Forty years ago today I made the most important decision of my life. I stopped fighting and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Happy Birthday to Me! Photo Credit: Abby

Happy Birthday to Me!                                   Photo Credit: Flickr/Abby

Little did I know what that decision would mean. I was simply looking for a life preserver, a fire insurance policy. Since my friend, Jadene, had shared Jesus with me a few months before, I knew that day would come. I figured that when I hit bottom, I could just pull out Jesus – my “get out of jail free card” – and all would be well. It took me awhile to realize that I didn’t have to hit bottom. After all, how much lower could I go? And did I really want to go there?

I drove from San Francisco to the church her husband pastored in Fresno, and in a bucket of tears, surrendered my life to the Great Unknown. And that Great Unknown met me, right where I was. I didn’t have to clean up my act first. I just had to come.

Well, by the time I got back to San Francisco, He was already beginning to rearrange the furniture of my life. Within a week he threw me into a Christian singles group where I was loved, discipled, and given every opportunity to grow. And every time I said yes to an opportunity, they gave me another. Never since have I seen a better discipleship program, and these folks were all lay people, unpaid and untrained. But they nurtured me to maturity and laid a firm foundation for me. Many of these people are still my best friends, and one – the coordinator of the group – is my husband.

I want to offer a huge thank you to everyone who has played a part in my life over the past 40 years, and a monstrous thanks to Jesus, who rescued me from the miry pit and set my feet on solid ground. I couldn’t ask for a better life.

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3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Create a Safe Environment | Part 5

October 14, 2015 | Comments Off on 3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Create a Safe Environment | Part 5

The third element of discipleship is creating a safe environment. (See the introduction to this article here.)

Disciple-Making: Create a Safe Environment

Disciple-Making: Create a Safe Environment

Create a Safe Environment

Discipleship is personal, so it’s important to create a safe environment where disciples can explore and grow. Here are three tips for creating safety:

Meet in a Safe Place
It isn’t always easy to find physical space for small groups or one-on-one discipleship. If you have a family or roommates, your home may not have sufficient privacy. When crying or anger are involved, a coffee shop isn’t a good option. You may need to be creative, but you need to make sure that your disciples have the privacy needed for intimate conversations.

Stress Confidentiality
Often in a small group, I share something of my past or even my present that I don’t want broadcast beyond that setting. This actually goes both ways. You want to assure your group members that anything they say belongs to them and neither you nor anyone in the group will share it with anyone, anywhere. The only exception to that is if you believe the group member’s life or another life is in danger. Otherwise, they must know they can trust you—and you must be able to trust them.

Avoid Condemnation
Often you will observe or hear of unbiblical lifestyle choices that your disciples are making. If you condemn or sound like Mom or Dad, your disciples will bolt and little will be gained. Asking good questions instead is helpful. Explore the rationale. Do they not know this is wrong? Have they twisted Scripture to make it right? Have they even thought about it? Is it an addiction, a deeply ingrained habit, or a family trait? Once you know those answers you can begin to address the issue. But do so gently and patiently. People don’t change overnight, even if they want to.

Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way and lost a disciple who was dear to me because I came down too hard on her for a behavior that, in retrospect, wasn’t that big of a deal. Now I’m more careful to honor the image of God in each person, and I attempt to love and woo them into a better choice, even if it takes longer.

Discipleship can be one of the most rewarding opportunities for Christians. What a delight to see a person grow up into Christ and the faith! What a joy to see them take on leadership or ministry and become all God created them to be. And we benefit, too. We get to look at things with fresh eyes, which is energizing. But discipleship in groups won’t happen with intentionality and work. Are you up for the challenge?

This article was originally published on SmallGroups.com.

3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Introduction | Part 1

3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: What is Discipleship? |Part 2

3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Ask Good Questions | Part 3

3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Stress Application | Part 4

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3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Stress Application | Part 4

October 12, 2015 | Comments Off on 3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Stress Application | Part 4

The second element of disciple-making is stressing application. (See the introduction to this article here.)

The second element of disciple-making is stressing application.

The second element of disciple-making is stressing application.

