This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.
So I haven’t been particularly patient these past few days. And you know what? I really haven’t been very peaceful either. Kinda goes to show how interconnected these two fruits are. I guess I never thought of how much overlap there is between them, but now I’m not sure how we could really focus on one without integrating the other. I’m realizing that the definition of patience is far more than “grit your teeth and get through the current season,” and I’ve decided that true patience is hard.
In my prayer life, one thing that God is constantly challenging me to surrender to is His timing - to wait in His presence for His work to be completed in me. I’m fairly high energy, and, in a lot of ways, self-sufficient. I have a bad habit of making a decision that something should happen and acting on it without yielding to His timing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laced up my running shoes knowing full well I wasn’t healthy enough to be out there. And I continue to learn that my choosing when I’m ready rather than patiently waiting until I really am often fails to get me to the desired outcome and causes even further delays. And this lesson seems to manifest itself again and again from athletics to relationships to my career.
At times I desire to know the “why” behind delays associated with two torn ACLs, seasons of relational drought, and work opportunities that seem to be just out of my reach. But I care far more about outcomes than He does. And as we all know, He cares more about who we are becoming than what we are accomplishing. So, through it all, I’m beginning to learn patience in the journey, peace in the moment, and joy in Him.
This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
-Jesus (John 14:27)
When we started this week on peace, I found myself wondering what my interactions would look like if I really embraced His peace. Like all the time.
If I’m being honest, I’d say that fear is much more of a natural response for me. I like to think that if I intellectually prepare for what might happen I won’t get caught off guard, but how many times have I missed a moment of loving or praying for someone or just genuinely listening because I’m contingency planning about a “What if…”?
When I take a step back, I am fairly certain that my time is far better spent pursuing Him as compared to relying on my own strength (because that’s really what my “intellectual preparation” is – a fancy way of saying that I like to rely on myself). Yeek.
In those moments of stillness that I’ve taken over the last few days (and, I’ll admit, there haven’t been as many as there should have been), I’ve learned two things of note.
First – when I spend time pursuing Him and digging in, the likelihood of my embracing His peace amidst the curveballs of my day increases immensely. I’m pretty sure that’s not a coincidence.
Secondly – if I find myself slipping into fear and worry, that’s not the time to consider my day a failure and throw in the towel, but instead to go back to prayer and Scripture and worship and actively pursue Him and the peace that only He gives.
There are two ways that we can be at peace.
The first happens when everything externally is okay. Our lives are undisturbed. Nothing bothersome is going on. Nothing is uncertain. No one we love is sick. Us and ours are safe, secure, and happy.
This is the type of peace that the American dream pursues. If we work hard enough we can buy security and stability.
The problem with this kind of peace is that it never lasts. People die, jobs are lost, friends betray, spouses cheat, economies crash, and disasters happen. No matter how hard we work or how much money we have, we’re ultimately not in control.
The second way to be at peace is to recognize that in spite of these things, everything will be okay. I don’t mean this in a patronizing way. You know, when things are really bad and we tell people, “It will be okay.”
The fact is that in the near term, it might not be okay. It’s not okay when your parents disown you. It’s not okay when you lose your house. It’s not okay when your best friend succumbs to cancer. None of that is okay.
But that’s the short view. And while the things that happen in the short view matter, taking the long view is critical.
In the long view, we recognize that God is on the throne, that He is telling His story and working out His purposes in the world. We recognize that even if it’s all going to hell in a handbasket now, God is still at work, that He has called us and redeemed us, and that in the end we will reside with Him in a world that knows no sorrow, suffering, or pain. That in the end, it truly will be okay.
The Apostle Paul—the one who was imprisoned, beaten, and shipwrecked—puts it like this, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.
The past few months have been a fairly awesome season of life for me. I’ve explored Boston and the Grand Canyon, spent time with my family along Lake Erie, and celebrated my niece and nephew’s first birthday, complete with all the food a hungry caterpillar could eat. I’ve seen growth in established friendships and have even become more secure in my career: my first peer reviewed journal article will be published in early 2015.
