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Taxes and Groups

Tax preparation labels you. Although they are few, there are times in life when you are instantly labeled, put into one camp or the other. You are either an instruction reader or a “do it by feel” kind of person. You either ask for directions or refuse to admit you are truly lost.  You are either a morning or late night person. Coke or Pepsi. And you either keep a neat log with all your receipts and mileage records or you just throw them all into a drawer (if even that!)

I have heard about people who have a nice, neat, computer print out of all their expenditures and business miles printed in advance. Like … end of January advance. It often makes completing their 1040 as simple as filling in the blanks. In no time, they are done.

Others use more of a “somewhere-in-the-bottom-of-this-shoebox” system. They scramble desperately to get all of the facts and figures down on paper and put in the proper place before the deadline. (And yes, the bottom-of-the-box individual is often the ten minutes until midnight person as well.)

It dawned on me this year (it was a shoebox year, thanks for asking) that we often approach our groups in a similar manner. Sometimes we spend time all throughout the year developing relationships and spending time with group leaders or members. Our mutual encouragement, accountability, and support of one another flow easily as we continue to work through a small group year. When a crisis arises, we have already developed the relationships that enable us to smoothly sail the rough waters.

Other times, we desperately try to pull together relationships we have spent far too little time cultivating during the year, all the while knowing the small group year is drawing to a close and wondering what sort of harvest our groups will produce. When the challenges raise their ugly head, we have to scramble in hopes that we somehow make it through the difficult stretches.

Which category do you fall in?

Are you doing the little things every day that make the big moments of your group life seem as simple as just filling in the blanks?

Here are the resources I mentioned in tonight’s lesson, along with some of the notes.

Ruth Haley Barton Invitation to Solitude and Silence

Richard Foster Celebration of Discipline

Thomas Merton Thoughts in Solitude

Henri J. M. Nouwen The Way of the Heart

Marjorie J. Thompson Soul Feast

Spiritual disciplines that will help you relinquish those idols that stand in the way of you and God are:

  • Self-examination
  • Silence
  • Solitude
  • Submission
  • The discipline of secrecy was also mentioned because it is, I believe, a byproduct of a life that longs to allow God to have all control.

Over the next two weeks, do the following:

  • Spend some examining your heart, your motives, and asking God to show you those things that need to be relinquished or that you need to place under His control.
  • Spend some time in solitude.
  • Spend some time in silence.
  • As you become aware of those things that need to be relinquished, submit yourself to God’s calling and give those things over to him.
  • Finally, do something in secret this week.

Thank You

Today is an exciting day for me and my family as I begin to work full-time in the role of 1 Groups Minister. Although I have been working closely with 1 Groups for the past 6 months or so (and Community Groups prior to that), being involved with such a great ministry staff at such a great congregation on a day-to-day basis is a blessing and I look forward to the opportunities before us.

There are a couple of things you should look for from this blog.

The first is an opportunity to be in conversation with each other about things involving small groups. This applies not only to those who lead groups (at South Plains), but anyone who has interest in small groups at any location. Feel free to be a part of the ongoing conversation you find here.

Also, I hope that the things you find here help you as a leader of a group, as a member of a group, and more importantly, as individuals seeking to be formed into the image of Jesus Christ. Not everything will hit everyone the same way, but I think you will find something here that you find beneficial.

Again, I look forward to serving the South Plains congregation in this role and I pray that together we can continue to do what God is already doing here.

Peace,
Rob

On paper, it looked like such a good idea. Your small group was made up of a collection of families, each ready to commit to spending time together sharing and encouraging one another. You looked forward to your first meeting only to discover, when that meeting actually began, the adults were outnumbered by children over 2-to-1. What began as a time of encouragement and lifting one another up ended as a time of maintaining sanity, and quite frankly, you are not sure you even did that well.

One of the most often asked question from small group leaders is “What do we do with the children?” In other words, how do we manage to create a sharing, encouraging environment in the midst of the activity and busy-ness that is sometimes life with young (and old) children?

For those of us participating in 1 Groups, this dilemma is accentuated, because now we are not only discovering how to manage a group with children, we are actually, as part of our 1 Vision, encouraging groups to form with intergenerational relationships in mind.

Let me give some suggestions as to how you might address this situation.

