Showing posts in 'Home Group Leaders Series'

Cross the ball - don't score the goal!

Tim Thornborough | 23 Mar 2012

It’s a familiar scene to anyone who knows football. The soccer player who tries to “go it alone” runs at the defence, takes a wild shot, and completely misses - while his team-mates, completely unmarked, stand by helpless. The furious team coach is yelling from the touchline: “Pass the ball, don’t score the goal!”

One of the most important lessons I learned early on in my unusual career as a home group leader is contained in this pithy potted proverb.

Everybody knows that Discovery is the best kind of education. I will always learn something more thoroughly if I’m put in the position where I discover it for myself, rather than if someone just tells me. But it's remarkable how many of us fail to work it out in practice.... continue reading

Home groups: watch the watch!

Tim Thornborough | 22 Mar 2012

The study is flowing, the conversation is sharp, funny and moving by turn.

Someone raises an interesting question that everyone wants to comment on. Someone shares a deeply moving need that everyone wants to pray for.

You look at your watch, and it's 10.45.

"Whoa!" you cry, "time these little piggies were all tucked up in bed for the night." Some members shoot out of their seats and head straight for the door. Others linger in the hallway talking by the open door. You stifle a yawn, close the door and switch on the TV to wind down before you go to bed. The light doesn't go off until 12.45.

Sound familiar?... continue reading

Potted Proverbs: apply as you go

Tim Thornborough | 21 Mar 2012

The conversation had been brisk and lively. We'd laughed, puzzled and provoked each other in our discussion. The leader glances at his watch, and bursts out:

"Oh Goodness, look at the time – just before we pray, how are we going to apply all this?"

I've already posted about my hatred of "The Big Bang" at the end of Home groups - when we disconnect what we have heard God say from how we pray to him. But the scene above is just as common in many groups and is just as damaging. (And yes - I was guilty of this for years, and am only just learning to repent of it!)

The problem is that we get so involved in understanding and pinning down the big ideas in the passage, or the theology or the doctrine that's contained in it, that we leave very little time to the application, so that it all happens in a rush at the end. Or to put it another way - it doesn't happen at all!... continue reading

The main thing is the main thing

Tim Thornborough | 20 Mar 2012

What kind of home group leader are you? A hippy, an engineer, a gardener or a schoolmaster?

Giving some thought to your style of leadership, and how you relate to others and just "be" with a group of people, can be very instructive to working out your blind spots in making your home group go with a zing.

I asked the same question in a parenting seminar I ran with a friend a couple of years ago, and it opened my eyes to some stark truths about myself, and how I influence others.

Let me be up front. I pretty much default to Hippy mode when I'm with groups of people. I just love the journey so much, that I'm tempted to forget the destination. I think people in my homegroup have a great and memorable time, but I need to make sure that I have planned, prepared and have firmly fixed in my mind where we need to get to as we open God's word together.... continue reading

Hints for Home Groups

Helen Thorne | 19 Mar 2012

There are few things more exciting than home groups. The privilege of opening the Scriptures with friends. The wonder of God speaking. The transformation that occurs in people's lives. The encouragements offered. The burdens shared. It's one of the highlights of the week ... Though in fairness it doesn't always seem like it. Sometimes it feels more like a pain - another night out, another responsibility, another struggle with little fruit resulting. Maybe especially if you're a leader.


So this week on the blog we're going to be running another short series to help us all think through how we can change what we do, in order to help us all focus on what God is saying as we meet together in small groups.

Check back later this afternoon for our first top tip. In the mean time, here's a thought-provoking article from The Briefing...

Self test for home group leaders...(how do you score?)

Tim Thornborough | 11 Feb 2012

I asked a group of Home group leaders this question a couple of months ago: Can you give me a single word that sums up what you think your house group is about?

The answers were varied and interesting. We had caring; fellowship; worship; growth; love; and several others along the same lines. The slightly surprising answer I shared to that question was the one found in Hebrews 10:23-25. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.


