How to Start A Small Group

Last time I talked about the value of community and small groups. I have started a few small groups over the years and have learned a thing or two. Here are my tips for starting your own small group.

1.Find one other person – No one said that your small group had to be bursting with people. Really, if you find one other person who shares your interest in growing in Christ, you have a small group. All of the value of a small group can still be found with just two people – accountability, someone to bounce ideas off of, and opportunities to learn something new.

2. Start small – Whenever we are heading up something, we often get entrepreneur fever and begin dreaming up scenarios involving curriculum and name tags and websites and statements of confidentiality. This is all fun to do and may be appropriate at times, but your best course of action is simply focusing on the people in front of you, the small goal of meeting consistently, and a simple way of engaging God’s word or his work in our lives.

3. Understand the value – No matter what you are learning, or what insights people are getting from the group the true value of a small group is in the unity and community of the people involved. Friendships that surface, personal struggles that are prayed over, and fun that is developed among the members is what is really meaningful and lasting. Sure, we all want to become more knowledgeable about the Bible and the Christian faith but that shouldn’t be the highest priority in your group. Build trust, community, and togetherness and the rest will follow.

Community Injects Spiritual Growth With Life

Yesterday, I met three other guys at a Starbucks to talk about life, God’s word,

Redesigned logo used from 2011-present.

Redesigned logo used from 2011-present. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and anything else that popped into our heads. Two of us have had seminary training but one has only been a believer for a short time.

Refreshingly, no debates broke out. No one felt like they had cornered the market on a theological idea. We just discussed scripture, dropped some wacky pop culture references, and enjoyed each others company. There was humility and a realization that God is so much bigger than ourselves.

I was encouraged, inspired, and refreshed from the short time we had together. In the quest for doable spiritual growth, we cannot overlook the power of community.

So much of our church language fails us in this regard. Quiet time, personal devotion, daily Christian walk, etc. All of these terms have such an individualistic tone to them. We have convinced ourselves that to grow spiritually requires our own efforts in isolation and nothing else. We fail to recognize the strength of Christian community, especially small groups.

In community I find encouragement, inspiration, conviction, motivation, and correction. Christ himself had a small community of friends who no doubt shaped his ministry and message in maybe more ways than we would expect.

Finding quality Christian community isn’t always easy and you have to work at it but we need it desperately.

Is There Help With This Change Stuff?

I often have been confused by the role and responsibility of the  Holy Spirit in

Cover of "The Good and Beautiful God: Fal...

Cover via Amazon

spiritual growth. One book that helped clarify this for me was James Bryan Smith’s Good and Beautiful God. In it he presents a model of four components to life change – personal narrative (the way we think), spiritual disciplines, community, and The Holy Spirit. He describes the work of the Holy Spirit like this:

The Spirit leads us to Jesus, reveals the Father, exposes falsehood, offers correction, and gives us the needed encouragement that make growth and transformation possible. The Spirit helps us change our narratives by leading us into truth, enlightens us as we practice the disciplines, and binds us together in community. If not for the work of the Holy Spirit, transformation simply will not take place.

So it is our job to work in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to make change possible. We can do this by making ourselves available to the work of the Holy Spirit. We can invite the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. Second, we can provide avenues for the Holy Spirit to work more effectively. This is where the spiritual disciplines come in.

5 Ways To Control Your Thought Life

My last post was on the importance of thinking about God. Today, I offer up five exercises that can help you turn your distracted mind into one that

attention

attention (Photo credit: gordonr)

regularly thinks on God.

1. Count Your Breaths – Distracting thoughts are like a buzzing mosquito that keeps flying around your head. You try to ignore it but it keeps hovering and forces you to give it your attention. We have to find ways to swat these thoughts that are insignificant and annoying. One way to begin doing this is to count our breaths. If we can make it to 10 without losing track than we are getting closer to being able to focus on one thing – preferably God.

2. Take a Walk – I can focus better when I am moving. Sit me down in one place and a thousand things cross my mind but being active brings added concentration.

3. Finish Something From Start To Finish – Experts like to call this the information age but what it should really be called is the distraction age. I have trouble writing this blog without wanting to check my email or Twitter. In many ways we are all addicted to distractions. If we want to focus our mind more on Christ, then we need to develop the skill to overcome this addiction. Make a habit of finishing a task before indulging in common distractions such as texting, TV, and social media.

4. Set Your Watch – We all fall into a task or role that occupies our minds and allows us to be carried away. Sometimes this is good but is it good for us to go hours without thinking about God? Try setting your watch so that it beeps regularly. Every time it beeps, focus your mind on Jesus.

5. End The Day With A Blessing Inventory – As you fall to sleep, review your day and think about all of the good things that God provided for you.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. ” Colossians 3:2

The Essential Need To Change Your Mind

As we pursue doable spiritual formation, one of the first places we start is with our minds.

I used to think that hard work and determination was the only path to change. I used to think that I didn’t need Jesus to be Lord of my life, just a helpful resource in times of need. I used to think that only certain aspects of life could benefit from Christ and his kingdom. But I have changed my thinking.

As much as Christians talk about their feelings and emotions, it is their thinking that is the most important element to a transformed life.

The New Living Translation takes a familiar verse about renewing our mind and phrases it this way:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Romans 12: 2

Jesus turns the world’s way of thinking upside down. Everything we think is important as feeble humans is turned on its head by Jesus’ life and teaching. Jesus presents a radical way of thinking about the world.

Here are three steps to changing your thinking:

1. Read the Gospels. This is the only way that we can understand how Christ wants us to think.

2. Memorize scripture. Pick a verse such as Galatians 2:20 and put it to memory.

3. Pray for new thinking. What area of your life do you struggle with negative or destructive thinking? Ask God to change your thinking to see this part of your life the way that he does.

Inside Out

Now that we know who our teacher is we have to watch out for a major pitfall –  trying to do what Jesus says. Our goal is not to try but to train ourselves to become like Jesus. This is the power of off-the-spot training (spiritual disciplines) that reorients our lives and begins to work on our heart, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit.

To figure out this “inside out” stuff, take a Bible and turn to I Corinthians 13. This is a familiar chapter full of descriptions of what love is. The easiest thing to do is to say, ” Because love is patient and kind I have to go out and be patient and kind.” The problem is I have taken on the sole responsibility to modify my behavior and change something about myself. By shear will, I will change. This determination cannot be sustained and we end up failing again and again.

By contrast, what if I took John 15 to heart and worked on abiding in Jesus, the true vine. By staying connected to the vine, I am constantly tapping into the source of Christ within me and I gradually begin to change and begin to produce fruit such as kindness and patience. Christ is the one who does the changing and transforming. I simply have to remain in the vine through prayer, scripture reading, fasting, etc.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6