Happy Thanksgiving!

To all of you who have subscribed to my Sunday School/groups blog, thank you! I appreciate the way you share the posts and make it a place for group leaders and church leaders to find encouragement.

I hope you have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving Day. I’m taking a two-day break from posting over the holidays, so I’ll see you again next Monday.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Ken Braddy

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Tuesday Teaching Tip: Break the Ice with a Personal Scavenger Hunt

Icebreaker activities can help group members of any size group (1) move around physically (2) meet new people (3) have fun!

There are numerous ways to lead people through an ice-breaking scavenger hunt, so today I’m going to focus on one that requires very little prep on the group leader’s part.

Before you begin, ask group members to number off 1 – 4. Now move them into groups – all the 1’s in a group, 2s in a group, etc.

Ask the men to pull out their wallets. Ask the women to hold their purses. Now the personal scavenger hunt begins! Call for group members to look inside their wallets and purses for the following objects:

  • A restaurant receipt
  • A movie ticket stub
  • A dollar bill printed in the 70s
  • Anything with their photo on it
  • Something that represents a hobby or interest they have
  • A business card (their’s or someone else’s)
  • Nail clippers
  • Etc, etc. etc.

From time to time as you lead the group through this exercise, stop and have them do some deeper-level sharing. For instance, when you ask them to find a movie ticket stub, follow up by asking the groups to stop and share something about the movie: how it made them feel, their favorite scene, a memorable quote, etc. Then continue on to the next object you’ll want them to find.

This is an easy, inexpensive, and spontaneous ice-breaker you can do in any setting at any time.

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A Lesson for Group Leaders from Amos

Monday’s blog posts are specifically crafted as excerpts from books on Sunday School, small groups, and general leadership. Today’s post is from a book that I co-wrote which will be available in early December. Here is a sneak peek at a part of chapter 2 where I made comments on a verse from the book of Amos. Amos was a shepherd, and the book, Shepherd: Creating Caring Community, was written to group leaders to encourage them to think of themselves as the shepherds of their flocks. Here is what I said in this part of chapter 2:

A few years ago I came across an often ignored verse of prophecy in Amos 3 that gives us a glimpse into the life of a shepherd:

“The Lord says, ‘As the shepherd snatches two legs or a piece of an ear from the lion’s mouth, so the Israelites who live in Samaria will be rescued…” (Amos 3:12).

What is interesting about this verse is that the Lord inspired Amos to write these words (Amos was a shepherd by trade). The Lord used a shepherd to describe a shepherding situation that sometimes took place to speak to Israel about the way it would be rescued.

As I read the verse I wondered, “Why would a shepherd bother to rescue pieces of an animal that had obviously become lunch for a predator?” As I pondered the verse, I couldn’t reconcile why a shepherd would risk his life to wrestle pieces of a dead animal away from a predator like a lion, bear, or wolf. I wouldn’t. Let the predator have its lunch! Move away so that you don’t become lunch.

But as I kept thinking about this, it became clear why a shepherd would risk life and limb: He was the shepherd. He wasn’t the owner. He was a temporary custodian of his master’s sheep….As teaching shepherds, you and I are temporary stewards of God’s people, His sheep. When He trusts us to shepherd ten, He wants us to know we are accountable for those ten. When our group grows and He sends us twenty, we are responsible for those twenty. Shepherds cannot risk viewing the people in our groups as “ours.” They are the Lord’s sheep. You and I are temporary stewards who, like shepherds of old, are responsible to our master. That’s a sobering thought.

It’s one thing to teach a Bible study. It’s another thing to shepherd a Bible study group. See the difference? If I’m a teacher, I can simply teach a lesson, move on, and teach another one the next week. If I’m a shepherd-teacher, I not only guide my people through a Bible study, but I have a sense of stewardship – I believe those people in my group are mine for a season. I’m their shepherd. They were given to me by God. And I am responsible to the Lord for them, because they are ultimately His, not mine.

I hope you’ll visit lifeway.com in early December and pick up a copy of the new book Shepherd: Creating Caring Community. There are free PowerPoint slides and conference plans so that you can use the book to train your group leaders.

If you like, I can travel to your church and provide the training first-hand. It would be an honor to encourage your group leaders to become even better teacher-shepherds!

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Friday Hot Links – Nov. 17, 2017

It’s been another great week here on the blog, with almost 90 new people signing up to receive daily posts. Welcome aboard!

Today’s hot links are links to trusted friends and colleagues you’ll want to read over the weekend. I hope you’ll find their thoughts about leadership, groups, and Bible study helpful to you.

May the Lord continue to bless you, your family, and your church as you serve Him. I trust you’ll have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday next week as we all pause to say thanks to the Lord for His great blessings on us and our nation.

