Blessed are the Peace Makers

Blessed are the Peace Makers

The holiday season is upon us, and family gatherings are about to begin! The anticipation of family gatherings may provoke mixed emotions; you may be excited to see loved ones, reminded of the loved ones that have passed that will be absent this year, or dreading unavoidably difficult conversations. Discussions about contentious political topics often sour a previously joyful gathering. One of your family members may interrupt the conversation by baiting others to provide their opinion on who they voted for in the midterm election or a recent government ruling. Unfortunately, these conversations can quickly evolve into debates where each person tries to convince others that their political opinions are superior and worthy of wholeheartedly embracing. Tragically, political discord can negatively impact our relationships.

Porch Talks is an organization that seeks to shift political conversations with loved ones from becoming a harmful debate to eliciting empathy and understanding. Central to Porch Talks is the dialogue toolkit that guides participants as they embark on the journey to mend relationships that have been damaged by divisive politics. Through independent reflection and dialogue, the toolkit helps participants explore how their personal experiences have shaped their views.

The current political climate has forced Americans to align their views with those that resemble the Republican or Democratic party based on divisive social opinions on race, sexual orientation and gender identity issues, to name a few. However, Porch Talks believes that there is great value in allowing people to add nuance to their political views. When nuance is allowed, similarity and connection can be realized.

What the toolkit is not:

The toolkit is not a resource to help you convince others that your perspective is correct or to solve a familial conflict. Instead, when trusted, the toolkit will ensure that each individual feels heard.

Application during the holidays: 

Although it may not be possible or practical to dedicate a couple of hours to the toolkit during your holiday gatherings, strategies embedded throughout the toolkit will prove helpful to:

  1. Encourage your family members to tell a story about how their personal experiences and upbringing have shaped their beliefs. Potential questions that can encourage your loved ones to tell their story include:
    • When you were growing up, how did this particular issue impact you?
    • What was your first experience with this topic?
    • How did your family talk about this issue when you were a child?
  2. Ask your loved one about how their opinion on the particular topic has benefited or hurt them.
    • What is a specific instance in which you have benefited or been hurt by the opinion you hold?
    • What benefit has your perspective brought you?
  3. Acknowledge their opinion and ask them to tell you more. To genuinely acknowledge the opinion of your family members, you must be actively listening and asking open-ended questions motivated by a desire to understand their story. You can practice active listening by:
    • Reflecting and summarizing what you heard them say by using their own words. This can be done by saying “what I hear you saying is…”
    • Respectfully communicate with your body language.

As a church leader, the toolkit can help in a variety of ways (for instance, in a difficult conversation with staff or congregational members). Imagine navigating a conversation where you and your elder have divergent views of the role of women in ministry. Laying a good foundation, embracing the non-negotiables of your relationship and then applying good listening skills with the goal of understanding before being understood make for a more productive dialogue. What difference would this make in this conversation? What difference will this make in the relationships with your team? What difference could this make within your congregation and the community it serves to become known as a community of peace?

My hope is that this holiday season allows you to hear the stories of your family members, learn something new, and begin mending broken relationships through understanding and respect.

Thanks to Zoe Reinecke and her contribution to this blog. To read more about Zoe and the Porch Talks team – CLICK HERE.

Training Small Group Leaders

Training Small Group Leaders

The health of any group is largely determined by the leader: the practices they embody, their EQ, and their competencies. All will deeply affect the group they are leading. So when it comes to training small group leaders, it is important to be clear what the expectation is and repeat it often.

When training small group leaders, there are two methods I often use and fondly refer to as “Show-How” training and “Just-in-Time training.

“Show-How” Training

I asked all of our small group leaders at New Song to nurture an apprentice to reproduce a new small group. The best way to do this is through modeling, or a “Show-How” training process. It centers around a small group leader, coach, or trainer modeling behaviors and skills using the following process:

  • You do it, the apprentice watches
  • You and the apprentice do it together
  • The apprentice does it while you watch
  • The apprentice does it alone
  • The apprentice shows someone else how to do it

Just-in-Time” Training

The most desirable time to train a small group leader is on the job. When coached properly, the small group leader will develop their independence and confidence as they lead. The benefits of this method are many: we often learn best in those timely and important moments. It pushes an apprentice to jump into the deep end when he or she may not feel completely ready–but that’s when we learn most. This kind of learning is situational, apprentice-focused, and outcome-driven.

