We met under the cover of night. We slipped into our cars and cautiously veered around the road blocks – careful not to draw attention to ourselves. We communicated quietly or with our eyes so as not to make much noise. We handled the goods with care as we swiped the merchandise from it’s location and transported it to the designated area. By the time we had finished, we had relocated all the goods without any issues. Everyone had done their job flawlessly. The cops didn’t suspect anything. The items were delivered and we were safe in our homes celebrating a successful mission.
I love my Community Group! We successfully completed the mission described above last night. We delivered Christmas gifts to a needy family. For now, they live in a duplex that will be torn down in the next couple of months and so their streets are blocked off. We were able to bring a little joy to this family and even share the Gospel with them.
Thanks Jennifer! God needs more people scheming on His behalf! I’m happy to be a criminal for God’s glory! Thanks for the opportunity.
We just got back from a little trip with our Community Group (or “Life Group” as they will be called soon) and so I’ve been reflecting on some of our times together:
I love this group. We play together, serve together, worship/learn/grow together, and just do life together. They have been there for us in both good and bad times. Don’t get me wrong – cultivating these relationships hasn’t been easy. We’ve all worked at being intentional and made sacrifices, but in the end, it’s definitely worth it.
In general, we just enjoy being together and find ways to be together. I don’t think it matters what we’re doing near as much as just being together. In doing so, we “rub off” on one another and begin to share memories/experiences which shape us. Even our parenting skills are influenced as we watch how everyone else “does” it. These are the people I consciously choose as “influencers” in our lives and I will protect those relationships.
Here are just a few of the things we’ve experienced together so far:
Before my son Kasen had surgery earlier this summer, the kids from our group gathered around him and prayed for him. In this one act, they were an example for taking our burdens to the Lord. Their faith gave him more courage and their little prayers communicated their love and support for him. They taught him that God is in control and his faith was strengthened as he witnessed God answering those prayers.
When my truck broke down, one of the guys in our group came to my house to help with repairs – truly an answer to prayer. I’m not good with this sort of thing, but my friend is. This is how the body of Christ should function – each one offering his own gifts.
Some of them showed up to support me on the night I was leading a fundraiser for another organization I’m involved in. One of them actually serves on the board.
We volunteer together at the Pregnancy Help Center and work to be a blessing to one of our local schools. We also serve at our church together by cleaning the building and working behind the scenes.
The girls celebrate birthdays together and the men hang out and see movies together. We plan “Date Nights” together. Our kids play on the same soccer teams.
We go on trips/retreats together – Jellystone and Livingston.
We spontaneously decide to do things together – bike rides to the park for picnics.
We spend time praying for each other and study the Scriptures together. We have worked our way through a few books (Respectable Sins, The Praying Life) as well as sharing our own life stories with one another.
Prayer: LORD, Thank you for giving these people to us. They are instruments in Your hands to help keep our family on track. When they speak, I often hear Your voice. When we’re together I sense Your presence and know You are near. When we’re together, I feel safe to ask questions and wrestle with what it means to live as You have called us. These relationships give us opportunities to practice living out this call to love one another and I must admit that sometimes it can be difficult. I’m so grateful that You brought them to us and pray that You will continue to draw us into deeper relationships that will push us deeper into our relationship with You. AMEN.
In spite of her gifts as a communicator and writer, Heather Zempel is truly humble. She admits her mistakes and paints a picture of stumbling through the maze of small group ministry and leadership, but her passion and heart are also very clear. She loves people and isn’t afraid of a little mess – and in some cases a lot of mess. She doesn’t try to prescribe any particular model for building community but rather draws on her experiences (sometimes very funny) to give the reader some helpful tools for gaining a better perspective on your particular situation.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“I decided a couple years ago to stop trying to strike a balance [in my life] and to pursue life in rhythm instead.”
“People can find legitimate community and be discipled outside our structures.”
“Most people come into groups looking for social space; we encourage leaders to aim for taking their groups [beyond that] to personal space; and we hope individuals will look for intimate space opportunities with a select few inside the group.”
“We need to ensure that our routines don’t become routine.”
This is the best book I’ve ever read on small group ministry! If you’re a part of a small group or want to be, you should read this book!
Heather is actually a family friend, (As a child, Miranda played football with her every Thanksgiving. Mike was the all-time quarterback.) but. . . . well, nevermind – I can’t deny that I’m biased to this book, but it’s still the best I’ve ever read on community groups.
