Wanting Your Input on a New Series of Small Group Lessons

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I am writing the next set of curriculum for 2013 for our small groups. It is going to be called “Dealing with Life’s Difficulties” and will break down into three main categories:

  • Dealing with difficult situations
  • Dealing with difficult decisions
  • Dealing with difficult people

This is going to be intensely practical. I would like to hear some suggestions of what topics you think would be most important to hit on these subjects so we can use this series to give biblical guidance on how to get through it all. Please comment below with any suggestions you might have. Thanks guys!

11 Responses

  1. For dealing with difficult situations. A possible topic might be: How can we encourage ourselves in the Lord? (as David did in 1 Samuel 30:6)
    Possible answers include:
    -Listen to God’s music.
    -Sing praises.
    -Talk to yourself about God’s promises.
    -Talk to yourself about God’s blessings.
    -Give thanks.
    -Listen to God’s word.
    -Read God’s word.
    -Seek God out in God’s creation.
    -Change the voice in your head–stop beating yourself up and talk to yourself as Christ would talk to you.

    For dealing with difficult decisions. A possible topic might be how Moses dealt with Zelophehad’s daughters when they asked for their father’s inheritance. Here’s the head guy, the one who wrote all the laws, and yet, his first response is to pray about his decision. (Numbers 27:1-11) Possible responses when faced with difficult decisions might include:
    -1st response–pray. Why not tap into the One who is all knowing, all seeing, and all wise?
    -Search scripture for similar decisions.
    -Take time whenever you can. Risk managers often comment on how people blow decisions because they pull the trigger too fast on decisions that are not time sensitive. Some of the wisest people I know have a three day minimum waiting rule for big decisions.
    -Consider fasting–an out of fashion, under used avenue given to us by God.

    For dealing with difficult people. A possible topic might be dealing with overbearing personalities. Whenever I’ve attended any interpersonal dynamics training, this was the personality most people had trouble with. Some personality models call this type a “choleric.”
    What works with these types of people:
    Have a good work ethic
    Present details of any concerns
    Ask their advice
    Highlight the facts
    Whenever you can, let them do things their way
    Be up front and honest
    Appreciate their abilities
    Draw boundaries on them and stick to them
    Stay on topic when talking with them
    Be organized and efficient
    Give them options
    Understand their need to have projects and goals

    What doesn’t work:
    Being overly emotional
    Assuming they know what you feel
    Giving ultimatums or threats
    Taking their abrasiveness personally
    Allowing them to overpower you
    Allowing them to disrespect you
    Trying to control them
    Making decisions for them
    Forcing them to verbalize their feelings

    All this personality information is from a pastor named Bill Gallagher. He has more on his website: https://teamworks-works.com/ I’ve found him to be very helpful in this area.

    Hope this helps Matt. Shoot me an email if I can do anything further.


  2. In Luke 12, someone comes to Jesus with a difficult situation (and person? and decision?). Someone out of the crowd said, “Teacher, order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance.” He replied, “Mister, what makes you think it’s any of my business to be a judge or mediator for you?” (The Message)
    In other words, Jesus says, “You think that’s why I came?! You think that’s what I’m about?! You think I’m here to micromanage your life?! You think that the Scriptures, WHICH TESTIFY OF ME, are about how to micromanage your life?!”
    If you’re wanting to give your small groups “practical advice” on these topics, why not just go to Amazon and get them copies of the most-highly ranked, secular books written by people specializing in those topics?

    1. Joey,

      You don’t think scripture has anything at all to say about our decisions, dealing with people etc? Why did Jesus even preach the sermon on the mount then? I think you are missing the point that there are BIG issues (Salvation, etc) and then there are related every day issues that flow out of the big issues. How we live our lives from day to day and the decisions we have to make are important to God and it is important that we look to scripture for guidance on these. So, to answer your question about why not just get a secular book…I won’t do that because scripture has a lot to say about these things. Read Paul’s epistles. He deals with all sorts of issues in the church. All of those letters are ridiculously practical. I hope you will re-think your approach. Thank you for helping me re-examine my own and make sure that I am coming at this right. I am now more certain than I was before that I am.

  3. If you feel you must teach such a course, then I would recommend a book by Garry Friesen called Decision Making and the Will of God. He’s going in a direction that we don’t usually hear.

