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Seeker Small GroupsEngaging Spiritual Seekers In Life-Changing Discussions
By Garry Poole
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Willow Creek Association
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCatch the Vision
I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. Ezekiel 34:16
You've never looked into the eyes of another human being who doesn't matter to God. Bill Hybels
I locked eyes with the guy walking toward me on the third floor of Indiana University's Read Dorm, reached out my hand, and greeted him cordially. The instant he introduced himself, I recognized his name. "No way. You're not the Steve, the one who wrote all those letters last year, are you?"
"Yep, that would be me - I'm the Steve."
"Really? Wow! It's awesome to finally meet you."
Steve Parker had spent the previous year as a foreign exchange student in Spain. Almost every month he had written long letters back to his friends in the dorm, graphically describing all his wild escapades. He spared no details. The arrival of his legendary letters turned into a little ritual; the guys would gather around and read every word out loud, then march out into the hallway to post them on the bulletin board for everyone else to enjoy. They'd shout, "Hey, everybody, look at what Steve's up to now!" His stories always made for a great laugh.
So, from a distance, I felt I had already gotten to know this guy named Steve. From his monthly updates I knew how wild and crazy he was and how easily he could turn any situation into a good time. He was quite the popular guy, and everybody eagerly anticipated his return.
This year Steve and I were living on the same dorm floor, enabling me to finally meet him in person. The guy I had read so much about was now standing right before me - and I was looking dead center into the eyes of someone who mattered deeply to God.
"Steve, do you have any idea what a hit your letters were last year? You certainly had a blast in Spain. You've got quite a reputation around here - everyone thinks you're some kind of a hero!" Then, to my surprise, I took a risk and heard myself say, "Steve, this might seem a little off the wall, but I'm starting up a Bible discussion group with some of the guys here on the floor. We're going to talk about what we think about God and Christianity and stuff like that, and I'd like you to come. What do you think? Would you be willing to check it out?"
"Did you not pay any attention to my letters?" Steve taunted. "I'm not interested in the Bible. I'm not interested in God. I'm not interested in Christianity. And I'm definitely not interested in your Bible study. Are you crazy?"
I half laughed and agreed that maybe it was a wild idea. But I wanted to leave the door open, so I assured him that the invitation was always there if he ever changed his mind. Secretly I prayed that maybe, just maybe, he would somehow give it a shot. "Forget about it; I won't be there," Steve assured me. His good-natured, though pointed, response didn't discourage me. In fact, I was determined to build a solid friendship with him anyway, just as I intended to do with some of the guys who had accepted my invitation.
The year before, I hadn't intentionally planned my first seeker small group experience - it just came together by accident. Nevertheless, God used it in the lives of some of the seekers there. This time, however, I purposefully set out to lead a small group of non-Christians. I didn't want this year's group to come together by chance; I wanted to make good and sure it happened.
So during the first week of the semester, I introduced myself to the guys on the floor and let them know I was going to start up a weekly Bible study to talk about spiritual things. I invited almost everyone I met, and most of them said, "No thanks; I'm not interested."
I dared them, anyway, to come just one time to check it out and see what they thought. Several expressed interest and said they'd drop in to give it a try, but only five or six guys actually showed up for the first meeting. To my surprise, though, more and more of them showed up in the coming weeks. And the group proved to be very popular, because we not only openly discussed questions and objections everyone had about Christianity and the Bible, but in the process we began to develop some deep and meaningful friendships.
Even though Steve didn't show any initial interest in joining us, he and I continued to hang out together and our friendship grew. And then he totally caught me off guard one day by announcing that he planned to check out the Bible study group after all. "You know, for the past month I've been hearing all about your group and everyone says it's a good time," he said. "So I'm going to come to your next meeting and experience it for myself."
I was thrilled, but I couldn't pass up the chance to use a little reverse psychology - and to give him a hard time. "No way, Steve," I said. "It's too late. You can't come to our group. You've been banned."
"No, really, I'm going to be there. The guys say it's fascinating because you're open to getting different points of view. So I'm bringing my perspective on things."
"Is that right? Okay, Steve, try and join us if you're that curious. Maybe, if you're lucky, we'll let you in."