Stress Application

It’s understandable to want to use a prepared Bible study. They often require much less preparation time. But few prepared studies will meet disciples where they are, and they seldom stress application. While it’s crucial to teach doctrine, teach it within the bounds of disciples’ immediate needs. Make sure that whatever you cover, the disciples know what to do with it in real life: How can they apply it at home, at work, or in their internal lives?

Beyond Gaining Knowledge

A key skill we need to teach our disciples is how to apply biblical principles to everyday questions and needs. The world is ready with answers to every question, so Christians need to know how to find the answers they need in Scripture. Of course not every answer is in the Bible, so disciples need to learn how to reason biblically—looking to Scripture rather than Dr. Phil.

Application is difficult not just because it sometimes doesn’t seem clear, but also because it often means we must act counter-culturally. We need to admit this difficulty to our disciples and walk with them through the challenge. Too many Christians prefer the wisdom of the world, assuming biblical solutions are old-fashioned, judgmental, or meaningless. We need to teach our disciples why and how to be countercultural.

Read Part 5 on Wednesday.

This article was originally published on SmallGroups.com.

3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Introduction | Part 1

3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: What is Discipleship? |Part 2

3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Ask Good Questions | Part 3

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3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Ask Good Questions | Part 3

October 9, 2015 | Comments Off on 3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Ask Good Questions | Part 3

The first element of discipleship is asking good questions. (See the introduction to this article here.)

Disciple-Making: Asking Good Questions

Disciple-Making: Asking Good Questions

Ask Good Questions

Whether you’re doing a prepared study in a small group or simply handling new believer questions, it’s important to ask good questions. Good questions move the conversation forward, call disciples to discover truth for themselves, require disciples to apply what they know of Scripture, challenge faulty worldviews, and keep disciples coming back for more. Of course, these are good tips for all small-group leaders. But if you have baby or immature Christians in your group, good questions become crucial.

Avoid Yes or No Answers
Questions that require only a yes, no, or other one-word answer won’t do much to facilitate conversation or discipleship. You’ll learn a lot more about disciples and their thought processes if you ask questions that require longer answers. Then you’ll be able to spot where their thinking goes off base, and thus be better able to offer insights.

Avoid Shaming
Any questions that could potentially shame disciples should be avoided—and watch your responses that could potentially shame. New believers, and even those who have been believers a long time, often have odd understandings of the faith. Rather than saying, “No, that’s wrong” or “How could you think that?” try asking, “Hmm, what do you think Paul would say to that?” or “Where do we read that in Scripture?” Point them back to Scripture to discover the truth for themselves in a way that encourages and empowers them rather than shames them.

Meet Disciples Where They Are
In the beginning, I had little interest in doctrine. I needed to know who Peter’s mother was (seriously!) and why I had to change my lifestyle. These leaders didn’t push me. They graciously answered my questions and gently led me to the more important issues of the faith. Today when I’m discipling someone either individually or in a group, I usually know pretty quickly what their issue is and what they need to do about it. But I don’t beat them over the head with it. (At least I try not to.) I let them take the lead, and gradually ask questions that move them to the deeper issues.

Read Part 4 on Monday.

This article was originally published on SmallGroups.com.

 

3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Introduction | Part 1

3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: What is Discipleship? |Part 2

 

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3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: What is Discipleship? |Part 2

October 7, 2015 | Comments Off on 3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: What is Discipleship? |Part 2

(See the introduction to this article here.)

What is Discipleship?

What is Discipleship?


What Is Discipleship?

Discipleship is both modeling and teaching Christians the principles of Scripture—including doctrine, prayer, Christian living, and worship. But the key is teaching Christians to live out those principles. Ephesians 4:12-15 explains it well as equipping “his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” It’s a lot like parenting: discipleship involves preparing a young Christian for Christian adulthood.

In discipleship we both teach and model what we want our disciples to learn, knowing that who we are is more important than what we teach. Monica, Susan, and the others taught me a lot, but it was their character that motivated me to grow up in the faith. I saw a maturity that I wanted, and I was willing to work for.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about discipleship. While discipleship happens in both formal and informal settings—and through all different techniques—I’ve found three keys to successful discipleship. We’ll discuss them over the next few days.

Read Part 3 on Friday

This article was originally published on SmallGroups.com.

