A funny thing happened on the way to my blog…

A few years back, our church community went a bit “blog crazy.”

Every ministry was encouraged to start it’s own blog.

Since I am responsible for three different ministry areas, this meant starting three new blogs in addition to my personal blog. While I won’t explore the journey I’ve had with those other blogs here, a funny thing happened on the way to this blog on small group life:

My target audience seems much more happy to engage in dynamic, face-to-face contact and communication than follow a blog about small group life and interact there through comments and replies.

Go figure.

Adding that to my growing sense that I need to simplify my blogging life led to a very simple conclusion:

It’s time to close the loop on this blog.

Small group life topics will continue to emerge on the screen of my heart, and they will find expression on my wordhavering blog – my personal blog where I can be a little more random and ranging with poetry posts, theological musings, quotes, pictures or whatever strikes my fancy. If you’ve followed me here (thank you!), I invite you to check me out there – as well as to check out my daily reflections blog where I “haver” my way through Scripture in posts five days a week.

So there you go.

This balcony may be closed here, but keep the conversations going.

Read more.
Judge less.
Love deep.
Live large.

keep moving


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small group: the place where we can share the voices in our head

I’ve been reading the book Start by Jon Acuff. Love his way with words, the rhythms Startand laughter of his heart. 

Came across this bit of wisdom in dealing with our “inner voice” (why is our inner voice generally so negative?!) and it’s connection with the community and connection that can be found in small group life. New definition of a healthy small group: a safe place to share what the voices in your head are saying — and to admit that you have them!

Thanks Mr. Acuff…

So if you’re going to tell your voices, “Kick rocks, punk,” you’ve got to share them with other people.

Now, this is clearly a pretty easy thing to do. You’re going to want to roll up to Starbucks, order a skinny extra hot Venti Vanilla Latte, and when the barista asks, “Do you want your receipt?” say, “No, I don’t need my receipt. What I need is to stop listening to these voices in my head that tell me there are already too many professional photographers in the world. Am I right? Do you hear voices too? No? Okay, I’ll just pay for my coffee and this Jason Mraz World Music CD bundle then. Thanks.”

It’s not easy to find folks to share your voices with. At the conferences I throw, we do that as an exercise. We do a whole session on it, and the tenor of the room changes as people start to realize they’re not alone and that everyone has the same doubts and fear.
You’ve got to tell your close friends or family or a counselor about your voices. The exact person will be different for everyone who reads this book, but never waste time trying to battle a voice alone. In some cases that voice of fear and doubt will have had a ten-year head start on you.

Don’t go it alone.

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Yes, Storytelling is a Spiritual Practice

Speaking of stories, this past Tuesday night at our “unleashed” group of Jesus misfits, we had a collective epiphany.

It’s been far too long since we just sat and listened to someone reading a story.TNG with Angella Tiffany and the Quiltmaker

Angella (yes, with two “l”s) dropped by to share a bit about Feeding God’s Children and the opportunity for our group to share in service together, build relationships, practice generosity with our time, simply practice the kindness of Jesus one Sunday a month as we help feed the homeless in Julia Davis Park in the afternoon. And she had the great wisdom not to simply deliver a sales pitch.

She read us a story.

In a rocking chair, no less.

I had wondered how it would go over. What pleasantly surprised me was how you could quiltmakers_gifthear a pin drop in the room as she read The Quiltmaker’s Gift

Storytelling is a primal human activity — it’s a primal God activity. It’s the way he’s wired us. And Jesus never taught without one.

Too many of us are like Lincoln’s secretary who yelled out, “A story. You’re going to tell another story. I can’t take another one of your stories!” But Lincoln’s stories are probably what I love most about him – and why if I had to choose a favorite president, it would be him.

During these week’s we are exploring spiritual practices and disciplines, here’s one to consider trying with your group. Relish a good story together, and look for the God story in it.

I happen to know Angella would love to pay your group a visit to read one.

(To contact Angella about making a group visit or about the details concerning Feeding God’s Children, you can email her at atiffany27@gmail.com)



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It’s the Story, Stupid

I didn’t even have an obituary when I walked into the room.Storytelling-Here

I met Phil several times, but didn’t know him well – and apart from his grieving wife and sister, and a few others, I didn’t know anyone else in the room.

No plan.

No script.

What to do.

I certainly could have run the standard funeral “play” – sprinkle in a bit of Ecclesiastes, a dash of Psalm 23, a cup of Corinthians or Thessalonians, according to taste, top it with prayer, shake a few hands, and then be on my way.

