Articles Recent Posts Prescriptions for Contentment Fully, Simply Enough Sample Sermon Titles and Texts Spiritual Disciplines and Human Desire Eugene Peterson Writing About the Soul from Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places Article Categories Articles "An Undivided Heart" Articles Being and Doing Articles Gratitude & Generosity Articles Learning Enough Articles More About The Soul Articles Soulful Community Articles Worship And Praise Growing Generous Souls Small-Group Study Guide Weekly Small-Group Lessons To the Study Leader: Here is a small-group study guide using Growing Generous Souls. This group study may be done in seven weeks. Depending on your weekly schedule, you may decide to follow a format of: 1½ hours: with 20 minutes per section (I, II, III) or 45 minutes: with 10 minutes per section (I, II, III) or One or two chapters per session, moving at your own pace. Whichever structure you choose, make sure there’s time to affirm and engage with one another, beginning and ending in prayer. Read the book chapter you’ll be covering for each session, particularly the summary paragraphs at the end, so you can respond to any questions participants may have about the text. As you prepare to lead this study, you may recall the five basic elements of a Christian community, noted in Chapter Twelve of Growing Generous Souls: faith in God, personal authenticity, shared goals, mutual accountability to specific commitments, and a desire to experience the joy of mutual caring, sharing and discovery. Enjoy! Week One: Chapters 1 & 2: Compulsive Doing – Being and Praise Opening Prayer: Thank You, God, for the gift of this group and the opportunity to learn and share together. Help us be open to Your loving challenge as well as comfort, as we reflect on the pressure to over-do in our lives, and to affirm being with You in love and praise. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen. Key Verses: Isaiah 30:15 – “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Psalm 104:33 – “I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being / breath.” Main Point: We don’t have to run around constantly trying to be useful, successful, or some other picture of perfection. Whatever our level of activity, when we understand ourselves as God’s stewards, we can rest in God’s love, overflowing with praise. Chapter 1. “Compulsive Doing” Many of us can get stuck on the treadmill of compulsive doing, at work, in the family, even in church. Our culture’s emphasis on productivity and achievement can draw us toward surface living. A holistic understanding of stewardship and generosity puts us on solid ground, and challenges us to do an about-face in our thinking and actions. Choose one or more questions to explore together: What is the biggest challenge to me personally, as I try to get off the merry-go-round of endless doing? In what ways am I generous with my time, abilities, money and/or relationships? Where do I sometimes share reluctantly or without joy? How can good stewardship and generosity help me make better choices? Where do I want greater balance and wholeness in my life? Are there places where I need to turn around in order to face God more fully? Where do we need to do this as a family, a congregation, or a community? Chapter 2. “Being and Praise” We can nurture our loved-and-loving relationship with God and seek congruence of the way we live with the values we hold. Embracing our core identity as God’s children made in God’s image, we become more attentive to God’s presence and Word. This naturally leads us to praise God, anchored in a framework for joyful living. Choose one or more questions to explore together: To what and to whom do I look to in my life to tell me who I am? To what degree am I comfortable allowing them to help shape my definition of who I am? Reflecting on the significance of the coin in Matthew 22:15-22, as I look at my life so far, where do I see the stamp of God’s image upon my life? Eric Law says a relationship-driven ministry emphasizes listening to one another person’s stories. What are my congregation’s strengths and weaknesses in this area? What could I or we do to value and improve relationships? III. Looking Through the Lens of My Life The prophet Isaiah (30:15) spoke of a turn-around that the people needed to do in order to face God more fully, and in the process find their “rest,” or home, in God. Individually, we may hunger for more intimacy with God in our lives, as well. Choose one or more questions to explore together: In what ways have I felt driven to compulsive doing? To what extent do I feel frantic or fragmented? How can I focus more on authentic being? When have I slowed down to simply be with nature, with another person, or with God, and found myself turning inwardly to praise? Closing Prayer: We are grateful for this time together, O God, and for what it might prompt us to ponder in our personal lives, by Your grace. