|The Lamb's Bride Symposium
|The Lamb's Bride Project|
P.O. Box 8240, Colorado Springs, CO 80933
How to Be an Excellent Small Group Member
Copyright ©1998 Dick Wulf. Permission is granted to copy and distribute.
This report on small group membership is meant to help you be a most effective small group member. We want your small group Christian community and fellowship to bring you all closer to the Lord Jesus Christ and more fully honor and glorify God.
Many things make a small group successful. One of those things is the appropriate participation of group members. If your group is to be rewarding and honoring to God, then group members, the group as a whole and the small group leader all need to be knowledgeable of their roles and responsibilities. This report will help you know what you can do to be an excellent small group member. You are very important to your small group's success. Do your best for the Lord's glory!
To be useful to God and to others, each of us must continually commit ourselves to the Lord. Scripture makes it clear that we are to live for God. God does not exist for our benefit, even though He does shower us with blessings. We are to live for Him! And that includes in a big way living for others.
Heaven is for later! This is a time for service, a time to feel good about ourselves as we work for God in a hurting, lost world. This is a time for obedience! Knowing and living for God is also much grander than experiencing comfort, pleasure and safety on earth. So, after we have committed ourselves to God, we must begin the process of making ourselves more fit for working with and relating to others in the church.
Christians should grow spiritually so they can be more productive members of their church community. Spiritual growth is much less for our own benefit; it is first for God and second for others. As we seek to improve spiritually, we must keep the needs of our church in mind. It may seem strange at first to seek change and spiritual growth for the sake of our brothers and sisters in the Lord. But this approach to spiritual improvement is much more in line with biblical values and the "other centered" life the Lord asks of us.
It is very important that we get ourselves ready to be active participants and co-laborers in the church and in small groups. We need to cultivate the godly attributes which enable us to interact helpfully and lovingly with other Christians.
Doctrine, rather than popular Christian reading, should be the primary focus of our study during our first few years as a Christian. We each need to know what we believe and why. If we have a basic knowledge of doctrine, we can interact helpfully with other Christians about very many issues. Holding a biblical world-view is necessary to obediently relate to other believers. For this reason, Christian individuals need to do some serious reading in and about the Bible.
In getting yourself ready as an individual for a lifestyle of Christian fellowship and community, it is necessary to rethink all those Bible passages that you have previously read without an awareness of the Greek and Hebrew plurality. Get in the habit of asking the question, "What does this passage mean for a group of believers?" This will help you "think community." You will begin to see the tremendous value of working with others in the church rather than trying to do everything on your own.
There is one person whose way with people is absolutely safe to imitate. That person, of course, is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are so fortunate to have an extensive written record of His three years of ministry on this planet. To ignore His example would be a great mistake.
In every way that Jesus treated people, there is a strong lesson for us. And keep in mind that wherever Jesus interacted lovingly with a non-Christian it would be wrong to treat a Christian less lovingly. Take for example the fact that in almost every account of Jesus dealing with lepers, He touched them before He healed them. This is one of the most tremendous lessons about interacting with other people in the whole Bible.
Leprosy was infectious, but Jesus took the risk. The tremendous value of His touching an infectious, leprous individual before he was healed has to do with the message that goes along with becoming vulnerable to others and entering with them into their troubled situation. The lesson is not that we should carelessly expose ourselves to infectious diseases or not implement those precautions that can be taken. (We need to remember that Jesus could cure His own disease and, since He was perfect, He could not contract the disease since death was not in any way reigning in His body.) But the lesson goes far deeper. It has to do with the compassion we should take when we interact with other people, especially those in our small group. Then we can communicate to them what God wants them to hear.
God wanted the lepers to know that they were absolutely acceptable in the kingdom of God. For years and years no one had entered within a ten foot radius of them. They felt quite rejected, unacceptable and outcast. Jesus wanted to let them know that, not only could He heal them, but that He would accept them just as they were. Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
We can begin to see how a careful study of Scripture can teach us a great deal about getting along with people. If we pray diligently, study the Bible effectively, and read relevant literature, God will use this in the power of His Spirit to sanctify us more and more into the likeness of His Son in how we deal with people.
Keep in mind that any model that does not match the model of Jesus Christ is to be ignored. The writer of Hebrews tells us to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus is the master designer of righteous interpersonal relationships.
None of us can get ourselves ready for true Christian fellowship and community on our own. Asking the Lord to make us ready means opening ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, especially in helping us relate to others in a godly fashion. And getting ready for involvement with others in the church requires a serious attention to prayer.
God uses us in His sanctifying work with other Christians. It is a very great privilege to be used in this process of reshaping others more and more into the image of Jesus. And, it is in this process that we are changed into His likeness. Consider how Jesus used Matthew the tax collector to remodel Simon the Zealot. The zealots were the group most opposed to Roman rule. They often killed Jewish tax collectors who did Caesar's dirty work. By putting these two disciples into his band of twelve, our Lord had in mind to remake them. Simon would have to get over his murderous tendencies right away. I imagine he used a lot of God's power -- accessed through prayer.
