Lesson 52: How Do You Know? (John 9:13-34)Related Media
April 13, 2014
Every college philosophy major has to take epistemology, which deals with the questions, “How do you know what you know? How can we be sure about what we think we know?”
One day one of my philosophy professors pontificated, “We all know, of course, that Jesus never claimed to be God.” By adding that little phrase, “of course,” she was insinuating, “Anyone with half a brain would know that what I am saying is true.” Or, perhaps you’ve heard a professor state, “We know, of course, that evolution is a fact.”
When anyone authoritatively states, “We know,” the obvious question is, “How do you know?” Often, when you examine the evidence, you discover that there are knowledgeable people on both sides of the issue. So the obvious question remains, “How do you know what you think you know?”
When it comes to spiritual truth, the common view today is that there is no such thing as absolute truth in the spiritual realm, and so any spiritual views that you hold are just a matter of your subjective opinion or personal experience. But there isn’t universal, absolute spiritual truth. If you claim that you know the truth and that all other views are wrong, you’ll be labeled as a narrow-minded bigot. Tolerance and open-mindedness, especially on spiritual matters, are the prevailing values of our day.
In the story of Jesus’ healing the man born blind, there are a number of comments about what the various characters claimed to know or not know. When the Pharisees called in the man’s parents to try to discredit the account of his healing, they answer (9:20-21a), “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know.” John explains (9:22) that their evasive answer stemmed from their fear of the Jewish leaders, who had threatened to excommunicate anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Christ.
In 9:24, the Jewish leaders state, “We know that this man is a sinner.” The healed blind man dodges that issue for the moment and replies (9:25), “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” In 9:29, the leaders come back with, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” The former blind man retorts (9:31), “We know that God does not hear sinners….” He concludes (9:33), “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” At this point, the exasperated leaders have heard enough. They throw the man out of the temple.
But the dialogue raises the question, “How do you know what you know, especially in the spiritual realm?” We learn that…
True spiritual knowledge is founded on Jesus Christ opening our eyes, but sin hinders us from true spiritual knowledge.
When it comes to knowing God, there is only one sure basis, namely, His choosing to reveal Himself to us. Anything else is just speculation. For example, we could sit around and speculate on whether men from Mars have blue eyes. But we wouldn’t have any basis for knowing. We’re just stating our subjective opinions. But if a man from Mars came to earth and revealed himself to us, then we could say with some certainty, “I met a man from Mars and he had blue eyes.”
Jesus claimed (Luke 10:22), “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly claims to have been sent by God the Father to reveal the Father to us. In 1:18, John stated, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” In 14:9, Jesus tells Philip, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” God’s revelation of Himself to us centers in the person of Jesus Christ, which we have in the written eyewitness testimony of the apostles. So true spiritual knowledge of God is founded on knowing Jesus Christ, whom the Father sent to reveal Himself to us. Anything else is mere speculation.
But sin hinders us from true spiritual knowledge. This is illustrated in this story both by the former blind man’s parents and by the Pharisees:
1. Those in spiritual darkness think that they know spiritual truth, but sin blinds them to the fact that they do not know God.
We sometimes hear, “If I could just see a miracle, I’d believe in Jesus!” But these Pharisees saw all sorts of miracles and yet hardened their hearts against Jesus. The blind man’s parents had just seen their prayers answered, in that their blind son had been miraculously healed. And yet they were afraid openly to confess Jesus as Lord. The Pharisees and the blind man’s parents reveal four factors, which are either sinful in themselves or they stem from sin, that keep unbelievers from true spiritual knowledge. These factors also can hinder growing in spiritual knowledge among us who do believe in Jesus.
A. The fear of men hinders true spiritual knowledge.
In the context, “they” (9:13) seems to refer to the man’s neighbors. We’re not told why they brought him to the Pharisees, but here’s my guess: In that culture, the religious leaders exercised control over the people through intimidation. We read (9:22), “For the Jews [the religious leaders] had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.” In a culture of fear, people keep their distance from anything that would get them in trouble with the authorities. That’s how Communist regimes operate. If you know that your neighbor is criticizing the government and you don’t report him, the authorities will come after you. If you do report him, you’ll get extra credit for supporting the state. So the neighbors hear that Jesus, whom the religious leaders were trying to get rid of, has healed this beggar. They think, “We need to take him to the Pharisees so that we don’t get into trouble!”
The Pharisees ask him how he received his sight and he tells them how Jesus applied clay to his eyes, he washed, and he now sees (9:15). This sparks a debate among the Pharisees (which we’ll look at more in a moment), but in frustration they turn again to the blind man and ask for his opinion about this Sabbath-breaker, Jesus, hoping that he may have changed his mind or his story. But he ups the ante by replying (9:17), “He is a prophet.”
At this point, they wonder if this is a hoax. So they call the man’s parents and ask (9:19), “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?” They reply (9:20-21), “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” Their answer was not truthful. It’s inconceivable that their son had not told them what he had told the neighbors, namely, that Jesus had healed him and how He had healed him. But John explains (9:22) that they replied as they did because they feared the Jews, who had threatened to put out of the synagogue anyone who confessed Jesus as the Christ.
There were different levels of excommunication, and we can’t be sure which level is indicated here (see Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Eerdmans], 2:183-184). But being excommunicated at any level was a serious penalty in that tight-knit, religious community. Eventually it would have meant being cut off socially from your neighbors, who would also be kicked out of the synagogue if they associated with you or helped you in any way. You couldn’t buy or sell, because if your neighbors engaged in business with you, they would get into trouble. You couldn’t escape by moving to the next town, because the rabbis there would enforce the Sanhedrin’s ban. For a poor family, being excommunicated would result in social and financial devastation.
So while we can understand the intense pressure on the man’s parents, it’s too bad that they feared these spiritual bullies more than they feared God. They could have let the facts speak for themselves by saying, “Jesus opened the eyes of our son, who has been blind from birth.” But instead, they dodged the issue.
It’s a problem that has plagued many down to our day: People fear what others will think more than they fear what God thinks. Perhaps a family member has met Jesus and is obviously changed. But it embarrasses or threatens the other members of the family. They’d rather not talk about it. Or, if it comes up and Jesus is named as the cause of their loved one’s change, they downplay it by saying, “Yes, that seems to work for him!” Then they change the subject. They’ve received a powerful testimony of the power of Christ, but as long as they fear what others think, they will not experience Christ’s power in their own lives. The fear of men hinders true spiritual knowledge.
B. Wrong presuppositions based on religious rules hinder true spiritual knowledge.
Here we move from the parents to the religious leaders, whom John calls “the Jews.” John almost offhandedly mentions the crux of the problem (9:14), “Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.” As I mentioned last time, this violated at least three rabbinic Sabbath regulations: (1) You could not knead on the Sabbath, but Jesus kneaded the saliva and dirt into clay; (2) there were rules against anointing on the Sabbath; (3) you could not heal on the Sabbath, unless it was to save a life. These rules were not in the Law of Moses, but had been added by the religious leaders.
Their wrong presupposition was: “Our rules are equal to God’s law.” The minor premise was, “Jesus violated our rules.” Their conclusion was, “Thus Jesus violated God’s law, and He is a sinner.” But their presupposition was faulty.
Some of the Pharisees disagreed with this reasoning, so a debate ensued among them (9:16). This may have been Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, both of whom were on the Council, but later took bold action to provide for Jesus’ burial. Earlier (3:2) Nicodemus had admitted to Jesus, “No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” So, here they register disagreement by asking (9:16), “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” But their view did not prevail.
It’s easy to confuse religious traditions or rules with biblical mandates to the point where you assume that your traditions or rules are equal with Scripture. But you can end up denying a miracle, even if he’s standing right in front of you! Back in the hippie era, when most people dressed up in their nicest clothes to go to church, many older church members could not accept that a bearded, long-haired guy in tattered jeans, a T-shirt, and bare feet had really been converted. Why doesn’t he look like us and dress like us? But they never stopped to question what the Bible says about how a Christian should look and dress. Wrong presuppositions based on religious rules hinder true spiritual knowledge.
C. Always seeking more evidence while discrediting the evidence you already have hinders true spiritual knowledge.
The Pharisees had the evidence of the neighbors, the parents, and the man himself that he had been born blind and that Jesus had healed him on the Sabbath. But they still wanted more evidence, or more truthfully, they wanted evidence that would refute the evidence that they had been given, which they didn’t like. So, they called the man a second time and said (9:24), “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.”
What they’re saying is, “Come on, your story must be wrong! Tell us the truth! We know for a fact that this man is a sinner!” (See Josh. 7:19 for the expression, “Give glory to God,” meaning, “Tell the truth.”) But John wants us to see that the man really is glorifying God by testifying to the truth about Jesus. He won’t change his story. So, they ask him again (9:26), “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” They aren’t looking for more evidence so that they can believe. Rather, they’re trying to find something to discredit the evidence that they have.
Now the man reveals both his sense of humor and his fortitude to stand up to these feared religious leaders. He says (9:27), “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” They revile him and take their stand as disciples of Moses. They state what they know (9:29): “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” Back in 7:27, they had written off Jesus by claiming that they did know where He was from, namely, from Nazareth. But here they’re discrediting Jesus as a religious upstart from who-knows-where. I love the former blind man’s reply (9:31-33):
“We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”
At this point, the Pharisees are so beside themselves that they put the man down and then put him out (9:34). They weren’t genuinely seeking evidence to clear up their doubts. Rather, they were just looking for ways to discredit the evidence that they already had been given. They would not come to know the truth. Always seeking more evidence while discrediting the evidence you already have hinders true spiritual knowledge.
D. Pride hinders true spiritual knowledge.
The Pharisees put down this man’s testimony (9:34), “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” They held to the view that the disciples reflected (9:2), that either the man or his parents must have sinned for him to be born blind. But they prided themselves on their spiritual knowledge because they thought that they knew the Scriptures. So how could this former blind beggar, who was probably illiterate, teach them anything? Again, John is using irony: He couldn’t teach them anything and neither could Jesus, because of their spiritual pride.
