What is a small group?
To those outside the church world, a small group might be defined as a tiny grouping of something – a small group of rocks, a small group of kids, or a small group of something else in common.
Inside the church world, a small group is kind of like a mini-church. A small group is a way to make a church small and intimate.
I grew up surrounded by small groups. My parents were part of small groups for as long as I can remember. They hosted small group at our house sometimes, and I can remember sneaking out to the dining room to grab some of the delicious snacks set out for their friends. As I grew older, I started to understand the importance of small groups in my own journey. In college, I was part of a couple small groups that challenged my faith and pushed me to grow in different areas of my spiritual life. Since getting married, my wife and I have led and participated in all kinds of small groups. As a result of these groups, I have seen connection and life change.
This week, I’m excited to announce the launch of a new book by Ben Reed. In Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint, Ben shares some practical advice for taking small group ministry at your church to the next level. Whether you are just starting a small group ministry at your church or trying to figure out a way to get new people plugged into small groups at your church, Starting Small will give you some ideas for moving forward.
Having been part of small group leadership at my church, I can vouch for the content of this book. It’s practical. It’s inspiring. And it’s helpful. Starting Small will get you thinking about what you can do next to build your small group ministry. It will refocus you on the purpose of small groups in your church. And it will inspire you to do something new today with your small group ministry.
I’m a big believer in the power of small groups to connect people to each other and to God, and I believe Starting Small can help you towards this goal. For this reason, I recommend Starting Small to small group champions, leaders, and pastors who are interested in taking their small group ministry to the next level.
Does your church have small groups? Are you in a small group? How have small groups impacted your life?
Please note: I received a copy of Starting Small for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to like or recommend this book. My recommendation is based on my belief in the power of small groups and in the ability of this book to help people find connection through small groups. Ben Reed speaks from an experience I can relate, and I find his book helpful in your own small group discovery and journey.
Also note: There are affiliate links in this post. If you purchase a copy of Starting Small as a result of clicking on one of these links, I receive a small “commission”. Any “commission” received will be used to support The Stretched Blog and to support continued ministry in Guatemala. Thank you!
Each year around this time, I work with my employees to establish performance targets for the coming year. It can be a little challenging to fit everything in before the end of the calendar year. But target setting is vital to business success and individual performance.
This should be a fun month as I work with each of my team members in setting their individual performance targets.
What other reasons can you provide for setting individual performance targets? How have performance targets helped you as an employee or as a team leader?
When you think of perseverance, what or who comes to mind?
I think of a marathon runner who trains for months suffering through weather and injury and then runs 26.2 miles to the finish of a race. This takes perseverance.
I think of a doctor who studies for years and years learning everything possible for the opportunity to treat people medically. This takes lots of perseverance.
I think of a couple who want to be parents but struggle through the pains of infertility – maybe using in vitro fertilization or maybe adopting. They pour all their energy, time, and money into becoming parents. This takes perseverance.
I think of a cancer patient who deals with the ups and downs of chemotherapy and radiation meanwhile hanging onto a thread of hope for another year, another month, another day. This takes perseverance.
In each of these cases, perseverance is only achieved when someone decides to endure the trial they face. They may consider giving in, but there is something that keeps them pushing – something causes them to fight – something reminds them to persist. They keep going even when it’s hard, when hope seems dim, and when many would rather give up.
I don’t know what kind of trial you are going through. I don’t know what trial you have yet to endure. But there’s something we each need to know about the trials we face. In the first chapter of his letter found in the New Testament, James talks about the importance of trials in bringing us to completeness and maturity.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
Did you catch that? James says we should consider it pure joy when we face trials. I don’t know about you, but this is tough for me. I remember going through a pretty challenging time a few years ago. I was facing a very tough challenge at work; meanwhile, my wife was struggling through significant health issues. It was not a time of joy for me. I was lonely. I was distraught. And I was hanging onto a thin thread of hope as it felt like the world was collapsing in around me. It’s funny now. I honestly didn’t even think about this passage from James which I had read many times before. Yet I was supposed to find joy in the midst of trials.
I can look back now and see God’s hand in my life despite the challenges I faced. I can see how God used these trials to produce perseverance in my life. And I can see how these trials led to a deeper maturity. God is good.
James goes on to share how blessing follows those who persevere through trials.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
Like I said before, I don’t know what trials you may be going through. But I would encourage you to hang in there. Look to God for your strength and hope. And know that God can work through the junk you are dealing with today.
How has God blessed you through trials? What keeps you going when life gets you down?
