Note: This article has been excerpted from Christianity Beyond Belief, by Todd D. Hunter.
"Three Is Enough" (TIE) groups are a simple way to practice following God in the way of Jesus. They are my way of implementing the ideas in this book. We have discussed a new way of thinking about what it means to be a Christian and a new way to live based on that understanding. Three Is Enough groups give us a practical way to do it.
"Three Is Enough" has a double meaning: (1) three friends or colleagues (2) doing three simple and humble activities. Functioning in places of daily life—the workplace, school, retirement home or local coffee shop—Three Is Enough groups go on the inward journey of transformation and the outward journey of serving others.
Three Is Enough Activities
To put flesh on the idea of being the cooperative friends of Jesus for the sake of others, participants in Three Is Enough groups do three things:
- Pray for alertness to the Spirit's leadership and guidance. Pray that we might pay attention to the people and events of our life. Pray that the Spirit will enable us to be ambassadors of the kingdom in the routines of our life. Pray for the ability to do good for others. And pray for the members of our group as we go on this journey.
- Grow by reading material that facilitates the journey inward and the journey outward. Grow by meditating on the things the Spirit highlights in our reading. And grow by discussing our reading with our TIE group once a week.
- Serve others by being alert, by noticing others. Serve others through creative, resourceful and inventive help. Serve others by being humble, gentle, generous and genuinely altruistic—we do not draw attention to ourselves or our TIE group. God desires that we become his cooperative friends, serving others—the least, the last, the broken and the oppressed—in the everyday affairs and rhythms of our life. If following Jesus means anything, it means serving others (Mark 10:41-45).
Three Is Enough groups are not an end in themselves. Once we've started on the inner journey and are sharing with our TIE partners what we are reading and learning, we start looking for small but meaningful ways to serve our community. While it takes some minimal facilitation along the way, it takes no special leadership for it to work and multiply. And the group can serve in any context. For example, several nurses could band together to do this on a hospital floor. They could pray when appropriate. They could serve grieving families. In short, their floor is no longer merely their place of work; it becomes the soil of their discipleship and missional engagement with the world.
Families living in the same apartment complex could do the same. They could babysit for exhausted two-income parents. They could help the elderly do some spring cleaning or pot some flowers. Three policemen could do the same on their shift. They could give practical aid to fellow officers whose families are feeling the strain of police work. They could care for young moms who have just given birth while their police-officer husbands are working. A few corporate parking-lot attendants could band together to pray for each employee as they drive in and out of the lot each work day.
A Three Is Enough group is like rails to run on. It provides the structure for being alert to the Spirit and paying attention to the people and events of our life. It guides our growth as we serve others.
Values of Three Is Enough Groups
The following are some values to guide us as we begin a Three Is Enough group.
- Choosing to be his apprentices, we value our relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Master, who teaches us how to be faithful children of God for the sake of others.
- We value the Holy Spirit as our guide and source of character and power. We will interact with him in conversational ways without hype or pretense.
- We will strive to carry out the practices associated with our group, but we don't want to confuse this effort with earning God's love. Grace is for the whole journey of discipleship, not just conversion.
- We will focus on and immerse ourselves in the righteousness, peace and joy of the kingdom, replacing neurotic religious guilt, shame, or fear with this reality.
- This life matters, not just the life to come. Therefore the events and people of our life are of utmost value.
- Neither spiritual formation nor a missional engagement with our world can be added to an already too-busy or out-of-control life. We follow Jesus for the sake of others within the existing contexts, rhythms, and routines of our present life, not some hoped-for life that will never come.
- We believe every Christ-follower should be oriented toward serving others.
- When God asks us to be his cooperative friends, he will provide the motivation and means to do so.
- We will look for those who may be ready to enter life in the kingdom, making Jesus and his kingdom teachings known.
- Our Three Is Enough group is not an end in itself. The group's telos is following Jesus as ambassadors of the kingdom's goodness for the sake of others.
- We will not be spiritual police, office nags, or creepy religious types.
- We will practice our faith with gentleness, humility and in hidden service to others.
- The journey outward doesn't begin after getting our act together. Therefore, we won't wait till we're fully "fixed" before starting our lives of creative goodness. Some things about us can't be learned apart from first taking the risk of loving and serving others.