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. Week Two: Chapters 3 & 4: Practicing Presence – What Is a Soul? Opening Prayer: We thank You, God, for this week past and the gift of this time together. Teach us ways to open ourselves to Your living presence. Help us honor ourselves and one another as souls made in Your image. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen. Key Verse: Psalm 119:15-16 – “I meditate on Your precepts, and fix my eyes on Your ways. I will delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your Word.” Main Point: As we seek to grow spiritually, we can respond to God’s grace in ways that transform us and others. Gratitude increasingly becomes the foundation for our lives. It can grow from a feeling to a way of thinking, to an attitude, trait or disposition, and eventually to a way of life. Chapter 3. “Practicing Presence” Designing some “spiritual whitespace” into our days prompts us to simply be with God through one or more spiritual disciplines: habits that help us positively redirect our attitudes and build receptivity to God. They may be many things, but commonly include Bible study, devotional reading, and different forms of prayer, as well as meditation and contemplation. Choose one or more questions to explore together: What are my current practices of consciously being present to God? Have I ever felt God’s personal presence with me? What was the situation at the time? How can I use Bible study and devotional reading to nourish my time of being with God? What is the most natural way I usually pray? Is there a particular time of day, place, or way of praying that encourages me to spend more time with God? What might prompt me to meditate or contemplate? How might I leave a space in “my” time to be more conscious of God’s presence? Chapter 4. “What Is a Soul?” The word “soul” is the essence and full expression of who I am uniquely and am meant to become. Growing Generous Souls highlights understandings by Christian philosophers in history, particularly Plato, Aristotle and Augustine. Some modern writers reinforce the view of our soul as our “true self,” the blueprint put into us from the beginning. Choose one or more questions to explore together: Do my experiences and understanding fit in any way with the Bible’s use of soul as a person’s life or breath, and as the whole person linked with the Holy Spirit? What do I believe about resurrection of the body versus immortality of the soul? Does that distinction make any difference to me? Do any of Augustine’s or Jung’s psychological understandings resonate with my personal experience? III. Looking Through the Lens of My Life Choose one or more questions to explore together: What habits might I develop or refresh, to fortify my awareness of God’s presence? What aspects of the soul ring truest for me, as I consider the viewpoints of Plato, Augustine, and others? Closing Prayer: We praise You, God, for Your eternal presence, and for Your presence with us every day, every moment. Bless each person gathered here, as we go back out into the world. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen. Week Three: Chapters 5-7: Growing as Becoming – Seasons of the Soul – Gratitude Opening Prayer: We thank You, God, for the ways we have grown in the past. And for how we might continue to grow spiritually in the future. Guide us to become even more aware of all that we can be grateful for in our lives, and in our faith community together. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. Key Verse: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 – “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.” Main Point: Spiritual growth is a process of becoming, growing from the inside out. Gratitude becomes the foundation on which we can build a life of generosity, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Chapter 5. “Growing as Becoming” We can experience spiritual growth as a process of becoming. Families and congregations can help children and youth connect milestones with their faith. Six practices build a culture of generosity within a church, teaching and modeling core stewardship principles. Choose one or more questions to explore together:: Which view of spiritual growth makes most sense to me? Whichever model I use, where do I imagine myself in the process? Have I ever seen or experienced transformational giving? How was or is that different from merely transactional giving, perhaps in quality, presence, or purpose? Where in my life am I working together with God to become more fully the way God has seen me all along? Chapter 6. “Seasons of the Soul” We may imagine spiritual growth like planting a seed, allowing water currents to flow, or shifting from our false to true self. Whatever model we prefer, we can grow from the inside out in response to God’s grace. When we share with others from this perspective, we can develop from mere transactional giving to giving in a way that helps bring transformation. Choose one or more questions to explore together:: In what ways do the metaphors of nourishing seeds or letting currencies flow through us help me more deeply understand my spiritual journey thus far? At what times have I