Small Group Leadership as Spiritual Directionby Heather Parkinson Webb, Eugene H. Peterson (Foreword by)
Don’t just LEAD a small group, DIRECT it. Members of your small group look to you for answers. They bring their raw questions and intimate needs to you, looking for wisdom and understanding. How can you encourage your group to consider the Holy Spirit’s voice? “Spiritual direction is an ancient art of being with another person in relationship with
Don’t just LEAD a small group, DIRECT it. Members of your small group look to you for answers. They bring their raw questions and intimate needs to you, looking for wisdom and understanding. How can you encourage your group to consider the Holy Spirit’s voice? “Spiritual direction is an ancient art of being with another person in relationship with God,” writes author Heather Webb. This time-tested practice requires that you remain attentive and open to divine interactions you might otherwise miss. Field-tested through the author’s years of experience, Small Group Leadership as Spiritual Direction will help you: - Avoid common small-group pitfalls - Take on difficult questions - Speak God’s words into others’ lives - Deepen your group’s desire for God The exciting discipline of spiritual direction allows you to create a space in which the Holy Spirit can move among your group. As you begin to discern Christ’s call in the lives of others, you will see your ministry with a new perspective and uncover new ways to direct your group, not just lead it.
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- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
From the bestseller list to the growing number of stores featuring self-help books on meditation, yoga, and centering, it's obvious that the last few years have brought a dramatic increase in spiritual curiosity and hunger. Even those who are loath to assign themselves a religious label are exploring the spiritual realm with increasing passion. And yet there is a sense in which the Christian church is failing to meet this hunger with a real, meaningful response.
Consider the movie Dogma. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon play fallen angels who are trying to find their way back to heaven by way of a moral loophole.
In one scene, Affleck's character talks to a young woman, Bethany, who is on a pilgrimage she doesn't understand. She doesn't realize she's speaking with a fallen angel. She's been drinking, which prompts her to speak more plainly than she might normally have done. Listen to what she says:
Angel: You still go to church?
Bethany: Every Sunday.
Angel: Does it do anything for you?
Bethany: It gives me time to balance my checkbook every week.
Angel: See, that's what I'm saying. I mean, people don't go to church to feel spiritual anymore. They go to church and feel bored. But they keep going every week just out of habit. When do you think you lost your faith?
Bethany: I remember the exact moment. I was on the phone with my mother. And she was trying to counsel me through this thing.
And nothing she was saying was making me feel any better. She said, 'Bethany, God has a plan.' I was so angry with her. I was like, What about my plans? You know?
Bethany: I had planned to have a family with my husband. Wasn't that plan good enough for God? Apparently not. What about you?
When did you lose your faith?
Angel: A long time ago. One day God just stopped listening. I kept talking, but I got the distinct impression that he wasn't listening anymore.
Bethany: How did you know she was listening in the first place?
Angel: I guess I don't.
Bethany: I hate thoughts like that. You know, they come to you with age because when you're a kid, you never question the whole faith thing. Um-um. God's in heaven and he's---she's always got her eye on you. I' d give anything to feel that way again. Guess that's why I got talked into this pilgrimage.1
These characters ask the crucial question, 'Does the church do anything for us?' There is a sense that both Bethany and the Angel wish the answer were yes. This conversation reflects the longing found in the hearts of the faithful and the faithless alike. Faith is lost not because there is no need for it, but because we believe God's plans don't make any sense. In fact, Bethany notes that not only do they not make sense, but they seem cruel and arbitrary as well.
In essence, these characters are saying the church doesn't meet us. It doesn't meet our needs, our desires, our hopes, or our hunger. The church doesn't connect with us. And when we sense that the church doesn't connect,
we move on to the belief that God can't connect with us either.
When I first saw this scene, I was convicted. I have likely said to someone in pain, 'God's going to take care of it,' or 'God meant it for good.'
But notice how Bethany connects that sentiment with the moment she lost her faith. Yet she hasn't lost the desire for faith; this scene bears evidence that a hunger for God exists even when belief seems to fall away. We glimpse
Bethany's heart as she says, 'I'd give anything to feel that way again.' That's soul hunger.
I don't believe the church has intentionally ignored this soul hunger.
The church has used education to teach us about matters of faith. It has created communities in which we can learn the ways of faith. It is a source of fellowship so we can journey with others on a path of faith. But there must be something more we can offer to invite these spiritual seekers to Christian community.
What would be required to meet that woman on the train, to meet her heartache?
There are large segments of the population that are dissatisfied with the church, wounded by the institution. They are trying to find room in their theology for the questions and doubt that have surfaced in the course of their lives. It is a critical time for the church to honor the seekers, to invite them to God and community in the midst of their wanderings, not once they get it all figured out.
The spiritual hunger of this age presents an opportunity for us to offer a seat at the table and a cup of warm soup to those who know they are in need.
Contours of soul hunger
Of course, addressing this spiritual hunger means understanding the ways in which this hunger is lived out in the lives of seekers. There are several common markers that we as the church need to recognize as we look for ways to invite people like Bethany into the church.
The first marker is what British theologian Dave Tomlinson calls a
'pick and mix'2 belief system. It can resemble a fast-food convenience store---
get a little of this and a little of that. That's why many seekers are comfortable mixing principles from Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism into the basic expressions of Christianity. It is just as easy to read the latest news on the Dalai
Lama as it is to find out what the Bible says on an afterlife. This challenges us to redefine what is essential to being a Christian rather than assuming the only legitimate expression of faith is one that adheres to all elements of the Christian subculture.
A positive effect of this pick-and-mix mentality is that seekers are relatively comfortable with ambiguity. Mark Yaconelli, a spiritual director, notes that with Generation X-ers, 'there's a whole aspect to their spiritual life that the
Christian faith will have to be experiential, anti-institutional, address suffering,
and be ambiguous which is the word for mystery.'3 Gen X-ers can hold two opposite concepts of something with equal validity, not either/or but both/and.
Reality needn't be defined in black and white.
In many ways, this frees the church to embrace the mystery of God, to allow for God to be expansive and awesome rather than some definable entity.
No longer is there a need to 'prove' the un-provable that is faith. Now there is more room for the experiential and supernatural. There is room for God to work in ways that are outside of our understanding. Faith can therefore draw people not by propositional argument but by lived invitations to share stories and appreciate each other as fellow travelers on the faith journey, not objects of another's coercion.
A second marker is the importance of relationship. We are in a state of near-constant change. New technology, transportation, information, and mobility ensure that today will be different from yesterday. Ironically, even as the world gets 'smaller' because of technology, the pace at which we travel and function brings with it a profound sense of isolation for Postmoderns. There is a felt estrangement from others, particularly as we become more hidden behind our Wi-Fi networks and iPods.
This sense of isolation brings with it a kind of spiritual unrest. Despite our unprecedented consumption of goods and resources, rest and contentment remain elusive. Most spiritual seekers have experienced dissatisfaction, even disillusionment, with our consumerist culture. With so many options they find that even choice itself becomes meaningless.
Henri Nouwen spoke to where we find ourselves: 'Traditional ways of living are breaking down. And we are more than ever thrown back on our own personal resources.'4 Yet, we know we can't survive on our own. So we seek out community, relationships with others who we believe will somehow join their stories with ours so that together we can create something meaningful.
What an opportunity for the church! We are at a point in history when the longing for faith, for meaning, is on the rise.
Meet the Author
Heather Webb is a spiritual director and an ordained minister in the PCUSA who holds a masters in counseling degree from Colorado Christian University and a doctor of ministry degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is a licensed professional counselor.
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