We have been contemplating the idea of a small group. A small group of what? Of people that do what? People that… Well, I guess It depends on who you ask. The term has taken on a life and meaning of its own in the Christian sub-culture. Small group, community group, discipleship group, D-group, cell group, care group, growth group… All grasping at meaning. (I may use these words interchangeably, so watch out.) Are these groups even necessary? Or are they a band-aid over a deeper cultural ailment? We are less connected to others in our work and leisure; in tactile and tangible things. We are less connected geographically. Can small group actually help us to feel and be more connected to others? Can it fill a real void in Christian community? Can it be a place where culture-at-large can be engaged, rather than just the Christian sub-culture?
An intimidating venture. What is purpose of a community group? Ask that and get a thousand different answers. That’s why it may be helpful to take some time to process this at the beginning of this journey. To reflect on where we’ve been, to help us know better where we want to go.
At Wheaton College, I was part of a small discipleship group. Some juniors and seniors voluntarily chose to lead groups of freshmen and sophomores. An opportunity to pull back from the business of constant study, practice and test taking. To humble ourselves before one another, and be reminded of our frailty at our most “invincible” time of life. That was short-lived, since I dropped out of Wheaton after a year and a half.
Coming back east, my parents had recently joined a church here in South Jersey. The small groups at this church were called care groups at the time (now called community groups). A place where you would be cared for. Pretty simple. I thought: this is where spiritual growth will happen. These groups are the life-blood of the church. If the people in the group are open enough, and if they ask good enough questions of one another, then each member of the group should grow to be spiritually healthy. This was where application happens.
During this time, I had very little real world responsibility. Spending time with others outside of care group was easy. The meeting was just a natural extension of our friendship. It was a formal gathering of friends who would have spent time together anyway. But this was an opportunity to go a little deeper. To be more purposeful.
Once Rachel and I got married, and especially once we had children, we slowly discovered that the structure and function of care group as we experienced it no longer fit within the context of our new relational needs. We no longer needed a context for relationships. We just needed relationships.
Care group as we knew had become a difficult place to grow in relationships. We’d come, tired from the day, ready to start winding down when the group was getting started (7:30 pm). Singing. Announcements. Refreshments. Then discussion. Now it’s 9 pm. A scripture. A leading question. Sitting in a circle with twenty or more people. It felt like hard soil for these relationships to blossom.
Along with this, Rachel and I are gifted differently when it comes to communication. I prefer to process life at a faster speed, and I don’t like to deliberate on decisions. If there’s a problem, let’s come to a quick resolution. It’s okay if some people get left in the wake. Get on board because I’m moving. I go actively looking for my thoughts and I process through writing and conversation. Rachel needs time to let her thoughts reveal themselves. She processes her thoughts better through experience, friendship, slow conversation (even started one day and continued the next), community, a walk in nature, and through work and leisure shared with others.
After marriage, everything changed relationally because now my greatest relational commitment was right in front of me. Once children came, my second greatest relational commitment was right next to me.
If life changes so much during this season of life, then how should community group change its function? Shouldn’t community group grow from a context for relationships to a servant that helps relationships to grow and blossom?
For us, it was no longer the place where we experienced our most intimate friendships. That was now in our home. But as those of us who are married know, we still need friendship outside of our marriage. I need other men to talk with, have fun with, and share my joys and burdens with. And Rachel needs other women to do the same. But how to balance this new dynamic?
Previously, I lived under my parent’s roof and financial net with little to no real world responsibility. Now I am working a nine-to-fine cubicle job (which I said I would never do), learning how to work in a way that honors the Lord. I am responsible for providing food and clothing for this family. I want to nurture the physical and emotional needs of Rachel and our three children. We have to pay rent, balance a budget, stay out of debt, understand nutrition, learn to cook, fix a leaky sink, un-clog a drain, mow the lawn, get paperwork off our desk, pay bills. All while learning to communicate in a meaningful and loving way with with one another.
Rachel used to stay up till three or four AM every night in college, enjoying those quiet hours to read and write. Then marriage. Learning how to take care of herself, to nourish her body and soul and mind. Learning to manage a household and a budget. Nurturing and teaching our children to talk, write, draw, cut, mix, observe, go potty, meditate, and worship. Making decisions that have real consequences. A weighty calling.
We were learning to nurture the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of our family, as well as our own busy, tired, and wearisome selves.
We were learning how to live life all over again.
We would look back at our life of singleness and wonder where all the time went. What did I do? Who am I now? Will I be at this job the rest of my life? (Am I going through an early “mid-life” crisis?) Who has God has created me to be? Do I even have time to think about this? Is life just going to be a whirlwind of work, eat, sleep?
I wonder how many other young couples are on a crash course for burnout because they have jumped into marriage with a bit of pre-marital counseling, but no training for the challenges that marriage will throw at them? No space, time, or counsel to dig deep, to help them be pro-active rather than re-active?
Is community group a place where these needs can be met?