When you signed up to be a Small Group leader in your church, it is likely you didn't know exactly what you were signing up for. You knew that you wanted your group to be great - you knew that you wanted to create an atmosphere where people could "do life together." That's what most of us dream about when we sign up to lead a Small Group. We want to create an atmosphere of family. A place where people can come and be vulnerable - share their life experiences with us and find support among a group of friends. But most of the time there is this X-factor that we are looking to achieve in our Small Groups, that never quite gets fulfilled. We want our group to feel like family, but we're not sure how to quite get it there. Here are some tips for how to create a family atmosphere in your Small Group and how to make your Small Group matter to your members.
To My Future Husband …
From the time I was a young teenager, I have prayed for you. I remember laying in bed when I was 15 years old and every night as I quieted my heart to sleep, I wondered about you. I wondered what you would look like. Where you lived. How old you were and if you were waiting for me too. As I wondered and dreamed of all the things you could be, I prayed. I prayed for you to meet Jesus, if you hadn’t already. I prayed for your purity and your heart. I prayed that you would be kind and gentle. That you would love your Mama well. That you would hold out for me, in a world that told you to settle. And I prayed that above all, we would love God well through our lives.
I was reading a book this morning on the balcony of my apartment, surrounded by pink and white begonias and some little purple flower I planted back in the spring that I actually don’t know the name of. I try to be a gardener, but let’s be honest… I just fake it till I make it. Cooking I can do. Baking is right up my alley. Making a house a home, I got that. But gardening… let’s just say that my thumb is not green. If it’s a color, it’s the blackest black. I have tried for the last few years to plant flowers in the spring and keep them alive until the frost overtakes them and they die a slow, painful death. And for the past few years… I have failed. I thought surely I had fallen short again this year because I was away from home for a good portion of the summer. And although I had bought the overpriced marble bulbs from Lowe’s that are supposed to slowly release water into your flowers while you are away, I came home from my trip to Seattle to find that the bulbs were still completely full of water… Not a drop had released into my precious begonias. And they were dry. Bone dry. Oh, how I wish I had a green thumb. It’s just not my spiritual gift.
It was a Wednesday morning in the dead of winter. It was my sixth winter in Indiana and I could not remember a winter that felt more bleak. This winter was actually the best one I'd seen in Hoosier Country as far as the weather goes. The snow was practically nonexistent this year... however, neither was the sun. I could not remember another time in my entire life when I went weeks upon weeks living in a cloudy, foggy daze and not seeing the sun for what felt like months. I had been fighting depression for about a month and I honestly didn't know if it was the lack of sun or the hopeless situation I found myself wallowing in. I'm sure a combination of both. But let's be honest, whether it's seasonal depression or just depression in general, it's never fun and it always has the ability to overtake you when you least expect it.
On this particular Wednesday morning I had a full day scheduled on my calendar. Meetings to go to and people to care for. I needed to be in the office by 9am. My alarm went off and I woke up in a hazy state of mind. I opened my eyes and hopelessness began to take over my entire body. I had never felt like this before. I wasn't sure what to make of it. The idea of getting out of bed seemed like a task that was so heavy and daunting, that I honestly didn't know if I could do it. Eventually I pushed myself to get up and start getting ready. I remember trying to get my makeup on and make myself look like everything was okay. When in reality, all I felt was numbness. Depression has the ability to make us feel as though we're prisoners in our own bodies. Something inside of me wanted to fight for joy, but everything I was experiencing kept me locked inside of my own downward spiral of emotions.
I read something today that encouraged me to reflect on what I’ve learned in the last 10 years about myself and about the world and about God. It prompted me to write a letter to my younger self, and since this year marks my 10-year class reunion, I figured it was as good a time as any to get weepy about how quickly time passes. The following is a letter written to my 18-year old self.
April 18, 2016 will forever be a date that I remember and look back on with fondness and undying gratitude. It was the day of my 27th birthday and the day that I decided to change my life. For a year and a half prior to this day, I spent my time grieving something that wasn’t mine to grieve. A year and a half earlier I decided to end a relationship that I believed was supposed to be my happily ever after (read about it here). I ended it because I knew God was calling me to; it was almost as if I could hear God saying, “It’s him or Me.” Of course in the moment, I was strong and able; I knew I would do or give up anything for the One who gave it all for me. However, the days, weeks, months, and years following proved to be a much more difficult road.
In three days I’ll be blowing out 28 candles on my all-time favorite dessert: birthday cake. But none of that fancy stuff. They say your tastes mature and get fancier as you get older… Not me, buddy. Just plain white cake with white buttercream frosting, please. With lots of roses. And multi-colored sprinkles. As my 28th year approaches and my mouth waters for the taste of that sweet birthday cake, I figured now would be a great time to do some reflecting on 27. This year has been one of the most transformational of my entire life. The Lord did such a beautiful work in my heart this year and it all started on my 27th birthday.
