Walking The Small Group TIGHTROPE

March 6, 2012

Be YOUnique Blog Business


These are my “book notes” from reading Walking the Small Group TIGHTROPE, by Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson.

When do people usually learn? When they fail. All learning comes from failed experience. When experience fails to match expectations, the dissonance produces the energy for learning, discovery & change.

Polarity Management suggests that in every area of life, we must learn to manage the tension between two good things rather than choose one thing over another. 

Business – profit & please customers. Churches must evangelize & disciple. We must do both.

Ex: Ephesians 4:4-7 (NIV) There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

* managing tension keeps things in balance


1. Learning Challenge

2. Development Challenge

3. Relational Challenge

4. Reconciliation Challenge

5. Impact Challenge

6. Connection challenge

Chapter 1: A Change Will Do You Good

Meeting the Learning Challenge by Balancing Truth & Life

– the challenge is to avoid drifting too far for too long toward one end of the continuum

– Psalm 119:89 (NIV) Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.

– Isaiah 55:11 (NIV)  …so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

– Make it clear that truth is central to community

– an emphasis on truth apart from life will turn you into a Pharisee. A life that’s not informed by truth will make you a Relativist “blown here & there by every wind of teaching” (Ephesians 4:14)

Goodness, Righteousness, & Truth 

– Ephesians 5:8-9 (NIV) For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth).

– Truth does matter & according to Paul, it must connect with life.

Truth Groups

– acquisition of knowledge becomes an end in itself

– the most dangerous truths is a half truth. God wants a heart to work with, or truth has no effect

– “Truth will set you free, but not all truth, just applied truth.”

– Life groups are rooted in experience rather than in an outside source of objective reality

– spiritual transformation occurs when truth meets life & must be the outcome of any group

Truth-Life Encounters

A. Connecting Scripture with Story

– Story: Luggage lost. It’s great to find something of value that you have lost. Your current version acts as a bridge.

– Jesus didn’t say “Lost people are important to me & should be important to you as well.”

– Rather he talked about lost coins, lost sheep, lost son, prodigal son

– Groups grow when Scripture & story collide with member’s lives

B. Turning Questions into Discussions

– the purpose of asking questions in a small group is to create a discussion & not just find an answer

– closed-ended questions are questions designed to elicit data. Once you get the facts, end of discussion

– in a small group, fear of being wrong kills a discussion every time

– 1st begin with open-ended questions that invite insight, opinions, & personal reflection.

– Ex: What would it look like to really love our neighbor the way Jesus has taught?

– 2nd Make sure that your questions become focused & personal

– Ex: 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV) No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

– When have you felt most trapped, like there’s no way of escape from a temptation?

– It’s best to state the obvious truth or necessary facts before asking your question.

– for truth to meet life, the small group has to Move from general content to more personal questions.

– 3rd Make your discussion more interactive & creative

– create armor of God out of newspapers, jeopardy, family feud, wheel of fortune.

C. Practicing Active Listening

– a change in d mood f d group.

– body language & facial reactions.

– tone f voice.

– change in habits & behavior.

D. Varying Learning Styles

– readers, listeners, doers, watchers.

Chapter 2: Meeting the Development Challenge by Balancing Care & Discipleship 

Are we treating wounds or training soldiers?

– groups that focus on only the disciplines of discipleship tend to attract the strong & prepare soldiers for battle. Groups that spend an inordinate amount of energy on caregiving tend to focus on the needs of the weak & hurting, providing a strong sense of family for them. We need both armies & families.





5 G’s of Spiritual Development

1. Grace

2. Growth

3. Groups

4. Gifts

5. Good Stewardship

4 Steps in Intentional Shepherding

1. Building Relationships

– members need someone to take a personal interest in them & their lives. 

Ex: Paul did this with Priscilla & Aquilla, whom he met in Corinth while making tents with them.

– Acts 18:1-4 (NIV) After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greek.

– later as they grew in faith, he modeled ministry before them & took them with him to Syria & Ephesus

– Acts 18:18-20 (NIV) Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken. They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined.

