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Sunday, August 31, 2003

Small Groups and House Churches 

(This is a response to a criticism from a house church pastor to a blog I posted on www.theooze.com/blog.)

It is my observation that there are seemingly big (although very subtle) differences between small groups and house churches. Let me explain.

The Small Group Movement promotes that small groups are the place inside congregations that people find intimacy. Thus, small groups are developed to provide personal and intimate spatial relationships within the framework of a congregation. My criticism of this approach is that the movement has stated and promoted that everyone in a congregation needs to be in a small group provided by the church. I think that is a little suspect--to expect that everyone in the congregation needs their intimate and/or personal spatial relationship to be provided by the church. It seems to me that 30-35% of those who attend a congregation find healthy personal and intimate relationships within the congregation. The other 70% find these relationships outside the church walls and small group structure.

House Churches on the other hand seem to develop what it means to be a congregation within a small setting—the home. The movement promotes that all spatial relationships (public, social, personal, intimate) are healthy and can be found within the house church structure. House churches are not small groups if you use the Small Groups Movement’s definition of what a small group is. They are congregations who do the whole of what it means to be a church in a small venue. House churches are concerned about the health of the whole and not just a specific part (personal and intimate) of a person’s journey. I have found that most house churches do a good job at promoting a healthy harmony when developing relationships. I have also found some house churches that use the small group movement philosophy and they show a great deal of dependent-codependent relational qualities.

It is healthy to help people to develop healthy public, social, personal, and intimate relationships. Some of these are within a person’s journey with a congregation.

Am I missing the mark?

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Okay, someone’s got me all worked up 

Today, I learned of a friend who was asked to leave their post at a church. He was called to lead the small group ministry. My friend has wonderful pastoral competencies but, he is definitely not an “A” type personality.

Unfortunately, when he accepted this post he agreed to develop a plan where “people would be in intentional community through small groups” and “60-80% of the congregation would be involved.”

This kind of brainwashing propaganda from the small group movement makes me ill! Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system…

I have found from extensive observations, interviews, and research that these statements are fine except for…

1. Community is not experienced mostly through intentionality. Community spontaneously emerges from environmental influences

2. Small groups are not the way a majority of belonging and community is experienced in a person’s life. Most of these experiences are in public and social environments.

3. It is unrealistic and unhealthy to expect 60-80% involvement in your congregation’s small group program. This usually results in a dependant-codependent relationship with your congregation. Anything over 30-35% is a little suspect.

4. Who are we to assume we need this much “intentional” control over someone’s life? Most do well to find significant community and belonging in their life outside of your congregation. Why invite them into an incestuous relationship where they are not in contact with others on a journey to find God?

People are desperately longing to belong. However, they want to belong to a healthy community in a healthy way. People are looking for real friends and family not the romanticized version of what those family and friends look like and act like. They are looking for a real home not a congregations 1950’s view of what this means.

It is time we put away our narrow definitions of belonging and community and seek to see how people want to connect and find ways to help them there.

Lord, help me, my friend, and others find how to connect people to you.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

The pointless things we say to make our point 

It was the teaching time of our worship service and tonight’s discussion was slated to explore the Fall. One of the “points” investigated how we lost our ability to experience “true” community at the Fall.

Unfortunately, our pastor in an attempt for some cheap humor decided to use the analogy of the fig leaf. “True community is a place where you can remove your fig leaf,” was his definition of community. “Thus,” he proclaimed, “you can’t have community here in this place (there are too many people) to experience true community you have to belong to a small group. That is where the fig leafs come off.”

I thought along with many others in the crowd, “That is exactly why I don’t belong to a small group.”

This definition of community (true community =intimacy) has destroyed our ability to talk about healthy relationships. It is a sickness in many of our congregations. If you are not intimately involved you don’t belong. And, the sickness leads to death as the assumption is made—you don’t belong to God either.

