10 Reflections on 3 years of Guided Reading Group

grudemSo I’ve recently finished the Guiding Reading Course which I piloted with some folks here at Grace using Grudem’s Systematic Theology. It’s taken a year longer than it should have but my overall impression is that it has been a useful time and well received by the participants. We’re planning on rolling it out again soon with a bigger group so, in light of that, here are my general reflections:

  • Regularity is important. By missing sessions here and there the course did drag toward the end. Stick the dates in and plough on through.
  • Drop out is inevitable. Some people discovered quickly it wasn’t their thing. Others’ circumstances changed over the course which meant they couldn’t continue. That’s ok – part of the process, and not something to stress overly about.
  • Less is more. Initially my question sheets and extra reading was overly ambitious. Fewer questions, a bit less/lighter/easier supplementary reading, and space for discussion works better. Think discussion group, not lecture.
  • Grudem is a good source book. I don’t agree with everything in there but it is sufficiently solid, thorough, clear, and readable that I haven’t found anything better.
  • Range in the supplementary reading is important, both in terms of view-point, but also across the centuries. One of the best bits has been to read across history from Athanasius to Keller. A little exposure to the big names has been useful and appreciated.
  • People won’t always complete the reading. Busy people with busy lives will sometimes struggle to get through it – that’s ok; don’t beat them up. They can still partake and benefit from the chat.
  • People need reassuring of the value of what they’re reading. What I mean is some of our folk felt they couldn’t retain anything. Actually we retain more than we think and an introduction to theology is never wasted.
  • Application is crucial. At least one final question on the ‘so what’ of all this heady theology is so important to transform theory into practice. Theology done right must lead to doxology.
  • The personal benefit to me of reading and prepping this stuff is huge. If we keep this thing going it means every couple of years I’ll revise this stuff, which can only help me as a pastor, right!?
  • If you have a smaller group (3-4) a pub is a great venue – ale, pig jigsaw (pork scratchings), and meaty theology – don’t get much better people.

You can find the course syllabus and all the session sheets on the Guided Reading Group Tab at the top. Feel free to use and amend in any way you like, if at all useful. Any tips do let me know.

Why being ‘Ordinary’ is OK

ordinaryI’ve recently started reading a book by Michael Horton called Ordinary. I haven’t read it all so I can’t recommend it whole-heartedly but what I have read so far I like. Horton’s basic thesis is that we’re often enticed by the new, radical, exciting, and extraordinary. Actually, what would be good for most of us would be a return to the ‘Ordinary.’ Horton’s intro has a brilliant satirical piece taken from an American rag about an unambitious guy called Mike Husmer who has to suffer the ignominy of sticking around the place he grew up and having a deep sense of satisfaction through lasting and fulfilling relationships. In particular Horton encourages church leaders to embrace what have historically been termed the ‘ordinary means of grace’ – that is the word, prayer, and the sacraments. It’s a long game we’re playing and we don’t all have to change the world in the next 6 months. There’s a particularly stimulating chapter on how all of this plays out in youth and kids ministry, but I won’t spoil that for you!

gimmicksIn a similar vein is a book on youth ministry by Brian Cosby entitled Giving Up Gimmicks. Again, haven’t read it but a mate reviewed it at a conference I was at and I thought ‘there’s a book I need to read’ and probably give to my team. Same basic principle – how do we use the ordinary means of grace in youth and kids ministry.

I gave a talk last week at a youth and kids worker conference entitled ‘Discipleship – A Long Game.’ I think these books tap into what I was trying to say which is stick around, do the best you can, and see if God doesn’t use his ordinary means over a 10, 15, or 20 year stretch.

Getting Your Group Discussion Moving

I met with one of our small group leaders yesterday who felt his group had got a little flat of late. I’m sure many of us can identify with his feeling. Attendance had got patchy, people were turning up 20 minutes late, and discussion rambled on unenthusiastically. We talked about how to address his situation. Part of it is a little bit of ‘stick’ to encourage them to be there, and be there on time, but we talked more about ‘carrot’ – how to make their times together enjoyable to the point of being unmissable. Here’s what I suggested in a nutshell:

1. Start on time (and let people know you’ll be starting on time). For those that are a bit particular about time (like me!) you don’t want to turn up on time and sit around waiting for 20 mins. You want to get in and get on with it.

2. Keep your opening icebreaker/devotional brief. It’s a 3-4 minute slot to get everyone focused on what you’ll be doing. If it drags out to 15 mins people will get frustrated that you haven’t really got into what you’re there for yet.

