I’ll just come out and say it – I love small groups. If it was up to me, I would binge watch Hulu for 7+ hours when I get home from work, but choosing to be in small groups places myself and others in an environment to engage with one another. It’s healthy and life-giving. It’s a good reason to get together. It’s an avenue to create relationships.
Each semester starts off the same way though.
Everyone who may begrudgingly come and even willing participants just stare at each other awkwardly in a room. As the small group leader, I more so act as a facilitator to get people to open up. As those who have attended my groups can attest, this usually requires me asking goofy questions until a conversation sparks. Depending on the topic though, that spark may easily spread into wildfire shortly after.
One particular small group I led adventured through a book dealing with life priorities. Essentially, the book helped each person analyze the necessities of their personal life in an effort to clear out the crud we allow to crowd our sight every day.
We already trekked through some difficult conversations about money, faith, and service – but that day we floated into uncharted waters. It was time to open up about our home lives and our families.
Shortly after bringing up family, recollected pieces of the group conversation remains blurry. I’m not sure how we got from point A to point B. All I remember hearing is the sentence that started the spark – “If my child did that, I would just spank them until they learned their lesson.”
Here’s some key background information for you: our small group at the time was equivalent to that of Gilligan’s Island.
While there wasn’t a Skipper or a Mary Ann, we did have two moms (one who spanked and one who didn’t), one empty-nester, one divorced father and one confused leader who didn’t have any children. The conversation was headed out on a three-hour tour, and I was afraid we would eventually end up on a deserted island.
Only one word can describe what came next -- tension. Some became defensive. Some offered empathy. Each shared their experience with their own children or how they were raised. It was difficult.
The conversation had to be navigated carefully. I don’t believe we ever got through the curriculum. I firmly know we never came to a conclusion of what was right or wrong. Yet strangely enough, we all left satisfied.
Each had an opportunity to have their voice heard at the table. Each had an opportunity to listen to an experience that was not their own. We all talked. We all listened. It was a strange feeling to all disagree yet all remain part of the same group.
I believe it’s what’s we call out for today yet struggle to find – unity without uniformity. Communion with one another without compromise.
This wasn’t the first time that this type of conversation culminated. In different groups of people to follow, we’ve talked about it all. From denominational differences to church service styles to salvation experiences – it’s all been covered. But still, we talked. And we listened. And we shared. And we felt what each other felt.
This isn’t a conversation about right or wrong. I could stick any topic within our blog and receive 1,000,000 responses as to why our opinion is either truth or heresy. (Because that indeed has happened before.)
No, this conversation is about how we respond in the midst of conversations where it’s easy to react.
The road to communion is a both a journey and a process.
Unity among a team or within an organization doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, harmony among multiple people is impossible without proper communication. With so many backgrounds, cultures, and histories represented in a group, having similar opinions or the same preferences is both unfeasible and unwanted.
As believers, God give us the privilege to be co-creators of culture with him. Just as He created the earth and built the universe by the sound of His voice in the beginning of time, so can we build and create life-giving values, beliefs and practices in our world today through what we say to others.
It all rises and falls on the way we communicate – especially, the way we communicate beyond those we agree with.
From observation, I’ve noticed that those within the church are most resistant to have those types of conversations despite the fact that God created a diverse world of people who are created for relationship.
I would argue that people who are not Christ followers have a fundamental understanding of relationships and unity more so than the Church. It’s easy to gather an eclectic groups of friends together in this world – simply take a look at bars, movie theatres, restaurants and malls on the weekends.
Yet in contrast, the Church remains the most difficult to open up in conversation with those they disagree with.
Communion – or unity – isn’t about everyone being the same.
God’s intent was never for His creation to become undifferentiated robots. Rather it’s about learning to live, work and grow together despite our differences, for our diversity is what makes us unique in His eyes. Our God is a God of intentionality. No one was made haphazardly but instead with great care and consideration.
Knowing this, it is when all the variety of personalities, gifts, upbringings, and more come together that a perfect, unified body is formed. The goal is then to also extend this communion to those who do not know Christ that they may know him fully in a greater way.
Let us be reminded that It is with immense detail and pursuit that one of the last requests Jesus prayed before going to the cross was specifically about communion together.