If we are going to participate in biblical fellowship and community, then we, too, are going to be part of the fire that purifies others. We go into the furnace of God's refinery together! Our prayers should be that we are useful to God in His work with others and that we will receive the help of our Christian friends as things heat up for us from time to time. In other words, we need to continually pray that we will be both helpful to others in the church and also be able to accept their help to us.
Christians, knowing their sinful natures and shortcomings should be those who can most easily take help from others. Unfortunately, too many Christians do not readily embrace the help of others in the church, preferring proud independence instead. What a shame that God's people cannot easily overcome the tendency to either hide their need for others or think that they are not worth the help of others. One thing that can help us is to develop a godly self-respect and see ourselves through the eyes of God.
Part of your individual obedience, especially as it relates to getting together with other Christians, is to take care of yourself. This includes both working hard to overcome your problems for the sake of others, as well as making sure your own needs are met.
We often decide to get over certain problems for the benefit of those we love. Since we are trying to teach people to love one another in the church and obey Christ's new commandment, many people will want to overcome things for the sake of having a place of service in the church.
For the sake of others, each of us needs to work on our own skills with people. We need to overcome our sins and learn to depend on God continually to increase our usefulness to others. We need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and work hard to see ourselves transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Those who want to follow Christ and want to see the church be a beautiful Bride for the Bridegroom need to realize that hard work is required, not only to depend upon God, but to actually follow His instructions and change our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
When "working ourselves over," we also need to be sure we take care of ourselves. If we tire ourselves out so that we are grumpy around others, we need to take a look and see what we have prioritized in our lives. Many people work hard, long hours to make an awful lot of money. Then they are too tired or too irritable to get along with family or friends. Such a person has indeed elevated the dollar over the things of God. That person needs to start thinking of rewards in heaven as opposed to short-term materialistic gains. Rest is a critical need of frail humans.
In order to be useful to others, each of us also needs to manage the level of stress in our lives so that it does not overwhelm us. Relaxation is a responsibility. While it can be abused and become the main purpose in life, recreation is still necessary and should be used in the proper way. Each of us needs to do things that refresh and revive us. Each of us needs to do things we enjoy doing so well that it takes us away from the consciousness of the trials and difficulties of life just long enough for us to get back our sense of hope and renew our energy.
Many of us pile stress onto ourselves. We often do this by having desires larger than our needs. A simple example is living in a house larger than we need. This creates stress by having to clean too many rooms or caring for too big a yard. In fact, some of us could eliminate a great deal of stress by moving into a townhouse or rental property where we do not have the responsibility of upkeep. That would make more time available for rest -- and for the needs of other people.
All too often we plan too many activities. We want to do too many things, or wish to experience every kind of recreational sport or social activity. Rather than limiting ourselves, we pile it on and wonder why we are so frazzled that we can't get to everything or enjoy life. Simplifying life can substantially reduce stress, and make us more available to help people.
One of the biggest costs of selflessness for the sake of the church, for the sake of biblical fellowship and community, is the simplification of life. One of our most for ot prized possessions is our time. Yet time is the biggest cost of fellowship and community. You must make time available for others to be an excellent small group member.
There is no way around it! Christians who want to prepare themselves for a biblical lifestyle must set aside time for others, especially those within the church. Some things have to go. Time does not expand to the need. Time is limited. Therefore, we must spend our time even more carefully than our money.
Christians can be creative in finding time for others. Once the extremely individualistic mind set is scrapped, it becomes possible to think about taking others along when going to the store or the theater. Sharing meals can double the time spent with others with little cost to our twenty-four hour day. We can limit our television watching to a few choice shows or movies per week. We can also limit the time that we're on the phone when it is not productive in the work of God. We can make lists of what we need to buy and consolidate shopping trips. We can decide to not do a number of things.
We can do chores together. For example, three men can build a fence at one person's house, put in a lawn at another person's house and cut firewood at the third, all the while being able to minister to one another. For most people this is a lot more fun than doing the chores alone and actually reduces stress.
The pursuit of pleasure consumes much time for Americans. Our legitimate need for relaxation can become an insatiable appetite for pleasurable experiences. Whether it's eating out, watching television, personal fitness, or a number of other things, most of us choose more pleasure than necessary. Collectively, we spend too much time doing unnecessary things. We must learn that we do not need to sample all the pleasures of the world. Nor do we have to give ourselves most of the things that we find enjoyable. Many poor people can experience expensive things just once and find enjoyment in the memory. We who are citizens of heaven can approach many of the unharmful and unsinful pleasures of planet Earth in the same way. We can experience many pleasures just once in our lifetime. We do not need to give ourselves to them.
All of this is just to find time for the things God deems important -- and those things are people!
As an individual member of the group it is your responsibility to see that the desires of the Lord are taken seriously and obeyed, to assure that the Lord is honored and glorified by the group. As a group member it is your job to remind the group of its need to obey at any point that it seems to stray from the commands of the Lord.
For example, in Hebrews 10:24 we are instructed, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." This command comes from the Lord's heart. Therefore, whenever your small group is not urging others on to do that which is loving and righteous, you are to request consideration of what would spur on "love and good deeds". That is but one example of watching out for the Lord as a member of the group.
