Fanning the Flame #19 — Small Groups of Saints

Recently our Fanning the Flame team gathered to listen to a lecture on CD about Small Group Discipleship.  Here are some of my take-aways.

Many Christians have never experienced true Biblical fellowship;  they are not being discipled or discipling others;  they frankly are not interested in making disciples.  The commission within the Great Commission is “Make Disciples!”  so as saints of God, we need to take steps to make sure that is what we are about.

These are the elements of a Biblical Small Group Fellowship:

  • Worship
  • Evangelism
  • Loving
  • Learning

As you can see they form the acronym WELL.  A healthy small group will include these activities.

There is a strong biblical basis for small groups in both the Old and New Testaments.  The father-in-law of Moses advised him to form small groups in order to spread out the responsibilities of leadership (Exodus 18).  Jesus chose twelve men to disciple (Luke 6:12-13) and the early church met in small groups in the homes of Lydia, Priscilla and Aquila and others.

To be maximally successful, small groups must:

  • Be a church-wide ministry
  • Have strong pastoral and leadership support:  leaders must be in small groups
  • Have clearly defined faith goals — each group should have a kingdom project, something outside of the congregation they will do together
  • Establish relationships with non-believers
  • Have periodic entrance and exit times

Some of the blessings of small groups include:

  • Facilitation of  discipleship — they are relational, not just informational
  • Exponential expansion
  • Provides a core of trained leaders
  • Helps the Elders to fulfill their responsibilities to love and know the flock

Of course, there was more.  Our Small Group Task Force is already hard at work, and we are hoping this will become a focal point for our revitalization.  Facilitators are being selected and trained, and a “practice” small group, comprised of those people will start soon.

Keep praying for us as we continue on this journey to fan our embers into flames!

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Spiritual Discipline For a Spiritual Life by Donald S. Witney –FTF Book Review

This book review is excerpted from one done by a Fanning the Flame team member, Ted,  and used with his permission.

The Spiritual Disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are both personal and interpersonal spiritual disciplines.  When Christians read and study the Bible on their own, this is a personal spiritual discipline.  Other disciplines are congregational such as fellowship, hearing God’s word preached and participation on the Lord’s Supper.  These are interpersonal spiritual disciplines.  This book is only about personal spiritual disciplines, but the author states that they are not more important than the interpersonal disciplines.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by [Whitney, Donald S.]Spiritual disciplines are activities, not attitudes.  They are practices, not character qualities or fruits of the spirit.  Disciplines are things you do.  The subject matter of the book is limited to those spiritual disciplines that are biblical, that is to say practices taught or modeled in the Bible.  Without this limitation, some might say that gardening, exercise, or some hobby is a valid spiritual discipline for them.

The following are the more prominent personal spiritual disciplines commended in the Scripture:  Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling and learning.  The purpose of practicing the disciplines is Godliness.  Donald Whitney defines Godliness as both closeness to Christ and conformity to Christ, a conformity that is both inward and outward, a growing conformity to both the heart of Christ and the life of Christ.

The book is certainly worth reading.  It reminds us of our responsibilities as a Christian.  The author validates what he is saying by quoting Scripture.

Fanning the Flame #18 Things Are Changing

We had a congregational meeting last Sunday, and there was a difficult discussion.  Over the course of many years, people have designated part of their contribution to benevolence;  instead of giving this money away, it has been used as a cushion to help pay the daily expenses of running the church.  Worse than that, it became a crutch to allow ourselves deny the ugly truth that we’re not giving enough to sustain God’s church.  We need to repent and rectify this situation.

Fortunately we do now recognize this sin, and the council has a plan to wipe out our debt and give us a clean slate( a positive step).  This leaves us with the problem — how do we go forward without falling back into the same pattern?  We’d all like to pin the blame and the responsibility to fix the issue on somebody else.  If only EVERYONE would give more.  If only SOMEBODY would plan more fundraisers– etc., etc..

Then Beth Ann made a very good point.  FIRST we need to PRAY.  I have been at St. Paul’s for over thirteen years now, and I have never heard anyone say this in the midst of a meeting before.  This is a change.  I only wish we had taken it further and PRAYED right then and there.  It might have changed the whole tone of the meeting.  This morning God has put another conviction about this on my heart — we each need to pray, not for God to provide a miracle, or to make everyone else do the right thing;  we need to pray that God would show each one of us what we can do to nourish and sustain God’s church right here where we are.  I need to search my heart to see what God would have me do. I need to become a better steward, not just of my money, but of my spiritual gifts and my time.  I need to be like the little boy who trusted Christ with his few loaves and fishes.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  1 Timothy 2:15

I can’t change anyone else, but I can change myself.  I don’t want to stand before God, ashamed because I gave Him only the leftovers of my life.  I want to hear the words,

Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness! Matthew 25:23

I’m convinced we’re changing and moving in the right direction.  This is a sign that God is at work.  My prayer is that He will continue to change us by first changing me.  Pray with me, friends and readers … I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

 

Gifts + Passion = Ministry

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

The spiritual gifts assessment tool I have been using with our congregation helps people to identify not only their gifts, but also their passions.  When you have a passion for something, you love it, and you love to do it.  It occupies your mind and warms your heart.  Your passion will probably determine how you use your gifts.

My passions are reading and writing.  I always have a book in my hand (according to my family).  I love to tell people about my most recent “great read.”  I love to loan books to people.  I also like to write.  I don’t care if I get paid for my writing, I just enjoy doing it. My most prominent spiritual gift is encouragement.  My passions (reading and writing) + my gift (encouragement) = my ministries (this blog, the Little Free Library).

