September 21, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Spiritual Disciplines: Celebration

Since I work with students, a re-occurring theme surfaces about a theological understanding many have of God: God is mean but Jesus is sweet and happy. And, with that in mind, some Christians think that God is scowling at us all the time. Please help us put that myth to death. Our God is loving and celebratory. When we respond to what God does and who God is, we can celebrate as well.

Adele Calhoun in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook says, “Celebration is a way of engaging in actions that orient the spirit toward worship, praise and thanksgiving. Delighting in all the attentions and never-changing presence of the Trinity fuels celebration.” Notice that celebration brings together worship, praise, and thanksgiving. When we celebrate the Lord and His work in our lives, we express worship toward God, ascribing to him worth. We also praise him for who he is. And, such activity helps us to be thankful and give God thanks for what he does for us and through us.

Let’s look at the Scriptures to understand more. Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that God celebrates us and sings over us. Read Psalm 100. While we think of Psalm 100 as a thanksgiving psalm, it is literally five verses of celebration. Hebrews 12:1 describes how saints in heaven cheer us on and celebrate for us as we run the race of faith to eventually join them in eternity. Don’t miss that God celebrates his creation in Genesis 1. As he called everything into existence, he declared it good over and over. Finally, when creation was complete, he declared it all very good.  In 2 Samuel 6:21, David expressed his celebration before the Lord with dancing. Acts 2 is about the birth of the church. In verses 46-47, we see the celebration that flowed in and through these first Christians: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (ESV).”

So, what can we celebrate? Let’s start with ideas about those Acts 2 Christians. They celebrated worship and fellowship. They celebrated their meals with glad and generous hearts. They praised God. They celebrated relationships. They celebrated new believers coming into the church.

What can we celebrate? Everything!

  • Meals
  • Friendships
  • Your church
  • Your small group
  • Your family
  • Sunrises, sunsets, and starry nights; just look around in creation.
  • Beauty in nature and in the arts
  • God’s Word
  • Your spiritual leaders: pastor, deacons, teachers, accountability partners
  • God’s blessings: shelter, transportation, food, clothing
  • Technology equipment
  • You name it. It all comes from God and we can celebrate it.

Celebration does not come easy for all of us. I don’t celebrate well. For more than a year, I have listed daily at least three things for which to thank God and celebrate. Celebration raises our thankfulness. Celebration engulfs us in joy. Joy (and laughter) is good like a medicine. Celebration breaks into my usual pessimism with joy like sunshine breaking from the clouds. What a blessing to my heart! What is there not to celebrate? God breaks in and parties with us when we celebrate his work in our lives. What can you celebrate now? What can you celebrate every day?

Scripture: Read Nehemiah 8:10. Judah came back to the land and renewed the covenant. They were urged to celebrate. How does “the joy of the Lord is your strength” relate to celebration as a spiritual discipline?

Dig Deeper: Read “In Search of Celebration” by Lacy Finn Borgo at www.renovare.org.

Now It’s Your Turn: What is something you have celebrated recently? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

 

September 18, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Small Group Challenges: What to Do with Those Phones?

Smartphones haven’t been around but a bit over ten years. Mobile phones are only a little older. But, as you can see, smartphones aren’t going away and they are going everywhere we go. It’s not just teenagers in love with their phones; it is all of us. If you have eight people show up for your small group meeting, you had at least eight phones in the room as well, maybe a couple of more. No doubt you heard them ring, crow, play, buzz, and vibrate several times in your short group time. Are they small group curses or small group blessings? I think smartphones are both and we can learn to deal with them in small group from both angles.

Smartphones are a problem. They are interruptive and annoying in small group meetings. They ring just when you asked the most important discussion question of the meeting. They buzz when the praying is going on. They constantly light up when someone gets a Facebook like. They distract more than children. How can you deal with interruptive smartphones?

  • Ask everyone to silence them when the study time in your small group begins. We want to resist turning them off in fear that we will miss an emergency call. But, when was the last time you got an emergency call? It has been years for me. And, keeping the phones off is really only for a short time.
  • Get a basket or a shoebox. Label it “Phone Motel.” Check them in when the meeting begins and check them out when the meeting is over.
  • Don’t expect people to separate themselves from their phones for every long. Some will actually experience withdrawal.
  • Don’t brow beat anyone but use this opportunity to evaluate what controls our lives.
  • Help group members see a brief time without their phones as a time to be listening to what God is saying to them in and through Bible study.