In 9:40, these Pharisees challenge Jesus by asking, “We are not blind, too, are we?” Jesus replies (9:41), “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” He means, “If you would admit your spiritual blindness, I would forgive and heal you. But because you arrogantly insist that you can see, you remain in your sins.” Spiritual pride is one of the main reasons people do not come to Christ. They think that their good works will commend them to God, so they don’t see their need for the Savior. But the starting point for true spiritual knowledge is to admit that you’re a sinner and need Jesus to save you.
So, the fear of men, wrong presuppositions based on religious tradition, always seeking more evidence while discrediting the evidence you already have, and spiritual pride, will hinder true spiritual knowledge.
2. The foundation for true spiritual knowledge is for Christ to open your eyes.
Unlike his parents and the Pharisees, who both begin by claiming certain knowledge, the man begins by admitting that there is much that he doesn’t know. He didn’t know where Jesus was when his neighbors asked him (9:12). He didn’t know much about Jesus at the point of his healing, although he soon came to surmise that He was a prophet. He didn’t know enough to comment on the theological debate about whether Jesus was a sinner or not because He had broken the Sabbath (9:25). But there was one thing he knew for certain, and it was a glorious fact (9:25): “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
In this, the man is a type of everyone who truly knows Jesus. A new believer doesn’t know much. He probably can’t state the biblical doctrine of the trinity. He won’t understand how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility tie together. He may not be able clearly to articulate the two natures of Christ. There are many theological controversies that he is clueless about. But one thing he knows truly: I was blind, but now I see!
To put it another way, when God causes you to be born again, He changes your heart and you know it. He changes your desires. Formerly, the Bible was both confusing and boring if you ever tried to read it. But now, it’s food for your soul. You long for it like a newborn baby longs for his mother’s milk (1 Pet. 2:2). Before, you shrugged off sin as no big deal. Many sins you didn’t even recognize as sin. “Everybody does that! Every guy looks at porn sometimes! Everyone loses his temper! Everyone uses swear words at times! Everyone cheats on his taxes!” Etc.
But after God opens your eyes and you begin to feed on the Word, the Holy Spirit begins to convict you of things that you formerly did without a twinge of conscience: “The way you just spoke to your wife was not loving. The way you looked at that woman was lustful. The way you covered your tracks was not truthful.” So you begin to call sin what it is and to walk in daily repentance. You begin to want to know Christ more deeply. The foundation for this new desire for spiritual knowledge is that Christ opened your eyes to your own sin, to God’s absolute holiness, and to the provision that Christ made for you at the cross.
3. From the foundation of Christ opening your eyes you grow in spiritual knowledge.
The man begins by only knowing Jesus as “the man who is called Jesus” (9:11). He progresses to calling Him a prophet (9:17). Later he acknowledges Him as one worthy of being followed (“disciples,” 9:27-28). He moves on to argue that Jesus had to come from God (9:33). And finally, when he sees Jesus for the first time, he believes in Him and worships Him as Lord (9:38).
The Bible pictures the Christian life as a growth process from birth (John 3:3) to infancy (1 Cor. 3:3; 1 Pet. 2:2), childhood, young adulthood, to spiritual fatherhood (1 John 2:12-14). But time alone does not insure spiritual growth. We have to be actively engaged in the process. Daily we need a healthy diet of spiritual food from the Word. We need to talk with our Heavenly Father and take all our cares to Him in prayer (1 Pet. 5:7). We need to spend time with our brothers and sisters in the family of God, helping each other to grow. We need to be judging and turning from the sins that hinder spiritual growth.
When it comes to true spiritual knowledge, we still need to be careful. As Paul warned (1 Cor. 8:1, my translation), “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Or (1 Tim. 1:5), “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Billy Graham told the story of an English actor who was honored with a banquet. In the course of the evening, he was asked to give a reading, and he chose Psalm 23. He read it in a moving way that brought out the beauty of the Psalm. His friends applauded. Later in the evening, an aged pastor was asked to speak. He too quoted Psalm 23. His voice rang with assurance and was vibrant with love. When he concluded, there was no applause, but there were not many dry eyes in the room. The actor stepped over to the pastor, grasped his hand, and said, “Sir, I know the Psalm—but you know the Shepherd!”
So what do you know? I hope that you know the Shepherd and that He has opened your eyes to the truth of who He is. I also hope that you want to know Him more. Let’s press on to know our risen Savior (Phil. 3:8-14)!
- Of the four hindrances to spiritual knowledge mentioned in our text, which gives you the most trouble? How can you fight it?
- Give some modern examples of religious rules that often take on a status equal to Scripture. Are all such rules bad? Why/why not?
- What are some specific ways that we as evangelicals are prone to fall into spiritual pride?
- In what sense does God not hear sinners (John 9:31) when they pray and in what sense does He hear sinners (Rom. 10:13)? Cite other Scriptures on both sides of this matter.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Easter : Good News for Everyone (John 20 and 21)Related Media
April 20, 2014
Special Easter Message
If you’ve been a Christian for very long, you’ve experienced a time when you wondered if the Christian faith is really true. Perhaps your struggle came after some huge disappointment or unanswered prayer. Things just didn’t go the way that you had hoped and prayed. Perhaps your doubts came after you heard or read an articulate atheist attack the faith. Or, maybe your Christian experience just didn’t measure up to the “abundant” life that others testify to, so you wondered why the abundant life didn’t seem to be true for you. You thought, “Maybe it isn’t true at all.”
We live in a time when the concept of “truth” has been squeezed into a relativistic framework. Thus Buddhism may be “true” for some people, Christianity is “true” for others, and Baha’i is “true” for yet others. Even though the teachings of these different faiths contradict each other, they can still all be “true” in a personal, experiential sense. For example, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote (Who Needs God [Simon & Schuster], p. 196):
If religious claims to truth were statements of fact, then when they differed, at most only one of them could be true…. But religious claims can be true at levels other than the factual one. Religious claims can be true the way a great novel is true. It teaches us something valid about the human condition, even though the characters in the novel never really existed and the events never took place….
As an example, Kushner used Jesus’ resurrection (p. 197): “If believing in the resurrection makes my Christian neighbor a better person, more loving and generous, better able to cope with misfortune and disappointment, then that is a true belief, whether historically true or not.”
I agree that believing in Jesus’ resurrection should make us better people. But, does it matter whether it was historically true or not? The apostles would loudly reply, “Yes! It matters greatly! Everything about the Christian faith depends on the historical fact that Jesus died for our sins and was raised bodily on the third day.” The apostle Paul wrote (1 Cor. 15:14, 17), “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” He concluded (15:19), “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”
The apostle John would agree. He brings his Gospel to a climax by showing multiple evidences of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, along with some practical ways that the truth of His resurrection should impact our lives. Since we’re in the midst of working our way through John’s Gospel, I thought it would be helpful to jump ahead and look at how John treats this watershed fact of all history. We can sum it up:
Because Jesus’ resurrection is a fact of history, there is good news for everyone.
In the middle of John’s treatment of Jesus’ resurrection, he breaks in with his purpose for writing the entire Gospel (John 20:30-31): “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” For John, everything depends on who Jesus is. John wants us to join him in affirming that Jesus is the promised Messiah (the Christ) and the eternal Son of God who took on human flesh (1:1-18). He came as the Lamb of God to die for the sins of all who will believe in Him (1:29; 3:16). But if Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, then He would not be the Christ, the eternal Son of God. That would mean that believing in Him would be to believe in a nice myth. For John that was unthinkable! Thus he labors to show:
1. Jesus’ resurrection is a fact of history.
We can see at least five lines of evidence that John sets forth:
A. The stone rolled away and the empty tomb are evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.
John begins his account (20:1) with Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb early, while it was still dark, where she saw that the stone had been taken away. This was a large stone that was rolled in front of the tomb to secure it from grave robbers. Matthew (27:63-66) reports how the Jewish leaders feared that someone would come and steal Jesus’ body and claim that He was risen. So they went to Pilate and got a Roman guard to secure the tomb. They set a seal on the stone and were there guarding the tomb when an angel came and rolled away the stone (Matt. 28:1-4). The Jewish leaders later gave the guards a large sum of money and told them to tell anyone who asked that the disciples came at night and stole Jesus’ body while the guards slept (Matt. 28:11-15).
The problem with that story is that all the disciples were too depressed and fearful to pull off a grave robbery under the noses of a squad of Roman soldiers. And even if they had succeeded, they wouldn’t have then endured persecution, hardship, and eventual martyrdom to promote what they knew to be a hoax.
In addition to the stone being rolled away, there was the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene was not expecting the resurrection, but when she saw that the tomb was empty, she assumed that somebody had taken Jesus’ body. She immediately ran to the disciples to report (John 20:2), “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Her report caused Peter and John to run to the tomb and see for themselves. They both went into the tomb and confirmed that Jesus’ body was not there. If any of Jesus’ enemies had taken His body, they would have produced it the instant that the apostles began proclaiming the resurrection. So the stone rolled away and the empty tomb both bear witness to Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead.
B. The presence and arrangement of the linen wrappings are evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.
When Peter and John ran to the tomb, John got there first, stood at the entrance, and saw the linen wrappings, but he did not go in. Peter, in his usual blustery manner, went right in and saw (20:6, Greek = “to gaze upon”) the grave clothes. Then John entered, saw (Greek = “to see with understanding”) the same thing, and believed (20:8).
The presence of the linen wrappings proves that the body was not stolen. In their haste, grave robbers would have taken the body, grave clothes and all. If for some reason they had wanted to strip the body, they would have left the clothes strewn all over the tomb. But Peter and John saw them left in an orderly fashion, as if Jesus had passed right through them. Remember, these weren’t men who wished so much for a resurrection that they perhaps saw what they wanted to see. These were men who did not understand or believe at first (20:9). The evidence convinced them, and their testimony of the evidence should convince us.
C. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances are evidence for the resurrection.
John cites four post-resurrection appearances of Jesus: To Mary Magdalene (20:11-18); to the disciples except Thomas (20:19-23); to the disciples, including Thomas (20:24-31); and, to seven of the disciples, by the Sea of Galilee (21:1-25). Paul mentions several other appearances, including one to over 500 people at one time (1 Cor. 15:6-8). The varied circumstances of the appearances and the different personalities of the witnesses militate against hallucinations or visions. Even Thomas, who at first was skeptical, became convinced when he saw the risen Lord (John 20:27). Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances are a strong evidence of His resurrection.
D. The changed lives of the doubting disciples is evidence for the resurrection.
John shows that none of the witnesses was expecting a resurrection. Mary Magdalene thought that someone had taken Jesus’ body (20:2, 15). Neither John nor Peter at first understood the Scripture that Jesus must rise again from the dead (20:9). All the disciples were fearful and confused. Thomas was depressed and doubting. But all were transformed into the bold witnesses of the Book of Acts because they became convinced that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. They were so convinced that the resurrection was true that many of them went on to die as martyrs.
E. The unique person of Jesus Christ is evidence for His resurrection.
Study the Gospel accounts of who Jesus was, what He taught, His astounding claims, the miracles He performed, and the prophecies He fulfilled. On more than one occasion He predicted His own death and resurrection (Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22; John 2:19-22; 16:16-20, 28). His encounter with doubting Thomas shows that His purpose was to bring Thomas into a place of full faith in His deity (20:27). When Thomas answered, “My Lord and my God,” Jesus did not rebuke or correct him for overstating things. Rather, Jesus commended Thomas’ correct perception and faith (20:28-29). A merely good teacher, especially a devout Jewish rabbi, would never accept such worship from a follower.
Everything in the Gospel accounts about Jesus’ person and teaching militates against His being a charlatan or lunatic. The only sensible option is that He is who He claimed to be: the eternal Son of God in human flesh, the Messiah of Israel. He offered Himself for our sins and God raised Him bodily from the dead. He wants those of us who have not seen Him to believe in Him (20:29).
I realize that it is impossible to prove any historical event in an absolute sense. But the evidence for Jesus’ bodily resurrection is strong: (1) The stone rolled away and the empty tomb; (2) the linen wrappings; (3) Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances; (4) the changed lives of the witnesses; and (5) the unique person of Jesus Christ, including His many astounding claims. All these evidences support the historical truth of the resurrection.
Oxford history Professor and author Thomas Arnold (1795-1842) wrote (cited in Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict [Campus Crusade for Christ], 1:198):
The evidence for our Lord’s life and death and resurrection may be, and often has been, shown to be satisfactory; it is good according to the common rules for distinguishing good evidence from bad. Thousands and tens of thousands of persons have gone through it piece by piece, as carefully as every judge summing up on a most important cause. I have myself done it many times over, not to persuade others but to satisfy myself. I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.
J. Gresham Machen (Christianity and Liberalism [Eerdmans], pp. 28-29) wrote, “The great weapon with which the disciples of Jesus set out to conquer the world was not a mere comprehension of eternal principles; it was an historical message, an account of something that had recently happened. It was the message, ‘He is risen.’”
So I want to counter Rabbi Kushner’s contention that the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t matter, as long as it affects how we live. It matters greatly because it establishes who Jesus is. He is not a fictional character or just a great man whose legend was embellished by His followers. He is the Christ, the Son of God. You should believe in Him even if so doing results in suffering and martyrdom. But, John’s Gospel also shows that the historical resurrection of Jesus does affect how we live:
2. Jesus’ resurrection provides good news for everyone.
A. Jesus’ resurrection is good news for women.
While women generally had a place of honor and respect in Old Testament Israel (Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life [Eerdmans, pp. 139-160), in Jesus’ time some Jewish leaders belittled women. They taught that it was at best a waste of time to talk with a woman, even with your own wife, and at worst a diversion from the study of the Torah that could possibly lead one to hell (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 227)! They thought that it was better to burn the words of the law than to give them to women (William Barclay, The Gospel of John [Westminster], rev. ed., 1:162). To speak with a woman in public, even with your own wife, could lead to gossip and should be avoided. And, the Jews disregarded the testimony of a woman in court.
But Jesus affirmed and elevated women, both during His ministry and by the fact that they were the first witnesses of His resurrection. John (20:11-18) contains the encounter of Jesus with Mary Magdalene in the Garden after His resurrection. She was the first to see the risen Lord and to tell the disciples of her encounter. Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that Mary had been an immoral woman prior to her conversion. Scripture states that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her and she apparently had sufficient means to help contribute to the support of Jesus and the disciples (Luke 8:2). But the point is, Jesus chose her as the first witness of His resurrection. Her experience shows that the Lord welcomes women as His followers and He uses them greatly.
B. Jesus’ resurrection is good news for those lacking or weak in faith.
The disciples did not yet understand that Jesus must rise from the dead (20:9), in spite of Jesus’ repeatedly telling them this before His death. They just didn’t get it at first. As I said, this is actually an evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, because they had to be convinced against their fears and doubts. But the Lord graciously worked with them to build their faith.
John is the only Gospel to mention Thomas’ doubts before he saw the risen Lord. John uses that incident as the climax of his Gospel. When Jesus invited Thomas to touch the scars on Jesus’ hands and side, Thomas exclaimed (20:28), “My Lord and my God!” Rather than rebuking Thomas for calling Him “Lord and God,” Jesus affirmed his testimony by replying (20:29), “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see and yet believed.” Then John gives us his purpose for writing: he wants each of us to join Thomas in believing in Jesus as “my Lord and my God.”
The point is, Jesus wants you to move from no faith or weak faith to strong faith. But, note how He did this with Thomas: He appeared to the disciples when He knew that Thomas was absent. For a week, Thomas had to struggle with missing that crucial appearance. Think of how you would have felt! “Everyone else saw the risen Lord, but I missed it!” He probably thought that it was grossly unfair that Jesus appeared to them when he wasn’t there. But when Jesus did meet with the disciples again with Thomas present and showed His omniscience by repeating back to Thomas the doubts that he had expressed earlier, Thomas gave a much deeper confession than he would have a week earlier. The lesson is that the risen Lord doesn’t reject us or cast us off when we’re lacking or weak in faith. Rather, He takes each of us through different trials and difficulties tailored to our doubts to help us grow in faith.
C. Jesus’ resurrection is good news for those who feel aimless or inadequate.
This is one lesson from Jesus’ appearance to the seven disciples by the Sea of Galilee. They had gone fishing, worked all night, but caught nothing. From the shore, Jesus called to them, pointed out their lack of fish, and directed them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. When they did, they instantly caught a large haul of fish. Then, when they got to the shore, Jesus already had a fire going with fish on it, along with bread. The incident would have reminded them of the miraculous catch of fish early in their relationship with Jesus, when He told them that they would be catching men (Luke 5:1-11). So this incident would have re-focused them on their calling as Jesus’ ambassadors.
And, the bread and fish would have reminded them of the feeding of the 5,000, when the Lord used them to distribute the food to the hungry multitude. The lesson there was that when they yielded their insufficient resources to the Lord, they became sufficient in His hands to meet overwhelming needs. Now, as the risen Lord, He could and would do the same as they took the good news to the world’s spiritually hungry multitudes.
The same lessons apply to us. If you know Christ, you’re His ambassador to lost people in your world. And if you feel inadequate for the task, that’s exactly the kind of people He uses: inadequate people who yield everything they have to Him to bless and use as He pleases! That breakfast on the shore also pictures the fellowship that our Lord wants to have with us. Our daily fellowship with the risen Lord is the foundation for serving Him. The conversation that took place around that breakfast meeting provides a final lesson:
D. Jesus’ resurrection is good news for those who have failed.
The final section of John’s Gospel shows how the Lord restored Peter to ministry after his three denials of Jesus on the night He was betrayed. Three times Jesus asked Peter whether he loved Him. Three times Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” Each time, Jesus replied, “Tend My lambs…. Shepherd My sheep…. Tend My sheep.” The Lord was letting both Peter and the other disciples know that even though Peter had failed miserably, the Lord still had a ministry for him to fulfill.
The final exchange in John’s Gospel (21:20-24) mentions the different futures that the Lord had for Peter and for John. It shows that He is the sovereign Lord who has a unique plan for each of our futures as we serve Him. My focus needs to be on doing what He has called me to do, not on what He may have called others to do. But the good news is, if you love the Lord, no matter how badly you may have failed Him in the past, He is gracious to restore you and use you in His service. Keep your love for Jesus burning brightly. He loved you enough to die for your sins so that you can spend eternity with Him in the glory of heaven. His resurrection is good news for all who have failed.
After Thomas’ confession of Jesus as his Lord and God, Jesus replied (20:29), “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Does that include you? Jesus promises to bless you if you will believe in Him as your Lord and God, who died for your sins and was raised from the dead. His resurrection from the dead is historically true, whether you believe it or not. But it’s through believing in Him as the crucified and risen Lord that He blesses you.
His blessing does not mean that you will be spared from struggles and trials. History indicates that almost all of the disciples were persecuted and finally suffered martyrs’ deaths. But when they died, they were welcomed into the eternal joy of their Master in heaven. Because His resurrection is historically true, He offers the same good news to all who will believe in Him.
- Rabbi Kushner argues that the factual truth of the resurrection doesn’t matter if it teaches us to be better people. Why is this both inadequate and fallacious?
- Can a person believe that Jesus is risen and yet not be born again? What is the difference? Why does it matter?
- What was the difference between Judas’ betrayal of Christ and Peter’s denials of Christ? Why was Peter restored while Judas was lost?
