Mark Baker

Icebreaker Idea: Animal (of God’s) kingdom

If you were a household pet in the kingdom of God, what animal would you be?

It’s a question I recently heard used as an icebreaker and it was just a fun little way of getting people thinking and talking. But it can also be quite a profound question.

For some, the answer would be dog. Energetic and loyal in their youth but after a few years they might have grown a little lethargic, but still love their master.

For others, the answer might be cat. Maybe a little bit more independently minded. They know their territory. Sometimes they bring ‘gifts’ back into the house! Most of them like being fussed over but can change their mind pretty quickly.

Other people might feel more like a tortoise. A hard outer shell protecting the soft tissue inside. They also live for a long time and take things slowly!

Maybe some of us are more like goldfish. Bad memories… feel like we’re swimming around in circles… Did I mention the bad memories?

Need we mention rabbits and their ability to recreate (or make disciples in our context!) or hopping from field to field in search of the best grazing.

Perhaps the answer would be parrot. Whether or not you’ve had a parrot as a pet (or any other bird for that matter) most of us know that parrots are famous for listening to and repeating what their master says. Is that what you want to be like? Someone who listens to what Jesus says, pays attention to the way Jesus acts and speaks, and replicates it in your own life?

So, what animal would you be in the kingdom of God, and why? It’s not such a silly question!

You could open it up to non-household animals, or get your thinking cap on and come up with another creative idea, like… If you had to describe your place in God’s Church as a type of food, what food would you be and why? The idea is just to get people thinking and talking, and considering how they relate to certain aspects of the Christian life in a fresh way.

Enjoy!

 

About Mark Baker

Mark is an editor and is passionate about small groups. He loves writing, reading, and finding out more about God and His purposes for our lives.

What role does the Holy Spirit play in small groups?

Depending on which denomination or church tradition you are part of, you may view the role and work of the Holy Spirit slightly differently, and even within a denomination, views will change from church to church, and from group to group. Even individuals within the same group will most likely have diverging views about the Holy Spirit. But all Trinitarians will agree that the Holy Spirit is one of the persons of God the Trinity, and as such, has an important part to play in our Christian faith.

With so many views about who the Holy Spirit is and what part He has to play in small group life, how do we find balance and common ground?

Unity, liberty, love

You might have heard the phrase, ‘In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things, love’. There are a few variations of this phrase, including, ‘In essentials unity, in non-essentials charity, and in all things, Christ’. You won’t find these phrases in the Bible, and their origin is still debated today, but for many they has become keys to agreeing on the important things and disagreeing agreeably on the fringe things. This does, of course, leave open to interpretation which things are ‘essential’ and which are not – but hopefully you get the idea!

Trinitarians can all agree that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are God. The relationship between and work of the Father and the Son are often a lot easier for us to begin to understand, but the relationship and work of the Holy Spirit can be a bit more difficult to get one’s head round.

One place to find common ground is that God is good. As the Holy Spirit is God, we can say that the Holy Spirit is good. The Holy Spirit will never do or say anything that God would not do or say, because the Holy Spirit is God.

The Trinity

What part the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit (or any combination of the members of the Godhead) have in answering prayers or working miracles, we will probably never entirely comprehend this side of heaven. But we do know that when God answers prayer and works miracles, we can praise and worship Him.

So if people disagree within your small group about the role each member of the Godhead plays in answering prayer and working miracles, encourage them to use language that will bring people together in agreement – ‘Let’s thank God’, ‘Praise God’ and so on. No Christian would argue against thanking and praising God! The matter of whether it was the Father, Son or Holy Spirit (or two or three of the persons of the Trinity in unison) who played any particular role is of little importance compared to recognising that God loves us and answers our prayers.

Sometimes people say ‘God’ when they are specifically trying to refer to the Father, which can cause confusion and disagreements. If there is misunderstanding in the group, perhaps you could urge people to use the phrase ‘Father God’ or ‘the Father’ when referring specifically to that particular member of the Godhead, and ‘God’ when referring to God as a whole, meaning Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the Trinity.

What does the Bible say?

