What follows is not a “fix” for small groups. Rather, it’s a suggestion of one form they could take that would lean in a more missional direction. I think there are a lot of things that could improve groups and groups can exist for multiple purposes. But this suggestion takes seriously the notion that the church doesn’t exist for its own sake, but for the sake of the world that God loves.
In the last post, I said that I’ve been learning from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Jessica Woods, and my own son. What Jonathan has taught me is the importance of place and stability. The long practice of neighborliness is important to the Kingdom of God. I don’t live where I live just so that I’ll have a place to go to after work. Place is an important aspect of calling, especially if you understand Christianity primarily as a way of life, and not a bargain with God for the afterlife.
From Jessica, I’m learning to be attentive to God in the places in which I live, work, and play. She talks about it as being Jesus in those places, in loving people just for the sake of loving them. The community that she is a part of practices attentiveness to God in this rhythm of life by coming together for a meal regularly, asking two questions, and praying about all of that. The two questions are something like this: Whom is God placing in my life for me to love? Whom has God put in my life to love me? (It’s awkward to begin a sentence with “whom,” but it demonstrates that God is the subject of the question).
The second question sets the posture for mission done in the name of Jesus. It assumes a reciprocity, a genuine relationship, a potential friendship. It suggests that other people, even if they do not yet belong to God’s Kingdom, are still people from whom I can learn something about God. What I need to know about God will not come only from studying Scripture or attending church, but also by practicing friendship with others, or through the practice of making room for others.
What is also important about this practice, is that its done with Christians in the neighborhood who don’t attend the same church. It’s a reminder that the church serves the Kingdom of God, not the other way around. This group doesn’t exist, in other words, for the purpose of making our group bigger or more complete (though I think that might very well happen), but for the sake of seeing the Kingdom of God come near.
I think a test of true missional intention in a congregation might be whether or not they could feel good about groups like this forming–or even intentionally partnering with other congregations to form groups around this practice in the various neighborhoods in which our members find themselves. This would be a practice broad in its Kingdom scope, both through crossing denominational boundaries and in loving the neighbor.
From Josh, I’m learning how simplicity is fuel. It’s not simply making room for something. Simplicity is generative. It does something. It makes something. It gives life. I’m convinced that most of us, myself included, are so committed to complexity and more (read busy-ness) that we fail to realize the way the cares of the world are choking out the good that might grow in us otherwise. Simplicity is manure, er fertilizer.
So, I’m thinking of small groups as a mosh-up of these elements. A neighborhood focus. A prayerful, ecumenical attentiveness. A commitment to generative simplicity. Can you see it?