Small Group–Movie Review

This film can be best described as a bit of Christian fluff.  Scott, a documentary film maker, arrives in Georgia with his wife and young daughter.  His backer is hoping to expose Christian hypocrisy, but Scott just wants to discover the truth.  He reluctantly agrees to join the small group program of a local church, secretly filming their meeting and discussions.

The theology presented is definitely not Lutheran (of the ‘make a decision for Christ’ ilk), the church services depicted are mere Christian entertainment (in my opinion) and the plot is predictable.  The men bond over a camping trip (where they behave like ten year old boys), while the women start a yoga studio.  Of course, the deception is discovered to the dismay and disappointment of the group members.  However, in the end, a positive documentary is produced, Scott is baptized, the redneck next door neighbor turns out to be a lovable medic, the prodigal bunny belonging to Scott’s daughter Casey returns, and all is forgiven.

There are a few touching moments involving a mission trip to Guatemala, and the premature birth and death of a child, but other than that, everything is neatly wrapped up and resolved exactly as one would expect.

I have belonged to a number of small groups, and am aware of their transformative potential over time.  However, this movie simply didn’t capture the depth of the experience for me.

In keeping with the theme for this month, I would say the life challenge presented here is betrayal, and the difficulty of forgiving in light of the hurt that brings.

VERDICT:  2 STARS.

For other movie reviews see:

Tolkien–Movie Review

Selma — Movie Review

Son of God — Movie Review

What is Pietism?

My husband, our Pastor, wrote this article for our most recent newsletter.  I think it is helpful in explaining this movement within the Lutheran Church which is often misunderstood.  Of course, he is writing from the perspective of our particular Lutheran denomination, the Association of Free Lutheran Churches (AFLC).  Some of our authors are from other Lutheran bodies and I am hoping will give us some historical perspectives on how they evolved.

The AFLC traces its beginnings in this country to a revival movement among Lutherans in the 1890’s.  But the beginnings of our theological basis are found in a Lutheran movement know as Pietism that began in the 17th century in Germany and spread through Scandinavia.

Pietism is first of all Lutheran, with a special emphasis on the work of Martin Luther.  It seeks to encourage all believers to be able to say with St. Paul that they have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer they who live, but Christ who lives in them (Gal. 2:20).

Pietism advanced among people who sought for their lives more than simple church attendance and agreement with a set of doctrines.  It is at its heart a desire to live in a way which reflects a deep felt desire to grow daily in sanctification.

One of the disciplines many pietists embraced in their desire for a more Christian life was participation in what were then called conventicles.  A conventicle was a meeting of Christians outside of the regular church services where they would study and pray together.  We no longer refer to these meetings as conventicles but, in American parlance, as small group ministries.

Those who opposed Pietism tried to charge these conventicles with luring people away from the church and leading them into the possibility of theological error.  Some oppose such groups today for similar reasons.

However, it has been shown over and over again that a congregation with an active conventicle/small group ministry will have a deeper spiritual life than one which focuses all its work on Sunday morning.

 

Groups: the life-giving power of community by John Ortberg, Laurie Pederson & Judson Poling –Book Review

This is one of a series of bible studies published by Zondervan and entitled “Pursuing Spiritual Transformation.”  In my opinion, it is an excellent choice for small groups.  It includes an overview of the series along with what you will need to have and do in preparation for each lesson.  The core values of spiritual formation are also listed.

This particular study guide has seven lessons based on the topic of community.  They are:

  • This Is A  Friendship
  • Love Pays Attention
  • Knowing And Being Known
  • When Community Breaks Down
  • Forgiveness
  • Building A Passionately Inclusive Church
  • Being “For” One Another

Each lesson includes questions that lead the participant to examine his or her own life experiences in light of the Scripture.  There are also spiritual exercises for each section, encouraging each person to put what they’ve studied into practice.  It can be challenging — but that’s a good thing!  As Paul writes in the book of Philippians we should:

“…press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:14

There are also leaders’ notes for each session at the back of the book.

Finally included are suggestions and formats for planning retreats:  either individually or with the group.

I worked through the material on my own and enjoyed it so much that I plan to suggest in to my own small group for our next session.

