22 January

3 Elements to Spiritual Growth

In John 17, Jesus prays to God the Father as he is facing crucifixion. And what is he thinking and praying about? His church. You and me, us. His prayer is that we would all be one in community—just as he is one with the Father.

It’s not just that we grow through relationships to God. But we grow in relationships with one another, and that’s part of God’s plan A, that we would become this body. Jesus wants that to happen for you. We want that to happen for you. We want you to become the kind of community that lives in the oneness, that experiences Jesus together as a community. And then, out of the overflow of that, you touch lives around you.

And if you could get a vision for your small group, not just being another add-on activity or something that churches do and you want to be in a small group, but that is actually a place where God’s plan for you to grow, for your relationships to be healed, for you to learn all about Him, for you to learn about each other, for you to develop your gifts and your talents– if you could see it the way the New Testament talks about it, you could get a whole new vision, and your small group could have something that you never would have imagined.

If you could see it the way the New Testament talks about it, you could get a whole new vision, and your small group could have something that you never would have imagined.

Because it’s really all about spiritual growth, whether it’s a Bible study, a parenting group, a men’s or women’s group, whatever. It’s really all about spiritual growth—the relationship both vertical and horizontal.

There are the three big elements, and you’re going to find them in your group. First off, it’s God’s grace, and it comes, through our own experience, through people. But grace is the fact that God is for you. He’s on your side, and it comes in so many different ways. And it’s unconditional.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people’s lives literally changed because their small group was the first place that they ever experienced anybody really being for them. You know, they come from backgrounds or families where everything was against them—abuse or criticism or whatever it was—and that small group was the place where they met God’s grace for the first time.

The second element is truth, and truth in all its various forms. Truth is reality. It’s what is, and it can come through whatever material you’re studying in your group and that sort of thing, but also, it comes from each other.

So, people pick up a Bible, and that’s important have Bible study as a group and to maybe engage with scriptures. It’s our ultimate source of truth, but people don’t often see that they can speak the truth to and about each other.

We’ve seen so many small groups happen where someone was able to say to somebody else, I see something in you—a strength or whatever. And people never even knew they had these things before they told the truth.

And another part of the truth is, when we come together a small group and we’re looking at the truth, as David refers to, as from the innermost being—when we’re opening up our hearts, our souls, and our lives, and we’re really allowing the truth of who we are to be out there, then God can begin to work in it, because what’s in the darkness is coming to the light.

The final element is time. This is going to take time. There is a process, and nobody grows spiritually like in a microwave. Because part of it is getting to know each other a little better and creating that environment where grace and truth can work.

Grace. Truth. Time. These are three elements for spiritual growth.

John Video Bible Study

A great Bible study to consider for your group, whether it is a new group or a more established one, is 40 Days through the Book: John by the pastor of Southeast Christian Church, Kyle Idleman.

In this six-session video Bible study, Idleman reveals that John didn’t write his Gospel just to tell us about a profound teacher or a powerful miracle worker. Rather, his purpose was to tell us about the very Son of God who came to this earth so that we “may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). John challenges us to trust in Christ—and to demonstrate our faith in him through the way we live and love others.

Learn more about 40 Days through the Book: John here.

Spiritual Growth Bible Studies
07 November

How to Choose a Small Group Bible Study by Henry Cloud & John Townsend

If you have tried to find small group materials online, you have probably noticed that there is no shortage of materials. How do you wade into the sea of information to choose the topic and materials for your group?

1. Choosing Your Topic

People’s needs come first not only in determining your group’s purpose and design, but also in choosing your topic.

People come first. When choosing the topic, look first at people’s needs for growth. What do they struggle with, desire, or have interest in? People give up other things to make room for the groups they sign up for. Ask your pastor(s) about the needs they sense. Get feedback from members themselves. Talking with members new to small groups will help you understand their needs, while experience may give you perspective on what can help meet those needs.

Topics change as people change. You are not locked forever into a topic. If the attachments are good and people are getting something out of the group, the topics may change as lives change. My group has studied several different topics, depending on what was going on in our lives — relating to God, reading classic Christian mystics, marriage principles, and so forth. We have also had topic-less seasons in which we just wanted to be in each other’s presence and open up our lives to each other.