Smartphones are an opportunity. At no other time in history have we had such instant access to information and resources like we do today. Smartphones can actually enhance small group study when used with a purpose. How?

  • Encourage the use of an app such as YouVersion in the meetings. Such apps can let group members compare translations. YouVersion can aid group members in their daily quiet times, too.
  • Ask group members to use online Bible study resources in the meeting. Ask a question like, “What is a lintel in Exodus 12:7?” Then ask the group to use an online resource like my Wordsearch Bible to conduct research as part of the meeting. Or, “Who can find an example on your cellphone of a story that represents carelessness?”
  • Direct attention to online follow up ideas like the Bible Project videos about books of the Bible and themes in the Bible.
  • Encourage fact-checking about facts brought up in the Bible study.
  • Use digital Bible study materials. Many publishers offer curriculum in digital formats. LifeWay offers Explore the Bible study materials that are digital and aimed intentionally at discipleship groups.
  • Encourage the group members to keep prayer requests on their phones and to calendar group events on their calendars right in the meetings.

The undisciplined use of cellphones can be very disruptive. The creative use of information available instantly on cellphones can enhance a Bible study experience. Think about ways you can encourage the proper use of phones in your group.

Scripture: Well, there are no passages about cellphones in the Bible. Read Titus 1:7-8. A church leader needs to be self-controlled and disciplined. How might that apply to technology in our lives?

Dig Deeper: This article is about a typical classroom situation, but “How to Use Cell Phones as Learning Tools” may give ideas you can adapt to your small group.    

Now It’s Your Turn: What happens with cell phones in your small group? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

September 14, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Spiritual Disciplines: Intercessory Prayer

I have often pondered what might be the biggest responsibility a believer carries and what might be the biggest privilege a believer enjoys. I imagine a lot of ideas could fit these descriptions. I know you could probably argue with me no matter what I suggest for these. But, after a lot of time studying prayer and the disciplines, I think the Christian’s greatest responsibility and the Christian’s greatest privilege may be one in the same: intercessory prayer.

Intercessory prayer is the carrying of human needs before the Lord. It is not a quick prayer approach. Often intercessory prayer is a burden-driven, persistent prayer, much like that seen in Jesus’ teachings in Luke 11:2-13 (The Friend with Hungry Guests) and 18:1-8 (The Persistent Widow). In both parables, the asking party would not quit until his and her requests were fulfilled. Yet, intercessory prayer is never about trying to wear God out so you force him to give in to your request. In intercessory prayer, you enter into the heart of God and pray for an urgent matter until your prayer aligns with God’s plan in the matter. We may start praying for an answer we want, but as we persist we come to pray for something far better, the wonderful answer God desires to give. God’s answers to intercessory prayer are always the best, the wisest, and the most beneficial for all involved. God’s answers will eventually be understood as his very best in the face of the need presented.

As a discipline, intercessory prayer is practiced with urgency and faithful waiting. An intercessor comes to share in the intercessory ministry of Jesus our High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; 7:25 and Romans 8:34). In fact, we also share in intercessory work with the Holy Spirit as he intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27). This is all appropriate because God is making us into a kingdom of priests (Revelation 1:8). A priest serves in two directions: a priest represents God to the people through the teaching of the Word and a priest represents the people to God through intercession. Since our last and final and best Sacrifice, that is Jesus, has been made, our intercession occurs through prayer.

Jesus taught us to intercede for others and for the needs in our world. In the Model Prayer (Matthew 6:10) as he said, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (ESV).” Asking God to meet needs in his way with his resources for his great purposes is asking that all things happen here as they happen in heaven.

What are some ways to practice the spiritual discipline of intercessory prayer?

  • Join a prayer meeting or a prayer group that focuses on bringing needs before God.
  • Keep a prayer list so you can purposefully intercede for the needs of others.
  • When someone asks you to prayer for them, stop right there and pray for and with that person.
  • Make intercessory prayer a major part of your private prayer time. Enter into your prayer closet.
  • Pray through the nightly TV news. Most news broadcasts are really 30 minute pleas for someone to ask God to fix our wicked world.
  • Pray through the newspaper. It is also a printed intercessory prayer list.
  • Pray when you hear sirens and emergency vehicles.
  • Pray, “Lord, please bring to my mind those people and situations for which I need to intercede.”
  • Journal your intercessory prayers. Record an answer date when God answers.
  • Ask of people you meet, “Is there something about which I can pray for you?” Then do it.
  • Look at your daily calendar or your to-do list. Prayer for the tasks and for the people you will engage as you carry out your appointments and work.