There is a special promise from the Lord when two or more gather in His name. Jesus Himself will be in the midst of your group in some special way, unlike when you are alone with Him. Recognizing that special and personal presence is primarily the group's responsibility. But as an individual member of the group it is also your responsibility to recognize His attendance at your group meeting and behave in a way that welcomes and honors Him as both guest and Head of the group.
It is very important that, to the best of your ability, you commit yourself to the group as a whole (especially it's purpose) as well as to all the other group members. Biblically speaking, this means that you are to carefully consider the cost of group membership, all the while realizing that small group community is God's will for you. It is important for you, at least privately, to fully commit to the group, it's purpose and it's process, soon after the group's beginning. This means that you intend before the Lord to be faithful in group attendance and appropriate in group participation. It most likely means that you make the group and its members a priority over less critical activities, including a lot of recreational activities.
Your group should have a clear-cut purpose. That purpose should be a guide to your behavior in the group. Try to constantly evaluate your behavior to see if it is in line with or helpful to the group in achieving it's purpose. When you discern that your behavior is not helpful, it is your job to cease that behavior even if you must request the group's help. For example, there is no room for jealousy of other members of the group, but if you are unable to overcome this on your own effort, then it is quite appropriate to confess this to the group and ask for their help.
In committing yourself to the group and it's meetings you will make every effort to be there for others. Perhaps on a certain night you are tired or have nothing you need to bring up to the group for advice and help. Committing yourself to the group means that you realize that someone else might need your advice, your particular way of seeing things, and the Scriptures you know. Thus you will make sure you are at the meeting for that person's sake.
It is critically important that you become a team member rather than merely an individual participant. Christianity is a team activity that begins with individual belief but blossoms into a congregational lifestyle of faith. Like a soccer player who enjoys kicking the ball around alone but then goes on to join a team, each of us must subordinate our autonomy to the needs of the church. As would each member of a rescue party searching for a downed plane in the snows above timberline in the Rocky Mountains, you will have to watch out for one another, elevating the team's success over and above individual glory. Christians in a small group must remember that they each have a specific part to play in the team, and that they are to be most concerned for total team obedience. To do this, you will each have to keep in mind both the strengths and also the weakness and sinfulness of each other member of the group.
Especially in the beginning of your group experience, you will need to discover the wide variety of strengths of each group member, as well as help the others discover your own strengths. Then group members will have to spend energy drawing out those strengths for the work and victory of the group. If everyone's strengths are utilized, no one will have to be the "strong one" and take on an unbearable burden of responsibility. Even silent members of the group will be brought out of their timidity and see that their contribution is invaluable.
You will also need to keep in mind each of the other group member's weaknesses and propensities toward specific sins. No one wants the weaknesses or sins of group members to inhibit the group's performance. Instead, weaknesses must be compensated for by the strengths of other group members including yourself. Likewise, anyone's sin must be battled by yourself and the group as a whole.
Suppose one member is struggling to make himself clear in communicating advice to another group member who may be making some mistakes but is too defensive to listen and understand. It is important at such a moment in the life of your group to remember that the communicator is operating bravely out of the weakness inherent in all of us that we can only talk out of our own experience and with our own personality. We cannot be understood by everyone. In such a situation you might want to pray silently for God to help him make clear what he means, at least to someone in the group. Then you might also ask another group member who seems to understand to say what has been said in his or her own manner in hopes that the one confronted would understand this different version. You might also want to support and affirm the original communicator for having become vulnerable and risked gentle confrontation out of obedience to the Lord's urging. You or another member of the group will need to help the defensive person feel loved and confronted, not attacked, and thus help overcome the resistance. In this way your group acts like a team and accomplishes things that individuals cannot. This is what we mean by "synergy".
It will be necessary for you to help your group develop a team spirit. Think in terms of "us" rather than "me". Fortunately in our highly individualistic society we still have the example of athletic teams. The excitement and determination of a team is hard to beat. It is each of our jobs individually to add to that team spirit in our own small group by valuing the small group and feeling excited about what God will do through it. Probably the primary task is to have a group mind set where we each think of the group as a whole, as a team, possibly as a platoon or squad in the Army of God. Team identity and team spirit are essentials to small group success.
There are many ways that you can work as a team member in small group community. One blaring example is the act of checking out your own individual opinions against those of others. We often overvalue our own opinions and just say what we think. Some small groups merely become places where there is rampant exclamation of opinions and results in nothing but soap box lectures and shared ignorance. That is why responsible group members check out their opinions and understanding of Scripture with others. Smart Christians recognize that the team can come up with better counsel than they can alone. And they also recognize that they may occasionally be wrong. Dominant members especially need to remember to check out their opinions and suggestions with the rest of the group in order to make it easier for others to share their opinions and participate in decisions.
You should take your opinions to the group. Work with the others to check the correctness or helpfulness of your ideas. Just saying what you think without such accountability is a waste of the group's time. Work together. Talk to the other group members ? not to the leader very often. Bring out the best from other group members when trying to understand something or help someone.
