By Keri Wyatt Kent
Life change happens in small groups. If we ask ourselves and our groups the right questions, we can create environments for transformation.
If you lead a small group, one of your goals might be to help those in your group grow spiritually–transformed spiritually, even. As leaders,
we want to take people on a journey of transformation. But in order to do that, we ourselves must be on the journey.
After all, the Bible tells us that transformation should happen as a result of our encounter with Christ. Like vinegar on baking soda in a kid’s science experiment, our bland lives should bubble up when the Spirit is poured out on us. But in order for that to happen, we need to create an environment where there is space for God’s Spirit to come in.
Two verses about transformation:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
I spoke recently to a gathering of small group leaders at Christ Community Church in St. Charles. What an eager and receptive group of women, who are prevailing against the gates of hell by simply gathering women into groups and loving them toward a new life in Christ. I was impressed by their love and commitment. We talked about how our lives, our circumstances form us–they cause us to be formed. Sometimes our lives are shaped by love, other times by shame. Often, it’s a bit of both.Every situation, every challenge, all the voices that spoke into our lives, whether positive or negative, have formed our spirits, molded our souls.
As Dallas Willard wrote in Renovation of the Heart (a book which has, indeed, formed me in so many ways):
“Spiritual formation, without regard to any specifically religious context or tradition, is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definite form or character. It is a process that happens to everyone. The most despicable as well as the most admirable of persons have had a spiritual formation. Terrorists as well as saints are the outcome of a spiritual formation. Their spirits or hearts have been formed. Period.”
In small groups, we lead people who have been formed, for better or worse. Their families (of origin and of right now) have formed them. Their traumas and their triumphs. Every incident and casual word influences, shapes.
What about when it comes to Christian spiritual formation. And how do we facilitate that in our groups? Willard goes on to write:
“We can say, in a preliminary manner, that spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers tot the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself…Christian spiritual formation is focused entirely on Jesus. Its goal is an obedience or conformity to Christ that arises out of an inner transformation accomplished through purposive interaction with the grace of God in Christ.”
Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart
As I led these small group leaders through a discussion of how to create environments for transformation, I reminded them first that growth–given the right conditions. Happens. For example, my children, when first born, were tiny. I fed them, kept them warm and fed. I loved on them, guided them. And they grew. I didn’t “mak
e” them grow, but I tried to provide an environment conducive to growth. As a result, my son who was 21 inches long when he was born is now 6’4″. I can’t take the credit–God did that. But I did provide the right conditions for growth to occur.
To talk about how we can help our small group members to grow, I asked leaders to grapple with four questions:
I believe it is when they fully embrace and own the fact that they are deeply loved. Being deeply loved changes everything.
1. What motivates people to be transformed?
The Holy Spirit is ultimately the one who changes us. So in many ways, the pressure’s off. But we need to create the right environment for growth and change.
Ironically, when people know they are loved just as they are, they are more motivated to change.
2. Do we expect transformation?
Are we clear that change is the goal? How do we communicate that? Is transformation “normal” in your group? How often do you cast a vision that reminds people God loves them as they are, but loves them too much to leave them there?
3. Do we model transformation?
How are you, as a leader, changing and growing? Do you share your victories and your setbacks with small group members, reminding them that your goal is to be formed into the image of Christ?
If you find yourself stalled out, look at the pace of your life. The biggest barrier to spiritual growth is hurry. Slowing down will allow you to model spiritual transformation.
4. Do we celebrate transformation?
One of our most important jobs as small group leaders is naming what we see in people’s lives: noticing and affirming both steps of growth and obvious struggles, and walking with them through both. Celebrate transformation by telling people what you see, where you notice God working in their lives.
One way we can celebrate transformation is to make a regular practice of Gratitude in our groups. And that gratitude not only celebrates transformation, it facilitates it. Grateful people experience God and they grow closer to Him. If you lead a small group, your mission is to help people to be attuned to the work of God in their own lives. What better way than to celebrate this regularly?
