Small Group Etiquette

I think Small Group Bible studies are one of the best ways for Christians to grow in Christ. It is an opportunity to listen, share, and learn from others who may be further along in their Christian walk. However, if Small Groups are going be productive for everyone in attendance, then there are a few simple rules that should be followed. If not, then discussion can disintegrate into prideful arguments which do more damage than good.

Randall Chase gives some helpful advice to ensure that Christ is glorified by all during biblical discussions.

Chase writes:

Point One: Remember true relationship building is going to have the greatest lasting impact. This means that it’s not about how well you argue a point if the person that you’re speaking to doesn’t respect you as an individual enough to receive what you’re saying. While you may get the point across, chances are he will not develop a lasting, life-altering outcome. The old saying “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” holds true even in the world of apologetics. This is the case too in the event of large debates, where two speakers are standing in front of an audience. The two speakers must have enough respect for one another to remain calm and collected, otherwise it simply becomes an argument. Not much is usually gained through simple argument. 

Point Two: Don’t speak beyond your knowledge base. Nothing kills an argument or discussion quicker than when you throw out a piece of information that you simply looked up online or pulled from a blog and you can’t verify it. And NEVER make something up. There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you.” This not only builds your credibility as a researcher but it also opens the door for follow-up conversations. Just remember that true research requires honest research. The following quote speaks volumes:

One of the most disastrous illusions of the internet age is that an amateur plus Google is equivalent to a scholar. A search engine offers information, more or less relevant according to the skill of the searcher. But it does not sift that information; it does not sort fact from fancy, wheat from chaff… A bright amateur armed with the internet may at best be better informed than he would otherwise have been, and he may occasionally catch a real scholar in a factual error. But it will not turn him into a scholar himself. There is no such thing as effortless erudition. —Dr. Timothy McGrew

Point Three: Always be willing to learn. There is a great need for learning and growing in the field of apologetics, before you ever get to the point that you can share what you have learned with others. You need to grow in your personal understanding of the truth claims in Scripture. Partly because at this point most aren’t on the level of public debating, but rather we’re just beginning to understand what it means to teach and how to organize an apologetics program. Everyone has to start somewhere, from C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, and even Thomas Aquinas. They all began learning and growing at some point in their relationship with God. Likewise, they all started attaining to be more educated and learned in apologetics. The goal isn’t to be a better arguer, but rather the goal is to first grow more in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Then with this we can share the truth.

We see clearly that Jesus calls us to Love him with our entire mind. When He was talking to an Expert in the Law in Luke, one can see that there is just as much importance placed on Loving God with his Heart, as there is with loving Him with his Mind.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:25-29

If your ultimate goal is simply to learn how to debate well and win an argument there’s other classes for that. This class should be the edifying and building up of fellow believers with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit within our life, and eventually to share the truth of the gospel with those around us. Each person has a different reason for desiring to grow apologetically. My personal desire was to be able to build up and edify in the mission field. Now understand: mission fields are not always some far off overseas place but they may be your neighborhood, school, or place of business. Start in your own backyard this is where God calls us first; it is our Jerusalem as in referencing to Acts 1:8.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Point Four: Listen first, respond second. Understand that when you do learn about your faith and the faith of others that you are maintaining a solid grasp on truth. This type of training isn’t done so you can dominate the debate. Remember the key is compassion. When you speak to someone of a different faith or lack thereof, you must make sure they see first your compassion and then they are more likely to hear you. You must also learn the art of listening—this is one of the greatest lost art forms. So often if you watch debates with others or listen to conversations, people are so focused on getting their point out there that they neglect to listen and respond to the others concerns. This will immediately put you a leg up if you are willing to listen before you respond and then respond appropriately to the concerns laid out before you.

Sometimes its just takes a person verbalizing a concern or hurt they have to begin a healing process for them, or to help them to understand the truth. Along with this know that when you do present something that is different from what they have thought and believed it may come as a shock to them. Oftentimes when I am speaking on the subject of the historicity of Christ, I am met with disdain and repugnance; once I am able to clearly elucidate the truth of the historical claims to Christ I am met with positive questions rather than smart retorts. Remember above all else you are representing Christ in all things, therefore do not get sucked into the trap of the quips and snide comebacks. These will shut the open mind of the genuine seeker quicker than anything. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

You can change the mind quickly, but changing the heart takes time.

