Small Group Central Team

The Easter story doesn’t stop at the resurrection

I wish I didn’t lose the passion and excitement about the resurrection so quickly after Easter. It’s not like I forget about the significance of the resurrection, but I don’t really think about it much after Easter Sunday.

The Easter weekend is filled with the promise of resurrection, sermons bursting with hope, Easter egg hunts, social gatherings making the most of the long weekend and if you’re lucky some sunshine to enjoy while you eat your hot cross buns. But, when I return to work thinking about how I don’t actually like crème eggs I find the excitement about Jesus’s resurrection begins to fade.

I think this is because I box the Easter message into a neat 4 days weekend package all too easily and don’t let the life-transforming, eternal consequences affect my daily life enough. The Easter message isn’t just a one off event that happened 2,000 and something years ago. It keeps affecting us from the first time we realise how incredible it is that Jesus died for us, to the things that we face daily through to our future. The Easter story doesn’t stop at the resurrection. The story just gets better and better. All the promises and prophecies that have been made about Jesus leading up to His death become more real as they are fulfilled in His resurrection.

40 days with Jesus is a small group resource that has helped me see Easter as more than Good Friday to Sunday. The book takes the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and invites you to meet the risen Jesus through the people who had face to face encounters with Him while He was still on earth. The encounters that people had with Jesus can teach us so much about our own relationship with Him.

Use 40 Days with Jesus in your small group to be inspired by the persistence and devotion of Mary who was first to witness the risen Jesus. Remind people in your small group who are doubting the resurrection, how incredible it is. Perhaps there are people in your small group who need a fresh revelation of Jesus and could use 40 Days with Jesus to invite Him into their lives again. Be encouraged by how Jesus restores us in our present struggles and also heals us from our past failures. Get motivated as you read about Jesus’ true purpose for us and be confident that Jesus is alive and transforming lives today.

40 Days with Jesus is more than just a book, there are small group Bible studies, videos to watch and even sermons if you want to get the whole church involved.

Find out more about 40 Days with Jesus.

 

By 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.

Expanding Your Small Groups

One of the key issues for growing churches is: how do I find enough leaders for my small group ministry?

This is especially tough if the church has set the bar for being a small group leader high: ‘We are looking for people who have read through the Bible at least once, spend an hour a day in prayer and regularly lead people to Christ.’ (Yes I am exaggerating, but only slightly)

I want to say, that while it’s true that not everyone can lead a small group, and not everyone would want to, we don’t need to be afraid of the leadership word.

There’s a leader in all of us.

My thinking behind this statement comes from the biblical idea that leading is part of everyone’s DNA. In Genesis we read that every human is made in the image of God (Gen.) 1:27. And whilst scholars have no consensus on what exactly may be included within that, the context gives us a clue. In verse 28 God commands Adam and Eve to take care of the planet: ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. (NIV)”

John Mark Comer wrote in his book, Garden City:

‘The word rule is radah in Hebrew. It can be translated “reign” or “have dominion.” It is king language. One Hebrew scholar translated it as “to actively partner with God in taking the world somewhere.”

What if God has placed a desire within all of us to lead?

The truth is that Jesus’ teaching was largely addressed to disciples, who became the leaders of the church. If we think Jesus’ teaching applies to us, and who wouldn’t, and if we are serious about following Jesus we have (perhaps unwittingly) signed up to learn how to be leaders!

Many of us are not leaders in the sense of calling people to ‘follow us’ somewhere. But if leadership is influence and we are all called to be a godly influence wherever we are – which for many of us in churches – could being a godly influence mean being a leader in a small group setting?

Some people may not be ready to lead: they have stuff to sort out, an ‘old life’ to disentangle from, and new godly habits to prioritise. But everyone has the prospect of being a faithful and godly influence. And those who have sensed God helping them reach a degree of maturity might well find a small group leadership role a thrilling place to serve God.

If your church is looking for new small group leaders, make sure you have the right criteria. Maybe your problem is not a lack of potential leaders, but with the criteria you are looking for?

For more on a biblical view of leading check out my latest book, The Leadership Road Less Travelled: leading as God intended you to (CWR).

Andy Peck, teaching team, CWR

Resources of the Month: Ezekiel and Habakkuk Cover to Cover Bible Studies


Cover to Cover Ezekiel

Dry bones can live!

The book of Ezekiel contains intriguing imagery including the famous vision of the valley of bones. Ezekiel was a priest called by God to deliver His messages to the Jewish people who were in exile in Babylon. God had not given up on His people and through Ezekiel, God still had plenty to say to them. God gives Ezekiel the task of confronting the rebellious Israelites and reminding them of their sins. However, the message is not all doom and gloom as God plans to rescue His people.

