In July 2017, I visited a Catholic charismatic community in Fulda, Germany, and enjoyed the generous hospitality of their guest house, a former US Army barracks. One of the sisters talked with me about sharing your life with others. In response to the question, “what is the hardest part of being in community?”, she responded that it was the self-awareness and needed growth it provokes. “Its like looking at yourself in a mirror every day,” she said. “You learn what you are really like and the Holy Spirit helps you become a better person”.
"Community is the place of belonging .... of acceptance .....of caring. It is a place of growth in love....... Community leads to openness and acceptance of others.”
Jean Vanier 'Community and Growth' (1989)
The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook (Adele Calhoun) notes that “Jesus was never a Lone Ranger. He has always been part of a divine community with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And when he came to earth, he continued to live his life in small groups.” First there were the twelve disciples he chose “to be with him” (Luke 6:13). As he taught them about God and themselves, he was modelling spiritual practices for them. They learned new ways of worship, prayer, witness and service. He heled form the character and their habits. Today we would say he “discipled” them.
Discipleship - and the spiritual transformation it brings - is not meant to be a solo experience. God works in us through others. We all need a spiritual friend or a circle of others to encourage, support and speak truth to us. Unconditional love partnered with authenticity helps us to grow.
Many of us recognize that small groups are a good idea. But the pace and busyness of life overwhelms us. Still, the discipline of doing the spiritual journey in the company of others remains Jesus’ model for discipleship. Small groups in their myriad forms help connect people with others, and provide a safe place for self-disclosure and meaningful interaction. Small groups often exist for Bible study and prayer, but they may also revolve round meals, hobbies, tasks, justice issues or service projects. The members of that small community in Fulda share worship, prayer and service that helps them become more and more Christ-like, and to bear fruit for the kingdom (their particular charism or calling.) Within the context of its own calling, members of any local church small group must decide their own size, duration and purpose. Calhoun says “There is no one right way to do small groups.” (p 149)
Learn more about the different ways of doing small groups – including the tradtional Bible study, interest groups, spiritual direction and even a couple at home – in my recently-updated resource booklet Spiritual Practice 9 – Small Groups, also available to read online at issuu.
Find other spiritual practice guides in the GSL Library.