I wish I could call us world leaders on the phone and talk to them about the concerns on my heart. I wish I could call a dictator a half a world away and ask that he back off his power displays. I wish I could call another leader and ask him to temper his responses with love and kindness. I wish I could talk to another and ask him to give his people freedom of religion. I could never get through on a phone call to any world leader. I don’t have their ears. But, I have the ear of God Almighty, King of the Universe, all powerful, all knowing, and all loving. And, he wants to hear my concerns, not of which are petty to him. So, I won’t waste my time trying to get through to a human world leader because I have immediate access to the God over all things. Won’t you join me at that throne and intercede with me that God bring his rule and reign to every human heart?

Scripture: Read 1 Timothy 2:1-7. What did Paul teach us about intercession? What requests are we to make?

Dig Deeper: Read The Ministry of Intercession: A Plea for More Prayer by Andrew Murray.

Now It’s Your Turn: What ideas do you have for practicing intercessory prayer? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

September 11, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Small Group Challenges: When a Member Needs Ministry

No matter how great a group you lead, eventually, someone in the group will have a great need. It might be a job loss, an illness, a difficult pregnancy, a death in the family, or an accident. Most of these can great emotional stress, financial need, and stranded relationships. Your small group is among the first responders when such an event strikes a member.

How can your group minister to a member in need? Remember some basics:

  • Words can be useful but your presence may be more important. Don’t wear out your welcome but you can minister with just your presence.
  • Lead your group in prayer support for the group member in need. Keep prayer requests simple and avoid rumors and hunches. Respect privacy and share only what the member in need wants everyone to know.
  • Brainstorm possible needs the group member may have: meals, caring for any children involved, caring for family pets, taking care of the lawn, running errands, shopping for groceries, helping with bills, etc. The member’s family may have transportation needs. Find ways your group can help with some of these things.
  • Typically, we ask the person in need to “let us know if you need anything.” Yet, in a crisis, the group member is often too busy to identify needs. So, with some needs, just jump in there and do what you see needs to be done. Mow the lawn. Bring a meal. Take a collection and help with finances.
  • Plan your group’s responses. Take turns with meals so the member is not inundated with food they cannot consume. Get people who can offer transportation on a schedule. A little planning can go a long way.
  • Assure the hurting member of your prayers. Then, if possible, pray with that person. No sermons on suffering, just honest, thoughtful prayer. Pray like you would want someone to pray for you.
  • Keep your group informed. That might happen at regular meetings. You may want to create a private Facebook page only for your group members or a circle in Gmail or another email platform for emails.
  • Keep your pastor and staff ministers informed about how your group is helping. They will appreciate knowing how you are caring for a group member in need and how they might assist you.
  • You will likely find other church members who will want to help so become a conduit to help them care and minister as well.

Use some sensitivity and love as you minister to a member in need. Your group member will appreciate your caring actions and prayers as your group assists. Sometimes, because we don’t know what to do, we do nothing. Instead, do something in Jesus’ name with genuine love and concern. It is almost always right to respond to human needs with grace, love, and generosity. See what heart-felt concern can do.

Scripture: Read Matthew 25:31-46. How important to Jesus is caring for those in need?

Dig Deeper:  Read “When a Church Member Faces Crisis” by Candace McMahan.

Now It’s Your Turn: How have you organized your small group to help members in need? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

September 7, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Spiritual Disciplines: Small Group

I love small groups. Nothing in all of Christian education or discipleship approaches excites me more than small groups. I have been a part of many and have led many as well. I love to see a successful small group. One success indicator in small groups is the sense of community that develops among the group members. Members become committed to serving and supporting one another so each will grow in the Lord and in obedience to him.

Small group can be a discipline. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun wrote about small group as a discipline in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. “Small groups intentionally connect people, regularly gathering them together to help one another grow in loving God and doing his will.” Small groups form for all sorts of purposes: Bible study groups, support groups, outreach groups, mission groups, ministry groups, prayer groups, book clubs, discipleship groups, to name only a few possibilities. All of these groups share something: helping the members know God and follow God.