Others in the same series are:

  • Fully Devoted:  Living Each Day in Jesus’ Name
  • Grace:  An Invitation to a Way of Life
  • Growth: Training vs. Trying
  • Gifts: The Joy of Serving God
  •  Giving: Unlocking the Heart of Good Stewardship

VERDICT:  5 Stars!  If you have a small group I recommend you take a look at this material

For more on small groups, see these posts:

Small Groups Made Easy – A Book Review

Fanning the Flame #19 — Small Groups of Saints

Small Groups of Saints #2 — Joan’s Experience

 

 

Small Groups Made Easy – A Book Review

Ryan Lokkesmoe is a well-known author of several books on small groups, as well as, small group curriculums. The book is divided into 2 parts. The first part addresses the practical applications of small groups. He covers logistics, planning, leaders, childcare, and location, as well as many more.

He gives practical, simple principles to follow to make sure the group is instituted, planned and lead well so that it can succeed in the first part. I found the principles to be easy and effective if a bit simple.

The second part is based on 12 basic Christian studies which I enjoyed more than the first part. I felt that the studies were well thought out and provided ample questions to engage all participants. He backs up his study material with ample scripture references and ends each study with the most important thing – Prayer.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I felt it was well-written and gave sound advice but could have given a little more detail in the implementation part.

I have received a free copy of this book in return for an honest and fair review – Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CFR Part 255

The Cross — A Symbol of Community

I just started reading a book about small groups and building community, and I came across this description of the cross as a symbol of community.  I thought it was worth sharing.

“The very shape of the cross suggests the two main transactions that were effected through it.  The upright post stands for the restoration of our community with God.  God reached down from the holiness of his transcendence above, into the abyss of our human need in order to reconcile us to himself….The arms of Jesus were stretched on that horizontal beam, and his servant hands nailed to it.  His extended arms reach out from the crossbar to all who want reconciliation with God in order that we may also be reconciled to one another, forming one body in his embrace of love.  Perfect community is to be found at the intersection of the two segments of the cross, where those who are reconciled with God are reconciled together–where we love God with all we have and we love our neighbor as ourselves.”

From Groups:  the life-giving power of community by John Ortberg, Laurie Pederson & Judson Poling

 

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!

Fanning the Flame — Barbara R.’s Story

We all know that Fanning the Flame presents a new way of living, which, like any life-changing protocol takes time.  I believe that we, as team members, are already beginning to feel this change stirring within our lives as we seek God’s will through steady and heartfelt prayer.

We and God are in this together.  As team members we are opening up and becoming more honest and vulnerable as we share our prayer visions and seek to understand our God-given gifts.  A sense of trust has sprung up among us, as well as a sense of unity of purpose.  Individually we are growing and striving to be the people God wants us to be.

People make comments such as, “Sounds like a lot of work!” and “we’re not even sure what you are doing.”  Well, yes, it is a lot of work!  We’re committed to work for the Kingdom of God…an immeasurable response to the work He has done for us.  We’re learning to put our trust in Him as we evaluate the needs of the church and understand how He wants to see St. Paul’s grow.  Though we are a small group, we are in the process of figuring out how all members of the congregation can join into this effort to become one in Him.  We see a future where small groups like ours will also want to come together–to trust each other as their trust grows in Him.  I know in my heart that every member of our congregation desires a personal relationship with the Lord–why else would we bother to attend church?  Nothing in our life is as important, and if it takes the work of praying, reading the Word and sharing His love with others, then it is really not work at all…it is a gift and an opportunity from which no one should be excluded.

Please be unified with us in this opportunity and realize that the growth we see at St. Paul’s may not necessarily be in numbers, but in spirit.  I know you’ve heard this phrase:  “the family that prays together, stays together.”  Well, St. Paul’s is a family and we all want to stay together and grow together.  Please pray that the Flame of the Spirit will become contagious and that each and every member will be on fire in a new and life-changing way.

Fanning the Flame — Debbie’s Story

I’ve asked some of the Fanning the Flame team members to let me know what they have been learning as part of the process.  This is Debbie’s story which she has allowed me to share with our readers.

When I first heard about Fanning the Flame I was anxious to find out what this could mean for our Church.

I have not been disappointed. I am excited with what we have been doing so far and am looking forward to all that is coming next.

One of the first things was looking at our prayer life individually and as a Church.  I have a much better understanding of the importance and necessity of my prayer life.  I really took an in depth look at my prayer life as it is today and what I want it to look like in one year from now. Just taking the time and really focusing on my prayer life for the first time was really an eye opener. I found my prayer life a was not what it should be and this has helped me change it and has made a huge difference.