The very next week he was there! Steve's energy infused new life into our group's discussion. He didn't hold anything back. He didn't hesitate for one minute in asking tough questions, voicing his opinions, or sharing his past experiences. He also added fuel to the fire by raising issues and questions that some of the others either hadn't thought of yet or didn't know exactly how to express. So when Steve expressed some opposing viewpoints, they'd say, "Yeah, that's a good one; what about that?" Sparks flew with Steve in the group, and I was glad to have him there.
It really didn't surprise me when Steve returned the next week for round two. But when he came back the following week and the one after that, I was astounded. Although he was there to contribute his perspective, he began to learn a few spiritual truths along the way. Eventually he bought himself a Bible and began reading it for the first time in his life!
I have lingering memories of Steve's growing spiritual hunger and his quest to satisfy it. He was fervently trying to figure out what the Bible was all about and what it could mean to know God in a deeper way. There's one particular image I have in my mind of Steve banging on my dorm room door at around midnight. Flicking the light on and off with one hand and holding his open Bible with the other, he barged in, yelling, "Hey, Garry, wake up, wake up. Look, I've been reading in the book of Genesis. These genealogies don't really add up right and it doesn't seem to make sense. How do you explain this?"
Half asleep, I muttered something like, "Steve, nothing adds up after midnight. Just go to bed and forget about it. Ask me again in the morning." (I had developed similar stalling techniques for occasions such as this. It got him out of my way just long enough so I could run over and flip through the commentaries in search of answers to his questions!) Steve was always raising spiritual questions, many of which I could not answer. That kept both of us in search mode. He continued reading the Bible and seeking the truth with intensity, and it was simply amazing to watch.
Steve expressed a concern that even though he had gone to church occasionally while growing up, he hadn't heard much of anything the Bible actually teaches. "I don't ever remember learning what it means to be a Christian," he admitted. "So," he formally announced one day, "I scheduled an appointment to meet with the minister of my former church, because I've got some hard questions for him." Then, elbowing me, he added, "But I promised him you would be there too!"
I wondered what in the world I was getting myself into as I went with Steve to meet with his former minister. Then I watched in awe as Steve quoted John 14:6. "Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.' Now please explain this verse to me," Steve pleaded. "Is Jesus the only way to get to God or not?" Steve challenged that minister with many difficult questions from the Bible that day. It was one of the most remarkable encounters I've ever witnessed - a non-Christian confronting a religious leader about not taking the Bible's claims seriously enough.
Then, a few months later, it happened. Another knock came on my dorm room door. And I will always remember this one. Steve walked in with a big announcement. "Garry, I've been reading the Bible now for some time. I've studied it and I've asked a lot of questions and I've even prayed. But I think it's finally time. I want to invite Jesus Christ into my life. I'd like to receive his forgiveness and I'd like to follow him as best I can."
"You're kidding. I can't believe it!" I replied. He then asked if I would pray with him to make that commitment. So right there in that dorm room we prayed together, and he invited Jesus Christ to be the forgiver and the leader of his life.
Have you ever had that kind of thing happen to you? I'll never forget that moment. It was the first time I ever had the chance to pray with someone to receive Christ - and it marked me forever. I'll never forget hearing Steve pray in his own way and in his own words, admitting that he was a sinner in need of a Savior and inviting Jesus into his life. It was a privilege to witness the transformation process right before my eyes. It was in that moment that I became sold on the concept of providing a small group safe enough for non-Christians to come and bring their objections, questions, and obstacles in order to discuss spiritual things on a regular basis.
From that moment on, the trajectory of Steve's life totally changed. He was the classic example of someone who was running away from God. But then he found a place safe enough to ask his questions and begin his investigation of Christianity. And now he had turned around and was running toward God, chasing after him with all his might and all his heart, trying to honor him in his life.
It blew me away how quickly Steve grew spiritually after that. He became even more intense about reading and studying the Bible. He joined a discipleship Bible study and started memorizing literally hundreds of verses.
On an early Saturday morning Steve was at my door again - it seemed he was always banging on that dorm room door. He shouted, "Garry, get up, get up, get up, we're late."
"What in the world are we late for?"
"There's an evangelism training course starting right about now in the student union building, and we shouldn't miss it! It's a class about how to effectively share your faith, and you need to be there - you need the help! So let's go; we're late."
Excerpted from Seeker Small Groups by Garry Poole Copyright © 2003 by Willow Creek Association. Excerpted by permission.
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