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« Being Your Kid's Life Coach | Main | Not Created To Be A Victim »
Wednesday
Jan162013

No More Mr. Nice Group  

No More Mr. Nice Group

Five practices that take small groups beyond polite sharing

 to the disciplines that change lives.

by John Ortberg  in Leadership journal

(NOTE: Below is an article I edited down.  I thought it was an excellent article but suspected many people would find it too long.  Hopefully this will provide a powerful lesson at a quick glance)

God has entrusted us with his most precious treasure—people. He asks us to shepherd and mold them into strong disciples, with brave faith, and good character. I would not give my life to any church that was not serious about this calling—the transformation of human beings. God has decided, for his own good reasons, that people are not transformed outside of community…

When we are alone, it's easy to think, incorrectly, that we are spiritually advanced. I can watch a Hallmark commercial alone and find myself moved to tears. I tell myself that I am a very compassionate person. But when I spend time in community with a person who annoys me, it's amazing how quickly I experience "compassion fatigue."

In community we discover who we really are and how much transformation we still require. This is why I am irrevocably committed to small groups. Through them we can accomplish our God-entrusted work to transform human beings.

However, experience tells us that simply meeting with a small group does not automatically result in spiritual growth. There are certain practices that must be present, spiritual disciplines that must occur, to facilitate the transforming work of Christ in us. The presence of these things is what makes the difference between all-too-typical small groups, and life-transforming communities of spiritual formation.

Confession: remove the masks

We all wear masks. We hide from each other. It's part of our fallenness. That is why one of the most formative practices in a small group is confession. Confession is the appropriate disclosure of my brokenness, temptations, sin, and victories for the purpose of healing, forgiveness, and spiritual growth. Without confession we are a community hiding from the truth.

We need to avoid "confession killers" in our groups. These include the inappropriate use of humor. Some people are embarrassed by deep honesty, so they may mock the person confessing or diffuse the atmosphere with a joke. It sends a signal that this is not a safe place to confess, and the masks go back on.

Judgmental statements also shut down confession. I recall a small group where a man admitted his struggle with lust. That was a risk, and then someone else said, "I can't relate to that struggle at all." I wanted to say to that guy, What kind of hormonally challenged, repressed robot are you? His statement shut down an opportunity for new openness in the group.

To see real transformation, small groups must begin with reality. By removing our masks through the discipline of confession, we acknowledge the reality of who we are and open ourselves to God's transforming work.

Application: look in the mirror

James 1:23 says, "Those who listen to the word, but do not do what it says, are like people who look at their faces in the mirror, and after looking at themselves, go away and immediately forget what they look like." A small group is a place for people to look into the mirror, discover who they are, and then ask, "How do I apply God's word to my life as it really is?"

As a teacher I am regularly astonished by people's ability to hear a sermon, nod at it, be moved by it, write it down, and then do precisely the opposite of what they heard. This frequent occurrence shows the extent to which people need painstaking, patient, and careful application of Scripture to their daily lives.

What we desperately need are small groups to be schools of life. Imagine someone has a problem with anger—a small group leader should ask them: "What kinds of situations tend to get you angry, and how do you respond?" Give them some alternatives to sinful patterns of anger. Roleplay these situations in the small group. Then next week ask, "How did it go?" If they got it right, celebrate it. If they didn't, investigate what happened, and encourage them to do it differently next time.

Accountability: stand on the scale

I have made certain commitments about food and exercise in my life, but how serious I am about those commitments is difficult to determine without measuring my progress. A scale serves as a tool of accountability for me. Am I achieving my goal, or am I missing it? Ultimately the scale reveals how effective I have been in living up to my commitment.

Small groups are the place for people to get on the scale and reveal how intentional they have been to pursue transformation into the image of Christ. William Paulson writes, "It is unlikely that we will deepen our relationship with God in a casual or haphazard manner." I think he understates it. People do not drift into full devotion to Christ. People do not drift into becoming loving, joy-filled, patient, winsome, world changers. It requires intention and effort.

Guidance: follow the map

When people need directions to a place they have never been, they use a map. Too often when people have major life-forming decisions to make, they make them alone.

In every church there are people facing decisions about vocations, ministry involvement, finances, relocation, and relationships. How sad if they make these decisions without the benefit of community. Their decisions may be impulsive, emotional, based on too little information. The result is too many broken lives.

The small group is to be where we find guidance, where we help each other learn how to listen to God. Small groups who rely upon God's Spirit serve as a map for us when making important decisions.

Encouragement: embrace each other

A hug is a gesture of love and encouragement. An embrace represents what we all need from a community of transformation. We need to know that someone is committed to us and loves us. That cannot happen when we are alone, and it cannot happen in a large gathering. It's going to happen through smaller communities.

Today small groups have the privilege of loving and accepting human beings for whom Christ gave his life. In these groups we can supply the love, encouragement, and embrace people need to continue their journey of transformation.

Spiritual formation in community is mostly about loving people, and that is something we can do.

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    BRUCE’S RAMBLINGS - Journal - No More Mr. Nice Group