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Posts Tagged ‘Small Group’

I ran across a woman who went to another church in our area. She and her husband began to get uncomfortable with small group studies, and also with some of their church teachings. They thought, after their eyes were opened to the misuse of the bible in these studies and in teachings from the pulpit, that discussing it in small group would be a good idea. From what the woman said, they were not trying to cause division but were attempting to point out errors as they had great faith in their church leadership. They brought things up to the leadership, as well as continuing to share their fears with the group. They were shocked the day they were asked to leave their church.

She said that in their next church it was five years before they really could trust enough to serve. They had been shunned by many in their former church, many who had been good friends before the issues were brought up. Some later did apologize to them, and some have left over time.

We had a different experience in that we did not share our issues with many people. We did tell some things to a few friends, and we’ve known a very small number who have left. We do feel though, had we been open to our small group or to more of the leadership we would eventually have been asked to be quiet or leave.

Being shunned hurts. When a person begins to understand how leadership teaches from men’s work rather than from the bible, or uses many methods rather than relying on God’s word and the Holy Spirit, it’s a hard thing to decide what to do. Do you share with others? Will you find someone who understands what your are saying? Will you be accused of being divisive? Will you be asked to leave?

I believe it’s of utmost importance that each person who encounters poor or bad teaching pray first. Spend time thinking how to handle things. Then, don’t worry about the consequences to you so much as what will your voice in this accomplish? Is it about getting even? If it’s about you and your pride, you really have to pause. If it’s about trying to restore people to truth and good doctrine, and you are hoping to help others in the long run, then move forward in wisdom. There are times for open mouths, and times for closed mouths.

We weren’t perfect as we proceeded, but we did try very hard to do the right thing. Looking back, I can see areas we could have improved upon BUT in the long run, I believe we did the right thing overall.

I feel for this woman I met who has gone through such pain in her former church. I pray for other men and women out there just trying to point out the errors and do the right thing.

It happens to pastors too.  This article is a great resource. 

http://reformednazarene.wordpress.com/2010/02/19/nazarene-pastor-fired-for-fighting-emergent-ideology/

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Our new church has worked out well so far.  Our family, having come from a “missional” and “transformational” church with a pastor who is angry when challenged has needed to heal.  We’ve really enjoyed coming to church just to hear the bible preached.  The church we attend preaches straight through on most every Sunday.  We’ve needed this.  No pressure to join a small group every week, no projects and slick presentations.  No recycling of themes just in case we’re too dumb to get the message.  It’s all about the bible, all about study. 

There recently was a reminder that we cannot just be hearers only though, but doers, and there are churches being planted.  There are missionaries to support.  Most of all, there are needs in the body, and that seems to be the biggest way service is done.  Prayer is very important too, with prayers in service several times, several times a week we get a prayer/praise email with real messages from the body.  This little church takes prayer very seriously.

Verse by verse, it’s a theme that goes beyond the pulpit.  We’re still in John, it’s been over a year, and we’re not halfway through yet in the weekly services.  In bible study we’re going through Revelation.  The pastor teaching this has been doing it for weeks and we’re still on the very first verses.  It’s refreshing, some may think it’s boring, but to me it’s great to get all the background.  We don’t attend on Sunday night, it is a service for the body.  They get together for a lesson in proverbs.  Next they divide into groups such as teens, a bible club for the younger children, and something for the adults.  I know special choirs practice also on Sunday night.  I also know something goes on Wednesday night, we haven’t investigated.  There are also small groups meeting everywhere.  There is also a class in the week called the “bible institute” and I believe it’s a very in depth class in the bible but also possibly including church history.  I’m a bit fuzzy though it’s brought up every once in a while. 

This church is also a place for Deaf people.  There is an interpreter for everything in the service, actually there are several.  They trade off, and will interpret every word spoken from the pulpit.  If needed in a bible study, they are there too.  If a song is played with no words, the words of the song are still up on the screen in front or a bible passage is printed. 

I believe some time our next step needs to be getting into more in this church.  We have avoided small group.  Part of this is because our schedule is busy, however, it’s always been busy before and at our former churches (since we began as married people) we’ve always been in a small group.  However, I recall the important thing to me was not the fellowship alone, but bible study.  I do think that was a need in the churches I attended before.  I did need the fellowship and friendships before, but small group was where I tried my hardest to push bible study.  I know now I did this because I needed to be fed somewhere, I wasn’t getting it from the pulpit like I should (not that missional/transformational churches don’t ever preach from the bible, they do and you can get SOME food there…but not nearly what I needed to grow).  The church we attend now has a pulpit rich in “spiritual food.”  Rich.  So, I believe small group can actually be more of a social time, a time to be in fellowship, to serve one another and be served.  We probably should seek this out next fall, and arrange our lives for it.  We should find a group that includes kids, our kids need to get to know others in the church.  I have a sneaky feeling though, that small group in this church is not like what I’ve experienced since we got a few friends together years ago and went verse by verse through John every week on our own.  One was a seminary student, and we just really studied the bible…evangelized to friends we brougth with us who weren’t Christians, and enjoyed one another.  No book themes, no marketing, no projects, just study.