- Do certain sins (e.g., sexual sins) disqualify a man from leadership in the church? Support your answer with Scripture.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Is God Real? The Bacterial Flagellum and the Divine Design Inference
Of all the arguments related to the existence of God, the argument from the appearance of design is perhaps the most intuitive and visual. As we examine and observe the complexity (and inter-connectivity) of biological systems, we can’t help but come away with the impression these organisms and cellular micro-machines have been carefully crafted by a master artist. One such complex micro-machine has been heralded above all others in Bacterial flagella remain a mystery to scientists who recognize them as a marvel of machine-like precision. , has publicly described the bacterial flagellum as “the most efficient machine in the universe.” Is God real? The bacterial flagellum is best explained by God’s existence as the Intelligent Designer of biological systems.
This small cellular micro-motor powers its bacterial host by whipping a long filament in rotary fashion. Nestled within the cellular wall, it operates efficiently as a rotary motor. The iconic status of the bacterial flagellum results primarily from the ease with which even casual detectives can identify characteristics of design and intelligent interaction. I’m currently writing a book in which I’m investigating eight characteristics of design in flagella, but for purposes of this short blog, one feature is obvious (and critical) in determining the intelligent source of flagella.
The natural mechanisms available in strict evolutionary processes are insufficient to explain the flagellum for an important reason: natural laws, unguided chance mutations and natural selection cannot account for irreducibly complex micro-machines. Natural selection offers a very specific pathway to the kind of complexity we see in the flagellum. Darwinian evolution proposes a gradual and incremental pathway to any finished micro-machine. Like complex LEGO structures built from the incremental addition of one brick after another, sophisticated micro-machines, if assembled through an additive process of natural selection, must also come into existence incrementally. Even , committed as he is to the creative power of natural selection, understands the necessity of gradualism and incrementalism in explaining the existence of micro-machines (such as the bacterial flagellum): “Evolution is very possibly not, in actual fact, always gradual. But it must be gradual when it is being used to explain the coming into existence of complicated, apparently designed objects, like eyes [or bacterial flagellum]. For if it is not gradual in these cases, it ceases to have any explanatory power at all. Without gradualness in these cases, we are back to miracle, which is simply a synonym for the total absence of explanation.”
Dawkins recognizes the power irreducible complexity has to falsify naturalistic explanations (like any combination of chance, natural law, or natural selection). also recognized this dilemma when he wrote : “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down”. When we observe a machine that cannot function unless multiple pieces are in place simultaneously, the best inference is the presence of a designer who defeats the improbability of such an accidental assembly by intervening intelligently to accomplish the goal.
The flagellum has over 40 necessary, interactive, inter-reliant pieces. With just one less part, the flagellum fails to operate as the effective motor it needs to be to successfully mobilize the bacterium. The irreducible complexity of this large collection of pieces means the finished design of the flagellum must be assembled in one sweeping step; it cannot be assembled over time gradually, unless the prior intermediate micro-machines also offer some advantage to the bacterium. If they don’t offer an advantage, and are instead a misshapen liability, natural selection will not favor the organism. In other words, natural selection will not retain the “intermediates” to allow for further additions. Irreducibly complex structures beg for an intelligent designer. author of puts it this way: “Once intelligence is out of the picture, evolution, as Darwin notes… has to be gradual. You can’t just magically materialize completely new structures out of nowhere. There has to be a path-dependence. You have to get there by some gradual route from something that already exists.”
In a similar way, only intelligent causation can account for the irreducibly complex nature of the bacterial flagellum, and alternative explanations relying on some evolutionary combination of chance, natural law or natural selection cannot. To be fair, many naturalists have proposed a pathway to the flagellum without the intervention of an intelligent designer. While my next book will examine all of the alternatives, this limited post will focus on the most popular naturalistic explanation. In an effort to nullify the powerful design inference from the irreducible complexity of the flagellum, some have offered a way to arrive at the final design without building it piece by piece. Philosopher , rejects the need to assemble the flagellum additively over time and suggests there is a better way to arrive at the finished micro-machine: “…it’s a common theme of evolutionary biology that constituents of a cell, a tissue, or an organism, are put to new uses because of some modification of the genotype. So maybe the immediate precursor of the proud possessor of the flagellum is a bacterium in which all the protein constituents were already present, but in which some other feature of the cell chemistry interferes with the reaction that builds the flagellum.” In other words, maybe the complex flagellum can be constructed by borrowing a less complex micro-machine within the cell and building from there. In fact, some have suggested Type III secretion systems (T3SS) as the evolutionary precursor.
T3SS are needle-like sensory probes used by bacteria. They detect the presence of target organisms and secrete proteins necessary to aid the bacterial infection. T3SS share many common proteins and are constructed similarly to bacterial flagella. They’ve been offered in an effort to jump the divide from a single protein to the complexity of flagellum. If cellular organisms could borrow T3SS, they’d have a have a significant head start in their flagella construction. This approach is problematic, however:
The Borrowed Micro-Machine is Also Irreducibly Complex
T3SS are just as remarkably irreducible as their flagella cousins. The T3SS is constructed from approximately 30 different proteins; it’s one of the most complex secretion systems observed in biology today. Like the flagellum, T3SS requires the minimal configuration of these proteins to function. It cannot be offered as an explanation for the flagellum because it too requires an explanation. William Dembski describes it this way: “…what you have here is not a fully articulated path but an island (the Type III secretory system) and a huge jump to the next island (namely, the flagellum). If evolution is going to try to explain how you can island-hop from Los Angeles to Tokyo, basically what the evolutionist has found is the Hawaiian Islands and nothing else. What the evolutionist has not found is the entire archipelago that will take you across.”
The Pathway To and From the Borrowed Micro-Machine is Evidentially Unsupported
Dembski has correctly identified the problem facing those who deny the design inference from irreducible complexity. As Dawkins described earlier, evolution, “…if it is not gradual in these cases… ceases to have any explanatory power at all.” There is no evidence to elucidate gradual evolutionary progression to the T3SS, nor any evidence to explain the gradual evolutionary progress from the T3SS (to the flagellum). The TS33 accounts for only a handful of the proteins used by flagella, leaving approximately thirty unaccounted for, and these other thirty proteins are not present in any other living system.
The Borrowed Micro-Machine May Not Even Be Available for Borrowing
Even naturalistic evolutionists are now skeptical of the alleged evolutionary order of TS33 related to flagella. Many scientists have concluded the T3SS is not an evolutionary precursor to flagella, but is more reasonably a product of the decay and devolution of the flagellum. Research such as this demonstrates the frustration in trying to arrive at either irreducibly complex micro-machine from naturalistic explanations.
There is, of course, a more reasonable way to account for the bacterial flagellum without having to concoct “just so,” evidentially unsupported, evolutionary tales. When we see something we recognize as an irreducibly complex micro-motor, resembling other motors designed by intelligent beings, the most reasonable inference is the existence of an intelligent micro-motor designer. Is God real? He is the one Intelligent Designer capable of creating the bacterial flagellum, and He is still the most reasonable inference.
1 Peter: Suffering Precedes Glory
This sermon series on the book of 1 Peter was preached by Jeff Miller at Trinity Bible Church in 2014. Click on an individual sermon for an abstract of the message and to access both audio and video of the message.
1. We Don't Belong Here (1 Peter 1:1-2)Related Media
1 Peter: Suffering Precedes Glory (part one)
Following Christ is harder than it seems. Perhaps you were misled to believe that Christianity would make life happy and easy. Or maybe you knew it would have its challenges, but you couldn't predict the extent or direction of the difficulties. The Apostle Peter had similar experiences. He wrote a letter to disillusioned Christians who had grown aware that Christianity is harder than they expected. Peter reminds us that we are strangers in a hostile land. To survive this temporary journey, we must maintain an eternal perspective. Glory awaits us in heaven, but this life is filled with hardship for Christ's followers. Suffering precedes glory. If you didn't expect this, you should have looked more carefully at the life of Christ before following Him.
The 5 C’s of Small Group Leadership
Welcome to small group ministry! Small groups provide a great opportunity for women to grow in their faith and to experience authentic, loving relationships with other Christians. Your role as a small group leader is to maximize both opportunities for all participants, including yourself. This handbook is a resource that any small group ministry can use to train its leaders in the “how-to’s” of ministry to others—not just for leading Bible studies but also for all other small group communities within your organization. It covers 5 aspects of leading a small group: Character of the leader, Connection with fellow leaders, building Community within a group, the Commitment of leadership, and the Commission of being a disciple-maker.
“Equip small group leaders for effective ministry & for disciple-making”
How to Use This HandbookRelated Media
Welcome to small group ministry! Small groups provide a great opportunity for women to grow in their faith and to experience authentic, loving relationships with other Christians. Your role as a leader of a small group is to maximize both opportunities for all participants, including yourself.
Women are best equipped for small group ministry through regular training and resources in the “how-to’s” of ministry to other believers and in how to use their unique personalities, spiritual gifts and calling to enrich the ministry within the Body. This handbook is a resource that any small group ministry can use to train its leaders—not just for leading Bible studies but also for all other small group communities within your organization.
The 5C’s of Small Group Leadership handbook contains valuable information presented in a teaching format followed by “Think About It” questions for reflection and practical application. The most effective way to use this guide is for each new small group leader (or those who have not already been through this handbook) to read through and reflect on the “Think About It” questions in advance of a designated “small group leader training” day. Consider the “small group leader training” day as a gathering time for all leaders (new and experienced) to discuss what they’ve learned from each section, to ask questions, and to brainstorm solutions to any anticipated challenges.
Since participants in small groups might be new Christians, long-time Christians who have never been discipled, or those who have not trusted in Jesus yet, be certain to include training for your small group leaders in how to share the gospel and how to disciple young believers in the basics of the Christian faith. This information is included in the “Commission” section.
What Are the 5 C’s?