Shoulder to shoulder,

Ken

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3 ways large groups can manage their prayer time

If you lead a large Bible study group, prayer time can take up the majority of your meeting. I’ve found several effective ways to honor people’s needs to present prayer requests and to balance the group time so that I have time to guide the Bible study. Here are 3 ways to speed up prayer time in larger groups:

  1. The Basket Approach – Provide each group member with an index card, and ask them to write their prayer request (or requests) on one side, and their email, phone, and name on the reverse side. Pass a basket around the room and instruct group members to place their prayer request cards in the basket. Then pass it around a second time, and ask group members to mix up the cards and remove one. Whoever’s card they draw, that becomes the person they pray for throughout the week. I’ve asked my group members to email and/or call the person to let them know who’s praying for them. I’ve found that this saves time in the group study, and it helps connect people to one another.
  2. Quads – In larger groups, simply break the group down into smaller groups of 4 people. Ask them to present prayer requests to one another, and to pray for one another’s needs. This creates intimacy, and it helps people get to know one another in a larger group. Plus it has the added benefit of encouraging people to pray out loud (it’s less intimidating in a group of 4 than in a group of 34!).
  3. The Group E-Mail – On occasion when I can see that the Bible study is going to run long, I will say something like, “I’ll send an email to the group later today, and summarize the study for us and those not here. If you have a prayer need this week, just “reply all” and let us know what it is. We’ll jump into action and begin praying for you.” I then control the length of the prayer time by simply praying for the Lord’s blessing on the group, our study time together, and those not present.

What tips would you suggest to help larger groups manage their prayer time?

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3 responses to the criticism that “Sunday School isn’t deep enough”

One of the most frustrating things I hear from time to time is, “Sunday School isn’t deep enough.” Maybe someone has said that to you as a group leader. Maybe you’ve said that as a group member. Perhaps you’re a pastor or you lead your church’s education ministry and people have said something similar to you. Here are three things to remind people when they make the statement, “Sunday School isn’t deep enough.”

  1. Sunday School isn’t designed to be “deep.” Sunday School is an outreach ministry. Sunday School is an evangelism strategy. It is designed for anyone and everyone to attend. At any time. On any day. As such, I may have people who are long-time believers sitting next to “Joe Unconnected” who doesn’t own a Bible and knows very little about the Scripture. The real problem is this: too many of our groups have turned inward and we’ve forgotten about reaching out to the lost. We believe Sunday School is about “going deeper” and such. It isn’t. It is about studying, don’t get me wrong. It is about learning to obey all that Jesus commanded us (Mt. 28:18ff). But when we reduce Sunday School to being that one place where we get our weekly fill of the Bible, we ask it to do something it was not intended to do! Sunday School must strike a delicate balance between content and caring; it must strike a balance between the lost and the learned. It is meant to be foundational discipleship. “Going deep” is for other venues – things like closed-group discipleship courses or D-groups (accountability groups).
  2. Sunday School can be used to create D-Groups. To make sure that Sunday School remains open to new people attending weekly, it is imperative that the curriculum chosen is designed on a solid open-group philosophy. That means lessons stand alone and create a satisfying Bible study experience for each group member. It means that lessons are crafted with the assumption that d grouppeople of all spiritual maturity will be present. But to answer the need of some more mature group members for more depth of study, Sunday School group leaders should seriously consider starting a D-Group through their class. What’s a D-Group, you ask? D-Groups are same-sex groups of 3 to 4 people who meet during the week for more in-depth study and accountability. By sponsoring D-Groups, Sunday School classes can remain open to prospective new members being in attendance, deliver satisfying Bible study lessons, but save the “depth” for another time with those group members who really desire that and are ready for it.
  3. We are all educated beyond our level of obedience. It makes no sense to ask for depth when we aren’t obeying what we already know to be the revealed will of God. There is actually depth in simplicity. Bible studies that help us focus on simple truths from God’s Word that we should be living out, but are not,  challenge us to live out the Word in front of our family, friends, neighbors, and peers. What I don’t need are never-ending factoids about a Bible character. What I don’t need is another list of things that happened on a particular plot of ground in the Bible. What I do need is to love my neighbor and to love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. What I need is to be a Christian father, husband, son, employee, and friend. I need to be salt and light. I need to be an ambassador. Teach me something simple, but profound, and give me some practical ways to live it out. There’s depth! I don’t need another history lesson. I need a road map for living life in a way that pleases God. The depth will come.

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Tuesday Teaching Tip: 4 ways to get control of your group

It happens. Full-group discussions can often degenerate into awkward moments when one or two people dominate the discussion or take it down a road you never intended. What do you do in order to regain some control? Here are three ways to wrestle control away from dominant group members:

  1. Change the way people participate – if you sense things are getting out of control, simply change the way people are able to respond. Move from full-group discussion and quickly place people in pairs or triads to diffuse the influence of the dominant person.
  2. Communicate nonverbally – move closer to the difficult person, make eye contact, flatten your hand and move it from left to right, or make a “T” signal with your hands (signaling “time out”). Signal that it’s time for the discussion to end and for the group to move on.
  3. Poke fun at yourself – use humor to diffuse the difficult situation by saying something like, “I guess I’m the only one not getting it…” or “That just went over my head.” Don’t make fun of the participant, but take a poke at yourself as a means of relieving the tension and allowing for a time to move the discussion in a different direction.
  4. Extend an invitation – when a group member leads the group down a dark path of discussion, simply say, “That’s an interesting take on this topic – I’d like to hear more at our break that’s coming up. Let’s visit for a few minutes.” Then move on and change the discussion or move on to another activity.

Don’t take things personally. Sometimes people act out because they are hurting or feel very passionately about a particular topic. It’s not you, so try not to be defensive. Just learn to manage the discussion-stealing people in your group. The whole group will thank you for it!

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