Looking For Your Small Group Lesson Series Suggestions

I have started working on a new small group lessons series on the “One Another” passages in the Bible. It made me wonder what series topics/texts you guys would be most interested in doing if you could just pick something. So fire away in the comments with suggestions for future small group series. If there are common themes that come up, that is helpful so feel free to “amen” a suggestion someone else makes too.

Who Do You Think You Are? Finding Your True Identity in Christ

whodoyouthinkyouare-driscollIn a previous post I asked for input for a new small group series I am going to teach in the spring. In the middle of working on that series I ran across something that put it all in perspective for me. This piece of information showed me that I was starting a series with no foundation. The series is going to be called “Dealing with Life’s Difficulties” and is going to center in on dealing with difficult people, difficult situations and difficult decisions. Then I read this line from Mark Driscoll’s new book “Who Do You Think You Are?” that made a light bulb go off in my head,

As a parent and pastor, I believe that correctly knowing one’s true identity is the one thing that changes everything.

For years, I pastored and counseled people struggling with issues such as alcoholism, sexual perversion, pride, depression, anger, bitterness, and more. Often I felt as though I were talking to a wall because, though I gave biblical counsel, many people seemed to either not hear or not care and instead continued down a path of destruction. It was frustrating and heartbreaking. I felt there had to be a way to help people find freedom.

Then, thanks in large part to the wise words of older and more seasoned counselors, it dawned on me that underlying our struggles in life is the issue of our identity.

This world’s fundamental problem is that we don’t understand who we truly are–children of God made in his image–and define ourselves by any number of things other than Jesus. Only by knowing our false identity apart from Christ in relation to our true identity in him can we rightly deal with and overcome the issues in our lives.” (p.2)

Those words hit me like a ton of bricks because it showed me that I wasn’t starting in the right place. I was trying to jump to solutions and scriptural advice without first dealing with underlying/foundational identity formation issues. If people don’t really understand who they are, how will a few words from scripture help them get things worked out? So instead of launching straight into the series on dealing with difficulties, I am going to use Mark’s book as the basis for some curriculum and then jump into the other series. I guess you could think of this as an Ephesians approach (oddly enough Mark works through Ephesians in the book) in that it starts with all the information about who God is and who we are and how we relate to him and have identity in him (Eph 1-3) before diving into what we are supposed to do with all of that (Eph 4-6). Kind of came full circle there.

Wanting Your Input on a New Series of Small Group Lessons

I am writing the next set of curriculum for 2013 for our small groups. It is going to be called “Dealing with Life’s Difficulties” and will break down into three main categories:

  • Dealing with difficult situations
  • Dealing with difficult decisions
  • Dealing with difficult people

This is going to be intensely practical. I would like to hear some suggestions of what topics you think would be most important to hit on these subjects so we can use this series to give biblical guidance on how to get through it all. Please comment below with any suggestions you might have. Thanks guys!

Spiritual Transformation: More Information is Not the Answer

The Jews had the Law for 1300 years before Christ came. There were all kinds of details in the Law about how to live, what to do in various situations, and how to maintain holiness and deal with sin. As we know today, the Law was not sufficient. What did God do in its place? He could have just handed down more legal code. God could have had people pen more and more words and bombard the world with oodles of information via text. God chose to do something else. Instead, God sent his son, Jesus Christ into the world to embody/show us how to live and what the kingdom of God is really like. John 1 tells us that the word became flesh and dwelt among us.

I am afraid that we haven’t taken this example very seriously. When we are presented with a problem or issue in the church our knee-jerk reaction is more teaching when the reality is people still need to see the biblical kingdom priorities lived out among them. We think somehow if people hear about something more that change will happen automatically. Mike Breen says it like this,

“This is my fundamental issue with the ‘go deep’ kind of people. If I can make  mass generalizations for a moment, I see them this way: They want to go into the endless minutiae of scripture, which can be a good thing, but they rarely want to do anything with it. They think that knowing about something is the same thing as knowing something. They have bought into the lie that knowing more scripture changes you.