Amidst the blessings, I am mindful not to let the happiness and emotion of the moment allow me to become complacent in my pursuit of true joy. When things are good, it's all too easy to coast along on outward successes and circumstances.
But joy that comes from God is unfailing and so much more powerful than anything that those circumstances can provide. When a nagging injury keeps me off my expected race time finish, when the fourth person takes me out to lunch to tell me she’s pregnant, and when my transmission dies resulting in forty-five minutes of quality time with a chain smoking tow truck driver named Kirby, I realize that yesterday’s events are not enough to sustain me and that I need to dig in to find the unwavering joy that only comes from Him.
With that, I hope you’ll excuse me – I have some unhurried time with God that I need to get to.
Joy isn’t something that I would say really characterizes my life, so I wanted to start the week by digging into the Scriptures to see what they say about it. As I was reading through the passages that Andrew put together for us, I took note of what each one said would bring joy:
Each day this week I’m going to read/meditate on the passages associated with one of these topics.
I started today with The Gospel and Salvation, and I can say that I have found joy in the midst of clogged sinks, water leaks, and little sleep.
In fact, much of my day was devoted to setting up for our baptism service tonight, and I’m not sure there was any better way to engage with the joy found in the Gospel and Christ’s saving work than celebrating with our baptism candidates.
Perhaps you've heard the saying, “Love conquers all.”
So many people get into trouble because they enter into a romantic relationship with their eyes closed and a simplistic understanding of that statement, but in it’s truest, deepest form, love actually does conquer all.
Love an inexplicable, unstoppable force that places the other above self and overcomes all obstacles.
In 1 Corinthians we read Paul’s description of love. 1 Corinthians 13 has been so overused and overplayed that it has become cliched, but if we stop and take a hard look at what Paul is saying, it’s astounding.
Paul writes that love is the foundation of patience, kindness, and faithfulness. He says that without love, even the sacrifice of our very lives is meaningless. He tells us that love is enduring and unending.
And this is where we get into trouble, because our imperfect love cannot conquer all. Love that is conditional and based on the response of the one loved is not truly love.
In the book of Hosea we catch a glimpse of true love. God calls Hosea to love his wife in spite of her infidelity. He calls Hosea to love Gomer regardless of her actions and the pain she causes him, and God says that Hosea’s marriage is a reflection of the love that God has for His people: love that is not contingent on the actions of the other but that exists unconditionally.
And on the cross we see just how far God’s unconditional love goes.
This week as I’ve sought to live a life of love, I have found myself incapable and inadequate, but I have also seen God answer my inadequacy and found that when I press into Him, I am able to begin to reflect His love to those around me.
It’s amazing how a little bit of focus can change your perspective.
I woke up this morning thinking about beginning this nine week challenge and what it means to love, and within three hours of starting my day (which started at 0530) I had noticed more about the people around me than I usually notice in a week.
From the prostitutes standing on the corner eight blocks from my house to the wounded warriors racing in a marathon with a hand cycle, I started to see people through different eyes this morning.
I evaluate people based on how they relate to me. The Starbucks barista rings me up quickly, so I like her. The driver in front of me is slow, so he is probably a person of low moral character. That guy over there has no impact on my life, so I don’t give him a second thought.
But today I tried to take a different perspective.. I found myself feeling the pain of working the corner all night to make a few dollars; feeling the horror of losing comrades, loved ones, and limbs in combat; wondering if guy cleaning the plaza feels like he's stuck in a dead-end job.
On the cross Jesus identified with us, took on our sin, suffering, and pain. Romans 5:10 tells us that while we were still God’s enemies, Christ died for us.
If God viewed us with compassion and love in the midst of our outright rebellion against Him, perhaps that is how I need to view others in the midst of my “busy schedule” and minor annoyances.
Perhaps that is where love begins.
It was nearly six years ago that I made the decision to quit my job on Capitol Hill to take an unpaid internship as a Protege at National Community Church.
It was a decision that radically altered the trajectory of my life.