Small groups also contain opportunities for the practice of other spiritual disciplines. Small groups develop and display hospitality. Small groups practice prayer in many different ways. Small group members come to display transparency. Small groups encourage giving and self-sacrifice. They experience community and fellowship as they grow together. The list of disciplines small groups can engage is almost limitless.

How can your group concentrate more on practicing small group as a discipline?

  • Create a safe climate so members can share their lives without fear of embarrassment or rejection.
  • Meet regularly. Most small groups need about 12-15 meetings to start forming community.
  • Create a covenant. Make it a brief, simply community agreement that guides members’ responsibilities to one another and their behavior.
  • Pray together.
  • Build the group around the study of God’s Word.
  • Minister to one another and together minister to others outside the group.
  • Celebrate victories in the group.
  • The best size for small groups is the between three and five people.

Small group is an exciting practice. We are created to experience community as God himself experiences community in the Trinity. As we practice small group, we open ourselves to God and each other, knowing that a shared life centered around God’s Word and guided by his Spirit will transform us into the image of Jesus Christ.

Scripture: Read Jesus’ promise in Matthew 18:20. How does this promise encourage you to practice small group?

Dig Deeper: Read Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.

Now It’s Your Turn: Have you ever had a meaningful experience in a small group? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

September 4, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Small Group Challenges: My Group Won’t Use Their Bibles

We live at a time of unprecedented availability of the Bible and media-delivered Bible study resources. No generation has ever had so much worthwhile materials for Bible reading and Bible study within easy reach than those of us living today.  Yet, I suspect that many Christians today never read or engage the Bible in a meaningful way even though the benefits of Bible engagement are well established.

My experience in leading small groups is that many learners do not and will not bring a Bible to the study. Now almost everyone has a Bible link on their phones, which I value greatly. An eBible is very helpful for reading but can sometimes get in the way of Bible study. Reading from a hardcopy of the Bible helps learners link passages together. Using a hardcopy also helps the learner develop a geography of the Bible. Using a hardcopy promotes developing an understanding of the big, overarching story of the Bible that using an eBible may not be able to do. I won’t ever put anyone down for using their phone to read the Bible passage in a small group study, but I will continue to talk about the value of a hardcopy.

How can you encourage the members of your group to bring a Bible and use the Bible during small group study sessions? Here are some ideas:

  • Set the example. Use your hardcopy of the Bible in the study. Your example speaks volumes.
  • If you are using a standard Bible study curriculum, leave your leader’s guide at home. If you have that on your lap, you are communicating that your group is primarily studying a magazine, not the Bible itself. Besides that, you are going to be reading out loud much of your lesson, one of the things many adults complain about in small group: “The leader just reads to us.” Try teaching from notes you have put on paper, folded in a book fold so it will slip into your Bible.
  • Ask volunteers to read the Bible passages aloud. If you ask them to read small portions of the study text aloud, you will call attention to their Bibles several times in the study.
  • Make good use of smartphones. Anyone using the YouVersion app (the MOST popular Bible reading app in the world!), has access to a huge number of Bible translations. Ask people to read from other translations so the group can compare wording and examine insight gained in comparing translations.
  • Encourage the use of journaling Bibles. Boy, journaling Bibles are all the rage right now. They come in a variety of formats with space for journaling and notetaking on every page. In fact, the more you mark up your Bible and write in it, the more valuable it becomes. Journaling can include writing words, ideas, thoughts, or insights right beside the passage being studied. Some people even use simple art to respond to God’s Word in a journaling Bible. A learner might also mark up the text with color to indicate things like commands or promises or circle important words in a passage. A learner can even build his or her own cross reference Bible this way. When a learner has a hardcopy Bible they value and use in this way, it will come with them to Bible study.
  • Encourage the use of the Bible all week. Many Bible study curricula provide daily Bible reading plans that support learning in small group. Invite learners to use the plans and mark the passages with insights in their Bibles. That is harder to do in an eBible.
  • When you are visiting with your small group members, thank them when they use a hardcopy Bible in small group. This is wonderful re-enforcement. Well, for that matter, do the same if they use an eBible. Their Bible engagement is what you want to see.

If the Bible is God’s Word, if using it can literarily change lives, if it is the way to knowing God and experiencing the great salvation Jesus brought us, then help your learners use it in whatever form they will engage with it. Model it. Encourage it. Expect it. Read it. Then watch what God will do in the lives of your learners.

Scripture: Read Isaiah 40:6-8. What comparison is made in this passage? Why is the comparison important? What does this passage say about the Bible?

