What If Robin Williams was in My Group?

What If Robin Williams was in My Group?

By Allen White Robin Williams red background
We lost Robin Williams nearly a year ago. He was a beloved comedian and actor. In fact, he was so beloved that his name was one of the most searched in all of 2014 on Google. I wrote a post a few days after his death as a response to so many hateful things Christians were saying on the internet. That post was not only the most read post ever on my blog, but was also the most read post ever on Rick Warren’s pastors.com with over 1 million views. If you haven’t seen it, you can read it here.

As I conclude this series on the temperaments of group members and the potential for conflict and misunderstanding, I want us to look at the epidemic of mental illness. It’s not a temperament, but an illness that personally affects 1 in 4 adults or 61.5 million Americans (according to a 2013 report by the National Alliance of Mental Illness). Mental illness affects even more people than that including the family members, neighbors, co-workers, fellow group members, and many others in relationship with those who suffer.

So, what if Robin Williams was in your group?

1. We would have a lot of fun.

If you’ve ever seen Robin Williams on a talk show, you know he was a man of a thousand voices. He would move from one comedic rant to the next and never miss a beat. He really didn’t even need the talk show host. Robin was a one man show who only needed an audience, but it didn’t have to be a large audience.

The best man in my wedding has a brother who was the pilot of Disney’s jet. Most of his job was flying Michael Eisner, president of Disney at the time, around the country. On one flight, Robin Williams was a passenger. He was just as animated and dynamic with a few people on the plane as he ever was on any talk show.

If Robin was in my group, we’d certainly have our hands full, but we would also have a great time.

2. He would want to be “Robin” not Patch Adams or Mork from Ork.

Robin is known for so many beloved and sometimes zany characters, but like all of us, we just want to be accepted for who we are. He probably wouldn’t want us to impersonate his characters or rattle off zippy one liners. In my groups, I’ve never wanted to be regarded as “Pastor Allen.” For the group to work, I need to come to group and be “Allen.” Like all of us, he would like to be accepted as Robin, not a clown, not a showman, not our evening’s entertainment, but just himself.

3. We would learn to be more generous.

Both before but especially after his death, stories flowed about Robin William’s generosity. He required movie studios to hire a certain number of homeless people on the crew as part of his contract for a picture. So many personal stories have surfaced like buying a bike for Conan O’Brien when he was going through a rough time or giving Jessica Chastain a scholarship to attend Juilliard or tirelessly fundraising for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Every year at Christmas Robin would visit the UCSF Children’s Hospital in San Francisco. In 2001, my son was a baby in the Intensive Care Nursery at UCSF and received a visit from Robin Williams along with all of the other children there. My wife and I missed the visit. Sam was only a month old and has no memory, but after Robin’s death, when I told him that special man had visited him when he was a baby, he was very touched.

I know of a lot of small groups who are very generous. Here in Greenville, South Carolina, the Holy Smokers from Brookwood Church cater an amazing meal for the homeless in the community. Groups have done so many things. But, I believe, Robin could show a group how to go even further.

4. The rest of us would have to remove our masks first and be patient.

The public was very shocked by the extent of Robin Williams’ depression that drove him to suicide. Suicide is a terrible decision in any life. Most of us can’t imagine the state of mind one would need to be in to feel you had no other choice, because we don’t struggle with the things he struggled with.

But, here’s the other thing, if our groups are just skimming the surface of a Bible study, we don’t really know what’s going on with anyone unless they are in enough pain to cry out for help without being shamed by the group. Participating in a small group is not a magic cure for anything. People can pretend to be okay in a group meeting just like they can pretend to have it all together in church, but that’s not okay.

If we ever expect anyone else to open up, we need to open up ourselves. We need to talk about what’s real, what’s hidden, what’s secret — these are the things with power over us. The things hidden in darkness must be exposed to the light. After all, the only thing that thrives in darkness is mold.

Let’s be honest — we’ve been in groups where a member announces a divorce and we didn’t even know there were marital problems. Or, someone files for bankruptcy and we didn’t know the extent of their struggle. There is no room for lone rangers in a group. You and I are not any better than anyone else. It’s time to let down our guard and admit that.

If we wanted Robin Williams or anyone else to open up, we would need to create the right environment. That includes showing our own vulnerability.

5. We would be out of our depth, but we would love everyone generously.

Most small groups are not equipped to deal with mental illness. From Schizophrenia to Bipolar Disorder to Depression, Substance Abuse, Autism and so much more, groups don’t know what to do or how to help. And, that’s okay.

