There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability;
there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community. - M. Scott Peck

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why Group?

A new guy joined us for group last night, and perhaps in light of that (but a great exercise either way) Jack offered each of us the opportunity to express our expectations for small group. I was surprised how clear and defined my own expectations are, and surprised again how selfish my list sounded – but I think it’s a good list. Here's it is:

1. Authenticity. I don’t want to waste time pretending to be something I am not, or hearing you do likewise. Group is a sacred place where we determine to be honest, including our fears, difficulties, and failures.

2. Confidentiality. Authenticity doesn’t happen without a reassurance of safety. It’s hard enough to risk rejection in the group by letting you know my crap, I certainly don’t want it shared outside the group.

3. No advice. I enjoy and learn from the advice that sometimes will surface in group, but that’s not why I come. I simply need to be heard an accepted. My true challenges have little to do with needing guidance. I pretty much know what I need to do. More often, I simply need to be honest with myself, and honesty in group helps me do that.

4. Presence. The thing I really come to group for is to be with the guys. When there is a good exchange of ideas and I am challenged (as actually happens at every group), I consider that a bonus. The most significant thing for me is simply the time spent with people who know me well, and whom I know well, and where there is mutual concern.

5. Change. If I leave group with more knowledge, that’s nice, but what I really want and need at the end of the day is to be different for the time spent. Positive life change is my litmus test for time well spent.

What’s your list?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On Stage

Part of my personal struggle has been to believe that God actually speaks directly to me. I speak a lot “at” God, but I have not been a good listener. That’s partly because not believing that God is speaking to you doesn’t encourage much listening. But I’m getting better. And as I get better at believing and listening, I am hearing God in my life more. God showed up big for me at group this week.

I’m not even sure how it started - I only know I didn’t start it this time. Somehow the conversation turned to whether our group would – should – could – wanted to even talk about multiplying into two groups. I started this conversation months ago, but we all felt very hesitant and resistant. Why would we take a chance on destroying the good thing we had built? Did we really want to go through all the work that it takes to create an environment where authentic, gut level sharing is not only possible, but the only accepted standard? What if the two groups we created weren’t as life giving and authentic as this one?

Given the resistance, I stopped talking about dividing the group. Instead, at the end of every group for the past few months, I have prayed openly in the group that God would open our hearts and help us find a way to share what we have found in our group with other men. God showed up Wednesday and softened our hearts a bit. By no means have we agreed to form two groups. We’re all still hesitant, fearful, and - I think we would all agree - a bit selfish. But now God has engaged us in the conversation and only good things can happen. We spent our group discussing could we, should we, would we. We’ve agreed to continue the conversation and, more importantly, pray about multiplying our group. Stay tuned for how this part of the story unfolds! The conversation alone reinforces for me that God listens to my prayers and will speak directly into my life if I work on God’s time and listen for the quiet stirrings.

But that was only half the story. I have been struggling since before the Plan B series with whether I’m in a big enough story. My life is blessed – especially compared to the struggles guys in my group are facing. So I’ve been questioning whether I’m using my gifts and talents enough. Have I just become comfortable and not really contributing much to the world around me? God and I have been round and round on this. Is it God’s plan and God’s story that I’m currently in or is it my plan and what I want the story to be that’s making me unsettled? Does God want more from me or do I want to write my own script?

It seems one of the reasons most of the guys are hesitant to multiply our group is that they believe my leadership has contributed significantly to the authenticity and depth of our group. Talk about humbling. I know I lead this group well, but it’s out of my weakness and need. I need this group in my life as strength against my sinfulness. I need a place that is authentic because I have fooled myself so much in my life - I have often been the least trustworthy person I know when it comes to sin and other important aspects of my life. I believe I lead well because I need much from this group and have gotten much from this group. To be praised as the leader of this group by the amazing men in this group is high praise.

And so whose story is important? God is using my weakness, neediness, talent and availability to help create an environment where ten other guys feel the strong presence of God and the real support of other followers of Jesus. Is that an important enough story to feel good about where God has led me in my life? Has Jesus put me on a big enough stage to make an important difference in others’ lives? I think we all imagine ourselves doing big, important things on the world stage. But leading ten guys in a journey to deeper relationship with Christ and struggling to figure out how to welcome others into that journey is the stage God has placed me on. Awesome. I am blessed to be in the story God has set me in. I am praying I play my part well.

How’s your story? Is God’s stage big enough for you? Are you performing well on that stage?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Unknown Unknowns

I just heard an interview with Don Rumsfeld, on his new book. In it he says there are "known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns." There are things you know you know; there are things you know you don't know about and there are things you don't know you don't know about. Nativity is building a culture of small groups and it is exciting to watch and be a part of. I know how important small group is in supporting your life's journey. I know what an amazing, life-changing, God-changing-your-life thing it is and can be. I'm in one.

There are people who have a general sense of a program at Nativity, "sort of like Bible study, right?" but they haven't joined up yet and so it is a known unknown for them. They know they are not part of something, but don't know exactly what they are missing.

Then there are people at church who do not know about small groups and do not know at all what one is because they just don't know they exist in the first place.

We in small groups, should let our enthusiasm and even gratitude to God for our own personal small group, spill over so that everyone at Nativity knows.

No more unknowing.