Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Growth Group Reflections

I'm 4 weeks into leading our first Growth Group and here are a few reflections so far. . .

  • It's challenging. I'm a pastor. What I do is talk to people and work with people. But I'm surprised how much leading a Growth Group has stretched me. It gives me great empathy for our 30 other Growth Group leaders, their commitment and vulnerability in leading. We do lots of spiritual things with each other and next to each other, but to turn toward each other and process spiritual things and our faith together . . . that's really a stretch for most of us. It's challenging for everyone to get there. It's challenging to manage the time--it goes so fast. It's challenging to host and lead.
  • It's a commitment. Just setting aside the time each week is a commitment. One more thing in our already busy lives. Hosting is a commitment. It's impossible not to clean-up a little bit. Having 25+ people in your home each week necessitates some clean up afterward. I've been making soup each week. Others have been bringing side-dishes each week. This, too, is a commitment. We have to plan for this. We have to plan around this.

  • It's intimate. It's vulnerable for anyone and everyone to open up your life, struggles, faith and doubts to other people. To ask for prayer and be prayed for. This involves ongoing risk taking.

  • It takes time. Our group is connecting much more naturally in week 4 than we did in week 1. There is definitely a life-cycle to these groups. Week 1 was frustrating and felt forced. But already by week 4, I feel like we know what's happening in one another's lives and are jumping right in with one another.

  • It requires God working. If our group or any group is going to go, God must show up. God must work in our regular gathering. He's got to enable us to take risks and open up to one another. He's got to help us keep the commitment. He's got to lead and guide and illumine the word. He's got to help and give wisdom and discernment and spiritual freshness to Growth Group leaders. Because of the aforementioned factors, He's got to make it happen. I realize I can't make this group go or these people grow apart from Him. I have prayed hard for our group. I've prayed harder and more consistently than ever for our 30 Growth Groups and their leaders.

  • It's a rhythm. It's so easy to think of our lives as shaped by events and purchases. I think rhythms and practices shape us. Rhythms and practices are more subtle and go deeper and take longer. I see our weekly Growth Group as a life-shaping practice. It's not about any one week, but about connecting and practicing gathering with God's people.

  • It's so worth it. Though it's a lot of work and challenging, I look forward to our group each week. It's been so sweet sharing a meal together weekly and having kids present with us. It feels like these families are, in a small way, living life together. I expect this feeling will only grow. I'm more convinced than ever, that this is what life is about and this is how God intends for us to live. Our Growth Group is a lab where we're working in and working out and applying the Gospel.

Leading a Growth Group is one of a couple of things that has kept me away from blogging recently. That's a good thing. Less electronic and more real life.

I'd love to hear some thoughts from others of you who are in Growth Groups here at Grace this Spring. Share your experience. Share some encouragement or even a challenge. . . .

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Adopt-A-People Update

As we've shared, we are slowly, but steadily moving toward focusing our missions outreach toward the adoption of an unreached people group (UPG).

An unreached people group is a people group united by a common language and culture where there is not yet a self-sustaining multiplying church.

Following our fun map project, where we gathered lots of congregational input, we sense the Lord is focusing our selection process toward Indonesia or India. In other areas, there are a plethora of unreached peoples.

Our terrific Adopt-A-People Team recently shared the following guidelines/preferences they are using to help focus our search for the appropriate UPG for Grace:

  • We want hands on involvement with the people we adopt.
  • We desire a long-term missionary placement (though not necessarily from Grace).
  • We want to be able to send short-term teams.
  • We prefer a UPG where we already have connections.
  • We favor partnerships with other churches, agencies, etc.
  • Prefer a people easily accessible by air travel
  • The larger the people group, the better.
  • Sensitive to the security of the country we will work in - prefer a "safe" environment.
  • Sensitive to the religious culture of the people - prefer those peoples least likely to find the "Christian God".

I think these are excellent guidelines.

Our APG Team Leader, Tim Arlen, is right now in India with a team from Atascadero Bible Church exploring partnering opportunities with Empart. I very much wanted to go on this trip, as well, but I just couldn't pull it off.

The need is enormous in India and Tim has been sending back some incredible and heart-wrenching reports, like this one. . .

Dear Partners in the Gospel,

Believe it or not, this is the first chance I've had to e-mail. We've had long days from early morning to late at night. I do not have a laptop with me, so I must depend on the internet room at our hotel. Not very accessible or convenient. Additionally, they have asked me to preach/teach a few times, which has consumed any free time I might otherwise have had. (I did not come prepared for that, but..."be instant in season and out of season"!) All that to say I'm sorry it has taken me this long to get a message out, but I see that Tammy has forwarded you some of Tom Ferrell's e-mails. He has given you a pretty good picture of the time we have spent here thus far.

It is now early Sunday evening and we leave for Agra soon to bring some encouragement to a snake charmer caste. I'm not sure exactly what we will be doing with them, but I'm told it will be some form of a caste reconciliation program. We are getting ready to travel overnight on the train which they say is a must experience! Can't wait to fill you all in!

In the next few days I hope to spend some one-on-one time with Jossy Chacko, the head of the Empart movement. I have many questions for him in light of what I've experienced here and thinking about our potential partnership with him. Please pray that we will be able to communicate clearly and honestly with each other so that I can have accurate and complete information to evaluate prayerfully with all of you. This trip has been a different sort of experience for me as I've tried to process everything as a representative of Grace Church rather than only as Tim Arlen. Please continue to pray for me that I may be able to have the wisdom of God in understanding the "heart" of this ministry and in forming some preliminary conclusions about having a long-term relationship with them.

I hope to have the opportunity to e-mail again, but I cannot guarantee anything. My time is not my own. I will definitely look forward to giving a complete report of my observations and experiences here after I return home. In the meantime I so appreciate your prayers. I have given your greetings to all the brothers and sisters here every chance I've had. And they are greatly encouraged by the fact that a church on the central coast of California is praying for them and considering a partnership with them in the advance of the gospel throughout North India. Let us pray that God will continue to empower these believers to reach their goal of 100,00 churches by 2020!

Your Servant in Christ,

Tim Arlen

Let's pray that the Gospel will run in India and that the Lord will direct our steps! Let's uphold Tim and his team in prayer.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Monday post-Easter

I'm tuckered out from a day of preaching and family fun yesterday. Easter Services were full and rich. It was a blessing to plumb the depths of Hebrews 7:25, sort of an irregular Easter text.(listen here!)

This evening is our first Growth Group. I can tell the whole family is excited. It was fun to hear our 13 and 11 year old girls strategically planning for how to keep the little ones occupied. Chili is in the pot. Cornbread will go in at 5:00. Everyone should be here by 6:00.

I'm in a unique position as not just the facilitator of the discussion, but also the creator of the content. I'm not sure how this will go, but I really don't want to be the pastor. We'll see how it goes. . . . I'll let you know.

Since is Easter vacation for many, Growth Groups are sort of "soft starting" this week. If you missed all the sign-ups, but want to get into a group this quarter, email Pastor Steve.