Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My New Favorite Groups Book

I led my first small group almost 19 years ago, and I've been leading small groups and small group leaders almost non-stop ever since. In that time, I've read almost every book that's been published on 'em, either for school, work, or pleasure.

I occasionally get asked what my one-book recommendation would be, and I've never really had an answer I was thrilled with. That changed this week, when I read Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups at a friend's house.

It's a good book, with one major caveat: the title is a complete lie. There's literally not a single new thought in the entire book. Not one. Calling anything in the book "entirely new" is pure marketing, and I blame the publisher more than the authors (who certainly must know how much they've borrowed).

But it doesn't matter. The book is a fantastic synthesis of the best small groups thinking of the past ten years. Without ever naming names, they seamlessly blend the best from Donahue, Frazee, Osborne, Stanley, and Eastman.

It's not really a book I'd give a small group leader (I'm still buying used copies of Em Griffin for that) and it has a very narrow definition of small group (service and recovery groups aren't even mentioned). But if you're a point leader for small groups at your church and you want to build a groups program, this is the one book you should have on your shelf. I've always argued that a groups program should only be one part of your overall groups strategy, but for that one part, this is the best book I've read yet.

NOTE: I didn't get any compensation for this post. I don't even have a copy of the book, since I borrowed a copy from a friend.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Public Service Announcement: Why does Easter change its date every year?

Little-known fact: Easter does not actually change its date from year to year. It's always on the very same day... of the Jewish (not Gregorian) calendar.

'Easter Bunny Sighting' photo (c) 2011, Kate Ter Haar - license:

Short version: Because the traditional Hebrew calendar is based heavily on the lunar cycle, it will drift, over time, away from the Gregorian (solar) calendar that we use. It doesn't drift too far, though, because every few years a leap MONTH is added. Forget the occasional extra day in February or the arguments over the leap second, we're talking about an entire extra month.

I was going through old notes while doing some Easter planning and found this old link. If this interests you, click here for a much better explanation than I can give.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Wrestling the Pig: "Masculine" Christianity

Like one who grabs a wild dog by the ears, so is the person passing by who becomes furious over a quarrel not his own. (Proverbs 26:17)

Never wrestle with a pig--You both get dirty, and the pig likes it. (Various)

'Pirate-themed Pig Wrestling in a Cowboy Town - Laramie, Wyoming' photo (c) 2007, Greg Younger - license:

In general, I try to stay out of the culture wars. I spent several of my younger years (I'd say "less mature" but that might be overestimating my present self) taking forceful sides on all kinds of issues, among which was the "complementarian" and "egalitarian" view of gender and ministry. Then, over time, the reality of Titus 3:9 sank in, and I've tried to move away from argument and towards actually producing something. Sometimes I do well at this, sometimes less so.

With that in mind, I'm going to (mostly) avoid getting sucked into Piper's most recent silliness. I'm grateful for John, and I've benefited tremendously from some of his writings. I think he's dangerously wrong when he writes on men and women, though, and thanks to some prompting from Rachel, I'll make a couple observations. Specifically, my thoughts on this statement:
A masculine ministry seizes on full-orbed, biblical doctrine with a view to teaching it to the church and pressing it with courage into the lives of the people.

I'm part of a great church that pays me to work on both the spiritual formation of the congregation and the church's global participation in the Great Commission. There's a funny thing about Paul's description of those two tasks, though. When Paul refers to what we'd call "missions" or "evangelism," he tends to use masculine metaphors. Planting a field, fighting a war, running a race: women can do these things, sure, but in the Greco-Roman world they're strictly the domain of men. When speaking of spiritual formation, thought, Paul's metaphors take a decided turn towards the feminine.

"I fed you milk, not solid food" (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)? "I am undergoing birth pains until Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19)? Paul is "like a nursing mother caring for her children" (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8)?

I'm all about pursuing "full-orbed, biblical doctrine with a view to teaching it to the church and pressing it with courage into the lives of the people." But if we're working from Paul's own metaphors, I don't really think that "masculine" is the term I'd use. And it's even more awkward when Piper says that a masculine ministry "models for the church the protection, nourishing, and cherishing of a wife and children as part of the high calling of leadership."

I've got one other thing to say about this, but I'll leave it for its own post. For those interested in more on Paul's feminine metaphors, I'm told that the book "Our Mother Saint Paul" is quite good, although I myself haven't read it.