I am excited that Buddy Bell from Montgomery, Alabama will be in Dallas for a tightly packed few hours of small group learning and discovery. He comes specially equipped to help anyone wanting to grow and improve their small group skills. Whether you’re new to small-groups, a committed group member, or a seasoned group leader, you’ll leave this seminar with new inspiration and tools.
In 2001 Buddy founded Share Him Ministries which has helped literally hundred’s of churches around the country set up successful small group programs. Playing the dual role of preaching and small group minister at his own church has given him a unique viewpoint to see how small groups can be tightly integrated into the ministry of a local church.
After the seminar your small group toolbox will be filled with:
Leadership Tools: What is the best preparation for leading a group? How can a leader find and train new leaders?
Curriculum Tools: How can we build the discussion on God’s Word? What are some good curriculum ideas?
Relationship Tools: How can we make the atmosphere open, honest, encouraging and non-judgmental?
Involvement Tools: How can group members can find their place and purpose in the group? What are some positive options for children?
Discussion Tools: How can the leader create great questions, anticipate answers and affirm participation?
Expansion Tools: How can the group evaluate its size and plan for the future?
The seminar is free. There will be free childcare. We are guarding your valuable weekend time with a 3-hour morning session on Saturday, November 14.
I hope anyone in the Dallas area with join us from 9:00 to Noon (Registration is at 8:30 unless you register online) http://tinyurl.com/yfb6heo
Prestoncrest Church of Christ
6022 Prestoncrest Lane
Dallas TX 75230
Imagine 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.
Let 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.
God has given me so much to do,
And I’m so far behind,
I’ll never die.
I remember Landon Saunders asking the question, “What are you doing that will survive your death?” It made a tremendous impact on my life, and I think Jesus is asking the same question in a story he told about a “rich fool” (Luke 12). It’s a story about a man who was so successful that he had to upgrade, update, and expand his entire physical plant. He had collected and accumulated a massive amount of materials. But he had not made the kind of investment that would survive his death. I guess that’s why he’s called a “rich fool.”
At one point in the story the question is raised, “This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” You see, everything that I ask to give my life purpose, to be my reason for living, must also be able to tell me what it will do for me then.
Then is the real test of a life purpose.
What is a life purpose today? What does it mean to have a life goal? For some it means to win a medal, or chair a department, or author a best seller, or rank high in their field of work. For others it simply means to make it, to put food on the table, to get out of debt, to survive. But what ever I’m going after, what happens when my life purpose has taken me as far as it can, and it’s not far enough? Just how far can the very best of temporary goals take a person?
I guess I’m asking if it’s really fair to ask something temporary to do something it’s not designed to do. You know what I mean — to ask my position to give me integrity, to ask my schedule to give me self-worth, to ask my checkbook to take away my worry, to ask my heritage to give me character, to ask my accomplishments to erase my failures — to ask something temporary to give me something permanent.
And so, how do I avoid a success that fails? I know it might sound crazy to even talk about successes that fail. But they do, all the time. Success fails when it takes me away from my children, when it makes my spouse a stranger, or when it teaches me to be selfish and arrogant. Business may be a booming success, but what about life and relationships?
And so, what does Jesus’ story teach us about avoiding a success that fails?
Talk To The Right Person (vs. 17-18) “What shall I do? This is what I’ll do.” There are fourteen personal pronouns in this man’s speech to himself — my crops, my barns, my grain, my goods. Who is he talking to? Himself. And what does the story say is the real source of his success? It’s easy to miss. Verse 16 says, “the ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.” You see, when we break success down into it’s parts, we are left with a series of important questions. Who gives us the raw materials, who brings to us the opportunities, who builds into us our skill and talent, and who grants us the time to put it all together? Answer — The one who made the ground. Talk to the right person, and it’s not you.
Follow The Right Plan (vs.17) “I have no place to store my crops.” Here’s my question — What plan is this man following? You can see it in the word “store.” That’s it. This is his life plan — to produce and store. All of his time and energy is given to keeping, accumulating, stockpiling, hoarding. And for whom? Well, no one else is mentioned in the story. This man is given great gifts, which he plans to share with no one. He’s not following the right plan.