Our lives and souls are going to be formed, whether we are deliberate about it or not. Why not help your small group to be formed into the image of Christ, to find the freedom that the Spirit wants to give them?
PLEASE COMMENT: Are you a small group leader? Or in a small group? How has the group helped you to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”? What questions does this post raise for you?
For More Posts by Keri Wyatt Kent, please visit http://www.keriwyattkent.com
By Keri Wyatt Kent
By Allen White
When we hear a question like this the fear is that the answer will lie at one of two extremes. Either the group would be a bunch of Bible eggheads who care for God’s Word, but don’t really care much for each other or the group meeting would become a freewheeling discussion that is no more than a pooling of ignorance. There is a balance, but it’s not the same for every group.
1. Why did your group get together in the first place?
People join small groups for various reasons. They want to get to know other believers. They want a better understanding of God’s Word. They want to feel that they belong. They need acceptance. They want encouragement and accountability. The pastor told them it was a good idea. There are many reasons.
While most small groups involve a Bible study, the group is not a class gathered to learn lessons. There are other settings for that. It’s always a good idea to talk to the group about the expectations. How many studies would the group like to do in the course of a year? How many meetings out of the month should focus on a study? How many meetings should focus on fellowship, serving, worship, outreach or something else? The group may be on the same page, but you don’t know until you’ve had the conversation and decided things together.
2. What are your group members’ personalities?
Are your group members task-oriented or relationship-oriented? What are you? When you lead the discussion are you attempting to cover all of the questions or are you interested in what everyone has to say? If you tend to be more task-oriented, then your goal is to complete the lesson. If you’re more relationship-oriented, then you might be tempted to throw the book out of the window.
Rather than resorting to an extreme, reach in the opposite direction. Task-oriented folks should train themselves to encourage personal sharing in the group. Maybe even have a night where folks share their spiritual journey and dispense with the lesson all together. When relationship-oriented folks lead a lesson, they should make sure good progress is made in the lesson, otherwise, they might frustrate some of the group members.
3. Is the curriculum too ambitious?
Some small group studies have as many as 30 questions. This is far too much to attempt to cover in a 45-60 minute group discussion. The group leader should prioritize the questions according to their significance to the group and to the discussion. If the group is 10-12 people who actively participate, you might not need more than five or six good questions for the entire discussion. The goal is to engage your group members, not just to complete a lesson.
4. Be aware of your group environment.
Often God does His best work in the unplanned moments of group life. The leader needs to take the cues from the group members as well as the Holy Spirit to determine when to pause the curriculum and allow a group member to share.
If a group member becomes a little teary, it’s good to pause and take notice: “Dave, I see that things are a little tender right now. Would you like to talk about it?” He may or may not want to unpack what he’s dealing with right then, but he will appreciate your sensitivity. To just continue the lesson without acknowledging what’s going on is essentially telling Dave, “I’m not sure what your problem is, but we’ve got a lesson to finish.”
I was leading a group discussion a few years ago. We were several questions into the study and one of the group members began telling a story. Her story had nothing to do with the question that I had just asked. It had nothing to do with the lesson. We all gave her our attention and listened carefully.
I quietly prayed and asked God for direction, “Lord, should I let her continue or do we need to move on.” The rest of the group seemed to be attentive to her story. I didn’t feel any gut check about redirecting the discussion. She finished. The group responded. Then, we continued with the discussion.
Later, while the group was sharing dessert, the lady’s husband pulled me aside. He said, “I can’t believe she told that story tonight. She hasn’t talked about that for 30 years.” Even though her story was off-topic, after 30 years, she was ready to share. The time was right for her. The rest of the group made the timing right for us as well. Can you imagine the damage that might have been done if we had moved on?
Building relationships and doing Bible study is a balance in any small group. If you’re going to err one way or the other, then err toward building relationships. Don’t dispense with Bible study, but remember that small groups are life on life. It’s not life on curriculum.