It doesn’t.

Doing what scripture says and responding to God’s voice changes you…If you are not actively seeking to live in it, you don’t really believe it.” (Breen, Multiplying Missional Leaders, 23)

We have a whole generation of young people who sat in Bible class twice a week who are no longer with us. If information was the solution they should have been rock solid. Information is foundational but left to itself, non-incarnated in the Christian community it is not enough. If we followed Jesus’ example we would develop people through more than Bible class. We would take time with people to walk alongside them, teach them, train them, and send them. That takes time and investment and that is what makes it difficult. But let me ask you this, how well has the time we have invested in our current model made disciples? (I probably subconsciously stole that question from Breen’s book somewhere). Breen’s approach has been to use information as well as apprenticeship/imitation of a more mature disciple. That is huge. That is the missing piece in much of the work we try to do to make disciples. Many of us have bought into the lie that more information = greater disciples to the neglect of time in the trenches with those we are discipling with the intent of launching them out. Much of our discipling works fosters too much dependence on a sole leader rather than maturing people to be, as Breen would say, leaders rather than program/ministry managers.

If this is something you would like more specifics on or have struggle with this yourself, I cannot recommend enough these two books:
Multiplying Missional Leaders
Building a Discipling Culture

Updated Jesus 101 Study

I have made revisions to the Jesus 101 study and wanted to let you know that and post the new pdf. This is the evangelistic study of Mark that we put together here at Northwest so that we can start getting more people engaged in Bible study with non-Christians. So far this study has been downloaded 140 times since I posted it last month with an additional 80 requests from the Spiritual Growth Workshop that I sent out via email yesterday! We have given out over 200 hard copies as well!

Bible class archive
Also, an update on the Bible class archive. This is a place where I gather Bible class and small group lessons from a bunch of talented guys and post it for others to download for free. We just broke the 3000 lesson mark! There have been over 55,000 pdf downloads so far! If you are using any of these lessons I would love to get feedback. It is always an encouragement to hear from someone who has used these lessons and were blessed by them.

Teaching Eutychus – A Helpful Book for Teachers and Group Leaders by Houston Heflin

Houston Heflin has just put out a book for teachers and small group leaders called Teaching Eutychus. We had Houston do a teaching seminar for us in January and it was excellent. Some of that material is reflected in this book but there is much more to it than that. This book helps you undertstand what it takes to be an effective teacher. He examines the perspective of those who are seeking a deeper faith and what they are looking for in class, in their teachers/group facilitators and how to go about implementing the tools to teach and lead effectively. I don’t think there is anything else out there quite like it.

In addition to adding tools to our teaching toolbox, Houston does an outstanding job discussing the character and integrity of the person of the teacher. He makes some excellent points of the importance of living out what we teach and the importance of integrity and transparency in the process of teaching that are worth the cost of the book alone.

Third, Houston discusses meta-cognition. How do people learn, think, process information and grow from that process. He has a good section on learning styles and how to creatively implement them into your teaching repertoire. I could list the rest of the contents of the book but I would rather you pick it up and read it for yourself. Right now it is just available for kindle/e-readers. If you don’t have one of those you can download one for your PC.

New Curriculum Posted – Living by Faith: Studies in Hebrews 11

I just posted a new small group series called Living by Faith: Studies in Hebrews 11. The study works through the stories of those mentioned in Hebrews 11 and ties us in with them and the ministry of Jesus as well as the early Christian and contemporary martyrs. Have a look…

Living By Faith

That makes the free curriculum posted on this blog: 900 lessons, 3000 pages, and 48,000 pdf downloads! Thanks to everyone who has downloaded and used this material.

