Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, And they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
You wanna go where people know, people are all the same, You wanna go where everybody knows your name.
[”Where Everybody Knows Your Name” by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo. Theme song from TV sit-com “Cheers.”]
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” [Hebrews 10:24,25. TNIV]
Should I take this job? It is really a big boost for my career but I am afraid it will leave me less time for family.
I really feel that I want to go into full time church ministry but I know my parents will go nuclear. What should I do??
Can a Christian really be successful in business??
My boss is really giving me a hard time at work. How should a Christian respond??
We are about to have our first baby. We are excited but scared. What support can we expect from the church??
My bosses are really into feng shui. As a Christian, I am totally against this but I am in the minority. What can I do?
Can Christians do yoga??
Most of us experience Christianity as specific issues which need answers from a Christian perspective. Unfortunately many do not know where to go with their questions.
Most churches have two main meetings. There is the big group meeting, the Sunday worship. And by now most churches will have some kind of small group meeting, some kind of cell group ministry.
There is no way Sunday worship can provide the privacy and personal focus needed to address specific issues of spiritual direction. Unfortunately, most cell groups are not much better.
Some cell groups are text centred. The main concern for such cell group meetings is working through a given biblical text. The meeting is focused on understanding the assigned material.
Other cell groups are task centred. Their primary focus is evangelism. The group meeting is primarily taken up with working out plans as to how the group can reach non- Christians and the unchurched.
So week after week Christians come to the small group with specific questions as to how they are to live out their faith but there is no space to ask them. They feel alone and unsupported.
Some end up concluding that their faith has no real relevance to their world. They go though the motions in the cell group meetings. But their hearts and minds are elsewhere. Others stop coming all together.
In her book SMALL GROUP LEADERSHIP AS SPIRITUAL DIRECTION, Heather Webb writes:
Small groups are not teaching environments. Rather, they represent a group of people encountering one another and listening for God’s guiding Spirit.
This is not to say people are not learning theology along the way. However, small groups are most successful when they are about people on a mutual journey of discovering God’s work in their lives. (36)
When some people read this they get worried that I am advocating that cell groups become touchy-feely encounter groups where the Word is ignored. I appreciate their concerns and recognize that the danger is real.
Nevertheless I am reminded that the New Testament is mostly occasional documents, like Paul’s letters. Occasional documents see the unchanging truths of God applied to real life situations as they unfold.
The bible must continue to be the primary foundation of what is true but true learning takes place when we see the Word connected to life. People need to hear the Living Word speak to them from the Written Word. Such dialogue characterizes a living relationship.
I would further argue that taking the questions of cell group members seriously is not something that distracts from the evangelistic mandate either. I believe that Christians who know that the living God is speaking into their lives, and therefore people who are very confident about the reality of the Living God, make the best evangelists.
Of course many groups strive towards a balanced mandate of study, caring, and outreach. Most cell groups would give some such balanced formula as their reason for existence.
In practice however, I find that groups tend to gravitate towards the culture of their church, or the strengths of their leaders.
If the church is very gung ho about evangelism, then a lot of the cell group’s attention will be given to mobilizing members for outreach. If the church is a strong teaching church then the tendency is for the group to spend the majority of its time discussing biblical and theological truths.
If the small group leader is a gifted teacher, he will tend to give himself to do a lot of teaching. If the leader is passionate about saving souls, that passion will be translated into the group’s de facto agenda.
Again, I understand that learning the Word and reaching souls are biblically mandated and must be the concern of every Christian and every group. But if we challenge Christians to live out the implications of their faith they will invariably have questions. More so in a fast moving and rapidly changing world like ours.
They need help. They need answers. Or at the very least they need their questions to be taken seriously.
I am particularly concerned for young believers who are still feeling their way around in this new world they have entered. They have many questions and this is a good thing. But they need a safe place where their questions will be taken seriously.
Pastors alone will not be enough to meet the needs of all these people. Church counsellors will help but many of the issues are not really therapeutic issues. And there are too few Christian counsellors available anyway. Some will have the benefit of Christian friends. But I fear that many will fall through the cracks.
There is much then in Heather Webb’s suggestion that small group leaders should also know basic spiritual direction whatever their other roles may be. Whatever else they are called to do, small group leaders must be shepherds who know how to connect the doubts and questions of God’s flock with the Shepherd Himself.
Let me close with the words of Eugene Peterson, one who has taught, written and practiced spiritual direction throughout his life and ministry career:
Spiritual direction shifts attention from what I can do or say that will help and ‘shape up’ this person, to what the Holy Spirit is already doing. Basically, what we are trying to do is recover the intimate attentiveness to soul, to each unique Spirit-created person that is everywhere implicit in our Scriptures.
Spiritual direction counters the temptation to impose abstractions on a person, counters the coercive, manipulative, bullying tendencies that we so easily pick up when we are sure that we have something that other people need. [Private correspondence to Heather Webb.]
I see this need everywhere. I see it in my own soul.
Beyond our programmes and agendas, let us see the unique individuals that make up our small groups. Let us hear them.
Your brother, Soo-Inn