I guess I first should say that before I was ever a part of a small group I used to think that these groups were for “weird” or “religious” people. Even being an outgoing person by nature, I didn’t think it would be something I was comfortable participating...
Shortly after awakening from a restful night’s sleep, Maureen Shannon walked to the window to open the blinds. At the last minute, she changed her mind and turned around. In the very next moment her body broke and her future was dramatically altered. Maureen began playing piano when she...
I guess I first should say that before I was ever a part of a small group I used to think that these groups were for “weird” or “religious” people. Even being an outgoing person by nature, I didn’t think it would be something I was comfortable participating in because I had a fear of not fitting in. Then Sean (my husband) and I joined one because of a specific financial study they were doing. It is something that to this day I look back on and I am so grateful we decided to try it. It grew our faith and relationships in so many ways, and it was the furthest thing from being weird!
So, when the idea came up about starting or leading one myself, I thought, “Ugh, now people are going to think that I am weird too!” But, I also knew that if I was willing to be okay with that and put myself out there, God would use it to bless me and other people through authentic relationships. Of course, I also thought a lot of other negative thoughts as well, like most of us tend to do when the enemy wants his way. Things like;
- “Am I qualified?”
- “Who am I to want to start or lead a group?”
- “Who in their right mind would want to hear what I have to say?”
- Or, “Who in the world would want to hang out with me?”
Those were a lot of things I had to work through by remembering that it wasn’t about me, it was about Jesus, and that if he had a hand in it, people would get what they needed from it. So, I did it!
When I first felt a small tug from God to lead a group, I think I did want to do it, but I was hesitant because of fear. I’m sure I am like a lot of people when it comes to opening myself up to others because most people just don’t like being vulnerable. I had a fear of being unqualified, a fear of failing, a fear of not knowing enough Bible verses, a fear of not knowing how to lead a group, or what I was supposed to do. But, what I have learned is that you can’t let things like fear and hesitation stop you from doing what God has called you to do. That’s called disobedience, and that’s not something I wanted to be to God after what he asked Jesus to do for me. After all, it repeatedly says in the Bible that we are supposed to be in community, that we are supposed to be relational, and that we should look after the interests of others. So, who am I to tell God “no” when I see verses like Galatians 5:13, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” Or, in 1 Peter 4: 10-11, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen”
Of course, even once we decided to take the plunge, I would get all in my head with things like imagining opening my home and having no one show up. I also would play out scenarios about what I would do if this or that happened and even found myself worrying about seating, or if they’d be hungry or bored. So, as a result, I over planned, over bought, over prepared, and prayed a lot for God to help me figure it out. I also had this ridiculous fear of praying out loud, and I had to work through that as well, realizing it was the enemy, once again, trying to psych me out, getting me to play his games, and stop me from doing what I knew God was telling me to do.
But you know what? I was amazed that after the very first small group meeting, everything came easier! It was like I just had to get that initial hurdle over with and from there I was good to go.
Don’t get me wrong, I would still get nervous or worry about things too much (which I think is silly now), but I also got a taste of God’s joy and peace just from being obedient and connected to others for God’s glory, and that completely outweighed any of the other stuff.
In general, I think that we all hesitate at some point to put our “true” selves out there for fear of judgment or rejection. But, what I have found instead is that when I am at my most transparent, people are most willing to hear me. When I am the most vulnerable, people feel the most trusted by me. When I am willing to walk out my faith in real life ways and I am not content to stay the same, the more people want to be a part of that journey too. Even today, after years of leading small groups, there are studies that Sean and I do that are out of our comfort zone, or sometimes the size of the group gets big and I worry about all those “Martha”-type things (Luke 10:38-42) that make me think people are not going to enjoy themselves. But that’s when I remember that there is nothing “special” about me or Sean that make our group or our leadership something fantastic and wonderful, except for our relationship with Jesus Christ and our willingness to be his disciples. “It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.” (2nd Corinthians 3:5). The key is the Holy Spirit, just like we see in the book of Acts, where he goes before us and apart from him, or without his blessing, nothing we do will bear fruit.
We also must remember that spiritual warfare is a real thing. The enemy wants us to stay on the surface with relationships and keep us superficial and putting up a front like we’ve got it all together, because when we aren’t truly connected with other believers he can keep us isolated and alone and it is in those isolated places that he can do his best work. He uses things like guilt, shame, or embarrassment to prevent us from making bold moves in our lives for Christ, and if we aren’t careful we tend to believe those things and avoid stepping out because we feel we have to “protect” ourselves from the ridicule we believe we are going to receive instead. The craziest part is that the complete opposite is true- because when you do put yourself out there for Jesus, you get to truly experience the joy, comfort, and peace that comes along with it, and it is something not worth giving up on.
Despite things getting better, there still have been (and continue to be) some hurdles to get past. Like most people in our area, the biggest challenge for me is time. I’m a wife, a mom of three active kids, I work two jobs, I serve and volunteer when I can, my husband owns his own business, and we have very big extended families that are all close as well. If we aren’t careful, and praying, and working together to keep it prioritized as something that is important in our lives, it would be easy to push it to the wayside or not give it much thought. Add to that, we live in such a busy time, and such a busy area of the country, that it is difficult to find the time, energy, and sometimes even desire to keep it on the schedule. But the funny thing is that we have taken breaks in the past and I can honestly say that during those times life feels a little bit harder, and we really miss the connection with other people.
