I just got the copy edits back for my forthcoming book Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus, which will come in out in February 2015. As I read through it again, it caused me to reflect on some of the books that have shaped my imagination in writing this book. It's hard to pinpoint all of the influences of how we think, but here are five books that lie beneath the surface of what I've written:
Community and Growth by Jean Vanier reveals the insight gained from leading the l’Arche community, a space where the mentally handicapped and their helpers share life together. The author writes, “Community is a place where people can live truly as human beings.” We all long for this kind of love, but we are all run from it in some way. No one captures the spiritual realities better.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together defines the center of spiritual community by clarifying that we don’t meet around things like Bible study or fellowship, but around the presence of Jesus. “Christian community means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.” We meet one another through Jesus. We minister to one another through Jesus. We don’t connect directly to one another but through the mystery of Christ’s presence.
In his book, A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer writes about the kind of group that welcomes our souls. This is not about getting our walk with Jesus right as much as it is about allowing ourselves to be real with one another. He writes, “The facilitators’s role ... is to be first among equals in creating and protecting a space where everyone’s soul can feel safe.” This is something other than fixing or saving one another. It’s about listening to others to the point that they see the truth.
Living into Community by Christine Pohl identifies four practices that sustain community life. They are gratitude (vs. complaining), making and keeping promises, living truthfully (vs. living behind a facade), and offering hospitality.
Community by Peter Block is not a Christian book. Block is a consultant and trainer who speaks of the need to see ourselves as citizens as opposed to consumers in our cities and towns. But his insight is helpful to group leaders in the church. He writes, “The role of leaders is not to be better role models or to drive change; their role is to create structures and experiences that bring citizens together to identify and solve their own issues.” This speaks to the call of Christian leaders to help people discover what God wants to do in them so that they own the change at deep levels.
I could list many, many more including The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson, Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen, and After You Believe by N. T. Wright. For the most part, none of these books are actually quoted in the endnotes. But they have shaped the way I have come to see group life. And they have challenged me to move beyond just doing groups as a structure and move deeper into the way of Jesus.