Small Group Central Team

An unexpected Christmas

Has anyone ever asked Jesus what He wants for Christmas? If His first birthday is anything to go by, I’m guessing His answer would surprise us. The ‘first Christmas’ is full of surprises!

Many of us are so familiar with the Christmas story that we overlook how many surprise visitor’s pop up and unusual things happen. If you think about it, the fact that God chose to bring His son into the world in the way He did was completely unexpected. That on a dark night, a weary young couple arrive in a town they don’t know, discover there’s nowhere for them to stay, and end up giving birth to the saviour of the world surrounded by smelly, dirty animals must have surprised many people. It has continued to surprise people for thousands of years since. No one was more surprised than the shepherds on the hill who got the shock of their lives when their dark lonely hilltop was turned into a bright shimmering show of angelic musical wonder. And, I imagine it was also a surprise when a camel-train of wise-men trotted along a bit later with elaborate gifts to a small town, where no one else realised the King of Kings was toddling about.

The first Christmas shifted things. It was the start of the world being turned upside down. A teenage mother chosen by God; a King born into squalor; lowly ignored shepherds visited by angels and given a precious message to share. Why then is it that Christmas has become so routine and samey to us? We know what’s coming. We often celebrate in the same way each year, same traditions, same food, same expectations…

There are three (almost guaranteed) things that come up in conversation when people talk about Christmas: gifts, food and visitors. Everyone wants to know what you want for Christmas, what you’ll be eating and who are you spending your time with. Let’s do things differently this Christmas!

What if your small group took the inevitable Christmas expectations and responded with something unexpected?

1 – What’s your favourite thing to eat at Christmas? Instead of filling your tables with food that might end up going to waste you could collect for your local food bank – this link helps you find your closest local foodbank to donate too. https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/

… or how about donating to Christians Against Poverty who are sending food hampers to people in need this Christmas? https://capuk.org/get-involved/donate?source=Christmas2017

2 – What are you doing for Christmas? Sometimes this season turns into a competition of how many family members you can squeeze into your house. For some, Christmas is the loneliest time of the year, without any visitors. Help The Aged have an incredible project called the ‘befriending service’ – your small group could change someone’s Christmas by visiting those who are alone, or even just calling someone up to have a chat… https://www.ageuk.org.uk/services/befriending-services/

3 – What’s on your Christmas list? Think outside the box and buy something that benefits someone else. Oxfam (and many other charities) offer gifts such as chickens for families who need a way of creating an income or clean water for a village – their ideas are brilliant alternatives to regular gifts https://www.oxfam.org.uk/shop/oxfam-unwrapped

There are so many ways for you and your small group to turn the expectations of Christmas upside down, but I hope these three are a great start to surprising some people around you this year.

About Emily Owen

Emily dreams of travelling the world and writing about the great things she sees God doing along the way. Whilst waiting for dreams to come true, she happily works for CWR, plays a lot of netball and is trying to learn Spanish.

 

Prepare the way

Examining their faithful insight into the Christmas story, we turn to the incredible gospel authors Matthew and Luke to consider how Zechariah and Elizabeth’s pregnancy prepares us for the arrival of the King.

We are encouraged to think about the righteous nature of Zechariah, asking ourselves if we struggle with doubt and fear in our own walk with Christ. Elizabeth helps rebuild our confidence and belief that, with God, anything is possible!

Reading

Matthew 1:1-25; Luke 1:1-25

Questions to discuss

1. Do you have regular time that you carve out to spend with the Lord? If not, why not? Would you like to change your pattern?

2. How do you feel about trusting God with everything? Are there aspects of your life where you like to stay in control?

3. What is your deepest fear? Does it affect your daily decisions? Together, ask Jesus to break the cycle of fear in your life.

4. Elizabeth found that nothing was impossible with God. Is there anyone in the group who has lost hope? Pray for them that their faith would rise again, despite their circumstances.

5. Have you witnessed God’s perfect timing? Perhaps you can share testimonies of when you have seen answered prayer, in a way that suddenly makes sense… it may have only been seen with the benefit of hindsight!

6. Share together a couple of things for which you are truly thankful to God. Praise God for these things in your life.

End the session

Read Psalm 48 together as a declaration of who the Lord truly is. Ask one member of the group to end in prayer.

This small group session was taken from Heralding the Coming King Cover to Cover Advent Study Guide, by Anne Calver.

Anne Calver

Anne is a Baptist Minister and trained at the London School of Theology. Her passion is to see people encounter Jesus and become all they can in Him. She has previously worked for Youth for Christ and has been a self-employed writer and speaker, co-authoring three books as well as writing for magazines.