Character — This section covers the role and character qualities of a servant leader in Christ’s kingdom, the handling of doctrinal differences, and incorporating one’s unique personality, spiritual gifts and behavioral style in a ministry setting.
Connection — This section covers how a small group leader effectively connects and works with other members of her ministry team.
Community — This section covers the advantages of small group participation and ways to build and maintain community within a group.
Commitment — This section covers the ongoing commitment to the “nuts and bolts” of small group leadership including preparation, managing the time, and directing the discussion. It also includes managing crisis situations.
Commission — This section covers the role of the small group leader who is commissioned by Jesus to be a disciple-maker, encouraging the members of her group to follow Jesus as His disciple and to live for Jesus as disciple-makers in their sphere of influence.
The Joy of Small Group Leadership
Being part of a small group can be a most enjoyable experience for a Christ follower. The ideas in this handbook have been developed by those who have spent years being women’s small group leaders. Women of all ages enjoy community and benefit from it when it works well. We hope that you will take to heart these suggestions and become the best small group leader you can be. Enjoy serving Jesus through serving the women in your small group!
1. CharacterRelated Media
Character of a leader
Acts 2:42-47 describes the Christian life applied in a small group setting—house churches meeting in Jerusalem led by the apostles. What each of those men brought to their small groups was their faith in Jesus Christ, their character, and the way they were uniquely gifted. Likewise, every small group leader in Christ’s Church brings to the small group those same things—faith, character, and uniqueness. Character is defined as “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” The health of the small group is no doubt impacted by the character of the person leading it, character springing from your faith walk with Jesus Christ and expressed through your unique giftedness.
Think About It:
Thinking back on your own experience with small group leaders through the years, what character qualities in your small group leader did you find essential for a healthy, functioning group?
“Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:42-45)
Jesus contrasted the world’s concept of leader with what he wanted for his Church. Leaders in Christ’s Church (which includes elders, deacons, and small group leaders) are to be servant-minded. The phrase “servant-leader” best describes this role and heart attitude.
Think About It:
Describe a servant-leader you have known. What made you think of that person? Be specific.
Several Bible passages describe character qualities of servant leaders. Please read each passage below and the associated character descriptions.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 —
“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
- Humble & teachable: Servant-leaders are to be humble and teachable. You don’t need to know all the answers, but you do need to be committed to your own faith walk with Jesus—living by faith and dependence on Him.
- Christ-focused: As a servant-leader, your role and privilege are to point the women to Jesus, encouraging them in their relationship with Him above all else. Your goal is to help them learn to place their dependence more upon Christ and less upon you as their leader.
John 13:34-35 —
“I give you a new commandment – to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.”
- Love: A servant-leader commits to love the women in her group as well as those on her ministry team.
Think About It:
Why would humility, teachability, and love be important qualities in a small group leader?
1 Timothy 3:11 —
“(Women) likewise are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” (NIV)
Note: Paul outlines the qualifications for the office of “deacon” in 1 Timothy 3:8-13; verse 11 particularly addresses women (the Greek term gune denotes a woman, married or unmarried). The term deacon (from the Greek meaning “servant”) is used in the New Testament for both men and women, although this is not always clear in many English translations. The early church had both male and female deacons who were servant-leaders in their churches.
- Worthy of respect: those who know her best recognize this. A respectful woman willingly submits to the authority structures in her life, including the authority of scripture. She strives to live a life worthy of her calling as she considers the well being of others.
- Not malicious talkers: Women in leadership must guard the confidences shared within her small group setting or ministry team. She must keep in mind how her words may affect others and be careful not to share sensitive information (personal and/or confidential) in inappropriate settings (with those who don’t need to know that information). Use discretion when dealing with ministry concerns by only talking with those directly responsible for the solution.
- Temperate: Although some associate the word “temperate” with abstaining from alcohol, the character quality “temperate” means to be self-controlled. From 2 Timothy 2:23-25, we get a good working definition of temperate: kind, patient, and gentle. All of these are likewise fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). A temperate woman yields to the Holy Spirit’s control of her behavior, attitude and emotions. She chooses unity over personal preference so is known as one who is cooperative and more interested in the goals of the ministry than her own.
- Trustworthy in everything: Being faithful as Jesus describes it, “faithful in the little things.” The oversight and teaching of the church are to be entrusted to those who have proven themselves to be faithful. Leaders are held to a greater accountability; therefore, we must be diligent in pursuing and abiding in biblical truth.
Think About It:
Why would being respected, trustworthy, and disciplined in speech and behavior be important qualities in a small group leader?
Titus 2:3-5 —
“Older women likewise are to exhibit behavior fitting for those who are holy, not slandering, not slaves to excessive drinking, but teaching what is good. In this way they will train the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, fulfilling their duties at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the message of God may not be discredited.”
Note: The term “older” can refer to age or spiritual maturity. Mentoring is someone older in the Lord helping someone younger in the Lord understand and apply biblical truth to every day life.
Think About It:
Who has effectively modeled the daily Christian life for you? How?
- Exhibit behavior fitting for those who are holy: Don’t let this phrase scare you. The Greek word used here referred to the work of a priestess serving in the temple of her God. For us as Christ’s women, all that we do should be done “as unto the Lord.” Our daily life in all its aspects is continual ministry before God as we serve and represent him before others.
- Teaching what is good: knowing what is good comes from knowing Jesus Christ and the Scriptures as your source of truth.
- Role models: We want to draw women to God’s Word and truth rather than pushing them away from it. Women look to their leaders as examples to follow so no matter where we are in our own personal faith walk with Jesus, they need to see our desire to allow God to change us and grow us in our daily lives and roles as women.
Think About It:
What are some of your fears about being a small group leader?
For most small group ministries, the leaders generally come from various church backgrounds. Each small group leader is also learning and growing in her faith walk with Jesus. Your ministry probably has a statement of faith associated with it. Some parts of that statement may be considered “non-negotiable,” that is, all leaders are expected to not only agree with those doctrines but also support those positions should they come up in small group. Some examples of non-negotiable doctrines might be:
- The Bible is the inspired Word of God
- God is a Trinity: three persons in one
- Jesus is God: not just a human religious teacher.
Think About It:
What are the “Non- Negotiable Doctrines” for your church or group?
Procure a copy of your ministry’s statement of faith and read through it. As you read, make note of anything you need to clarify or further discuss with your ministry team leader. After you read through it, do the “Think About It” activity below.
Think About It:
Is there anything in the Statement of Faith with which you don’t fully agree or about which you have further questions?
Based on the list you wrote in the previous “Think About It” box, is it a non-negotiable?
If you do not hold the exact position as your church or ministry on a non-negotiable doctrine, what are some gracious ways you can support that non-negotiable issue if it arises in your small group? See also “Community” for other ways to handle controversial doctrines in a group discussion.
Have you ever asked yourself these questions?
- Why do I act the way I do?
- Why doesn’t he or she do things the way I do them?
- Why can’t I seem to connect with that person?
What you are really addressing is BEHAVIOR.
1. Observing behavior is historical.
From ancient times, people have been observing people. Centuries before Christ, the Greeks recognized 4 basic categories of human behavior, using the terms “Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholy, and Phlegmatic” to identify each. Other systems of classification have since been used.
2. Behavior is how you naturally tend to react to the environment around you.
This affects how you communicate with others and also how you receive their communication. Behavior can change over time. Your behavioral tendencies today may be somewhat different from what they were 20 years ago due to the many circumstances and life phases you have experienced.
3. Behavior is not personality.
Personality is a complex issue that deals with emotions and usually falls under the realm of psychology. Behavior doesn’t deal with whether you are happy or sad, nervous or depressed, angry or calm. A visual used to describe the difference between behavior and personality is a tree. Personality is like the tree roots—unseen but developed long before the tree grew tall. Behavior is the visible part—the trunk and branches.
4. Behavioral variety is good.
When God created Adam and Eve, He placed in them genes that would give variety to the human race in hair color, eye color, body shape, size and also in behavior. Since God made Adam and Eve to complement one another, we can assume they were different in their behavioral tendencies. But, together they made a team. It is a mistake to think that as we are conformed to the image of Christ, we will be cookie cutter images. That is not biblical thinking.
We know that one behavior type is not better than another. One strength is not better than another. Some are just more suited to specific tasks. All are needed in a society and definitely in the body of Christ.
5. Recognition of behavioral strengths and weaknesses is beneficial.
Everyone has behavioral weaknesses. The challenge for us is to be willing for God to grow us in those areas and to appreciate others who are strong in the areas where we are weak.
We know we are not perfect but are being perfected by the Perfect One whose power is sufficient for our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) In fact, when our tendency to self-sufficiency is overcome, we best recognize our need for Him. The main value of recognizing behavioral strength and weaknesses is to help you understand yourself better as well as those closest to you. You become more aware of what you bring to your ministry team and to your small group.
6. Behavior can be assessed through the DISC dimensions of behavior.
Many different approaches to human behavioral differences have been made through the centuries. In recent years, the one assessment tool used most often in ministry settings utilizes the DISC dimensions of behavior.
Developed in the early 1900’s, this tool has been widely used by businesses and Christian ministries because it helps to enhance teamwork. The DISC dimensions of behavior are based on behavioral tendencies—not personality. Assessments incorporating these dimensions have been developed that you can do on yourself. One such assessment is found in the next section. It’s simply a tool that will help you to understand yourself better, get along better with those around you, recognize and develop your strengths, and help you to develop teamwork with your co-leader or ministry partners.
Think About It:
How would being aware of your behavioral strengths and weaknesses enhance your ministry as a small group leader?
Discover Your DISC Dimensions of Behavior
According to the researchers who first outlined these dimensions of behavior, people fall into four basic categories (or, dimensions) of behavior as described by the diagram below. The measure is based upon whether one is:
- Fast-paced or slow-paced in reacting to one’s environment
- Task-oriented or people-oriented by nature
Examine the diagram below. Mark where you think you fit.
