Category Archives for "teaching"

Ice Breaker – Favorite Teacher

Each week on The Stretched Blog, we ask an ice breaker question.  The questions are designed to help us get to know each other here in The Stretched Community.  I’ll provide my answer to the question here in the post, and then you can leave your response in the comments.  While you’re in the comments section, see how others answered the ice breaker question.

We’ve been thinking a lot about teachers and teaching in our house the past few weeks.  Teachers play a special role in helping us stretch and develop.  With this in mind, teachers are the inspiration for this week’s Stretched Ice Breaker.

Question:  Tell us about one of your favorite teachers.

My Answer:  I’m sure I could come up with several answer to this question.  One of my favorite teachers of all time was Mrs. Williams, my 4th grade teacher.  4th grade was a pretty fun year thanks to Mrs. Williams.  She encouraged creativity and initiative in her classroom.  I will always remember directing and acting in a play about a scarecrow in her class.  Mrs. Williams let us decorate her classroom to look like a cornfield, and we invited other classes in to watch our play.

Mrs. Williams’ classroom was the upstairs classroom to the right of the door.  F. L. Walther School was originally built in 1917 as a four-room schoolhouse and was added on to over the years.  My 4th grade classroom is no longer standing, but F. L. Walther still exists as an elementary school in the Lumberton School District (New Jersey).  I spent three years of elementary school in this section of the building (3rd through 5th grade).

There you have it – my answer.  Now, it’s your turn.  Answer this week’s ice breaker question by leaving a comment.  I look forward to reading your response!  (Feel free to share links.)

Wondering: A Guest Post by Leanne Stolpe

Over the next week, I will be inserting some of the top posts from the Stretched blog.  The post today (Wondering) originally appeared on the blog on August 2, 2012 while I was in Guatemala.  This was a guest post written by my lovely wife, Leanne, and it was the third most popular post of the year.  This post was an opportunity for Leanne to process some of the stretching that she experienced during the summer related to her job situation.  In many ways, the stretching process has continued, but this post was a healthy place to start.

While I’m away in Guatemala, several people have stepped up to share their stretching stories with The Stretched Community.  Today, I have the honor and privilege of presenting my wife, Leanne Stolpe.  Leanne is a mother, wife, teacher, friend, encourager, and she is my biggest support and inspiration here on the Stretched blog.


This year I began a new adventure into the world of special needs as a behavior therapist. There’s days where I love my job-many of them. There are definite benefits. The flexibility is wonderful. I love working with preschoolers. I especially love when I get to work both with the preschoolers and their families. I can see progress made. I work with amazing people-both teachers, co-workers, and my supervisor. Yet there are times when I feel bored at my job.. I feel like I’m not using all my potential.  I feel like I could do so much more.

I wonder what my next step is. Would I feel more validated if I worked in a school  building? I work in a catholic school  building and still feel the same way. If I got paid more, would it validate this career in the eyes of the world and therefore mine? One thing I know. I was where I was supposed to be this year. I had the flexibility to raise a tiny seeing eye puppy. I provide therapy to a family that first suggested me pursuing my company in the beginning. God has provided opportunities with them. When I get home, I’m mentally home without take home work. I can shut my brain off. I’m down one case and have 3 open afternoons. My students are much more independent than they were at the start of the year. Does that have something to do with my drive for more…to learn more, give more….?
What has you wondering these days?  Click here to leave a comment.

Foundations Class – Week 3 – Groups

This past Sunday, I led our third Foundations Class based on Fully Devoted by John Ortberg. Our first class was on Grace. Our second class was about Growth. And our third class focused on Groups. As you may imagine, I was pretty excited about this week. I’m a huge grouplife fan, and I have a passion for seeing people connected in community through groups.

The lesson for this week reminded me that being in a group is more than just about connection. Being in a group is about experiencing the life transforming power of truth and grace. You see, we all need truth and grace in our lives. If we have too much grace and not enough truth, we will miss out on growth. We will fail to face up to things in our lives that need change and transformation. On the other hand, if we have too much truth in our lives and not enough grace, we will get bogged down in the sin that entangles all of us. We need both truth and grace in equal amounts.

When it comes to dispensing truth and grace to those around us, we also need to be balanced. We need to speak both truth and grace into those around us. When we fail to do this, we miss out on showing love. My friend, Diane, showed me a great chart that helps to demonstrate this principle. I’ll do my best to explain it.