You will also want to figure out how long to stay on a topic. Some studies last four to six weeks, which is probably a minimum for effectiveness. Some, like Believe or The Story, go on for months. Make sure everyone is on the same page in this regard, because some people like to try lots of things to find out where they should land, while others are ready to commit to an in-depth, long-term study.

Broader may be better. The broader the topic, the more room people must delve into other aspects of their lives and integrate them into the group meeting. For example, topics on spiritual and personal growth would tend to invite anything a person deals with, more than parenting topics would. If, however, the specific topic is where the need is, defer to that.

Your relationship to the content. Determine whether the topic is a good fit for you and where you are as a leader. Has the topic touched your life, and have you seen God’s grace change you in that area? Is it still a new and raw topic, one you may not yet be ready to facilitate? Is it one you just can’t feel any interest or passion about? The best fits are those the facilitator has enough experience with to have gained some wisdom and victory in the process.

2. Selecting Materials

The following seven guidelines will help you select appropriate material to meet your group’s needs.

Biblical and sane. Technically, these terms are redundant because God is the author of sanity. However, just because study materials include Bible verses does not mean they are conveying God’s meaning. Cults have been built on the strategy of using Scripture the wrong way. So check out the materials yourself and have experienced people look them over, too.

Recommended. Find people who have successfully led groups for a long time and ask them about materials. Their experiences will have taught them a wealth of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t.

Created by those in the know. Look at the credentials of the publisher and authors of the materials. If the study guides involve process and group interaction, what is their training in group dynamics? If it is biblical content, are they qualified in their training and experience? Some people may not have much formal training, but the school of experience and a good track record have qualified them. Others may have both.

Has substance. It is important that the material go beyond the obvious solution of “do what you’re supposed to do.” Good and growing groups do more than just read the Ten Commandments and stop. Choose substantive study guides that deal with the underlying causes, motives, injuries, values, misunderstandings, sins, failures, and weaknesses that impede growth. Look for materials that offer real hope and solutions.

Treats members as adults. Make sure the study materials take positions where the Bible takes positions—as on divorce or ethics—yet leave the same room and freedom that the Bible leaves for people to make choices. For example, you may choose several ways of “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) to your teen: tone of voice, environment and setting, the topics you bring up. Avoid materials that instruct you to use their exact words or rigid rules to convey something to your kid.

Practical. Concepts and principles need to be easily translated into application. Many study materials have homework or thought questions. These help to put flesh on the skeleton ideas being taught.

Fitting for the group nature. The type of people in your group may help you decide on materials. Often, if a group settles into itself over time, the members will want to venture out beyond formal group study guides. They may want to go over a topic or book they like and will undertake creating the study structure themselves. This great exercise in ownership can really motivate group members. Pray and keep an open mind as you search out topics and materials. It is an exciting part of the process.

Leading a small group Bible study is important to people’s spiritual growth but doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing. Choosing a study can be made simpler with the above tips.

The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi Bible Study Guide plus Streaming Video: Come to the Land Where It All Began

A great Bible study to consider for your group, whether it is a new group or a more established one, is The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi by Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel. In this six-session video Bible study (now with video streaming code included!), join Kathie Lee as she visits sites in Israel that have impacted her faith and understanding of Scripture. As she shares her story, Rabbi Jason—a messianic Jewish rabbi—provides fascinating background details that make the story of the New Testament come alive.

As Kathie Lee and Rabbi Jason reveal in this study, Jesus (the Rock) came into this world and walked the lands of Israel (the Road) to show us the way to God. And when we are introduced to the mysteries of God’s Word (the Rabbi) and understand it in the context in which it was written, radical transformation begins to renew our hearts and minds.

Learn more about The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi here.

17 October

7 Things that Happen in a Good Small Group by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

One truth that has emerged from small groups is that there is no one right way to do small groups. Just as there are many mansions in God’s house, so there are many different needs in God’s body, the church, and today we are much more able to find a group somewhere that is designed to meet those needs.
God has placed many different gifts in his people to meet those needs. Indeed, we are a Body. In his grand design we exercise those gifts with each other and help each other grow. The small group is one of the best ways for this to happen. So it is no surprise that churches desire to connect people in small groups.
Also, the local church has varying degrees of commitment to a small group program. For some, it is an add-on program, an option, or a part of what they offer. For others, the groups are integrated with the church’s mission and designed to deepen the life past what happens in a weekly service. For still others, the small group is not a part of what they do, it is what they do.
But no matter what the style, topic, or emphasis, there are specific tasks that effective small groups perform to produce the best growth. Understanding these tasks will help you as the leader to choose the activities and attitudes that promote the most growth during the group time.

