you are doing it out of a place of love. They need to know you have their best interests at heart. They need to know you are not meddling or teasing, but helping them in their walk with Christ.

Hold Them to It

Once your group is in a place where you can deeply speak into their lives, you need to consistently hold them accountable. I’ve been in groups in which people bring up the same relational troubles over and over. I know people who mention the same sin issues repeatedly and never seem to make any progress. How can we help those people move forward?

I’ve found one question to be helpful to you as a leader: “What steps are you going to take this week to change that?” It’s a deceptively simple question, but it has helped me enormously. It asks the person to do two things: make a plan to remedy the situation and get to work on it quickly. Let’s discuss each briefly.

Make a plan: Many of our problems never get solved because we never make a plan. By asking group members to make a plan to change, you are asking them to think more deeply about the situation and come up with a solution.

Get to work on it quickly—this week. Our nature is usually to let things go on and on without a solution simply because the solution is uncomfortable. By putting a timeline on the plan, it makes the problem immediate.

And here’s where the accountability comes in. The next time you see that person, ask him or her, “How’s that going?” This part is crucial. If you don’t check back with them, you aren’t holding them accountable. Check in on them. Bother them. Pester them until they start to make progress. Let them know you are on their side, but challenge them to find a solution.

If you love your friends, you’ll want them to grow. You’ll want to see them change. Love them enough to challenge them. Don’t wait until the problem blows up their life and they must then try to pick up the pieces. Keep your group accountable.

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This blog post originally appeared in “Leader Connect,” a newsletter for small group leaders at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

Leadership TIPS of the Week: June 12-16, 2017

Here are this week’s all new Leadership TIPS … for all kinds of spiritual leaders. Each day this week, we Tweeted them, posted them on our Facebook page, and posted them on LinkedIn. Use these tips in your ministry. Retweet or repost them to your friends and followers!

Click here to see all our Leadership TIPS!

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Share Stories … Grow in Grace

Helping people in our churches, classes, and small groups understand and experience God’s grace is vital. What is the best way to teach and, better yet, experience this fundamental doctrine?

Use stories, says Kyle Idleman.

Grace Is Greater by Kyle IdlemanIn a recent interview for CT Pastors, Kyle Rohane and Andrew Finch talked with Idleman, teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, about his new book, Grace is Greater (published by BakerBooks; also available as a small group study, pastor’s kit, leader’s guide, and journal).

“We have found that an effective way to help people experience grace is by telling stories,” Idleman says. “It’s not difficult to find biblical examples. In the Gospels, Jesus didn’t use the word grace, he didn’t give a long theological explanation of it, but his whole earthly ministry was marked by stories of grace.”

Idleman says the church is learning to be more intentional about vulnerability, and he explains the important difference between vulnerability and authenticity. Vulnerability, he says, is being honest about our struggles. Authenticity is no longer pretending, but vulnerability is revealing.

“When we ask someone to give a testimony about, say, a health struggle,” says Idleman, “we tell them not to feel like they have to have the whole thing wrapped up. It doesn’t have to be a happily-ever-after story. Instead, we ask them to be honest about the journey, to share why it’s hard and where they feel like God has let them down. That takes things further than authenticity.”

Idleman discusses how this plays out in small groups. “It takes just one person being a little bit vulnerable, pulling back the veil a little, for everyone else to do the same thing,” he says. “If people are going around the room and sharing their stories, and someone shares a struggle or a challenge they’re going through, just watch. The rest of the room will join in.” But he points out that if people share only superficial stories and refuse to go deeper, they will set the tone for the rest of the group as well.

“As a pastor,” says Idleman, “I want to set that temperature so others will want to celebrate their weakness. In doing so, we will point to the beauty of God’s grace.”

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Quotes and information excerpted from, “Kyle Idleman: God Never Wastes What We Go Through” in Christianity Today,’s “CT Pastors.”

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A Great Small Group Is … (It may not be what you think)

Today I want to show you a way of small group life that is best of all.

A great small group is patient and kind with one another.

The members of a great small group are not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.

In a great small group, people do not demand their own way.They seek God’s way. They look not to their own interests but the interests of others.

People in a great small group are not irritable with one another, and they keeps no records of being wronged.They confess their sins to each other, pray for each other, and forgive one another.

A great small group does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.

A great small group ... rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Click To Tweet

A great small group never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

A great small group is known more by how they love one another and the world around them than what they study, who leads the group, where and when they meet, how many people are in the group, or even what the group has accomplished.

A good small group is the body of Christ where each person is an important part of it, where each person uses the spiritual gifts they have to carry out God’s mission.