Looking at the chart above, Grace is plotted along the x or horizontal axis and Truth is plotted along the y or vertical axis (I love this kind of talk!).  If we fail to show grace and we fail to show truth, it shows are lack of involvement in the lives of others (this is the RED area of the chart). When we show truth and we fail to show grace, we are graceless (the YELLOW area of the chart). On the other side of the spectrum, when we show grace and we fail to show truth, we are lying (the GREEN area of the chart). Where we hit our sweet spot, we show both truth and grace (the BLUE area of the chart). This is how we truly exhibit love towards one another.

Christian community isn’t always perfect. Over the years, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly that can sometimes happen even amongst groups that call themselves Christian. We need to strive for the best. We need to be marked as people who love. Love happens when truth and grace coexist. And I believe that small groups are a perfect place to flesh this out.

Do you have a relationship where grace and truth exist? Are you in a small group? Why or why not?

Discipline – Thoughts On Discipline From Our Talk At MOPS

I am someone who doesn’t enjoy change.  On top of that, I’m fairly disciplined about most things in my life.  For example, I’m pretty disciplined about my workout routine.  While training for three different marathons, I followed an 18-week written schedule, and I documented my progress on a spreadsheet.  For the most part, I stayed on track throughout the entire four months of training.  On the other hand, I would like to be more consistent in my prayer life.  It seems easy to pray at meal times and dinner times; however, I seem to fall short the rest of the day despite the scripture that calls for us to pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17).

The topic of discipline is multifaceted.  We often talk about living a disciplined life (“When it comes to working out, that guy is sure disciplined”).  Last night, Leanne and I had the opportunity to share at a MOPS (Mothers Of Pre-Schoolers) on the topic of discipline.  In this session, we will talk about the reasons we discipline our children.  As we delved into this subject, there are a few things we kept in mind.  First, we discipline our children because we love them (not because we want to be mean).  Second, God has placed us in a position of authority to help protect and guide our children while giving them clear and safe boundaries. While we were asked to speak as “experts” on the subject, it’s important to understand that we’re not perfect.  Our parents weren’t perfect in the parenting, and I’m sure if you’re reading this that you’re not a perfect parent either.  It’s important to understand though that we can make a difference in the lives of our kids if we decide to take this subject seriously.  We all have different backgrounds when it comes to the subject of discipline.  As couples, it’s important that we get on this same page, so we can be unified in our approach to discipline.

Here are a couple of passages from the Bible to get us thinking about this subject:

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as children? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his child.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate children at all. Moreover, we have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!  Our parents disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:5-1

My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.   Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around your neck.   When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you.   For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life,  Proverbs 6:20-23

Here are some of the key points from our talk last night:

  • We discipline our kids because we love them.  “If you love your children, you will be prompt to discipline them.”  Proverbs 13:24
  • Discipline is NOT meant to harm our children – “Fathers do not exasperate your children.”  Discipline is not meant to scar; it’s meant to correct.
  • Help them make good choices in the future – shape their hearts (help them understand what they did was wrong).  When we discipline our children, it’s important to talk and to pray together.
  • When we discipline our children, the punishment should fit the age of the child and the “crime.”
  • Sometimes living with the consequences of their actions is the appropriate discipline for an inappropriate action by our children.
  • Consistency is critical.  We create confusion in boundaries and expectations when we aren’t consistent.  Also, we notice that when things aren’t going right in our home, it’s often a sign of inconsistency on our parts.
  • Through discipline, we have an opportunity to teach our kids about God’s grace.

Here’s the cool thing.  If you feel like you’re not getting it right when it comes to discipline, today is a new day.  You can change your family for eternity – starting today – by how you approach discipline.

What did discipline look like in your home when you were growing up?  If you’re a parent, what does discipline look like now?  In what areas do you need some work?

Managing Conflict – A Leadership Stretch … Guest Post by Frank Chiapperino

Today is a big deal for me!  I get to share Frank Chiapperino with my readers.  Frank is a great friend who has my deepest respect.  Frank has a huge heart for leadership and for connecting people to each other and to God.  For several years, I served on Frank’s small group ministry team at our church in Pennsylvania.  I’ve had the privilege of hitting a few conferences with Frank, catching several breakfasts and lunches with him, and sharing leadership/social media/blogging ideas.  Frank is probably the biggest reason that I started The Stretched Blog.  Frank is now pastoring a church in Minnesota, but we still keep in touch from time to time.  You can follow Frank on Twitter or at one of his two blogs – Frank Chiapperino and  Check out these sites and become one of his regular readers.