But I decided to listen instead (though I did open with a reading of the Ecclesiastes 3 “time to be born, time to die” passage because it seemed like a good way to get things going).

I called for the slideshow to get Phil before us.

Then I invited anyone who wished in this small group of some 25-30 souls to share their memories, thoughts, and feelings about Phil as I stood off to the side.

The room ebbed and flowed with story. The story of Phil came to life, and after listening and seeing, found that I had a thing or two to say, hopefully enhancing the stories shared, rather than graffiti-ing over them.

The experience reconfirmed a growing conviction in me: my job in officiating a funeral is simply to provide space for family and friends to weep tears of joy and sorrow as I help them tell the story of the one who has passed.

It’s not about a fine oration or a convicting sermon. It’s not my moment, it’s theirs. The story is the sermon at such a moment.

The same holds true with every small group encounter. People don’t just occupy that living room or stand around that table munching on cookies or sipping tea. Stories do. Every small group is a room full of stories, and the small group leader is charged with making space for one or more of them to be vividly expressed and unfurled.

Small group leaders are not effective storytellers. They empower others to tell their story and help make space – expectant, loving, tender space – for that story to be told. On the most basic level, small group leaders don’t prepare or deliver lessons, they look for the story that is the centerpiece for which all their words and comments are merely the frame.

As you approach your next gathering, there’s a simple question to ask: Lord, what is the story that you would unearth in this room today?

Look for the story.

Pray for the story.

And when you see it, stand to the side, and let it unfold…


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dealing with our inner Pharaoh

The key text for tomorrow’s ReGroup (during first service, in auditorium 1) as we continue

"pharaonic complex."  yeah, not so much

“pharaonic complex.” yeah, not so much

exploring the biblical foundations for small group ministry. It’s been observed that it’s one thing to get the people out of Egypt, another to get Egypt out of the people. Here we see it’s yet another thing to get Pharaoh out of us. Dealing with our Pharaonic complex. Empowering mutual, shared circles of life rather than building pyramids dependent on me.

Just a wee bit of a challenge…

Small group peeps, would love to see your face tomorrow…

18 1-4 Jethro, priest of Midian and father-in-law to Moses, heard the report of all that God had done for Moses and Israel his people, the news that God had delivered Israel from Egypt. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken in Zipporah, Moses’ wife who had been sent back home, and her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (Sojourner) for he had said, “I’m a sojourner in a foreign land”; the name of the other was Eliezer (God’s-Help) because “The God of my father is my help and saved me from death by Pharaoh.”

because when you read "Jethro" some of you are thinking this. just admit it.

because when you read “Jethro” some of you are thinking this. just admit it.

5-6 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought Moses his sons and his wife there in the wilderness where he was camped at the mountain of God. He had sent a message ahead to Moses: “I, your father-in-law, am coming to you with your wife and two sons.”

7-8 Moses went out to welcome his father-in-law. He bowed to him and kissed him. Each asked the other how things had been with him. Then they went into the tent. Moses told his father-in-law the story of all that God had done to Pharaoh and Egypt in helping Israel, all the trouble they had experienced on the journey, and how God had delivered them.

9-11 Jethro was delighted in all the good that God had done for Israel in delivering them from Egyptian oppression. Jethro said, “Blessed be God who has delivered you from the power of Egypt and Pharaoh, who has delivered his people from the oppression of Egypt. Now I know that God is greater than all gods because he’s done this to all those who treated Israel arrogantly.”

12 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a Whole-Burnt-Offering and sacrifices to God. And Aaron, along with all the elders of Israel, came and ate the meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.

13-14 The next day Moses took his place to judge the people. People were standing before

Moses had a hard time going to work too

Moses had a hard time going to work too

him all day long, from morning to night. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What’s going on here? Why are you doing all this, and all by yourself, letting everybody line up before you from morning to night?”

15-16 Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me with questions about God. When something comes up, they come to me. I judge between a man and his neighbor and teach them God’s laws and instructions.”

17-23 Moses’ father-in-law said, “This is no way to go about it. You’ll burn out, and the people right along with you. This is way too much for you—you can’t do this alone. Now listen to me. Let me tell you how to do this so that God will be in this with you. Be there for the people before God, but let the matters of concern be presented to God. Your job is to teach them the rules and instructions, to show them how to live, what to do. And then you need to keep a sharp eye out for competent men—men who fear God, men of integrity, men who are incorruptible—and appoint them as leaders over groups organized by the thousand, by the hundred, by fifty, and by ten. They’ll be responsible for the everyday work of judging among the people. They’ll bring the hard cases to you, but in the routine cases they’ll be the judges. They will share your load and that will make it easier for you. If you handle the work this way, you’ll have the strength to carry out whatever God commands you, and the people in their settings will flourish also.”

