Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Questions for Life Transformation and Organic Churches

Neil Cole, author of The Organic Church among others, has a new book out called "Search and Rescue: Becoming a Disciple Who Makes A Difference". You might know that he is at Church Multiplication Associates and has been for years promoting organic churches of 8 to 16 people based on groups of 2 to three people in "life transformation groups." He has a lot of wonderful stories in this latest book, based on metaphors gleaned from years of being a lifeguard, and I will try to post some in the future, but now I want to focus on the practical tips at the end of the book as resources for people seeking to start small groups of Christians or Jesus-seekers, followers, etc.

First, the summary: the groups, and they can go by various names, meet once a week for approximately an hour. Two or three only, with the fourth person coming in as the start of the next group). For him, the groups are not coed (I can see those advantages, the same as having traditional women's and men's ministries in organizational churches; but for my purposes here I don't think they have to start out that way, but as your groups multiply you can have some that are that way, and I think a lot will become that way organically, but then I'm a liberal; I do think there are advantages to trying to go with same-sex groups); there is no curriculum, workbook or training required; there is no leader needed in the group; only three tasks are to be accomplished: sin is confessed to one another in mutual accountability, scripture is read repetitively in entire context and in community, souls are prayed for strategically, specifically and continuously.

In the book he provides a series of different questions that have been asked as part of small groups from John Wesley on up to various ways people are adapting the Life Transformation Groups. Let me repeat again my belief in the generalization that liberals tend to not be comfortable confessing personal sins, and conservatives tend to not be comfortable confessing, or even knowing, about their involvement in social sins. His book again focuses too heavily on personal holiness for my taste, not because that is not important, since it is important for liberals who have ignored it often in public discourse, but because the questions don't tend to allow for the social self to be explored and while the whole point of the organic church and LTGs is to stress community over individualism, the questions as mostly prompted to be asked seem focused on the individual.

But there is one set of questions offered in the book that I really like and can use. They come from Phil Helfer, pastor of Los Altos Brethren Church in Long Beach, CA. Here are the questions to be asked each week of one another:

1. How have you experienced God in your life this week?
2. What is God teaching you?
3. How are you responding to his prompting?
4. What sin do you need to confess?
5. How did you do with your reading this week?
(I like these because they can easily incorporate the social self)
Often there is a variation of another question focused on how you have shared God with others this week. LTGs, as Cole points out, are different in focus from accountability groups because they are designed to multiply as participants tell others about their life and its changes.

In many ways these are spiritual direction questions and spiritual direction styled groups, but in a prophethood and priesthood of all believers sort of way in community rather than focused only one one individual. I think they tap into that deep longing that the rise of spiritual direction has done also.

The questions he even boils down to two simple ones to encounter and share with one another week after week: 1. What is God telling you to do? What are you going to do about it?

This section of the book also raises and responds to the common objections to LTGs---they can't be controlled, they are too personal especially for newcomers, they require too much bible reading, they open up to heresy, and they are an attempt at "sin management."
End.

Type rest of the post here

3 comments:

Nancy P said...

Ron,

I've been doing research on new kinds of small groups and yours is the first UU reference to LTG. While the content of what I've seen is very traditional; it has a familiar ring to it - some of the works of Parker Palmer mention this kind of very small group desciple group building.

Any further thoughts?

Ron said...

Nancy, hi. Yes these seem to be in the tradition of the radical reformation--not only Quakers such as Parker Palmer's focus, but also anabaptists, pietists, the Wesleyan classes and more recent Methodist Emmaus groups. As UUs are in this tradition also, but have lost much of its connection and edge as it became more of an Empire Church in all but its theology, this should resonate; but we tend to look at things like this more as programs to institute and manage rather than as the church itself breaking free to build disciples. I have a hunch that much of it is a generational fissure and the younger the UU the more receptive, in fact hungering, they will be for life transformation groups, which of course is why we lose a lot of them during youth and college years anyway I suspect.

In some ways I think various forms of LTGs are part of the house church movement, but they also seem different than what is usually thought of a a house church too. I've been thinking lately that small groups and house churches in mainline etc. churches in some ways are just "church" writ small--how can we "do church" the same but just in a smaller sitting, a kind of fellowship style from the 60s when there was still an order of service, etc. even if there weren't all the "trappings" of sermon, choir, etc. in some of the fellowships in our movement. What LTGs and similiar disciple-and-mission focused groups do is challenge the assumption of what a church needs to do and be in order to be a church--does it have to be a religious non-profit organization to be a church, or does that in fact undercut in many ways its mission and purpose?

These are all questions that the spread of small groups, organic church, virtual church, LTGs etc. bring up to me.

And it is hard to transform toward them away from what has been done; I find that even within myself and what I have been trying to lead here. But it is all new so we will see. More on that later.

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