This past Sunday night (yesterday) was the first night of fall small group at my church, The Rock. I’m writing this post before that event occurs (Sunday afternoon) so getting all the tenses correct is going to be difficult. But I hate posting on the weekend because weekends are for resting. There should be a nice lull that settles over the internet and allows us to focus on the real, physical world. I try not to disrupt the lull by posting anything.
Anyway, I’ve been excited about the start of small group this year because our small group was awesome last year. But as I prepared for the first small group to arrive, I realized that there were some seriously dysfunctional attitudes growing in my heart about my new small group. Before we’d even kicked things off for the year. So I took a few hours to try to drag these little gremlins into the light and slay them. Or to prepare my heart, if you prefer a less graphic image.
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ― Brené Brown
Here’s what I ended up doing:
- Identifying and confronting my idea of what this year should look like. Last year was awesome. I am amazingly grateful for the sense of connection we built in our group. Those connections have blessed me tremendously. But one of the reasons we were able to connect is that we (or at least I) came off a couple years of disastrous small groups where there was no connection. So my expectations were low. As a result, I responded well to all the little good things that people did to connect instead of having some really high bar that people had to meet before the group could be “good enough.” I want to have low expectations of the people in my group and high expectations of the Lord. He’s in charge. My goal is to follow him. To approach my small group heart-first. Being open and hopeful requires a lot more courage than being judgmental. I vote for courage.
- Stopping the gossip and speculation. I know gossip is tempting. Sometimes there’s legitimate reasons to talk to someone about things that are going on in your life that involve others. But–let’s be honest–we all go through phases when we realize we’ve slipped solidly into the territory of gossip. As of Sunday morning, I was definitely there. But gossip is hurtful and–especially for new people–can be one of the most off-putting things that established groups do. Hearing something you told someone in confidence repeated back to you through a completely different channel can cut deep. When we ask people to trust us, reassure them that this is a place where they can be honest about themselves without being condemned, and then betray their confidence, it can do lasting damage to their view of Christ and the people who follow him. Sometimes irreparable damage. It also reinforces established cliques, something that groups have to actively fight in order to draw in new people.
- Remembering that one person can make a tremendous difference. There are a couple of different ways to lead a small group (by which I mean, hundreds of hundreds of ways). One of them is to control the people in your group and try to get them to believe and act like you want them to. I’ve been in that kind. As the Lord knows, I have control issues. Serious control issues. I don’t respond well to attempts at domination. But last year, something unexpected (and magical) happened. Our leaders took a different approach. A heart-first approach. Instead of sitting and listening while our leaders spoke, we were engaged, encouraged to laugh together, listened to, and encouraged to connect with one another (rather than only with our leaders). And the same people who’d been completely uncommunicative and disconnected in the control-based group suddenly flourished in the heart-first group. The leaders’ attitudes repaired and revitalized something that I thought had been dead. (And now that I think about it, this is the same way that the Lord always captures my heart. He doesn’t wrestle control from me. He invites me to lay it down and pick up something better–connection with Him.) Bottom line: One person’s attitude can change everyone else’s. I want to be the one who fights for positive change.
- Remembering the reason I need my small group. At the end of the day, small group isn’t about being social. It’s about growth. Learning to be in relationship with others in a way that encourages our growth in our relationships with Christ. A place where we can experiment with how to connect, work through the dysfunctional things in our hearts and lives (because–contrary to what some people will imply with their words or actions–we all have them), and form a strong base from which to reach out into the world more effectively.
My fingers are crossed that I am true to these goals tonight (ahem, last night).
“We are all wonderful, beautiful wrecks. That’s what connects us–that we’re all broken, all beautifully imperfect.” ― Emilio Estevez
Also, I realize that this post was kind of heavy and I promise to be much funnier in the next one. Which will be tomorrow. And is about how your problems follow you wherever you go, even when you run away to another church / job / city. But I swear… it’ll be lighthearted and funny. (:: Pulls out draft and starts working in more jokes.:: )