First, let me remind you that only you think your children are the only ones who are being rowdy. It has been my experience that those who are most concerned about the behavior of a certain set of children are usually, and only, the parents of said children. Everyone else is not concerned or perhaps even notices what is going on, just the parents. Often times, no one notices because there is really nothing to be noticed—the kids are acting within a normal range of behaviors. So, give yourself permission to relax a little about the children—especially yours.

Second, do not discount the power of another adult’s ability to hold your child’s attention. In a room full of children being active, as they are oft to do, perhaps an older individual asking your child to sit next to him or her and quietly reading or looking at a picture book together can be surprisingly effective. Just the fact that it is not mom or dad seems to catch the interest of the child.

Third, redefine what you consider a “quality small group meeting.” If your assumption is that you and several other adults will sit down to an in-depth discussion about the Scripture for the week with 15 children in the house, you are probably going to be disappointed. But, if you alter your perception so as to value the interaction your children have with other adults and older children in the group, you avoid the temptation of defining success only by how “in-depth” you got. Remember that a part of the 1 Vision is to develop intergenerational relationships, not to answer all seven questions in the study guide.

Finally, know when it is time to punt. My bias is that we exclude children from our times together more than we should so I will always try to err toward the side of including them with us in our meeting times. However, there are times when it better serves both the children and the parents for you to have a short devotional with the children (time of singing, reading Scripture, perhaps a question or two, and a prayer) and then allow them to go outside or in the other room while the parents visit.

This week, if you feel like your children are a detriment to the health of the group, spend some time discussing with one another their perceptions. My guess is one of two things will happen. You may find that you are the only one wrestling with this issue and discover that there is really no need for you to worry. Or, you may find out that others also have a concern, but you will also learn that as you work together as a group, you are all able to come up with a fantastic solution to help all of you—adults and children—grow together. Either way, you win.

Rob

What suggestions do you have to help overcome the sometimes chaotic time of adults and children being together in a small group meeting while still valuing the participation of your children?

Hurry Back

Convergence students on the way back from New Mexico

For a typical college student, the weekend may be the best thing about the week and a weekend road trip is one of the best weekends around.

This past weekend, a group of our university students made the trip from Lubbock to Albuquerque, New Mexico to watch Texas Tech take on the University of New Mexico. Game day was bookended by a stay at a cabin just a stone’s throw from the Santa Fe National Forest. (Think quiet, cool, beautiful mountains of New Mexico, complete with a stream running right in front of the cabin!) Relaxing in the mountains… hanging out with friends… getting away from the rush of college life. For most of us, it would be the perfect weekend.

There was only one problem. Those same college students had recently signed up to be a part of some of the 1 Groups at South Plains. Many students would opt to skip group for a weekend in order to extend their trip just a few hours longer. Not these students. They were serious about their commitment and excited about the relationships they were forming in their groups. To them, 1 Groups were not just another thing to do at church, they were a place to be encouraged, but also bring encouragement to others. They were a place where people grow as disciples.

So, rather than spending the entire weekend away, the group got up very early Sunday morning, left the beautiful mountain scenery, and headed back home in time to join the rest of their group members.

Our university students often surprise me with their faith and commitment and this weekend was no exception. I am grateful for the example they are to me and to all of us who participate in 1 Groups.

Rob

Welcome!

Thank you for taking the time to check out 1 Groups.

What are 1 Groups? 1 Groups, the small group ministry of the South Plains Church of Christ, are our name for small groups of individuals who meet together regularly to grow, serve, connect, and share community with one another. Groups meet in homes throughout the Lubbock and surrounding area, usually for an hour or two on Sunday evenings.

Groups are made up of all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Older couples with no children at home, young families with newborns, singles, university students… no matter what your age or background, there is a group for you. In fact, you will find that because of our desire to see groups build relationships with older and younger individuals, you will not have to search for that “perfect” group.

1 Groups center around the new vision of the South Plains Church of Christ. It is our hope that every individual at South Plains will be involved in a relationship with one older and one younger individual. In addition, we want everyone to be a part of a group, to be involved in ministry, to have a home bible study in their home, to reach out to a neighbor, and to give their first fruits. We draw it out like this:

So what’s the next step? If you want to be a part of a 1 Group, contact us at southplains1groups@gmail.com and let us know. Someone will get in touch with you and we will find a place for you to be a part.

Again, thanks for your interest and we look forward to visiting more with you soon!

Rob

Coming Soon…

Tomorrow is an exciting day at South Plains. I hope you are planning to be a part!

