What advice do you have for new or prospective local leaders?
Tom: God will provide. Always be looking for someone to raise up as a future leader or handy on the spot leader in case someone gets sick.
Jim: Start with Colossians and use the NavPress Bible Study book to help you. This accomplishes many things: first, Colossians is focused on Christ and well help you set a Christ-centered tone for your group; second, for a mature believer, Colossians is relatively easy to facilitate; third, Colossians is still accessible for a new believer; and finally, Colossians will ensure that everyone in your group will be exposed to the Gospel from the get go. Colossians also happens to be short…you can easily finish it ten weeks and then decide on the next study as a group. Using the NavPress book gives you a framework and cuts down on the amount of homework you need to do as a leader. I use a NavPress book for every study I lead. I also regularly use Matthew Henry, Strong’s, and Pillar commentaries.
What are some of the best things you’ve encountered or experienced in small groups?
Tom: The long lasting friendships that result. We’ve spent a lot of time crying and laughing through some great times and troubled times but know that God put us together for a reason.
Jim: Our OCF group has been our family. Whether it’s celebrating Christmas at Yokota, having a shrimp boil in Pensacola, or a cheese party at Minot, our OCF group has been our extended family. We’ve had OCF Easters, Christmases, and Fourth of July’s. We’ve celebrated at birthdays, weddings and homecomings, mourned at funerals, welcomed new friends and said “farewell for now” to old friends. Our OCF family has been a part of our lives since Melanie and were married in 1994.
How long have you been leading an OCF small group?
Tom: Since 2007 at Fort Leavenworth.
Jim: Since 1999. I think our longest break was for four months.
When did you first get involved in attending an OCF small group?
Tom: At CGSC at Fort Leavenworth through Tom Schmidt.
Jim: I was on the fringes of OCF at USAFA until I graduated in 1994. Lt Col Tom Austin was patiently sowing seeds in my life while he was stationed at the Academy as an exchange officer. Our first small group was led by the John and Irma Hultman at Yokota AB in Japan. Tom Austin’s work began to bear fruit when I informed my new wife Melanie that we “needed” to be in an OCF study the day she arrived at Yokota. While in orbit with the gentle souls that made up our OCF family at Yokota, I finally surrendered completely and unreservedly to the Lord.
When did you start leading one?
Tom: Winter 2007.
Jim: After Yokota we went to flight training and eventually ended up at Minot AFB two years later. First we were stationed at NAS Pensacola with John and Wanda Roberts and Mark and Julie Ostrye. Then we were stationed at Barksdale AFB with Bill and Judy Rushing. These wonderful couples poured themselves into our lives, showing us what small group leadership looks like. While we were at Barksdale we told our friends Greg and Sheri Pound that if there wasn’t an OCF at Minot we’d start one when we got there. Greg and Sheri got there six months before us. By the time we arrived, the Pound’s advertising agency had been working overtime. I think that on our first night of Bible study we had 17 people and three guitars. Of the 17 people that came on the first night, we only knew the Pounds. Amazingly, we served at Minot for more than a decade. I think we trained three couples to replace us only to farewell them. Our years “up north” are a highlight of my career because of our small group family…our life in Minot happily revolved around our OCF group. God didn’t end His blessings when we left Minot though; our groups in Alabama, Hawaii and here in Nebraska have been amazing. As I contemplate the families whose lives have touched ours over the years, I feel as if I’ve been granted a small glimpse of heaven.
We’re currently at Offutt AFB. Mike Kolster and I are the Local Leaders here. Mike leads a Wednesday morning study at the food court and I lead a Thursday night study in a local home. Both studies have a pretty diverse population; Wednesdays are all rank and include retirees and civilian employees, Thursdays are mostly couples; Lt to Lt Col as well as federal employees.
The Lord has used OCF to bless Melanie and me and our family. We’ve been equipped, trained, encouraged, prayed for, led, served and loved well by OCF. I count it a privilege to have served as a small group leader, a local rep and an area rep. We recognize that much if not most of OCF’s impact in our life has been in the context of our small group. For us, our small group is and always has been where the rubber meets the road. Thanks for allowing me to share a little bit about my experience.