CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT FOR LIFE CHANGE – part 1

It is important to remember that the purpose of Biblical community is the glory of God through life transformation. We should never “do groups” because that is what we are “supposed to do”. We “do groups” because we desire to see God create a movement of relational environments where life transformation happens. Or to put it another way, we want to faithfully follow the command to make disciples of Jesus. That is why we place such a high value on our groups. So the questions before us are, “What are the ingredients of life transforming community?” and “What can leaders do to foster this type of environment?”

I was recently reminded of what it feels like to be in an environment of life change when I was among a group of followers of Jesus where it was safe to be completely “me”. I was sitting among a group of friends who were followers of Jesus and I knew that I could reveal the deepest and most sensitive things about my life to them and their response would be love. I knew that they could do the same and my response would have been love. We have truly shared some of our greatest and hardest moments and walked with each other no matter what. We rallied around each other. We celebrated victory over sin together. We carried each others burdens. We celebrated life change together.

It is what I call an environment of TRUST AND INTIMACY. It is the kind of place where you can be “you” without fear of judgment as you walk closely together towards Christ.

I believe that many times we enter in to small groups that never reach a deep level of trust and intimacy. Part of the reason this happens is that we are not willing to pay the price to reach trust and intimacy. When we are willing to do what it takes and reach that depth, the Holy Spirit has the space to change us in profound ways.

How do you create and environment of TRUST and Intimacy?

Here is one ingredient.

A primary ingredient is love as Jesus defines love. In John 15:13 Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this that someone would lay down his life for his friends.” It is the sacrificial love of God lived out among the people of God that sets the stage for life change. That may not seem flashy or deep but is there anything deeper or more life affecting than when one person “lays down his life” for another person? Repeatedly in the New Testament we see phrases such as “They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another” (Jn. 13:34-35). “My command is this, love one another” (Jn. 15:17). “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10). “The greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). “Above all else put on love” (Col 3:14). “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). “If Christ so loved you, you also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11). One of the most challenging passages on love is 1 John 3:17-18, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Love must be lived out.

Maybe these examples will help you look for ways to model and lead your group to love well.

–A single mom in your group can’t afford to send her 3 year old to pre-school so the group pitches in to cover the cost.
–Someone in your group gives birth to a child so the rest of the group organizes meals to feed the family for a couple of weeks.
–A couple in your group is celebrating an anniversary so others in the group offer to take care of their kids so they can plan a weekend getaway,
–A person in your group is struggling through a sin issue in his life so the group gracefully walks with them towards restoration.
–A man in your group loses his job so others in the group work to help connect him with potential employers.

There are endless ways to sacrificially love one another. We just need to pray for our eyes to be open to see and our hands ready to help.

It is when a group of people purposely begin to look for ways to sacrifice for one another and take the practical steps to do so that the power of the Gospel is displayed. People trust those who love them.

The Art of the Follow-Up Question

One of the ways that we miss the fullness of what God may be saying in a discussion is limiting ourselves to the “official” questions on the list. If we limit our discussion to the listed questions we may miss an opportunity to flesh out what the Spirit is trying to say. Learning to listen to what is being said and then asking a good following question that is specific to their answer can take the discussion to a more personal level. For example, suppose the question on your study guide is something like, “Does this passage teach you something new about the character of God?” Someone in your group responds with something like, “This passage reminds that God is faithful to his promises.” That is obviously a theologically correct answer that should be affirmed. But, the person’s answer also gives you an opportunity to ask a follow-up question.

I might ask, “Do you think there is a reason that you need to be reminded of His faithfulness right now?” I might preface the question by asking, “Do you mind if I ask you another question?” or “Feel free to share as little or as much as you are comfortable sharing.” If the person is open to sharing more, then an effective follow-up question can take a good general answer to a deeper personal level.

There are endless possibilities for effective follow-up questions.

Sample Follow-Up Questions
Why is that truth important to you?
Why do you think you feel that way?
Why do you think God is teaching you this lesson?
Can you explain in more detail what you mean by that answer?
How are you seeing that truth work itself out in your life right now?
What do you mean by that?
When was a time when you saw this truth at work in your life?

TIPS FOR GOOD FOLLOW UPS
Pray as you listen. Always ask the Holy Spirit to give you ears to hear what He is trying to say in the moment. Ask Him to help you know if you should ask more questions.
Practice good listening. A good listener has the goal to gain and understanding of the other person.
Be respectful. Respect the persons comfort level in the group before asking for specifics. A person who is new to the group should not be expected to be as transparent as someone who has been there for a while.
Ask permission. Before asking a follow-up question ask, “Do you mind if I ask you another question?”
Involve the group. After asking a follow up question, it can be effective to ask the rest of the group for additional input, encouragement, or if they have had similar/different thoughts or experiences.
Don’t force it. If you do not have a clear follow up question, do not force one.