When a person has a problem and needs guidance from the Bible, you all should collectively share your knowledge of Scripture. Then the group should thoughtfully sort out opinion from truth. Each individual group member should also be open to the group's evaluation of his or her opinion, especially when trying to help someone else. For example, a member might say to the group, "It seems to me that Joe is unnecessarily challenging his boss by the way that he is approaching that problem. What seems ineffective to me is .... blah, blah, blah. What do all of you think?"
If individuals in the group will talk to all of the people in the group more often, especially when trying to focus on an individual, teamwork will develop and maximize the strengths of the group. This will provide the individual with the greatest possible assistance. For example, even deciding when to break for dessert should be a group decision. Rather than allowing this decision to be decided by the host, the leader, or the most dominant members of the group, individual members should check with each other to make sure that the break will not cut off more urgent work and/or discussion.
Probably the most dramatic change needed by the Christian individual is thinking in terms of team accomplishment. You need to keep in mind that small groups can accomplish much more than individuals. Groups can do so much more. While one person can witness to someone, why not send a team of three people from the small group? Why not remember that three or four people's understanding of a specific Scripture being studied will clarify it's meaning more than the comments of a self-proclaimed expert. Rather than look for one specific comment that most closely defines a Scripture, instead look for the concept that is true within four people's comments and capture a fuller understanding of the Holy Spirit's meaning and intentions.
One drawback to working as a team is not having enough time to work as a team. When someone has a difficulty to solve, one person can give quicker advice than four. However, it should be clear that the counsel of one will usually be inferior. It is God's desire to have Christians working together to deliver the superior kind of love of which only the church is capable. It is necessary to allow enough time for true Christian community.
And don't forget to relate to and watch out for others during and between group meetings. Do not focus on your own needs, but recognize that the Lord has given you the privilege of watching out for and serving the other members of your group. Philippians 2:3,4 says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."
While God promises to personally watch out for each of us, He often does this through other believers. We can tell, by the majority of the New Testament instructions to the churches, that each individual has the birthright (as a citizen of heaven) to be cared for by the other members in the family of God.
Therefore it is important that you enter your small group with your attention on the other members. Try to identify any who are in more urgent need of the group's help and prayers during that specific meeting. Taking your mind off of yourself and watching out for others is your most important contribution. What you will say during the group meeting is less important. Your kind and sensitive behavior is critical to the success of your group. Other group members will feel that you are "there for them".
It is each individual's job to draw out the best from each of the other group members. (This is also the group's task.) For example, you can invite the comments of other group members, involving them in the group's process. You can also make certain that no one monopolizes the conversation. That is easily done by asking others what they think and feel.
Keep in mind the various strengths of other group members. It is your job to help the group assure that all other group members participate in the group by sharing their strengths for the good of the whole group. For example, if you know someone is very good at encouraging, exhort that person to help with the encouragement process. Your own encouragement toward another is also important.
It is appropriate for you to bring your needs to the group and let others take care of you. Since you are to watch out for the Lord first and the needs of others second, your own needs will be watched over by God and the group. The concern for you of six or more people is nothing to sneeze at!
The Lord taught us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matt 7:12, Luke 6:31). If you watch out for others, if you are kind and sensitive and concerned, the other group members will return to you more than you ever gave. Since you are going to be taking care of others in the group, they will want to return the favor. It is the sign of a good group member that he or she lets the others know of his or her own needs.
Because Christians often want to be more reassuring than helpful, you may have to bring up to the group a number of times that you are still in need of their help. I have found group members who love me dearly forget that I have asked them for considerable help with my development of a more active prayer life. I have explained that I want to more fully recognize God's interest in what I say to Him. It is very easy for my friends to not bring the subject up again, either because they see me as a strong Christian or because they want to protect me from my feelings of discouragement. But I continue to remind them that I need their prayers, their advice and their sharing of specific Scriptures with me until I have overcome very real mental blocks to prayer and internalize that God wants to listen to me.
To experience God's power through the small group, individuals need to open up and risk vulnerability with one another in order to develop the kind of honesty and level of intimacy necessary to accomplish the many "Togethers of Scripture." Work hard at becoming less private and becoming more transparent to others for the sake of relationship and the work of God in each other's lives.
Maybe the thing that holds us back from biblical honesty is our fear of judgment by other believers. If only Christians could remember that judgment is not one of our assignments from God. We are called only to the ministry of reconciliation. Each one of us must quell any critical spirit within us. We must remember that none of us is perfect.
It is our responsibility to see that there exists no judgmental spirit in the group. Individuals in the small group with a critical spirit must be helped to understand that judging is not their privilege. As long as the group is not critical, it can work with the one or two people who tend to come across with harsh standards and a lot of "shoulds." The intelligent group knows that people will make quicker progress if they are understood and encouraged to grow, rather than criticized. Gentle correction of one another is far different than criticism delivered out of a tone of superiority.