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     I remember a time when I would get together with people and study the bible. I recall doing this in college.  We did have social Navigator meetings, but we also were taught how to do bible studies with others.  We even were encouraged to read our bible daily.  They called it a quiet time.  We were to study the bible, and dig into the word.  Often there would be a workbook with questions for a guide, but it really was about looking at the text.  I had one of these yearly while in college, if I recall right.  I even led one, though I felt very ill prepared.  Still, we did study the bible, and did go through it.  When a challenging person I met in the dorms would say, “you have to be baptised in my church to be saved” I could often dig with the group for verses to counter this person.  We could prepare for our daily lives, and could be encouraged by the scriptures.

When I got married, we were friends with a seminary student.  We got our own little bible study together.  We studied John for a year, and it was a great time.  We brought in a few other young people, and a few were unsaved.  It was a great time of fellowship, and a great time of digging into the bible.  We continued to study with this couple and a few others until we moved away from each other across the country.

When we lived in Seattle, we attended a bible study group.  I don’t recall it being called “small group” but bible study.  We did find it a bit frustrating because we’d go through a guide book and often it would be very simplistic.  However, we did stick to the text.  We socialized, we supported each other in illness, job loss and in gain, miscarriage, one woman had a drug addicted spouse, in new babies, and in moves (many of us moved and helped each other).  We did study and talk about the bible, we never focused on a book that had bible verses in it, but instead did studies on books of the bible.  We might also do a topical study but it was all pointing back to a block of scripture.

We moved back to Kansas and found a church with the word “bible” in it’s name.  We got involved in a small group.  I still called them bible studies, because that’s what I thought of when we would get together with a group of people with pens and bibles.  We began with the simple books on books of the bible or a topic, all focused in studying the bible and what it said.  However, after a few years, we began to do topical study and it wasn’t really about the bible.  We’d study things like marriage, our personal gift inventory, finances, or how to witness effectively.  We’d take personality quizes, financial inventories, study our love languages, or our spiritual gifts.  We’d discuss these findings outloud in the group.  It was very self focused, and yet it was also a time when we’d reveal personal things in a group.  We’d have projects during the week which took time.

Always, my husband and I would fight for studying a book in the bible.  We felt so good one year because we were able to get into the book of Acts.  We kept trying to get back to that kind of thing.  It was so wonderful to just dig, to  hear scripture read aloud every week.  It was a growing time. 

Small group for us was really mostly about the friendship.  We did have great relationships, and I believe our friends in those groups were mostly Christians who really desired to study God’s word and fellowship in Christian brotherhood.  We wanted to pray for one another, that was always a point that showed really what the groups were about for the people in them, the prayer support.  That’s where the caring came in.  People also did things to help each other in times of need.  There was nothing wrong with this, in fact it was one wonderful aspect of the groups that made up for all the books we went through.

The group would often get together and decide what we were studying.  This is how we ended up eventually pushing for bible study in the actual bible.  It became the desire of the leaders of our group (we eventually became leaders…with another couple).  We wanted to get into the meat.  However, there was always a pull to books like “The Five Love Languages.”  I was even one who suggested we do Max Lucado studies, partly because I felt these books got you into the text. 

One thing kept happening that was annoying to us personally, and I believe maybe others in the group though I cannot be sure.  The church would, at least once a year, have a series.  Usually it was a Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, or some other book.  It was not biblically focused although it did contain bible verses.  This series would run along side sermons.  I believe once there was no book, but the pastors had a topical study with their own studyguide for the group (though I believe this wasn’t manditory).  The manditory church wide study also involved a DVD…easy to pop in, easy to run right through. 

The group would meet, go through the DVD, discuss it, have a prayer and snack time.  These were very simplistic, and annoying.  I never objected outright, I found though we made comments at times during the DVD to keep ourselves entertained because we were bored.  One time my husband lead this and did feel some sense of accomplishment, he’d not lead the group alone before.  We did still get annoyed with the book and DVD though, it just was not very deep in biblical information.  It was more poor entertainment than anything.  The most entertainment we got actually, was making fun of the DVD in subtle ways. We usually also spiced up these times with personal testimonies and other activities rather than just plugging along in the book and DVD.

I recall getting less and less satisfaction from small group.  Not from our friends, but from the bible study part.  There were people in the group also who said they really desired to study in a book of the bible rather than in these men’s books.  We recalled our time studying Acts, and the comment was that it was a great year. 

So, what happened?  I believe churches in this trend of church wide study of books by men, and even topical study books, are in a cycle of immaturity.  These  churches have leaders who want to reach the seeker, and are refusing to even call themselves Christians but want to be Christ followers instead.  They’ve substituted men’s wisdom (which is foolishness) for God’s word.  They’ve substituted a focus on the living Savior for a focus within the man. 