If you are interested in vocational ministry or just want to spend a year growing as a leader and follower of Christ, I'd encourage you to check out the Protege Program. It's not just an internship, it's a year long leadership and character development program in which you are paired with a mentor from your chosen department.
I'd especially recommend checking out the Discipleship Team... but then, I'm biased.
Energetic, passionate, committed, relentless: these are just a few of the words that describe Ben Reed.
Ben is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow Baptist Church, a great faith community just outside of Nashville, where he is rethinking and restructuring group life. Before that he served as the groups pastor and then executive pastor for a church plant that grew to over 2000 in weekly attendance.
But more important to me than his impressive resume is that I have the privilege of calling Ben a friend, and I am excited to introduce you to his first book, Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint.
So Ben, for as long as I've known you, you've been a prolific blogger. What made you decide to write a book?
I felt like I had more to say than a series of blog posts could handle. I love blogging, but I was ready to be able to carry a sustained idea a little longer than a blog can.
The value of blogs is that they’re short and to-the-point. My book, though it’s intentionally short (70 pages), is a lot longer than you’d ever want to read on a blog post.
I love writing, and I really make sense of the world as I flesh my thoughts out that way. So the book was as helpful for me as it ever will be for anyone else.
You write about how your love of small group ministry comes out of your own experience in a group and the impact the group had on your life. As I read it, Starting Small is about systematizing that type of experience so that others can have it too. Other than picking up a copy of Starting Small, what advice would you have for folks who are just beginning to lead a small group ministry?
Grab the best leaders you know. Not necessarily the most spiritual, the ones who have been following Jesus the longest, or the ones that know the most Bible, but the best leaders. The ones that people want to follow.
And ask them to journey through life with you in your small group. Invest in them. Help them grow. Let them experience authentic community, see the beauty and power in it, then deploy them to lead as you coach them through the process.
That's good. Find the people with the most leadership capacity, and walk with them until they're spiritually ready... sounds kinda like making disciples.
In Chapter 2 you point out that few of us can name 10 sermons that impacted our lives but that we can almost certainly name 10 people who have invested in us. How can we help our group leaders become not just meeting facilitators but people who are making a significant investment in the lives of the people in their groups?
Help them see that the value of groups is not found in completing a curriculum, checking a box that says you “met,” or in coming to all of the right trainings.
The value of a small group is in people taking steps of faith together.
And when you see groups doing that, celebrate it!
Because what’s celebrated is what’s replicated. So when you “catch” someone doing the right thing, let them, and everyone else, know it.
I love that. Let me say that again in case anyone missed it.
Groups are about people taking steps of faith together, not completing the curriculum, and if you want more people to take steps of faith together, celebrate when it happens.
Okay, I should probably step down off my soapbox now.
In Chapter 3 you talk about the importance of a senior pastor in group life. If he or she is bought in, the congregation will notice. And if he or she isn't, the congregation will notice. What advice would you give to small group directors/pastors at churches where the senior pastor isn't fully invested in small groups?
Find a new church.
No, seriously, your church needs you. Don’t give up! Invite your pastor to join your group. And don’t put the pressure of leadership on them, or expectation that they’d wear their pastor hat every week. Just let them be themselves. Let them be a follower of Jesus on a journey, just like everyone else in the group.
As they see lives changing around them in the group, and as God changes their own life too, their sermon illustrations will change from being generic “I’ve heard a story of a guy that…” to, “In my small group this week…” That’s a powerful shift.
It is. Nothing communicates the value of group life like stories or even just mentions of group life. It's invaluable.
Speaking of sermons and church services, one of my favorite parts of Starting Small is in Chapter 5 where you offer a critique of modern worship services as hyper-individualistic. If you were designing a church service from the ground up, what would you do differently?
I would strategically use Sunday mornings as an on-ramp for community. Link the small group questions to the sermon. Tell the congregation that you realize all questions, concerns, and hang-ups can’t be answered here. And tell people constantly that what’s best for them is not that they’d just sit there and soak in, but that they (no matter where they are on their spiritual journey) can be used by God in huge ways to impact the people God’s brought into their lives.