Why Practice Spiritual Disciplines?

whyIn Donald Whitney’s post “Remember, Every Spiritual Discipline Is About Jesus” he asks and answers some great questions.

Whitney writes:

Why pray when it appears that your prayers go unanswered? Why keep on reading the Bible when it seems like you’re getting little from it? Why continue worshiping God privately when you feel no spiritual refreshment? Why persist in keeping a journal when writing your entries bores you? Why engage in fasting, silence and solitude, serving, and other spiritual disciplines when you sense meager benefits from doing so?

It’s easy to forget the real purpose of anything that’s as habitual as the activities of the spiritual life. And purposeless spiritual practices soon become . . .

To continue reading follow this link to The Center for Biblical Spirituality.

 

No Coasting into Christlikeness

Life LinesToday there are a lot of people saying that just believing in Jesus is enough to get you to heaven. Now, I believe that we are saved by faith alone; however, I also believe that true saving faith will be seen in the way we live our lives. The desires of those who are saved have been changed. They no longer hunger and thirst after the things of this world, but hunger for the holiness, righteousness, and purity of Christ Jesus.

Dr. Donald Whitney’s post “No Coasting into Christlikeness” clearly identifies what the Bible says about growing in godliness. Godliness is not an option for the true believer. Once we receive the Spirit of God our lives are eternally changed.

Whitney writes:

When it comes to discipline in the Christian life, many believers question its importance. Devotion to prayer declines into drudgery. The real-life usefulness of meditation on Scripture seems uncertain. The purpose of a discipline like fasting is a mystery. Why not leave spiritual discipline to those who seem to more disciplined by nature and let the rest of us “live by grace”?

First, we must understand what we shall become. The Bible says of God’s elect, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). God’s eternal plan ensures that every Christian will ultimately conform to Christlikeness. We will be changed “when he appears” so that “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). If you are born again (John 3:3-8), this is you, Christian, as soon as “he appears.”

 So why talk about discipline? If God has predestined our conformity to Christlikeness, where does discipline fit in? Why not just coast into the promised Christlikeness and forget about discipline?

Although God will grant Christlikeness to us when Jesus returns, until then He intends for us to grow toward it. We aren’t merely to wait for holiness, we’re to pursue it. “Strive for peace with everyone,” we’re commanded in Hebrews 12:14, “and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Notice carefully what that says: without holiness—that is, Christlikeness; Godliness—no one will see the Lord, regardless of how many times they’ve been to church or how often they’ve engaged in religious activities or how spiritual they believe themselves to be.

 It’s crucial—crucial—to understand that it’s not our pursuit of holiness that qualifies us to see the Lord. Rather, we are qualified to see the Lord by the Lord, not by good things we do. We cannot produce enough righteousness to impress God and gain admittance into Heaven. Instead we can stand before God only in the righteousness that’s been earned by another, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus lived a life good enough to be accepted by God and worthy of entrance into Heaven. And He was able to do so because He was God in the flesh. Living a perfect life qualified Him to be a sacrifice that the Father would accept on behalf of others who by sin had disqualified themselves from Heaven and a relationship with God. As proof of God’s acceptance of Jesus’ life and sacrifice, God raised Him from the dead.

In other words, Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life in complete obedience to the commands of God, and He did so in order to give the credit for all that obedience and righteousness to those who had not kept all of God’s law, and He died for them on a Roman cross in order to receive the punishment they deserved for all their sins against God’s law.

 As a result, all who come to God trusting in the person and work of Jesus to make them right with God are given the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). The presence of the Holy Spirit causes all those in whom He resides to have new holy hungers they didn’t have before. They hunger, for example, for the holy word of God—the Bible—that they used to find boring or irrelevant. They have new holy longings, such as the longing to live in a body without sin and to have a mind no longer tempted by sin. They yearn to live in a holy and perfect world with holy and perfect people, and to see at last the One the angels perpetually praise as “Holy, holy, holy” (Revelation 4:8). These are some of the holy heartbeats in all those in whom the Holy Spirit resides.