Today, it’s my honor to share guest blogger and fellow Phillies fan, Thomas Mark Zuniga (TMZ). TMZ is an aspiring author with a story worth sharing. He has just finished his first book, Struggle Central, which will be available on Amazon shortly. Until then, you can get a copy of his book for free for a limited time by signing up for his newsletter (click here). You can also follow TMZ on Twitter and Facebook.
Growing is Unending
Over the last couple years, I’ve endured some especially stretching moments: one vulnerable summer camp position in Milwaukee, another more exposing camp in North Carolina, and not one but two cross-country moves from Georgia to California on either side of those stretching summer camp romps.
That second cross-country trek stretched me even more than the first.
After completing the most impossible summer of my life in North Carolina, I returned to my parents’ home in Georgia. The previous year in California, I’d experienced my greatest year of growth: finding an amazing church, plugging into my first life group, and even getting baptized by said life group.
Stuck in the South, I knew I had to drive back West.
But how? My old roommates were gone. My savings were scant, at best. How could I drive 2,500 miles with nowhere to live, nowhere to work, and nothing saved up?
I put off the inevitable for weeks. Two, four, six weeks passed as I grew increasingly sickened by my “backslide” into the way things used to be: living under my parents’ roof with no job, no church, no community, no sense of purpose whatsoever.
Eventually, I couldn’t take it.
I had to leave.
Leaving for California two years earlier was so much easier. After graduating college, I was beyond ready for the open waters of a new existence. Had a housing situation with friends already secured across the country with much saved from a lucrative summer job.
But this time was harder. The unknowns weightier, the waves far more perilous. I drove off my parents’ driveway the second time with saltier tears and a heavier heart from the first.
With so much stretching and growth in the two years separating these momentous drives, why was this second move so much more difficult than the first? Had I even grown at all?
After completing my drive across the country, I was inundated with struggle: an isolating living situation in the boondocks of an old married couple’s house, no work, and a car that died from thousands of wearied miles.
Additionally, I struggled to reconnect with my life group filled with old and new faces alike. It was the same amazing group who’d baptized me six months prior, and yet it wasn’t. I had changed, just as they had. And now we needed to start over and change together again.
The changing process would take months.
I’ve since learned that despite two momentous years of growth, capped by a summer camp that could have very well ended a triumphant feel-good movie, the process has really only just begun – my stretching and growing, still in its infantile stages.
Because growing is unending. And though struggles remain, redemption awaits.
I’ve recently broken ground on a project four years in the making: my first book. Since college, I’ve felt called to write, and this book in particular has long filled me with thrilling fear: a book of “messy memoirs” charting my struggles and the ensuing redemption of the last quarter-century.
Looking back on my quarter-life, I see the growth. See it so clearly. But I often wonder when the stretching will end. When will I be fully grown? A fully developed Mr. Miyagi or Gandalf with every arduous lesson learned, now able to impact any and all passersby?
At 26, I’m still very much learning the breadth and depth of this journey. Learning that this pursuit in stretching and growing is never done. That nobody this side of the grave has truly “arrived,” and the ones who impact most are the ones who realize this best. Truly, deeply know it.
I hope I come to know it, too. Know that despite the certain growth from a quarter-century on this planet, there’s more to the mountain than this.
When have you had to leap into the unknown? How was it difficult, and how did it affirm your growth? Have you ever felt like you’ve stretched or grown “enough” only to be shown otherwise?
Last night, we attended a parent/teacher conference for our son. As a middle school student, Isaac also had the opportunity to participate in the conference as well. Isaac had just finished up his first marking period of seventh grade. He did remarkably well (proud Dad moment) achieving straight A’s.
The conferences were optional yet we decided to scheduled a meeting with his core teachers. For Leanne and I, it was an opportunity to listen to additional feedback – to hear where Isaac is excelling and to her where Isaac could grow or improve. Naturally, the feedback from his teachers was all great to hear. And at the end of the conference, they provided an opportunity for us to ask questions.
Isaac asked his teachers this question, “How can I do better?”
This is a pretty powerful question if you’re serious about getting a true response. Just because we did “well” doesn’t mean we can’t get better. I like this philosophy. When I was in an active design engineering role at my company, I used to ask the installers and the start-up technicians these types of questions. “How can I improve my design next time to make your installation easier or to make your start-up activities go more efficiently?” I learned so much by asking questions like this. As a manager now, I need to keep asking these questions. I want to be the best manager possible to help my team succeed and to help my team members achieve their personal career targets.
Isaac’s teachers gave him some great feedback in response to his question. They told him to speak up and to take a more active leadership role in group activities. They encouraged him to be more creative in some of his assignments. And they reaffirmed that he was already doing a great job. Then the teachers turned the tables on Isaac by asking their own follow-up question, “How can we do a better job helping you?” Isaac had to think about this question. What a great conference to attend! It was so neat to see students and teachers discussing ways to get better. What an example for all of us!
