Think. Discuss. Act. Youth Ministry

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Review: Seeker Small Groups

Garry Poole, (2003) Seeker Small Groups: Engaging Spiritual Seekers in Life-Changing Discussions,  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 319p.

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Garry Poole offers a wonderful testimony about his discovery and work in discussion groups with those without specific faith commitment. His book, the Seeker Small Group, through testimonials, practical advice and outlined guides, provides various principles that anyone operating in ministry should observe. In this four-part book, he outlines how to launch a small seeker group, how to attract seekers to small groups, how to lead seeker small group discussions, and how to reach seekers through small groups. As a tool of evangelism, the small seeker group allows the participant to question, try, and deal with their spirituality in a non-threatening manner. The facilitator acts as a guide to provide assistance with provocative, open questions, allowing a participant to consider introspectively their need or desire for God.

As a youth worker particularly, I found the principles discussed here to be helpful in developing programs, discussions and other evangelistic outreach. The three principles I found most helpful are: providing conducive setting for youth meetings, developing the leader as facilitator, and employing the Spiritual Discovery Model into the practice of our youth department. I will describe how I intend to use each principle within my youth department.

Principle One: The Setting and Structure of the Meetings

For youth the first impression is key, especially these days. Constantly exposed to glamour, technology and glitz in the media and beyond, it is important for young people to first try out the atmosphere of a youth group. They need to find that it attracts, provides security, and is relevant to their daily existence. Poole offers advice about this for us.  As adults, we often neglect or think atmosphere is secondary to sharing the Word. For me, Poole confirms the essential things that young people need in terms of the setting of our meetings: ground rules, accessibility (location, being able to share during discussions, being able to be open with a leader), bonding through activity (icebreakers appropriate to a particular crowd) and relevance to their identites as youth (music, interaction, humor, etc.)  As I continue to develop the programming for our youth fellowships and discussions, I make sure to plan the setting and atmosphere as well as the topic. I want our program to be accessible for new comers with an atmosphere where the youth are not afraid to ask questions and be open with the leader. The first priority for my youth training in the next year will be to train our current leadership to foster those qualities so that our youth will feel safe and free to speak. We want new youth to find it easy to join in. And of course out time should be well planned and organized in a way that seems natural and informal to youth.

Principle Two: The Leader as Facilitator

Part of making our youth program more accessible, safe and free lies in the style and skills of leaders as they bring the group together and guide discussions. They should think of themselves as facilitators, not preachers or school teachers. Poole sees this facilitating quality as essential to the small seeker group. When the leader acts a facilitator, he or she allows the participant to discover the answers for him or herself. Poole describes these as “aha moments.” As good teachers know, learning only takes place when a student genuinely understands and demonstrates that they have discovered the concept in his or her own way. This is beneficial for the student or participant of the small group because in their moment, they are invested in what they have learned. Most often, the participant is motivated to learn more as a result of some previous moment. In my youth group, I’ve noticed that we tend to be preachy at our kids, instead of allowing them to grapple with the concepts and discover. I believe if we, as youth workers, practice more facilitation, we will find more of our kids motivated to deal with their spirituality, instead of waiting for the cue of the youth leader or other adults.  Perhaps, my kids would be able to learn the technique and be better leaders for their peers.

Principle Three: Questioning

Formulating questions for the discussion is key to becoming a good facilitator. The purpose of questioning is to provide a beginning for the participants to discover their truths. Invaluable to the process of the seeker small group, the skill of questioning elicits thoughtful responses from the participants. Often, people think that questioning is intuitive or “impromptu”, but a skilled questioner uses the following guidelines to ask provocative questions that challenge the participants.

Poole’s outline of these five guidelines for effective questioning are

Ø        prepare in advance,

Ø        be clear and concise questions,

Ø        draw out opinions and feeling,

Ø        keep questions open-ended, and

Ø        clarify the responses of the participants.

