Dear brothers and sisters,
St. Paul and Timothy write to the community of the Thessalonians, “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us” (1 Thes 2:8). Of the topics in our series “Next STEPS to a new you,” this week’s topic, “Engaging in Small Groups,” may be the hardest sell for Catholics who are trained from their youth to give the bare minimum one hour per week of their time to God at Mass, and nothing more. The Biblical principle “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:17) is leveraged in so many activities today from weight loss to AA to parenting groups, yet in the Church it has sadly been lost for the most part. Today more than ever people are lost – spiritually, emotionally, even physically – without companions on the journey who can guide them. This preaching series is about discipleship, and our invitation to you is to find a small group of some form that can help you.
Our parish does not yet have a large network of small prayer groups (we are planning to kick this off in a more formal way in a few years), but we have many groups and organizations that always welcome new members – the St. John’s Seniors Group, Knights of Columbus, Columbiettes, Youth Ministry, Focolare Word of Life Prayer Group, Charismatic Prayer Group, and more informal groups of parents, friends, and families that meet inside and outside of the church. Often in a big church such as St. John’s, people can get lost or even leave because they crave a smaller community, and their needs are not provided for – the parish staff and I can only help so many people. Small groups are a place where our big church gets small, where members are cared for personally, and ideally, they become “schools” for discipleship.
Three core values of Small Groups are: (1) prayer – they are not not just fellowship or business groups, and everybody in the group should have the opportunity to pray; (2) authenticity – they are confidential, so that people can be comfortable enough to just be themselves, letting go of who they are “supposed to be” to come just as they are; and (3) commitment – showing up every week , because these groups are about relationships, and relationships need presence. You are challenged this week to join a small group, and if you already have a group, you’re invited to reflect on these questions:
1. Why are you in a Small Group? What do you want to get out of being in a Small Group?
2. How is the health of the group’s prayer? What is the group’s next step?
3. How would you define authenticity? Why is that important for a healthy group?
4. How is your group doing with commitment on a scale from 1-5? What would it look like to grow in commitment?
5. What comes up in your schedule that keeps you from coming to the group? How could you put those things aside to make the group a greater priority?
6. What would it look like for your group to become your “dearly beloved” friends?