– Then he left them in Ephesus as church leaders.

– There they mentored Apollos 

– Acts 18:26-19:1 (NIV) He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus & sent him to Corinth (where they previously served) to encourage the believers there. They later also helped the church in Rome & risked their lives for Paul.

– Romans 16:3 (NIV) Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.

2. Assessing Needs

3. Developing a plan together

4. Monitoring Progress

Chapter 3: Meeting the Relational Challenge by balancing Friendship & Accountability

“I’d like to get to know you… I think.”

Illustration: Refrigerator Rights. According to therapist Will Miller & communications professor Glenn Sparks.

Illustration: 44 million Americans move in any given year, roughly 17% of the population.

– it has been known for a decade now that social ties reduce the risk of disease by lowering heart rate, blood pressure, & cholesterol. Those who have the most friends over a 9-year period time cut their risk of early death by 60%.

– pursuing friendship can help us break through barriers to true community.

– (Abraham God’s friend) James 2:23 (NIV) And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.

– We sometimes turn the business of being righteous into something deep & theological, but in the end its about being God’s friend.

– (Jesus called his disciples friends) John 15:15 (NIV) I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

– but the Bible warns of the peril of keeping things too casual for too long.

– Proverbs 18:24 (NIV) A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

– Proverbs 27:17 (NRSV) Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.

A. To know & be known

B. To love & be loved

C. To serve & be served

D. To admonish & be admonished

E. To celebrate & be celebrated


1. Self-Disclosure – it gives us the right, earns us the right, to speak truth into each other’s lives.

A. Relational risk-taking- it means taking the risk of telling secrets

B. Confidentiality- a key group outline is: what we talk about in the group stays in the group, unless permission is granted otherwise

C. Icebreakers

D. Storytelling- it reveals their past

E. Time

2. Acceptance & Belief

– “Even if this is true and even if this never changes, I will still be with you.”

3. Mutual Support

– community building may reach its zenith when crisis strikes. That’s right—when, not if.

– Altruism says that 2 things are certain in the world: death and taxes. There is a 3rd trouble.

– Story: Jesus’ friends failed him.

– people then don’t wait for a crisis to serve

4. Truth Telling

– 2 Timothy 4:2 (NIV) Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

– Admonition to be rooted in truth feels like criticism or faultfinding

– Ephesians 4:15 (NIV) Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

5. Affirmation

– Other Points

– Lead the way

– Focus on friendship- the best time to build friendships is between meetings. There are 168 hrs in a week. After eating, sleeping, and working there are still about 40-50 hours in which to connect as members.