I am working on my spiritual gifts survey now and I know this will help me find out what my true spiritual gifts are and will help guide me to do what God wants me to do.

We have been talking about repentance and how necessary that is as individuals and as a Church.  The Pastor just talked about repentance in his sermon.  True repentance for all of our sins is absolutely necessary in Christian life and restores our relationship with God.  I have come to realize that just asking God to forgive all my sins is not enough.  For true repentance I really need to think about all my sins when I repent and this has helped me focus on all my sins when I am asking God for forgiveness.

There are many strategies we have identified to best help our Church and fulfill God’s purpose for us.  I was asked to be on the FTF Strategy Task Force for Small Group Discipleship and we just had our first meeting.  We are looking at small groups ministry and the leadership of these groups and how these groups should look and what important aspects they should contain.  We are off to a good start and I am excited with what we are going to be doing.

FTF is definitely changing me and I am looking forward to what we will be doing as a group and as a congregation.  There are so many good and positive things in store for us.

Reunion Group Relationships

If you attend a Lutheran Via de Cristo weekend, you will be encouraged to continue growing in Christ by participating in what’s called a reunion group.  This is a small group that meets on a regular basis (monthly, weekly, whatever you choose) to talk about how things are going in the spiritual life of the members.

I have been in a reunion group on and off for over twenty years.  The groups change, of course, as people move or their life changes.  The group I am in now meets at our church once a month, and each month we discuss an aspect of our Christian walk:  piety (this covers things like prayer, worship and moments of closeness to Christ), study or action.  Each of us has an opportunity to tell how we’ve been doing in that area and what our plans are for the coming month.  We encourage one another and hold each other accountable.  We pray together and we pray for each other.

Over time being in such a group together fosters strong bonds.  It was my first group that taught me being quiet and shy didn’t mean I couldn’t be a leader and influence others for Christ.  The group I am in now started this blog!!  My reunion group sisters are the kind of friends who will support me, encourage me and jump in to help if I take on a commitment!  They hear my confessions and keep my confidences.  Through the years in reunion groups I have helped to plan congregational activities, organized small group Bible studies, participated in “crafty” projects (that one is a real stretch for me), and had fun in the process.  Rightly lived, a reunion group becomes a Christian community affecting the world.

If you’re not in a group like this, don’t put it off, it’s too important.  You don’t have to go on a Via de Cristo weekend;  you don’t have to call it a reunion group;  you don’t have to do things exactly as we do.  The point is to find a group of others who want to direct their lives to Christ and grow in faith.  Meet regularly, pray together, encourage one another, work together for Christ and hold each other accountable.  In years to come you’ll look back and be amazed at what God has done through you and how you have grown in faith together.

I hope our readers and my sister bloggers will join in by discussing this further.  Have you been in a reunion group (or a similar accountability group)?  How did it impact your spiritual growth?  I want to hear your stories.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us knot give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the day approaching.”  Hebrews 10: 24-25

 

 

 

Remembering Old Friends

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  Proverbs 27:17

I was recently looking some old file folders with information I kept about Via de Cristo.  It reminded me of many of the people with whom I served on retreat teams, met in small groups, planned activities and served the Lord.  Many of these folks were part of my church family.  It was a busy and productive season of my life.  Now I go to another church, where my husband is the Pastor.  I’m still in touch with some of those friends, but others have moved or just moved on.  Life changes.

However, thinking about them reminds me of how influential our friends are in encouraging us in our Christian walk.  Being in an accountability group (Via de Cristo calls them reunion groups) makes it harder to procrastinate or slack off in our spiritual disciplines.  Having a close group of friends to help you when you have an idea you’d like to try (like this blog) is encouraging, too.  There are so many things I’ve done that I would never have dared try without my friends.  There are so many insights I would have missed without them there to notice and tell me.  My friends gave me confidence;  they prayed for me;  they loved me and supported me even when I messed up. They were God’s gift to me.

So today I am remembering and give thanks for all my friends, old and new:  for the things they have to teach me and the many ways they help me in my Christian journey.  Don’t be a lone ranger Christian.  Take friends with you wherever you walk.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow;  but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.  Again, if two lie together, they are warm;  how can one be warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him.  A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12