Dig Deeper: Read Knowable Word: Helping Ordinary People Learn to Study the Bible by Peter Krol.

Now It’s Your Turn: How do you encourage the use of the Bible in your small group? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

August 31, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Friendship as a Spiritual Discipline

I just lectured in my OT survey classes about some of the ways we were created in the image of God. God made us to need and enjoy others. God himself exists in Trinity, a perfect friendship. He offers himself to us in friendship (Psalm 25:14). We too need friends. Friends come to us as acquaintances, associates, neighbors, relatives, and very close friends. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar researched the limit of our capacity for friends. He determined that we can only maintain about 150 human relationships at one time. Among those friends, we typically only have about 3-5 very close friendships, best friends.

As a discipline, a spiritual friendship is a relationship that helps us love God with our whole being. In such a friendship, two people agree to enter into a covenant relationship where the two friends share their relationship with God with one another by supporting one another, encouraging one another, and praying with and for one another. While some friendships seem to just happen, a spiritual friendship is intentional so each can help the other grow in the Lord. Usually a spiritual friend is someone of your gender. The ancient Celtic Christians referred to these friendships as soul friends, someone who cares as much for your soul as they care for their own.

How can you find and develop a spiritual friendship?

  • Start with prayer. Ask the Lord to show you someone who might be a spiritual friendship. Then wait and watch.
  • Take an inventory of your friendships. What levels of relationships do you experience with friends?
  • Don’t rush a friendship. Cultivate a friendship in the way a farmer might cultivate a field.
  • Talk to your close friends about this practice. One of them might be interested in a spiritual friendship.
  • Once you connect to a spiritual friend, work together to develop a covenant. A covenant would have a handful of guidelines for your friendship. This covenant is a mutual effort and forms a mutual commitment. The covenant will likely mention a few items like meeting times, prayer commitments, and confidentiality.
  • Be real, be honest, and above all, be kind.
  • None of us will ever be a perfect friend for another, but Jesus is our example of the perfect friend.
  • When you have the opportunity, teach others about spiritual friendship.

I think of the song from Toy Story with the lyrics by Randy Newman that say, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” I remember that old hymn, “There’s Not a Friend Like the Lowly Jesus.” Jesus is a friend who heals us, knows our struggles, guides us, is holy and humble, and is near us at all times. No night is so dark that he will not cheer us because he will never forsake us. Let’s be such friends for someone.

Scripture: Read Proverbs 27:6, 9-10. What ideas in these proverbs might apply to the spiritual discipline of friendship?

Dig Deeper: Read Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun.

Now It’s Your Turn: What do you think is the most important characteristic of a spiritual friendship? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

August 28, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Small Group Challenges: They Won’t Talk!

In this series on challenges that small groups face, we are discussing common issues that can stymie a group or, when addressed, can move the group on to more effective Bible study. Last Monday we considered how to lead the group when one person dominates the discussion. Today, let’s look at a similar problem: no one speaks up in discussion.

You probably know the situation. You ask a question. Most of the group members just look down. No one answers. You wait for what seems to be an extraordinary length of time. No answers. You answer the question yourself. Then you go to the next question, etc., etc.

The truth needs to be told here. Most of the struggle to get small groups talking have a group leader to blame. Here are some contributing factors:

  • You answer your own questions. The silence is very uncomfortable but your group has learned that if they wait long enough, you will answer. So, in their minds, why should they answer?
  • The group is not a safe place. By that I mean group members do not trust one another. Being honest is too risky. What if someone repeats outside of the group something personal that was divulged in the group?
  • The group feels that answering with a wrong answer will be too embarrassing. Some people will say they are afraid to speak in front of others, but what they are really afraid of is appearing foolish, inept, or stupid in front of others. They can feel this way if the group leader or another member communicates shame or a put down to someone’s response.
  • You are looking for only one very specific answer to a question. This frustrates learners and they won’t chance an answer again.
  • People won’t respond if they don’t have enough time or information to process an answer before they speak.

So, what can you as a great group leader do to counter these difficulties in group discussion?