Individuals within a group should open up little by little, much the same way most of us enter the cold ocean waters at the beach. We should share things of a less personal nature and see that they are accepted and dealt with tenderly before you go on to the next level of risk. In this way you can, at your own level of comfort, experience the safety of the group and move toward more and more self-disclosure. At any point where it feels uncomfortable, tell the group and explore with the other group members why the distrust exists and what can be done about it. Only seldom will the distrust actually come from what is going on in the group. Most of the time it will be related to past negative experiences from sharing insights, feelings and thoughts with people less loving than the members of the small group Christian community.
Learn to express your caring openly and clearly. There is a very effective caring that includes empathy followed by feeling that is quite powerful. Let's call this the Verbal Caring Process.
The first step is to show empathy skillfully by expressing understanding of a person's situation. Statements by group members should include understanding of the reality of the person's situation as well as nonjudgmental acceptance (not necessarily agreement) of the person's emotional response to that situation. This first step helps the other person to see that they are important enough for you and the others of your group to leave your own way of approaching life and enter into the way they experience and respond to it. (Examples: "That seems to me a very difficult situation. Are you scared to confront your mother about how she is treating your family?" or "You spend an awful lot of time alone. You must feel very lonely.")
The second step of this Verbal Caring Process is to share how you feel about the other person being in his or her situation with the feelings he or she has. This is your feeling response toward the person and his or her situation. It is giving a part of yourself. It comes from the heart. It is very personal. Responding in this way shows that you have a human emotional response to the person. It is a powerful way of joining with another person in their joys and sorrows. (Examples: "I really hope you can work this out with your mother." or "I am very sad that you are so lonely. I really want you to be able to develop friends and not be so lonely.")
This verbal caring process is often necessary as a preliminary step to giving advice. It is important that the other person think you understand his situation, thoughts, and feelings and that you "give a hoot" before you give advice. He wants to know that you have a good grasp of the situation. This is taken care of by the first step ? that of understanding the person's reality and reaction to it. It is also important that the other person feel that you care. This is taken care of by the second step ? that of sharing your own feelings about the person's situation. Only when a person thinks you understand him and his situation and that you care is he ready to hear your advice.
It is also helpful when giving advice to explain your motive. If you use the above verbal caring process, your feeling response will clarify your motive and add safety to the conversation. When individuals jump in with counsel without first showing that they understand the situation and emotions and showing their caring by responding with their own feelings, they may meet resistance to their ideas because the other person either does not feel that they understand or that their motivations come from a caring love. When the steps of verbal caring are left out, individuals feel they have to accept help from "strangers".
To be an excellent group ember, you need to know the tasks of a healthy, successful group. It is the individual group member's responsibility to help the group work at these tasks. Let's address a few of those tasks now so you can help your group.
When group purpose and goals are being decided at the very beginning of your group's existence, it is your responsibility to fully participate in that discussion and those decisions. Individual group members should honestly share their ideas about the purpose of the group and lend their vision about what overall goals should be addressed. When individuals silently object to the purpose or goals of the group, they will usually not fully participate later in helping the group accomplish what it has decided to do.
While more introverted group members will do most of their active discussion about proposed purpose and goals in their mind, they should still make some sort of verbal contribution to the group and share that valuable deeper thinking. Perhaps an individual group member thinks that the small group should do some meaningful service project during the course of the year, and this has not been brought up. Each member should consider that the thoughts they have may be from the Lord and that it may be their duty to express something for Him.
When the group initially decides about who is to be a member of the group and who is not, you must be careful to make your opinions known, especially if you have any misgiving about a person. In Christian small group community, deciding upon membership is a costly decision. The privileges of membership include more than simple social friendliness. Those privileges of membership in small group community will grow into risking vulnerability for the good of yourself and the other members, sharing possessions and every one of the Togethers, ....
Once membership is decided, each group member needs to accept as full card-carrying members every individual that the group has accepted. Because each group member is a citizen in God's kingdom, he or she is to have the rights and privileges of full Christian community.
Therefore, it is your responsibility to privately work out as much of your misgivings about a specific member of the group as possible. When this is not sufficient, you should seek the help of a couple of individuals in the group who accept (or are able to tolerate) and eagerly desire the other person to be a member of the group. (Need we say that you should not seek out those other people in the group who might be having trouble with that group member?) If this is still insufficient then your difficulty should be brought up to the group as a whole, letting the whole group tackle the problem.
The group can help members work out their problems with each other in many ways. The group can struggle to obey Romans 15:7 with respect to acceptance, and better attitudes towards group members will result. The strength of the Scriptures and of group Christian love can be applied. A group member who is difficult to accept can be helped to make some changes.
When the group discusses various activities it wants to do, it is your responsibility to participate in that discussion and not hold back your wants and needs. The group must include enough activities to meet the needs of all group members, even yours.
The opportunity to discuss life in light of the Scriptures should be a primary activity of the Christian small group meeting for community. Help the group see that everyone gets their urgent needs addressed. If someone is expounding on eschatology and another person is having trouble with a rebellious teenager, it is each group member's responsibility to make certain that the philosophical discussion is limited. It is far more necessary to see that very real and practical help is given the parent who must go back into the battle and live righteously for God while facing obnoxious behavior from his or her adolescent. The most critical aspects of each member's walk with Jesus Christ should receive adequate attention from the group.