There are doctors and medication and mental health professionals to help with mental illness. Groups are designed for belonging, acceptance, care and Bible study. Group leaders and members don’t need to become mental health experts, but they do need to show Christlike love to everyone God sends their way. While all of us can certainly learn more about mental illness, groups need to fulfill the purpose they are intended for and seek help when the needs go beyond the group’s goals.

If a group’s purpose turns to helping a single member who is struggling, then that person becomes the group’s “project,” and the group members reveal their own co-dependency. No one wants to be someone’s project. If the group is in over their heads, then they need to admit where they can help and where they can’t. There is a time to get other help.

We miss you Robin Williams. Thanks for bringing so much joy to the world. Our regret is you had to suffer so much.

Must Haves for New Small Group Leaders

By Allen White

In a meeting with the pastors and small group leaders at Element Church, a great new church plant in Woodruff, South Carolina. Their church and small group ministry is just months old. Josh Bradley and his team are doing a great job bringing a contemporary church into a small community. Here are some essential building blocks for a successful small group ministry that I shared with them last week:

1. Balance Produces Growth

Everyone who joins a group has different needs. Others have an actual agenda. Some members want to create an exact duplicate of a group they were in years ago. Still others want a group to meet their needs. Still others will want a group that is more social or more spiritual or more evangelistic or more, more. The good news is that each group can accomplish a great deal, if they agree on the direction together. Well, except, for resurrecting the great group from the past. You would need a time machine for that one.

The first groups of believers in Acts 2:42-47 met together for Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry, Worship and Evangelism. Some have tried to say that Acts 2 represents the epitome of what an accomplished church or group should be. The truth is that this passage reveals what the church was doing on its first day! These weren’t things built over time. These were things that needed to happen all at once.

That doesn’t mean that each of these five things should happen in every meeting. But, your group needs to decide together when these things will happen. A group agreement is a great place to start. Read more about forming group agreements here.

2. Shared Leadership

Ownership is huge in developing and sustaining groups. Every member needs to have some skin in the game. As the leader, you should do everything you can to give away every task in the group to a willing volunteer. The only thing a leader shouldn’t give away is responsibility for the group. But, everything else from leading the discussion and hosting the group to bringing refreshments and following up on prayer requests should be delegated.

In the group I lead, I will announce to the group after the first lesson in a new study, “Today is the only day I will be leading the discussion. I’m passing around the calendar, and everyone needs to sign up for a week to lead.” It works every time. Now, a group member can pass, but they all can’t pass.

Another way to share leadership is to listen to what your group members care about. “I think our group should have more socials” or “It would be great if we could all come out on Saturday and help my neighbor build his fence.” Rather than the leader taking on one more responsibility, ask the person who suggested it to put something together. This strategy is known as “you spot it, you got it.” It works well.

3. Group Life Cycle

Every group goes through distinct stages in group life. Just like understanding the path from infancy to adulthood, every group needs to understand their awkward teenage stage and that their mid-life crisis is coming.

Steve Barker from InterVarsity maps out the group life cycle this way: Exploration, Transition, Action and Termination. In Exploration, the big issue is inclusion. Group members want to know that they fit in. They need to feel wanted and accepted.

Next is Transition, which is characterized by conflict. Hopefully, the end result of conflict is shared goals and objectives. This is the review and implimentation of your group agreement.

The third stage is Action. Once the group has agreed on the steps forward, now they have the freedom to act and move ahead together in ministry. The final stage is termination. This is the time to celebrate the time the group has enjoyed together.

The Group Life Cycle usually lasts about two years. Unless the group has made a concerted effort to invite and include new people in the group, most groups will stagnate and eventually fold at the two year mark. Rather than keeping a group limping along, it might be a good idea to plan when the group will end, then regroup and start over again.

While most of us are aware of groups that have lasted for decades, these tend to be the exception rather than the rule. The same leader might still be leading a group, but odds are that the group membership is quite different from where they began. There is nothing wrong with lifelong groups as long as they are bearing fruit.

4. Group Mission

The mission of the group is no different than the mission of the church: “Go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20). The goal of group life isn’t the comfort of the group members. The goal is to reach others for Christ and grow them up in the faith. And, that makes group members uncomfortable.

The issue groups face is that they develop close relationships over time and want to continue with the group members they are close to. The reality is that given the Group Life Cycle, most groups will stagnate or end after two years. If the group continues to invite and include new people, they can avoid this two year deadline. But, if the group continues to invite and include others, then the group will outgrow its meeting space, overload the leader, and bloat the discussion. These are good problems.

