Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Four Kinds of Small Group Participants

SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 5:1
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 3 Apr 2012

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:1-2)
[This is Part 3 of a series on Small Group Ministry]

This week, an opinion poll suggests that "Canadians want everything for nothing." The statement is based on half the number of people surveyed who will vote against any politician who hikes taxes. While they are quick to demand for all things, from social welfare to personal benefits, they are extremely reticent, even vocal against paying for them. Paul Kershaw, a professor at the University of British Columbia observes that there are more people with an "anti-tax" sentiment who "want something for nothing." (Source:, May 2nd, 2012)

Scary. If the report is true, that we are seeing a new generation of people who want everything, but unwilling to give anything, we are in trouble. In economic theory, the:re is what is called a "multiplier effect," where a stimulus leads to a knock-on effect that will generate a life of its own. Governments often provide the initial investment. A simple example goes like this. The Government issues a billion dollar contract to a big corporation to build a highway. This big corporation goes on to engage hundreds of other subcontractors and workers, who in turn benefit other entities like restaurants, hotels, transportation, logistics, school, and other miscellaneous sectors. In other words, one giant stimulus gets multiplied many fold. While there are other practical limits to such a theory, the idea is basically this: Giving stimulates economic activity or giving, taking, and sharing.

What if in our small groups in church, we see more of such people who give nothing but expect everything? There will be no multiplier effect. Worse, it becomes a shrinking effect when everybody takes and nobody gives. Continuing our series on small groups, this week, I like to suggest that there are at least four kinds of people in any small group environment. On the healthy end of the spectrum is a group called "healthy lambs" and "skinny goats" that nourish the whole community. On the unhealthy end, the appearance of "lamp-poles" and "leeches" suck away the life of the group. My main point in this article is that we should all strive to become the healthy kind, the healthy lamb. Let me first begin with the worst kind of participant, what I call the LEECH. Eeek!

A) Type 1: The Leech (Take Everything, Give Nothing)

This kind of person is miserly. When it comes to food and refreshments, he will take everything and literally give nothing back. He is slow to volunteer to give but quick to pounce on whatever that is laid on the open table. Leeches are calculative, miserly, and downright self-seeking. In small group environments, they are constantly asking for more stuff, but unprepared to give anything. As their appetite grow, so do their miserly behaviour. Leeches are open-minded to the point that they take in everything that is shared on the small group setting. They listen. They soak in the efforts of others like sponges. They refuse to share as they maintain a false humility by saying that they do not know anything. No amount of coaxing by the leaders or facilitators can pry apart the leech. All leeches want are to suck everything away, but give nothing back. Leeches are also small-hearted as they are easily offended, especially when they are asked to contribute something for the group.

B) Type 2: The Skinny-Goat (Take Nothing, Give Everything)

The second kind of small group participant is the "The Skinny Goat." They are extremely generous people, so self-giving that they will rather sacrifice their own personal needs for the sake of the group. They give away so much that sometimes, even their close friends will reprimand them for ignoring their own needs. Skinny-Goats do not keep a balance sheet of what they give. You can often count on them to keep giving without even asking them. When you ask them, they will seldom say no, even if it means going all out to provide for something they do not have. Skinny-Goats are big hearted people, but tend to be closed minded with regards to their own selves. In wanting to give, they become closed minded and refuse to allow others to minister to them. Skinny Goats may be altruistic in their good deeds and sharing, but when it comes to self-growth, they are pretty much stuck. As a result, they become fat in giving, but skinny in receiving. They can also easily offended when people refuse to accept their contributions. Over time, they become vulnerable to illness, and subsequently despair in their faith.

C) Type 3: The Lamp-Pole (Take Nothing, Give Nothing)

The third kind of small group participant is the neutral lamp-pole. They do not even have a lamp on top to give light to all. After all, a lamp-pole is simply a pole without the lamp. One can say that lamp-poles are essentially non-participants in any activity. The vocal evangelical leader, Chuck Colson passed away last week. His life has been a life of conviction. A friend of mine sent me this quote from Colson.

"One of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is that I don’t ever get up in the morning and wonder if what I do matters. I live every day to the fullest because I can live it through Christ and I know no matter what I do today, I’m going to do something to advance the Kingdom of God." (Chuck Colson)

As I read it, I marvel at the life of conviction in the love of Christ. His conversion leads to a very powerful Prison Fellowship ministry, where his legacy is continued by people who have been touched by his witness. In contrast, there are those who live not by conviction but by convenience. If it works for them, they will consider coming for any small group meeting. If it does not work, they will skip the meeting. They feel that their absence will not make a difference in the group. Even when they attend the group, they prefer to contribute nothing, and receive nothing at all. Both actions are their own personal choices.

Lamp-poles are basically inorganic members of the group. They put nothing in, and take nothing out. By being closed-minded on any learning, and being small-hearted in any kinds of giving, they waste everybody's time, especially their own.

D) Type 4: The Healthy Lamb (Take Everything, Give Everything)

Finally, there is hope. This is the best kind of small group participant any leader will be pleased to have. It is the healthy lamb! Healthy lambs not only play and work hard, they pray and they help wherever they can. They are very receptive to new visitors as well as their own group members. In their sharing, they often make themselves vulnerable as they openly admit their weaknesses and acknowledges their strengths. They feed well. They help others to feed well. They give of themselves generously, and willingly offer to step in even without being asked. They are great assets of any small group.

Like Ephesians 5, they are imitators of Christ as they take everything that the Spirit offers them. They are lovers of people as they reflect the person of Christ in their giving and their sharing. Like Christ, they are willing to give up everything, including their own self-needs for the sake of the group. Whenever they feed, they do not do so on a selfish basis, but do so on a constant focus on how they can use what they have to bless others. If there is a short phrase to describe healthy lambs, it will be this: "A Desire to be Blessed to Bless Others."

Blessed is the small group that is full of healthy lambs.

E) Summary of the Four Kinds of Small Group Participants

If you are honest with me, you will recognize a bit of yourself in every of the four categories at different stages of our lives. Sin pulls us toward leeches, skinny goats and lamp-poles. Grace leads us toward healthy lambs. Sin turns our heart from big to small, from generosity to miserly behaviour, and from humble learning to selfishness. May we all learn as a body to move to become big hearted contributors to our communities, depending on our giftings. Every one of us has at least one gift. There is no such thing as an ungifted person. Likewise, each of us can learn to receive one another openly. It does not mean that skinny-goats, fat leeches, and lamp-poles are unwelcome in any small group. My personal belief is this. It is ok to be a skinny-goat, a lamp-pole, or a leech once in a while, for whatever reasons best known to you. As long as one does not remain perpetually in that condition. The main thing is the DIRECTION of growth that one seeks. It needs to be toward becoming a healthy lamb, that will be big hearted, and open minded. That is the goal of all small group members.

                Four Kinds of Small Group Participants

Let me close with an encouragement on what healthy lambs do. The 17th Century French Physicist, and Christian thinker, Blaise Pascal says, "Jesus is the God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair." Indeed, as we seek to imitate Christ, we become blessings to anyone, to our group members, and to ourselves.

THOUGHT: "The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say 'I.' And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say 'I.' They don't think 'I.' They think 'we'; they think 'team.' They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don't sidestep it, but 'we' gets the credit.... This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done." (Peter Drucker)


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