What do we know about the Holy Spirit? John 15:26 says, ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.’ This tells us that the Holy Spirit is an advocate – one who speaks for us and stands alongside us. This doesn’t mean that He always agrees with whatever we do – in fact, the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:8), but He will not condemn us (John 3:17). This means He doesn’t make us feel bad for the sake of making us feel bad – He simply exposes our sin so that we can confess and receive forgiveness. We also know from John 15:26 that the Holy Spirit is sent from the Father, and is the Spirit of truth. And we know that the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus.

So, knowing that the Spirit is from the Father and testifies about Jesus, if you or someone in your group thinks the Holy Spirit might be saying or doing something, ask yourself: does this sound like something God (the Trinity, the Godhead) would do or say? Does what is being said or done sound like it advocates and stands alongside us? Does it convict us of sin so we can repent, but does not condemn us to leave us in a permanent state of guilt? Does what is being said or done sound like it comes from the Father – and is it truthful? Does it testify about Jesus – pointing us to repentance and realignment with Him?

Anything else?

You might hear people say that the Holy Spirit has done something a little bit more ‘out there’ than you might expect. We should remember that all things are possible for God. We know that if God wants to, He can turn water into wine, part seas and bring the dead back to life. It might just be that He has indeed done the thing that the person is claiming.

We know that God is infinitely creative and infinitely loving – and He loves to interact with us, His beloved children. So why wouldn’t He want to be with us, work in and through us, and give us good gifts?

On the other hand, God does not do anything that will contradict what we know of Him from the Bible. That’s not that say that He couldn’t – nothing is impossible for God – but although He could, He often chooses not to out of love for us. For instance, He could permanently turn the sky green and grass blue, or cancel gravity, or make everyone grow an extra eye overnight… but He chooses not to.

With the help of the Bible, and yes, with the help of the Holy Spirit Himself, let’s weight up what we hear. Let’s not dismiss things out of hand but accept that for God, all things are possible. But let’s also be wise and be aware that not everything that people claim is from God is from God.

So where does that leave my small group?

Individually and as a group, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in your Bible reading, to be in your prayers, and to help you in your walk of discipleship. Ask Him to show you the areas of your life you need to bring before Jesus. Ask Him to help you praise and worship Jesus and to walk more in step with His purposes and plans for your life.

Don’t be scared of the Holy Spirit. Invite Him to be at work in you and your group. He will help you discern and be wise about what if from Him and what isn’t. Most of all, remember that God is good, whomever of the Godhead we’re talking about! And love one another!

 

About Mark Baker

Mark is an editor and is passionate about small groups. He loves writing, reading, and finding out more about God and His purposes for our lives.

What if I want to leave my small group?

This might seem like a bit of a strange question for a website all about encouraging and equipping small group leaders and members, but it’s a question people do ask – so it’s certainly worth having a crack at answering it.

First steps

It almost goes without saying that a wise first step would be to think about the reason or reasons you might consider leaving your group. For some, it’s as simple as moving on… either in terms of location or stage of life. It might just be that you’ve come to a point in your life when your current small group isn’t providing what you need spiritually.

Being part of any group should involve a bit of give and take. You should feel happy contributing to the life of your group, but if it has felt like a one-way street for some time, it’s natural to want to move on to something where you will feel that you are receiving as much as you are giving.

Relationships

If the reason is due to a relationship difficulty in the group, the answer can be a bit more complex. Obviously every situation will be different, but it is advisable in most cases to talk privately with the small group leader, or if that’s not possible for whatever reason (maybe the problem is with them!), have a chat with a church leader or a trusted person in the church who can give you fair, wise, confidential advice.

If the situation involves emotional, physical or spiritual abuse in any way, always remove yourself from that situation at the first possible opportunity and seek help. Your safety and wellbeing is the most important thing.

Hopefully the vast majority of cases will be nowhere near as serious as that. Often all that is needed is a chat with the person concerned. If at all possible, try to have a mutually trusted third person present, and prayerfully come to an agreement to move forward.

I’ve definitely decided to leave. How do I do it?

There are, of course, many other reasons you might have for wanting to leave your group. If you’ve thought about it, prayed about it, even talked about it with someone and you’re sure it’s the thing to do, how do you go about leaving?

If you’re on good enough terms with the group leader, let them know! Try to be as honest as possible about the reasons, and let them know you’ve thought about it about prayed about it. It’s almost always better to let the leader know before telling the group as a whole. You might have one or two close friends in the group who you’ve told in confidence, and that’s OK as it’s always good to have someone to chat things over with. But it is nice for the leader to hear it from you directly. They might well have noticed you’ve not been feeling quite comfortable in the group and been trying to think of a way of bringing it up with you, and they will probably have been praying for you.