Conversely, “Just-in-Case” training is a more classical, structured method. It is comparable to what most seminary students experience. There is a clear beginning and end point. A course to follow. And content is delivered, whether it is applicable to the situation at hand or not.

Ultimately, when training small group leaders, these methods all come into play. We have to orient leaders to the philosophy of the small groups, the agendas, and the tools at their disposal. But, still, the best way to empower leaders is through a coaching process.

Here are a few helpful questions to reflect on while planning your training for small group leaders:

  1. What skills do your small group leader require?
  2. What resources do leaders have access to?
  3. Who could small group leaders ask to help them find resources they don’t already have?
  4. How have I used the “Show-How” method in the past?
  5. How have I used the “Just-in-Time” method in the past?
  6. In what ways might I need to adjust my approach?
  7. What specific ways should I ask God to help me?

We’re excited to announce the release of the Christian Coaching Essentials book and cohort. One of the benefits of using this book for your development is a self-led, independent study that helps you further reflect, digest, and apply a Christ-focused process into your coaching. Moreover, you can train other leaders on your team or in your network to embrace a comprehensive coaching process that is firmly anchored in Christ.

 

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Thanksgiving Wishes

Thanksgiving Wishes

As we come to the table this year for Thanksgiving, may we enter into a posture of gratitude. In seasons where it is easy to take and receive, may we resist the temptation against the materials of the world that offer a fading happiness and instead reflect upon the goodness of God’s lasting promises.

Let us remember He is the God who provides. In a world where self-sufficiency is ever present, we encourage you this season to remember our dependency is on God alone. The beauty of gratitude is that it allows us to submit ourselves to what God has done and invites us into a posture of thankfulness.

May you and your family find the space this Thanksgiving to reflect on the ways God has provided and may this reflection lead to a greater dependency and deeper gratitude.

 

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—

    those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,

3 those he gathered from the lands,

    from east and west, from north and south.[a]

4 Some wandered in desert wastelands,

    finding no way to a city where they could settle.

5 They were hungry and thirsty,

    and their lives ebbed away.

6 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,

    and he delivered them from their distress.

7 He led them by a straight way

    to a city where they could settle.

8 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love

    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,

9 for he satisfies the thirsty

    and fills the hungry with good things.

Psalm 107:1-9

 

Happy Thanksgiving from InFocus!

 

 

 

 

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Developing Small Groups

Developing Small Groups

When I developed small group leaders in a new church plant, New Song Church, we were singularly focused on reaching 18-25 year-olds. We did all we could to make our ministry relevant. Our small groups strived to meet the needs of college-aged students and young adults who were launching their careers. I remember searching to find resources that we could use with our leaders. There were so many out there at the time but it was a struggle to find material we could use “off the shelf” (now it would be called “from your device”). I thought of all sorts of approaches from Serendipity Bible to missionally engage groups that were reaching particular college students in the area we served, to service projects or need-oriented groups. Then, I sensed the Holy Spirit wanting me to take a different approach.  Instead of finding a program or curriculum, our goal would be to develop our small group leaders to think, decide, and act for themselves. Then we would coach them to lead, care for, engage missionally, multiply disciples, then leaders, and ultimately groups. This was a significant shift in my approach.

Be clear about the mission

I remember one book I asked our small group leaders and apprentices to read: Coleman’s, Master Plan of Evangelism. This laid a foundation for us to discuss the “why” behind our small groups and sharpen our vision on disciple making–e.g., to keep the main thing the main thing.  This book helped us keep the purpose of our small groups clear and in front of us along the way. We had a plethora of groups, but whether it was a softball team or a Bible discussion group, the stated goals of our small groups were with the intent on making disciples.

Guard against Mission Drift

It is easy to get distracted and allow mission drift to set in with small groups. Assimilation, personal support, relationships, ministry teams, missional engagement are all good things.  However, if any of these become the primary function of the small group, then we risk drifting from the mission to make disciples. Another way of saying this is to substitute the good for the best.