Groups plan courses of action and make decisions. It is your responsibility to participate in that planning. This means that you must carefully consider the issues and not merely lend passive approval. The work of God requires each individual's active participation.
For example, your group may be deciding how another group member should reach out to his or her neighbor. It is each group member's responsibility to actively participate in this process. At another time your group may be making a decision on a service project to impact the community and bring attention to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This also requires each group member's full participation. Participation does not necessarily mean assertive verbal participation. Thinking deeply for 15 minutes and then making a one sentence statement can change and improve the whole course of the group's action and assure it's success.
It is your responsibility as well as every other group member's responsibility to help in carrying out the group's decisions. If a group decides, for example, to help an individual learn how to pray more faithfully, then each individual member must take responsibility to see that what has been decided actually happens. He must be diligent to do that part of the action that the group has decided he will do, whether that is praying for the individual, meeting with the individual for group prayer, or something else.
Let's suppose that your group has decided to have a counseling booth at the shopping mall during the two weeks prior to Christmas, and you get sick and cannot take your tour of duty. It is your responsibility to make certain that your illness does not negatively affect the group's success. You would need to arrange for a substitute, or, in the case of serious illness, you would let somebody else in the group know that a substitute needed to be found and that you could not take care of it because of the seriousness of your condition. Group members have the responsibility of doing their part in implementing the plans and decisions of the group.
As the group does its tasks, many barriers will arise to success. Be on constant watch for these barriers to proper group functioning. For example, one of the most common barriers that impedes group success is long winded or circular discussions where the same things are being said over and over and time is being killed because of lack of direction. If each individual group member is vigilant about watching for this, then comments can be made to change the whole course of a group's meeting. You might say something like, "I think we're all saying the same thing and need to bring this discussion to a close." This would be very helpful and rarely misunderstood.
There are so many barriers that can arise to hinder the group's success that it is impossible to mention them all. But consider the important barrier of people beginning to have personality conflicts with one another. The earlier these are caught, the more successfully they can be resolved. If they are to be caught quickly, it will require the sensitive observation of all of the group members. This is just one example of the importance of each individual group member taking seriously his responsibility in identifying and overcoming barriers to the group's success.
Successful groups utilize available resources needed for success. It is your responsibility to make information available as necessary regarding helpful resources of which you are knowledgeable. For example, you might know of a particular translation of the Bible that will give a clearer understanding of a difficult passage. Or you might know of a Christian counselor who might be of help to a group member struggling with an emotional disorder. Or you might know where someone can borrow tables to set up at the mall for a counseling booth at Christmas.
Although it hardly needs to be said, we should at least mention that it is each individual group member's responsibility to be of help to others whenever he or she can. By this we do not mean that you over-extend yourself so that you do not have time for your other biblical responsibilities. But you should not withhold emotional support or physical help if necessary and you can free up the time.
Living for others is the real Christian life! Pursuit of our own pleasures and comfort is not biblically recommended. It can even keep us from storing up treasures in heaven. (The Bible indicates we can have our treasure now for a short while or later for eternity, not both.) Although the right choice should be obvious, too many of us make this short life the center stage, ignoring our ultimate destination, the eternal heaven.
In order to succeed, the group must help individual members act in ways helpful to accomplishment of the group purpose. In this respect the group helps its members behave in line with the group purpose and goals and controls dysfunctional behavior that would hinder. Both of these tasks are touchy and require sensitive interaction and your help.
During the normal course of group meetings the group communicates many expectations for proper behavior. Many of these expectations are handled by what we call 'social norms', nonverbal rules for appropriate behavior. An example of the power of social norms is felt when a member says something cruel or tells an off color joke and no one responds. At other times the group draws out 'higher' behavior from its members. For example, when it is appropriate to encourage another member, someone in the group will likely say something like, "I think we need to encourage Verna." In these and many other ways, what is appropriate is communicated and expected. It is your job to help the group and other group members know what is appropriate behavior when you know and they do not.
Sometimes the group has to control dysfunctional behavior. Since we are all sinful creatures, some of our behavior is not helpful or righteous. For example, if the group is being adversely affected by someone who talks too much, the group will need your help to resolve the problem. After one person gently confronts the verbose person, another person may have the task of encouraging the talkative one to listen more carefully if he or she becomes defensive. It may be another person's responsibility to jump in and reassure the person that he or she is greatly loved and that the criticism is not rejection. In fact, every single group member in such a situation should make a significant contribution so that there are not divisions that develop in the group. Don't allow yourself to 'lay low' when a member's difficult behavior is being addressed.
You can be of great help to the group leader. Each individual group member can helpfully evaluate the performance of the leader in order to help him or her to do a better job. There are very many ways that you can be helpful to the group worker. Most important is that you do not sit back and let the burden of all the work of the group fall on the leader's shoulders.
It is the responsibility of the group and its members to see that the group leader does not do things the group itself can do, or that group members can do. One of the common causes of small group failure is a leader who does too much, developing crippling dependency in the group and it's members. Therefore, it is appropriate for individuals from time to time to say to the group, "I think we can do more to help Gerald and we are letting Bill (the leader) do work of which we are very capable.". It is also acceptable to address the leader, such as, "Bill, I think Larry needs practice in expressing empathy and concern rather than you doing it.". (Any leader who cannot accept such advice from the group has not enough humility to work with groups.)