But a great small group is not about the group members or even their gifts. A great group overflows what God has poured into them.

And God is love.

A great small group overflows what God has poured into them. And God is love. Click To Tweet

If a small group is known for the depth of their discussions but don’t love other people, they are just making a lot of noise.

If they are known for their superior knowledge of the Scriptures, their pure and sound doctrine, and a mountain-moving faith, but don’t love others, they might as well not even meet.

If a small group is known for their sacrificial giving, serving of others in need, and their evangelistic zeal, but they do all this without truly loving others, they miss the point.

If a SG is known for deep discussions but don't love others, they're just making noise. Click To Tweet

A good small group is faithful, has hope, and loves.

And the GREATEST of these is love.

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Thanks to the apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit for inspiration! 1 Corinthians 13.

On a scale of 1-100, how is your group doing at love? Why? Scroll down and comment!

C.J. Stephens on Prayer in Group Life

CJ StephensToday’s guest blogger is C.J. Stephens, Small Groups Minister at Northeast Christian Church. Because I lead a Northeast small group, I receive C.J.’s monthly newsletter called “Leader Connect.” This past month, C.J. wrote about prayer in groups, an important topic for leaders, and I thought he hit the nail on the head. 

GUEST POST by C.J. Stephens, Small Groups Minister at Northeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky

One of the most difficult, yet rewarding parts of group life is prayer.

It’s something that is incredibly difficult for some of our people. Maybe you’re one of those people.  Some of us have never learned to pray. Some of us make it harder on ourselves than we need to. And most of all, we don’t know how to incorporate it into our group time in a healthy way.

What is Prayer?

For me, this has been a question that I’ve been asking myself as I’m raising my kids. Right now we have our kids say prayers before bed and before meals. However, like most parents I’m struggling with the concept of teaching them what prayer really is. As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of what some friends of mine use when they are teaching their children. When it is meal time, they simply say “OK, it’s time to talk to God.”

It’s really that simple. Prayer is really just talking to God. When I’m discussing these things with people in groups, that’s the way I try to frame it. God knows everything about you, but He wants you to talk to Him. He wants to know what is on your heart and your mind. He wants to hear from you.

It's really that simple. Prayer is really just talking to God. Click To Tweet

For some of us, this is tough. So many people I know are honesty afraid to be too frank with God. They don’t want to upset Him, I guess. But the Bible is full of all kinds of prayers. Some are prayers of thankfulness. Some are prayers asking God for something. Some are prayers of anger or lament. God knows your heart. He simply wants to hear from you.

How Does Prayer Fit into My Group? 

So how does this fit into my group? How does prayer affect group life?

In most of our groups, we have a time for prayer requests. As you are well aware, this can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes people in your group honestly share their hearts with the others in the group. It can be a time where people really grow closer to each other. It can be a time for vulnerability and leaning one another.  That’s the point to prayer time in group.

However, you also know that it can be a time for endless requests. It can seem like a litany of dismay coming from the people in your group. It can also honestly just go too long. That’s the downside.

Despite all of that, I am a big believer in corporate prayer in your group. I think that the benefits can far outweigh the negatives. Where else do our people have the opportunity to share the difficult and challenging things in their life with people who care for them? Where else will you find out about the things the people in your group have weighing on them.

That being said, there are opportunities for improvement. If you find that this time if beginning to be stale or rote, change it up. Ask everyone for the top issue you can pray for. Do a popcorn style prayer where you pray as a group and challenge your people to say a short request. Do prayer time at a different time in your group. Sometimes putting as the first thing you do can shorten it up.

I would also suggest changing who is doing the praying. As the group leader, it is often your role to get things rolling. However, if everyone knows they are in a safe environment, they should feel comfortable to pray. If you want someone else to pray, I’d suggest talking to them ahead of time and getting their permission. No one likes to be put on the spot!

If everyone knows they are in a safe environment, they should feel comfortable to pray. Click To Tweet

Lastly, I want to encourage you to be in prayer for your group members in between your meetings. Sometimes this is something that we let go by the wayside as leaders. However, praying for your group between sessions can be powerful. Take some time during your week to pray for them and their family. I’m a big believer in the power of prayer. This can draw you together and strengthen your group.

“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.”  – Oswald Chambers

Join the discussion about this post. What would you add to C.J.’s suggestions on improving group prayer? What has worked for your group? What other questions or comments do you have about this? Scroll down and click to comment!

 

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: Jan. 23-27, 2017

This week’s social media posts focus on friendships in small groups. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Question: Are the people in your small group “friends”? Why or why not? Scroll down and comment below! 