Chapter 4: Meeting the Reconciliation Challenge by Balancing Kindness & Confrontation
– how to have a good fight.
– (Paul confronts Peter) Galatians 2:11-14 (NIV) When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
– (God says that kindness leads you toward repentance) Romans 2:4 (NIV) Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance.
– (God confronts sin) Romans 2:5-6 (NIV) But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”
– (Confrontation end) 2 Timothy 4:2 (NIV) Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
– Ex: (Jesus blesses Peter) Matthew 16:16-17 (NIV) Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.
– (Then he tells him Get behind me Satan) Matthew 16:23 (NIV) Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Conflict in Groups
1. Group Stages
2. Relational unawareness
– GPS Global Positioning System
3. Extra Care Required ECR
– there is a season
– for excessive ECR, help them understand what the group can and cannot do for them
4. Interpersonal Tension
– Teaching conflict resolution skills.
– when conflict arises, you will have to point people to scripture
– Example:
– (Leave public worship to reconcile) Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV) “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
– (settle it with the two of you) Matthew 18:15 (NIV) If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
– (Balance it with speaking the truth in love) Ephesians 4:15 (NIV) Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
Chapter 5: Meeting the Impact Challenge by Balancing Task & People
– Willow Creek has become a church of groups because we’ve seized opportunities to connect people through tasks
– Matt 18:20 (NIV) “For when two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” 
– when we gather for the sake of connecting people with each other and with Christ, he is the first one to show up.
– if every person in a serving group can think in terms f each person’s next step rather than trying to handle everything in their spiritual growth, remarkable development can happen
– Be focused on accomplishing a goal just like in sports teams
– Be prayerful
– it is a great way to build relationships because it is a context in which people will open up, be more vulnerable, follow up each other, and witness God’s work through his answers.
– you can be sure of one thing, if u use prayer as ur default mechanism whenever you want to Build up a community, you will advance your serving group’s spiritual & relational experience. When in doubt pray.
– Story: Brad, a veterinarian, didn’t believe God for 4 years, but when he got invited to serve and he heard prayers, he became a firm believer.
– Can you extend your hand like this?” 
Chapter 6: Meeting the Connection Challenge by Balancing Openness and Intimacy
– guess who’s coming to small group!
– Story: In the kingdom of God Is a party, Tony Campolo, Hawaii, 2:30am in a diner, prostitutes, Agnes birthday tomorrow 39, they made a birthday celebration, she cried and carried the cake home, they prayed, Harry you didn’t say you’re a preacher, a preacher who throws birthday parties to whores, no you’re not, if you are I’d join that church
– Jesus modeled this kingdom openness for us by inviting tax collectors and sinners, rich & poor, follower & Pharisee, to the table of community
– This is the way the church ought to be but most groups are in the intimacy business, not the openness game
– Most folks are eager to find a few folks they connect with & then build deep relationships with them for the rest of their lives
– God always has a redemptive purpose in his mind; its in his character.
– when a group realizes that openness and intimacy are not mutually exclusive, it can achieve God’s purpose for any gathering in Christ—inclusive community
– when love and gratitude come together, the question is whether they are now willing to take a risk & extend these experiences to others group members have to be willing to let someone else inside the circle. Any new person alter the group’s chemistry.
– Nobody knows how group dynamics will change once someone new comes in

– Intimacy begins to develop in a group when two things are present: 
– Duration (how long the group has been together, time together allows trust to form)
– Confidentiality (ensures it will be kept)
– Intimacy is rooted in vulnerability, so it is never hazard free.
– both intimacy and openness require risk
5 Dynamics Keep Groups from Extending the Hand of Community to Outsiders
1. The Dynamic of Hoarding
2. The Dynamic of Stagnation
3. The Dynamic of Mobility
– Internal Mobility
4. The Dynamic of Natural Relationship
5. The Dynamic of Legacy
– we can only take one thing from this world into the next—people. You leave them behind when you die; but one day, because you extended a hand, they will join you.
Illustration: Riggers. The Texas Army National Guard has a group of special workers called riggers. Their job is to fold and pack the parachutes that soldiers use when jumping from an airplane at 5,000 feet. Creed… “I will be sure always.” 30 folds, 20 mins, mc1-1 military parachute.
Conclusion: Putting the Tightrope to work.
freedom from unsolvable problems.
Small group values:
Spiritual Transformation- where truth meets life.
Intentional Shepherding- by caring leaders.
Authentic Relationships- built on mutual accountability.
Healthy Conflict- to deepen relationships
Serving Together- done in community
Inclusive Community- a means to intimacy
– Challenge to Meet
– Tightrope to Walk
– Purpose to Achieve
– Learning
– Truth – Life
– Spiritual Transformation
– Development
– Care – Discipleship
– Intentional Shepherding
– Relational
– Friendship – Accountability
– Authentic Relationships
– Reconciliation
– Kindness – Confrontation
– Healthy Conflict
– Impact
– Task – People
– Serving Together
– Connection
– Openness – Intimacy
– Inclusive Community
Church leaders will trade the power to lead for the privilege to serve; ministry will not be done by a few but practiced by all; church will no longer be a place to go but rather a people to become; & groups will trade superficial connections for transforming community.
“Do life, go deep, and draw in.”
Christ called us not to control a community but simply to enter it. You cannot define community. To define it is to limit it, to reduce it to a series of steps or components.
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