And so, I’d like to ask a couple of questions. I hope you’ll give me honest and constructive feedback. It’s part of the STRETCHING process. I value your feedback!
How can I better serve you – The Stretched Community? What thoughts can you share to help me improve my writing and The Stretched Blog? What topics would you like me to cover more often? Less often? What’s working well? What’s not working so well?
Yesterday, I shared that I was taking some time for solitude – some time away from my normal routine to listen for God. I’d like to share my reflections on this time.
As I sat on my front porch yesterday morning, the skies were still fairly dark and the water was still dripping down the gutter drain pipes after a night of rain. It’s a challenging this to clear ones mind of all the distractions and thoughts. For some reason, I kept repeating the phrase “Seek first the kingdom of God” as I tried to center my thoughts away from me and onto God. Over and over again, “Seek first the kingdom of God. Seek first the kingdom of God. Seek first the kingdom of God.” And that’s when it happened.
God sends his messengers of nature to speak into my life. As I was sitting on my porch trying to quiet my mind, I first heard the loud droning of bull fogs in the pond across our front lawn. I heard the garbage trucks in the distance as the morning sky began to brighten. I tried to block out the distractions of life – what will I blog about next, what do I need to do at work today, what will I eat for breakfast. And then it appeared – a simple sign from God. A buck walks slowly across my front lawn.
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon —from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
These are the words I needed to hear this day. God is the only “stream” that can satisfy the longings, cravings, and desires of my heart. I strive after so many earthly things, but God alone brings refreshment and contentment.
I’m not sure that I’ve been depressed, but I’ve certainly been discouraged by the onslaught of headaches and lack of energy over the past few months. I have sought all kinds of human remedies to alleviate these symptoms, but I wonder if I’ve failed to truly give these things to God. Do I get it that God loves me and that God wants what is best for me? It seems so easy to depend on things that I can control. In reality, I need to give these things to God.
My time of solitude was refreshing. It refocused me on God – where my life should be centered. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” Thank you for the reminder. May I always seek the only Water that satisfies.
Any thoughts to add? How has God been speaking to you?
What’s your favorite drink?
Webster’s Online Dictionary defines solitude as “the quality or state of being alone or remote from society.”
Why would anyone want to “practice” solitude?
Limited amounts of solitude can give us a chance to get away from the distractions of regular life and routine. We live in a day and age when we are bombarded with noise, activity, and motion. These things can crowd out the voice of God.
So for today, I’m going to keep my post short. I’m going to get away in solitude even if it’s for a short time this morning. I’ll let you know how it goes.
When was the last time you practiced solitude? How has God been speaking to you lately?
Yesterday morning, I led week two of a Foundations Class at my church. If you remember from my post last week, we talked about grace during the first class. This week, we continued along with the five Gs outlined in Fully Devoted, a study guide by John Ortberg, with the topic of growth.
Growth is an interesting topic. When I think of growth these days, I think about growth in my running, in my writing, and in my engineering management career path. In each of these areas, growth doesn’t just happens. It takes work. If I want to run a marathon, I have to go into strict training. If I want to become a better writer and maybe someday write a book, I have to keep practicing and learning. If I want to keep up with the ever-changing engineering and leadership fields, I have to stay in training so I can learn about new technologies and about new leadership techniques.
Spiritual growth is somewhat similar. It doesn’t just happen. It takes time, experience, and some effort on our parts if we’re serious about growing spiritually. Sure, God could just zap us with spiritual maturity, but we would then miss out on all the experience and training.
So, what does this kind of training look like?
That’s a good question.
I think it includes an attitude of learning – we need to learn God’s Word. We need to develop a heart for prayer. And we need to listen for God. Listening to God can happen in a corporate setting of worship and small groups, but it also happens in solitude where the distractions of this world are put aside for a brief period of time. Honestly, this is the area where I struggle with now. I feel so often that I’m running from one thing to the next. I even wrote about this last week. How can I hear God’s calling when I’m typically too busy even to hear myself think?
As we walked through our discussion, we talked about a few verses that encourage us to be intentional in our spiritual training. I would encourage you to read these verses and see how they relate to the topic of growth and spiritual transformation.
It’s funny how God hits you on the head with a message when you’re in the spotlight leading. This is a message that I need to hear over and over again. It should be a fun week. Leanne and I are leading a discussion on discipline at the week’s MOPS meeting at our church. Sounds like another blog post and some more challenging lessons.
What does your spiritual training look like right now? What steps do you need to take to grow spiritually?