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

Small Group Leader TIPS of the Week: Dec. 12-16, 2016

Here are the Small Group Leader TIPS for the last week as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

This week’s TIPS come from my new book, Small Group Leader TOOLBOX.

Question: What TIP for leading a healthy small group would you share with other leaders? Scroll down and comment below! 

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

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The 7 Indispensable Elements Necessary for People to Grow Spiritually in Your Small Group

The following post is excerpted from my new eBook, Small Group Leader Toolbox. See more information about this resource at the end of this post.

Just as a plant needs a number of specific elements in its environment in order to grow, Christians need at least 7 vital factors or influences to grow spiritually. Each of these plays a significant part in helping people mature in your small group. Be sure you know your place as a leader with these factors (for instance, you are not the agent of life change!).

Goal: Christlikeness

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Agent: The Holy Spirit

“God the Father chose you long ago, and the Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his blood” (1 Peter 1:2).

“But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23).

Method: Shepherding

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care …” (1 Peter 5:2).

Environment: Authentic Biblical Community

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).

Means: By the renewing of our minds

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).

Instrument: Application of Scripture

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

Time Frame: Lifetime Process

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Question: How have you seen these factors at work in how people are growing spiritually in your group? Please scroll down and click to comment.

Small Group Leader ToolboxI wrote Small Group Leader Toolbox to provide small group leaders with the resources they need to help them and their groups be effective, grow spiritually, and live out God’s mission for them. This 54-page eBook provides scores of ideas, tips, checklists, how-to’s, assessments, planning templates, and, well … pretty much everything a leader needs to lead a dynamic small group or class.

Get your copy of this eBook now!

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12 Ideas for a Life-Changing Small Group Christmas

What is your small group’s plan for this Christmas season?

Many groups struggle with meeting and studying over the holidays, and this can be detrimental to the health of your group. Not only that, but this is a prime time of the year to help your group members grow in their faith as well as to reach out to and invite new people. Perhaps your group will take a break from your normal schedule, but that’s no reason not to keep meeting. Here are 12 ideas for how your small group can get the most—and give the most—this Christmas. Pick one or two of these to do as a group!

1. Start New Traditions.
For most of us, the holidays are about traditions: eating huge meals together, taking a drive to see the lights, decorating the house, going to local events, and, of course, going to church services. Why not invite those from your group or others who are lonely to join you in some of your traditions? One Thanksgiving, I got to know a young man named Mark who lived at a homeless shelter. I invited Mark to family and church events during the holidays, and he enjoyed spending time with us. We also invited him to our small group gatherings, and Mark excitedly jumped right in. Mark had many needs, some of which we could not provide for, but we could reach out to him and offer him friendship, hospitality, and the love of Jesus. My family, my group, and I also benefited from inviting Mark into our traditions. His presence with us made those traditions even more meaningful for us. It’s easy to sing, “Go Tell It on the Mountain”; it’s another thing to go tell a homeless person that Jesus Christ is born.

Start new traditions with your small group. Each year several groups at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, help provide holiday meals for families who would otherwise not have a nice meal. They not only buy it, but they deliver it and pray for the families. Many of the groups at Northeast also work with Operation Christmas Child each year. One group basically “owns” this event, organizing it months in advance, helping collect shoe boxes and running the distribution center on our church property. Your small group tradition can be little or big; what matters is to do something together for the least of these.

2. Study the Gospels (All of Them)
Christmas lessons tend to rely on the narratives from Matthew and Luke, but there are many other alternatives, of course. Peter Mead (www.biblicalpreaching.net), a missionary and writer, suggests studying all four Gospel introductions, for instance. Introduce group members to Matthew’s introduction and then Mark’s. Discuss why Mark didn’t use the birth narrative, but jumped directly to the days leading up to the start of Jesus’ ministry. Then summarize the visitations, prophecies, and narrative of Luke 1 and 2. Wrap it up by studying and discussing John 1:1-18, which portrays beautifully the why behind it all.

3. Experience Christmas Anew.
This is one of the most wonderful times of the year to grow together in your understanding of the gospel story. The Christmas Experience Small Group Study, from City on a Hill, is a great place to start. This is more than just a nice Christmas study; I believe it will be an experience you and your group will remember for a long time. Kyle Idleman brought out insights I had never considered and helped me see this very familiar story in new ways. More than that, however, as I watched the dramatic presentation of the Christmas story, I was moved in ways I didn’t expect. As your group experiences this material, I believe they will be moved as well, and they will grow not only to know the story better, but to know God more intimately.