(If you’re interested in sharing your STRETCHING story as a guest blogger here, drop me a comment so we can connect.)

Managing Conflict – A Leadership Stretch

I’m so delighted that Jon asked me to guest post on his blog.  I’ve known Jon for quite a few years and valued his friendship as I served and led ministries at the church he attends in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  Currently I serve a church in Rochester, Minnesota and my role has changed.  What is stretching me now is leadership and managing conflict as our church works through change.

It kind of reminds me the challenges I navigate with my boys as a parent.  My boys are getting older and beginning to play together more and more often.  You know what that means… they fight more often too.  One time my wife Shelli made us some great french toast and we enjoyed breakfast together at the table as a family.  Shortly after, Shelli went up to shower and the boys were playing with cars and toys on their train table. They were enjoying themselves and seemed to be fine so I began reading today’s paper.

All of a sudden I hear my oldest son scream, “No AJ, NOOooooooo.”  Anthony (AJ) looked like King Kong on a path of destruction in the little town Michael had created on the train table.  Michael gave him a big shove and my youngest boy brandished his teeth like a german shepherd on the attack, going at his arm for the bite in defense. Luckily, I stepped in just in time and separated the construction engineer from the wrecking ball before any injuries occurred.  What I did next was set some ground rules for the boys. I gave them each a side on the table to play on and they each took a few toys to play with and asked them each to stay on their side. The rest of our morning was quite peaceful.

Sometimes as leaders we need to be a guiding presence and help others navigate through conflict. There are times I will have a staff member or another volunteer leader at our church call me and say, “Frank, I need help. There are some members of my team that are at each other’s throats.” For some strange reason they don’t share my joy when I say, “THAT IS GREAT!” When I manage conflict I normally start where many Christian leaders do, following Matthew chapter 18:

15″If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

  • Go to them privately and confront them on the issue
  • If a private discussion doesn’t work take a witness. That means someone who has seen the behavior you are speaking to them about.
  • If that doesn’t work attempt to involve church leadership to aid in resolution of the problem.
  • If that fails, end the relationship.

That is pretty much what Matthew lays out, and it is sound advice that works. However, I do have a few other guiding principles I follow that aid in confrontation and conflict resolution:

  • Be wise with your words. Everything you say in a confrontation will either escalate or de-escalate a conflict. Try to use words and responses that we de-escalate the tension.
  • Don’t discuss nameless people. Sometimes people will say, “Someone told me…” If they refuse to use actual names of real people, don’t acknowledge it as a leader in the church. It only leads to pointless discussion because you can’t get the real person behind whatever it is involved.
  • If you’re wrong, admit it right away. This is powerful in conflict resolution. Think about it for a minute. How often do you hear people actually admit they are wrong? Not often, it is a real sign of maturity and it will have an immediate affect on the situation.
I find these guiding principles useful and I hope you do too. By the way… take a look at the picture below. Can you tell which side of the table belonged to Michael and which side was AJ’s?–

What would you add to Frank’s list above when it comes to resolving conflict?

Guest Post – How To Have God’s Will For Your Life

Today, I have the honor of presenting Brandon Gilliland.  Brandon is a young leader with lots of passion and incredible talent.  He’s training to become a surgeon.  In his spare time, he plays the guitar, and he blogs about leadership, following Christ, playing the guitar, and becoming a surgeon.  Brandon currently writes at two blogs.  You can check them out here and here.  Please jump over and become one of his regular readers.

(If you’re interested in becoming a Stretched guest blogger, let me know in the comments, and I’ll get back to you.  I’m always looking for people to share their Stretching stories.)

How To Have God’s Will For Your Life

A question that encompasses many Christian’s lives is “How do I follow God’s will for my life?” I have wondered this myself many times. As a student on track to become a surgeon, I have many doubts in my mind. I commonly question myself the methods that I am going through. A few short months ago, a really questioned if this track was God’s will for my life. I sometimes still question it, but I am starting to discover that becoming a surgeon is what God desires for me to do with my life. It is a lot of work, but if it is God’s will for my life, He will give me the strength and the necessary opportunities that will ultimately allow me to become a surgeon.