Once you’ve talked with the leader or leaders, let the group know. You don’t need to go into too much detail, and as far as possible try to avoid mentioning anything that would put anyone staying in the group in an unnecessarily awkward position. Giving everyone the chance to say goodbye gives them some closure too. They may like to pray for you and/or hold a group social for you. Accept these if you want, or just say no thanks. If you feel comfortable doing so, you might like to offer to pray for them as a group as well.

What next?

Like the steps above, the next step is up to you. You might feel that you’d be better taking some time away from groups for a while, or you might want to find another group right away. Either way, keep God at the centre of your decisions and remember that small groups exist to help each other in the Christian walk.

I believe small groups are a great way of supporting and encouraging one another. Even Jesus had a kind of small group! And He sent the disciples out in pairs and as small groups. There are many forms of small group out there – and it might be that you’ve simply not quite found the right type for you yet, or it might be that your small group is a couple of close Christian friends you can share with.

Although in theory it would be possible to be a Christian on your own, community is a theme that runs right through the Bible – from Genesis to Revelation. We’re designed to journey alongside others, so don’t feel alone – in one way or another, there is a group for you out there somewhere! Maybe you’re being called to start a group of your own… and maybe there are others out there just waiting for a group like yours to start!

 

About Mark Baker

Mark is an editor and is passionate about small groups. He loves writing, reading, and finding out more about God and His purposes for our lives.

Your first meeting – practical tips

You’ve prayed, you’ve talked with your church leaders, you’ve prayed again, you’ve planned, you’ve found the thing you’re going to look at as a group, you’ve prayed some more, you’ve gathered enough people to start your group.

Great! You’re well on your way to leading your first small group session! But what practical considerations do you need to think about in order to make people want to come back again and again and again?

Planning ahead

First, you’ll need to set a time and place. You might already have this sorted out, but if not – think about when and where you’re going to hold your first meeting as a group. It doesn’t necessarily have to stay the same day, time and place for years on end, but consistency is good, at least for the first few months. You could review whether the time and place are working out for everyone once you’ve finished your first series or two together (or as soon as it’s clear the time and place just aren’t working).

Location, location, location

Is the place you meet big enough? Is it too big? Often people like to meet in a place that isn’t entirely full, but usually prefer somewhere ‘cosy’ to somewhere where there’s a big, empty space and an echo. This might not always be possible, but do the best with what you have available. A good rule of thumb is to try to meet somewhere easy to find and get to, close to the church neighbourhood, and large enough for the group to grow in size but not so large that it feels like you’re in different time zones.

It doesn’t have to be someone’s house – many groups meet in cafes, pubs, church buildings, community buildings and so on – it will depend on what kind of group you are running and what sort of atmosphere you want to create. Each will have their pros and cons, but more often than not, a house is the way to go.

Can everyone make it?

Make sure everyone is clear about when and where the meeting will take place. Depending on the size of the group, if one or two people can’t make it that should be OK so long as you make sure to catch them up before the next meeting and introduce them to everyone when possible. If several people can’t make it, determine whether it’s just a one-off for most people or whether you need to re-consider your meeting day and time. It might be as simple as postponing the first meeting until the following week.

Thar be dragons! (Directions!)

Ensure that everyone knows exactly how to get there. Give them the address and post code (and let them know if SatNavs usually take people the wrong way!) as well as your mobile and home phone number (if the meeting place isn’t your house, a mobile phone is vital!). This is important – there’s nothing worse when you’re lost than not having anyone to contact! If you’re not sure about the location yourself, do a recce beforehand and make sure you get there with plenty of time to set up before everyone else arrives.

Print off a map (or draw one if you’re confident that it will be clear enough!) for those who aren’t entirely sure or have never been to that area before. Remember that just because someone goes to the same church as you, they might not know the local area very well at all. You might like to offer to arrange that someone who has been to the meeting place before gives a lift to those who aren’t sure of the way.

A light to shine the way

So, you’re confident that everyone will get there – and on time, too! If you put out a balloon or something similar (and let people know what to look for), it will help them instantly know which house/building is the right one.