  • Don’t answer your own questions. Well, maybe once in a while. But, the more you answer your own discussion questions, the less the group will respond. Wait them out. Don’t let the silence intimidate you. We usually wait less than ten seconds for a respond. Wait at least ten seconds and then restate the question another way. Keep waiting.
  • Make sure the group is a safe place. State almost every meeting that we want the group to be a safe group where trust in one another can grow. Point out that we NEVER put down another group member for a response, even as a joke. Remind everyone that the group has a level of confidence so that what is said in the group stays in the group. There are exceptions like a confessed crime or someone sharing about being endangered in some way but these are rare.
  • Never put down a wrong answer. There are several ways to deal with a wrong answer. One is re-direction. Ask the speaker to share more about his or her idea. Ask if someone else can add another insight. It is very likely you can steer a wrong response to become an acceptable answer if you just keep redirecting the question. Always thank and affirm members when they respond. If they feel that the risk was worth the reward they got, then they will risk answering again. The reward is acceptance and respect.
  • Asking questions with very specific answers tends to shut down discussion. What opens up and encourages more discussion is a question that has several possible correct answers or the answers can be stated in numerous ways. When learners know their chances for success are higher, they will attempt to answer.
  • Prior to asking a question, make sure the learners have enough information to process the question. Some questions don’t need this, but most questions about Bible content will need prior learning to answer such questions. And, if you will put forth the questions in two forms, they will have more help in processing the question. For instance, ask the question verbally as the learners read the question in their study guides or from a poster. And, go back to the suggestions about wait time. Allow learners enough time to think about the question. One way to do this is to tell them or show them the questions in advance. If we are reading a Bible passage, I might ask a question like I did Sunday by saying, “The psalmist of Psalm 42 is facing a problem. What problem is it?” I then read the passage aloud. Then I asked, “What problem is the psalmist facing?” This helped the learners listen with intention and provided guidance in responding to the question.

Leading discussion is both a science and an art. You can develop the skills in guiding great discussion in your small group so that they don’t give you the silent treatment.

Scripture: Read Matthew 16:13-20. Notice that Jesus asked a great discussion question and got responses. Which of the hint above might Jesus have used?

Dig Deeper: Read Good Questions Have Small Groups Talking by Josh Hunt.   

Now It’s Your Turn: How do you guide effective discussion that involves everyone?  Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

 

August 24, 2017
by Walter Norvell
0 comments

Spiritual Disciplines: Rest

Has it ever occurred to you that sometimes, the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap? I know what you are thinking. “A nap? Come on. How can a nap be spiritual? Besides that, I have too much to do and taking a nap is just a waste of time.”

Well, just conduct a Google search with terms like lack of sleep, sleep deficit, sleep disorders, or insufficient sleep. My simple search yielded over 60 million internet pages about sleep issues. A lack of sleep affects almost everything in our lives. A lack of sleep causes issues with memory, learning, health, safety, and longevity.  The health issues alone grab your attention: obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The relationships of those with a lack of sleep suffer. What about the financial impact? In 2016 one study said our economy loses $411 billion per year because of a lack of sleep. It is epidemic. And, our busy culture leads us to do more and more and rest way less than the 7-9 hours recommended for adults. Yet we pride ourselves on how little sleep we can get by on. And what’s more, when you ask almost anyone how they are doing, the typical response is, “I am tired.” We need to get sick and tired of being tired and live in the rhythms God designed for us.

You might not think this issue has any spiritual impact but it does. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun defines the spiritual discipline of rest as a practice that honors God and recognizes our human limitations through restful rhythms. How many people dose off in church services? How hard is it to concentrate for even a short length of time in prayer or Bible reading? How distracted are you to opportunities to pray and minister because you are just too tired to concentrate and be aware?

God has a plan for us. He made us with the need for rest. This is so important, he gave a command to rest in the Ten Commandments. Imagine that! He is so concerned about our rest that He set the example (Gen. 2:2-3) and he commanded us to rest a full day out of every seven days (Ex. 20:8-11). Physical rest is sometimes a foreshadow and a symbol of the spiritual rest God gives his people when they cease their labors for salvation and receive the rest salvation provides.

In my work, I see lots of very tired college students. But when I encourage rest, they state they don’t have the time. Sometimes they just laugh at me. God made us with principles and patterns for our good and blessing. God has designed us for rest because we are creatures with limitations. Sleep helps us with our God-given limits. People may seek to break God’s principles, but in reality, these principles will break us.

Everything fights against us when we try to practice rest. If you want to build on this discipline, be prepared for a fight. That smartphone, cable TV, computers and tablets all work to keep us watching because people make money for every minute you view screens. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the resistance against rest. Here are some ideas you might try.