grown spiritually by listening to and sharing with others, benefitting from the “interlaced roots” of one another’s experiences? Have I ever seen or experienced transformational giving? How was or is that different from merely transactional giving, perhaps in quality, presence, or purpose? How have I experienced my own soul in relationship to God? In what ways might I lean more fully into a life-giving, trusting relationship with my Creator? When have I let go of surface preoccupations to “live from the soul?” Are there other times where I would benefit from doing so? III. Chapter 7. “Gratitude” As Christians, we affirm God as the first, infinite, and utterly loving Giver who rescues us, offers wholeness, and gives us the gift of eternal life. Our gratitude is a response of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life. It is the soil in which generous-hearted living grows. Choose one or more questions to explore together: Thinking back to the turning points in my life so far, to whom and to what am I grateful, for keeping me heading in the direction of wholeness? What am I most deeply grateful for? How have I expressed my gratitude at different times in my life? How could I share my gratefulness in the wider community? When have I given thankfully in response to a sense of God’s presence and love? How have I experienced gratitude: primarily as general thankfulness, as a disposition or a trait, as an attitude or a way of life? What practices help me remember God’s grace in the past, be grateful in the present, and be hopeful about the future? Closing Prayer: Thank You, God, for all that has brought us here, and for what Your draw us to next. Guide us to rest in You, whatever we do. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen. Week Four: Chapters 8-10: Scarcity and the Lure of More – An Ethic of Enough – Generosity and Money Opening Prayer: Dear God, we want more of You, not more of everything else. Guide us to strengthen our ethic of enough, so we can be free to share more generously according to Your priorities and our own. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. Key Verse: Matthew 6:25-33 – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will [God] not much more clothe you – you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Main Point: We are led to see ourselves primarily as consumers, always chasing more. But the Scriptures prompt us to anchor our identity in God, and live by an ethic of “enough.” Money can be a powerful, positive tool, but only when we manage it, not the other way around. Chapter 8. “Scarcity and the Lure of More” Saturated with incessant waves of advertising, millions of us confuse wants with needs, prompting lives weighed down by debt. It’s a struggle to counter the false messages that we are what we buy, what we own is our worth, and if some of anything is good, more is inevitably better. But the Bible tells us a different story. Choose one or more questions to explore together:: In what aspects of my life do I experience the lure of more? Where do I find a balance between my wants and the needs of others around the world? Are there ways I can live more simply related to my possessions? What inner attitudes and outward practices might help me do that? Which practice of simplicity would I like to strengthen? What do I consider to be my “fixed expenses,” and why? Considering my response, in what spending categories can I be more fluid? Chapter 9. “An Ethic of Enough” When we acknowledge the chasm between the rich and the poor of this world, it is right to be discontent with injustice. But an “ethic of enough” is a sense of personal sufficiency that allows us to act responsibly toward others. As we choose to live more simply, we can free ourselves from the constant lure of more, advocate for others, and have more financially to share. Choose one or more questions to explore together: What is my personal understanding of “inherent usefulness” for each of the following: house, car, salary, food, clothes, cash savings, and retirement savings? How much is “enough” of each of these things for me? To what degree do I feel free from incessant advertising and the lure of more? How do I deal with the gulf between people who don’t have enough to survive, and those who are burdened with too much? Where do I find a personal balance in my own life? In what areas of my life do I struggle with being content? How can I begin to address these issues? III. Chapter 10. “Generosity and Money” Whether we have a lot or a little, money is the big taboo in much of Western society, in public, in the family, in church. We can talk about money in church in a healthy way that helps us get a handle on our finances and get out of debt, recognizing that how we handle money is a spiritual issue. Choose one or more questions to explore together:: How have I experienced money’s power in my life? Are there any ways in which I have treated or regarded it as a would-be god? Has the atmosphere in our congregation allowed church members to talk about money in the church in a beneficial