One of the lessons we learned during this season is that small groups are likened to the cells of the physical body. The health of the body, or church, is synergistically and independently related to the life of the cells, or small groups. This is supported by the research conducted by Christian Schwarz in Natural Church Development (1996) where he draws the correlation between church health and growth:

“If we were to identify any one principle as the most important… then without a doubt it would be the multiplication of small groups”

Make certain you are clear on the mission of your small groups.

Coach to develop the person and leader

This is so important. People matter. The best way to develop leaders is to care for the individual.  Coaching the whole person will allow the ministry to be self-sustaining. Imagine two rails of a train track: one rail represents the person and the other rail, the leadership. Both need to grow in order to multiply the group. The tension between these two will cultivate a healthy coaching relationship, grow the individuals and the small group ministry.

Here is a list of questions we often use to help us coach well. (I wish I had had these at New Song Church!)     `

  1. What are you excited about?
  2. What is your greatest challenge?
  3. What are some practical steps you can take?
  4. What will you do?
  5. How can I pray for you?

Support and care for your leaders is essential for cultivating a disciple-focused mission for your small groups! Consistently implementing the questions above can help develop leaders that multiply.

Next week, we’ll take a deeper look into training small group leaders by modeling a process for them to emulate within their groups.

 

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How Community Breaks the Silence

How Community Breaks the Silence

Have you ever encountered a difficult time in your life when you just needed an outside voice?

I can often mistake my inner voice. And it can actually be the voice of the accuser. Christian community can help us hear the voice of truth; the voice of the Holy Spirit. It can happen in corporate settings or in small groups. We can also be in conversation with one or two other Jesus followers and hear His voice crystal clear. The group’s size is not a limiting factor. In church history we discover a variety of settings in which the church has demonstrated where the voice of the Holy Spirit has spoken, been heard, and discerned. Small groups have been especially used by God to help people hear and discern the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Especially today, where young people are being challenged by so many divergent voices, an environment that is uncluttered and clear is needed. Where care, concern, and compassion are elevated.  Where words, when needed, are kind. Where confrontation is done with love and grace. Where people can meet in circles and not rows, making real connections that go beyond the superficial. When silence on important issues can be broken once a safe place has been created. Small groups can serve all of these purposes.

John Wesley is a model and mentor for us in the church today. Holiness groups were the forerunner of the small group movement: Serendipity Groups, Navigator 2:7 Discipleship Groups, Life Transformation Groups, Discovery Bible Studies and Three/Thirds Groups, an micro churches to name but a few.

I want to revisit a historical account of John Wesley’s Band Societies for a sense of how he forged the foundations of a movement that led to revival in England and beyond. The rules of these Band Societies can be helpful to inform and inspire the ways in which we foster pastoral care, spiritual growth, and accountability in our small groups.

Wesley’s Rules for Band-Societies

Drawn up December 25, 1738.

The design of our meeting is, to obey that command of God, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed..

To this end, we intend.

  1. To meet once a week, at the least.
  2. To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
  3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
  4. To speak, each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.
  5. To end every meeting with prayer, suited to the state of each person present.
  6. To desire some person among us to speak his own state first, and then to ask the rest, in order, as many and as searching questions as may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.

The actual questions that are used in the Band Societies will vary – as long as the four following occur at every meeting.

  1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
  2. What temptations have you met with?
  3. How were you delivered?
  4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?

These questions, when asked with genuine concern and care for one another in the context of Christian relationships, can help us identify and discern the voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Reflection Questions to Assess your Disciple Making Communities

  • What is the purpose for our small groups?
  • What are the components that comprise your small group meeting?
  • Now review the actual fruits or outcome you are achieving from your groups?
  • Circle the things that your existing groups are achieving: assimilation, fellowship, discipleship, Bible study, application.
  • Which ones do you want more of?
  • Which ones do you want less of?
  • Which ones can you eliminate and no one would notice?
  • If you could re-launch your small groups, what would you like them to look like?
  • What support do you currently provide your small group leaders?
  • What support is missing?
  • How could you improve the type of support you are giving to your leaders?

How were these questions helpful for you? What would you add?

 

 

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