Ben, thanks for spending a few minutes with us. If you haven't gotten a copy of Starting Small yet, be sure to order one. It would make a great gift for the small group lover in your life.
While you're at it, be sure to keep up with Ben on his blog, Life and Theology, as well as on Twitter.
It's interesting that people who used to be known aren't known anymore. The speakers at conferences like this when I was in my 20s aren't speaking anymore. People come and go.
My grandad's dying words were, "Don't let them forget me." How many of us know our great, great grandparents.
You will die sooner than you think.
You will be forgotten.
You will only be remembered by the people who know you now.
When we talk about legacy and being known, the power that you have, the moment that you have is now with the people you are with now.
When you see how much time you have left, you get serious about the time you have now.
I told some new parents that as soon as your child is born, you should put a suitcase in the nursery so that you can remember that you're packing their bags from day one.
This is not a new concept. PSalm 90:12 - Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
I'm not sure I know what a heart of wisdom is, but it's probably the opposite of stupid. ANd if you don't want to b e stupid, look at the time you have left in relationships.
When you see how much time you have left, you tend to make what matters matter more.
I think some of us get tired when we start thinking about our time. It makes us feel pressure.
We can talk about all kinds of things with kids, but there are a few things we really want them to walk away with, but you can't make them have those things.
As church leaders, we get confused about what we can and can't do. We think we can force kids into believing or something, but we can't. So we have to focus on the things we can do.
You can't make a kid love God, but you can demonstrate the love of God consistently.
You can't make a kid come to church, but you can make environments that make them want to come to church.
Focus in on the things you can do.
You can't see the immediate results. We're programmed to see what the win is.
You keep doing it because you trust that God is going to do his part.
We get confused between our part and God's part.
I am not God. I am not the Holy Spirit. I cannot change anyone. But I can love a few.
The reason you can't see spiritual growth in a kid's life is because it's spiritual.
The reason you can't measure progress sometimes is because it's so gradual.
My daughter has been an artist since she was two. She painted on the walls, on the tables, on our car. I just remember somewhere along the way the last few years, and her senseless art that didn't make sense started becoming more sophisticated and intricate.
You go back in time to when she was 2 or 3 or 4, I wasn't imagining the end. I had no idea there was a secret to life and legacy, and it's simply what time does over time.
When you look at time, you start seeing what can result if you continue to invest over time.
When you see how much time you have left you tend to value what happens over time.
When you take certain things and put them over time, it makes a difference.
How do you know God loves us? Because He loves us over time. Redepmtion could have happened the day after the garden, but I think he didn't because He wanted to prove he wanted a relationship with us. So he began to pursue a people, even when they rebelled, until finally he sent His Son.
When you take love and put it over time, it's believable.
How do we love? How do we convince people we love them?
The only way we can do it is consistently predictably over time.
We say it this way, "Love over time gives someone a sense of worth."
We're living in a generation of people who don't understand their worth and value, and they need to be known and valued by people who know God so that they know tehir value.
Fun over time equls connection.
Stories over time give connection.
Tribes over time give people a sense of belonging.
When you take something and put it over time, it changes the impact.
When you see how much time you have left, you tend to spend more time with a few.
Inheritance is what you leave for someone, legacy is what you leave in them.
Fame lives for applause, legacy lives to give applause.
Legacy is less about you and more about others, how you spend time with others.
Collectively the time you spend with a few leaves a legacy with them, and you begin to understand the people you are investing in is the greatest gift.
Until a person is known, they can't understand what it means to be loved.
You can't be forgiven by someone who doesn't know you. You're forgiven by people who have history with you.
Leaving a legacy has less to do with sometimes what we think about. Leaving a legacy, I think, has less to do with being magnificent and has more to do with being ordinary. I think it has more to do with being dependable than being remarkable.
A legacy recognizes and understands that you have a limited amount of time, and you'll have to step out of that at some point.
Doin't forget that you only be remembered by the people who know you now.