When helping hurts a small group

OK, so this may be the only Small Group Blog you’ll read, which starts by sitting at the feet of an economist! The man in question, Brian Fikkert, wrote a book – When Helping Hurts. It said (my paraphrase) that you can (without meaning to) hurt people in poverty by helping, if your help answers their problem for them.

Why? First, because it locks up their own ability to answer the problem, making them dependant on you. And, second, because it obligates the donor to continue being that answer indefinitely (which can prompt an unhealthy co-dependant relationship).

What’s that got to do with your small group?

Jesus didn’t leave a Mr/s fix-it, but a counsellor. The difference? A counsellor helps unlock the counselee’s own potential, enabling them to walk their own way out of their problems.

While a Mr/s fix-it does it for them.

Jesus’ pattern was to unlock the disciple’s potential, sending them out, even telling them they’d do all – and more – than he’d done.

So – if you’re a small group leader, is this your aim? To unlock your group member’s potential, to see them doing all you’re doing in the group – maybe even more?

Underpinning this is the knowledge that God doesn’t ask people to face things he will not enable them to deal with, as they have faith in him. Every person in your small group has enough God-given potential to have a go.

This isn’t about independence, but becoming emotionally able to hold the hand of God, with the counsel of his Spirit, and the support of a small group. And through it discovering more of who God made them – and you – to be.

At a simple level reflect on this question: could you lead a small group session, or even a small section of it? Have you had a go? Have you asked to have a go? Have you asked God to help you have a go? If you lead the small group, have you asked a member to have a go?

Luke 16:10 suggests that faithfulness in big things follows learning to be faithful in small things: can you step into a small thing, or invite someone else to – knowing it may be the doorway to bigger things?

Because, as Brian Fikkert says, if our kindness leads us to do it for others, when they could be learning to have a go themselves, then our helping risks hurting them.

About Steve Adams

Steve is married to Ruth and they have 4 children. They’ve run small groups in churches and written several books resourcing small groups in creative ways of engaging with God, the Bible and current issues.

Where is the Holy Spirit prompting your small group to walk and pray?

One of the privileges of having a job with a ‘national’ remit is that it provides a wonderful glimpse into what the Lord is doing in different parts of the UK especially in my case in relation to prayer and mission!

In the middle of all the shakings that are taking place across our nations, it is so encouraging to see that followers of Jesus haven’t given up on prayer – in fact all that is happening is driving them to prayer.  And much of this praying is being done ‘on site’ as more and more people are ‘rediscovering’   the purpose, the joy and the power of prayer walking on a consistent and regular basis – whether it be for a workplace and a neighbourhoods as done by individuals, families or small groups – or whether it be for whole villages, towns and cities when Christians from different churches and fellowships work together.

I visited Evesham recently where the Evesham Prayer Compass (24/7 prayer for Evesham and the Vale) has been working at setting up 24 hour constant prayer cover inviting individuals to pray for an hour and thus cover 168 hours in a week (they are not up to capacity yet but are growing fast). They have also just embarked on seeing the whole of this area to be prayer walked with the aim to bless the whole town and area to ‘prepare the way for the Lord’.

There is nothing like walking around an area to get more of a sense of what are the issues on the Father’s heart for the people and the place. Over the years I have heard of so many incidences of where prayer-walking using prayer, worship, declaration of God’s word, release of God’s blessing – which have resulted in more of the kingdom of God break out as a result.

I was reminded of this very clearly just a few weeks ago.  Depending on how I travel to Birmingham, for the days when I work out of the World Prayer Centre building, I use one or two rail stations.  Walking across the city from Moor Street, I normally just follow the walkway as it goes into the station concourse and out the other side.  However, on this particular day my attention was drawn to the right where a narrow dirty potholed small road forked off my normal route. I took 6 steps on this small road and found myself on a completely new route – giving me contrasting views, bypassing New Street station and so a completely different route to work enabling me to focus on different prayer needs…

Where is the Holy Spirit prompting you to walk and pray – praying onsite with insight today?

 

About Jane Holloway

Jane is the National Prayer Director for World Prayer Centre.

Why is it important to train your small group leaders?

You don’t need to train people to hang out, to spend time together, or to chat about Jesus, so why bother with training small group leaders?

Training inspires confidence – I was a reluctant leader when first asked to run a small group. I knew I could make cups of tea and welcome people into my home. But I didn’t think I had anything to teach anyone, I didn’t know where to start and wasn’t sure I had much knowledge to share.

Training helped me to realise that leading people isn’t about having all the answers – but gave me the confidence that I could definitely create a space for people to feel safe, loved and to learn and grow themselves. And surely that’s what it’s all about?

Training proves that you are valued – When a church leader prioritises training small group leaders it makes you feel valued. You feel included in the structure of the church and it also reflects well on a church to show that they prioritise small groups within the church. The time taken to train you makes you feel like your contribution to the church matters.