Even if you have told them the house number, it can be embarrassing to have to peer at people’s houses or even have to walk up the neighbours’ driveways to see the numbers. Something instantly recognisable like a balloon will give people confidence and put them as ease for meeting new people and being in a place they’ve never been before.

Groups often meet in the evenings, and it can be dark, especially in the winter. So if you have lights at the front of your house or driveway, put them on! Leave the curtains open in the front room so people can see that there is someone home and hopefully see that a group is gathering and that this is the right place. They might even see you through the window and recognise you! It will also enable you and anyone else who has already arrived to see whether there’s someone looking lost wandering up and down the street outside.

If it’s dark outside, remember to draw the curtains once everyone has arrived, as people will often feel more comfortable without feeling that passers-by are watching them through the window.

Welcome!

They’ve made it! People are queuing up outside your door, glad for the directions and balloons and lights and fireworks and inflatable gorillas you set up to point them to the place you’ll be meeting. (Just joking about the last two!)

Don’t just stand there – go and open the door! Seriously though, it can be easy to forget the importance of personally opening the door for people as they arrive. It might be tempting to just shout ‘Let yourself in!’ when you’re tied up in half a dozen conversations and you’re trying the boil the kettle and make sure the cat doesn’t attack the guests and spinning plates full of biscuits, but a personal welcome goes a long way.

If someone else has to answer the door for you, be sure that it’s someone that all the guests will know. Better still – ask that person to look after all the other things going on so that you can be the one to go to the door yourself. It can be a plummeting feeling for people who are nervous about starting something new to have someone they don’t recognise opening the door for them – ‘Have I got the right house? Who is this? Should I be here?’

Hi, my name is…

At last – people are sat down, beverage in hand, and are… staring blankly at the wall in awkward silence. What’s worse than no-one knowing each other’s names? Everyone knowing each other’s names except you – the ‘outsider’!

Even if just one person doesn’t really know the others, it would be good to have name tags (at least for the first couple of weeks). If people feel silly wearing a sticker with their name on it, embrace the silliness and ask them to draw something that represents themselves next to their name, or write a positive adjective (descriptive word) about themselves in front of their name. Marvellous Mike, meet Majestic Mary. Super Susan, meet Stellar Steve. It’ll help people remember each other’s names and help break the ice.

And finally…

All you need to do now is finish on time (or early!) to show people that you value their time commitments, thank them for coming, and make sure everyone is OK getting home.

Phew! You’ve done it! Your first ever small group meeting was a complete success! People are smiling and chatting, you’ve remembered to spend time getting to know each other and not getting too deep for the first week, but you introduced the topic you’ll be looking at for this first series, and you’re all excited for what next week will hold.

And if not everything went quite to plan? Don’t worry! It’s just the first time – things will get a lot easier! Thank God that He was with you, even when things didn’t go as smoothly as you would have liked, and that He has it all in His hands. Look at any hiccups as learning experiences. If you have time before the next meeting, you could have a quick chat with another small group or church leader and get some advice and encouragement.

 

About Mark Baker

Mark is an editor at CWR, is passionate about being a small group leader, and is an Alpha enthusiast. He’s still learning what it means to be a disciple and has a sneaky suspicion that part of being a disciple is that you always will be learning what it means.

Transformed Life: It’s no big secret…

In this series of posts, we’re looking at the eight weeks of the Transformed Life church programme. This week Mark Baker shares his thoughts about Transformed Life Week Six.

OK, so we’re really getting stuck into the ‘purpose’ part of the book now, with Dave Smith writing about our calling and gifting from God and being a servant of the gospel, the Church and even God’s eternal purposes! Pretty deep stuff! And the last day of Week 6 is entitled: ‘Suffering and Glory’… wow – heavy!

But as I’ve found with the whole book, Dave puts it all in a way that I really get. I mean, he opens the ‘Suffering and Glory’ day by talking about the movie Rocky! You can’t get much more down-to-earth than that!

But going back a bit to earlier in the week, I like the link between our purpose and what God has gifted us with to serve. It makes sense that God would give us the skills, personality and experience we need to serve in the way He wants us to serve.

Dave says, ‘As I look back to before I became a Christian, I would characterise my life as lacking a sense of overall and ultimate purpose.’ Check. Been there, felt like that. I can’t say that for me personally I suddenly got a sense of purpose as soon as I became a Christian, but like my journey to becoming a Christian, my sense of purpose has developed over time and with experience.