Consequently, when the Holy Spirit indwells someone, that person begins to prize and pursue holiness. Thus, as we have seen in Hebrews 12:14, anyone who is not striving for holiness will not see the Lord. And the reason they will not see the Lord in eternity is because they do not know the Lord now, for those who know Him are given His Holy Spirit, and all those indwelled by the Holy Spirit are compelled to pursue holiness.

 And so, the urgent question every Christian should ask is, “How then shall I pursue holiness, the holiness without which I will not see the Lord? How can I become more like Jesus Christ?”

We find a clear answer in 1 Timothy 4:7: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (NASB). In other words, if your purpose is Godliness—and godliness is your purpose if you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, for He makes godliness your purpose—then how do you pursue that purpose? According to this verse, you “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”

 This verse is the theme for Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. In it I attempt to unpack the meaning of 1 Timothy 4:7 and apply it, chapter-by-chapter, in practical ways. I will refer to the scriptural ways Christians discipline themselves in obedience to this verse as the Spiritual Disciplines. I maintain there that the only road to Christian maturity and Godliness (a biblical term synonymous with Christlikeness and holiness) passes through the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines. I emphasize that Godliness is the goal of the Disciplines, and when we remember this, the Spiritual Disciplines become a delight instead of drudgery.

Source: The Biblical Center for Spirituality

Advice for Dealing with Criticism

heart of a servant leader

By Bob Pittenger

I am so thankful for those who are willing to step up and lead. Regardless of whether it is a paid or volunteer position, leading a dozen or thousands, or public or behind closed doors, we must have leaders who are willing to be the target of criticism. Leadership is never easy. There will always be spectators sitting on the sidelines telling everyone who will listen how it could have been done better. It may not be right, but that is the life of a leader.

So, if you are a leader of any kind THANK YOU! Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for having a passionate vision that will not allow you to sit idly hoping that someone else will rise up and meet the challenge. Thanks for giving of yourself for the benefit of others, the team, the organization, or the Kingdom of God. Thanks for working to the point of exhaustion because more than anything else you want to make a difference. THANKS!!!!

During my morning devotion I read a great post by Dr. Chuck Swindoll on dealing with criticism. So, I want to share his post with you as a way of saying thanks to all our great leaders out there. I hope you find this as comforting and encouraging as did I.

Swindoll writes:

Looking for a role model on how to handle criticism? It would be worth your while to check out the book of Nehemiah. On several occasions this great-hearted statesman was openly criticized, falsely accused, and grossly misunderstood. Each time he kept his cool . . . he rolled with the punch . . . he considered the source . . . he refused to get discouraged . . . he went to God in prayer . . . he kept building the wall (Nehemiah 2:19–20; 4:1–5).

One of the occupational hazards of being a leader is receiving criticism (not all of it constructive, by the way). In the face of that kind of heat, there’s a strong temptation to “go under,” “throw in the towel,” “bail out.” Many have faded out of leadership because of intense criticism. I firmly believe that the leader who does anything that is different or worthwhile or visionary can count on criticism.

Along this line, I appreciate the remarks made by the fiery president of a past generation, Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

To those words I add a resounding amen.

A sense of humor is of paramount importance to the leader. Many of God’s servants are simply too serious! There are at least two tests we face that determine the extent of our sense of humor:

the ability to laugh at ourselves

the ability to take criticism

Believe me, no leader can continue effectively if he or she fails these tests! Equally important, of course, is the ability to sift from any criticism that which is true, that which is fact. We are foolish if we respond angrily to every criticism. Who knows, God may be using those words to teach us some essential lessons, painful though they may be.

Isn’t this what Proverbs 27:5–6 is saying?

Better is open rebuke
Than love that is concealed.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.

And let me call to your attention the word friend in these verses. Friendship is not threatened but strengthened by honest criticism. But—when you are criticized by one who hardly knows you, filter out what is fact . . . and ignore the rest!

Nehemiah did that . . . and he got the wall built.