24-27 Moses listened to the counsel of his father-in-law and did everything he said. Moses picked competent men from all Israel and set them as leaders over the people who were organized by the thousand, by the hundred, by fifty, and by ten. They took over the everyday work of judging among the people. They brought the hard cases to Moses, but in the routine cases they were the judges. Then Moses said good-bye to his father-in-law who went home to his own country.

beating the pharaonic complex. it can be slimy but satisfying.

beating the pharaonic complex. it can be slimy but satisfying.

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Dark-side leadership

Just a bit more Icenogle…some thoughts on what he calls “dark side” leadership.
We might call it “toxic.” It comes in many forms. Good lessons for all us small group peeps…

Dark-side leadership comes in many forms. For instance, “shared” leadership is very Icenogledifferent from “rotated” small group leadership. Leadership sharing is an intentional empowerment of group members who are able and willing to take initiative in the group. Rotated leadership is often the passing of leadership responsibility  to members whether or not they are able and willing. Sharing leadership evokes the brightest and the best the group has to give. Rotating leadership reduces the group to frequent forays into mediocrity.

There is a dark side to shared leadership. The dark side of shared leadership is anarchy. The word anarchy literally means “without a leader.” In this state, individual liberty is prized more highly than any cooperative form of group government. We read in Judges 21:25, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” This could have been good news if God had been at the center of the community, but the inference here in the text is that the people were constantly tempted to be centered in themselves or their tribal leaders. Most were not leaders who treasured face-to-face relationship with God, but many were isolating leaders who called groups only to themselves.

Israel’s human solution to their chaotic problem of anarchy was to move toward the establishment of tyranny.

Anarchy and tyranny are abandonments of healthy patterns for a small group on the way to shalom community. In the American culture where the “rugged individualist” is celebrated, even among Christian groups, these two dark-side styles of leadership tend to haunt the shadows of every gathering.

The anarchist who tries to lead a group will most likely use tyranny as an initial style of leadership, for the rugged individualist does not want to do “the group’s thing” or “another’s thing.” Such an individualist would most likely try to control the group with a “personal” agenda rather than help the group to discover “their” agenda together. This is what makes the way of American individualism such a rough road for a small group to travel.

Leadership is about having a dream; it is about being open to the dream God has given an individual or group.

small group merge sign

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The Group Leader Who Would Be King

Reading Icenogle this morning…

From Israel’s demand for a king, he muses about our tendency in small groups to move either towards anarchy or tyranny. Good food for thought, small group folk…Icenogle

Every group is tempted to appoint a king or allow a king to emerge. Almost every group has members who are tempted to be king and lord. Human leadership suffers the possibility of being seduced into an abuse of the first and second commandments. The people of God have always had to deal with a pervasive susceptibility of leaders to be deluded into making godlike decisions and taking godlike actions on behalf of the whole group.

Leadership is not lordship. Lordship is the holding and exercising of ultimate authority. The etymology of the English word lord is “loaf keeper.” The lord of the group is the person or system that provides the primary sources of nourishment for the group. It is that which ultimately provides sources of nourishment for the group. It is that which ultimately feeds and sustains the group. Lordship is therefore given the person or system that holds ultimate authority for the group. The Hebrew word most often translated by the word lord is Jehovah, which means “self-existent” or “eternal.” Jehovah is the Being who exists before all things – the Author of all created things. Every group has to ask itself the question: Who or what is lord of our group? Who or what is the author or creator of our group?

the chair we don't need in our group

the chair we don’t need in our group

The biblical answer to this question for the faithful small group is that God has called us together. We are constituted as a covenant community because the God of covenant has brought us together. This covenantal God is our Lord, who holds ultimate authority for the group. Healthy group leadership defers lordship to God and moves the group towards a wider sharing of leadership and dominion because God is the Lord who shares dominion with the humanity of creation.

When leadership is in touch with God’s creation agenda for humanity, there is a consistent movement toward men and women having mutual dominion in the guidance of groups.

The God-ordained vision of leadership-sharing tends to move a faithful and maturing small group from the paternal leading of the few to the communal leading of the many. Such is a clear sign that the rule of God is active in the group.


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small group life: possibilities and peril

“There is possibility and peril in every face-to-face encounter.”face to face

Love this quote from Icenogle’s Biblical Foundations for Small Group Ministry – which is the read we are sharing this year in our ReGroup meetings.

