Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Shepherding children and teens in small group

Our small group has been together for 2 decades.  During that time, we have gone through many iterations of childcare.  So I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of those experiences with you.

When they were babies, they came along in the baby carrier.  When they were toddlers, each couple hired a babysitter.  (If you need a list of Knox youth that are willing to provide paid childcare, please send a note to Phil Wong.)  That wasn't cost effective so we tried hiring a babysitter or two to join us at the home where small group met.  As the number of toddlers increased, so did the stress on the babysitters.  

We tried a rotation system where we would all gather at the hosts' home and each couple took turns watching the kids in another room.  I remember being a new parent and not really having a good understanding of loving discipline.  Here's what I wished I knew then....

Johnny grabs a toy causing Jane to cry. Uncle Phil tries to comfort Jane and tells her that everything is going to be all right.  

Uncle Phil: “Johnny, could you come over her please?  I'd like to talk with you.”

Uncle Phil:  “Johnny, could you please tell me what happened?”

Johnny: “Jane took my toy and I wanted it.”

Uncle Phil: “And when you took it, how do you think Jane felt?”

Johnny:  “Sad.”

Uncle Phil: “Did taking the toy make things better?”

Johnny:  “No.”

Uncle Phil: “Do you think you should tell Jesus that you are sorry for hurting Jane's feelings?”

Johnny: “Sorry, Jesus.”

Uncle Phil:  “And do you think you could tell Jane that you are sorry for taking that toy?”

Johnny:  “Sorry, Jane.”

Uncle Phil:  “Jane, do you think you could be friends again with Johnny and forgive him?  How about give him a big hug?”

Jane: “OK.”

Uncle Phil:  “That's great!  Now how could we play together so that everyone has a good time?  Maybe we could take turns?  Or maybe we could play a game together?  What kinds of games to do you like to play?”

Here the overarching goal is to help the children see that their behavior is hurting others and that repentance towards God and towards each other is needed and leads to restored relationships.

When some of our kids got older, we would ask them to be in charge of the younger ones.  This takes some instruction and coaching as we found out when one of the kids got lost as the larger group moved from the playground to indoors!

At other times, we included the kids during our worship times so that they could learn the songs with us.  On some occasions we had a fun day where the parent and the kids all played together.  It was humbling indeed to be beat by our children in a game of capture the flag.  We also have played whiffle ball together.

As the kids got older, they often played together without any supervision.  But keeping a watchful eye is still helpful.  Sometimes they would encounter a situation where no group activity was of interest to everyone.  Here we had to brainstorm with them.  Could you defer to one another and do something that you are not especially excited about?  Could you use some diplomacy and say something like, “Last time we went along with your idea to do XYZ so maybe this time you could try going along with our idea?”

As the kids get older, the church will encourage them to join a small group lead by an adult volunteer.  But what if that took place in the context of a small group where parents took turns leading the kids in bible study?  You could have the benefit of other adults speaking into your children's lives.  The other added benefit is that you don't have your family running around in 5 different directions.  Plus the kids are getting trained in bible study.  Perhaps you could delegate the leadership of one of the bible studies to them?  Then come along side them for the debrief and coaching?

The Adequacy of God and the Adequacy of God's Word

In our last post, we considered the burdens of leadership by recalling the story of Joshua as he was appointed Israel's leader after the death of Moses.  In this post, we look to the presence of God and the word of God as we carry the burdens of leadership for the long haul.

It's interesting to note that Joshua is not the first to feel weak and inadequate.  When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, God told him to go to Pharaoh and say to him, “Let my people go!”  But Moses says, “I am slow of speech and tongue...Please send somebody else...!”  And the LORD's answer to both Moses and to Joshua is, “I will be with you.”  And to Joshua in particular, 

5As I was with Moses, so I will be with you;  I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  

The presence of God, the God whose name is I AM, will be adequate.  And so it is with us.  The adequacy of God will be enough to cover all our shortcomings and failings.  

