Now that summer is in full swing and I am spending a lot of time in our yard, I realized that I like my garden much more from inside the house than from the outside. Through the window, I can see the colorful flowers, green bushes, and lovely trees. But up close, it is another story altogether.
Our yard, which gets little attention during winter months, has serious weeds, overgrown plants, un-killable bamboo shoots, and crabgrass masquerading as real grass. So now I am faced with a choice: 1) go back inside, ignore, and pretend the ugly stuff doesn't exist; or 2) start pulling, pruning, and working hard toward the beautiful garden I know it can be.
I think our small groups present a similar challenge. Sometimes we prefer the illusion of having a nice, superficial, seemingly-smooth group more than the up-close reality of a messy, authentic, transformational community that God calls us to be. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial."
So, how will we know if we are living our false "dream" group or really experiencing God-breathed biblical community? Well, take a deep breath, spend some time with God, and be honest about what you see in the "garden" of your group.
To get started, ask yourself these questions:
–Am I, as the leader, actively living and providing an example of a Christ-centered life?
–How has God been growing individuals in your group? [If you cannot answer this question, ask everyone at your next gathering. Then pay attention to the answers which will help you discern next steps for each individual]
–Are there "weeds" (e.g., negative communication patterns, underlying unresolved issues, disruptive behaviors) that have been allowed to exist? [make a plan for confronting and changing the group dynamics]
–Is the group stagnating, distracted, lacking in focus or ownership? [brainstorm why and try something new or do something differently]
–What nutrients (e.g., service, meaningful prayer times, social hang-outs, transparency, scriptural application, accountability) do you need to add to the soil to create a healthier environment for growth in the future?
As you pray and think through these questions (either alone or with trusted core members of the group), remember that it is ultimately God who makes people and groups grow (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). So pray diligently with earnest hearts! Be open and available to His Spirit's leading in your group. Ask God to show you how to feed and lead the people whom He has entrusted into your care.
Then, relax and experience the joy of partnering with God as He transforms you and your group!