Claire Musters is an experienced writer who unpacks the book of Ezekiel for groups or individuals. A challenging study, over seven sessions, of an often neglected but fascinating book of the Bible with Bible readings, personal application and discussion questions.

 

 


Cover to Cover Habakkuk

How could God use wicked people to execute His purposes? Will sin go unpunished? Is it worth being faithful to God?

At a time when the Israelites were being ruled over by the Chaldeans, Habbakuk questions God about His divine plan. In this short book, Habbakuk raises issues such as sin, righteousness and faithfulness with God and in the end declares that he will still ‘be joyful in the God my Saviour’ (Habakkuk 3:18).

This is an opportunity, over seven sessions, for a personal or group study of age old questions and issues which are still being asked today. Includes Bible readings, personal application and discussion questions.

Steve Bishop is also the author of Cover to Cover Bible Study: Haggai.

Cover to Cover Habakkuk

 

 

More in the series

Cover to Cover Bible study guides are ideal for group or individual study. Experience the reality of Bible events in a fresh way, and gain a new depth to your Bible knowledge and relationship with God. Icebreakers, Bible readings, eye openers, discussion starters, personal application and ‘seeing Jesus’ sections make these Bible study guides a great small group resource.

Small group worship part one – the practical stuff

I believe in the verses from the Psalms ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord’ and at times my worship sounds like noise, but it is always joyful.

We’ve all been there, squashed into a room with someone who is learning the guitar and someone starts to sing, either off-key or too high for the blokes in the room. It soon dissolves into a mishmash of unheavenly, yet joyful, noise.

Here are some things I have learnt about small group worship over the last 35 years along with some hints and tips:

  • Keep the songs simple – the latest worship songs can be really wordy and there are so many great songs and choruses out there that whatever your churchmanship you can use – you can hardly go wrong with Majesty by Jack Hayward or All Hail the Lamb by Dave Bilborough just to mention a couple. Importantly these are songs that allow you to fix your eyes on Jesus.
  • Embrace Modern Technology – You can buy DVDs with a range of songs, both ancient and modern, that display the lyrics on the screen as you sing along.Online video sites like YouTube allow you to play worship songs through a computer and also free music players like Spotify where you can create a playlist where your chosen songs play one after another.

Hints & Tips:

The free version of Spotify does have annoying adverts that randomly interrupt!

Invest in a wireless speaker that connects to your phone if you want to get better volume!

Check with your small group host that their Wifi is up for the challenge as there’s nothing worse than your worship being interrupted by buffering!

Keep the sound levels at a reasonable level so that people aren’t embarrassed to join in with the songs. And print out song words if the songs are wordier. Also remember older members or people with hearing aids may have difficulties if there is music playing and people singing at the same time.

Remember the aim is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the one we adore rather than trying to sing higher or better than the person next to us. This also allows quieter people & the ones who don’t think they can keep a tune to feel they can worship without focusing in on them.

Lastly worshiping together should be uplifting and a great way to collectively focus on Jesus. It can remind us that God works through us when we join with our friends to honour Him.

 

By Anthony

Ant has been leading and attending small groups for 35 years. Next month he and his wife Catherine, who is a worship leader in their local church, will co-write a blog for us to share some more wisdom and experience on worshipping in small groups.

Living Faith: Invitations from the cross

Why you should read Krish Kandiah’s Lent Cover to Cover Study Guide – Living Faith: Invitations from the cross…

I like being comfortable. I think most people do. I like my bed to be comfortable; my shoes to be comfortable; my office temperature to be comfortable (though it rarely is); the exact positioning of the driver’s seat in my car to be comfortable. I also like my faith to be comfortable. And it’s recently occurred to me that maybe it’s not supposed to be.

Sure, a fruit of the Spirit is peace – and I like a lot of that, too. But if I’m honest, my relationship with God often seems to be something of a wrestling match – and I mean that in a good way – so if my faith has become comfortable, it quite possibly means that I’m not talking (or listening) to Him enough.

The Christian faith makes us uncomfortable for a number of reasons. It challenges so many of our neatly organised paradigms. The kingdom of God is often described as ‘upside down’ – the last being first and all that. But there’s also a challenge to die to self; a mandate to love the unloved; the realities of eternity, and they’re all part of the package.

Some of Christianity has become very clean and tidy. These days, the nativity story is more about fairylights, frankincense and donkeys than it is about refugees, squalor and the details of childbirth that we’d rather not consider while we’re singing ‘Silent Night’ for the four-hundredth time. We’ve cleaned it up a bit and made it sparkly, rather than celebrating the fact that God chose the most disgusting venue imaginable for His Son’s grand entrance into the world.