It’s all about five steps, or if that gets old, about finding the mystery.  I almost feel these churches actually run in some sort of cycle.  First they entertain you, then they talk about how entertainment shouldn’t be what we’re about.  You feel guilty because you realize you’ve been entertained, and you agree, more should be happening.  So you are told you need to find your spiritual gift, and another small group theme begins.  Later you’re told it’s easy to become selfish or self foucsed in sermons, that we focus too much on busy life and on ourselves, then you’re challeneged to find your purpose, and another church wide study begins on Purpose Driven or whatever.  Then you go along happy for a while, and you’re told you need to reach out to your neighbor, and Hybels study comes along when you learn how to witness.

The next step in the cycle is discussing the youth, and how we’re missing them.  We’re also studying too much.  Youth like action, boom…you’re out picking up trash in a park or painting a school yard in service.  Eventually, you begin working on going deeper in your relationship.  You need to get closer to God, so we’ll discuss spiritual disciplines.  There you go, you’re deep.

Far, far away is the church life you had to begin with.  Sunday school with bible study, or some midweek bible study is impossible.  No longer offered at church.  Sure, you might get your group to go along with studying a book of the bible, but likely not for long.  People hear how good so and so’s book is, and they suggest it.  If you become the leader, which is encouraged, you need to let the group decide what to study until the church leadership decided to invade with an all church study.

Where did bible study go?

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I am finding it interesting that every time we bring up the new age/emergent or contemplative prayer issues with certain people in our former church we often get denial.  Then we get the comments about how “it’s your perception that matters” and “you have to do what’s best for your family.”  Interpret these statements as “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” because that is what is meant.  People don’t like conflict, it’s evident that our former church leaders don’t want to think about conflict.  Many don’t want to think about the truth either.  They won’t do the basic research, or they’ll trust internally the comments of others and won’t look it up for themselves.  I found it so frustrating when I was first realizing things were going on, I would ask around.  I felt I got flimsy answers.  People trust the elders and pastors and believe they will have looked into this.  Though the emergent church is in our area, some of the pastors’ and elders’ children attend an openly emergent church…and the youthcamp has an emergent church leader/author getting known nationally, and the church has people on staff at both places, most didn’t even know what emergent church is.  Pastors and leaders strongly deny a problem.  We have never been so bold as to say outright the former church is emergent, but have pointed out the elements. 

Some saw the elements emergent.  However, we were cautioned not to worry about Rick Warren/Hybels as they certainly weren’t the same. You know, it’s true, they aren’t the same.  One elder did say things are on a continuum, and I believe that may be the case with Warren/Hybels and the seeker friendly stuff.  They are like marijuana, Rob Bell is meth.  I think Dallas Willard is in there somewhere, maybe speed?  Some authors are ecstasy.  I don’t know the true effects of drugs to make this analogy work well.  However, either way, these different authors and leaders can lead one to another.  I think actually once you go down the path a bit with these guys, it’s harder to go back to the lighter ones.  In fact, I am sure Bell and Warren actually don’t agree with one another and may dislike each other’s church models.  They have something in common though.  It’s contemplative prayer, it’s deconstructing church as it was and reconstructing it differently.  It’s mishandling of scripture as means to an end.  This is the common ground.  This is the genius of deception.  No one realizes where a 40 Days of Purpose campaign can go in the long run, in five years or so.  No one knows that their pastor has been trained how to deal with resisters.  No one realizes their suggestions will come off as sin (because resisting change is one of the things thou shalt not). 

Our former pastor denies the church is emergent and they’ve even spoken out against it.  Okay, but as one friend pointed out, they’re “not NOT emergent.”  They are influenced  by things emergent.  Noomas in small group, the youth camp, the leaders’ children going to an emergent church, the preaching from some pastors with blatant quotes of emergent leaders all point to the influence.  We were so blind to it, but thats because in our small group we tried to run it like a Bible study.  That’s because we worked with out kids in Awana and Sunday School classes and we taught them the gospel and the truth of the accounts given.  It’s also because we didn’t realize the language used in sermons has a double meaning.  We were being deceived even if it wasn’t intentional.  The pastors slowly present things to get the church further down the path to contemplative prayer (watch out, I think it’s coming to many of your churches out there).  It’s so slow, so subtle.  If you are having silence without a call to prayer, your church may already be in it.  We were at first being deceived, and then the questions came to our minds.  Later we were in denial.  Once we could no longer be in denial, we knew we had to decide.  Stay or go.  Also, how were we to function if we stayed?  We told some, we decided it would be wrong to keep our mouths shut.  We prayed, we spoke to elders.  We got resistance to change.  Finally, we decided to go and spoke to one pastor and he saw the emergent (but not the Hybels/Warren issues as a problem).  He suggested the letter, and suggested the open and frank way we wrote it.  He didn’t want us to leave, he wanted to fix the church through our loving confrontation of the issues.  We sure tried.  However, the pitbull pastor wouldn’t hear it.  He did hear some things, but mostly, he heard us attack him. 

So, now we are free.  It’s so tempting to believe we can change things.  Change can only come if hearts are soft.  God knows what He is doing.  We prayed, we did what we thought we were led to do.  After that, it’s not up to us.

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