As soon as your group reaches eight people, sub-group. This will allow everyone to get their word in. This is also a great opportunity for an up and coming leader to get their feet wet by leading all or part of the discussion. Who? Since you have rotated leadership in your group, you have an idea of which members are on their way to leadership. Some will do a great job. Maybe they’re 75-80% there. Others will show some potential and might be 40-50% there. A few might need a lot of help.

John Maxwell said, “If someone can do the job 30% as well as you, give them the job.” The reality is the person can probably do it 60% as well, but we haven’t given them credit for it. As your group grows, sub-grouping is essential for discussion, group care, and leadership development. If your meeting place is big enough, keep growing the group. When the meeting situation becomes a problem for the whole group, then it’s time to figure out something else. Caution here: this will be a problem for the leader before it’s a problem for the group. Hang in there. When the group feels the need to change, change will come.

There are many other questions on the minds of new leaders, but this is a good summary of where to start. When you feel overwhelmed, pray and ask God for help. When you need training, seek out your coach. If you need a little information, check out the other posts on this blog.

Great Resources for Getting Groups Started:

Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen (Read my review here).

Connecting in Communities by Eddie Mosley (Read my review here).

What If You Have a Pleaser in Your Group?

What If You Have a Pleaser in Your Group?

By Allen White abraham

Do you have a group member who tends to get along with everyone else? They don’t rock the boat, and certainly don’t tip the boat over. They are loyal and steady. You can always count on them. Yet, you don’t always know what’s going on inside of them, because they wouldn’t want to trouble you with that. The group member we call the Peacekeeper.

In this series of posts, we are looking at the different personality types of group members and how they affect the dynamics of groups. Based on Vicki Barnes book, The Real You, we have identified four core types: the Producer, the Planner, the Promoter, and today will will consider the Peacekeeper.

We see Peacekeeper behavior in several people in Scripture. The Apostle John would certainly fit in this category. He was the disciple whom Jesus loved. John had a warm that resonated with others. He also took the longest to write his Gospel. While Matthew, Mark (writing for Peter), and Luke put our there Gospels in the first half of the first century (give or take), John’s Gospel didn’t appear until nearly the end of the first century. (Scholars can debate away, but this is what they taught me in Bible college).

Another example of Peacekeeper behavior is Abraham, formerly known as Abram. When Abraham had to go down to Egypt as recorded in Genesis 12, he was worried the Egyptians couldn’t resist Sarah for her beauty and would kill him to get her. Abraham instructed Sarah, “Hey, let’s not make any waves in Egypt. Instead of telling them you are my wife, just say that you are my sister instead.” Sarah went along. Now, this caused quite a bit of trouble later in the story when the Egyptians found out the truth. But, Abraham saved his neck.

When Abraham and Lot were living together with all of their families and herds, it became clear they needed more space. Rather than telling Lot where to move his family and herds, Abraham gave Lot a choice. Of course, Lot chose the best land. Abraham, being more passive, really didn’t care which land he had as long as Lot was happy.

Now, none of us are limited to our core personalities. Abraham’s faith grew. God declared Abraham to be the father of many nations. When God called Abraham to take Isaac to the mountain and sacrifice him, there was no hemming and hawing. The next morning, they got up and went.

The Peacekeeper shows mercy and compassion. They are more likely to see all sides of an argument. Now, by seeing all sides, they sometimes have trouble taking sides or making a decision. I have a dear friend who asked me what color she should change her carpet to. I later found out she had been asking this question for more than a decade. The last time I visited her and her husband, they had moved to a different house. I said, “Well, you didn’t need to change the carpet after all.” Being a Peacekeeper, her response was, “Oh, Allen.” If she’d been a Producer, the carpet would have been changed immediately, and she would have knocked my block off for saying something like that. If she had been a Planner, she would have studied carpet types carefully, and the science behind mood and its relation to color. If she had been a Promoter, she would have chosen whatever bright color she felt like.

Peacekeepers are natural mediators. They are slow to form a prejudicial decision. When Producers like me want to fire up their bulldozer and “git ‘r done,” the Peacekeepers are a good people to check in with before the Producers start running over everybody.

Quite a few years back, another dear friend of mine and I were choosing a restaurant to take a group of seniors to up in the Mother Lode near Sonora, California. There was an Italian restaurant there I had been wanting to try, but my dear Peacekeeper friend suggested something else. It was more of a coffee shop with an extensive menu. We went her way. At one point in the meal with about 40 of us gathered around a huge table, I heard her say quietly, “Isn’t this nice. Everyone found something they really liked.” She was a Peacekeeper extraordinaire.

