The difficulty with reflecting on a compiled work in a few pages is in paring down many authors into a coherent reflection. While there are some obvious issues with dated material, especially in reference to technology and philosophy, one chapter stood out as exceptionally relevant. Christine Anderson begins her chapter on small groups with a comparison of heaven and hell, defining hell as “the utter loss of community.” This opening deeply resonates with my experience of the times in my life when I didn’t have community around me. This chapter is extremely rich, mainly because of the huge impact that small groups being community for each other has had in my life. I would not be the follower of Christ that I am today if I had not been part of small groups that held me accountable, supported me through loss, and celebrated my triumphs. For me, having community is the closest I think I will get to heaven while on earth. In this reflection on these slices of heaven I am going to process a couple things that I feel my attention was drawn to by the Spirit as I read.
Limited Span of Care
In her outline of the principles undergirding Willow Creek’s small group and church life Anderson lists the first principle of their structure as an acknowledgement of human limitation. “Everyone is cared for and no one cares for more than ten.” This is an incredibly healthy starting place and excellent way to combat leader burnout. My energy for emotionally investing in others is a limited resource that requires protection. This limited resource has many emotional ties pulling at it, from family to friends to people who I serve. I need to be careful to steward this resource in much more intentional ways than I have in the past and be very open with my limitations in terms of available emotional energy. By limiting the scope of my leadership investment I will be able to sustainably serve and create space for others to sustainably serve in much healthier ways.
Embrace the Opportunity to Fail
In the background information for Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. Anderson quotes one of the founders, Mary Cosby, as saying “Just about everything we’ve learned, we’ve learned by first doing it wrong. You’ve got to know how to fail and you can’t let your people get bogged down into feeling like they’re wasting money if it doesn’t work out.” I can’t imagine How to Fail ever being a top-selling title for church or relationship development, but this little lesson is huge. Getting it across that failures are opportunities to learn so we can improve is a tough task, but so important for me to get out of my shell and take a risk. I definitely tend to be a bit on the risk-averse side, so I need the reminders that failure in the pursuit of growth is normal, to be expected, and is one of the best ways to improve. The important piece is evaluation when something goes haywire. The hard process of taking a good look at everything and figuring out why something failed and making corrections so that the failing factor is not in play on the next try can be painful and at times can feel like a lot of energy or money was wasted. I am not really sure how to keep people from getting bogged down, or how to un-bog people in the face of repeated failure. I have some knowledge of what not to do thanks to past learning experiences, and I would surmise that reminding others and myself “Hey! Now we know what not to do?”
It is certainly a tough task to promote an environment of sustainable ministry in which tasks can be as joyfully laid down as picked up. One of the keys to sustainability in our faith journey is in fostering community in small groups and giving those small groups a larger community in which to share the gift of each other. When we come together with a focus on listening to the lessons God is teaching us trough our failures and successes, acknowledging our human limitations, we can see small glimpses of heaven in our community.
 Equipping the Saints, ed. Michael J. Christensen and Carl E. Savage (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 49.
 Ibid., 57.
 Ibid., 67.
Equipping the Saints. Edited by Michael J. Christensen and Carl E. Savage. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000.
Erflection on Michael Christensen's Equipping the Saints by Gilbert George is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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