One of the things you will do to help your group, almost automatically, is be an outlet for the Holy Spirit through the gift or gifts he has given you for the benefit of the church. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." As a conduit for the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit you have been given at least one gift which will flow through you to benefit the others as long as you do not quench the Holy Spirit by practiced sin and spiritual stubbornness.
So, it is very, very important that you desire to live for God and not yourself. Whenever you sin willingly and actively, you can be assured that it will hurt the others of your church and small group. If you don't believe me, study carefully Joshua, chapters 6 & 7.
I'm sure you wouldn't want to do anything that would impede God's goodness flowing through you to your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a very great privilege to have gifts from the Holy Spirit for the good of the church. My gifts include exhortation, and no matter where I am or what I am doing around Christians, the Holy Spirit exhorts people through me. I sure try not to trade such honor and privilege for some stupid sin that only dishonors God.
So, go to every group meeting, not so much for what you can get out of it, but to be the vehicle for the Holy Spirit to manifest and bless. Of course, the gifts of the others will bless you in return. But you need not consider this ? it will happen anyway. So, sit back and feel the wonderful privilege of going to share your supernatural gifts with others.
Now I would like to talk to you about how to address some problems you might face as a small group member to help you have a few ideas of how to approach them.
Let's start with what to do if you are just not comfortable in your group.
If you are not comfortable with the particular mix of people, you might feel trapped, thinking that it would be just too rude to tell the group that you would like to look for another group to join. I am assuming that it is not just a small discomfort with the particular people, but that after giving it a month or two you just do not "connect" with the others in the group. In short, you would like to find a group of people a little more like yourself or with more similar interests. Now, I do want to caution you not to leave a group just because the people are different. Being in such a group will really help you to grow in Christ. But, if you are lonely or looking for friends to do things with, or if the people in your group just cannot seem to understand your situation, then maybe changing groups will be good for you. Be careful to determine that they don't understand you, rather than that they don't AGREE with you.
Just tell the group you are thankful that they included you in their group and that you will keep all you learned in the group confidential. Then tell them that the group doesn't seem to "fit right" and that you will not be coming any more. You might even ask them if they know of a group more like what you are looking for.
I just mentioned confidentiality. I should emphasize that it is your job to keep confidential things confidential. Trust between people is so very important. Often in small groups people tell personal things. They are telling you in the group at that time, most likely for that discussion only. They sure don't want to learn that you have told others or hear that you mentioned it for prayer anywhere else. People open up in the context of the small group for then and there only. If you want to honor Christ, you must ask permission to share with others private things a person has told you alone or in the group.
What do you do when group meetings last too long for you? At the start of the next meeting just tell the group that the group meetings are going too long for you and you need the group to decide whether you are to leave the meetings early or the group stick more closely to its agreed-upon duration. Now, if you do not want to miss anything that goes on in the group, then do not give the option of you leaving early - just ask the group to stick to its time limit.
What if you think that it takes too long for the meeting to actually get started? Maybe people are coming late, or maybe they are just hanging around socializing. Again, any time during the group meeting speak up and say that you want to bring something up for the group to solve. Then tell them that you would like to get started on time and want to know what others think. The ensuing discussion will likely lead to a more timely beginning. However, if good reasons arise for starting late as has been happening, you will then need to tell the group if you have changed your mind or if you need the group's help to not be irritated or if you want to find a group that spends more time on the group purpose you wanted.
Another situation we should address is that of single parents in groups. Single parents with small children have unique problems to be in small groups. They also have some special needs a group can help with.
One of the biggest problems for a single parent is babysitting. Picking up a babysitter before coming to group is usually manageable. But when she returns from group and her kids are asleep, how does she drive her babysitter home without leaving the kids alone in the house or having to wake them up. Most groups would arrange for someone in the group to pick up the babysitter, bring the single mother to group, take her home and then take the babysitter back home. This solves the problem completely and is very, very helpful.
Single parents often cannot afford to do special things with the group, outside of the group meetings. Even bringing something for dessert on a regular basis could be difficult on a very tight budget. So, keep in mind for the single parents and others who get along day-by-day financially, not to put added expense burdens on them.
Single parents sometimes have children who -- practically -- have no grandparents. This is why I always recommend Christian community groups be made up of mixed ages. My idea of a perfect group, and this is hard to bring into being, is two stable couples, one single parent, one grandparent-aged couple, one senior, one single person and one couple struggling with their relationship. Anyway, back to the single parent. It really helps a single parent if older couples will act sort of like grandparents by taking the kids places, etc. And any sharp group will plan for group members to be willing to take the children, all together or spread out, for one weekend a month to give the single parent a break, either a time to get away or a time to catch up on things around home.