The book mentions that although we each have our own gifts and purposes, we do all share the common purpose of sharing Jesus with others. I think we can all learn something from the B.L.E.S.S. acronym on Day 39. Begin in prayer. Listen. Eat. Serve. Share the story. Evangelism made easy! But as Dave points out – it’s right there in the Bible. It’s just following the pattern set out for us by Jesus. There’s no big secret to it, no need to perform strange rituals or follow complicated instructions – it’s just sharing our lives and our stories with people, just like Jesus and the disciples did.

Find out more about the Transformed Life church programme here.

About Mark Baker
markMark works for CWR and is trying to figure out what God has in store for his life. He enjoys reading, writing, small group ministry, watching England and Bath rugby, and helping out at Alpha.

Good followership

I’ve started reading Follow Me to Freedom, an excellent book by ‘ordinary radicals’ Shane Claiborne and John Perkins (Regal Books, available online and through Christian bookshops). The books opens with the following exchange between the two writers:

SHANE: When we started The Simple Way community, we had an anarchistic saying: “A strong people need no leader,” and we determined that we would not have a leader…

JOHN: …Hmmm.

SHANE: It worked pretty well—for about a week. A lot of folks today have serious hesitations about following others. Can you blame them? They’ve seen so many immoral teachers, bad presidents, crooked CEOs, scary preachers and pretentious mean people on the Left and on the Right … it’s no wonder there is a distrust of authority.

JOHN: I remember hearing the saying in the 1960s, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” And as African-Americans, distrust of authority is common. But Shane is right. Especially in the church and in politics—but also everywhere else—a lack of confidence in leaders has grown. In fact, it is rampant. I don’t like that. But the answer to bad leadership is not no leadership; rather, it is good leadership.

SHANE: So where do we begin?

A great question. Where do we begin? I can’t even attempt to fully answer that here (you’ll have to read the book yourself!) but it did get me thinking about my small group – and small groups in general.

Who are our leaders, and are we and they good followers? There’s a lot of talk about good leadership – which is great – but there’s not much talk about good follower-ship. We all, especially our leaders, should first and foremost be followers of Jesus. After all, the Bible is full of leaders who aim high but often miss the mark – and it’s only when they turn fully to God that their leadership is truly successful. See Paul’s letters to Timothy for more on leaders being accountable.

Disciples

In a way, everyone is a disciple whether they know it or not. A disciple of celebrity, a disciple of sport, a disciple of movies or games or books or music, a disciple of certain political or social groups, even a disciple of a religion. But how many of us are truly disciples of Jesus?

The disciples of Hollywood stars aspire to be like Hollywood stars. The disciples of fashion aim to look like their fashion icons. The disciples of football stars take on some of the traits of their favourite footballers (less so the on-pitch skills and more the off-pitch behaviour or misbehaviour). I would say it’s a safe bet (if I was a betting man) that the disciples of Jesus would act like Jesus.

Maybe this is pretty obvious to many of us, which is great – keep going! You’ve got hold of a vital truth – keep holding tight onto it! Keep remembering this truth about followership and leadership. Appoint leaders who are first followers and continue to be followers no matter how big their (God’s) ministry gets!

Small group followership

As small group leaders – truly lead from the front. Be the leader who prays for their group. Be the leader who remembers their group’s ups and downs, hopes and fears. Be the leader who cares and loves and sacrifices and forgives the way Jesus does.

Don’t absentmindedly read questions off of a page or stick on a DVD as a way of getting out of really preparing – think through what you’re saying, lead the discussion but step back and let the group grow, put some passion into your meeting, tailor the discussion and study around your group’s strength and weaknesses, lead the way you would want to be led.

But don’t let yourself burn out. Take a break every now and then. Share the leadership – both the burden and the honour of responsibility. Rise up new leaders and helpers. Most of all – put Jesus in the centre of all you are and all you do, both as an individual and as a group.

Well done, good and faithful servant.

‘Come, follow me’ – Jesus (Matt. 4:19)

About Mark Baker

mark Mark Baker is an Editor at CWR. He loves reading, writing, worshipping Jesus, leading and being led in a small group, good food, good drink, and good friends (not necessarily in that order). Mark finds talking about himself in the third person a bit weird…