Storeroom of the Heart

When we found out that Brentwood Baptist was starting a new “Multicultural LIFE Group,” we knew it would be a perfect fit for us. When we found out, about a year later, that God was asking us to lead in the group, I thought maybe that fit wasn’t quite as perfect. Here’s a bit of that story and what God is teaching us through our new position.

About 18 months ago, Brentwood Baptist began a new Multicultural LIFE Group. At its center, the group was created for families just like ours. Families where one or more members come from a background that is different from the majority of American culture. In our case, my wife is from Hainan, China, and I’m from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. We had been awkwardly splitting our time between the Chinese congregation and the regular church activities. We wanted to get plugged in to a small group but, because of our somewhat unique family situation, one of us always felt a bit like an outsider.

We got involved in the new Multicultural group and found an ideal fit. Not only were there other couples like us who had faced and dealt with life in the same way we were – we also gained group members who were 2nd generation immigrants and immigrant families raising children here in America, a culture and lifestyle very different from what they had known before. All together, we began to look at following Christ and understanding Scripture in a more practical way, separating it from whatever cultural norms or viewpoints we each brought with us.

Then in May, I was asked to think about taking leadership in the group… not what I was expecting! I felt inadequate, unprepared, and afraid to take on that responsibility. I had never had a leadership position in the church other than helping in children’s Sunday school or planning games in VBS. The thought of teaching adults, many who have been Christians as long as I’ve been alive, was a bit daunting. Then, on the other hand, many of our group had brought a variety of beliefs, practices, and thought processes from their background – almost treating Christianity as one more subject in their study of American culture. And then we always have a few who are skeptical seekers, not convinced that Christianity is the truth and not afraid to state where they disagree. Needless to say, I was overanalyzing the makeup of our group and doubting that I’d be the person who could handle it all.

As I talked with Jay Fennell, and over the last 4 or 5 months that I’ve been leading, one principle has stood out, becoming very clear and real to me. One morning in the Connection Center, Jay talked to me about living and leading out of the overflow of what Christ was doing in my heart. He told me that if God wasn’t working and leading in my own life, I’d never be able to work or lead in the life of our group members. Luke 6:45 says, “A good man produces good out of the storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”

I know that I am still growing into the amount of love, knowledge, and leadership needed to guide our class purely out of my spiritual overflow. However, I wanted to encourage the new leaders and old veteran leaders alike with what I’ve been realizing over the last few months: we have to first be looking in our own hearts and lives to see God’s working before we can ever truly be there for others in the way God intends. As we are filled to overflowing with the knowledge and presence of God, we can then pour out more for those God has given to our care. Those weeks when I know that I haven’t done my part to be filled, I easily feel “drained” because there’s not enough to give! It’s a simple concept that perhaps many of you had already grasped but, for me, it’s been a welcome realization. As group leaders, we must be constantly insuring that the “storeroom of our heart” is filled to overflowing and adequately stocked for the task at hand—loving, leading, and serving.

Written by Tyler Browning, F Leader of the Multicultural LIFE Group at the Brentwood campus. He and his wife LiYing have been attending Brentwood Baptist since their marriage in 2012. They met in a house church in Hainan, China, where Tyler lived and worked for 2 years. They are thankful and excited to be a part of God’s plan for reaching unengaged families in the multicultural community.

Taking Time to Rest

It can’t possibly be ok for me to feel tired! After all, there are persecuted Christians all over the world and missionaries who labor tirelessly for Christ.  I have it so easy just leading two LIFE Groups.  I have even cut back from ministering every week at the women’s prison.  Those were my thoughts in the spring of 2016 along with an overwhelming feeling of guilt.

I have had a calling for women’s ministries and have led Bible studies for 22 years, along with other ministries inside and outside BBC. Not to sound holier-than-thou, but I honestly don’t make a move without prayer, seeking the Lord’s will in everything.  I know that when I lose my peace, I have stepped outside the Lord’s plan for me.

Last spring, I was doing what I had been called to do, so where had my peace gone?

I was feeling a tug to get to know my neighbors better so I would be in a better position to evangelize, and I was discontented for the first time in 22 years in leading women’s groups. Was the Lord calling me in a different direction completely? Sometimes, it’s hard to know even when our only desire is to be right in the middle of His will.

Another completely random thought that came into play was from a conversation I had had with Jay Fennell. He had asked the question, “If you get run over out here on Concord Road, who will carry on for you?”

I asked for another meeting with Jay where we discussed all that I was feeling and praying about. He gave me a book to read about becoming engaged with one’s neighborhood. He also encouraged me to take a summer sabbatical.  Wow!  Who knew that was even possible; right?

My Tuesday night LIFE Group was accustomed to being “off” for the summer. Frequently, I would host devotions or a short study for the summer but not always.

The LIFE Group on Sunday morning was another matter. This group was accustomed to my standing before them each week as a regular Sunday School teacher.  They were all mature believers who served in various capacities in the church and in our class and fully capable of leading themselves for the summer if I could just help them believe it.

First of all, I role-played and showed them the difference between teaching and facilitating. Several who would never have agreed to teach, agreed to facilitate a lesson.

Shelia McCulloch, a class member and excellent organizer, drew up a summer schedule. Some Sundays they had a guest teacher.  Some were facilitated by class members.  Some involved field trips to visit our other campuses.  Every Sunday was filled.

Out of this too came a class member who loves to teach and is now co-teaching with me. Remember the Concord Road question?  Resolved!

I wish I could say I evangelized my entire neighborhood. I learned that building relationships with non-believers is a slow process, built brick by brick, that will probably take the rest of my life.

I can say I returned to both LIFE Groups in September with renewed energy, focus and once again the knowledge that I am where I should be until He calls me to serve elsewhere. What an awesome God we serve!

Written by Claudine Irby, Leader of Faith Builders LIFE Group on Sunday mornings and Women of Faith on Tuesday evenings. Claudine worked for AT & T for 30 years and retired as General Manager for TN/KY. She has been a member of Brentwood Baptist for 41 years, serving as Trustee, SRT member, LIFE Group leader, and has taught women’s Bible studies for 22 years. Her daughter Jamie Bennett works in our Missions Ministry.

When Less Becomes More

By John Harris, Easy Company LIFE Group

For where two or three are gathered …. or four, or 10, or 20. With a LIFE Group of 35 people, when we gather on Sunday mornings, we’re typically looking for a few more chairs. And that’s a good thing.

We have an active, welcoming class. Our members are interested in learning about God’s Word and what’s happening in each other’s lives. Whether it’s talking about our children, jobs, or a Bible verse, there’s no shortage of conversation.

But even so, a larger group can sometimes make it harder for people to share some things or maybe elaborate on the details. Although our group certainly doesn’t hold back, there are times when it can be challenging to share a prayer request within the larger group context.

The solution? As the group gets bigger, we get smaller. For no particular reason other than to try something new, one day I decided to take prayer requests in smaller groups of three or four, rather than in the full class setting as we typically do. The result was surprising.

Group members shared more about their lives and mentioned more prayer requests than usual. Prayer requests that might be general in nature or maybe not spoken at all were shared in greater detail in the context of a smaller group.

Over and over, people told me that doing prayer requests this way was really something they liked. The ability to connect in meaningful ways was an enriching thing, even among a group that is already having great fellowship. By getting smaller, we got bigger. We’ve been doing it ever since.

I guess math is a funny thing. Sometimes two plus two equals five. And sometimes, when we divide, we get something more than what we started with.