I am grateful for the people in my life who have been singing to me lately. They are reminding me of who I am. And quite honestly, I’ve been struggling with that a bit. I have needed singers in my life, and God has provided them for me. Let me explain:
The other day, I heard a story about a song. A story about identity. It is supposed to be true, but I can’t verify it. Either way, it’s got a great message. Here’s how it goes:
There is an African tribe where pregnant women go out into the wilderness with their friends to “hear the song of the child.” After hearing the song, they return and teach it to the tribe. When the baby is born, the whole tribe gathers to chant the song. As the child grows, he/she hears the whole tribe singing their song many times: when they start school, when they pass into adulthood, and when they get married. When they die, the tribe gathers around the death bed to sing them into eternity. Another time that the song is sung is when/if the child commits a crime or horrible act. The tribe calls them into the center of a circle and then sings their song to them – reminding them of who they are. It’s not sung with judgment, but with love and concern for the child who has forgotten who he is.
Alan Cohen (who I believe authored the original story) writes, “A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when you have forgotten it. Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused.”
I love the idea of reminding each other of our identity during those precious times of transition in our lives. And also when we have done something wrong, but I think there’s a crucial element missing in this story – Jesus. As a Christian, my identity is in Him, and Him alone. When I need to be reminded of my beauty, my wholeness, my innocence, and my purpose, I need to be reminded of Jesus. For I am only beautiful, whole, innocent, and given purpose as I find myself in Him. The “friend who knows my song and sings it to me” is Jesus. He knows me better than anyone and can remind me by speaking/singing through the voices of my brothers/sisters in Christ.
And for me, that’s exactly what He is doing in my life right now. I’m down and so He is using all my friends to remind me of who I am. My friends are singing to me and I am grateful to both them (the singers) and Jesus who is the one behind the song.
By the way, here’s a short list of what I know about my identity in Him: Who I Am in Christ
Clint Eastwood is truly a legend, but I must admit that I was never a really big fan. . . well, that is. . . until now. “Gran Torino” is a great film depicting many aspects of society today. As our world becomes more and more global, cultures collide – and Gran Torino illustrates this well. Earning it’s “R” rating for language and violence, this film is ultimately still about community, love, loss, and relationships between the most unlikely candidates. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but the end is a masterful expression of Jesus’ teaching in John 15:13. (Spoiler alert!!! Don’t look it up or click the link if you haven’t seen it. If you’re spiritual enough to have that verse memorized, well, I figure you’re also spiritual enough to forgive me for spoiling the ending for you.)
Anyway, I would highly recommend “Gran Torino” to any adult who can endure the language and enter into the cultures represented. The ultimate message is not only powerful, but one which is desperately needed in our world today.
“The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell describes the concept of the “Rule of 150.” I’ll try to give you a summary, but I’d recommend the book too.
In anthropological literature the number 150 shows up again and again. Out of 21 different tribes, the average number of people in their villages is 148.8. Military planners have arrived at a rule of thumb which states that no more than 200 men should be in a fighting unit together. Over the centuries they have discovered that you simply cannot get too many more than 150 men to know each other well enough to function well in working together. The human brain has even been tested and it’s based upon the neocortex ratio, estimates have been made that the maximum group size for humans is 147.8. A religious group called the Hutterites who have lived in self-sufficient communities together for hundreds of years have a strict policy that every time a community reaches 150, they split into two and start a new one. “Keeping things under 150 just seems to be the best and most efficient way to manage a group of people,” says Bill Gross, one of their leaders. A group of 150 can be knit together, but more than that and we become strangers. Fellowship gets lost.
Gladwell goes on to describe Gore Associates, the company that makes “Gore-Tex” fabric. At Gore, no one has a title. The idea is that everyone is on the same playing field – everyone matters. (Kind of reminds me of 1 Corinthians 12 and how the Body of Christ works.) People don’t have bosses, but mentors and sponsors. Salaries are determined collectively. There are no corner offices. Instead they use those “nice” spaces for conference rooms and public areas. They have a rate of turnover in their company that is a third the industry standard. “Bill” Gore, the founder of the company stumbled into the principal, but once said, “We found again and again that things get clumsy at a hundred and fifty,” and he made it the company goal to have no more than 150 employees at each plant. Long term planning is described as “put[ting] a hundred and fifty parking spaces in the lot, and when people start parking on the grass, we know it’s time to build a new plant.” Sometimes they build plants right across the parking lot fom one another, but it still kept the people separated enough to build their individual communities.
The Rule of 150 describes the kind of relationships where you know someone well enough that what they think of you matters. Robin Dunbar says that in a group of 150, “orders can be implemented and unruly behavior controlled on the basis of personal loyalties and direct man-to-man contacts.” Formal middle and upper management structures are not needed at a company like Gore ’cause in groups that size, informal personal relationships are much more effective. Peer pressure is much more effective than a boss. Another benefit is that when the sales guys know the manufacturing guys, he can go directly to them to discuss how best to serve their customers.