As far as I can tell, this verse in the NT is the only one which actually commands us to meet together as believers. It doesn't specify what day, or in what numbers, or in what set, or subset of the local congregation we should meet. Simply that we should not neglect doing so, and that the purpose of our meeting together is for mutual encouragement. But encouragement for what? The context of the verse tells us.

The writer to the Hebrews has been establishing for his readers some of the enormous privileges of being Christians. And our verse is a part of the paragraph where he sums them up with a call to action. The primary call is to "draw near to God" because Jesus has opened up the way for us to meet with God through his own blood. We should stand before God with absolute confidence, says the writer, because what we receive from Christ is absolute forgiveness, cleansing and removal of our guilt before God.

More than that, the writer tells us that Jesus is our great high priest, who is now in the heavenly temple making intercession for his people.

But we also need (v 23) to "hold fast" to our confession (belief and trust in Jesus as God's one true King) in face of opposition, with the encouragement that "God is faithful". And more than that (v 24) we must think hard how we stir each other up to live the new life that we have received - by doing good to others, and being filled with the love of the Lord Jesus for our lost world. And there is an urgency to this (v 25) because we know that a day is coming when Jesus will return and the world will be judged, and the new creation established.

So central to any gathering of God's people, and therefore your homegroup, I would suggest is that people leave with the following things having been underlined, impressed upon them, stirred up within themselves, or taught to them for the first time:

  • The past work of Christ. The facts of the gospel, and their new status in Christ. Forgiven, cleansed, renewed by the blood of Christ
  • The present work of Christ. He is your King and Priest in heaven, and is utterly committed to getting you through to the end. We need to know this, because life as a believer can be brutally hard.
  • Our calling to follow him now in very practical ways. Expressed not just by being known as a Christian, but through being loving, and doing good works. Our badge of recognition as a believer is not church membership, but the character of Christ, a passionate lover of all people, and being committed to doing good to others.
  • and all this set in the context of...
  • The future work of Christ. Who will return as judge.

One lady at the training session said that her aim with the group she leads is "to keep them going as Christians for another week". A brilliant answer. And the way to keep people going, is not just to care for them, and look after their human needs for friendship, food and fun. It is to feed their souls by reminding them of what the Lord has done, is doing and will do for them. It is to remind them who they serve, and what he calls us to.

How does your homegroup match up to this standard?

New E-mail Resource for Home Group Leaders

Helen Thorne | 10 Feb 2012

Our friends at Matthias Media are just about to launch a new free monthly digest for anyone involved in leading a home group.

Providing you with a regular diet of thought-provoking, Bible-centred articles, videos and book-recommendations, it looks as though this regular email service is going to be a great resource for anyone who wants to be better equipped to lead small groups.

If you are interested in signing up, please click here.

Being confident in the relevance of God's word

Tim Thornborough | 10 Feb 2012

Potted Proverbs: The best non-question you'll ever ask!

Tim Thornborough | 9 Feb 2012

One of the greatest skills that you need to run a good Bible study is the instinct to craft good questions. You know what I mean...

  1. Never ask a question where the answer is Yes or No. "Is this verse saying that God is good?"
  2. Never ask a question that is so blindingly obvious that no-one will want to answer it: "Who loved the world so much that he gave his only Son?"
  3. Never ask multiple questions: "What has God said he will do for his people in verse 7, why will he do it, and what will be the result, and what horse won the 3.30 at Kempton Park Racecourse?"
  4. Always ask open questions that get people to think about what the Scriptures are actually saying: "what is the big surprise in v 15?"
  5. Ask not just about facts (what), but also about motivation (why), and connections (how): "Why do you think Jesus asks this question the way he does?"

But I've discovered over the years that, as the title suggests, often the best questions are not questions at all. Here's what I mean.