Because our congregation has made a commitment to be “a church of small groups” it cannot promote anything else but this sick, confused definition of belonging. We are trapped. And, those who have healthy intimate relationships in their life outside the church and thus don’t need the church to fulfill this need, are also trapped and made to feel guilty and on the outside.

I have many healthy relationships where an experience of belonging emerges all the while the “fig leafs” stay on.

Lord, help us to be healthy.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Out-of-towners way too close 

Last week Sara and I wrapped up a wonderful 10 day vacation in northern Michigan. We stayed on Lake Platte. The lake is near the Big Bear Dunes so its bottom is sandy and its water is clear. The vacation was so relaxing.

However, the relaxation was interrupted by people who invaded my space.

While at the local Wal-Mart getting supplies for a week in a cabin, the check-out lady went on-and-on about her personal life. Don’t get me wrong, I care for people as humans but, I don’t have the capacity to care about the details of everyone I come in contact with. All I could think as she explained how “rough” her life had become, was “I’m not your best friend and I really don’t care.”

Sometimes I struggle with just how “Christian” my attitude is. Should I care about the details of everyone’s life I come in contact with? I don’t know. But, what I do know is that people are continuously trying to connect. They long to belong. And, who am I to tell them they don’t belong to me?

I think congregations have some trouble with this also. They set specific ways to belong while at the same time not realizing that there are many who are struggling to belong to them (or who already believe that they belong). And, many times we make it clear, “you don’t belong.”

Lord, as I struggle to help people, let me never shatter the hope of someone who wants to belong.



Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Personality conflict with God? 

I know that there are those that I will never enjoy being in the same room with. We just rub each other the wrong way. No matter how hard we try we will never enjoy each others company.

Which begs me to question, “Is it possible to have the same kind of personality conflict with God?”

It was obvious that Jesus enjoyed hanging out with some more than others. And, in some cases some people seemingly annoyed Him. So, how does God feel about spending time with me?

Lord may my presence be like time spent with an old friend.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

The Emerging Story 

Story has been a part of communication since the beginning. Yet, it seems with several cultural shifts story raises to the platform as the newly found premiere form of communication and interaction. The current cultural shift is no different.

I have noticed that story is being discussed as the form of communication that “postmoderns” (pomos) are longing for. I agree. But, I’m a little concerned that we are trying to speak in story using the same formula that ruined story (in my opinion) through the modern cultural movement.

Unfortunately, the modern mind changed storytelling. In the effort to discover answers through formulas and logical thought, stories became less story and more interesting illustration to make a point.

As an example, look at the story of the tortoise and the hare. You remember, the tortoise runs the race against the hare with a slow, steady pace. While the hare runs in quick spurts and sideline distractions. In the end, the tortoise wins. The story is developed to teach the principle that through steady, hard work you will win the race. The story places a high value on commitment and consistency. Both of these were rallying benchmarks for the modern movement. Notice that in this story there is only one character in which you are to aspire to or to identify with. Even if you live life well as a hare you are encouraged to change to a life of a tortoise. There is only one possibility—one good answer. Yet, both finish the race. The formula makes for a bad story.

Or another example is what I call the Disney formula. Disney (and others) has made billions developing stories around simple decisions of Good and Evil, Love and Hate, and the Weak overcoming the Powerful. These stories also lead you to identify with one character. This formula creates struggles that are simplistic and answers that are too obvious. Again, possibilities are limited and unreal. This formula also makes a bad story.

Unfortunately, many have adopted these formulas for communicating God’s story. Yet, in His-story simple answers are not valued and the characters all have some identifying pull. Take Mary and Martha. How many have abused Martha? Yet, silently there are many “Martha’s” in the crowd. The story is told so that I identify with both Mary and Martha. I can see good to both sides of the story. The story does not request a simple answer and a “shame on you, Martha.” It is an everyday struggle to live in this world while at the same time struggling to attend to God. Simple? Hardly.

Or, what about the man with two sons? One is a prodigal. One is “good?” The story is not that simple. Both sons deserted the father. But, how many times have I told the story shaming only the prodigal to return home?

