Community: Take your small group off life support by Brad House

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In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he admonishes and corrects these new Christians not because he wanted them to accomplish more good works, but because he deeply desired that they be more than just good works. Brad House reflects on this theme in his book on how Christians in small groups can be more than just Christians in ordinary small groups meeting needs. He states in the introduction to the book, “I want to bring together theology and ministry philosophy with practical application and strategy that is worked out with effectiveness” (House, 2011, p. 22). We consistently live and work within small groups whether they are educational classes, mission groups, church committees, car pools, family, and any number of other types of gatherings. This book is essential for church group leaders and members to study because church is a community of God’s people working within God’s purposes. Christian communication scholars should study the precepts in this book in order to develop an alignment of human to God thought processes. 

To view small group dynamics through the eyes of Jesus empowers Christians to a better understanding not only of Christ, but our earthly and eternal purpose because Jesus came to give those who are called by His name abundant life which is powered by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling who exalts Jesus and magnifies the Father. Viewing small groups the way God designed them, especially in the book of Acts, empowers secular scholars to see perfect community generally called group dynamics. House deftly focuses group dynamics through the lens of Jesus with the main theme throughout the book being that of repentance and having Christ the head as well as the center of each group. 

In his book, Brad House basically shakes the Etch-A-Sketch of today’s church community groups and redraws the small group dynamics using biblical principles and standards; and he defines groups (care groups, focus groups, study groups, community groups, and the like) as the New Testament church was developed by the words of Jesus and the ministering of the Apostles. As House points out, the small group of 120 members almost immediately blossomed by 3,000 on the day of Pentecost and then again growing by 5,000 as recorded in Acts 4, eventually growing into a megachurch down through the centuries which has shaped human history. We can draw a conclusion from this that, as God designed them, small groups work wonders. House goes back to basics by using the Apostle Peter’s definition of church:
1Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's possession, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light, 10 who once were not a people, but now are the people of God, the ones who were not shown mercy, but now are shown mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires which wage war against your soul, 12 maintaining your good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in the things in which they slander you as evildoers, by seeing your good deeds they may glorify God on the day of visitation. (Lexham English Bible)
Using this scaffold, he builds community group structure.

House (2011) pours the foundation for small groups within the church by addressing the purpose they have and the needs small groups can fill through the group identity of Christ not Christian identity. The difference is Christians are human and fallible, but Christ is perfect with perfect design. There is also a multi-faceted purpose in how small groups interact with each other as well as in other functions of the church such as worshiping and preaching. The final outcome should be “transformation in the lives of all disciples” (p. 23), not how many good works the group did. He points out that our modern way of doing church and community has hamstrung small groups due to systems and programs with no real anchor in who they are in Christ. 

The second key concept is building upon the foundation with the mortar and bricks of biblical principles of community. He illustrates the need for a solid look at what church is offering by way of real community through the plumb line of Peter’s definition of church. He notes tactical avenues to understand the basic functionality of community which creates an environment which encourages ownership, involvement, and ingenuity.  House discusses God-ordained functions of small groups and correlates those functions grounded in God-breathed principles from the Bible. One of these aspects is his discussion of bridges and barriers.

The last concept is the organic structure of God-centered groups. Repentance is the major running theme in the book, and church small groups must have that heart transplant in order to overcome the initial resistance to change which all churches undergo. He offers some realistic examples of how to break out of the old boxes and inspire incorporation of new models of community based on the New Testament church; however, I will discuss how he uses some communication theory to support his structure. He points out the decision to follow the biblical way of community rather than the program-oriented ways church works under today takes contrition, prayer, dedication and endurance. This moves small group community into a godly realm.

The Straight Dope

You may or may not have heard of this insightful site The Straight Dope. I found it while looking for a reference for one of my columns and got sidetracked again. Rarely do the high and mighty columnists take their readers seriously enough to actually post comments from their readers on certain columns of interest. Dear Abby has to because that is their column. But this little side trip caused me to think about something I hadn't thought of in a long time.