  • Set your alarm to go to bed every night.
  • Develop some evening practices to help you get ready to sleep.
  • Work toward a peaceful and relaxing home where rest is more likely to occur.
  • Work hard when you work and rest well when you rest.
  • A daily nap may help you rest effectively.
  • Keep a Sabbath. Figure out how to spend a dedicated block of time resting and reflecting on the Lord. Now I am a Baptist, so I have about eliminated any expectation that a Sabbath can be observed on Sunday.
  • Plan an evening off: no work related to your job or electronics. Just quiet, conversation, family games, reading, and relaxing. Have a simple meal and share a family devotion together.
  • Find brief times during the day to take a real break and enjoy some quiet, reflective time.
  • Take an extended break and rest once or twice a year. Don’t make this a busy sight-seeing trip. Just a day or two or a weekend of quiet time to read and reflect upon the Lord.
  • Take a walk. Carry your phone, just turn it off and listen to the sounds around you as you walk.
  • In spite of our modern uses of Sunday, determine ways to reflect on the Lord in moments you can carve out of this special day of Christian worship.

God’s plan for you includes rest, his gift to our human limitations. Accept his good gift and put it to work for your spiritual growth.

Scripture: Read Exodus 34:21. Notice the conditions under which God wants us to rest: on the seventh day, even when the people were in their busiest seasons. Why does God value our rest?

Dig Deeper:  Read Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun.   

Now It’s Your Turn: How do you find times of Sabbath rest in your busy schedule? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

August 21, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Small Group Challenges: One Person Dominates the Discussion

We have all had someone who dominates the discussion in small group. This person is seldom malicious with it. He or she simply knows the answers or likes to talk or enjoys sharing his or her opinion or gets nervous with silence. There are lots of reasons. But, when one person dominates the discussion, discussion is usually shut down or at least diminished. In worst case scenarios, sometimes a discussion-dominating person can affect attendance or hurt the sense of community the group needs to develop. Sometimes the group will learn that if they don’t speak up, ol’ Bob will, so they don’t feel obligated to join in the discussion.

One of the goals of small group is to develop community in a safe environment where everyone can talk about their lives and the study. As you encourage and give every person an opportunity to be heard, you take steps toward community.

While this is a common challenge in small groups, it is not insurmountable. In fact, there are ways to improve this situation that can be a win-win outcome for everyone. Here are some ideas:

If you know the constant talker well, try these ideas:

  • Say, “Thanks, Sue. Good insight. Let’s hear from someone else.”
  • Ask to meet up with your constant talker at another time, maybe taking them to lunch. Thank him or her in a genuine manner for their significant contribution to the group discussion. Explain that you need his or her help in teaching because you use the discussion to gauge how well everyone is learning. Ask him or her to help you teach and evaluate learning by giving other people opportunity to speak. Ask, “What are some ways you can help me?” You might listen for or suggest responding to every third question or responding only after two others have responded first. If the plan works, be sure to thank him or her immediately after the session for all the help he or she provided that improved the discussion.
  • Ask him or her to team teach with you from time to time. Train him or her as you go along.
  • Ask the constant talker to take on some needed small group task: check attendance, lead a five-minute prayer time, meet and introduce new people, etc.

If the constant talker is new to the group, then try to guide the discussion with your responses:

  • “Great comment! Let’s consider that idea for a moment. Who else can add an insight?
  • If you know other members of the group well, direct questions to particular people. “Joyce, would you make the first response to this question?”
  • In younger groups, make discussion a game of sorts. Bring a nerf ball to group. Hand it to someone, maybe even your constant talker. Say, “Our next question is ‘______________?’ Toss the nerf ball to the person you want to hear answer this question.”
  • “Let’s hear thoughts from three people this time.”
  • Ask questions that can have multiple correct answers.
  • Brainstorm a question, letting and encouraging every person to answer in some way.

Remember, some people are naturally quiet so don’t put people on the spot in ways that may make them uncomfortable. Get comfortable with silence. If silence means they are processing the question, that is a good thing. Don’t answer your own questions.

Next Monday, let’s deal with another challenge, the group who will not talk at all.

Scripture: Read Proverbs 14:23. If this verse has an application for a small group Bible study, what would “poverty” look like in a group that was all talk?

Dig Deeper: Read “Tips for Facilitating a Group Discussion.”

Now It’s Your Turn: Have you ever dealt with a dominate talker in your group? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”