Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Doing Small Groups as If God Really Exists

Yesterday, I wrote about the challenge to live beyond functional atheism in our personal lives as we go about our day-to-day activities. (See post here.) It is so easy to go about life and work, even work that is supposedly "the work of the Lord" in the church, completely unaware that God is near, that God is speaking and leading. God fully surrounds my every move. This makes me think about a few lines from St. Patrick's morning prayer:

   Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
   Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
   Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
   Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height,
   Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
   Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
   Christ in every eye that sees me,
   Christ in every ear that hears me.

This makes me think about how we do small groups. Do we have the imagination of this prayer as we gather in small groups? Or are we primarily focused on how the DVD curriculum will work? Or how the discussion will run? Or what kind of activities we will do to build community? Or what kind of outreach actions we will take? It seems to me that we focus so much of our attention on what we can control to make our groups better. 

So many groups meet every week as "functional atheists." We operate our groups as if God is not really present. Yes of course we talk about the need to worship Jesus. Of course that is one of the purposes of a healthy group as Steve Gladden and many other writers have identified. No doubt about it. But we are in control of "worship." We do worship in a "disenchanted" way. We can sing songs, feel good about what we did and then move on to the next part of the meeting without any expectation that God might actually participate in the life of the group that supposedly meets "in Jesus name." I am all for worship. It will make your group "better. But "doing" worship is a poor substitute for actually meeting with God as a group.

We don't need more "better" groups. We need more gatherings where we encounter God.

I've written about my contention about this quite a lot in various books and blog posts. But I think that it is a point that bears repeating. I am still blown away by how few books are sitting on the seven shelves in my small group section of my library that speak to this issue. We have plenty of technical information about how to make our groups better; we have all kinds of strategies for how to lead better worship in our groups; but we have so little that really speaks to the mystery of encountering God in community.
  • What hinders your group from encountering God as a group?
  • Is this a stated intention of your group?
  • What might be different about your group if people came expecting to meet with God?
If your small group wants to go further into this question, download this the Missional Small Groups Study Guide that I offer as a free download here. 

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