4. Celebrate Immanuel.
This Christmas, move past the historical Jesus who was born and lived 2,000 years ago. Consider the living Christ who is still Immanuel, God with us … the One who is with us whenever we gather together in his name. As a group, discuss and prepare to celebrate the Event of events when the Creator of the universe made himself nothing and took the form of human flesh, a baby, a humble servant, a sacrifice for our sins.

Don’t reserve worship for your Christmas-eve services at the church building. Build up to that celebration by singing worshipful hymns together as a group and finding other ways to praise God for what he did by lovingly sending his only Son into the world.

5. Invite Friends to Christmas Services.
According to a recent LifeWay Research study, 61 percent of Americans attend church services at Christmastime. Which means, of course, that 4 out of 10 people do not attend. Yet, among those who don’t attend church at Christmas, 57 percent said that if someone they knew invited them to church at Christmastime, they would go. Commit as a group to invite your neighbors, friends, and co-workers to Christmas services. Encourage and spur one another on along the way.

6. Love Those Who Are Struggling.
Remember the folks in your circles who struggle this time of year. Many people—inside your group and among your group members’ friends—are vulnerable during the holidays. Many hurting people come into the Christmas season feeling like God is far away. They desperately want to know Immanuel—God with them—but he seems more like Exmanuel: God used to be with me, but now I feel like he’s left me … or, I feel like he is so external to my current experience.

This is one of the best times of year for a small group to reach out to these folks and love them, invite them into your celebrations, and invite them to know more than the “baby Jesus”—to develop a relationship with him who died for them and lives today. People are not only vulnerable, they are open to an invitation to connect during the holidays.

7. Give Gifts to the Least of These.
Years ago, I read Pastor Dick Alexander’s sage advice about gift giving that I’ve never forgotten. “Gifts are an integral part of Christmas,” he said, “but they can either express or distort its meaning.” He suggested limiting our gift giving to one another (in the family or small group). Your family or group may usually exchange gifts with one another (even though is Jesus’ birth we’re celebrating!). Instead, give gifts to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45).

As the body of Christ in action, your group has the privilege of penetrating the culture by serving people. After all, that’s what the Incarnation is all about. Here are a few ideas:

Eric Bingaman shared what his small groups at Batesville (Indiana) Christian Church have done in the past: “One group took a Saturday to watch the children of church members so they could get their shopping accomplished. One group went door to door Christmas caroling in their neighborhood.”

Chris McCall, Small Groups and Care Pastor at Watermark Church in Ashford, Alabama, said, “Our groups have connected with the local schools in our community to provide Christmas for needy families. Groups enjoy it because it’s more than providing gifts for the families; it’s about the relationships built with the families they provided for. A number of our groups have taken this opportunity to help them minister to the families outside of the holiday season throughout the year.” Yes, Clark, that’s the gift that keeps on giving throughout the entire year.

8. Throw a Party.
The holidays are an excellent time for a party with a purpose. Be creative: make it a story party, where each person comes prepared to share a short story about a Christmas past; or have a birthday party of Jesus with the kids. Or make it a Christmas-movie party. The main thing is to make this a party to which everyone can invite friends, especially those who don’t fully understand the meaning of Christmas. As Jesus did with Matthew’s friends in Matthew 9, simply enjoy the opportunity to connect with one another, and see what God will do.

9. Serve Together.
Most churches need lots of volunteers during Christmas services. Plan to serve together, if possible at one service in a specific ministry or area. Just ask church leaders what is neeeded and how you can serve together.

10. Build Deeper Community.
Spend an entire day together as a group. A Sunday may be best. (If you can’t do this in December, move it to January.) Go to church services together in the morning and then go out to eat. Go Christmas shopping together at the mall. Plan a party for the evening; ask folks to bring food to munch on throughout the evening, and watch family-friendly Christmas movies together or play games. Or go to a Christmas pageant together. Invite spouses, family, and friends of members.

11. Adopt a Family.
Ask your church or a community organization for the contact information for a local family in need. Find out what the family needs and then shop together for gifts. Schedule a time to greet the family and drop off the gifts. If possible, keep in touch after the holiday season and continue to serve. (Imagine the impact if every group, class, and team in your church did this!)

12. Plan for a New Year.
Sometime in December or early January, gather group members for a fun gathering that you use to plan for next year. Start thinking and preparing for this planning party now.
For many of us, the holidays are the biz, biz, busiest time of the year. Talk to your group members now to discuss some of the things you won’t do this year so that you can experience Immanuel—God with us—and be an Incarnational small group by taking the message of Jesus into the world around you.

QUESTION: What small group Christmas ideas not included here has your group tried? Tell us about it by COMMENTING below!