And not only does the LORD promise his presence to Joshua, but the LORD has given his word to Joshua and to all the people.  

8Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth.  Meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”  

And the presence of the Lord and the word of the LORD to Joshua is not without effect but result in obedience.  

10So Joshua ordered the officers of the people:  “Go through the camp and tell the people, 'Get your supplies ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own.” 

As you go about your work as a small group leader, do you enjoy the presence of God in the midst of your work?  Do you let His word speak to your hearts and minds?  Having enjoyed His presence and having been convinced of His promise that your efforts will succeed, do you live the life of obedience?

The Burdens of a Small Group Leader

Being a small group leader takes effort.  And at times, it can feel like a burden.  In this post, we acknowledge the burdens that come along with leadership.  In future posts, we'll look to the adequacy of our God and His Word to help small group leaders.  Plus, we will look at graciously asking members to commit to small group.  

The Burden of Leadership

The first chapter of Joshua opens with this.

1After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aid: ''Moses my servant is dead.”

We need to pause there and let the impact of those words sink in, just as Joshua had to let the impact of those words sink into his soul.  This is the Moses who 
confronted Pharaoh and said on behalf of the LORD, “Let my people go, that they may worship me.”  
  • presided over the 10 plagues in Egypt culminating in the feast of the Passover and the death of every first born in Egypt.  
  • held out his staff at the LORD's command and the Red Sea parted so that Israel crossed over on dry land while Pharaoh's horses and chariots were thrown into the sea.  
  • ascended Mount Sinai when it was billowing with smoke because the Fiery Presence of the Lord had descended on the mountain to give Moses the Law.  
  • at the LORD's command brought water from the rock to quench the people's thirst.  
  • at the LORD's command prophesied about the manna and quail to feed God's people during their wanderings in the desert.  

After a total of 5 decades of leadership, Moses, the servant of the LORD is dead.  And Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aid, is now to take Moses' place.  And Joshua feels the burden of stepping into a role that was occupied for so long by a giant like Moses.  

Not only is Joshua assigned leadership in the shadow of Moses but Joshua has a difficult mission assigned to him.  A recent census counted 600,000 fighting men.  Assuming an equal number of women brings the total to 1.2 million.  Add the children and Joshua is responsible for leading about 2 million people – plus their livestock.  And his mission is to lead these people and make war on the people of Canaan and to take possession of the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

I can say Joshua is feeling the burden of leadership by what the LORD says to Joshua.  Three times the LORD says to Joshua, 

6Be strong and courageous...7Be strong and very courageous...9Have I not commanded you?   Be strong and courageous.”  

The LORD speaks to address Joshua's need at the moment.  Joshua has a need to be strong and courageous because at the moment he is feeling weak and inadequate.  

How do we as leaders carry the burdens of leadership for the long haul?  In my next post, I'd like to think with you about the adequacy of the presence of God and the Word of God.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Gracious Call to Commitment, Joshua 1

In our last couple of posts, we considered the burden of leadership and how we carry that burden over the long haul by looking to the adequacy of God and the adequacy of His word.  In this post, I'd like to think with you about how our obedience to the Lord translates into graciously calling others to make a commitment to small group life.  As I have talked with may of you, there seems to be a lack of commitment to small group.  People have busy lives and small group just isn't always a priority?  Finding ourselves in a culture where personal autonomy is a deeply held value, we defer to other people's lack of commitment to small group.  But are we really serving them by doing so?  Consider with me a different path, that is, a gracious call to commitment.  I pick up the account in Joshua, Chapter 1.  

12 But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

Jacob had 12 sons.  His one son, Joseph, was sold as a slave and carried off to Egypt.  But God was with Joseph and Joseph had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.  And when Jacob was reunited with Joseph and met his sons, Jacob reckoned Manasseh and Ephraim as his own sons.  So when Moses is allocating the land to the tribes, Joseph doesn't get an inheritance but Ephraim and Manasseh do.  And this tribe of Manasseh is split in two.  Half of Manasseh will receive and inheritance west of the Jordan and the other half tribe of Manasseh, along with Reuben and Gad will receive an inheritance east of the Jordan.  