Evaluating Lines of Communication

I was talking with a Marine last week who told me that at times they will ask someone on the mission what the mission is about and what they are going to do. If the enlisted man doesn’t have a clue then the lines of communication are broken and adjustments have to be made to make it effective again. If he can give a good explanation of what is going on then it is clear that the message and orders have been clearly communicated all the way down the chain of command.

I was thinking about what answers the small group leaders, Bible class teachers, deacons, etc would give to some questions about why we are doing the things we are doing. Do they have a vision that fits the whole body or only a vision that fits their particular ministry in isolation to the other ministries? If they don’t where has the chain of communication been broken and how do we fix it?

There are four main areas of investigation that I am going to be talking with our LIFE group leaders at Northwest about. Each of these areas comes with various questions that will help me understand what has been communicated to them and how they have understood what their ministry is all about. Here are the four areas:

1.      Defining the Purpose of your group – why are you meeting?

2.      Connecting people to your group – how will people get connected?

3.      Setting Healthy expectations – what are people expected/group leaders to do?

4.      Support – how will leaders get support to lead their groups well, handle conflict, etc?

I am going to ask our LIFE group leaders these questions and some sub questions next week and I am very curious what their answers are going to be. What it will tell me is not so much how “on the ball” our leaders are but how well I have communicated the vision and purpose of our groups to them. On page 72 of Andy Stanley’s book 7 Practices of Effective Ministry he writes, “As long as the win is unclear, you force your team to guess what a win looks like”. It is important we simplify things and make what is most important in our ministries crystal clear so there is no doubt what is happening and why we are doing it. It is also important to periodically assess how well that information has been communicated to the people who most need to hear it.

Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide

I received a free copy of Launching Missional Communities by Mike Breen and Alex Absalom. This is probably the most practical book I have seen since Willow Creek’s Leading Life Changing Small Groups which was their Small Group Leaders Manual. This book is all nuts and bolts of creating, maintaining and growing missional communities, even out of a traditional congregational model. I am going to be blogging about this book in the next few weeks but I wanted to go ahead and put the word out there that this is a solid and practical book. I can’t find a single page after the table of contents that doesn’t have practical and relevant information on it.

The reason I think this book is going to be so important (if people will become aware of it) is that many of us know what we grew up with or what we have inherited that doesn’t always address the world from a 21st century point of view and can be ineffective at outreach. The community we have known is what meets Sunday morning or at best in a small group. For most of us it is very hard to move beyond fellowship. It just doesn’t come naturally and we feel ill-prepared to come up with something different and effective. We know we are supposed to reach the lost but practically we don’t have anything in place to accomplish that. We know we are to reach out to the poor but it is usually little more than a line item in the budget. We know we are supposed to serve others and we hope members do that in their lives but the church doesn’t offer much structure or opportunity for that. This book can certainly give us some basics to change all of that and put wheels on our faith so we can back it out of the driveway that has typically been the Sunday morning assembly.

If you are in ministry or an elder please pick up a copy of this book. It is 29.99 available through the Missional Communities website. Click here to purchase. I get nothing out of your purchase other than knowing that you just made a good decision 🙂

You Move in the Direction of Your Most Dominant Thoughts

That was one of the most memorable quotes of my time at Harding Graduate School. Those words were spoken by John Ellas while teaching his class on Small Group Ministry. They have stuck with me because they are so true. The things we think about the most are the things we often engage in the most. If you think about baseball or football a lot, chances are you watch it on television. The things we think about are the things we tend to take action on. If you want someone to take action on something in particular the challenge is to get them to adopt whatever that is as part of their dominant thoughts and action will result. That is why clear and concise communication within a congregation is important. People are not going to move in a certain direction just because the leadership thinks its important. If you can get them to buy into the vision, see how they plug in and why they should, chances are you will have someone who will act accordingly. When no vision is cast, no buy in is achieved and communication breaks down, chances are you will have more pew fillers than not.

What is being communicated (or not) where you minister or worship and how do you see that playing out through the action/inaction of those in attendance?