Another thing I just have to talk to you about. Good group members do not use what I call "Christianese", especially to defend themselves against helpful interaction. You're probably wondering what on earth I am talking about. Well, let me start out with something that just drives me up the wall, and that is the Christian use of the word "offend." Biblically, this word, used as in "you offended me", should be so rarely used that it is heard less than once a year. What Christians usually mean by the word is, "Leave me alone." which is a totally unbiblical concept.
True, people do not want to hear anything negative about themselves. But this, too, is quite unbiblical. Doesn't the Bible say that we are all sinners? Isn't our best like filthy rags? And are not we saved from condemnation for sin and our lack of perfection? Isn't that why Jesus died? Then why on earth would we not want to hear people's opinion about us? They may be right or they may be wrong. Most likely they are partially right and what we could glean from their criticism or evaluation will only be for our benefit in becoming more of what Jesus Christ wants us to be. Please don't get offended. Disagree. Be challenged. But don't use the Christian power trip of being offended. It will only make people back off from you because you have told them it is dangerous to interact with you.
If you have trouble handling criticism, positive or negative, it is important for your sake and the sake of your group to find a way to handle it. Criticism, whether offered to be helpful or hurtful, can be useful to you. First of all, remember that you do not have to immediately agree. All you have to do is to think about what was said, to consider if any of the message is God's help to you. Just tell a person that you appreciate their comments and that you will consider them. Then merely try to find something correct in their comments that can help you to grow as a person. Here is something that can help in every touchy situation. Respond first to the Lord, not to the person talking to or about you. Do not automatically respond to those criticizing you. Instead, first ask the Lord what He wants you to say in response. What the Lord thinks matters a whole lot more than the other person.
Another dysfunctional type of Christianese includes trite Christian sayings and answering things with Scripture quotations without helping people see how those sayings or Bible verses apply to their situation. Trite sayings and verses without explanation and involvement are usually too simplistic and superficial. They are usually just ways of getting in and out fast, of not committing, merely a way of staying safe. How can anyone argue with you or involve you in discussion about a Christian saying or a Bible verse? But, in fact, you are really saying that you are just trying to stay safe and will not risk yourself to be helpful or be a friend. You are really holding people off, sometimes even rejecting them, when you answer with only simple sayings and Bible verses. Besides, it does not please God. It only keeps you safe. As for God, He wants you to teach and counsel and do things that go beyond short and sweet Christian sayings and verses.
Let me address one more thing before ending. It will be very helpful for you to take a notebook to group, one that you can keep where no one but you will ever see it. In that notebook, write down notes for each group member. Divide your notes into the categories of strengths, weaknesses and sins.
In my book published by NavPress way back in 1983 and now out of print except you can still buy one from me for $10 plus $2 postage, I address the topic of godly self-respect. The book is titled Find Yourself ? Give Yourself. In my book I explain that we all have strengths and that they are signposts to tell us how God wants to use us in this world. God has designed each of us ? just as he wants us to be. He has given us strengths to use in his service. Therefore, it is important that you as a member of the group help other group members discover these strengths, many of which they will use right there in your group. Write the strengths you see in people in your notebook. For as long as you are together in the small group, be continually encouraging the other group members to use their strengths, for as they do so they are praising God by acknowledging the talents he has placed in their lives.
I also mention in my book that weaknesses are not sins but merely those things God did not want us to do in order to steer us away from the wrong ministries so that we don't waste time doing the wrong good things. He did not give us some talents because He knew he would give us only a few assignments that would require such strengths. And the purpose for giving us a few assignments for which we were not given strengths is so that we have to totally depend upon Him. When he delivers us from situations we are not at all equipped to handle, then we have experiential proof of his existence and nearness and involvement in our lives. So we can be as thankful for the things we cannot do as we can for our strengths and abilities. Isn't that interesting?! So, write down the weaknesses of group members. And then write down other group members' names who have the corresponding strengths that match that group member's weaknesses. After that, watch carefully during the process of the group from week to week and month to month for times when a person is in need of someone else's strength. Point this out to the group or to the person who has the needed ability. You can't imagine how valuable you will be as a sort of referral person. In many ways, this contribution is as great as volunteering any of your strengths.
The third thing I point out in my book is that we each have to put up a valiant battle against personal sin. Sins and weaknesses are quite different things. Inabilities and wrongdoings are not the same. Each of us struggles with sin, often over and over again with the very same sins. From time to time these sins will be confessed or will expose themselves in the group. Write them down under that person's name in your notebook. First, they are there for prayer. Ask the Lord to help all group members overcome their sins. This way you can be specific. Second, you are writing down each person's struggle against sin to be helpful. Watch for times when they are going to be tried by the devil, situations that will tempt them to act sinfully. Then give warning, advice and loving support.
What is important is to take other people's lives seriously. The people of God hold one another's lives in their hands, so-to-speak. Unlike the world, every meeting of Christians is to be mutually helpful. To come to your small group as a form or entertainment or education is not biblical at all. Unfortunately, the church too often becomes an institution for higher education rather than a community for holy living.
There are many more things that can be said regarding the responsibilities of individual group membership. But these are those that come to mind. A continual awareness of your responsibility for the benefit of others in the church will bring to your mind other things you need to do to be obedient to the Lord in small group community. 
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