1. A Second Family

An important aspect of any growth-producing group is that it provides a context for members to reexperience whatever they missed in life the first time around. Groups are like a second family for people. Whatever needs their original families or environments did not provide, or whatever they provided that the person did not need, the group restores and repairs. It is a second chance. Like little children, members should come with immaturities and needs, and the group helps them move to the next stage. Groups of people working like that repairing family are a large part of God’s process of maturing us: “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6).

2. Connection

Groups connect. That is, they bring people together on a personal and heart-based level. Connection is the basis of any good work in a group. For a few minutes every week or so, members receive the experience of being attached, loved, and in relationship with likeminded people. Connection, far more than the information dispensed, keeps people coming to group. When people feel attached, they become much more invested in the process, and their hearts become more open to God, growth, and each other. As Paul entreated his friends, “As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:13).

3. Discipline and Structure

You will always see an element of discipline and structure in a good group. Though the group is based on a foundation of grace and acceptance, it also requires order and responsibility through clear expectations about members’ attendance, involvement, and participation. Good groups use discipline and structure to protect the time, the process, and the members from disruption. They understand that safety only comes when things are somewhat predictable and when people know that out-of-control behavior, for example, will be confronted and addressed. This is not about being mean, harsh, or punitive. It is about helpgin the group function as it should.

4. Prayer

Prayer can be one of the small group’s most powerful tools for growth. God designed prayer as a way for people to connect with him for all the blessings of life. When we are present in groups in his name, Jesus is there, too: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). Coming together for prayer in small groups connects people with God and each other. Corporate prayer brings people together in their faith and love for God and in their dependence on him and each other. It draws us close, vertically, and horizontally.

5. Forgiveness

Healthy groups powerfully administer grace and forgiveness, the foundation from which all growth and healing stems. Good groups are based on, and are full of, grace and forgiveness. There really can be no lasting life change without these ingredients. Grace speaks to our weakness and inability, forgiveness to our many failures. Weakness, inability, and failure are the main reasons we need group, so that we may be strengthened in many areas of life. Without grace and forgiveness, the truth cannot come out. Make grace and forgiveness evident in every meeting. As we receive these gifts, so should we administer them to one another.

6. Support and Strengthening

Support and strengthening indicate that a group is doing the right things. When members become weak or discouraged, groups can help them become stronger and better able to handle life. Groups take our weakness and transform it into strength. People who can admit their weakness can also receive the strength the group offers, while those who must stay strong miss this blessing: “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). As people begin to open up in group—whether about faith, relationship struggle, or a personal battle—they bring up things they simply don’t have the strength or courage to tackle, handle, or even face. These are the substance of group work, as they require group intervention and strengthening.

7. Discipleship

The term disciple means pupil or learner. In the Old Testament it also refers to one who is accustomed to something. These definitions describe well a significant part of what groups do in their members’ lives. That is, groups help individuals become learners of God’s ways by getting them accustomed, or acclimated, to righteous ways of living and relating. Groups model and teach one another by word and by experience that the things important to God work best for us. They help members experience the freedom that comes with being honest and taking ownership over their lives. Discipleship happens because the great laws are not only true, but work in profound ways in the group and in a member’s life.

A great Bible study to consider for your group that helps in benefit 7 above, is Rick Warren’s Created to Dream. In this 6-session video Bible Study, Rick Warren reveals how God uses six phases to develop your spiritual maturity while fulfilling the dreams God gives you. A great dream is a statement of faith. Whether you dream of creating something beautiful or accomplishing something incredible, your dream is the first step God uses to develop your spiritual maturity and change your life. The Bible is full of stories of people whose God-given dreams became reality—but to get there, they had to take a journey of faith.

Learn more about Created to Dream here.