Source: Insight.org

Feed My Sheep

heart of a servant leaderEarly in ministry I heard a well-respected pastor say, “If you’re going to be a shepherd, you have to smell like the sheep.” Often times pastors struggle to know exactly what their sheep (church members) need. We want to obey God in leading and teaching exactly what He has commanded, but at the same time we can’t help but wonder if we’re meeting the needs of those entrusted to our care.

The good shepherd knows his sheep. He doesn’t just recognize them as a group of people who are members of the congregation; but instead, he knows them personally. He spends time with them, listens to them, strives to meet their needs. He is a shepherd who confidently walks out in front of the sheep and leads them to still waters and green pastures. He is not a sheep dog that tries to frighten the sheep into going a certain direction. He is the shepherd who calls his sheep unto himself and they follow him because they know him and his love for them.

In his article “9 Heartfelt Things Church Members Would Like to Say to their Pastors,” Dr. Thom Rainer helps clarify how we pastors can better lead, feed, and know our sheep.

Dr. Rainer writes:

I am among the most blessed men in the world. God has graciously saved me and sustained me. I have an incredible family. The place and ministry where I serve vocationally is a gift from God.

And then, as if I should be blessed even more, God has allowed me to serve and hear from church leaders across the world. In this article, I share some insights I heard from church members via social media, emails, blog comments, and personal conversations.

The following nine statements are heart matters for many church members. For the most part, these members are not the perpetual critics and the business meeting naysayers. These are men and women who truly love their pastors. But many of them do have some words from the heart they would like to share with their pastors. But many are reticent to do so, because they know their pastors often receive criticisms and inordinate demands for attention.

So, hear these heartfelt words from church members who love their pastors, from men and women who truly desire the best for them.

  1. “Let me know you really care for me.” That does not mean you call me regularly or that you visit me on demand. It is more of a disposition, or maybe words from the pulpit that demonstrate your love for the members. We can tell if you really care for us and love us.
  2. “Teach me the Bible.” I know you are inundated with requests, and the expectations for your time are often unreasonable. But please do not let those people distract you from your time in the Word. I am hungry for biblical teaching and preaching. Please spend time studying the Word so you can teach us well.
  3. “Help me deal with change.” This world and culture are changing so fast that I find myself dealing with fear and uncertainly. Help me understand the steadfastness of God in a turbulent world. And understand that my fear of change in the church is often related to my fear of change in the world. So lead me gently as you lead change in the church.
  4. “Don’t lead too far ahead.” I do want you to lead us. But don’t get so far ahead of us that we mistake you for the enemy and shoot you in the rear. I know change is necessary, but learn the pace of change that is best for our church.
  5. “Help me deal with family issues.” Some of us are in struggling marriages. Some of us are lonely whether we are single or married. Some of us have problems with our children. Some of us are dealing with aging parents. We hurt deeply when we have hurts about our families. Show us biblical truths about these issues. And show us your pastoral heart and concern for these issues.
  6. “Be transparent.” We know you are imperfect, but the critics sometimes cause you to hide your faults. For sure, we don’t want every nitty gritty personal detail about you and your family. But we do want to know that you have some of the same struggles we do. It helps us to identify with you better. It helps us to pray for you more.
  7. “Don’t get defensive when I offer constructive criticism.” I know that this one is tough. You get so many criticisms already; many of them are petty and self-serving. But there are many of us who love you and will, on rare occasions, offer some words that we think are best for you. Hear us without being defensive. Pray that God’s Spirit will help you discern when you should listen and when you should ignore.
  8. “Pray for me.” Please let me know that you love your church members so much that you pray for us regularly. Let us know that you consider prayer for the members to be one of your highest priorities.
  9. “Give me hope.” This world confuses me. This degenerating culture scares me. Show me how God has dealt with such hopeless times in the past that they may be times of hope for me today. Show me Christ’s possibilities, His hope, and His encouragement in difficult days.

Pastors, your task is not easy. Indeed, it is impossible without Christ’s strength. You have many church members who love you. They are often the silent members and, thus, the disregarded members. Hear these words from healthy church members that you might be even a better pastor to them.

What would you add, church member? What would you add, pastor or staff? How do these nine sentences resonate with you?

My blog post this coming Saturday: “Nine Heartfelt Things Pastors Would Like to Say to Their Church Members.”

Source: www.thomrainer.com