Imagine the implications of this theory. I wonder what the “break room” looks like at Gore? Probably doesn’t have all the little cliques like I remember seeing in the last break room I was in. I wonder how the church could benefit from these ideas? What happens to the community within a church at 150? What kinds of structures could we do away with if we worked towards multiple churches with no more than 150? Would things be more healthy and sustainable? Would we have the same kind of petty arguments? and if so, could they be handled differently, under this type of system? How would accountability be affected? I’m just wondering about some of this stuff, and thought I run it past you guys. Anyone else have any thoughts? How ’bout you Hans?
I’ve been reading “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell lately. So far, it’s a great book. I just thought I’d share one of the many ideas that I’ve been thinking about lately.
Gladwell says that much of what we remember is actually not stored in our brain, but outside our brains. He gives the example of phone numbers – most people don’t remember the actual number, but instead they remember that they can find the number in a phonebook/address book or actually in their phone memory. In the same way, a busy mom doesn’t remember how to fix the computer, but she remembers that she can go to her teenage son to fix it. He calls this kind of memory “joint memory” and argues that this is another reason divorce is so difficult. When one loses a spouse, one loses part of his/her joint memory and this feels like losing a part of yourself.
This “joint memory” idea was proven by a study which asked couples to remember 64 statements 5 minutes after looking at them. The couples who knew each other remembered many more of the statements than those who didn’t know each other. Those who knew each other well were able to mentally assign specific statements to each other based upon their interests/expertise’s. They only had to actually remember half as many statements because they knew their partner would remember the other part.
OK – what does this have to do with anything? Well, first of all I just thought it was interesting. This means that a larger family has a larger “joint memory.” How has the trend toward smaller families impacted this memory over time? How has it impacted the church? I mean, the church is supposed to be a family right? Do we have a collective joint memory?
The first 5 books ofthe Bible are evidence of this idea. These stories were passed down from generation to generation. They created an identity for the Jewish people. Everything they thought or did was impacted on some level by this identity – this “joint memory.” They learned the Scriptures together and understood their whole world as a community. As a community, they interpreted the Scriptures – and for that matter, they interpreted life as a community. Over the centuries, as the church has become more and more individualistic, what have we lost? What “joint memories” are we losing? Can we regain them? How can we build and grow true community like this again? How can we live together again and build our “joint memories” in such a way that our whole community identity is found in Christ?
Check out this video. I saw it on the Youth Specialties site and . . .well. . .in all honesty, I’m not sure what to think about it. It definitely makes me think though. That’s why I posted it here. Take a couple minutes to watch it, read my post below, and then respond. I’d love to know what you guys think.
I can pretty much agree with most of what the video is saying, but I’m not quite sure it’s the whole truth. I mean – Yes, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd screens have served to connect people to the world and even to each other to some degree. But they have also served to isolate people. And the 4th? Is it really promising that much freedom? It’s true that people can get their information wherever they are and that means they can be out with people and making REAL connections again, but what about the other side? For example: You’re out with your friends making REAL connections, but you keep getting text messages from other people. Are you truly present with your friends? or are you really somewhere else? Doesn’t this hinder REAL connections? And just because you’re out and about with people doesn’t mean you’re making REAL connections either. I’ve watched lots of students (I’m a youth minister) being completely isolated by their phones in the middle of a huge group of people.
In the end I guess this whole revolution is just another communication device. The church is just going to have to “man up” and find ways to do ministry within the cultural norms and forms of communication. I’m not sure what this revolution means to the world of ministry, but as a youth minister, I’m witnessing huge differences in the students of today compared to those even 5 years ago.
Rather than hiding in a bunker and pretending that nothing has changed, I think the church needs to discover how the 4th screen (texting, twitter, social networking, etc.) can be used to glorify God? How can the church use these new technologies to further His Kingdom? Or an even more elementary question – what is a REAL connection? What is community? Can a virtual community truly be a biblical community? What type of relationship/community is needed to honor God? What instruments/tools/technologies can help us to build those relationships/communities? Are these technologies appropriate for communicating the value/depth/glory of the Gospel? Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts. What do you guys think?
Don’t you just love the alliteration in that title? (Sorry, it’s doesn’t take much to distract me.)
I asked Mike Mathews to be my mentor for my next series of classes and he called me last week to arrange a time to get together. We had breakfast this morning and it was a great time. He cracks me up. He’s really gotten into this whole thing. He even did some of the assignments that I have done for class just so he could understand the material. It’s so good to have someone who cares enough about me to go to those kinds of lengths. Of course it doesn’t hurt that he has many of the same dreams as I in regards to being involved in a church plant.
Anyway, today we talked about our life stories. He did the exercise and shared much of his story with me. I knew alot of it, but was able to see a larger picture of what all God has done/used to make him the man that he is.