05 September

5 Tips for Leading Small Groups by Henry Cloud & John Townsend

To be a good facilitator you need to do things that are in themselves very simple but take time to learn. It is a big temptation for a leader just to start teaching or explaining, and sometimes that is a good thing to do. But if the group is merely a school class, not much bonding and healing will occur. Be aware that some of the best things in life are learned on a walk as much as in reading a book. You can hear a lecture on trees, or you can go experience them. Life is about both. You can read about divorce recovery, or you can experience recovery. The process group leader helps the members do both.

1. Notice and Share What You Observe

Notice what is going on in the group, and from time-to-time share what you see. Very simple, very powerful. Here are examples of how these observations may work in your group:

  • “I notice that we have drifted away from the sadness. What happened?”
  • “I notice that it seems a little sluggish in here tonight. Why do you think that is?”
  • “It seems like we were really connecting, and things changed. Why is that?”
  • You might aim a well-timed, helpful process statement to an individual. “Joe, I notice that when you talked about that, you seemed to really be feeling some things. Can you tell us what they are?”
  • Notice when the group is stuck and address the situation. “It feels dead in here for the past few weeks. Does anyone else notice that?” If you do not address it, people might drop out. If you address it, the group may reinvent itself.

2. Be the Guardian of the Process

Do something about people who interrupt, dominate, or keep process from occurring. Different levels of intervention may be appropriate, depending on the particulars, but do something! You cannot allow a person to kill the group process. If the group is not oriented toward going deep on feedback, just interrupt the interrupter or over-spiritualizer. Say, “Hold on, Joe. I want to hear more from Susie.” The group will feel protected by you. Joe will get the message, and the process will be saved.

3. Hold Members to Their Covenant

In a deeper group orientation, where members have covenanted to receive feedback, the process goes a step farther. After the initial exchange, suggested above, say to Joe, “Joe, I notice that when people talk about feelings, you often interrupt and give a Bible verse. Are you aware that you do that?” Then, if the group operates on an even deeper level, you might say, “What do some of you experience when Joe does that?” Deepest of all, when Joe interrupts, say, “Did anyone just notice what happened?” Then the group will guard the process and help Joe.

Remember, what is a suitable intervention level depends on what the group has agreed to do with each other and depends on the facilitator’s skill level. It’s up to you as facilitator to make sure these structures remain intact. Otherwise, deep process statements can turn into chaos or discord. No matter what intervention level you need in order to guard the process, guard it. Even if it just means interrupting the interrupter and saying, “Hold on. Susie was talking.”

4. Ask Open-ended Questions

Remember that process orientation does not have to be deep or threatening. To process is to experience and to do things that further the experience. Asking open-ended questions often furthers the process:

  • “What are some of your responses to the passage we just read?”
  • “What is going on with some of you this week?”
  • “Can you tell us more about that?”
  • “Does anyone have anything they would like to share or to add?”
  • “What does this bring up for you?”
  • “Where do you have difficulty applying what we just read or talked about?”

Avoid questions that do not further discovery or process, such as questions with yes or no or factual answers. Process is not a geometry class where there is a right answer. It is a walk in the park. “What stands out for you?” and “What do you see?” are questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer.

5. Ask for Group Feedback

Ask the members from time to time how they think the process is going. “What is getting us there? What is keeping us from there?” Even more powerful at times is to see whether they can notice and describe the process. “How would some of you describe what we have been doing, what the process is? What has that been like? How would you want it to be different?” Certainly, teaching and information are important to your group purpose and to life. But it’s just as important to experience that truth, particularly in relational contexts like a group. Your job as a facilitator is not to “be the experience,” but to facilitate it. You are the shepherd of the experience. Then the group will take on a life of its own, growing in richer ways than it ever could simply through lectures.

Leading a small group Bible study is important to people’s spiritual growth but doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing. Following the above tips will help your group take the next step in your journey of faith.

Most studies from HarperChristian Resources include a Leader’s Guide in the back of the study guide. These guides provide help as you prepare for each session, assistance in structuring your discussion time, and further guide you to understand different group dynamics.

A great Bible study to consider for your group, whether it is a new group or a more established one, is Brant Hansen’s Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better. In the six-session of this study, Brant teaches that giving up our right to be offended is one of the most freeing, healthy, relaxing, refreshing, stress-relieving, and encouraging things we can do. It allows us to recognize that people are broken and stop being scandalized by their actions. It enables us to accept people and stop judging them. It creates a way for us to not just love others but to actually like them.

Learn more about Unoffendable here.