Like I said earlier, there were a few moments when I was not sure what God’s will for my life entailed (on the career side of things). As Christians, we should desire to stay in God’s will for our lives. If we are truly following Christ, we should have the desire to please and serve Him.

If we are always questioning if what we are doing is God’s will, then how can we serve Him to our absolute best ability? The answer is rather simple: focus on God. This is easy to say, but it is not easy to live out on a daily basis. There are a few things that I have to remind myself of all the time to be able to be assured that I am living God’s will for my life.


First off, prayer is important. If prayer is not an important part of your life, you can be certain that you are not in God’s will. If you are not on the same wavelength as God, you are not going to make the decisions that He wants you to make.

“Pray without ceasing…”

-1 Thessalonians 5:17

Keep the Main Goal in Mind

After prayer is an important part of your life, you need to keep the main goal in mind. Obviously, this goal can not be set properly without consulting God first. When you believe that God has revealed to you a certain goal after you have prayed about it, you can begin to focus on that goal. Go can desire something else, but you can have the right thought pattern. That leads us to the next point…

“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.”

-Colossians 3:2

Focus on the Small Things

Ultimately, it is essential to know God’s main goal, but it is not beneficial to focus entirely on it. If you focus too much on the main goal, you can begin to drift. Instead, it is important to focus on the small tasks that lead to the ultimate goal. This method insures that you can follow God’s will. If you are doing everything that God wants you to do at every moment, you can be 100% sure that you are in God’s will for your life.

That is the problem though. We do not always pray. We do not always focus on God. We are not always on God’s wavelength.

This is the reason why we can stray from God’s will. He desires so much more for us, but sometimes we give up on the blessings He has for us.

What do you need to follow God’s will on?

Don’t Hold A Press Conference

We all like to be noticed.  We all like to be recognized for doing something good.  We like to hear people say, “Good job.”  We want the praise of man.  I think this is a normal human desire.

The other day, I was reading in Matthew 6 which is part of the Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus.  In part of this sermon, Jesus talks about how we should give to the needy, how we should pray, and how we should go about fasting.  Three times in this passage Christ says, “Then your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  When we give to the needy, when we pray, and when we fast, we should do these acts so no one knows but God.  We want the recognition.  We want to hold a press conference when we do these things.  But Christ tells us to keep it between God and us.  Surely, God’s reward is far greater than any recognition we get from man.

As a blogger this is a huge topic to ponder.  I often blog about the activities of my family including the activities related to serving others.  I hope that my main motivation in sharing these things is to encourage others to find ways to serve with their families, but I confess that there may be a part of my motivation that wants to hear others say, “Your family is so good.  You are a great parent.  You and Leanne do such a great job.”  These compliments do mean a lot, but my suspicion is that these praises of people pale in comparison to the reward that God promises.

Ultimately, I want to glorify God.  Whether it’s giving to the needy, praying, fasting, working, running, blogging, or whatever, I want my thoughts and actions to bring glory to God.

And so I stretch!  (In a year of being transformed, transformation of my motives is a great place to start.)

What do you think?  Do you struggle with seeking the praise of people?  How do you fight this?

Top Posts of 2011 Number 2 – Ten Things Every Small Group Leader Should Know

We are down to the top two Stretched posts from 2011.  Sharing these top posts provides an excellent opportunity for me to take a small break during the holidays, and it also provides an incredible opportunity for you to catch up on things you may have missed over the past year.  I hope you’ll hop on over to the original post, so you can read the entire post and add your comments to the existing comments string.

The 2nd most popular Stretched post from 2011 was post written to help small group leaders.  The post is titled Ten Things Every Small Group Leader Should Know.  Here’s an excerpt to get you going:

Ten Things Every Small Group Leader Should Know

Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of sharing my thoughts to a group of small group leaders at our church.  I shared 5 of my ideas in an earlier post, but I thought you might enjoy hearing my complete list.  So here are my notes:

I’m excited about this opportunity to share.  If you don’t know me or if you haven’t figured it out, I’m extremely passionate about small groups.  I truly believe they can provide a path for connection to others and to God.  I also believe that small groups play an important role in accountability and discipleship.  In no way is this list the Bible of small group leaders. It’s just my thoughts based on my involvement with small groups in various capacities for nearly 20 years. I’ve participated in groups. I’ve led groups. I’ve led group leaders. And I even had the privilege of leading a team of coaches.  (I was also brought up in a home where small groups were important and modeled by my parents.)  As I share my ideas, I’d encourage you to take a few notes.  So here goes:

1.  Small group leaders are important.  They play a big part in helping people find community, find God, and find growth.  If you are a small group leader, you need to know that what you do matters.