When you allow your passion to drive your gifts you wind up being a cheerful giver of whatever talent you have to offer.  I don’t blog or donate and lend books to others because it’s a duty, something I must do to earn approval from God or others.  I don’t do these things because the Pastor, or somebody else told me I should. I do them because they give me joy.  I get a charge out of hearing someone else learned and grew through a book I recommended.  My heart is lifted up when a reader shares that a blog post nourished  his or her spiritual life.

Readers, go where your passions and gifts are calling you!  You’ll find yourself becoming a cheerful giver of all the gifts God has first given to you.

 

Spiritual Gifts by Neal R. Boese–Book Review

This book was loaned to me by one of our FTF team members when I met with her to do her spiritual gift assessment.  Frankly, I didn’t expect to learn anything new, as I have read many books about spiritual gifts over the years.  However, I did!  God always has something new to teach us, and we should never think “I know it all!” about any Biblical topic.

Spiritual Gifts: The Power That Drives the Congregation

The author, Neal Boese, is a Lutheran pastor who believes that the lack of focus on spiritual gifts has been a significant factor in the apathy affecting many congregations today and also the burnout of church leaders.  The book is subtitled:  The Power that Drives You and the Congregation.  In other words, ignoring our spiritual gifts is like pushing our automobile along the freeway instead of turning on the motor!  Many congregations are simply not tapping into the power available through the many different gifts of the members!  He says,

” Congregations are storehouses of power waiting to be mobilized and unleashed.  What a difference it would make in congregations if they truly believed in gifts and worked to understand and use them.”

Pastor Boese reviews the theological basis for gifts, provides definitions and summaries of each gift, and offers many personal examples of how he has seen spiritual gifts change the lives and ministries of people he has met.  I was especially interested in his chapter on implementation which described a plan for making spiritual gifts a focus of the congregation.

Verdict:  If you don’t know much about spiritual gifts, you’ll learn the basics;  if you already have that information, you’ll learn how to develop a plan for raising the consciousness of your congregation about spiritual gifts.  I’m definitely planning to pass this book along to my husband (our pastor).

 

Fanning the Flame #16 Personal Spiritual Discipline

A few days ago my husband and I listed to a recording about personal spiritual discipline, given by Pastor Lynn Downing at an Embers to a Flame conference.  The sad thing I learned from this CD, is that according to a survey done by the Dobson organization, only 9% of professing Christians acknowledge that they are living their lives from a Christian worldview.  The vast majority of us are more influenced by the culture than by Scripture.

The only way to turn this trend around is to practice personal spiritual disciplines.  Although we in no way “earn” our salvation, it is Biblically reasonable that our growth in grace will be in direct proportion to how we use the disciplines of God’s grace which are available to us. These disciplines are a means (channel or process) through which God leads us into a deeper, richer, more intimate relationship with Him.* Here are the disciplines that Pastor Downing mentions:

  1. Scripture — the Supreme Court of decision making for every Christian
  2. Prayer — the most important subject in practical religion;  we should always respond to Scripture with prayer
  3. Fellowship — A get together where the Lord becomes the topic of our conversation
  4. Church Discipline of two types:  Formative (Discipling) and Corrective (sometimes we need another person to see the way we are living is detrimental to our family and the church)
  5. The Church — teaching, preaching and the sacraments

The big surprise and takeaway — personal spiritual discipline is not personal!  When we put our emphasis on the individual’s personal relationship with Christ, we are missing the point that we relate to our Lord as part of His body.  Many Christians are never told:

  • Salvation is more than individual — it is meant to further the growth of the Church and to demonstrate God’s righteousness for His name’s sake
  • Body (church) welfare trumps personal preference
  • True personal spiritual welfare results from serving the Body (church) in obedience to the Head (Christ)
  • To live exclusively is to compete against the Body (church)

This certainly ties into our theme of Spiritual Gifts.  I have always felt that God calls each of us to a congregation, just as He calls the Pastor.  We’re where we are because we have a gift that is needed in that time and place.  Yes, there may be times and reasons to change churches, but it should never be because of personality conflicts or a seeking after the personal programs that best suit or entertain us.  The big question in our church membership is:  Is this a place where I can work with others to serve God?

*Note to Lutherans:  Pastor Downing (a Presbyterian) categorizes all these things as means of grace;  according to the Lutheran definition there are only two items in this category:  God’s Word and the Sacraments.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t important ways to know and experience God.

Personal Repentance

I know this isn’t our new theme, but it seems God isn’t done with the old one yet, at least where I am concerned.  During last month’s reflections on repentance, some of the posts mentioned that true repentance means turning around, doing something different, returning to God.  It’s not enough to just say “I’m sorry” and then keep behaving in the same way.

At St. Paul’s our leaders have been praying about how we need to repent, individually and corporately.  Here’s one thing God has impressed upon my mind:  a pastor in India, Pastor Duiggi, and his ministries.  We’ve met this man.  He actually visited our church, twice I believe, years ago.  Since then my husband and I have received periodic emails from him, telling us about the things he is doing and asking for our prayers and support.  He runs an orphanage, supports a Women’s Ministry and is now associated with the Lutheran School of Theology in India. Sad to say, I have done nothing.

Why?  Well, I could come up with any number of excuses.  I’ve been busy with many things (like Martha), things that seemed closer to home and more pressing;  he’s not affiliated with our particular Lutheran denomination (the AFLC);  our church is small, not wealthy, and truth to tell I’ve been more worried about whether the church can afford to pay its Pastor (my husband) then suggesting we support a mission in India.  All of these reasons are wrong and just plain sinful.  This is not easy for me to even think, much less say out loud.

So I’m going to repent.  I’m going to start talking to our church about Pastor Duiggi, beginning with our Sunday School class.  I’m going to model the behavior I’d like to see in others.  I’m going to be the change I want to see in the world.