Test or Discussion?

test_sheetImagine a small group leader asking a group for their opinions.   Imagine the people giving their various answers.  And then, imagine the group leader reacting to their opinions by saying, “No … that’s not what I’m looking for … any other thoughts?” How many “other thoughts” do you think would be offered?  Not many.

In case you are wondering, I didn’t make up this scenario.  I actually saw a discussion leader ask a question, receive an answer and then say, “No … that’s not what I’m looking for.” He continued to give this response to several answers, and I watched the group become quieter and quieter.  In fact, after a while, only those with the courage to guess what he was “looking for” continued to respond until, finally, we all stopped, because it was clear to us that these were not really discussion questions.  They were test questions.

In a small group, turning our discussion questions into test questions usually shuts down participation.  Tests put people on the defensive.  They are afraid they might give the “wrong” answer and look foolish.  And so, they become silent.

How different is a relaxed, open environment, where people feel free to explore, to think out loud, to share their opinions, doubts and even their confusion.  This kind of atmosphere encourages people to consider new ideas, to examine their own lives, and even consider changes in their life-style.

And so, in addition to the factual questions from the biblical text, be sure to also ask the group members a completely different kind of question:

What do you think? (Only they know their thoughts)
How does this make you feel? (Only they know their emotions)
What would you do? (And you must really want to know)
With which part of the story do you identify?
What do you think this story teaches?

In all of these questions, you are asking for something you genuinely did not know before the group session began. And you ask these questions, not to pass or fail a “student,” but to hear and understand the thoughts, insights, and emotions of your fellow group members.

5 Moments

In his book, Peaceful living in a Stressful World, Ron Hutchcraft describes five moments scattered throughout our day. Some are exciting. Some are restful. Some are stressful while others are rather dull. But all of them present us with a choice. Who will rule that moment?

Five moments:

1waking

Psalm 119:18 — “When I awake, I am still with you.”

2running

Proverbs 3:6 — “In all you ways acknowledge him.”

3surprising

Ecclesiastes 9:12 — “Men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.”

4Nothing

Matthew 14:23 — “He went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.”

5fadingPsalm 63:6 — “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.”

And right now … I am “fading” — Goodnight.

Travel is the Enemy of Prejudice

suitcaseLet us never forget that diversity is God’s idea.  This was brought home to me as I read an email this past week from my close friend and brother Tommy Drinnen, who is completing his PhD in Spiritual Formation in California. Tommy wrote:

My class this semester is made up of a Cuban, a Ethiopian, someone from China, Korea, and Indonesia, and then, me – a Tennessean transplanted from Ghana. Our professor is a Korean man.  Last week I ate at the home of a couple from our program who are Korean and Chinese.  I also had a meal with a Kenyan and a man from Rwanda.  I live in a rural community in Ghana, and I tell you that meeting all these people and hearing and seeing their stories of faith has an impact on one’s worldview and one’s Kingdom view. It is a blessing to be able to meet so many people from around the world.

And so, I find myself agreeing with Mark Twain who wrote, “Travel is the enemy of prejudice.” Move around enough, see and visit enough people who are very different from yourself, and over time, rigid, inflexible, prejudicial views will be diluted by the creative diversity that exists in this massive, wonderful world.

Diversity, tapestry, variety — God’s idea.

Time Management

makes_eat_timeA good thought from Anthony Bloom:

There is absolutely no need to run after time to catch it. it does not run away from us, it runs towards us. Whether you are intent on the next minute coming your way, or whether you are completely unaware of it, it will come your way. The future, whatever you do about it, will become the present, and so there is no need to try to jump out of the present into the future. … the mistake we often make with our inner life is to imagine that if we hurry we will be in our future sooner … Yet that is what prevents us from being completely in the present moment, which I dare say is the only moment in which we can be, because even if we imagine that we are ahead of time or ahead of ourselves, we are not. The only thing is that we are in a hurry.

Beginning to Pray (page 82)

It will come your way.”

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Numbering my days requires pacing, building boundaries, fully utilizing, learning to say “no” to good things so I can say “yes” to better things. And all of this requires careful thought, which slows me down, which helps me to see and hear, which makes me much more capable and ready, which takes me closer to that much needed “heart of wisdom.”

Chasing Sticks

snoopyOne day Snoopy and Charlie Brown were out playing fetch. Charlie threw the stick. Snoopy chased it and brought it back. Charlie threw it again. Snoopy chased it again. Suddenly Snoopy stopped. And the comic strip pictured him thinking to himself, “I wonder what people will say about me after I’m gone … He was a nice guy … He chased sticks.”

There’s not much point in chasing sticks, nor in living a life that “chases the wind” as Solomon put it (Ecclesiastes 1:14). And what are the sticks we chase? The stick of success? The stick of wealth? The stick of health? And WHO decides the sticks we chase, the goals we pursue? And, more importantly, WHO is throwing your stick?

He was a nice guy, he chased sticks. He was a nice guy, he died wealthy. He was an interesting person, when he died they made a museum out of his house. She was a famous person, when she died, they used a whole column in the obituary section of the paper. He was one of the greats. When he died, it made the front page. He was a nice guy. And he died. And she died. But what for? For what reason? What did they do that gave both their life and their death meaning? What can I do in life that will survive my death?

George McDonald wrote, “In whatever man does without God, he must fail miserably, or succeed more miserably.” Or as Jesus put it, “What good is it … to gain the world, but lose your soul?”  … to lose your essence … to lose who you are … who you are designed to be.  Chasing sticks?