The rural areas of our country are considered hick and backward when in actual fact may be far more advanced than the suburban counterparts due to numerous reasons. Let me count some ways...

1. Rural people are more sociable than suburban people -- we don't see each other often because we live so far apart. If it's within hollering distance, then we'll shout out their name and a friendly hello, but suburban people just nod and maybe smile at their neighbors as they hurry off to do whatever.

2. Rural people have less acid reflux -- I don't know if that is because there are less people in rural areas than in suburban areas, but the numbers don't lie. This surely means rural people have less stress. This must be because we rarely have traffic jams, and if two cars are stopped in the road, we get out and join the conversation.

3. Rural people know their banker, their auto mechanic, their pharmacist and doctor by their first names, and not just their cosmetologist. If fact, most of us would probably say, "Cosmo what? I don't go in for all that astrology stuff."

4.  Rural people take a long time to shop at Walmart because we see people we know and have to stop and chat.

5. Rural people know that our neighbors are looking out for us because we can't go barefoot in the front yard without someone saying something about it at church.

6. Rural people have computers and internet but we still take time to chat across the back fence.

7. Rural people aren't in such a huge hurry. Seeing the trees wave to God on a windy day reminds us of Who is really in control.

I am sure there are suburban folks that are truly close to God, but I don't see them exhibiting it very much. Of course, I don't live in the big city, just a little, insignificant town called Picayune.

The sad slide of journalism into a mucky mire

When exactly did journalism slide into the mucky dregs of so-so-ism, and flagrant misrepresentation of facts? George Clooney's arrest brought this to my mind, well not really. It was the ABC's Otus report that brought it to my mind.The story starts out good, then we see this paragraph placed in # 3 spot. This means, that at least 1/3 of the story is about what is said in this paragraph. So we're on the same page:

Also among those arrested as a mob of reporters and cameramen looked on were Clooney's Father Nick Clooney; President of United to End Genocide and former Congressman Tom Andrews; Congressmen Jim McGovern, D-MA, Al Green, D-TX, Jim Moran, D-VA., and John Olver D-MA; Martin Luther King III, NAACP President Ben Jealous; and Enough Project Co-Founder John Prendergast, according to a police statement.
Does that make your ears prick up? Do you just want to click on the link and read about these congressmen who got arrested, too? Did they pay the $100? Oh, you don't know about that, yet until you get past the third paragraph.

The rest of the story is about celebrities and their agendas, only the writer actually means their charities, and mostly about Clooney's concern for the Sudan and the charity Enough Project. That's all well and good, but it isn't how the story began or what it emphasized at the beginning albeit in the third paragraph. In journalism, you start with the bare facts, what is most important and you make sure that you don't digress into afterthoughts, or side trails until the third from last paragraph. The same holds true for feature stories, too. It's just basic journalism, but I guess things have changed in the last three years since I was lifestyles editor... or has it? In my opinion, journalism has sunk to a new low, and I'm almost positive there is no way to pull it out of the mucky mire.

Our right to know...

I noticed a news article last week that stated...

We have a right to know when someone in our neighborhood has been arrested for a sex offense, and a right to know when a school principle has been arrested for a DUI.
Do we really? What is the exact purpose of an arrest? The FreeDictionary states:

The purpose of an arrest is to bring the arrestee before a court or otherwise secure the administration of the law. An arrest serves the function of notifying the community that an individual has been accused of a crime and also may admonish and deter the arrested individual from committing other crimes. Arrests can be made on both criminal charges and civil charges, although civil arrest is a drastic measure that is not looked upon with favor by the courts. The federal Constitution imposes limits on both civil and criminal arrests.
photo by Stuart Miles
So we are all on the same page as to the purposes of an arrest, it also states that it is to alert the community that the person is being charged with a criminal offense. So, according to this definition, we have the right to know, because it is one of the stated purposes.

But what if the police get it wrong? What if they focus on a culprit because statistics say that person is most likely to have committed the crime? I'm just wondering how many people have been accused and then later it is discovered that the butler really didn't murder the maid in the dining room with the knife? By the time the error is discovered, that principle has lost his job, or that teacher has been robbed of her career. Because there is a taint on their reputation, they can't go back to business as usual. It isn't only the police that get it wrong.

