group of womenAs a counselor, I meet with people one-on-one all day long. It’s rewarding, exhausting and humbling. As much as I believe in the value of individual counseling, there is another way of helping people heal that I believe is, in many ways, more powerful.

The group.

Oh, how I love a group, in all its messiness, closeness, vulnerability and intimacy.

At WDA, our materials are designed to be used in groups. We believe in the vast restorative power of a group. We use groups for our discipleship materials and for our Restoring Your Heart materials.

There is a reason “small groups” are so popular in churches today. We all crave intimacy. We are designed for intimate relationships with each other and a healthy small group is the perfect place to “figure out” intimacy. Most of us really don’t know how to be closely connected to others because we have been hurt by others. We don’t trust, it is risky, and we would rather not take the chance. Yet, in avoiding closeness, we go against our created design. So, we get caught in an approach/avoidance relational intimacy dilemma.

With that in mind, I want to encourage you in three ways.

1.  Embrace the risk of either being in a small group or starting a small group.

No matter what the stated purpose of your small group, whether it be Bible study, fellowship, discipleship or emotional healing, no matter what materials you use or don’t use for your small group, there is an overriding transcendent goal for your group.

Cloud and Townsend, in their book Making Small Groups Work, refer to this goal as the ministry of reconciliation. In aiming for this goal, we (the group) are not supposed to be the moral police, we are supposed to be the restorer’s of life. We achieve reconciliation in a small group by combining grace, truth and time with our desire to connect with God and with others. We use a small group to be restored to God, to learn how to relate to others and to experience and practice grace and forgiveness.

And, yes, it is messy sometimes. There will be conflict. There will be unease. There will be anxiety and unsurety. But, don’t you have all of those in your life anyway? And isn’t it frequently hard to navigate those waters?

The beauty of a healthily functioning small group is that all these things can happen, but all these things can also be successfully navigated, dealt with and the group members restored to relationship with each other. There is nothing more exciting and bonding than to experience this reconciliation in a group.

2. Read Making Small Groups Work by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. 

Take notes while you are reading it and think about ways you can use these principles in your own life. This book is one of the best books available about small groups.

3. Read this Short Story.

I was leading a Restoring Your Heart (RYH) group several years ago. When leading these groups, I use one of several workbooks dealing with emotional issues that are written by WDA staff. With this particular group, I was using the Grieving Your Losses workbook, which deals with childhood issues and then moves into grieving and forgiveness.

The group consisted of myself, the co-leader and three other women all of whom had bi-polar disorder. (If you want to learn more about bi-polar disorder, click here.) My “starting out” goal for the group was to help these women see the impact their past had on them and move them joyfully into emotional health within the 18 week group time frame.

About three weeks into the group, I realized that my lofty goal was out the window. These women could not focus on the material or on their past long enough to gain much insight from it. They were having so many problems navigating their daily lives, largely because of their bi-polar disorder, that they were overwhelmed. Each week, one or all of them would come in with a present day crisis that needed to be discussed.

So, I readjusted my goal for the group. Once I let go of my agenda, I realized that these women were gaining much more benefit from the group just by being in a place where they were heard. So we moved through the workbook slowly and incrementally. Usually each week, we spent roughly one-third of the group time on the material, sneaking it in and out of our conversations. They all gained some small understanding of the impact of their past, and they gained a little benefit from talking about grieving and forgiveness.

But, the huge benefit they gained from the group was a chance to bond, experience intimacy and be heard. In other words, they experienced the ministry of reconciliation. Our group lasted about 6 months, much longer than the prescribed 18 weeks. During this time, I realized that the Holy Spirit was going to do a much better job of leading this group than I was and He was going to help these women experience intimacy at a more experiential level than the materials could. The group ended when one group member went to jail and another one went into the hospital. The workbook was still not completed.

Did this group challenge every aspect of my group-leading experiences and desires? Absolutely! Do I consider this one of the more successful groups I have ever lead? Definitely!  Grace, truth and time came together and created intimacy for women who rarely experience it.

And now, following the encouragement, a challenge for you.

Look for ways you can experience intimacy in a small group environment.

And,

Move towards the messiness that results in closeness and reconciliation.