Just as a carefully planned lesson, the questioner should prepare how they will build the questions so there is a natural progression in the participants thinking and discovery. Obviously, there is an intended end, but the questions should allow the participants a chance to reach that end in the participant’s own way. In my youth group, these guidelines will give my leaders a tangible way of fostering this skill for themselves.  The result is that our youth will be more apt to self-discovery, and develop great conversations that would lead to life-changing actions.

Principle Four: Using the Spiritual discovery model

In Seeker Small Group Poole articulates a five-part spiritual discovery process he believes each individual ventures through in his or her personal development. In this process, the intensity of the seeking determines the stage of the seeker in his or her process. Poole suggests that we identify the stage of seeker; then we can better support and encourage the seekers in our groups to realize their goal.

The keys to effective facilitation are a recognition on the facilitator’s part that seeking is a process that must proceed at the seeker’s speed or timing and a recognition that the facilitator’s role is to be an aid in the process, allowing God to move and bring truth to the seeking individual in God’s own timing.

This five-phase process includes

1.       identification (seekers identify what they believe),

2.       clarification (seekers clarify why they believe what they do),

3.       exploration (seekers explore alternative truth opinions),

4.       evaluation (seekers evaluate new discoveries), and

5.       decision (seekers decide what to believe).

It is important to note here that this is a process for each spiritual truth that we find. Once one makes a decision, the process begins another cycle as one seeks to uncover more of his or her initial discovery.

Often, we challenge people to first make a decision and then discover spiritual truths for themselves. The result often causes resistance because they have not been allowed to explore their natural process through the model. When I look back on my own experience, I went through this process, although I might not have articulated in these exact five phases. Like me, many others who were truly seeking, were not given space and opportunity to venture through this process.

For young people, who are developmentally searching for identity and thwarting authority that tells them who they should be, I believe that using this model for understanding one’s evolution would result in more surrendered youth for Christ. Often, we guilt or lord the gospel over their heads without them internalizing their own spirituality. As I seek to build up the youth department at my church, this will be one of the first trainings that I offer, for the leaders need to be aware and practice observing the model as we interact with our youth.

Conclusion:

In his book, Seeker Small Group, Garry Poole gives many principles to create and maintain small seeker groups. Though the seeker group is used primarily as an evangelistic tool in his book, I plan to adapt the principles outlined above within the practices of my youth department. I believe that these principles not only make evangelism more effective, but also allows for a more effective discipleship effort. The principles that I plan to use in my youth department are: setting a conducive atmosphere for youth meetings, developing the leader as facilitator, and the implementation of the Spiritual Discovery Model. All of these principles allow each participant to feel safe to ask questions, to feel safe to share their intimate parts of themselves, and to develop their thoughts and concepts of their spirituality more effectively.

I really have appreciated the underlying tone of this book in allowing God’s timing and call to be the force that attracts participants to seek out their spirituality. Inherent in the principles of this book, the process allows genuine introspection for the individual. When allowed to advance through the process the individual can clearly see himself or herself as “bankrupt” and in need of God. Reflecting on my own experience, I know it took time for me to see how much I needed God in my life. Ultimately, I believe it honors God’s purpose of the Gospel, true commitment. God never forces Himself or His will on us, He asks for us to give it willingly-that is the loving God that we serve. So how much more should we operate in this mode as we disciple and encourage the seekers around us?

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1.     Did you get enough about this book to read it yourself?  Why or why not?

2.     From what was written above, are you convinced that young people need more discussion than preaching?

3.     What from the above can make you a better discussion leader?

4.     Imagine yourself in a group of post-modern, post-Christian young people. What would bring such a group together, begin the bond the group, and lead some to a faith commitment?

Implications

1.     Students today do need much more opportunity to discuss. And they need good discussion leaders.

2.     If you don’t think you could lead a group of seekers, who have no faith commitment, you do need to read this book. Its stories will motivate, and its principles will instruct and further your skills.

Kara N. Dunn
© 2018 CYS

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