3 Essentials for Disciple-Making: Introduction | Part 1

 

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Essentials of Disciple-Making

Essentials of Disciple-Making

 

Making Disciples

I had been a Christian for exactly one week when some people at a church I was trying out invited me to lunch. Having been a very successful (read: worldly) pagan, I had no idea what to expect. What I met was a group of crazy, wonderful, dedicated people who welcomed me with open arms, despite my decidedly un-Christian appearance. Kathleen invited me to a coffee hour at her home that evening. Luree invited me to dinner later in the week. Susan invited me to the women’s Bible study. And Monica offered to disciple me—whatever that was! And thus began my wild and wonderful ride of growing in Christ.

Monica and I were two busy professional women, but we’d meet for a quick dinner between work and meetings. In the beginning, she just answered all my questions. But in time, she began to shape my understanding of my new faith. She challenged my worldview and taught me how to think biblically. Monica became my safe person, one with whom I could expose my ignorance to her gracious correction. Eventually I did learn what discipleship was—and later I was able to disciple others.

Meanwhile, the women’s group also welcomed and encouraged me. There I learned to study the Bible and apply it to my very tumultuous life. This group had rotating leadership, and though I was happy to be an observer, Susan asked me to try my hand at leading after I’d been attending for six weeks. She encouraged me every step of the way, and you know what? I did it! It wasn’t my finest hour, but I led. And after that, they gave me more opportunities to lead, both in that small group and in the Sunday morning small groups—all because these women took seriously their responsibility to disciple me.

Read Part 2 Wednesday

This article was originally published on SmallGroups.com.

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Leading a Dynamic Bible Study

September 30, 2015 | Comments Off on Leading a Dynamic Bible Study

Diverse Students Praying

SmallGroups.com is offering their excellent training tool Leading a Dynamic Bible Study   for half price for a limited time. This is a package of five of their training packages, so offers you a treasure trove of resources–enough to train your leaders for a full year or more. I have several articles in the various sections. Here’s what SGN says about this tool.

Studying the Bible together is incredibly meaningful and rewarding, but it can also be a lot of work! How do you choose what to study? Should you use a guide or read directly from the Bible? How do you create engaging questions?

This Small Group Essentials Training Tool gives you everything you need to lead a dynamic Bible study. Learn how to prepare, lead a great discussion, interpret the Bible faithfully, and discuss basic doctrine. This resource is perfect for leaders to train themselves, for coaches or leaders to train another leader one-on-one, or for coaches or directors to train a team of leaders. The Get Started Guide shows you exactly how to maximize the comprehensive training included in this resource.

Choosing and Evaluating Bible Studies
Bible studies and other forms of curriculum are a big part of most small groups. The good news is that material for Bible studies and discussions is not hard to find. The bad news is that high quality, transformative Bible studies are rare. We provide assessments that help you identify which studies are of the highest quality before you distribute them to your small groups.

How to Prepare for a Bible Study
There are few elements more important to a small group than the act of gathering together to study God’s Word and its impact on our lives. Unfortunately, most group leaders receive very little training when it comes to the critical process of preparing study material for their groups. We’ll show you how to write great discussion questions, engage different learning styles, assign homework, and much more.

Leading a Great Small-Group Bible Study
Most churches’ small groups are study groups—mostly on the Bible. We’ll teach you how to create a climate of growth and community within your Bible study group, including ways to reach seekers. Find out methods of private Bible study to prepare for each group session, and discover how to guide stimulating discussions.

Discussing Doctrine and Theology
For many group leaders, doctrinal and theological discussions are frightening territory. But they don’t have to be. We’ll show you how to facilitate a theological discussion, and provide easy-to-follow Doctrinal Guides that clarify many confusing aspects of what Christians believe.

Exegesis and Hermeneutics for Small Groups
Unfortunately, exegesis and hermeneutics are terms often only found in seminary textbooks, and are not common with everyday Christians. But they should be-or at least their principles should be. The fact is that we all interpret the Bible every time we read it, and it’s helpful to have some principles to rely on so that we’re interpreting the Bible faithfully. We’ll help you better prepare for Bible study with your small group and give you tips on leading your small-group members in interpreting the Bible.