I've never really written anything about how my heart was broken two and a half years ago. Nothing intended to be seen by anyone but me and God, anyway. However, God spoke some very clear things to me tonight as I laid down to sleep, and I couldn't quiet my mind long enough to rest until I got it out on paper. I feel very deeply that this message is intended for someone, and so... I will write. And I will be vulnerable. Much more vulnerable than I am comfortable with. But God can work through vulnerability. When I stay silent is when my pain becomes nothing more than pain. The following is a story about how I found God's grace in the midst of a broken heart.
To the Pastor of the Small Church:
I see you.
You're my friend. You're my colleague. You're my co-laborer. And secretly, you're one of my heroes. Maybe that last statement seems odd to you. Give me a moment to explain.
2017. Another year has come and gone and I find myself sitting on the floor of my apartment asking myself, "What was 2016 all about?" In the glow of my Christmas tree that I have yet to put away, I ask: What did I learn? How did I grow? What could I have done better? What did I do well? I pull out my fancy spiral bound notebook that has the words "Dream Big" written on the cover. Its the place that I write down prayers, dreams, hurts, and hopes. I begin to search the pages of the notebook that has a very detailed chronology of 2016. I smile big as I relive the moments of God's faithfulness. I let the caverns of my heart ache a little as I remember the seasons of grief. I turn to a fresh page and I begin to make a timeline of the previous year. I write down the highlights (good and bad) of each month. And I begin to pray.
Sometimes it's funny being a Youth Pastor. On occassion, I'll be reviewing my lesson for the week that comes from our Orange curriculum, and I'll think to myself, "Wow. I really needed to hear that." That is exactly what happened this past week.
Life has been extra crazy the last few months. In September, my Grandmother was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and within 3 weeks of her diagnosis, she was in the arms of Jesus. Nothing can prepare you for that kind of shock. Nothing can prepare you for the toll it takes on you emotionally, physically, or spiritually.
I love this stage of my life. I love being a 20-something woman. There is so much beauty in this stage and I'm finding so much grace in the day to day living. There is something I'm noticing about being a 20-something woman, though. Most of us are a mess. Did you just say, "amen" in your head? I don't know what it is specifically, but I am noticing more and more that 20-something women have a heightened amount of "junk" in their lives. I'm sure it's true of every age and both genders - that we all deal with the "junk" in our lives on a daily basis. However, I'm noticing that it is especially true and especially difficult for 20-something women.
If one thing is true in my life, it’s that I fight insecurity on a daily… hourly… sometimes minute to minute basis. I have never dealt more with insecurity in my life than when I began my career in ministry. The more ministry leaders that I meet and the more people I talk to in general, the more I understand this widespread disease of insecurity. And it’s not just in women – insecurity sometimes runs deepest in men.
Single at 27. That’s something 15-year-old Stephanie would have never imagined her life looking like. I had this plan as a teenager and young college freshman - I would be married by 22, spend 5 years of wedded bliss with my rugged, manly husband, and start a family shortly after. It was all planned out – and in my mind, it was perfect. The only missing piece to my amazingly orchestrated life-map was the man of my dreams waltzing in, prince charming style, and sweeping me off my feet. I was sure God would send him to me in college…. Err, maybe grad school…. Hmm… possibly when I got a good job?
And here I am, 27 years old. No prince charming in sight. I’ll be completely honest – because that’s the only way I think this whole blogging thing will work – I am terrible at being single. Absolutely, 100%, no question about it – I’m a horrible single person.
Being a pastor, I talk to all kinds of people on a daily basis. One thing is true of most people I come in contact with – they have a problem with worrying. Worry is a common thread that runs through most of humanity – whether you’re male or female, young or old, rich or poor, spiritual or not – worry has a tendency to affect us all to some degree.
Personally, I have dealt with this burden of worry for many years. I often times find myself so frustrated with my inability to counteract these thoughts of worry. Why can’t I monitor my thoughts better? Why can’t I keep myself from worrying? Jesus was clear about the affect worry has on our bodies. He said, “Who of you can add a single hour to his life by worrying?” It’s pretty clear to me from this passage that worrying doesn’t add anything to our life; in fact, I would go so far as to say it is killing us – it’s literally making our lives shorter. If you’re reading this, chances are you know the true heaviness that comes with worry. The good news is, you don’t have to continue being a slave to it. Here are five things I’ve learned over the years about how to counteract this vicious enemy:
This past weekend I gave a small devotional thought at the beginning of our worship time at The Gathering. I talked about how summer is a time of rest for a lot of us - at least we hope it will be! In my own life, though, I often get to the middle of July and realize that the summer has completely gotten away from me. Instead of feeling rested as I enter into the fall season, I feel worn out and in need of a break. Sound familiar? This summer, I hope you will be able to enjoy vacations with your family, lazy days by the pool, and maybe a bonfire or two with your friends - but don't get caught in the hectic summer trap that so many of us do this time of year. Here are a few ways I am committing to making this summer different:
Hi! My name is Stephanie, and I'm the girl behind this blog! I'm a pastor and a writer and a lover of all things chocolate. As you browse the content on this page, I hope you find yourself encouraged and smiling. At some moments, perhaps you would even shed a tear or two. Most importantly, I pray you find hope in whatever season you're walking through. We are in this journey together, and my calling is to encourage you along the way!