Those original hears even had trouble knowing who to identify with—the father? The prodigal? The “good” son?

In our efforts to communicate with the emerging culture in story, it is essential that we find forms of story that match with real life—more Pulp Fiction than Disney.

Lord help me not to abuse of the power of story with the simple formulas that soothe and don’t heal.

Monday, August 18, 2003

community and commitment 

Community and commitment?

It is interesting that when I have listened (read, interviewed, heard) others discuss community, commitment almost always rises to the top of the conversation.

It is perceived that more commitment equals more community (real, authentic, whatever).
Commitment has been conjoined to community in such a pervasive way in recent history that we have been taught that the two are empty without the other. I’m not convinced.

Commitment is a motivational resource (at least the way it is being discussed in this conversation). It is a resource people use to motivate themselves and/or others. Unfortunately, this resource has been so over used that it suffers in effectiveness. Commitment can motivate others toward community. However, commitment does not make certain the path toward community.

Every month I am reminded of my commitments via monthly billing statements yet, I experience no sense of community. I’m committed to my wife yet, this is the last motivational resource I want to use to experience oneness with her (passion and compassion seem to be more fun).

On the other hand, I have experienced community in public arenas (e.g. IU basketball games) where there was no expectation of commitment.

Community is an experience that one grasps when the sum of all their belongs are collected in healthy ways. For example, when a person has a harmonious and healthy relationship between their Public, Social, Personal, and Intimate belongings. Then community (real, authentic, whatever) emerges.

Lord help me to be open to all the possibile ways that people use to connect with me--and mostly with you.


Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Who I am…the lies I tell myself 

Setting across the table was someone I know well. As I inquired about their life, I had a “Dead Zone”—“out-of-body” experience.

His conversation was filled with vignettes of happiness. He spoke of future enjoyment. He unraveled plots filled with adventure. He seemed so in control. Yet, all I could see is sadness, discontent, and regret.

At another table sets someone else who speaks of despair. The future is so hard to bear is full of fear and darkness. She speaks of lonely nights and hopeless days. She wonders aloud about her lack of life contributions. She names and numbers the failures—they are old friends. She seems so out of control. Yet, all I can see is a hopeful, joyous, and exciting future.

The saddest parts of life are those portions where we believe the lies we tell ourselves.

We convince ourselves that we are much better than we are. We sulk in the pain of “knowing” we are much worse than we are.

Lord, help me to believe in the truth about myself and to have a solid sense of who I am. And, thank you for forgiving and loving the true me.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Accumulation 

I don’t know if you can stop it, but can some one help me with all the things I seem to accumulate?

I have accumulated a house full of stuff, a computer full of stuff, and an office full of stuff--books, CD’s, camping gear, shoes, clothes, dishware, silverware, cars, debts. I have pets, friends, family, friends of friends, acquaintances, a wife, a daughter.

But it’s not just material things and people who clutter my life. I have accumulated years, knowledge, some wisdom, faith and unfaith, thoughts, unanswered questions…. The list goes on and on.

My father-in-law has a habit that I admire. When he gets something new, whether a gift or he gets it for himself, he throws away something old. If I give him a new shirt, he will go straight to his closet and throw away an old one. “Why accumulate?” seems to be his theme. But, even with this discipline well in place he has several things he has accumulated that complicate his life.

The fact is accumulation might be unavoidable.

This puzzles me. I find that most people are not infected with an evil need for materialism. But, they do struggle with the complexities of accumulation.

The more I accumulate the more complex my life is--even when I accumulate “good.” The more time I spend with God, our relationship and the relationships I hold with others gets more complex.

A couple asked me, “If there is one piece of advise you could give a couple about to be married what would it be?” My response, “Keep it simple. Learn to accumulate well.”

I sure have spent a lot of my life trying to deal with the complexities of accumulation.

Lord, help me to live my life with simple-complexities.


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