Training gives you new ideas and support – By creating a space for different small group leaders to meet together you create opportunities to learn from each other. You can listen to the other ways that leaders have overcome situations and get advice on things that you are dealing with. Training with other leaders is a great support network, as sometime leading can feel lonely.

Training strengthens and grows small groups – if leaders and their groups aren’t getting any new ideas, energy, support, prayer put into them then they can’t be expected to flourish.

CWR have a range of different courses for churches who want to invest in their small group leaders and pastoral teams. We even bring our courses to you! Find out more about the topics we can cover and how you can build a course specifically for your church.

About Emily Owen

Emily dreams of travelling the world and writing about the great things she sees God doing along the way. Whilst waiting for dreams to come true, she happily works for CWR, plays a lot of netball and is trying to learn Spanish.

Are you a ‘go-er’ or a ‘sitter’?

My wife Abbie and I have this theory, that all people can be sorted into two groups; the ‘go-ers’ and the ‘sitters’.

The ‘go-ers’ go. They often find themselves making the first move when it comes to maintaining relationships. They make the effort to keep in touch and see friends regularly. The ‘sitters’ sit. They may be very social people, but their interactions are often instigated by others. Of course there is nothing wrong with either group – they both have their strengths – but it did get me thinking, so a few years back we put this theory to the test. Myself and Abbie, who firmly place ourselves in the ‘go-ers’ category, wanted to see how our lives would change if we simply stopped going. Whether it was replying to a text, an email or taking a short drive to visit a friend. We just stopped.

Now I know what you might be thinking… ‘What terrible, spoilt, Christians they must be to neglect their friends and those around them!’, and I get how it looks! But have you ever had that feeling where you know you are always the one to make the first move? We were wearing ourselves out by constantly giving, and spent more time outside of our house than in. And so we put our theory to the test, and what we found was interesting…

The first few days passed and unsurprisingly everything went quiet. No texts, no emails, no invites – unfortunately this was just what we predicted would happen. And to be totally honest, it made me feel a bit hurt knowing that without us making the first move, some friendships appeared to start fizzling out.

In these first few evenings, over a glass of wine, Abbie and I would discuss how our behaviour and the behaviour of others had changed, and we came to a quick conclusion: we both thrived on the company of others. It was like being surrounded by people was where we found our energy, and without that we both felt a little lost. However, despite this discovery, we chose to carry on with the challenge of not making the first move, and after a week or so, something unexpected happened. God opened doors around us, both metaphorically and literally.

Invites came in from old friends and new. Slowly our evenings began to fill once again, but this time with less of a burden-like feeling, and more with a sense of togetherness and joy. And in some cases, those who we once labelled as a ‘sitter’, began to reach out and began making the first move. Our friendships were strengthened, and we truly felt that we were then spending our time exactly where God wanted us to spend it.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you spend a month ignoring your friends, but instead I challenge you to apply this ‘go-ers’ and ‘sitters’ theory to your own life. Which group would you put yourself in? And think of those close to you… the members of your small group… family… friends. I completely appreciate that we are all complex creatures with varying personalities and characteristics, but take a moment to consider this. Can one group ever work without the other? What would your small group look like if there wasn’t a mixture of both?

In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Solomon writes:

‘Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!’

Why not take this week to thank the ‘go-ers’ in your life. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts and energy. Even try and turn the tables and be the one to reach out first. And then find a ‘sitter’ and let them know they are worth the effort and encourage them on whatever journey they are taking.

Now look inwards. Have you been sat still? Or are you burning/burnt out? Do you surround yourself with people who will make the effort to support you and have you found those that need lifting up?

Desmond Tutu once said this: “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them”.

Family, friend, stranger. Each interaction is a potential gift. So next time you’re phone beeps, or you hear a knock on the door, get excited about who God is using to bless you today.

About Ben Edwards

Ben is worship leader, youth work volunteer and small group member in his local church in Farnborough. He recently joined CWR as a graphic designer. In his free time he enjoys five a side football and DIY.

Praying for local schools as a small group

Ways you can pray for local schools…

  1. On your own, as part of your regular prayer times
  2. As a group of those with links with the school
  3. Together with your church or home group
  4. Prayer walking the area and praying for the schools you go past
  5. Driving around your village/ town/city and stopping near your local schools. Park safely and spend a few minutes praying for the pupils and staff
  6. Suggest a prayer for your church newsletter
  7. Invite everyone who might be interested to a town/citywide prayer meeting.  Include people from Churches Together, Open the Book and Prayer Spaces teams, after-school clubs, local church children and youth workers, school staff members and students

 

Points to ponder…

Skills for Life

Education is about setting children and young people up for life, by giving them opportunities to find decent work, earn a living contribute to communities and societies and fulfil their potential.