    Yes, there are BIG issues. I wonder if your target audience has a grasp of those big issues. Do they know, for example, that Jesus came preaching the “Kingdom” and what that Kingdom is? Do they know what the Abrahamic Covenant is? The Davidic Covenant? Do they really know what atonement is? Do they know what is happening at the Supper? In the narrative of baptism? What is happening when we sing? When we give? Do they know that when Matthew presents Jesus going “up on the mount” to preach his sermon that he wants to bring Moses to the minds of his (Jewish) readers and how that relates to the rest of what he’s doing in his Gospel? Do they know that Matthew did not intend for the SOTM to be read in isolation from the rest of his Gospel? Do they really know what Sin is? Do they know the power that God exercises through them (Eph 1)? Do they know that as they sit at table with Jesus that they are judging the world (Luke 22)? Do they know what “Gospel” Moses was preaching (Heb 4)? Do they know what it means that we beat the world by our faith (1 John 5)? Do they know what the curse of Genesis 3 really is? Do they know what Genesis 1 would have meant to an ancient type person? Do they know who the Servant is in Isaiah 53? Do they know what Paul is doing referring to himself as the Servant in Acts 13? Do they know what it means that we are the Body of Christ? Do they know what Luke is doing when he reports that Jesus says to Saul, “Saul, why are you persecuting ME”? Do they know Daniel 7 and where that is fulfilled? Do they know what it means that the creation will be redeemed (Rom 8)?
    All of these things, and much more, are critical – BIG – parts of the “narrative” – a term I’ve seen you use a bit. Once our people have these BIG (i.e. important) issues down, then I would say move on to “decision making.”
    Look at the list that Kurt made above. (I’m not picking on Kurt. What he’s written is typical of what is done when we try to teach such a “Bible” class.) All of what is written there could just as easily and just as effectively be taught by an atheist. “Let’s see….I’d like to teach on decision-making today, so I will take this episode from the life of Joseph and teach a class on decision-making,” as though that is Joseph’s function. When we do such things, we reduce the Biblical characters to collections of virtues and vices that we are either to emulate or not. And it gives the impression – one more time – that that is the function of scripture. That teaches people that scripture is NOT a narrative. Rather, it is a self-help manual on how to have financial peace, have nice marriages, raise nice kids, etc.
    When we teach the same things that people can get at the local, community college, we gray the lines between us and the world. We make ourselves irrelevant. The community college can do it better than we. (And we bore our audience.) All we have to offer is a Story. Do we know that Story?
    Mind you, Matt, I’m not questioning your motives or heart. I have no doubts about your faith. Yes, I’m speaking bluntly in what I’ve written above – I’m confident that you can take it. But I am certain that at this point in our history, our people don’t need self-help classes. We need to know who God is, what he’s doing and who we are in relation to his Story. If we are to survive as a fellowship, that is our only hope.

    1. Joey,

      I think you have good intentions here. I really do. I think also you have to be careful because you don’t know our context. You don’t know our history. You don’t have our audience or their maturity. You don’t know what we have taught. You don’t know so many things but you talk as if you do in your use of “we”. Instead, you might use “some” and it would fit better. Instead you lump me, you or whoever you like into one broad clump and make broad generalizations about what we are doing and whether or not “we” can do it any better than the local community college. I can assure you that “we” are doing it better than the local community college here in St. Pete. I am not sure where you live or what your background is or where you are coming from. Maybe you can shed some light on that and it would make more sense out of your comments.

      So what you said might fit with some church or class or small group somewhere but it does not characterize our approach in the least. I am sure Kurt would say the same.

    2. So Joey, what input do you have on what the Christians around you are struggling with most, that we might open up scripture to listen to what God has told us via His Word?

  4. If you’d like to engage on this issue or any other, send me an email. If you’d like for me to fly to St Petersburg to talk face-to-face, I’d be willing to do that, too.

  5. “Why did Jesus even preach the sermon on the mount then?”

    The only place that (what we call) “The Sermon on the Mount” exists is in the narrative that IS Matthew’s Gospel. Similar words are found in the narrative that is Luke’s Gospel, but they are different words and serve a different function. It is doubtful that the sermon presented in Matthew’s narrative occurred as presented and with the same, exact wording. Matthew was most likely remembering parts of different sermons that Jesus spoke on different occasions. Jesus probably had a “canned” sermon that he spoke from town-to-town, varying it, depending on his audience. Even if he did speak these exact words, the words are not the same without the context.

    The only place that the SOTM exists is in the narrative that IS Matthew’s Gospel. It doesn’t exist anywhere else. We speak of it as though it exists and functions independent of Matthew’s Gospel, preaching sermons, teaching classes, and writing books about it, as though it exists on its own. But taking the SOTM out of the narrative that is Matthew’s Gospel changes it’s function. (Can you think of any other examples in literature where what is written has one function within the narrative, but apart from the narrative it would be different?) Taking the SOTM out of the narrative reduces it, as your comment suggests, to mere, moral instruction. That was not Matthew’s intention. Matthew’s Gospel is a narrative. Narrative functions differently. Narrative is firstly, and, mostly, descriptive, not prescriptive. Narrative is shaping, forming, and inspiring. Narrative functions to storify. And what is true of an entire book (Matthew’s Gospel) is true of the individual verses: descriptive, not prescriptive.

    Matthew also gives us a clue about his intentions with his inclusio. He begins his Gospel with allusions to the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. He ends with Jesus being the fulfillment of those covenants: “All power has been given to me…Go into all the world.” Matthew presents Jesus as King of all, and “all the nations of the earth” have been blessed. (Seeing it in this light kinda changes our understanding of the “Great Commission,” eh?) His inclusio helps us to understand why he has written what he has written. He wants us to see Jesus as fulfillment. What is true of the entire book is true of the individual verses.

    Matthew’s narrative is that of poverty-stricken, Roman-oppressed Jews looking for a Messiah. They were looking for deliverance. Imagine Jesus speaking to such people telling them, basically, “You need to sin less. You need to be nicer.” Imagine these illiterate, oppressed peasants transcribing the (so-called) SOTM, taking it home, dissecting and atomizing each word, reducing it to suffocating moralizing, as we post-Enlightenment types do. That’s not what was going on! Jesus was ushering in the Kingdom! All the promises were being fulfilled!

    Our Enlightenment heritage leads us to see the Bible as an instruction manual, as though we intellectualize our way through the world. But we don’t intellectualize our way through life. We are SHAPED and live according to the story we perceive ourselves being part of. We live our lives according to the Story that we ARE. Matthew knew this. Jesus knows this. Scripture knows this. Scripture is firstly descriptive, not prescriptive. God has made us creatures that can be called and shaped. How does that work?

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