While Peacekeepers are great listeners and mediators, they can be easily overwhelmed, yet they won’t let you on to that. They may appear calm on the outside, but you may be rocking their boat like crazy on the inside.

When it’s all said and done, we should all strive to be more like the Peacekeeper. In fact, as we mature and grow as a person, all four of these personality types should even out in our lives. But, only if we grow.

 

Read more from this series:

Planner: What if Dr. Luke Was in My Group?

Producer: What if the Apostle Paul Was in My Group?

Promoter: What if the Apostle Peter Was in My Group?

Accountability that Works

Accountability that Works

By Allen White

When your group members ask for accountability, there are right ways and wrong ways to offer it. Some accountability comes across as coaching and encouraging. Other efforts at accountability seem condescending and defeating. Here are some things to consider in setting up accountability with others:

1.       How does accountability work?

Accountability fails when it’s conducted by an accountant. “Your goal was to exercise four times last week, but you only exercised two times. Now, you need to repent and pledge to do better next week.” Yikes! Sounds like they’ll be skipping the next accountability meeting too.

The Bible tells us that “love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). If the purpose of accountability is to confront the person with their failures, it’s a failure. The nature of accountability can’t be merely a ledger recording wins and losses.

Accountability works when it’s more like coaching and less score keeping. If the member only got two workouts in this week, then the response should be: “Good, you got two in. What kept you from doing all four? How did you feel after your workouts? How did you feel when you skipped your workout? How can I help you this next week?” What are the reasons behind the success or failure? What motivates them? What demotivates them? Everybody is motivated by different things.

Accountability partners need to know that you have their best interest at heart. Your prayers are significant. Your short voice mail messages or texts or tweets can encourage them daily. But, encouragement should be given in appropriate doses otherwise it can seem like a backhanded rebuke.

2.       Who should provide accountability?

While as the group leader, you should have an accountability partner, especially if you are advocating accountability. But, the group leader shouldn’t have more than a couple accountability relationships himself. “But, the group has never done this. What if they don’t do it right?” Okay, Moses, read Exodus 18 and take a breath.

The group leader can coach the group on providing and receiving accountability. But, there is no way to maintain an accountability relationship with every person in your group, and it’s not healthy either. Ideally, group members should be matched with someone who has a measure of victory in the area they are holding another accountable for. This just makes sense.

Who do you want coaching you on weight loss – the guy who lost 80 pounds in the last year or the guy who would like to? You want the guy who has succeeded.

If someone wants to get up at 5:30 every morning to start a quiet time, they need someone who is up at that hour to give them a wakeup call for a while. (By the way, 5:30 pm is just as spiritual as 5:30 am – just sayin’).

Your group might not even want to use the term “accountability partner.” For several years, my group had “prayer partners.” Two of us got together every other week to pray for each other. There was some checking in involved in the process, but it didn’t feel like a pop quiz.

Done the right way, accountability can be a good tool to strengthen your group and deepen their relationships with each other and with God. As long as you keep the “Why” ahead of the “What,” your group could be well served with this.

Related Article: How Do I Make My Group Members Accountable?

Recommended Reading:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (Read my review here).

What If You Have Someone with ADD in Your Group?

What If You Have Someone with ADD in Your Group?

By Allen White

Have you ever had a group member who just exuded enthusiasm and ADD? Did they chase rabbit trails and pull thoughts out of left field during the Peter_walks_on_water_toward_Jesus_0discussion? You may have a Promoter in your group.

We see classic Promoter behavior in the Apostle Peter. Impetuous and sometimes flaky, Peter was the only one who jumped out of the boat at Jesus’ invitation to walk on water. When Jesus announced his coming death, Peter rebuked Jesus, “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” to which Jesus rebuked him right back, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:22-23). When the soldiers came to take Jesus in the Garden, Peter drew his sword and cut Malchus’ ear, which Jesus quickly healed. Then, in the temple court, before the cock crowed three times, Peter denied Jesus. Yet there was another side to Peter’s brass enthusiasm.

On the day of Pentecost, when the crowd thought the 120 in the upper room were drunk, it was Peter who stood up and explained, “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel…” (Acts 2:14-16). Peter’s off the cuff proclamation that day resulted in 3,000 people being added to their number. There was no time to prepare a sermon. There was no time to create an outline. There was only time for a disciple empowered by God’s Spirit to open his mouth and be willing to speak. This time Peter got it right.

