Reimagining Community: It’s Not What But How
Many of them – likely all of them – are active in any congregation professing belief in Christ.
At Pillar, it’s not really ‘what’ our rhythms are, but ‘how’ we practice them that prove to be distinctive.
Not better, mind you.
Core Conviction of Faith Formation
The distinctive ways in which we practice these rhythms are tethered to the core conviction that spiritual formation is at the very center of the Gospel of God!
As Ruth Haley Barton observes, “Spiritual formation is central to the message of the Gospel and, as such, it’s central to the mission of the church.”
As I reflect on the final three rhythms with which this series is concerned, the emphasis on spiritual formation and the distinctive nature of each as a result of that emphasis couldn’t be more pronounced.
These three rhythms are:
- Transforming Community Groups
In this post, I will focus exclusively on small groups, specifically what we call Transforming Community Groups
Rhythm 5: Transforming Community Groups
It took us nearly five years to launch a small group ministry platform. Yes, that’s a long time.
Why so long?
Because we knew at the outset that we didn’t want to organize small groups around the standard homogenous unit principle (like gathered with like) that most churches organize themselves around.
As a result of this principle, many churches offer a model of small group ministry that is built on age, gender, interest, and season-of-life or life-stage segmentation.
For example, the small group offerings of a local congregation may look something like the following:
- Women’s Groups
- Men’s Bible Study
- Young Moms
- Golden Years Group (over 65)
- Young Families Group
- Growing Families (parents with teens)
Well, you get the picture.
The Self-Loathing that Comes from Self-Diagnosis
We, at Pillar, not only believe like gathering with like is a weak principle for organizing and administrating community, but we also think it inflicts harm on the church.
The degree of age, color, gender, socio-economic, socio-political, etc., segmentation is one of the most blatant biblical disregards (among many) the church perpetuates.
A primary flaw with this approach is that it assumes the individual knows what is best for him or herself and can, therefore, seek an appropriate remedy.
For example, let’s consider a young father who can’t seem to control his anger. So, he comes to church believing anger is his problem (of course, that’s not the case). He then seeks out a solutions groups (indeed that’s what small groups have become) that will help him to address this problem.
In this case, the solutions group typically means a Men’s Bible study.
While attending this men’s group, our anger-riddled dad resolves to do more, be better, and try harder (the holy trinity of church life) to be the best dad he can be.
Weeks, maybe months, into the group he realizes that he continues to struggle with the same old problem he joined the group in hopes of solving.
Exhausted, he wonders if there’s another way he might try. Rather than another way, he just waits until a new group comes along.
Hoping, all along, that this one might provide a solution.
The Sure But Certain End of Do More, Be Better, Try Harder
While this fictitious example is all too common, what’s not immediately apparent with this like-gathering-with-like solutions-model of small groups is even a more fatal flaw:
The flaw of turning the Gospel into a sin-management game that we never, ever win.
While this consequence is always unintended, it is, nevertheless, the inevitable end of every small group program and ministry built on this faulty model.
At the end of the day, discipleship becomes a project we must complete or a task that must be managed.
That’s one reason why churches have to put so much energy and resources into keeping these small group engines running.
Is it not strange to anyone else that the church has taken on the role of structuring community for people?
Seriously, is that why we are here?
Do we genuinely believe that we can structure community in the first place?
We’ve Tamed a Revolution and Shame-Soaked the Soul
Is it not more accurate – more precise biblically – to say that community is something already structured in the radical reclamation already begun by Christ on the cross (see Ephesians 2:11-22)?
It’s, instead, a matter of living into the type of community He’s already created and nurturing the kind of environment His Spirit establishes.
Therefore, the way in which we experience small group requires a fundamental overhaul.
The overhaul involves shifting small groups from the “We just love being together, with people we already like, when it’s convenient to us” environment to “We long to be on a transforming journey with each other in the presence of Christ, more than anything else this world has to offer.”
More! So Much More
This shift is most difficult, indeed. A helpful book on this topic is Ruth Haley Barton’s, Life Together in Christ.
After reading Ruth’s book (among others), we began to envision small groups as an ongoing, high commitment, worship saturated, fellowship cloaked, Christ-transforming journey together, over time. While we’ve by no means discovered the perfect formula, I am attaching a download that gives you an overview of how these Transforming Community Groups work within the life of our congregation!Transforming Community Groups Overview and Covenant
We are always and ever inching toward what we believe is a more life-giving and soul-cultivating way to practice the rhythms of small groups.
As I often like to say, “Christ proclaims the Kingdom of God as the possibility of a new way of life within a new kind of community!”
Or, as we like to call it, doing life together!
Disrupting to Renew!
I’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!