5 Ways to Have a God-Glorifying Small Group

Last week as I was shutting down my computer, I noticed a Facebook tag from my dear friend and fellow author/speaker, Pam Farrel. Pam leads a group called Seasoned Sisters, and you’ll be able to read all about how she started this mentoring group for women going through midlife in my new book Mentoring For All Seasons when it releases in September this year! Pam shares in it several stories about being mentored and being a mentor during transition seasons of her life.

Several months ago, Pam told me her Seasoned Sisters group wanted to read and discuss my latest book that Pam endorsed, Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten. They purchased the books, and then I got a message from her that more women wanted to join the group as the word got out how much they were enjoying my book. You know how this encouraged me and warmed my heart since my vision for Forsaken God? was for Christians to make a change for God in our culture by simply remembering how good God has been to them in their own lives. There are discussion questions after each chapter for group study, and the book isn’t just for women: it’s for all Christians!

So back to last week’s Facebook tag. Pam was meeting with her Seasons Sisters and they sent me a live video to say “Hi” and tell me what Forsaken God? has meant to them. Several comments: “Very timely! I don’t want to watch the news; I just want to read this book.” “Forsaken God? will put the headlines in perspective and give you God’s view.” Here’s the short video for you to watch yourself.

One woman said she had given the book to a waitress. I was blessed and encouraged. If you read last week’s blog post 10 Ways to Change Our Culture, you know my heart for motivating Christians to take a stand for God in their sphere of influence. I’m praying some of you thought there was at least one way you would apply to your life.

The Value of Small Groups / Bible Study Groups / Life Groups

Small groups or Bible study groups or life groups, whatever your church calls them, are the perfect place to mature in your faith and encourage each other to take your faith public, as we’re told to do in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

My husband and I met in a small group at Saddleback Church. He was the co-leader of a business group that included men, women, couples, and singles. It was my first experience in a small group, but Dave and I have been leading small groups and support groups (such as Praying for Your Prodigal Daughter) ever since. Sometimes we lead together, other times he might lead a men’s group and I’ll lead a women’s group. We’ve led groups at a mega church like Saddleback, and at the small church in the mountain community where we now live. Our favorite groups are couples groups.

Like every small group, some of our groups ran smoothly with everyone committed, and others had problems that we had to address for the good of the group. Here are five key areas where God taught us through trial and error how to have a small group that glorifies Him and enriches the spiritual life of all the group members.

  1. Create a safe place with confidentiality – Do members of your group feel like the group is a safe place where they can share openly without condemnation, criticism, or worrying that what they say will leave the group?

Prayer time can unintentionally become a gossip session. Members should feel confident that prayer requests or comments made during the meetings are not discussed outside of the group, without permission from all individuals involved.

Spouses should not share stories about each other without receiving permission, whether or not their spouse is present. To keep the group accountable in this area, when a spouse starts to talk about his or her spouse, the leader can say something like, “That sounds like a hubby [or wife] story. Hubby [or wife], do you want us to hear this?” And if he or she says no, then nix the story.

  1. Don’t Try to Fix Each Other – Are members trying to solve each other’s problems or give unsolicited advice?

Members shouldn’t try to speak into each other’s life unless asked to do so. Often a member just wants to share a difficult situation and is solely looking for compassion, understanding, and prayer. The group should listen respectfully, and possibly offer constructive and empathetic comments from their own experience, as long as those thoughts are biblically sound, and above all, encouraging. No quick fixes or “you shoulds.”

Sometimes members with difficult issues can dominate the entire meeting and that might be appropriate if someone is in an immediate crisis. But if this becomes a pattern, the leader/facilitator gently suggests that the member might benefit from speaking with pastors at the church or offer to talk privately and pray with him or her after the group.

  1. Set Clear Expectations and Request Commitment – Is everyone committed and giving priority to meetings and communicating in advance when they aren’t going to attend? Do all members have clear expectations of what they’re going to receive from the study, and are they in concert with the group?

Will it be a social fellowship group vs. a Bible study group, or a combination of the two?

Commitment and making meetings a high priority is imperative. Members shouldn’t have an “I’ll-be-there-if-I-can” attitude. Your goal is to become a spiritual family growing and doing life together, respectful of each other’s time and efforts.

There’s nothing more discouraging as a leader than to prepare for the group and then start receiving the phone calls and emails, often at the last minute, that members aren’t coming. One way to share the commitment and ownership of the group is to pass the facilitating of the group among the members. So it’s not always a leader/members group, but a group with everyone having a part in facilitating the meetings.

Make sure you have a group covenant that clearly states the purpose of the group and allow everyone an opportunity to express his or her expectations. This is also a good place to reemphasize confidentiality and commitment expectations.

  1. Maintain Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit—Do you spend enough time in the Word and let the Holy Spirit lead or are you rushing through studies to reach a goal?

Regardless of the focus or purpose of the group, everyone must be reading from the Bible every meeting. Members need to spend time in God’s Word and in prayer during the meetings and during the week for spiritual growth to occur.