In this series of posts, we are looking at the different personality types of group members and how they affect the dynamics of groups. Based on Vicki Barnes book, The Real You, we have identified four core types: the Producer, the Planner, the Peacekeeper, and today will will consider the Promoter.

The Promoter is the life of the party. In fact, a Promoter’s motto could be “If you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with.” Now, before you take that thought too far, what I mean is a Promoter can have a great time with family and friends, but can also have a great time standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Promoters have never met a stranger and are easy to like.

They have an idea a minute, which lends to their ADD temperament. Promoters are great starters, but poor finishers. After all, how can you take something to completion if you have an idea a minute. Before one thing is even half completed, they are chasing their next idea!

Promoters are great for adding enthusiasm to a group, rallying the troops, and recruiting new members. Promoters are not so great at staying on task, starting or ending on time, or maybe even remembering they are leading on a particular week. But, if you take a Promoter’s idea, pass it on to a Producer to execute, then add a Planner’s eye for detail with the Peacekeeper checking in with everyone, your group can be a great team.

Be selective about what you delegate to a Promoter. You will see them as flaky, and they will feel frustrated. But, put them in their sweet spot of brainstorming and encouraging, and then you’ve got something.

Read More About Why Your Group Members Might Bug You

Planner: What if Dr. Luke Was in My Group?

Producer: What if the Apostle Paul Was in My Group?

Peacekeeper: What if Father Abraham Was in My Group?

How Do I Make My Group Members Accountable?

How Do I Make My Group Members Accountable?

By Allen White

Okay, let’s rethink the question a little bit, then we can tackle the issue. Forced accountability is less like having a spiritual coach and more like having a probation officer. Since most group members aren’t working hard to avoid incarceration, making group members accountable is a failed enterprise. The title of that book would be “How to Lose Friends and Frustrate People.” I don’t think that’s what you have in mind. Here are some things to consider in developing group member accountability:

1.       Why do you feel your group members need accountability?

Either accountability works well for you or you’ve heard that it does. Whether you’re starting a new habit or forsaking a bad habit, the help and encouragement of another believer can be a great support and motivator. If your group members are asking for accountability, that is a beautiful thing. If you think your group members need accountability that they’re not currently seeking, well, that’s a whole other deal. Proceed with caution, unless you are exercising your gift of martyrdom on this one.

Think about what led you to see accountability was a good thing for you. More than likely, this was a process for you. It wasn’t a gut reaction. You thought about how accountability could help you. You thought about what would work for you. You thought about who would coach you. It took a little time. Your group members probably aren’t there yet.

Give them insights into how accountability has helped you, before you pop the question. Just casually bring up accountability during the group meeting. You might even start with a praise during the group’s worship or prayer time, “I am thankful for my accountability partner. This relationship has really helped me maintain (a consistent quiet time or kept me in the gym or whatever it was.)” You have to show them on the value of accountability.

“But, this will be good for them. We need to just get started.” Imposing accountability on unwilling group members will backfire in a big way. It will be about as popular as the brussel sprouts you serve instead of brownies at your next meeting. Your group members want to grow spiritually. You have found a tool that will help them get there. Now, you have to give them the “Why?”  and not just impose the “What.”

2.       What accountability is your group open to?

Every believer is at a different place in their spiritual journey. In fact, no two believers walk identical paths. While Jesus is the only way to Heaven, each person’s background, wounds, victories, personality, gifts and passions are very different. What works for one will not necessarily work as well for everyone else. One size does not fit all.

The only accountability that works is the accountability that your group members actually want. They may very well want to forsake a bad habit or develop a good one. Accountability may be the perfect tool to get them there. But, only if they ask for it.

Once your group members have bought into the concept of accountability, there is nothing wrong with asking the group members what they would like accountability for.

3.       What accountability has the group agreed to?

Your group has already agreed to some things that require accountability. Your small group agreement outlines each member’s responsibility to the group. If your agreement puts responsibility on your members to let the group know when they can’t make a meeting, then they have consented to accountability in that area. The same with the other areas of agreement: confidentiality, active listening, etc. If someone violates something in the group agreement, then you should definitely ask them about why they broke one of the ground rules for the group.

Tomorrow’s Post: Accountability that Works

Recommended Reading:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (Read my review here).

Free ebook: The Senior Pastors Guide to Groups

Should a Senior Pastor be in a Group?

How Many Groups Should Your Church Have?

What are Successful Pastors Doing to Grow Their Groups?

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