Pursue The Right Goal (vs. 19 “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Of course, there is nothing wrong with enjoyment, but there is a huge difference between making a living and making a life. This man was really concerned with storage, but you can’t store your life in a barn. Just imagine what this farmer could have done with his success. He could have called his family together for a time of worship, thanking God for his rich harvest. He could have invested his wealth in his community, making it a better place for everyone. He could have shared his wealth with the poor, the widow, the orphan, the destitute. He could have pursued a hundred different goals that would impact the lives of people. And all of his goals would survive his death.
You see, relationship is the only success that doesn’t fail. Only people will last forever. Investing in people is the only work that will survive my death.
As a missionary to Ecuador, Jim Elliot was killed at age 29 by the very tribe he was trying to teach. He once said:
“He is no fool
who gives what he cannot keep
to gain that which he cannot lose.”
“People who shrug off deliberate deceptions
saying, ‘I didn’t mean it, I was only joking,’
are worse than careless campers
who walk away from smoldering campfires”
Proverbs 26:18-19 (The Message)
Sarcasm is a popular form of humor. As a noun it is defined as “a mocking remark,” but it’s a far more complicated word encompassing several levels. There are a number of helpful studies available, but perhaps the clearest story is told with a simple thesaurus.
One level of sarcasm exists among friends and includes such synonyms as banter, wordplay, comeback, irony, rejoinder, retort, satire and wit. All in the name of humor.
On a sharper level, sarcasm becomes much more pointed and less playful. The synonyms change to include criticism, cut, cynicism, dig, lampooning, wisecrack, rebuff, put-down, swipe, affront, sneer, taunt, scoffing and spite.
Further down the literary ladder, a more extreme form of sarcasm turns into verbal abuse. Once again, the synonyms tell the story — berating, castigation, denunciation, tongue-lashing, humiliation, causticness, derision, disparagement, mockery, ridicule, belligerence, harshness, malevolence, malice, rudeness, tartness, unkindness and insult.
And of course, there will be some disagreement as to where the lines are actually drawn. But there are several conclusions that we can all agree upon. One is how sarcasm feels — painful, especially if you’re a child. Children begin their life accepting our words at face value. In their fresh minds, they think we mean exactly what we are saying. They must learn, painfully, that we do not.
In addition, we can all probably agree upon the antonyms of sarcasm. The ones usually listed include, courtesy, diplomacy, flattery, compliment, commendation, civility, kindness, politeness, sweetness and praise. To see their power, just imagine the impact of any of these words upon a child.
In their book, What All Children Want Their Parents to Know, Diana Loomans and Julia Godoy differentiate between humor that heals and humor that hurts (48-49).
Humor that heals …
takes delight in another
affirms and builds up others up
puts no one down.
brings joy and happiness to others
takes a lighthearted view
evokes smiles, laughter, confidence, and well-being
Humor that hurts …
makes fun of another
tears someone or something down
uses put-downs, either indirect or direct
uses cynicism and sarcasm
brings negativity or discouragement to others
takes a biting or bitter view
This reminds me that the origin of the Greek term for “sarcasm” meant “to strip off the flesh.” This can be done humorously or viciously. But, however it’s done, we become more proficient with our verbal swordplay as we slice people into pieces.
I realize, as I said at the beginning, that there are levels of sarcasm, ranging from the verbal play of friends to the verbal abuse of enemies. But the lines are not always clear, and without great care, it’s easy to slide from “banter” to “ridicule.”
In his book, Talk is cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation and the Evolution of Language, linguistics professor John Haiman writes (106):
There is an extremely close connection between sarcasm and irony, and literary theorists in particular often treat sarcasm as simply the crudest and least interesting form of irony. … [There are] important distinctions between the two. First, situations may be ironic, but only people can be sarcastic. Second, people may be unintentionally ironic, but sarcasm requires intention.”
And so, what are my verbal intentions? Do my friends walk away from a conversation with me thinking, “What a clever comeback” “What a sharp wit?” Or do they leave thinking “What an understanding friend?”
“The tongue has the power of life and death?”