My major concern here is that our news is becoming more and more opinionated; and that innuendo is ruling the roost rather than hard facts. Take Herman Cain for instance. He backed out of the race because the innuendo was too hard to overcome. No one was listening to the facts... or were they? Is our media becoming too biased? Is the American public still smart enough to decipher between opinion and fact?

Yellow journalism is not new. Sensationalism has always sold more papers than dry, boring facts presented in dry, boring words. Now that the internet has taken over the way people get their news, and it's more convenient to have a headline pop up on your phone than to sit quietly with coffee and the newspaper in the morning, we have news companies vying for your attention. What better way than to take on the irresponsible tactics of the National Enquirer, or other rag?

The question here is how do self-respecting citizens command more responsible reporting? Is there a way we can make journalists quit reporting from their own bias? Take a look at the different kinds of bias.
I never realized how much "bias" there is!  I found an interesting article that talked about the different 'types' of bias with examples of each:

Have you detected any of these lately?

Interview with Bob Liparulo

I just got an email from Bob Liparulo who's about to release his new book which is far different from his last 7 books. It's called The 13th Tribe. I know you'll love it because I have loved every book he's written. It has just got to be good. So I thought I'd share this short question and answer after Bob's first book was published.


Okay, so it's not an in depth interview. But, I had the opportunity to ask questions, so I asked one.

Gina: Bob, I didn’t think I had any questions, but actually, I do. I would like to know what you learned through the process of writing your book. I’m not talking about research… What things did you learn about yourself and about God that are not too personal and that you’d like to share?

Bob: Your question is great. Boy, did I learn a lot about my relationship with God during the writing of Comes a Horseman. It would take a book to cover it all, but here are the two most important things: I need to invite God to sit with me while I write, all the time; and it’s OK to write for the purpose of entertaining readers. These two things are interconnected. For a long time I struggled with using the gifts God gave me to write to entertain. I thought I must be interpreting my feelings wrongly, because I honestly felt that I should focus on giving readers the most entertainment/enjoyment from my writing, and not so much that I needed to evangelize or make sure God was in every scene. It seemed contrary to what I knew of God’s gifts: that they are meant to advance His kingdom. This is true, but I didn’t understand how truly powerful He is, that He could be present in anything He wanted to be in, including entertainment that did not overtly speak His name. He gave me an image of the mountains: They are testament to His greatness, His existence, His majesty, His truths—without His name being carved in letters fifty feet high. Through a number of things, including prayer, the wisdom of friends, and some articles I read, I came to realize that it was OK to say at the end of the day, “Is this entertaining? Will this make readers glad they read it?” He has put on my heart that He will be present in my writing even without my trying to put Him there. And part of that is simply inviting Him to be there while I write and focus on entertainment. For a while, I think (without truly being aware I was doing it) I left my faith at the door when I went to write. This was partly because of what I said above, struggling with the conflict between the desire to write entertainment and the opinion that I should be evangelizing more overtly. Once I settled the issue of entertainment, I found myself actively inviting God to sit with me, be with me. It has lead to much more peace about what I do than I had before. God is great!

I hope this answers your question.
Blessings to you,

Oh, you answered my question, Bob. Thanks! What a great devotional to understand that it's okay to entertain and that God will be with us without our "evangelizing more overtly". Someone once told me that she tried to make sure every person she met, met Jesus through her. Ever since then, I've tried to do the same. Look for God, share God and not just the victory or the miracle for that is what He brings with Him. Selah.

10 steps to wise decision making

This process can be applied to any situation where you need to make an important decision. If you follow these ten basic steps, you will find yourself making wiser decisions in your professional as well as your personal life. Just remember, Proverbs 16:33  The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD. When a person slogs through life being blown by every wind, it is sadly a lack of asking for godly wisdom.
  • Define, as specifically as possible, what the decision is that needs to be made. Is this really your decision or someone else's? Do you really need to make a decision? (If you do not have at least two options, there is no decision to be made.) When does the decision need to be made? Why is this decision important to you? Who will be affected by this decision? What values does this decision involve for you?
Daniel 4:17  'This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.'

