So I’ve been reading Scott Boren’s new Missional Small Groups, not a book I would normally pick up because, well, let’s face it, anything with “Small Groups” in the title is suspect. But after I got over that bout of snobbery I dove in, and it’s been quite compelling. I found chapter three very helpful, not just for understanding my own small group, which we call ‘Missional Orders’ here at Life on the Vine, but for understanding the different stages or places of groups all over our community, and for understanding what different people are looking for when they want “deeper” community.
Scott says that when you listen to people, they typical are telling one of four stories regarding their own community life.
- The Story of Personal Improvement
- The Story of Lifestyle Adjustment
- The Story of Relational Revision
- The Story of Missional Re-Creation
Let me explain what he means by these.
The Story of Personal Improvement: This is the story where we are all coming from tough and busy lives, we are all short on time and energy, but we know that it is good to gather every once in a while (doesn’t it say that somewhere in Hebrews? [Heb. 10:25]). Really, nothing essential changes about the rhythms of our lives except that we go to the group, but only when it is convenient and beneficial to ME, only when I see it contributing to the improvement of my life. I’ll attend when I like the leader, when the material is good, when it’s interesting. If not, then I’ll probably fade away.
Now we may sneer at a such a conception of communal life, but this is where many are coming from, and really, this is what our culture trains in us.
The Story of Lifestyle Adjustment: Community has become a priority for me. I actually change the rhythms of my life and commit to a group, to a place. Room has been made in my life for community, for a weekly meeting. Rather than thinking of my own improvement or health, I’m adjusting to a life in community and organize around it more, at least I’ve organized to a weekly gathering, even if the rest of my life is unchanged.
This communal story is more prevalent for those actually committed to community. But is this really community? No, not really. I feel it is either a bridge to deeper relationships, or the slippery slope back to mere personal improvement.
The Story of Relational Revision: In this phase, or story, my meeting with a group is really just the culmination of the rest of the week that I have spent in community. I’m already regularly in the lives of those in the group. Here I’m actively learning to life a different rhythm of life together with others. I’m beginning to wonder how I ever thought of community before this, and now there is no going back. Nothing less will do. It is not just that I’ve added something to my life. Now I’ve totally changed what is central to life.
This communal story is rare and precious. And if we haven’t experienced it, we probably seek after it without being able to put this longing into words. I think this is actually the kind of community people usually long for, they either just don’t bother to pursuit it enough, or they just haven’t found a group who also shares that deep of a vision.
The Story of Missional Re-Creation: Moving pass just revising my daily relationships, I have not intentionally re-created my life around a community, a place, a people for mission. I and another family decide to move into the same apartment complex, next to a neighborhood when another group member lives. We start having block parties, or just begin to minister to the people around us. We don’t need to organize around ministry, we just live together and out of that flows God’s mission through us.
This type of missional community is indeed rare. Many don’t even have the imagination for it…isn’t that Jesus People kind of stuff? some might think. But really, when you read about what Jesus did with his disciples, isn’t this story of missional creation what we find?
If you were honest, those of us leading church, ministries, or groups, were does our group fall? And how do you feel about it? Are those involved frustrated because they don’t see the improvement the group offers their lives (Story 1), or do frustrations point to a deeply long for community (something more like Story 3 or 4)?
I know for myself, I get frustrated with people lacking commitment, thinking they are just stuck is the first story. But is it possible they too are sick of thin community and don’t bother with anything less that story three or four?
What do you think?
(Part Two will discussion how you move a group/community forward toward Relational Revision and Missional Re-Creation.)