3. Keep the discussion moving. I’m not a great fan of the long list of closed questions Bible study. I think often the answers are so obvious that people are too embarrassed to answer them – it just creates an awkward dynamic. Further they can turn into an opportunity for clever people to look clever and less clever people to feel stupid. Not good! Instead think of your discussion like a train journey. You know where you’re starting, and where you’ll finish, and the stops you want to make along the way. You want a bit of structure with flexibility built in. And keep it going. However long your groups give to discussion stick to it. If you let discussion run on and on some will love it and some really won’t. You’ll also end up squeezing out your prayer time into a rushed five minutes at the end.

4. Leave good space at the end to share and pray together, and be sure to finish on time. Again, the time nerds will greatly appreciate it, as will the people who have to be up early.

I’m aware this may sound a bit mechanical. I’m certainly not saying that your groups ‘hang’ time is incidental or unimportant. I actually think those times are really important and can actually get unhelpfully squeezed out by long rambly ‘formal’ discussion time. But I do think that for many people, who turn up tired (and often unmotivated) you need to keep things moving – good energy, good pace, starting and finishing on time – it just helps put a bit of zip back into your small group meetings.

What do you think?

Read Along With Me: Chesterton’s Orthodoxy


Just before Christmas I was bed-bound with a very severe case of man-flu; there were points where I thought I might not make it. Unsurprisingly my beloved was unsympathetic. However, on the plus side, my affliction did present me the opportunity to re-read a book I first enjoyed reading a few years ago: G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Reading it again did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm, and I thought I’d blog my way through the book over the next couple of months – one post a week. So if you’d like to get a copy (free on kindle!) and join the adventure I’ll be posting chapter summaries once a week beginning in February. I won’t do much in the way of analysis – more stringing together my favourite quotes. Anyways, I’ll be having fun – you’re welcome to join me.

Quality Honking: What We Can Learn From Geese

109px-AleutianCanadaGoose2Today I am stealing yet another illustration from a colleague – there’s nothing new under the sun.

It comes from the world of flying geese – yes, you read that right. Here’s five amazing facts about flying geese, first noted by Geese Science Dudes:

Fact 1: As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock has 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

Fact 2: When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

Fact 3: When the lead bird tires, it rotates back into the formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

 Fact 4: The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

Fact 5: When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation to catch up with the flock.

So, whoever you work with, whatever you do, make 2015 a year of quality honking!


Drug Pushing, Dates, and Sharing Your Faith

120px-EspressoA guest post by Ray Evans. Ok, not really, but since I’m plagiarising half his talk yesterday I thought I ought to put his name at the top. Our pastor, Ray, has a good knack for finding stimulating similes that stir the soul, and yesterday was no exception.

For many of us our faith is really important to us. It’s the way we look at, and make sense of, the world, and it shapes our thoughts, values, and behaviours. It’s a natural and central part of who we are, what we do, and how we live. But when it comes to talking about faith we can get really weird. Our faith joins our politics and our salary in that room in our house, the door to which never gets opened when friends are round. If we do talk about it we often behave like a drug pusher or a spotty teenager trying to ask out a member of the opposite sex. We make sure no-one else is about, talk in code, and hope for a bite. We often bail before it gets to the crucial moment because we can’t risk it being out there in the open. Our hands sweat, our stomachs churn, and our mouths get dry. We can feel our hearts beating faster. We try and keep it all together and not get weird but it can’t be helped. If we don’t get a bite we try to play it cool; if we do it’s all in. What we need is to just be a bit more normal, to find ways to talk naturally about the things that matter to us – including our faith.

The Christian in Sport guys have a simple way to think about this. It goes their story, your story, his story. All it means is always ask other people about themselves first – find out about people, take an interest, don’t treat them as a project. Just be a normal human being! And then you might get a chance to talk a bit about your story – about yourself, what you enjoy, family, hobbies, and yes, faith – which inevitably leads to his story. You sharing your faith will lead you talk about who and what you believe in. And most people out there won’t bite your head off; most people are genuinely interested in other people, their views, what makes life tick etc. We just have to be a bit more natural, a bit less nervous and weird, and a bit more prepared to talk about the things in that room.


Footnote: A fair amount of the above has come from the helpful insights of Graham Daniels and Christians in Sport. Danno is a top bloke and CIS are a great organisation. Look them up, get involved.