We are taking some time over the next several months to share some of the stories, situations, and meaning behind each of our Core Values and how these values have come to shape the ministry of Discovery Ministries. Connected Through Small Groups is the second Core Value we're sharing & seems relevant to our current way of life in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
By Joel Bates
I got a little excited when I found out that one of our core values has been put into legislation! While the government established new rules, restricting gatherings to ten or fewer people, we’ve been focusing on group sizes of ten to twelve at DM for years. The government declares this limit is necessary to facilitate social distancing—keeping us apart. However, we at DM know working in small groups actually enhances social intimacy, and we rely on this core value to promote a deeper level of discipleship at DM.
As I talked with a friend the other day about the awkward, yet growing relationships that he’s encountering with his wife and kids while they are “staying safe at home,” I felt reaffirmed in the value of small groups. A change in relationship is bound to happen when people have no choice but to be together.
I know that not everybody has someone close during this pandemic, and it would be extreme to say that I like the ten-person cap that our governments have mandated. However, I am enjoying this time of settling in with my family. I find myself taking time to look at the brighter side to this worldwide problem, leveraging it toward the good.
I admit I take those close to me for granted much of the time, and this forced togetherness sometimes becomes awkward. What do I say when all the superficial talk has run dry? The friend I mentioned told me that he and his wife have moved from sharing normal daily updates to reviewing a laundry list of to-do’s and often run out of things to say to each other. One day, my friend was surprised to realize he was with his wife and they were saying nothing, and it was good! They shared silence not because of hostile or cold distance, but out of security. He felt it was the dawning of a new day in their relationship. Often times when we’re in a smaller, more intimate group, the superficial topics of conversation quickly run out, and we risk delving into the meat of our relationships. We begin to trust each other and have those difficult conversations about the elephants in the room, or we feel free to communicate the love we were too afraid to confess before. It’s not that the fear goes away at these times, but our extended connection lessens the dread and provides opportunity, so the masks begin to melt away.
We see it all the time in our programs at DM as we assign small groups a task to complete. Instantly the group is bonded by a challenge, and having fewer members, the group actually works together to solve the problem. In the small group, members who are generally quiet observers dare to speak up and step out, offering valuable input simply because they don’t feel as overwhelmed by the group size. One of the top ten, greatest fears of most people is public speaking, but most of us have something helpful to contribute. In a small group setting, even the shy person will often shed his inhibitions and find the courage to contribute perceptive insights. As a facilitator, I’ve discovered that often the most profound gifts come in the quietest packages.
Like many of you, I have been experiencing more quiet in life that comes with simpler times. How much simpler does it get than being told to stay home with your family? But this can be so terrifying, too! Many of us don’t know how to sit still. We are conditioned to believe that we must be productive if we are to be of value, and before long, finding our value in achievements and keeping busy becomes a silent obsession. The scriptures do tell us, though, to be quiet sometimes before the Lord. In doing this, we can begin to remember that He alone is God (Ps 46). A smaller group doesn’t necessarily guarantee stillness, but the smaller the group, the fewer distractions and overwhelming needs abound.
It seems obvious the desire to find quiet, serenity is one reason why Jesus often withdrew with his inner circle of disciples. He knew the value of getting away from the din of humanity, the constant needs, the controversies, the burden of being so much to so many. He modeled the truth that there is a joy and peace in being significant with a few. To be significant to the crowds, to wear popularity among the people becomes burdensome and can often become an addiction as well. Being in the public eye comes at a cost, and often the price is too high for a person to pay. We see celebrities who appear to have it all, but they are often strung out on drugs because they can’t hold up the weight of all those adoring fans. They know supremely well how fickle is the crowd and how faulty is their ability to provide something truly good for the people.
This current Coronavirus is offering many of us an opportunity to experience something we seldom enjoy: a smaller group, a quieter time, a slower pace. I’ll leave you with Jesus’ invitation I find comforting: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11 :28-30).
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.