As you take the assessment, remember:
- This is not a test. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers, no “pass” or “fail.” There are no “good” or “bad” behavior profiles or patterns.
- Rank your choices as honestly as possible from your point of view, not someone else’s perception of you (husband, mother, friend…). You are the only expert on you.
- Go with your first impressions. Avoid the temptation to analyze or dwell on each word.
- Choose to focus on how you behave in a specific environment such as your home or ministry.
- The goal is to give you information to help you become more aware of yourself and others.
Once you complete the assessment, write your primary and secondary tendencies below.
Think About It:
Primary behavior dimension: _______________ Key words that describe me (see next sections):
Secondary behavior dimension (if applicable): _______________ Key words that describe me (see next sections):
How would understanding behavioral tendencies have helped you to relate to a past ministry partner or small group member?
A description of each behavioral dimension is located in the following section of this handbook. Read yours carefully. (NOTE: If nothing seems to match “you,” it’s possible you took the assessment incorrectly. Retake the assessment.)
You can use this assessment to enable you to communicate and work well with others so as to encourage them to reach their potential as well. As you read through the various descriptions below, notice how the information can help to enhance communication and teamwork as well as help you to resolve conflict with others.
How You Tend to Behave if You Are a… “D”
- Fast-Paced and Task-Oriented = Dominant, Direct and Active.
- Key word: RESULTS.
The “D” behavior tendency describes those whose emphasis is shaping their environment by overcoming opposition to accomplish results.
- D’s are comfortable at solving problems, making quick decisions, and accepting challenges.
- D’s struggle with impatience, overlooking cautions, and being demanding of others.
- Motivate a “D” by emphasizing goals and results and soliciting their help to accomplish them. Let them have control of something. Get in their face and challenge them. “I bet you can’t do…” often works.
- Resolve conflict with a “D” by being direct, ask what is necessary for a “win-win” solution while avoiding “who’s right or wrong” debates.
- Biblical characters who seemed to have “D” behavior patterns: Paul (combo D and C) and Joshua.
How You Tend to Behave if You Are an… “I”
- Fast-Paced and People-Oriented = Influence, Interested and Lively.
- Key word: RECOGNITION.
The “I” behavior tendency describes those whose emphasis is shaping their environment by influencing or persuading others.
- I’s usually speak with ease so are valuable as lecturers, greeters, and making people feel very comfortable.
- I’s struggle with sensitive feelings, being unorganized, and telling long stories.
- Motivate an “I” by appreciating their efforts in front of others, letting them have fun, and putting them in a position of influence over others.
- Resolve conflict with an “I” by assuring her of your love and relationship, dealing with the issues without personal criticism, and caring about her feelings.
- Biblical characters who seemed to have “I” behavior patterns: Moses, David (combo I and C), Peter, and Abigail.
How You Tend to Behave if You Are a… “S”
- Slow-Paced and People-Oriented = Steady and Cooperative.
- Key word: RELATIONSHIP.
The “S” behavior tendency describes those whose emphasis is on cooperating with others to carry out the task.
- S’s are dependable team players, will do a job consistently week after week, and are good listeners.
- S’s struggle with resisting change, soft-heartedness, and procrastination.
- Motivate an “S” by emphasizing the need of the group, minimizing conflict, and doing things together.
- Resolve Conflict with an “S” by emphasizing what is best for the group or team, being calm and friendly, and offering a comfortable solution.
- Biblical characters who seemed to have “S” behavior patterns: Abraham, Hannah, and Dorcas.
How You Tend to Behave if You Are a… “C”
- Slow-Paced and Task-Oriented = Conscientious and Correct.
- Key word: RIGHT.
The “C” behavior tendency describes those whose emphasis is on working conscientiously within existing circumstances to ensure quality and accuracy.
- C’s are valuable at organizing information, problem solving, and maintaining accuracy.
- C’s struggle with getting bogged down in detail, hesitancy to reveal true feelings, and taking a long time to make decisions.
- Motivate a “C” by emphasizing quality in a task, giving her time to do things right, and working closely with her so she knows her work will be approved.
- Resolve conflict with a “C” by stating the issue calmly and logically; ask what is necessary for a “win-win” solution, and giving her time to think about the situation. Be sure to schedule a follow-up discussion.
- Biblical characters who seemed to have “C” behavior patterns: Luke, Mary, and Ruth.
Using DISC Behavior Tendencies To Improve Communication
How to relate to a D: Be Direct
- Start with results or benefits first, then provide details only as needed
- Show how you can help the “D” get those results done
- Talk to her in terms of the benefits
- Be quick, to the point
How to lead/motivate a D: Emphasize Goals, Results
- Give her the what; let her determine the how
- Let her have control, be in charge of something
- Use laissez-faire leadership, give her as much free rein as possible to do the job
- Get in her face and challenge her
Resolving conflict with a D: Tends to Be Direct, Aggressive
- Avoid “right/wrong” debates by stating differences without judgment
- Ask what is necessary for a win/win solution
- Use open-ended questions to get to the real issues
- Wrap up discussion by stating what each person has committed to do to resolve the conflict
How to relate to an I: Be Enthusiastic
- Be positive, friendly
- Provide praise
- Validate her self-worth
- Give her the feeling of “I need you”
- Give the “I” the opportunity to express her opinion
- Talk to her in terms of who else has done this
How to lead/motivate an I: Emphasize Group, Recognition
- Consult with her about ideas, projects, people
- Recognize her efforts in front of others
- Let her have fun
- Use participatory leadership, give her ownership of the leadership process
- Put her in a position of influence over others
Resolving conflict with an I: Avoids Direct, Open Conflict
- Recognize her discomfort with loss of approval
- State the issue factually without criticism of her as a person
- Limit her attempts to minimize the problem or sidetrack the discussion
- Wrap up the discussion with a clear statement of what is going to happen, by when, and affirm your relationship with her
How to relate to an S: Be Relational
- Be friendly, easygoing, low key on objectives
- Don’t push; let her respond at her own pace
- Talk in terms of how the team will be affected
- Let the “S” know that you value her personally
- Talk to her about why you want things changed
How to lead/motivate an S: Emphasize Group, Community
- Doing things together is important
- Always maintain the relationship
- Let her have peace; minimize conflict
- Use any leadership style, but maintain variety
- Reassure her she is part of a team, is appreciated
Resolving conflict with a S: Tends to Avoid Hostility & Conflict
- State the need to resolve the conflict in order to maintain stability and harmony in the relationship
- Draw out uncomfortable issues by asking open-ended questions
- Ask her what she would need to resolve the issue in a way that is reasonable and effective
- Be calm and friendly
How to relate to a C: Be Analytical
- Present clear facts and objective ideas
- Don’t rush
- Be specific and thorough
- Speak to the “C” in terms of quality
- Focus on the details
- Talk to her about how to do what is to be done
How to lead/motivate a C: Emphasize Goals, Quality
- Be available to work closely with her
- Let her have time to do things right
- Use relaxed leadership if it is competent leadership
- Assign tasks that play to her strengths of quality & accuracy; doing it the best way
Resolving conflict with a C: Tends to Withdraw & Get Defensive
- State the issue calmly, logically, factually, citing specific behavior
- Ask what she would need to resolve this conflict on a “win-win” basis
- Recognize her need to think about the situation before responding by scheduling a time to have a follow-up discussion
Think About It:
What did you learn from these lists that will help you relate to someone whose behavioral tendencies are opposite of yours?
Not only are you uniquely designed in your behavior, you have also been gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve the Body of Christ. A spiritual gift is a supernatural capacity for service to God in the Body of Christ.
All believers receive the same gift of the Holy Spirit but individually receive spiritual gifts that differ, according to the will of God, to be used for the common good.
Although opinions differ on the actual number of spiritual gifts, the Bible clearly indicates a variety of gifts understood from such key passages as Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. Listed below are some of the gifts and how they are beneficial to the Body of Christ, especially the local church body.
- Administration (1 Corinthians 12:28) — The ability to steer a ministry toward the accomplishment of God-given goals and directives by planning, organizing, and implementing what is needed to accomplish the goal including supervising others. A person may have the gift of leadership without the gift of administration.
- Discernment (1 Corinthians 12:10) — The ability to clearly discern the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (cf. 1 John 4:6). With this gift, one can distinguish reality versus counterfeits, the divine versus the demonic, true versus false teaching, and in some cases, spiritual versus carnal motives.
- Evangelism (Ephesians 4:11) — The ability to be an unusually effective instrument in leading unbelievers to a saving knowledge of Christ. Some with this gift are most effective in personal evangelism, while others may be used by God in group evangelism or cross-cultural evangelism.
- Exhortation (Romans 12:8) — The ability to motivate others to respond to the truth by providing timely words of counsel, encouragement, and consolation. When this gift is exercised, believers are challenged to stimulate their faith by putting God’s truth to the test in their lives.
- Faith (1 Corinthians 12:9) — The ability to have a vision for what God wants to be done and to confidently believe that it will be accomplished in spite of circumstances and appearances to the contrary. The gift of faith transforms vision into reality.
- Giving (Romans 12:8) — The ability to contribute material resources with generosity and cheerfulness for the benefit of others and the glory of God. Christians with this spiritual gift need not be wealthy.
- Helps (1 Corinthians 12:28) — The ability to enhance the effectiveness of the ministry of other members of the body. Some suggest that while the gift of service is more group-oriented, the gift of helps is more person-oriented.
- Leadership (Romans 12:8) — The ability to discern God’s purpose for a group, set and communicate appropriate goals, and motivate others to work together to fulfill them in the service of God. A person with this gift is effective at delegating tasks to followers without manipulation or coercion.
- Mercy (Romans 12:8) — The ability to deeply empathize and engage in compassionate acts on behalf of people who are suffering physical, mental, or emotional distress. Those with this gift manifest concern and kindness to people who are often overlooked.
