Yesterday I started a series of blog posts of my interview with Margaret Feinberg. If you haven’t read her or heard her speak, it’s time to make that happen. Charisma Magazine named her “one of the 30 voices that will help lead the church in the next decade.”
I am so excited that Margaret shared some thoughts with me concerning small groups. Check this out…
Rick: Margaret, most of those who read this blog are small group leaders or pastors. I’d like to delve into your world and small groups.
When were you first involved in an adult small group? What organization or church was it connected to? What were your first impressions of group life? How did this group change how you thought about Christian community?
Margaret: For me, small groups became essential to my spiritual growth starting in college. I attended a liberal arts university and small groups were where I found myself growing the most—watching the faith of others being lived out and wrestling through questions of life and faith.
After college, I moved around but almost every place found a small group or life group to plug into. All of them were different. One of my favorites was being part of a small group of women who met with an older Christian woman on a regular basis to study and share our lives. Another was a group of friends who became highly intentional about meeting every week to study the Scripture. We shared life and faith together and both were incredibly life giving.
I think my small groups experience may have shaped my response to the question, “What’s your favorite thing about what you do?” because my absolute tops favorite thing is seeing people year after year living out their faith throughout the ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies—the reality of the Gospel given flesh and blood. I never tire of seeing the beauty of God on display.
Rick: Have you ever led a small group? If so, what are a few things you’ve learned as a small group leader that every new small group leader needs to consider?
Margaret: Yes—one of the small groups I learned the most from was one my husband, Leif, and I started while living in Alaska. The church didn’t have any small groups for young adults and so we started one in our home by simply inviting people over each Sunday after church, showing a short DVD Bible-based teaching, and discussing. The group grew over the fifteen months we lived there, but I learned a lot of lessons the hard way. We had people from every spectrum of faith background and so learning to disagree with grace was essential. We also learned the importance of drawing people back to the Scripture and not allowing rabbit trail discussions to get the best of us.
But the biggest personal lesson for me was regarding burnout. We were the only ones in the group who had a house large enough to host. Each week we asked people to bring food for a meal. For tacos, one person would be asked to bring the meat, another the beans, another the chips, another the salsa, etc. But then someone would get sick or not show up. Meatless, bean-less tacos aren’t awesome! So I started buying back up supplies and pre-cooking.
As the months went by the process of cleaning our house before and after the small group, back up cooking each week, and preparing the lesson, I grew tired and burned out. If I had to do it again, I would have called on some of the empty nester couples in the church to host us and rotate through different homes each month. This would have created more intergenerational relationships, involved older, wiser, and more mature believers in the faith, and prevented burnout on my part.
Rick: Margaret, many small group pastors are given the responsibility of writing sermon-based Bible studies weekly. Would you mind helping them out by telling them what is the process you use when writing a Bible study?
Margaret: If you’re writing a sermon-based study, then I’d begin with an outline of the basic presentation, but then begin digging deeper into each idea and point. If I’m working on a Bible study based on someone else’s ideas or material, I’ll start with an outline and allow it to marinate in my mind for a bit. What ideas do I agree with? What ideas do I disagree with? Where is the gap between the ideas presented and the practicality of applying them? Who do I know who will wrestle with the ideas or materials in the teaching the most? (This person is often an invaluable source of thoughts and ideas!)
It may seem counterintuitive, but I actually start by asking the hard questions, so that when I move to searching the Scripture about the topic my mind and imagination are more primed to notice things in the text I may have overlooked before. If I just look for passages to support what I already know and believe, then for me, the material and discussion won’t be as rich and textured and challenging.
Then I turn to the Scripture and begin looking up the words, ideas, and passages. I’ll use Biblegateway.com for word searches and the Thompson Chain Concordance to lead me down various trails throughout the Bible. Usually this will lead me to passages I hadn’t noticed or seen in that light before and raise all kinds of application questions from the text.