As you think about your group meetings this fall, what fellowship ideas have you thought about? Groups provide an excellent opportunity for a small group of individuals to enjoy a time of fun together in a setting outside of what we might normally consider “group time.” The relationships that already exist among group members only serve to help make that time of fellowship even more enjoyable.

Times of fellowship can also be used to serve others: individuals in the group, other members of the congregation, or even neighbors or people we do not know. Again, the pre-existing relationship people have with one another within a group helps set up a great base from which to serve others.

Josh Hunt wrote an article recently entitled “52 Ideas for Fellowship in You Small Group.”  (You can find it here on churchleaders.com.) Check out the various ideas he has and think about which ones would work well in your own group?

Ones that seemed particularly applicable to me were:

#3 – Go to a baseball game.
This could be especially beneficial if the game you went to (baseball, football, basketball, etc.) was the game of one of the young people in your group.

#29 – Have a theme party and dress accordingly.
OK, I admit we have never done this, per say, but we have done food themes and dressed to match the theme. It may sound silly, but it is really a lot of fun.

#36 – Have an international dinner with a missionary.
What a great way to open the door for stories about different cultures.

#41 – Serve as counselors or sponsors at a youth activity.
Our vacation this past year was spent at summer camp with several other families from our group.

#58 – Go on a prayer walk.
A group prayer walk is a great way to see your neighborhood and be reminded of the needs that exist right around you.

So what stood out on the list to you?

And what would you add?

Rob

The Perfect Member

Our 1 Group leaders are going through a challenging time. We are at that “in between” stage, where leaders are committing to either continue to lead a group, or new leaders are coming on board and agreeing to begin leading. The first official group meeting is not for another month, but in the excitement of a new group year, leaders are already thinking about who will be in their group … and finding more uncertainty than answers.

This year, we are asking 1 Groups to focus on a more intergenerational range of members. Leaders therefore have to think not just of those individuals who are most similar to their age/Bible class preference/station in life/way of thinking. They now have to think “outside their box,” so to speak.

Asking someone who differs from you – in personality, socio-economical background, station in life, theology, etc. – to be a part of your group goes against what is most comfortable and in some ways, most logical. For whatever difficulty there may be in finding someone that “fits” our group, that difficulty is exponentially increased when we have to find someone who is different, but still fits.

Let me offer a couple of thoughts on finding the right group member.

First, you know this, but I am still going to say it: there is no perfect group member. Some of the best relationships I have had with fellow group members have been with the ones who I would have least expected such positive results. And the reverse has been true. Some who have been the best “fit” have also produced the most anguish for me as a group leader.

Also remember that group members who may seem the least compatible provide the most opportunity for growth – yours, not theirs. The difference between who you think a group member needs to be and who they really are may simply be a reflection of your own distance from who God is calling you to be.

One day I hope to write a post entitled “How Relationships Killed Small Groups,” but until I do, let me present my working hypothesis. In our attempt to build better relationships (good thing) in the name of Christian community (also a good thing), we have overlooked (bad thing) the power of God to live in and strengthen our connection with other people (great thing). The reality is: most of us would have found something to hate about one another a long time ago if God were not a part of defining how we love one another. If he could love the sinners and tax-collectors, then perhaps we need to be a little more lenient on those we define as falling short of the “perfect fit.”

So, as you look for group members, relax. The best group member may be the next person who accepts your invitation to attend group, or the family who appears to have no connections, or perhaps even the individual you would consider most unlike you and your entire group. Invite them anyway – they just might be the perfect fit!

What do you want to see?

Today a tweet by Steve Gladen, Pastor of the Small Group Community at Saddleback Church in Orange, California caught my eye:

Your job as the leader of the group is to continually cast vision, what do you want to see happen?

My assumption is that “casting vision” happens throughout all of leading and at times one sees the vision, but not the casting of said vision. Every now and then, however, perhaps it is appropriate to directly answer Steve’s question.

So I will.

I want to see 1 Groups…

…change the lives of the individuals who commit to being a part of those groups – both leaders and group members.

…reach out to people who have very few other points of contact with any church body.

… become the “go to” place for community for people at South Plains.

…become a place where young and old meet together, share lives with one another, and are mutually enriched as a result of that interaction.

…become groups of people who recognize that sometimes ministry happens better in groups than as individuals.

…to be known throughout Lubbock as a place where lives are changed and people become better followers of Jesus.

How about you? What do you want to see?