- Service (Romans 12:7) — The ability to identify and care for the physical needs of the body through a variety of means.
- Shepherd or pastor (Ephesians 4:11) — A person with this spiritual gift has the ability to personally lead, nourish, protect, and care for the needs of a group of believers. Many with this gift do not have or need the office of pastor to be useful to the body.
- Teaching (Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; Ephesians 4:11) — The ability to clearly explain and effectively apply the truths of God’s Word so that others will learn. This requires the capacity to accurately interpret Scripture, engage in necessary research, and organize the results in a way that is easily communicated.
- Wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8)--The ability to apply the principles of the Word of God in a practical way to specific situations and to recommend the best course of action at the best time. The exercise of this gift skillfully distills insight and discernment into excellent advice.
Discover Your Spiritual Giftedness
Various spiritual gift assessments are available to further help you understand how you have been gifted. We recommend the online spiritual gifts analysis freely provided by “Ephesians Four Ministries” of the Church Growth Institute at the following website: .
Please take this assessment (or any other assessment you have available to you). Be sure to allow yourself at least 15 minutes to answer the questions for this analysis. At the end, you will receive a detailed description of what may be your main spiritual gift. Often, a second gift is evident, and that description will be displayed as well. If possible, print these descriptions for future reference.
Think About It:
Primary gift: __________________ Brief description of this gift:
Secondary gift (if applicable): __________________ Brief description of this gift:
What did you discover about yourself regarding your spiritual gift(s) and how they could benefit your ministry as a small group leader?
Ministry Team Value
Please let your ministry team coordinator know the results of both your DISC Dimensions of Behavior and the Spiritual Gifts Analysis. Your coordinator and your ministry team will benefit by knowing your strengths, weaknesses, and spiritual gifts.
The purpose in doing these assessments is to:
- Help you gain a better understanding of yourself, to recognize your innate weaknesses, and to appreciate your own God-given strengths
- Help you better understand those closest to you
- Enable you to better communicate with others
- Enable you to better encourage others to reach their potential
Celebrate your unique design and giftedness by bringing Jesus Christ glory as you use your gifts in the Body of Christ. And, although you are gifted with many strengths, even in using those natural strengths and spiritual gifts be ever mindful that you need to continually depend on His power to use them for his purposes and for his glory. Ask Jesus to show you how to use your strengths. And, pray for him to be working through you in both your strengths and your weaknesses.
“For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” (Acts 17:28)
2. ConnectionRelated Media
Connecting with fellow leaders
“Love creates community. Jesus gave to His disciples a new commandment: ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ The call to or the commendation of love within the fellowship of Christians is repeated in every Epistle. God has through Christ laid the basis for a relationship more intimate than that experienced in many families. It is in the context of the family of God that, rooted and grounded in love, believers are to grow in their experience of God’s love and reach Christian maturity.’ (Larry Richards)
Think About It:
What did you find out about yourself from the DISC dimensions of behavior and spiritual gifts assessment that would be significant information for your co-leader or ministry partners to know?
Every small group leader is part of the greater ministry of either a local body of believers or the universal Body of Christ in general. No one is alone. Jesus not only gathered together his group of apostles, he taught them how to work together to carry on the ministry after his earthly departure. The Holy Spirit is given to every believer to equip each one with gifts needed to grow Christ’s kingdom on earth.
We were never intended to work alone but in connection with others who have a faith walk with Jesus Christ. A connection is “a relationship in which one person is linked or associated with another person.”
“For if they fall, one will help his companion up, but pity the person who falls down and has no one to help him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm, but how can one person keep warm by himself? Although an assailant may overpower one person, two can withstand him. Moreover, a three-stranded cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:10-12)
Ministry leaders need to pursue love for and connection with one another to share the burdens and joys of ministry as well as to support and encourage one another in the use of one’s gifts.
Every small group needs someone who can manage the discussion and the time plus someone who can build relationships and nurture the group. Rarely is one person gifted to do both.
Connecting and Working with Others
Small group leaders and co-leaders should be deliberate in how they work together to meet the ministry needs of their group. This involves getting together and discussing how you will work together, incorporating your spiritual gifts and behavioral style to best advantage for the group.
Spend some time working through the following questions to see how you foresee being able to manage your group. If you have a co-leader, plan a time when you can talk through these things with her. If you do not have a co-leader, look for a mature woman in your group that can help you manage some of the tasks that you will have difficulty doing alone.
“And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works,” (Hebrews 10:24)
While you are going through these questions, pray through them as well. If we become accustomed to depend on our natural strengths, we may feel no need to cry out to God for help. In both your strengths and weaknesses, ask Jesus to do them through you and to do them his way. We can do neither without the help of our God.
Think About It:
Who are your partners in small group ministry?
Getting to know your co-leader:
- What is your natural bent in leadership: Do you like to lead the discussion? Do you like to write notes, e-mail, & call the women? Do you like to spend time getting to know the women one-on-one?
- What do you foresee as a struggle for you as a small group leader? How can your co-leader or another leader help you grow in this area?
- What will be your role in leading the small group discussion? (For example, some co-leaders alternate leading the discussion; others decide that one will always lead.)
- If a group member shares a prayer request or a prayer need comes up, how will you (and your co-leader, if applicable) make sure to remember to pray for that woman’s need and follow up with her? (Be sure to maintain confidentiality.)
Make a plan for connecting:
- How will you regularly connect with your co-leader (if you have one) or another leader?
- How do you plan to regularly connect with and communicate with your small group? If you have a co-leader, how will the two of you handle this (divide list/trade-off weeks/one leader mainly does this)? If you do not have a co-leader, will you need to find someone from your group to help you with this? If so, pray about this and make finding this person a high priority.
- What kinds of outside activities would you like to do with your group occasionally? Will you need to ask someone else to oversee any scheduling/arrangements? Gather some ideas from others who have had success in this area.
- What is your plan for warmly greeting the women as they arrive (at the door, at the table, etc.)?
Talk to your co-leader on a regular basis. You will benefit from having the other person’s perspective. Pray together for the women in your group. Periodically review your plans and see how you are doing. What needs to change? Working together as a ministry team (leader/co-leader for each group and leaders in the ministry) benefits all the participants in the ministry. And, our Lord Jesus is glorified by our unity.
“I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one –I in them and you in me – that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
Managing Conflicts and Expectations
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose.” (I Corinthians 1:10)
“Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.” (Philippians 2:3)
Think About It:
Have you experienced or witnessed a conflict between women in ministry? How was it managed/resolved? What, if anything, could have been done better?
Unity or like-mindedness with your ministry team is essential for a servant-leader of a small group. Remember that your goal is to have them focused on their relationship with Jesus Christ and connected with a local church. The larger a ministry grows, the more difficult unity becomes. Conflicts will naturally arise between women who have different behavioral tendencies, backgrounds, and/ or approaches to ministry. We must all work hard to resolve conflicts quickly for the health of the ministry. Conflicts usually fall into 2 categories: 1) conflict with the ministry operation or 2) conflict with a ministry leader or co-leader.
Some conflicts that might possibly arise between co-leaders or between a leader and the ministry itself are: behavioral clashes, how one does/does not nurture the group, childcare issues, and/ or misunderstanding of ministry directives.
We’ve given you some suggestions for resolving conflicts in the “Character” section. We offer you more guidelines below.
Concerning the Ministry
We realize that there may be times when issues come up that need to be addressed. We ask that you please bring these issues to the coordinator or staff member that oversees your ministry. It is our hope that this will give you a new perspective on why we do things the way we do and an avenue for your concern or idea to be discussed and considered for the benefit of the entire group.
Concerning a Co-leader
If you have an issue with another ministry leader, assume good will on her part and ask the Lord how best to proceed in your relationship with her. If you need to discuss the issue in order to get guidance on how to proceed, set aside some time to talk with your ministry leader. Do not gossip about the situation with others. When needed, talk directly with the other leader for the purpose of reconciliation.
If your attempts to reconcile with another leader do not resolve the issue, please set a meeting for the two of you to discuss the issue with the ministry coordinator or the staff member that oversees your ministry. See Matthew 18:15-17 for a good passage on dealing with conflict biblically.
What if I am going to be absent from our small group meeting?
If you have a co-leader, tell her as far in advance as possible when you will be absent. Your ministry coordinator may want to be told as well.
If you will both be absent on the same day, contact your ministry coordinator or staff member that oversees your ministry to make arrangements for your group to be properly served.
Remember those who serve your ministry—set-up, childcare, hospitality, or any other areas. Thank them often for their service, which makes it possible for your small group to meet. Help your group also practice gratitude toward them.
3. CommunityRelated Media
Building community in a group
“Salvation is individual, but not individualistic. God’s people are called together in community.” (Francis Schaeffer)
Group community can be defined as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” The life of following Christ was never meant to be solitary. The early Christians pursued it in groups not much larger than our small groups. They met exclusively in homes for the first 200 years or so of the movement. By meeting in a small group, we are imitating a time-tested format for spiritual life. Small groups are the ideal setting in which women can learn what it means to take on the character of Christ.
Women join a group to meet some type of need. Some want to mainly study; others want to mainly socialize. Most want a balance of both.
Advantages of Small Group Participation
Some of the advantages of participating in a small group are:
- Encouraging one another during good and bad times
- Solving problems together
- Asking thoughtful questions when one has a decision to make
- Benefiting from one another’s insights into the Word of God.
- Listening to God together
- Praying for each other
- Practicing how to love one’s neighbor
- Learning to receive care from others
- Seeing Christianity is real as you see God work in others’ lives
- Experiencing the pleasure of helping another person grow
Since women join and/or participate in a small group in order to have some need met, we as small group leaders can help to meet some of those needs. How we do that is often as unique as we are. But, every small group is likely to experience some challenges to community.
Think About It:
What have you gained by participating in a small group?
Connect, Connect, Connect!
“Connection” is the key word to building community. You must connect with your co-leader as described in the previous section. Then, your role in your group is to also connect them.
