For many years now I have organized and led a small group of professors centered around spiritual growth. I am drawn to this kind of community despite myself.
As an introvert, I would rather not face the awkwardness and the exhausting social dynamics found in groups. I don’t do small talk well and despise superficiality so I can rigidly expect every moment of my day to be dripping with meaning and have high expectations that groups will be life changing and a treasure of unity and direction. When the groups I am in don’t meet my expectations or include too much social gymnastics I am quick to want to bow out and retreat to my solitary spiritual world of books, quiet, and spiritual exercises.
But then, as I meet with my small group at work or join friends for a Zoom call to discuss a book, I experience moments that are so rich, so uplifting, and so helpful that I have to ask myself why would I want to abandon this?
Once, in the middle of our time together, a member of my group stopped and took a moment to thank me for leading the group and for staying committed to the Lord. I wasn’t fishing for this compliment, he volunteered, and it was the kind of moment that only God could have directed.
Other times, members have valued the prayers and safety of the small group so much that you can tell they had been saving the opportunity to mention important prayer requests or particular challenges they are facing for moments that only the small group can provide. Even on a college campus centered on Christ, true connection can be hard but once a week we listen to each other’s frustrations, check in on the progress of long term family illnesses, and often use the backdrop of a book study or scripture to simply be together in the name of Jesus.
We have had difficulties. One member walked out in the middle of the group because of an argument that was surfacing. I have sat on my own at times because no one else showed up. I have been frustrated that no one wanted to get deeper and challenge their spiritual growth and seemed satisfied with a few knowledge nuggets and a chance to flex their intellectual muscles. And in 2019, when we seemed to have real momentum in the group, half the group left for other schools or the need to prioritize their time in another way and we had to start over with several new faces and a new dynamic. Then we were quickly derailed again by the pandemic.
Despite the frustrations, I wouldn’t trade these times or this group. A few weeks ago, I wrote, “We need others to reach our potential as Christians.” I find this true over and over in my small group.
Growing Up is hard and groups are hard but every bit of time and energy we bring to maturing individually and collectively is valuable and deeply needed. It is the sign of the times to settle for our own screens, our own content, and our own pseudo online communities but it is detrimental to ditch the hard worn wisdom found in a set of individuals centered around Christ and dedicated to one another. This is priceless and worth all of the challenges that come with it.
Great insight. So true!