Joshua and the people are camping east of the Jordan.  And in that sense, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of  Manasseh have already reached the promised land.  But Joshua reminds them that Moses commanded them to go with their brothers to conquer the land west of the Jordan.  And so he asks them not only to consider their own tribes but their commitment to the larger community, that is the nation of Israel.  

One observation about this call to commitment to community is that it is a call to a high level of commitment.  Leave your wives, children and livestock behind.  Trust that the LORD will care for them in your absence.  Put your life on the line and go over to the west side of the Jordan, fully armed, ready for battle and fight for your brothers. It took 7 years to complete the conquest of Canaan.  

Secondly, this call to commitment is not just a human activity, that is, it's not just one person making a claim on another.  Notice that Moses carries this title, servant of the LORD.  It seems to be part of his name.  It's not just Moses, but Moses the servant of the LORD.  And so when Moses commands Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh to cross over the Jordan, he does so as God's representative.  

Finally, this is a gracious call to commitment.  By that, I don't mean that Joshua's manner of speech is gracious.  Joshua is a soldier and a pretty straightforward guy on a mission.  He does not use the interrogative voice, “Could you please cross over the Jordan?” but the imperative voice, “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you...all your fighting men, fully armed, MUST cross over ahead of your brothers.”

How then is this a gracious call to commitment to the community?  Joshua is actually being kind to them in calling them to commitment.  In the absence of the call, the default is selfishness.  By calling them to commitment, Joshua gives them the opportunity to look not only to their own interests, but also to the interest of others (Philippians 2:4).  Or in other words, Joshua is giving them the opportunity to be like Jesus, to lay down their lives and to love their people.

And then, wonderfully, Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh answer the call.  

16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 

Notice the parallelism and the repetition for emphasis indicating a glad and wholehearted commitment.  Not only will we do whatever you command but we'll go wherever you send us.    

17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. 

They acknowledge the succession from Moses to Joshua.  

17bOnly may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 

Do you hear the echo there?  The LORD says, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you;”  The people say, “Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses!”  

Here is another echo.  Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh say to Joshua, 

18bOnly be strong and courageous!”  

Isn't that heartening when your brothers tell you the same thing that the LORD has just told you?

How then are we going to apply what we have learned about the gracious call to commitment to our own situation here at Knox?  How do God's people express their commitment to on another in community? We all belong to the family of God.  And we express that belonging through our membership vows.

Do you promise to serve Christ in His Church by supporting and participating with 
this congregation in its service of God and its ministry to others to the best of your 

Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the Evangelical 
Presbyterian Church and to the spiritual oversight of this Church Session, and do 
you promise to promote the unity, purity and peace of the Church? 

These vows are only the beginning, right?  The vows give us the framework that we need to order our common lives.  

Some aspects of commitment are the frequency of contact with others and the content of the relationship.  So, if you come to worship and then quickly duck out after the benediction, it's certainly better than not coming at all.  But I would challenge this person by saying it's difficult to love 600 people in any meaningful way for an hour and a half on Sunday morning.  By committing to a small group, people are interacting with smaller numbers of saints in a meaningful way.    

The voice of God that spoke to Joshua all those centuries ago is the same voice that speaks to us.  In his day, Joshua's call was to conquer the land of Canaan.  And just as there was a battle in Joshua's day, so there is a battle in our own day.  But it's not a battle for land, but a battle for the hearts and minds of the men and women around us.  And we need to ask ourselves the question, “What are we inviting them to?”  The answer is, “A committed loving relationship with the living God and a committed loving relationship with His people.”  May it be so.

Discussion Questions
  • What is your typical week like?  M-F? Sat? Sun?
  • What people do you interact with during the week?
  • If there is one thing you would like to change, what would it be?