We also talked about church planting. We dreamed about what a church body should look like? And what kind of facility would be appropriate for it? He also shared a lot with me about National Community Church and how they’re doing ministry. He also said that he thought they were associated with the Acts 29 network. Whoa! That stopped me dead in my tracks. I have always thought that some sort of association/support is vital to a church plant and once I discovered Acts 29, I thought they’d be the kind of group I’d like to be connected to. To discover that NCC is connected to them is beautiful news. That means that my gut reactions about Acts 29 are probably right. We have friends who are are part of NCC and we could certainly talk to them about the whole association thing. I also can’t help but wonder if God is up to something else here too? It’s just like Him to pull people together in the most random ways so that He can be lifted up and glorified.
One of the thoughts that came out was in regards to technology in preaching. Throughout the years it’s been important to use technology as an instrument to carry the Gospel message to the world, and today it’s more important than ever ’cause technology is so integrated into our lives that we cannot separate ourselves from it. I was explaining that I really enjoy the interactive things I’ve experienced in school. We don’t sit at desks, but at tables in little communities. We can get on-line and download the same powerpoint presentations that we’re looking at on the screen that the teacher is using. (This allows for specific notes to be recorded on the presentation itself.) I also described to him how MTV does it’s request shows with scrolling comments made on-line at the bottom of the screen and phone calls “interrupting” the videos with people’s comments. (I’m not sure the viewers see it as an interruption – it’s all a part of the program to them.) Our discussion became about imagining a new way to preach. Rather than a completely planned out prepared sermon, why couldn’t the Scriptures be “discussed/preached” by a man who also responded to comments from others? (Why do we consider the sermon so important? Is it the sermon itself or the instruction and understanding it brings to the Word? Within our culture, is the sermon the best way to communicate the importance of the Gospel message?) It would take a very disciplined person, and certainly every comment couldn’t be addressed, but the interaction itself would engage the people in ways that I’ve certainly never experienced in a service. I think the “preacher/teacher/interviewee” would need to be very grounded in his subject matter to pull this off ’cause he could get all kinds of questions thrown at him. He would also need to be disciplined as far as knowing when to get to the point and get back to the Scriptures, and how to get to the real meat of the message too. This particular style might even allow for multiple “preacher/teachers” who could all be prepared for the topic. In some ways this might even end up looking like a talk show if you weren’t careful. I guess, what I’m imagining would be a delicate balance between a talk show and preaching. I wouldn’t want to lose to authority of good preaching, but I’m looking for ways to engage people in the process a bit more. It wouldn’t take a whole lot of work to prepare a venue for this kind of interaction either – just a WiFi connection and a chat room that could be monitored by some trustworthy person who would then relay the appropriate comments/questions to the main screen that the speaker was working from.
Anyway, he challenged me to start experimenting with this sort of thing. I’m not sure we could really pull it off with the youth program, because I don’t think many of our students have laptops, but I’d probably be surprised. I may start asking questions in our group which could lead down this road soon.
What do you guys think?
If you’re one of the youth in my church, tell me what you think? Should we try to do this? Do you have a laptop or access to one that you could bring to U-TURN?
All Christians proudly affirm the statement that we are created in the image of God, but what does it mean? What kind of impact does our understanding of this concept have on the way we live? or on our theology?
It’s from Genesis 1:26 – “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
There are about 5 major lines of thinking about what it means to be created in the image of God:
1. Content – We reflect God’s image in our personalities, intellect, emotions, ability to make judgments, etc.
2. Dominion – We reflect God’s image by the simple fact that we have been given dominion over the earth. The idea of stewardship is big with this one – because we are to take care of that which is His. (Notice the “dominion” context within the verse.)
3. Community – We reflect God’s image because we are social beings. This one focuses on the “our” part of the verse. Let “us” make man in “our” image. Since God is a communal God – three in one – a relational God – we are in His image as we relate to one another.
4. Representation – Now this one is a bit different and you’ve gotta understand something about the Bible. In the original language (Hebrew), the word translated “in” is the same preposition which can be also translated “as.” Usually the context of the passage makes it clear which is the proper translation. In this case however, it works both ways. The interpretation could just as well be “Let us make man as our image. . .” So anyway, the idea is that we are supposed to represent God to the world. We are literally the image of God as we reflect what He is like to everyone around us.
5. Holism – This one is a combination of all of the ideas presented here. Representation is the foundational idea and Content, Dominion, and Community are the ways that we represent Him.
Pretty cool stuff huh? I guess I’d be a Holist if I were asked to pick a position.
How will this change my life? Well, first of all I plan on making a video (link below) similar to the Nooma videos for the youth in my church covering this topic. I think it’s a cool way to teach these verses and also relate it to the issue of self-esteem which so many of them are struggling with. I’ll probably post it on here on my website once I get it finished. I also think this understanding will be an encouragement to “represent” Christ more fully.
Here’s the link to the video I put together to explain this idea: Image