Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Conversation/Experiment/PlottingGoodness

Brian McLaren's latest book, The Secret Message of Jesus, has a wonderful appendix that is useful for a church planter. Like many contemporary resources, it is good both for developing and deepening small group experiences or as the basis of creating "emergent church". I am including summaries of the best parts of the appendix which he calls "Plotting Goodness" in hopes you can use them to begin or re-start or develop small group gatherings in the spirit of Jesus.

Here are the three major activities or plans for such a group:

1. Gather for Conversation
2. Launch Experiments
3. Plot Goodness

1. Gather for conversation:

He reminds us that the "kingdom" of God was originally explored in a group of twelve, and yet you don't need even twelve, for Jesus says "where two or more are gathered" and small groups can do big things. In fact the smaller, the easier it is to act.

Begin by gathering for conversation. Who? Friends at work for breakfast or lunch. Friends from church or neighborhood to meet in your dining room or living room. Maybe to meet regularly at coffee shop or pub. What to converse? Might pick this book by McLaren or another and agree to read a chapter a week. When you meet share reactions to the week's reading, presenting favorite quotes, raising questions or disagreements, or relating the ideas in the book to your life. "What did you like best? What didn't you understand? What didn't you agree with? What seems most relevant to your life/ What questions are raised for further study or discussion? You can converse over the Bible too. Read through parts of it, using the following questions as a guide: What does this passage tell you about God? What does it tell you about the kingdom of God? What does it tell you about Jesus? What does it tell you about yourself? What does it tell you about our mission in the world? What questions does it raise for further study and discussion?
You might want to sign a simple covenant with each other to stay with the group for a certain amount of time, and agree to common respect rules. As new people hear about it and want to join, you might want to create subgroups that meet close by, even groups of four meeting in different parts of a house or restaurant.

2. Launch Experiments:
So often our small groups start and stop at number 1, gathering for conversation. This part of the McLaren Model is vital for nurturing the Spirit. He says the message of Jesus is not meant just to be studied, but to be practiced. As a group, he says, launch certain experiments to practice "some facet of Jesus' teaching over the next week and then report on your experiences--your successes, failures, surprises, reflections, and conclusions" the next time you gather.
For example, he suggests, turn the other cheek for a week, pray for and bless people who mistreat you; don't judge; forgive people so that "your holding of a grudge becomes more serious to you than whatever the grudge is about,." care for the least of these by seeing and serving needy or vulnerable people as if they were Christ himself. Try spiritual practices such as silence and solitude and mindfulness, giving to the poor (keeping a sum of money in your pocket to give to the first person who needs it, or raising money for some good cause). Fast for a mealtime or a day; consider non-food fasts, such as media fasts; include the "Lord's Prayer" in your daily life, maybe two or three times a day. Be grateful. Share meals together, and invite unexpected people to join you.

3. Plot Goodness
Do something as a group for others who are not included in your group. Collect clothes or food or toys, etc. and give to a family(ies) suddenly one day. Make a picnic and show up to eat it somewhere where the homeless gather and invite them in to join you, eating with them and not just fixing food and serving them. Become the opposite of a terrorist cell, he says. Throw parties, visit hospitals, give out flowers, plant gardens, fix houses, clean homes, fix cars, babysit for single parents, clean up trashy areas, etc. Or, he adds, take on an issue together, global like Darfur.

One of my favorite paragraphs in the chapter:
"You might wonder what a group like this should be called. Some might want to call it a study group, a fellowship group, a faith community, a missional community, a lay monastery (a group of laypeople gathering around spiritual practice and mission), a spiritual formation group, or a spiritual conversation group. Some people might eventually want to call a group like this a church--perhaps a microchurch, a minichurch, a house church, or maybe a liquid or organic church. After all, it is a group gathered around Jesus and his message.

Some websites for resources for small groups, for more on this book and others by McLaren, or for ideas:
For small group dynamics and rules, see materials on the Simple Spirituality site at http://www.off-the-map.org/idealab/articles/id10304-1-ss.html. See resources at www.anewkindofchristian.com. Check out www.explorefaith.org and www.sacredspace.ie. You might like www.worship4justice.org and www.crcc.org And you can continue the learning at www.emergentvillage.com. Or for those with a Unitarian Universalist connection go to www.smallgroupministry.net and www.the-ccv.org.