2.  Small group leaders set the tone.  Whether or not you consider yourself a Biblical scholar, your group members look to you as an example.  For this reason, it’s important that small group leaders continue to model growth.  They should be in the Word.  They should develop disciplines that model growth.  Small group leaders aren’t perfect, but they must find others who will hold them accountable to setting the tone.

To read the rest of this post, head on over to the original Ten Things Every Small Group Leader Should Know post.

Are you in a small group?  Tell us about it!

What Every Small Group Leader Should Know


Do you want to become a stronger leader?

Are you involved in group life ministry?

Next month, I’ve been invited to speak at a small group leader gathering at our church.  I’ve been asked to share my top 10 list of things that every small group leader should know.  I’m excited about this opportunity.  If you haven’t figured it out, I’m extremely passionate about small groups.  I truly believe they can provide a path for connection to others and to God.  I also believe that small groups play an important role in accountability and discipleship.  So I haven’t formulated my full list, but I’ve begun to process what I will share.

1.  The small group leaders are important.  They play a big part in helping people find community, find God, and find growth.  If you are a small group leader, you need to know that what you do matters.

2.  Small group leaders set the tone.  Whether or not you consider yourself a Biblical scholar, your group members look to you as an example.  For this reason, it’s important that small group leaders continue to model growth.  They should be in the Word.  They should develop disciplines that model growth.  Small group leaders aren’t perfect, but they must find others who will hold them accountable to setting the tone.

3.  Small groups are not about small group leaders.  Small groups aren’t meant to showcase your incredible “holiness” or biblical knowledge.  Small groups aren’t meant to show off how great you are as a leader.  Small groups are about the group – about pointing people to God.

4.  Small group leaders aren’t supposed to live on an island.  Leaders must find ways to stay strong and spiritually fervent.  They must also have a support team to provide guidance when small group life gets tough – and it usually will.

5.  Small group leaders must be invitational.  Intimacy and transparency in groups can be great, but it shouldn’t be an excuse not to invite others into the group.  I’m a big proponent of the “open chair” policy in small groups.  If you’re a small group leader, set the tone.  Make sure there is always an open chair in your group for new group members and guests.  Talk about it with your group.  Don’t let it be optional.

These are just some of my initial thoughts.  I’d love to hear what you think.

What would you add to the list?  What do you think every small group leader should know?

Book Review: Hell Is Real (But I Hate To Admit It) by Brian Jones


Brian Jones‘ third book, Hell Is Real (But I Hate To Admit It), came out a few weeks ago.  In Hell Is Real, Brian takes a different look at the topic of hell than other recent books that have raised some eyebrows like Love Wins by Rob Bell and responses to Bell’s book like Francis Chan‘s Erasing Hell.

Brian opens the book by explaining his own four-year period following seminary when he didn’t believe in hell.  From here, Brian goes on to explain that not only is hell real, but many people are heading there if they don’t find Christ and decide to follow Him.  He also shares his belief that many Christ followers lack what he calls apocalyptic urgency – an all-consuming urgency that hell is real and Christ’s message must be shared.  The real motive behind Brian’s latest book is to provide encouragement and practical tools for Christ followers to share their faith with others and to help save them from the eternal wrath of hell.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t crazy about the title of this book when I first picked it up.  The titles of Brian’s first two books, Second Guessing God and Getting Rid of the Gorilla, made more sense to me initially.  But after reading Hell Is Real, I get it now.  Hell Is Real is a quick read as Brian uses his story telling skills to weave stories in with his overall message.  But Hell Is Real is also very challenging.  I finished the book pondering and challenged to examine my relationships and to be strategic in sharing the message of Christ.

I definitely recommend Hell Is Real (But I Hate To Admit It).  I think it will change the way you think about sharing your faith.

How would you change the way you live if you really grasped the fact that your time left on earth was fading quickly?

(If you’re interested in getting small group discussion guides for Hell Is Real or other materials for making the most of your read, go to the website for the book by clicking here.  My small group is using the small group questions found at this site to discuss this topic.)