You have permission to make up to 1,000 copies of this resource for use within your local church.

 

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The State of the Small Group Movement

August 25, 2015 | Comments Off on The State of the Small Group Movement

SmallGroups.com has just released a thought-provoking free e-book on The State of the Small Group Movement.  The booklet takes a hard look at what’s working in small groups and what isn’t. Four authors are fairly critical of the movement, which seems to have delivered less than it promised over the years.

For example, Alan Danielson says, “The reason groups aren’t working in their church is because their approach to small groups doesn’t match the heartbeat of the church’s senior decision-makers.” I’ve certainly seen this in my own ministry. If senior staff or the board have a different vision, even if they aren’t small group experts, church-based groups won’t get off the ground.

Mick Mack interviewed small group veterans Lyman Coleman and Randall Neighbor about their experiences at the beginning of the small group movement, and what they see happening now. Neighbor says, “In the early days, the small-group movement was primarily an underground movement.” Coleman portrays himself as a maverick in the Christian-education world of the 1960s.”

Amy Jackson interviewed leaders at Quest Church, a multi-ethnic church in Seattle, dedicated to multi-ethnic small groups and racial reconciliation. Their leaders say that reconciliation has to get down to the level of relationship.

Do download the e-book. It will give you much food for thought about your small groups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sins We are OK With

August 20, 2015 | Comments Off on Sins We are OK With

Is All Sin Equal?

Is All Sin Equal?
Photo Credit: April

We hear a lot about sin these days. Especially those sins. You know. The sexual ones. It seems that it’s easy to point fingers and wag tongues about them. To create the us and them divisions that unfortunately, Christians are so known for. Now I’m not saying that those sins aren’t wrong. They most definitely are.

But before we cast the first stone, let’s make sure that we aren’t guilty of equally egregious sins. That’s right. God doesn’t classify sin into greater and lesser. To him, sin is sin.

What are some of the sins we often ignore in ourselves and our friends? Nine are discussed in 9 Sins the Church Is Okay With. This article would make a great discussion in your small group. What others can you add? I can think of a bunch of them. Maybe once we remove the log in our own eyes, we will be a bit more gracious to our friends engaged in those sins.

 

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Grin With Grace

August 14, 2015 | Comments Off on Grin With Grace

Grin With Grace by Kathy Carlton Willis

Grin With Grace by Kathy Carlton Willis

Sometimes I take myself a little too seriously. Sometimes I get offended a little to easily. Sometimes I judge a little too quickly. But admit it. You do too. We all need to appropriate a little grace.

Grin with Grace is a 12-week women’s bible study on grace by Kathy Carlton Willis. She has organized each study into five sections:

  • Grin with Grace contains real-life stories and observations. You’ll laugh at the humorous confessions and wacky insights, and relate to Kathy’s transparent honesty. Be inspired to see grace in your everyday life.
  • Grow with Grace features a grace word study. Kathy examines Bible verses and personalizes the meaning to your situation. Workbook prompts allows you to write down your thoughts as you read along.
  • Go with Grace offers life application. Pick one action step and make it work for you, or pick all of them—but do something to live out your grace-walk.
  • Give with Grace advances life application further, equipping you to become an instrument of God’s grace to others. You’ll be inspired to take what you’ve learned and give it away to others. This is when faith becomes ministry—when your focus expands to see the needs of others.
  • Your Grin with Grace Challenge describes a grace-challenging scenario to give you an opportunity to exercise your newfound grace. It allows for speculation and judgment calls, to prepare you for the what-ifs that happen in life.

This is the first is the Grin With…. series published by AMG. It’s billed as a study for women on the run, and I would agree. While the stories and examples are cute and charming, sometimes even compelling, they are fairly light for the type of study I like to lead. The questions are primarily objective and interpretive. They don’t require much digging, and in fact, the study could be done without opening your bible. The application questions are also somewhat light. The Grace Challenge at the end of the chapter is a hypothetical “what if,” rather than allowing the reader to challenge herself with her own real life issues. However, I do think that in a group with a good leader, this study could lead to some important growth and change. And we could all use a little grace in our lives.

 

 

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