A word for small groups and students this year. Dare to imagine with me for a minute!
I was walking in a field which was perfectly square, well maintained with short green grass, no bumps or uneven surfaces. Like a championship golf course, it almost didn’t look real. There were no surprises in this field! As I walked through this field I felt completely safe, knowing the end from the beginning, able to see the boundaries of the field and a clear entry and exit. I didn’t need to watch my footing, it was easy to walk there, comfortable, requiring no strain.
Towards the end of the field I saw an opening, a way into something wild. I was faced with a choice, would I stay in this familiar field or explore uncharted territory? As I peered through, I saw something like a rainforest. It was untamed, luscious plants and trees surrounding a faint path on which I began to walk. The surface was rocky, sometimes moving from underneath me, the path was winding, for a time, I found myself ascending then I began to descend. Wildlife was alive all around me, birds in the trees, creatures running free and vibrant plants springing up all around, some with colours I hadn’t seen before.
As I looked ahead, the path was uncertain, looking treacherous with no ending point, the adventure led me on. I was in wonder, longing to explore even as I was hit by new challenging terrain and weather conditions, unfriendly creatures and long mountain climbs. I crossed rivers, cut out new paths for myself picking up cuts and bruises on the way. I didn’t care about surviving or finding the way out, all I wanted was to discover what seemed like a new world.
The first place is a neat and tidy field. Looking pleasing to the eye, as one walks out onto the field, they realise it all looks the same, it lacks depth or variety, it quickly becomes mundane, boring. All there is to do is maintain this field, after a while it needs taking care of, cutting the grass, strengthening the boundaries to keep everything in order. It is a controlled environment, it stays the same year upon year. Small groups can be like this field. Some may even take comfort in maintaining this crisp, well-kept field. The group cannot get messy or grow, the people tidy themselves up to walk onto the field and keep within the boundaries but don’t feel they can shape the field.
Can you imagine what the second place represents for small groups?
The terrain is rocky, it’s uneven, it allows for those walking to take risks, to find creative ways of navigating the path set before them. Some fall over, others must work with them to get them back on their feet, to survive and begin to thrive they must work as a team, relying on one another's strengths in the midst of weakness. They learn to serve one another and look for others to join in, to enjoy the beauty around and navigate the inevitable storms. Some leave as the path is too narrow, others join the adventure expectant with fresh energy. With no time to maintain this environment, the group focus on moving forward, giving up control to embrace what is set before them. Tough physical conditions and conflicts between the group make moving forward uncomfortable but the sense of adventure spurs them on. As they remind one another of the wonder of it all, they reach a mountain top. They look out together to a vista, barely able to see the horizon, the area to explore has no limits. Forests, streams, lakes, mountain ranges lay ahead of them, their vision expands..
Some remain in the first place, it feels safer. It’s easy to see from one end of the field to the other, the field is small. It takes a small amount of time to walk from one end to the other. They begin to walk back and forth in the field, not able to roam free but finding security in the routine they’ve chosen. People on the outside look over and decide not to join.
Will you walk in the first place or the second? Will you choose routine and safety or take the plunge into the unknown. To truly experience a small group, one must embrace the mess of sharing life, take risks, lean on God and one another to participate in a movement.
What do these words provoke in you for your small group? Think in terms of vision, community and mission.