Friday, January 09, 2009

"It's Better Here"

This conflict between making selfish decisions and the virtue of selflessness comes into ironic focus when you begin “church shopping.” For Mike and I, this conflict was a bit more specific, but nearly identical, as we discussed finding and choosing a small group.

Small groups are structured around various commonalities: location, age, sex, marital status, even ethnicity. One current trend is affinity-based small groups: groups united by a common interest. For some groups, this basis only determines the topics, like relationships, books of the Bible, or spiritual practices. For others, it extends to interests like authors, sports, homemaking, or community service.

Many people seek out a small group based what they’re looking for. Can you blame them? We’ve grown up making decisions this way. We don’t know of another way to choose. It’s how the game is played. But when we choose a small group based on our preferences—what suits us—we tend to choose to be people with whom we something in common. We choose people we like.

This in natural. We don’t naturally fall into relationships with people who aren't like us. We even tend to cluster geographically with people who are like us—just look at an election map.

For small groups, when our differences cause conflict or we can’t agree on a topic, we may conclude that another group would be a better fit. We’re accustomed to think that conflict is an indication that we’re in the wrong place, that we haven't been following God closely enough.

One of the issues Paul faced in his writings was Jews in conflict with Gentiles. There were lots of conflicts of interest between various groups in the New Testament. Jesus faced plenty of conflict. (Read John 5-8.) Nothing’s changed really: We like people who are like us. But Jesus called us to love our neighbors and our enemies. Our world becomes smaller when we surround ourselves with those who are like us.

So, now we have two strikes against affinity: (1) It encourages selfishness, and (2) it discourages diversity. It’s not looking good for affinity. Is there a better way to choose?

1 comment:

Ben B said...

Is there a better way to choose?
I'm not sure. I've been in two very diverse groups (age, race, class, marital status) that I found static and unchallenged while I've found groups with a bunch of other hipster post collegians to be rock solid. Circumstantial evidence to be sure, but I think the important thing is that home groups exist in the first place.

Small groups may have found their genesis in the mega-church movement, but they find their genius in the New Testament. Few churches of any size are properly implementing the “one anothers” without some kind of small group configuration (Heb. 10:24-25). They may have accountability groups, Bible study fellowships, Men’s Fraternity Groups, or prayer fellowships, but the “one anothers” simply cannot be done while sitting in rows facing a pulpit.