It’s important to end at the agreed expected time so people can plan, but don’t be overly concerned how much material is covered each meeting. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead and expose just the right discussion for growth in everyone’s life.

  1. Encourage Active Group Participation – Is everyone doing his or her outside study material between meetings and participating in the discussion? Do some people never talk and others do all the talking?

It’s important for the health and growth of the group that everyone comes prepared if there is homework or reading between meetings, and that each member has an opportunity to participate in discussion.

A good way to engage people who tend to be quiet is to ask them to read a Scripture, and if it applies to a study question, that’s an open door to read their answer. Or to prevent them from feeling pressured to respond first, after some initial group discussion on the question, the leader/facilitator can invite their input. These suggestions also are effective in preventing the group from relying on the same group members for answers and discussion.

Small groups are vital to the spiritual growth and maturity of a church congregation, whether the church is large or small. It’s easy to get lost in a large church and not feel accountable, but a small group makes a big church small. In a small church, like where we are right now, small groups expand the ministry and teaching during the week and can make a small church seem like a large extended family.

What other things have you found to be a problem and/or helpful in keeping your small group effective and maturing together in Christ?

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All my books have discussion questions for groups. I’ve also written a Face to Face Bible Study Series for women. There are seven in the series and each one is a perfect length for summer study. Or there’s a First Place 4 Heath Bible study God’s Best for Your Life.

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Seek Community During Infertility

Yesterday was Easter, the hope that every Christian has of eternity because our Savior died on a cross and arose three days later. That’s the only true and meaningful purpose of Easter. Many families gather together to celebrate Easter and fun traditions for the kids are Easter baskets, Easter egg hunts, and the little ones all dressed up in their Easter outfits. And that is why Easter can be a heartache for a mommy-in-waiting who has dreamed of having a little one to do all those fun things with at Easter. Her life can seem hopeless, even in light of the hope of the Cross. A day that should fill her with joy, only reminds her more of her empty arms. It’s for that reason that some couples struggling with infertility avoid family gatherings at holidays. My daughter and step-daughter know about this personally as they shared in my book Dear God, Why Can’t I Have a Baby?

Today’s guest post is written by Lisa Newton, author of 31 Days of Prayer During Infertility:

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“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”- Galatians 6:2

When you’re struggling with infertility, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to connect with other women who are also dealing with it.

Oh, it can feel like a big risk to befriend someone else in similar circumstances as you. You may start to worry about what you’ll do if her treatments work and yours don’t. Or how do you tell her when you get pregnant and she’s still not? You might think that dealing with your own pain and your own suffering is hard enough. Why would you want to open yourself up to someone else’s pain, too?

But Galatians 6:2 directs us to share each others burdens. It doesnt make sense from our earthly perspective, but when we connect with others who are struggling our own burdens are eased in the process.

When I first received my infertility diagnosis, I kept it to myself. I didn’t share it with friends or family because I thought I needed privacy. I’m an introvert, so I often quote the verses that describe Jesus withdrawing to solitude in order to pray (Luke 5:16). But I came to realize God’s presence is near when we are in community (Matt. 18:20). His comfort, encouragement, and wisdom often comes to me through conversations I have with other infertility survivors.

And the fact is that Jesus’ entire public ministry happened with eleven other men—his community! So if I want to be more Christlike, I must seek out community. Now I can’t image walking this journey without the prayers, love, and support I receive from my infertility community.

The fact that you’re reading this post means that you’re open to the idea of hearing about other’s experiences with infertility. Let me encourage you to take it a step further and reach out. You don’t have to start your own blog and publish every detail of your experience. Just take a small step and share a part of your story with someone.

I’d love to connect with you over at my blog. There’s also a wonderful online infertility community on Twitter. If you’d prefer an in-person connection, check out the RESOLVE website to see if there’s an infertility group in your local area. Or, if you know of someone who’s currently suffering from infertility or has suffered from it in the past, ask them if they’d be willing to go out for coffee and talk a bit.

Be brave. Bear someone’s burdens. Have your own burdens eased in the process.

Have you experienced your burdens being eased by community? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.  

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Lisa Newton blogs about her infertility journey and the faith that gets her though it at AmateurNester.com. She lives with her husband, Tom, their orange cat, Hemingway, on the Central Coast of California. Shes the author of the 31 Days of Prayer During Infertility eBook and was a 2014 nominee for RESOLVE: The National Infertility Associations Hope Aware for Best Blog. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  

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Online Support Group

I have started a Facebook Praying for Your Parents of Prodigal Daughter support group. If you are on Facebook come join us, or join Facebook and then join us.

It is comforting to know that you are not alone and we have seen so many breakthroughs in the daughters represented in the support group we lead in our home.

The link for our online group is:

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=779413118&ref=profile#/group.php?gid=70693805644&ref=mf

I hope to see some of you in the group.
Keep Praying,
Janet

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