How many good conversations have you had this week? Apparently “happier people have more meaningful conversations (Melinda Wenner Moyer, “Skip the Small Talk,” Scientific American Mind, July/August 2010,12).” In a study conducted at the University of Arizona and Washington University in St Louis, researchers found that subjects who were happy and content “spent 70 percent more time talking than the unhappiest subjects, which suggests that ‘the mere time a person spends in the presence of others is a good predictor of the person’s level of happiness . . .’ (Moyer,12).” These happy subjects “participated in a third as much small talk and had twice as many in-depth conversations as the most unhappy participants (Moyer, 12).” Which may explain why many of us are not happy.
At care group meeting last night, someone shared that when she moved down from Malaysia to Singapore, she thought she would find fewer challenges to her faith. (Christians in Malaysia have to live out their faith in an Islamic context, where Islam is used by some quarters to assert political power.) Instead, in Singapore, she found that her faith was challenged by the sheer busyness of life here. Well, depending on what you do, I am not sure a city like KL is any less busy. The modern work world is demanding, and when people are busy, the first thing to go is relationships, especially the face to face meetings that are the basis for the good conversations that sustain relationships. And if the above report is to be believed, healthy relationships are key to our well being.
We have about 17 people on the roll of our care group and we meet twice a month. Many times, just before a meeting, we have to decide if we should continue, because many people are not able to make it, most with valid reasons. We all live busy lives. Making time for our groups is a decision that Bernice and I make and often it does mean saying no to other important things. And when people question the size of our group I have to explain that at any given meeting usually about 10 to 12 people show up, often less. However, we normally do not cancel meetings and we meet with whoever shows up. To skip one meeting means we meet only once a month and that is not adequate for group life.
We also understand the importance of good conversations and so we factor that into our care group meeting. We always start our meetings with dinner. Over a meal, people start to relax, they start to share their stories. As they share the meal, they begin to share their lives. When we go into the study time we struggle to understand God’s truth but we also struggle to see how the truth intersects with our lives. And times of prayer are often preceded with sharing the things that are on our heart. To encourage sharing, we usually divide the group into smaller sub groupings, smaller groups of twos and threes, or divided by gender.
Christianity is a relational faith which is only natural since we follow a relational God of Father, Son, and Spirit. We are not surprised then that the Scriptures command that we do not neglect meeting up.
And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25 NET)
William L. Lane comments:
The reason the meetings of the assembly are not to be neglected is that they provide a communal setting where mutual encouragement and admonishment may occur . . . The entire community must assume responsibility to watch that no one grows weary or apostate. This is possible only when Christians continue to exercise care for one another personally. (Hebrews 9-13, Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1991, 290.)
The early church were house churches of about 30 – 40 people that met in homes. Therefore, this admonishment by the writer of Hebrews may not have our usual Sunday large group worship services in mind. While such meetings may be great for inspiration and instruction, they are basically impersonal in nature. It is our small groups, our cell groups and care groups, that provide a better context to live out Hebrews 10:23-25. Even then, mutual care must be intentional. Throwing a small group of people together does not guarantee that they will have good life-giving conversations.
Indeed, we need to ask if having small groups in our churches is an adequate response to our need for personal mutual care since it is so hard to get all the members of a small group to be in the same place at the same time. A pastor friend in KL is now emphasising that the members of his community commit themselves to spiritual friendship groups of three members each. It is easier to find a common meeting time for three than for 17. He still has small groups in his church but is now emphasizing the smaller friendship groups. Folks in the friendship groups may or may not be part of the church small groups but all groups function under the authority of the church leadership. Here is one church and one pastor who is trying to make sure that Hebrews 10: 23-25 happens.
We live in an increasingly busy world. That is the reality we have to contend with. Therefore we need to find creative ways for all of us to find the life-giving fellowship we all need. But not meeting up is not an option.