  • Write down as many alternatives as you can think of. Brainstorm as many different alternatives as you can imagine. Let your imagination run free and try not to censure anything; this is not the time to be judgmental. Just be sure to write everything down.
2 Samuel 24:12  "Go and tell David, 'Thus says the LORD: "I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you." ' " Notice in the following verses, those choices were not pleasant. Seven years of famine in Israel, three months of running from his enemies, or three days of plague. David wisely chose to fall into God’s hands. 2 Samuel 24:14  And David said to Gad, "I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man."

  • Think where you could find more information about possible alternatives. If you only come up with a few options, you may want to get more information. Additional information generally leads to more alternatives. One of the most accurate places is through prayer. God will call to your mind things that you may have forgotten, or lead you to a source you never knew about.
Psalm 121: 1 I will lift up mine eyes unto the LORD, from whence cometh my help.

  • Write down all of your options, then sort through them. Now that you have your list of alternatives, it is time to begin evaluating them to see which one works for you. Beside each option, write down the values that would come into play for each alternative: morals, principles, monetary cost, and things not so obvious such as how that decision would effect family, spouse, children, parents. Second, look for the alternatives which would allow you to use the greatest number of your values. Third, cross the alternatives off the list which do not fit into your personal value framework.
David chose to put himself in God’s hand over and over again. Joseph reaped the huge benefit of forgiveness toward his brothers. Boaz reaped the benefit of choosing family duty and he stands in the lineage of Jesus. (Of course, Ruth’s beauty was also an added benefit.)

  • Visualize the outcomes of each alternative. For each remaining alternative on your list, picture what the outcome of that alternative will look like. Here, too, it helps if you write out your impressions. Jeremiah hashed out his question to God, “Why do the wicked prosper?” In chapter 12, he drew the complete picture.

  • Do a reality check. Which of your remaining alternatives are most likely to happen? Sometimes it is fun to daydream about beaches and mountains or winning the lottery, but reality eventually sets in so cross off those alternatives that most likely will not happen to you.
Job 42:1-6  Then Job answered the LORD and said: 2  "I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. 3  You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4  Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, 'I will question you, and you shall answer Me.' 5  "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. 6  Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes."

  • Which alternative fits you? Review your remaining alternatives and decide which ones feel most comfortable to you. These are your wise decisions. If you are very happy about a decision, but are not as comfortable with its possible outcome, this is a clue that this is not a wise decision for you. On the other hand, you may dislike an alternative, but be very excited about the possible outcome. This decision would probably not be wise for you either. If you feel you can not only live with both the alternative as well as the possible outcome, but are also excited about it, then this is the wise decision you should follow. Remember God is most present in a decision when we are fearful we can accomplish it. This makes much more room for God to work, and lessens our vise-like grasp on the reins. Exodus 3:11  But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" 12  So He said, "I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain."

  • Get started! Once you have made your decision, get moving on it. Worrying or second-guessing yourself will only cause grief. You have done your very best for the present. Trust God to let you know you must make a change in direction for He absolutely will if your desire is to obey Him. Remember, no decision is set in stone, except those decreed by God, of course. Exodus 4:18  So Moses went and returned to Jethro his father-in-law, and said to him, "Please let me go and return to my brethren who are in Egypt, and see whether they are still alive." And Jethro said to Moses, "Go in peace." God gave Moses a clear plan of action. His bullet points were the plagues ending with the Angel of Death moving through Egypt taking all the first born.

  • How is it going? Be sure to review your decision at pre-determined points along the road.  Are the outcomes what you expected? Are you happy with the outcomes? Do you want to let the decision stand or would you like to make some adjustments? If the decision did not come out the way you planned, go through the complete decision-making process again. In the process, answer the following questions:  Did I not have enough information? What values actually came into play? Were they my values or someone else's? Remember, God is very generous with godly wisdom, so never stop asking Him for it. He will guide you as no other can.