- Our group will not criticize the church. It is designed to help the church be the sent people of God in daily life.
Starting a Three Is Enough Group
To start a Three is Enough group, invite two colleagues who want to grow as Christians (or who are spiritual seekers) to join you on a spiritual journey. Most people are trying to make sense of life, and they believe everyday spirituality is a way to get there.
Meet once a week for 30 to 60 minutes (for breakfast, lunch, or evening coffee). This time allows you to swap wonderful or scary stories, to discuss what you are reading, to share what you are learning about yourself or others, and to pray for each other.
Guidelines for Participation in a Three Is Enough Group
A Three Is Enough group is meant to be relaxed, even fun. Belonging to one is an adventure, a discovery of the profound inner life which exists in all of us; it's about learning to notice others; and most importantly it's about discovering a life derived from and lived in the kingdom of God.
Make sure you have a vision larger than participation in a TIE group. A TIE group is simply the means for carrying out our vision and intention to be humanity as God intended, to be a follower of Jesus for the sake of others.
The crucial points of participation include:
- Trying new ways to pray. A quiet time that doesn't carry forward in the attitudes and actions of our life can be reinvigorated by experimenting with situational and conversational forms of prayer rooted in the people and events of your life. Though I pray most mornings (simply orienting myself to God as his cooperative friend and dedicating my day to him) and almost every evening, I do very simple things throughout the day that have revolutionized my life.
Try developing some prayers that you use throughout the day. When you pick up the phone, pray, "May the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be acceptable to you in this conversation" (Psalm 19). Or when you have an appointment with someone, pray, "May I be really present to this person." Before most any activity, the prayer "May your kingdom come and may your will be done" is appropriate.
I know this sounds like anyone can do it—and they can! That and the fact that it actually connects us to Cod and his purposes is what makes it real and vibrant.
- Read and interact. This should only take a few minutes a day and then 30 to 60 minutes per week with your TIE group. Remember, the point is neither to be in a group nor to see how much you can read or how long you meet with your group. The point is spiritual transformation into Christlikeness for the sake of others.
The group could mutually agree to read something together, or each member could read material targeted to his or her needs or curiosity. Each person then reports back to the group how the reading is helping him or her follow Jesus for the sake of others.
Let's be real. We already know more about ourselves, others, and God than we can apply. That is part of the frustration about being a Christian. (It's also what the watching world judges us by.) So we shouldn't feel pressure to read large amounts. Smaller, consistently targeted material is sufficient. If patience is our problem, then we should focus on authors and writings that help us be patient. And we shouldn't feel the need to quickly move on to the next thing—even if someone in the group seems to be going faster.
Keep in mind the learning curve of the first disciples ("Is Jesus mad because we forgot bread again?" or "Why couldn't we cast this demon out?"). They learned at different rates, and each of them stumbled and fell. Nevertheless, as the cooperative friends of Jesus and through the presence and power of the Spirit, they changed the course of history!
- Serve others in creative and genuinely helpful ways. A Three Is Enough group may decide to dig wells for clean water in Africa—that is great! But the more immediate goal is to learn to do similar things in the context of our everyday lives where we live, work, and play.
This is done by training, not merely by trying. No couch potato would try to run a marathon without training—it simple can't be done. But starting little by little by first regularly walking, then progressing to jogging, and finally running, it's conceivable a couch potato could become a marathoner. Through God's grace and the power of the Spirit, spiritual transformation works in a similar manner.
The TIE group provides ways to practice serving others in the daily routines of life. We don't need to fly overseas or even to another part of our country. We start by being present to the people and events of our regular life. When we notice them, by taking them into our heart and mind, then wide vistas of opportunity will open up to us.
The drama and excitement that will soon follow is hard to imagine. I know many people who live this way, and I've lived it myself. In addition to our daily duties, we continually listen to the hearts of others and the leading of the Holy Spirit. This may seem impossible. But trust me, it's not difficult to concentrate on your job, paying attention to the people and events within that work, and to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
—Taken from Christianity Beyond Belief by Todd D. Hunter, © 2009 by Todd D. Hunter. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400 Downers Grove IL, 60515. www.ivpress.com.