way? Would any of the five healthy ways listed in this chapter free us to deal with money as more faithful, positive stewards? How could I get out of debt, or become more faithful in staying away from it? Which of the ideas here might help my church assist its members in their individual and family financial situations? What are some ways I can use my resources creatively to benefit my wider community? Closing Prayer: Thank You, God, for what we may have struggled with and shared today, and for the thoughts we take home with us. Guide us to be generous with what You’ve given us, each in our own life situation. Help us to show Your love, in Jesus’ name. Amen. Week Five: Chapters 11-13: Putting God First – The Church and Caring for Souls – A Renewed Sense of Mission Opening Prayer: Holy and loving God, we want to put You first in our lives, and have that show in how we care for one another and reach out in Your name. This we pray through Jesus, who shows us the way. Amen. Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 9:7-8, 13-14 – “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. . . . Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and will all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that [God] has given you. Thanks be to God for [God’s] indescribable gift!” Main Point: First Fruits Living frees us from legalism and guilt, and empowers us to put God first in several aspects of our lives. When we let go of dispiriting one-shot religious programs and embrace instead caring for souls, we can strengthen both our internal life as a congregation and the ways we reach out in mission. Chapter 11. “Putting God First” People give money for a variety of reasons.. In a congregation, the rhythm of “ask, thank, tell” encourages transparency and sharing stories of changed lives. The greatest financial step a person can take is to First Fruits Living, whatever percentage we give. It helps us reorder our priorities, releasing us from guilt or legalism, so we can put God first. Choose one or more questions to explore together: Thinking about family income, how do my saving and spending percentages differ from those in this chapter’s Adult Allocation pie chart? What adjustments am I willing to consider so my percentages better fit my financial goals? How have I been teaching the children and youth in our family about managing money? Could any of this chapter’s resources help that process? In our congregation, how could we be more intentional about teaching children and youth about money? In what ways do my money habits harm or help others? Are there ways I can scale back my wants in order to benefit those who are needier than I, and to help sustain natural resources? What might First Fruits Living look like in my life? How would my priorities change? What would stay the same? How well am I “managing all the rest” as a reflection of God’s generosity? Chapter 12. “The Church and Caring for Souls” Instead of endlessly offering one-shot religious programs, a faith community can shift their paradigm from doing church to being church together, with a strong internal life (koinonia) and service to others (diakonia). As agents for Jesus Christ, we can strengthen our small-group life and fortify six leadership behaviors for people-centered, team-based ministry. Choose one or more questions to explore together: How might I improve the quality of my faith community in caring for people as growing souls? What strengths and weaknesses do I see in the koinonia (relationships) and diakonia (service) aspects of my primary faith community? Given the five basic elements of Christian community named in Companions in Christ, which is the strongest where I worship and serve? Which is the one I would most like to strengthen? What can I do now to experience more deeply community, generosity, and joy? How can I draw closer to my companions in faith, as I seek to live closer to God? III. Chapter 13. “A Renewed Sense of Mission” A variety of ministries show distinctive ways to widen our circle of care, beginning by listening for the yearnings and hidden strengths of our communities. Flat-mission models, crowdfunding and other Internet media can empower small faith communities to “act large” and have deep, direct impact through mutual resourcing and networked global ministries. Choose one or more questions to explore together: Which of the four areas of love – family, friends, neighbors, and people around the world – is most challenging for me to care for other people? In each of these spheres, where do I find the greatest support? In which do I take most for granted? How might some new practices, such as the flat-mission model or crowdfunding, open more possibilities for my congregation to extend its mission? How well does my faith community encourage the core perspectives and practices needed for steward leaders? What one could we work on to make the most difference? In what ways might our local church reinforce or deepen our stewardship of relationships throughout our wider network? Closing Prayer: Thank You, God, for this group of people and Your calling to each one of us. We seek to meet You, wherever You are at work in our community and world. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. Week Six: Chapter 14: Generosity as a Way of Living Opening Prayer: God of the whole Earth and in our inmost hearts, we thank You for the beauty of our planet, the mystery of our bodies, and the constant opportunity to begin anew by Your grace. Open us this day to Your teaching and presence. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen. Key Verses: Earth – Genesis 2:15 – “The LORD God took the man [adam] and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” Personal Well-Being – 1 Corinthians 6:19 – “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” Forgiveness – Matthew 18:21-22 – “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times / seventy times seven.’” Main Point: Whole-life generosity prompts us to transform many dimensions of our lives, including care for the Earth, personal well-being, and our ability to forgive. Chapter 14: Generosity can be a radiant way of life with many facets, including caring for the Earth, honoring ourselves in creative ways, nurturing good health, and learning to forgive others and ourselves. Ten qualities of living can motivate us to receive and share joyfully. The Bible invites us to do no harm as well as do good, and there are many refreshing ways to open ourselves to the immeasurable grace of God. Care for the Earth Personal and group action can challenge consumerism, develop positive daily habits, and address damaging pollution and systemic change. Choose one or more questions to explore together: What would it look like in my church and/or community if faithful stewardship of the Earth became the key transforming part of our culture? How could I change my regular habits to “do no harm” to the Earth and its creatures? How might I model a more positive way of being God’s steward of all that lives around me? What initiatives could I support to change crucial human systems that are impairing life or limiting the future of this planet? Personal Well-Being We can honor ourselves in a variety of ways, including nurturing friendships, savoring the moment, and taking good care of our health. Choose one or more questions to explore together:: How can I be a better steward, or manager, of my health? How might I be more “generous” toward my own well-being? III. Forgiving Others and Ourselves Forgiving other people, and especially forgiving ourselves, can be a lifelong process, but it is possible and immensely rewarding. God helps us develop our capacity for it. Choose one or more questions to explore together: When have I forgiven others, and where do I have unfinished work? In what ways can I forgive myself for what I have done or not done? How does my faith community support me in forgiving others, forgiving myself, and being forgiven? Which aspect of forgiveness has been harder for me: forgiving other people, or forgiving myself? Where might I start to forgive more deeply or more meaningfully? Closing Prayer: No one of us is perfect, God; You know us down to the core, and love us anyway! Guide us to go out seeking deeper generous-hearted living, one step at a time. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. Week Seven: Soul Making Opening Prayer: Most generous God, we thank You for Your gifts of creation and of our lives, and for the Scriptures and the person of Jesus Christ. Guide us to make our souls increasingly open to Your love and grace, transforming us into Your image, each in our own unique way. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen. Key Verse: Mark 12:28-31 – “One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’” Chapter 15: It has been easy for many of us to fall into compulsive activity or a sense of “average everydayness” in our personal lives and church involvement. We can more fully taste the freedom of generous-hearted living that Jesus Christ offers us, nurturing our true selves made in God’s image. Passionate, vital generosity can become the key to “soul making” as a sparkling, lifelong adventure! Pick from any of the nine questions in Chapter Fifteen, or Choose one or more of these questions to explore together: In which dimensions of generous-hearted living have I been strong thus far? In what aspects do I hope to keep growing, by God’s grace? How do my money habits relate to my faith? How could I strengthen my own practice of First Fruits Living in more facets of my life? Which one of the ten qualities listed in Growing Generous Souls, Chapter 14, motivates me most strongly to try to live generously? What have I learned, or what do I want to reclaim, about my own unique soul, about “living from the soul,” or about living more fully in God’s image? Closing Prayer: Thank You, God, for the opportunity to explore “growing generous souls” over these past weeks, and for the amazing people we’ve been with in this group. Guide us, we pray, as You hold us close in Your grace. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.