Judging from my Facebook page, I consider 550 people (+/-) my personal friends. But how connected am I? Once I unplug my various and sundry electronic devices, who are "my people"? Where do I belong? Jesus is very challenging. His teaching and example cut against my natural tendencies. I tend to go shallow with many. Jesus goes deep with a few.
Jesus loved the crowds, but he wasn't beholden to their interests. John 6 provides sobering substantiation of this point. Jesus wanted to create an intimate community of genuine disciples. When followers had ill motives or hidden agendas, he was more than happy to send them packing (see John 6:22-71).
I often forget that Jesus spent the bulk of his earthly ministry with 12 guys. Three years; twelve guys. Of these 12, he selected three (i.e. James, Peter and John; cf. Matthew 16) as his closest companions.
Jesus lived in deep community, and he taught about deep community (see Mark 3:31-35; 10:28-30; John 17:20-23). So how do we follow his example? How do we obey his teaching? I'm still trying to figure it out. Here's one thing I've learned; it's helpful to identify a "primary group."
Scott Boren says this,
"We cannot love everyone. We cannot invest equally or in the same way in every relationship we have. If we do, we will only give morsels of connection, which is not really love. Unless we establish a primary group, we flitter about from relationship to relationship without any depth in any of these connections. We have so many relationships that none can go to any depth.
But when there is a primary group - five to twelve people with whom we choose to share life - this group becomes a center or core group. We learn to walk together, but not necessarily because the relationships are beneficial or advantageous. In fact, there will be times when the relationships cost much more than they offer in return. But this group provides a place for our lives to belong."
Missional Small Groups: Becoming a Community That Makes a Difference in the World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010); 103
Boren makes several suggestions on how to make your small group your primary group. Here are a few (see ibid, 104-105);
(1) Face-to-Face Contact: Make time to connect with people in person. Technology provides us with an assortment of connection points, but these are no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Consider ways to increase such interaction with your small group. Eat a meal together. Drop by someone's house on the way home from work. Work on a project together.
(2) Repetition of Contact: Find ways to connect consistently, even if briefly. Carpool with someone to work. Pray with someone at lunch for 15 minutes. As Boren says, "repetition of small touches...builds trust and communicates the priority people have in your life" (p. 104).
(3) Overlap Circles: Include your small group in the daily rhythms of life. Do you need a workout partner? Is there a movie you want to see? A concert you want to attend? Is there a big event coming up (e.g. The Oscars, The Olympics, The Superbowl)? Identify the rhythms of life, and then invite one another into these rhythms.
We come to know others by seeing them in various environments. If we only see each other in small group or church services, our knowledge of each other is limited.
(4) Waste Time Together: A primary group knows how to waste time together. Do you fellowship with believers only in formal church settings (i.e. Sunday mornings, classes, small group), or do you also spend "informal" time with them? Think of the things you love to do; eating a great meal, going on a hike, playing an instrument, competing in a sport. Do you enjoy life with your group? When I do enjoyable things with people, I enjoy these people more and more.
Living this way may require a paradigm shift.
Chester and Timmis say this;
"The prevailing view of life today is that of an individual standing on his or her own, heroically juggling various responsibilities - family, friendships, career, leisure, chores, decisions, and money. We could also add social responsibilities like political activities, campaigning organizations, community groups, and school associations. From time to time the pressures overwhelm us, and we drop one or more of the balls. All too often church becomes one of the balls. We juggle our responsibilities for church (measured predominantly by attendance at meetings) just as we juggle our responsibilities for work or leisure. An alternative model is to view our various activities and responsibilities as spokes of a wheel. At the center or hub of life is not me as an individual but us as members of the Christian community. Church is not another ball for me to juggle but that which defines who I am and gives Christlike shape to my life."
Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2008); 44-45.
I tend to overestimate what I can do in the lives of many, and underestimate what I can do in the lives of a few. May we follow Jesus' example, and invest deeply in our spiritual siblings.