You ask a question. A good question. A simple one, even.
And the response?
Someone’s stomach growls. A guy gets up to use the bathroom. A girl fake coughs in an effort to break the awkward silence. You begin to wonder if you have a piece of cilantro in your teeth, considering that no one dares look at your face.
Who thought small groups were a good idea anyway?
Leading a small group is a bizarre, inconsistent, often bewildering experience. Thankfully, over the years, I’ve picked up two approaches that have helped me immensely in prompting productive group discussions. Each tool is incredibly simple. No specialized degrees necessary.
I posted several responses on Facebook over the last week. For my handful of friends who are not on social media, and so I can keep track of these posts for future reference, I’m also publishing those responses here:
Last week I taught on the topic of God’s sovereignty at a college ministry. We covered why God’s sovereignty matters for decision making, but I also wanted to cover the topic of trusting God amid tragedy.
Tragedies consistently cause us to question God. They make us skeptical of his goodness, his power, and his claim to be in control of all things. If God is sovereign, then why would he allow a forest fire to consume a neighborhood?
In response to these questions, scripture provides at least three reasons to trust God.
If you spend a lot of time inviting people to things, then you’d better be prepared for rejection.
As a church planter, I would know. I’m basically a professional at being turned down.
But of course, I’m not alone. Talk with anyone in sales, donor development, marketing, start-ups, or any other line of work that requires a lot of invitations, and they’ll assure you, the only thing certain is that rejection will come, often in large, unrelenting quantities.
Through the hundreds of rejections I’ve received in the last few months, I’ve noticed a pattern. The most common way of being told, “no”, comes in the form of, “I’m sorry, I’m just really busy”.
I want to help us understand the dynamic occurring when someone declines your invitation in this way. Because, I think, we’re confused. We’re missing the truth of what’s being communicated in that interaction. At first, I was, too. But now, being the seasoned vet of rejection I am, I see things more clearly.
We’re a society that affirms the prevalence and struggles associated with mental illness; yet we’re also a society that says, “Do whatever feels right; listen to your heart”. These two values contradict one another, and their contradiction exposes deeper problems underlying a purely secular take on the world.
The worst advice you can give a depressed, postpartum mom is, “Just listen to your heart; do what feels right”. In her case, that which feels right may be smothering her infant to suppress his unrelenting colic.
When we tell someone to “follow their heart”, we’re generally encouraging them to trust their most basic, visceral sense of what is best. We’re telling them to trust themselves, to look inward for inspiration and guidance.
The problem for clinically depressed, anxious, anorexic, or otherwise mentally ill people is that they can’t trust themselves. When they look inward, they don’t see truth. They see lies.
What a world swimming in mental illness needs is not more admonitions to follow your heart. Rather, we need an objective, external, immovable point of reference to provide an anchor for our wayward hearts. What we need is the presence of God and the hope of Jesus Christ.
Some days, the world seems pretty bleak. Our bodies ache. War and poverty prevail. Natural disasters abound. Just when we begin to get a little piece of mind, another tragedy strikes.
If we’re not careful, we can find ourselves living perpetually in hope of an escape. We trod through the days; we fulfill our duties. But we’re distracted. Our eyes are always scanning the horizon, searching for the nearest exit, wondering when we’ll have the opportunity to finally check out and be done with this miserable planet.
At Christmas, we celebrate the fact that the God of Hope entered into all this mess. “God came down to earth”, we say, echoing Jesus’ own description of his mission.
The secular, post-modern world we inhabit has formed a consensus when it comes to a conception of god.
The consensus goes something like this:
Yes, I do believe in God. Or, at least, in a god. I do believe there is some kind of higher, transcendent power at work beyond the physical world. I am not merely a materialist, nor an atheist. I’m more of an agnostic. I do not believe we’re all here for just a few short years only to die and be gone forever in the most definitive sense. I believe there must be some kind of power that unites all humanity, and binds us with the created order. Whether we know it or not, whether our wars and violence veil it or not, we are all somehow connected.
In any institution, behavior follows values. By “values”, I don’t necessarily mean morally praiseworthy values, but simply “whatever is valued” in that context. In addition, “values” do not necessarily correspond with the random posters hung around the office, nor the official company emails sent to the list serve.
Behavior follows actual values. If the senior leadership of a company values profit above all else, then employees will scramble to make the most money in whatever way possible and be noticed while doing so. If senior leadership values promptness and professionalism, then meetings will start on time, and everyone will be well dressed.