You've asked one of your finely crafted questions, and Janice, a young Christian who doesn't usually say very much, gives a hesitating answer, that shows she's on the right track. You can tell by the wrinkled forehead that she has got a lot more thoughts in her mind, but is unsure about her first answer, so has not said any more. So now is your chance to deploy the finest two words in Bible study history.
Are you ready for them?
Take a deep breath and repeat after me:
"Go on"
Say these two words out loud now - they will change the face of your home group forever!

"Go on"
These words say loads of things to Jittery Janice, or shrinking Stephen, or hesitant Hannah, or timid Trevor. They tell them:

  1. You're on the right track
  2. I'm interested in the thoughts that are in your head - please share them round so that other people can be encouraged by them
  3. The stage is yours...

It's the equivalent of what some books call an "extending question" - but without the need to think of another question. With the right tone, or even prefacing it with "I think you're on the right track here, go on..." or "That's an interesting idea, go on...", you are encouraging them to speak so they can encourage everyone else.

Try it at your next home group meeting, and you will be astonished by the power of these two little words to transform your group.

But a word of caution. Don't tell your group to read this blog post. Word got back to a group I once ran about a training session I ran, where I talked about these magic words. From that time on - all they did when I said "Go On" was laugh at me...

Which version should I use?

Tim Thornborough | 9 Feb 2012

We were boldly plodding our way through Philippians and making great progress until we came to 3 v 3 -- and the evening descended into utter chaos. I won't cloud the issue with the rather complex questions that came out of that particular verse, but the problem was that we had too many Bible translations around the table for our own good. "He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words" (1 Tim 6 v 4).

The blessing of translations

In the developed world, we are blessed with an extraordinary number of brilliant translations that help us get to the core of what the original text of the Bible is and means. We have literal word for word translations in the tradition of the AV, RV, RSV - the most modern being the New King James, and the English Standard Version.

And we have what are called the Dynamic Equivalence translations that try to translate phrase meanings, rather than words. The versions, like the now almost universal NIV and the New Living Translation (NLT) gain readability, at the expense of their making some decisions about interpretation for us.

And finally there are the paraphrases that do a lot of interpretation, and are more concerned with delivering the impact of the Bible using punchy language and modern idioms and expressions. Like The Message and before that the J B Phillips translation and the Living Bible (or the Living Libel as Ian Paisley used to call it).

Taken individually and together, these translations are a wonderful blessing to us. They help us see the richness and the nuances of the original Bible text. They give insight into what a difficult passage may be talking about, and, in the case of the Paraphrases, suggest brilliant ways of expressing these truths in pithy memorable ways, or even illustrating them with word pictures.

The curse of translations

But when you have a variety of translations around the table, especially when you are with young Christians, or even with those who are not yet Christian, they can be a curse. What could be a fantastic opportunity to talk about the challenge and nature of Christian discipleship, turns into a painful slog through the various semantic registers of the word "Confidence" - the whole study grinding to a halt as we run out of time, energy and willpower.

The tragedy is that the really brilliant things we could have been talking about have been hijacked by the fact that we have too many translations round the table. At their best, they can enlighten discussion. At their worst, they can completely derail it.

My solution? Simple.

Insist that there is a main translation that everyone works from in the group. Choose the translation you use, according to the lowest common denominator. And if "the least of these in the Kingdom" can only cope with the New International Reader's Version, or the excellent NCV, then that's the version to use. For most groups this will mean that you gravitate towards a well used standard version like the NIV.

Of course, in your preparation you will, as leader, make sure you have a look and a read of the passage in a variety of the above translations, so that you will be able to give a steer if a question is raised, without going off on a tangent.

And you won't ban people from using other translations. It's just that you will insist that there is one translation that you all default to. That way, you will spend your time talking about the substance of the passage, not nit picking over the details.

Do people think this is the right approach? What versions do you prefer to use, and why? Answers on a postcard (or alternatively, click the button below).

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