Chapter five of Icenogle’s book is centered on the small group experience that is the book of Job in the Old Testament. I had never thought of Job as the rather detailed (and poetic!) notes of the ultimate small group meeting! Some 40 chapters worth, to be precise.

It gives us a whole new way to experience Job.

Imagine the setting:

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him.  And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. (Job 2:11-13 | ESV)

Note: You know you’re in for it if Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are the names of your small group peeps…just sayin’.

Among other things, Icenogle points out that this was an intentional community (they made an appointment) gathering around Job to show him sympathy and support. They made a great start! Notice that they didn’t just sit with Job for the typical duration of our small group meetings (two hours) but for seven days. And they were overwhelmed with him. No word was spoken. They grieved with him openly, demonstratively.

Most of us would give our right arm for such a powerfully empathetic group.

But then they had to start talking.

And it’s not that talk is bad, it’s that it was toxic talk as empathy and sympathy turned to group coercion to straighten out Job and his thinking (and feelings!). Theological henpecking. I’ve often wondered how most of us would (and do) handle someone who in a group setting pours out such a bitter diatribe as Job does when he curses the day of his birth (Job 3). Could we just listen? or would we have to challenge and rebut?

Oh the possibilities and peril of every face-to-face encounter!

The good news is that, despite all the grief and angst this “small group meeting” inflicted on Job, it still became the setting for a radical face-to-face encounter with the living God. He still shows up in the midst of “two or three gathered in his name.”

Whether we are ready or not.

All small group leaders, co-leaders, hosts, facilitators, potential leaders, or small group enthusiasts of all stripes, come join us at the table for ReGroup this Sunday, March 3 during first service in auditorium 1. 

small group merge sign



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could be a great small group moment…

I’m really not kissing up. Really.

But I loved Trevor’s message yesterday! Love, love love.

Particularly when he got down to the shack (a shack not the shack nor Meshach) metaphorshack with the threefold options of “repair, regress, or replace.” Wow. It’s not just a case of this being a “nice sermon.” It’s a downright awesome (and I mean awe-some, not just awesome) diagnostic tool wrapped up in a powerful metaphor. The first point of application is, of course, personal. But beyond that, I’ve already referenced this three times in counseling and pastoring situations since yesterday.

Which is the point of this post for small groups.

Whatever your group might be studying and discussing these days, it just may be worth your while to watch the message again together (or for the first time) with your group. If time is an issue, just catch the last twenty minutes or so and start at 27:03 in the video.

And then take the diagnostic as a group.

Look at yourselves individually. Let couples look at their marriages. Then look at your own group status and identity.

rebuildingRepair. Regress. Replace.

Which approach are you taking overall in your own life? You marriage? Your group?

In each of these areas (and in any others that apply), what needs to collapse? What is in the process of collapsing? What has already collapsed? What is your strategy and approach for dealing with this collapse?

And perhaps most importantly answer that final question Trevor gave us: “What is Jesus working on today and how can you cooperate?”

How is his “temple” construction going in each of these areas? And very specifically how is it going in your group?

Taking a few moments together and really seeing and listening here could yield some pretty rich dividends.

Just saying.

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the proper habitat for truth…and no, it’s not your brain

Love this from Richard Rohr this morning.Thinking-Man

It’s worth chewing on.

We can be so cerebral in and about our faith, which often leads to combativeness rather than mutual celebration – and that essentially puts us in solitary confinement rather than community. Whole churches can be in solitary confinement!

It explains why we are drawn to groups, to dynamic face-to-face interaction. Or why we are not. If we have all knowledge but have not love, we have nothing.

The Gospel cannot happen in your head alone.

The gospel is about relationship. Unless there is someplace on this earth where it’s happening between you and another person, I don’t believe you have any criterion to judge whether it’s happening at all. Unless you’re in right relationship with at least one other person on this earth, unless there is some place you can give and receive love, I don’t think you have any reason to think you are giving or receiving divine love either.

Is there at least one place in your life where you are giving and receiving love? If it happens in one place, it can happen everywhere. If you are truly capable of loving one person, you’re capable of loving more than one, and eventually even your enemy, and finally all. Love is one piece. Thus, we rightly speak of being “in love” and Paul speaks of being “in Christ.” Love is all or nothing. You either express love or you don’t. The Scholastic philosopher, Josef Pieper, said it very well, “the proper habitat for truth is human relationship.” How we relate to anyone is how we relate to everything else, too.

small group merge sign

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