But despite all the difficulties we’ve had, nothing can compare to the eternal friendships, life change, and growth we’ve experienced. Not to mention, what a tremendous impact it has had on us personally with our own faith and family! To see friendships and bonds form, to see marriages restored, and families transformed is an amazing thing to witness. We have had people become believers by coming to our group and have watched so many people grow and mature in their faith. We have had the privilege of walking beside people who were down in the deepest valleys of life in a variety of different ways, and I can’t even put in to words what it feels like to see them persevere and stand firm and come out on the other side. And, to be able to witness to one another about all we are seeing happen in each other’s lives and how the blessings of God are visible in one way or another, it’s just an amazing experience. Just think… when we are really doing life together then we’ll have the opportunity to make friends right now in this broken place; friends that we’re going to also know in heaven where everything is perfect. Isn’t that cool?
Vicki wanted to offer two things to those people out there who might be considering becoming a small group leader. Here’s her advice:
First, pray! John 15:4-5 says “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Ask God to show you what you are supposed to be doing, and once you know what that it is, you need to act. Don’t ignore what he is telling you to do because you will miss the blessing in it.
Next, don’t do it alone, after all, life is better connected! Ask for guidance from people who have started them in the past or from the connect group leader. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel and other leaders can be a good resource for helping you narrow down your vision or purpose for your group.
Also, I can’t stress enough for you to be obedient in putting your armor on daily like it tells us in Ephesians 6: 10-18, because I can guarantee you that as soon as you step out and act boldly for Jesus, the enemy will attempt to push you back down.
Finally, C.S. Lewis once said, “Remember that He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted –i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep looking at it.” (C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3).
If you are letting God direct your path, there’s nothing to worry about. Be courageous and step out in faith! God has a plan and you are part of it, and what is he going to say if you refuse to do your part? If you really do believe you are going to meet God face to face one day, do you want him to ask you why you wouldn’t serve him? Or, do you want him to say “well done”?
If you want to get involved in a group, or lead a connect group, contact Amber Adams on our Connect Page.
Shortly after awakening from a restful night’s sleep, Maureen Shannon walked to the window to open the blinds. At the last minute, she changed her mind and turned around. In the very next moment her body broke and her future was dramatically altered.
Maureen began playing piano when she was 11 years old. She felt God had gifted her to play and she enjoyed it tremendously. She played in churches both voluntarily and in some paid positions for 36 years. The accident on February 5, 2014 forever changed her ability to use that gift.
A box of pictures had found its home under the window in Maureen’s bedroom for the better part of a year. It sat, totally benign, patiently waiting to be opened up and gone through as soon as time and circumstances would allow. Maureen put it there. She knew she was standing next to it as she debated whether to open or leave the blinds closed. However, as Maureen turned away from the dark window, she tripped over the box of photos. The trajectory of her body and the momentum of her turn carried her down to the floor. Before she landed in a crumpled heap, her shoulder first slammed into her husband’s shoe rack and broke the ball on which her arm rotates inside the shoulder. The rest of the fall shattered the upper part of her humerus in three places.
Even under the circumstances of the four times she gave birth to their daughters, she never called her husband, Steve, at the clinic where he practiced as a physician to request that he come home. On this occasion however, Maureen knew she needed serious and immediate medical attention.
Steve came home. He walked in the door and was met by a dazed Maureen with her arm hanging limply at her side. She was quickly succumbing to shock.
Steve loaded Maureen into the car and drove to Anne Arundel Medical Center. At first glance, the attending physician assumed her injury to be from a fall on the ice as he had seen many such injuries that day. Embarrassed by the seemingly innocent nature of tripping over a box in a bedroom, Maureen jokingly asked if the doctor could record “slipped on the ice” as the cause of injury instead.
As the marrow leaked out of her bones and traveled down her arm increasing the swelling and damage to the entire arm, the diagnosing physician proclaimed that her injury would result in a complete shoulder replacement. They sent her home with medication to try to staunch the blinding pain, but no further action could be taken until the swelling went down.
The nature of their military insurance required Maureen to endure another consultation at Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center where again, a shoulder replacement seemed imminent. At their appointment, they learned that by divine providence, there was availability for Maureen to be seen at Walter Reed Medical Center where they got to see God’s hand at work again.
Only upon Maureen’s third evaluation, this time at Walter Reed, did they meet with a surgeon who announced that he could repair and rebuild her shoulder and did not recommend a shoulder replacement.
This surgeon was an expert. He had the honor of addressing hundreds of injuries sustained by soldiers sent home from the Middle East. These soldiers had been involved in assaults and IED explosions. They literally had their limbs blown to pieces. The complexity of Maureen’s shoulder injury was similar these. God had sent her to Walter Reed to have the aid of a surgeon who was experienced and uniquely qualified to bring healing to her body.
Maureen underwent the complex surgery that left her with a seven-inch metal plate and 12, three-inch pins holding her upper arm together. Remarkably, after 17 months of rehabilitation and physical therapy she has recovered 90% use and motion of her arm.
Maureen’s recovery astonished the professionals she came into contact with. The Lord provided her with exactly the right surgeon and team that performed an amazing surgery on her arm. She enjoyed support from her family who cared for her. She had a sweet friend who was the hands and feet of Jesus every Thursday as she ministered to Maureen in her home. Countless friends drove her to appointments from February to November when she was unable to drive herself. Maureen performed her physical therapy exercises faithfully. All of these things worked together to provide recovery above and beyond what any of the doctors dared to hope for.
In spite of such an extraordinary recovery, some things will never be the same. Maureen had to grieve the loss of her ability to play piano as she did before the accident. This was hard because piano had been her gift for decades.
In time, Maureen came to accept that God closed the door on that season. While it seems strange to not have that be a part of her life anymore, she is eager to see where God will have for her in the next season.
God is definitely not done with her yet!
Maureen is a wonderful Bible teacher and has been leading a Tuesday morning Bible study at The Church at Severn Run for 17 years (with the exception of the Spring of 2014 when she was recovering from surgery). She is looking forward to seeing the other places God will use her as she faces a future different than she always imagined.