Special Needs    

Pupils with special educational needs have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most pupils of the same age.  1 in 5 pupils has a special education need; about 1.6 million in the UK.      Source – Care Prayer Diary

Healthy Diet

A good breakfast is essential for children to start the day and learn at their best. Sadly 1 in 7 school children in the UK will go to school hungry. Source – Kelloggs

 

Ideas for your prayers…

  1. For teaching staff:  Our loving heavenly Father, please ease heavy workloads and encourage teachers as they cope with paperwork and other everyday challenges. Help them cope with the pressure of Ofsted and league tables. Amen.
  2. For support staff:  We pray that all those involved in school maintenance, catering, cleaning, administration, medical and pastoral care will be given the determination, patience, compassion and wisdom that they need every day. Amen.
  3. Children: Lord, please protect, guide and bless the children in our schools and especially help those who are struggling. Amen.
  4. Special educational needs and schools.  Dear God, give to teachers and other helpers the energy they need to support and encourage these children. Amen
  5. Starting somewhere new:  Father, we commit everyone who started in a new school or a different class in September. Please help them to make friends and settle in. Amen.
  6. Christian organizations like Open the Book, Prayer Spaces in Schools, Youth for Christ and Scripture Union.  Dear Lord, please encourage and inspire all Christians who visit schools in our area to bring a sense of Your love and truth to everyone they meet. Amen.

 

About Jane Newey

Jane works as the England Coordinator for Pray for Schools.

Every year Pray for Schools promotes Back to School with God and Education Sunday in September, PrayDay in November and also joins with others in May for Pray for Schools Fortnight. Find us on Facebook and Twitter or see our website for more details and other prayer ideas.

More resources and great ideas for prayers can be found on the Scripture Union Scotland website and daily prayers on the Association of Christian Teachers website.

Resource of the Month: 40 Stories of Hope


40StoriesofHope3D

‘There is no one, no life, no story that is beyond God’s power to love and transform’

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

This extraordinary book speaks loudly of hope and reconciliation, of transformation and journeys. Forty prisoners, prison chaplains and ex-offenders tell stories of the hope that they have found, how forgiveness can be discovered in the most unlikely places, and how knowing Jesus changes lives forever.

Each faith-inspiring story is accompanied by verses from the Bible, prayers and a thought for the day. They can be read at any time by individuals or groups, inside and outside prison. Weekly notes to inspire personal reflection and facilitation group discussion are also included, making this book ideal for reading during Lent.

Find fresh hope as you use this book individually, or in your small group, and allow it to help you come closer to the source of all hope – Jesus, the central character in all the stories you will read.

How to help your local prison as a small group

When was the last time you prayed for your local prison?

Don’t worry, this question isn’t meant to make you squirm and feel awkward, it’s supposed to be make us think. I guess that not many people even know where their local prison is? Let alone have thought about those inside of it!

The resource of the month is an unusual book. 40 Stories of Hope is a collection of 40 remarkable testimonies from prisoners, ex-prisoners and prison chaplains who speak powerfully about life-changing encounters with Jesus.

“This is an extraordinary book – a book of hope and reconciliation, a book of transformation and journeys… There is no one, no life, no story that is beyond God’s power to love and transform.” Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

Through the generosity of CWR and HOPE supporters 15,000 copies of 40 Stories of Hope are being sent into prisons all over the UK. But, this book isn’t just for prisoners. We can all find hope in Jesus, no matter who we are or what our journey has been. The 40 stories make this book an ideal resource for Lent, and weekly group studies make it a great fit for a small group context.

More great news about this book:

For every SINGLE copy of 40 Stories of Hope purchased CWR will send a copy into a prison. Or, you could join together with the rest of your small group and buy a box of 20 copies at a discounted price to either use in your small group, give away at your church or send to a prison! Follow this link… http://www.cwr.org.uk/store/p-2103-40-stories-of-hope.aspx#.WdS3DU1TGzk

Join CWR in praying for the people in prison who these books reach. That as they read 40 Stories of Hope they will be inspired by the stories they are reading and that they too would encounter Jesus!

 

About Emily Owen

Emily dreams of travelling the world and writing about the great things she sees God doing along the way. Whilst waiting for dreams to come true, she happily works for CWR, plays a lot of netball and is trying to learn Spanish.

Every Day with Jesus Extra – Sep/Oct 2017 (free download)

The Way of Simplicity

How can we live a life of simplicity in a complicated world?

Entry into God’s kingdom is through simple childlike faith, yet we can so easily complicate things. Jesus lived a life of simplicity and He shows us how to remove the complexities and complications from our lives and live in a simpler, more fruitful way.

Short icebreakers, key thoughts from the previous seven days’ readings, discussion starters, prayer pointers, a scripture passage pointing to the example of Jesus for our lives.

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To get your copy of this month’s Every Day with Jesus, click here.