Last month I attempted to make the case for how important it is for our ministers to be part of intimate spiritual communities with their peers. I also shared the priority and focus we at the Renewal Fellowship are prepared to put on encouraging and aiding as many ministers as we can to find or form such a group.
I think it is important to anticipate a few of the challenges that might keep some of our ministers from participating in a group. I don’t think it’s coincidental that I have experienced similar challenges when encouraging congregations to commit to regular small group gatherings. Hopefully what follows will help some overcome things that could be holding them back.
The first challenge I hear is that many are too busy. I am sure many of us do experience time management issues. It is a significant investment to set aside hours on a monthly basis for group gatherings. To those who aren’t sure if this investment of time is wise, we who do participate in intimate spiritual communities have something to say. I have heard my own experience echoed by many. They speak of how significant and life changing their time in a group seems to be. Finding the time and keeping it a priority becomes much more manageable once the value becomes real and personal.
Next, introverts (people who process internally and expel energy in group activities) and those who are shy or socially reticent remind me that for them, this kind of gathering is often neither pleasant nor helpful. (I have had more than one acquaintance explain that this is why they don’t attend church.) I try to understand what it would feel like to be introverted and to not be connecting with others. It’s impossible, as I’m a true extrovert who loves social interaction. But I do know this: as disciples of Christ we are not called to seek comfort zones that reflect our personality and wiring. We are called to love God and each other and it is in small communities that we can grow in faith and grace and encourage each other.
Further, some ministers are not initiators or inviters. The truth is, if it is left to them, they will never become part of an intimate group. This places both responsibility and accountability onto other ministers. We need to be always on the lookout for those who need an invitation. Just as we would encourage our congregations to keep inviting and not give up, the same is true here. Imagine, if you will, your persistence resulting in someone who is lonely and disconnected finding a place of spiritual and emotional healing and refreshment.
Last, I’ll mention an elephant in many small groups: the person who requires extra grace. They may talk too much. They may share inappropriately. They may drag down the group or seem to distract it from its purpose. One famous preacher said that if you think your small group doesn’t have one of these, it’s because it’s you. I think it is enough to realize that God chooses the people placed in our path. Our response requires prayer, divine wisdom and love.
All are worth it. All are valuable.