I think I’ve done a similar thing to Easter. I’d rather think about the daffodils, chocolate and upbeat Easter Sunday services than allow myself to take a minute to actually think about thorns, whips and nails. (On the flipside, I’m not sure it’s healthy to sit around and think about crucifixion all the live-long day.) But while reading Krish Kandiah’s Living Faith, I decided to position myself uncomfortably, just for a little while, and consider the reality of what it is that Jesus has done for me. (And I say ‘me’, not ‘us’, because that’s how personal it is.)

Exploring the invitations Jesus extended to us while hanging on the cross, Krish isn’t afraid to acknowledge the nitty-gritty and pass on the challenge without cleaning it up first. There’s something particularly upfront and raw about this book – and yet so gracious and gentle – that made me unbelievably thankful. Jesus suffered for me, and acknowledging that makes me uncomfortable. It kick-starts something inside me, and it’s a really good thing.

So pull up a chair and get comfortably uncomfortable this Lent.

 

About Living Faith: Invitations from the cross

This Lent, join Krish Kandiah as he invites you to travel back in time to stare intently at the cross of Jesus. Take time to explore the rich tapestry of meaning that surrounds this central and most defining moment in history. Find out more here.

About Rebecca Berry

Rebecca is Acting Lead Editor at CWR.

 

Can ‘fellowship’ be a verb?

Do you remember learning about verbs in school? You knew a word was a verb because it was a ‘doing word’. It usually ended with an ‘ing’ and it was an action. Those were the simplified grammar rules that were drilled into us. A verb: running, jumping, laughing.

When I think of fellowship, actively running around and getting involved isn’t what comes to mind. Yet, the answer is yes: fellowship can be a verb. It makes me question then, why are times of fellowship often associated with being quiet, a little bit dull and not very active at all? Are verbs not always actions, or have we got the wrong idea about fellowship?

The dictionary told me that, ‘any English noun can be verbed, but some are more resistant than others.’ This made me chuckle when I switched verb for fellowship… ‘any Christian can be fellowshipped, but some are more resistant than others.’ We all know someone, or perhaps are that person ourselves, who makes a beeline to the exit at the end of church when the leader is kindly inviting everyone to stay for coffee and fellowship.

I think we’ve got the wrong idea about fellowship. When you stop associating fellowship with shuffling round a church hall politely (but with determination) making your way to the biscuits before all the chocolate ones have gone; and read a bit on what the Bible has to say about it you realise that it is actually a wonderful gift from God. It’s the opportunity to be in relationship with Him and the invitation to join in with others in carrying out His Will.

I did some Bible searching and found out that fellowship starts with your own relationship with God, but then importantly it turns into doing things for God together. An article on Bible.org puts it brilliantly, fellowship does not stop with being an inner unity for it is primarily an action word! Koinonia is used nineteen times in the New Testament and in addition to being translated as “fellowship” it is also translated by the words, “contribution,” “sharing,” and “participation.” A close study of the usage of this word shows that action is always included in its meaning. Fellowship, you see, is not just being together, it is doing together!’ fellowship is a doing word! Fellowship is a verb!

Fellowship is more than hanging out, it’s actively doing God’s will together. You can stay behind at the end of church drinking tea and eating all the biscuits you can manage, but until you are actively seeking to do God’s Will with other people, you aren’t fellowshipping.

 

By 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.

New year priorities

When I think about small groups, I picture people reaching out to the wider community, sharing stories and learning how to grow and develop as Christians together. A nice thought isn’t it? We also know that in Matthew it says “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” This is a great reminder of why it is such a good idea to regularly meet up together. We schedule prayer meetings, small groups and other church events, but do you ever feel like it’s a struggle to keep up with it all?

Personally I find it very tricky to manage everything life throws at me. Be it work, relationships or just finding time to cook dinner; the world is a busy place. I really should start going back to the gym (which yes I’m still paying for despite not using it). But why is it that we make time for these areas in our lives and not for meeting together in God’s presence? I think it’s down to priority, and what we value in our lives.

It’s easy enough to acknowledge that God should be number one, but are we really living that out? I have been guilty of thinking that spending time  with God is something I can do when it fits into my plans, but   life soon draws us into other things instead. We choose to see friends, or do housework – are we placing more value in these activities, instead of prioritising meeting together with God? The Bible says, “And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you”. Luke 12:29-31,

This really reflects on the idea that placing God first in our lives, will allow other worries to settle and the balancing act of life will level out.  Yes, it can be a challenge to find time to meet together, and we will at times fall short, but God loves it when we meet in His name. So let’s reflect carefully on how we prioritise our time and really be thankful that we have the opportunities to come together in small groups. As 2018 starts let’s try our very best to meet together, pray together and grow together.

 

About Jonny Byczok

Jonny has recently joined CWR as part of the Marketing and Communications team as a videographer.

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.