1. Connect the women with you.
You as a small group leader set the tone for the group. Through your actions, you say, “I care about you.” Here are some ways to connect the women with you.
- Try and sit by a different woman each time your group meets. Break out of your comfort zone; it’s worth it!
- Get to know the women in your group by name and face. Greet them by name whenever you see them.
- Become familiar with their husbands’ and children’s names and general ages (preschool, elementary, high school, college, adult). Ask about them and if needed, keep notes and refresh yourself before a meeting.
- Know where they live, where they lived before, and what job or career they have (or had before motherhood).
- Love them through smile, words, and touch.
- Be transparent and honest about yourself.
- Actively seek interaction with them outside of small group.
- Be on time. Being on time sends a very positive and welcoming message.
Think About It:
How important do you think it is for a small group leader to intentionally connect with each member of the group?
2. Connect the women with each other.
- It has been said that every woman needs 3 connections to stay in a small group. The connection with you is the first one, also with your co-leader if you have one. They need to connect with at least two more group members.
- Be a “matchmaker.” Pay attention to common interests (occupations, hometowns or home states, pets, # of kids, ages of kids, live in the same neighborhood). Encourage those with common interests to get together outside of group time.
- Plan times for your group members to get together. Even if only 2 can attend, they can connect with one another.
- When one is absent, let the rest of the group know what is going on and encourage them to join together to pray or help her.
- Discourage discussing controversial topics (denominations, politics) that may isolate anyone or divide the group.
- Look for ways to build community in your small group.
Challenges of Small Group Participation
“Hospitality is the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.” (Henri Nouwen)
The small group leader “facilitates.” To facilitate means to “make an action or process easy or easier.” As the servant-leader for your group, your role is to make being part of a group “easier” for those who participate. At the start of a small group, most of the women are strangers. The challenge for the leader is to help build community within this group of “strangers.” That involves overcoming hesitancy, incorporating authenticity, and working at connection.
Think About It:
How did you feel when/if you joined a small group (Bible Study or other) for the first time?
First-time participants will often have underlying questions and concerns about their participation in a small group setting. These are more often felt rather than verbalized: Will I be accepted or rejected here? I’m afraid I’ll look stupid or nervous. Will I feel pressured and pushed to perform in some way?
Some other feelings, concerns and fears that women might have when they are meeting with their small group for the first time are:
- Who will be the real leaders here?
- Will I tell too much about myself? What if I really open up my feelings? Will I embarrass myself?
- What if everyone rejects me? If the group attacks me?
- What if I’m asked to do something I don’t want to do?
- Feelings of silence and awkwardness or high anxiety.
The central issue of all these fears and feelings is trust vs. mistrust. Whom can I really trust in this group?
Authenticity is an essential ingredient of a small group, but it requires trust. Building trust takes time, though, before women may open up and share what’s really going on in their lives. You, as a leader, need to share some of your own joys and struggles. Be authentic yourself. This gives them insight into your own faith walk with Jesus and helps them to identify with you as an ordinary woman, not the “superior” leader.
Connection is valuable for building community in a group as well as between ministry partners. It is important for group members to connect with one another and connect with the message of transformation being shared through the Bible study or life modeled by the small group leader.
Many groups will naturally connect with one another. If at any time your group is struggling to connect, be proactive to step in and create stronger connection within your group through any means you think might work with your women. One way is to connect them with you by spending time with them individually. That encourages women to attend the group more regularly. Another way is to pick a project the group can do together to serve other people.
Think About It:
What are some ways to facilitate building trust within a group so as to encourage authenticity?
The Complexion of a Small Group
The complexion of a small group will be as varied as the women attending. Every woman has a need to feel heard, a need to be valued, a need to experience love, and a need to contribute. Occasionally, leaders will face some challenging situations emerging from the personalities and life situations of the women participants. How we handle these challenges may influence how well our group experiences community.
A leader can help the individual and the group to meet these challenges by loving each woman and by redirecting and giving perspective as needed. First…pray for ideas; our God knows that woman best. Here are some gracious yet practical ideas others have discovered for dealing with the following challenges:
The Overly Talkative Gal
What you can say:
- Good answer, I appreciate that. (Quickly) Okay, now someone else.
- Okay, I need some of you shy ones to speak up on the next question.
- It’s not fair to expect _(talker)_ to carry the discussion. (Ha, ha)
What you can do:
- Recognize that some people are just uncomfortable with silence so they feel the need to answer every question. Model to them that you are not uncomfortable with silence.
- Ask her apart from the group, “What clue do I use to let you know you’re talking too much?”
- Enlist the talker’s help in getting the others to participate.
The Excessively Shy Gal
What you can say:
- I can see you have something to share.
- I can see those wheels turning.
- I’m sure you have something to contribute.
What you can do:
- Ask her if she wants to be encouraged to speak up.
- Observe if she has anything written then ask, “Would you like to read what you’ve written?”
- Encourage her prior to small group to be willing to share for the benefit of the group.
- Most do want to join in, but be sensitive to those who don’t. Some quiet women like to just listen but will speak up when they are ready.
Think About It:
What have you seen small group leaders do to effectively facilitate a group including “the overly talkative gal” or “the excessively shy gal”?
The Argumentative Gal
What you can say:
- I understand how you might feel that way.
- Can we save that question until we get through with the study?
- Let’s get together and go over that outside of small group.
- Let’s see if we can find a really smart lady to join us for lunch!
- (Controversial doctrine): For years, theologians have disagreed on that one! I wouldn’t argue that point, but you may enjoy talking to one of our pastors.
What you can do:
- Gently talk to her later about what the group needs to accomplish in a short time frame.
- Remind women at the beginning of the year that there will be different doctrinal views represented in our groups and that we are not here to discuss them but to study the Bible.
This can be frightening because of the potential time demands. Don’t try to do it all. We have to balance our care of others with our commitment to our own families.
Here are some ways to realistically and graciously meet needs without overwhelming yourself or the group:
What you can say:
- I have to go to the grocery store. Is there something you need?
- I had just a few minutes but wanted to call and check on you.
- I can do that. I’ll just need to be home by 3:00 for my kids.
- My plate is kind of full today. Can this wait a day or two?
What you can do:
- You can set aside half a day to help with the need. Communicate this clearly to her by saying, “I’m free for half a day tomorrow. Is there something I can do for you?” OR “I have a couple of hours this afternoon. Can I come to do your laundry?”
- It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to do, just “be.”
- Keep a willing heart, stay connected, meet needs, be realistic and set boundaries.
Think About It:
What have you seen small group leaders do to effectively facilitate a group that included “the argumentative gal” or an “extenuating illness?”
The Occasional Woman
Some women are hesitant at making a commitment to a group. Whether it’s rarely preparing for a class, sporadic attendance throughout the year, or consistently not showing up on the days when your group is providing the brunch food, we as leaders must do what we can to make them feel welcome and wanted in the group.
In a Bible Study group —
If you are leading a group that is doing a Bible study and has homework, please encourage all women to come and learn from the discussion time, even if they haven’t done the lesson for that day. It’s not unusual for someone to not get the lesson done for that week. However, some women routinely come to a study without doing the lesson yet freely participate in the discussion, giving their own opinions.
Here are some suggestions for handling this graciously during group time:
- Glance at everyone’s books to see if there are answers written. When you notice one with a blank page, be cautious about calling on that woman to answer a question.
- If she feels comfortable joining the discussion or answering a question, let her do so. Especially encourage her to answer the observation questions, which are from the text.
- Reinforce the need to go to the biblical text as the source of truth. Keep the group focused on what’s in the lesson.
Some ways to encourage her to do the lesson at home yet not discourage her from coming:
- Gently ask her privately if she has had trouble finding time to do her study or if she needs help in walking through and answering questions.
- Ask her to research something in particular.
- Offer to come to her house and work through a study with her. Perhaps she’s intimidated into thinking she can’t do it on her own. (See the “Commission” section for helping women learn to do a study.)
In any group —
Some women stay on the fringes of the group (examples: attending sporadically, forgets to bring food when promised, rushes in/out). You will need to devise ways to keep her connected to the group so that when she does attend, she feels welcomed.
Here are some suggestions for doing that:
- Pursue a regular connection with her through text, email or phone call to find out what’s going on in her life and to let her know about the group. Share what you can from your conversation with the group so that when she does attend, she is not perceived as a stranger.
- Keep mentioning her name every group gathering so they’ll remember her.
- Continually let her know that she is needed and wanted.
Think About It:
What have you seen small group leaders do to effectively facilitate a group that included “the occasional woman?”
A little girl was sent on an early errand by her mother, but she took far too much time to return home. When she finally did return, her mother wanted to know what had taken so long. The little girl explained that on the way she had met a little friend who was crying because she had broken her doll. “Oh,” said the mother, “then you stopped to help her fix the doll?” “Oh, no,“ replied the little girl, “I stopped to help her cry.”
This little girl knew exactly what her friend needed. When people are hurting, they need comfort. But, we often respond to hurting people in unproductive ways. None of us can know the depth of someone’s emotional pain; we can only direct them to the reality of God’s comfort.
Here are some ways we can give comfort to someone who is emotionally hurting:
What you can say:
- Support. “If you need a shoulder to cry on, I’ll be there.”
- Encourage. I can’t fix it, but I know Who can help. And, I’ll be here also.
- What you can do:
- Keep a willing heart, stay connected, meet needs, be realistic and set boundaries.
- Sometimes her pain may need pastoral counseling or professional help. If that is the case, please direct her to someone who can make that evaluation.
Think About It:
What have you seen small group leaders do to effectively facilitate a group that included someone with “emotional pain?”
Other Situations Affecting Community
How would you graciously respond to the following situations in your group?
- The Advice Giver —
- The Pessimist —
- Group size getting noticeably smaller as women drop out; how to keep the rest from getting discouraged —