Pattern 1: Connecting
I’m trying to keep these short, I promise! But sometime I just can’t help myself, I am a loquacious person. So the last time we took a look at how the three patterns play out in the Bible and in the history of the Church. This time we will take a more in depth look at the pattern Bill Search call’s connecting and Soma calls community.
Community (No not the show….)
Community is one of my favorite shows on NBC; well at least it used to be, it quickly got supplanted by 30 Rock (Tracy Morgan is a genius or stupid I don’t quite know). Anyway I’m not telling you that I like community just to tell you about what I do on my spare time, I’m going to try to make a point. In Community we have a band of disparate characters with nothing in common other than the fact that they go to a crummy jr. college. The cast of characters is diverse: a black Christian lady, an asian Spanish teacher, a WASP lawyer, an Indian nerd, a black nerd, and a white “activist,” oh yea and the old guy. (By the way where are the Hispanic characters? Personally I am offended.) So you have this rag tag group that goes through ups and downs, fighting and laughter, pregnancy and murder by paintballs. Yet there is something that keeps drawing this group back together. What is it that draws them back together despite it all, and especially despite Pierce’s diabolical schemes? It’s the fact that they are a real community, they are a family that has covenanted together to stick through with everyone’s bs at least until the end of the semester.
Community shows us that community is hard. Its not natural. Its hard because we live in a world plagued by sin. Everyone is inherently looking after their own good, they are turned in on themselves (incurvatus en se). This show shows us how hard it is to maintain in the real world.
The people in our community can be irritating and exhausting. But so can you. The people in our group will let us down, and you will let them down too. You will undoubtedly have an EGR in your group (extra grace required). And if you don’t have an EGR, that means that its probably you… just saying. But the fact is that community is worth it. We were created for community. God is a Trinitarian community. The Church is a community thus as Christ’s redeemed community should be a priority for us, especially us shepherds. As shepherds we are called to shepherd to flock. Notice: a flock. Not one sheep. Not two sheep, but a flock. A community of sheep. So lets take a quick look at some things that kill community.
How to Kill… Community
Bill Search points out three things that kill community: time, relational exhaustion, and wierdos.</br>
- Time: The fact is that we don’t have a lot of time. How many times have you been asked someone else to hang out or get some coffee only to hear: “yeah we should totally do that let me look at my schedule and I will get back to you.” And then never hear back from them? Or how many times have you heard “I would love to hang out, but I’m just so busy right now.” Is there ever going to really be a time when you aren’t busy? I doubt it. Life is by nature busy. Now sometimes these excuses are legitimate and sometimes they are just BS. It’s hard to tell. Either way a lack of available time does not strengthen community, instead it kills it. So as leaders we need to make sure that people understand that community is a commitment. If community is going to happen its not going to happen on our free time, we have to be intentional about allowing it to form if we are going to experience meaningful Christ centered community.
- Relational Exhaustion: All of us have other relationships. Family, friends, ministries. Our list of relationships can often get long, and the fact is that we often end up ignoring a lot of the most important ones. So if we already have all these relationships why add more through our Lifegroup? Well the plan is that Lifegroups will allow us to form relationships that function on a different level than so many of our other relationships. In a Lifegroup we give people permission to check our blind spots and to call us out when they see sin creeping up. Ideally this would also occur outside in our normal relationships too, but often it doesn’t. So here is my warning: don’t overextend yourself in your relationships. Be intentional with who you are investing into. As a leader you can only have so many intentional relationships. In this season your Lifegroup is one of those sets of relationships. If you feel like you are relationally overextended it might be wise to seek counsel to see if this is where God wants you in this season of life.
- Wierdos: Yes wierdos… I know its insensitive to call someone a weirdo but its true. You know those EGR’s, the ECR’s, the EBH’s… No you don’t know them? Well they are the “emotional black hole.” Every group has one. If you don’t shepherd them well and don’t protect everyone else from getting get sucked into the lifeless vacuum (I know I’m a jerk…) the entire group will suffer and community will die. These kinds of people require a lot of care and a lot of discipline. You have to put them in their place for the sake of the rest of the flock but you must also realize that they are a part of your flock so its your duty to protect them. Beware the weirdo, creeper, dolt, awkward person, they can kill your group.
Give Me Some Space
So obviously there are things that will kill your Lifegroup’s connection. So what strengthens it? I want to suggest one thing: create a safe space.
“We can use big words like authentic, confidential, honest, and safe, but ultimately what we mean is that we hope people feel comfortable in our group.” If our members aren’t comfortable they probably won’t connect. Now creating a comfortable space can happen in two different ways: relational spaces and physical spaces.
If people don’t feel relationally safe in our groups they will not connect. Have you ever been to a group that feels awkward? Or a group that has someone that makes you nervous? Or how about a group that has someone that you don’t trust? Its easy to kill a Lifegroup when people don’t feel relationally safe in that group. The group will always stay shallow, people won’t share their lives, and people will not grow in your group. So as leaders its our job to make sure that our groups are relationally safe. That is why we sign covenants at the beginning of each quarter. That is why we have the “vegas rule of Lifegroups.” However you must remember that creating a safe place is not a guarantee that community will happen, there are a lot of other factors involved, however it does make it a heck of a lot easier. After all your role “is not to force connection but to facilitate a safe relational space.”
The other way we can facilitate connection is by creating safe physical spaces. This means don’t have your Lifegroup in the Valley, I’m just kidding, this means having adequate lighting, air conditioning or heat, enough chairs for everyone. Think of it this way, have you ever been at church and its way too hot for you to focus on what the pastor is saying? Well that can happen in Lifegroup too. A safe and comfortable place will help people engage and thus it will also help people connect with one another relationally. Another way to create a comfortable physical space is to offer snacks. Snacks are good… I’m just saying.
Community: What it Doesn’t Looks Like
Connecting is simply a growing relationship with an identified group of people who meet regularly around the presence of Christ. Its not complicated. Community doesn’t have to be the deepest thing that you have ever experienced in your life. If someone doesn’t break down crying confessing their sins in your group each week you are not a failure. If this were the standard for connection then few groups would ever qualify as really having a meaningful connection. Yes intimacy is good, in fact its great, but you should not determine your groups success only by means of intimacy. Bill Search makes an interesting suggestion. He says that connecting in Lifegroups isn’t a small bull’s-eye that we aim for, it’s more of a pattern that has varying degrees of intensity. This intensity will fluctuate from group to group and season to season.
So remember, if your group doesn’t feel like a family of brothers and sisters, that does not mean that your group is a failure. Don’t set yourself up by having dangerous expectations. Afterall there are a bunch of different ways that people connect; we don’t always have to share our deepest, darkest secrets to truly connect.
Wrapping Things Up
So we took a look at the first pattern: connecting. We will be sticking on this pattern for a little while, so get comfortable. Next time we will be applying some of this stuff to our specific groups. Until then, remember that we are created to connect and that levels of connection vary from group to group. One last thing, I talked a lot about practical ways to kill your group and practical ways to strengthen it. However there is a theological truth that we need to remember if we are going to understand this pattern. Through Jesus’ atoning death on the cross for us we receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reminds us as individuals of our union with Christ. The entire Church experiences union with Christ, therefore as individuals our connection isn’t merely a natural connection. We are quite literally united with Christ on account of his work for us on the cross. The Holy Spirit reminds us of this. We must remind ourselves and each other of this if we are going to truly be a community that experiences union with Christ.