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Speaker, Writer, and Author of GodSpace

Four questions to facilitate spiritual formation in small groups

Life change happens in small groups. If we ask ourselves and our groups the right questions, we can create environments for transformation.

If you lead a small group, one of your goals might be to help those in your group grow spiritually–transformed spiritually, even. As leaders, we want to take people on a journey of transformation. But in order to do that, we ourselves must be on the journey.

my happy place

After all, the Bible tells us that transformation should happen as a result of our encounter with Christ. Like vinegar on baking soda in a kid’s science experiment, our bland lives should bubble up when the Spirit is poured out on us. But in order for that to happen, we need to create an environment where there is space for God’s Spirit to come in.

Two verses about transformation:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

 

I spoke recently to a gathering of small group leaders at Christ Community Church in St. Charles. What an eager and receptive group of women, who are prevailing against the gates of hell by simply gathering women into groups and loving them toward a new life in Christ. I was impressed by their love and commitment. We talked about how our lives, our circumstances form us–they cause us to be formed. Sometimes our lives are shaped by love, other times by shame. Often, it’s a bit of both.Every situation, every challenge, all the voices that spoke into our lives, whether positive or negative, have formed our spirits, molded our souls.

As Dallas Willard wrote in Renovation of the Heart (a book which has, indeed, formed me in so many ways):

“Spiritual formation, without regard to any specifically religious context or tradition, is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definite form or character. It is a process that happens to everyone. The most despicable as well as the most admirable of persons have had a spiritual formation. Terrorists as well as saints are the outcome of a spiritual formation. Their spirits or hearts have been formed. Period.”

In small groups, we lead people who have been formed, for better or worse. Their families (of origin and of right now) have formed them. Their traumas and their triumphs. Every incident and casual word influences, shapes.

What about when it comes to Christian spiritual formation. And how do we facilitate that in our groups? Willard goes on to write:

“We can say, in a preliminary manner, that spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers tot the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself…Christian spiritual formation is focused entirely on Jesus. Its goal is an obedience or conformity to Christ that arises out of an inner transformation accomplished through purposive interaction with the grace of God in Christ.”

Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart

As I led these small group leaders through a discussion of how to create environments for transformation, I reminded them first that growth–given the right conditions. Happens. For example, my children, when first born, were tiny. I fed them, kept them warm and fed. I loved on them, guided them. And they grew. I didn’t “make” them grow, but I tried to provide an environment conducive to growth. As a result, my son who was 21 inches long when he was born is now 6’4″. I can’t take the credit–God did that. But I did provide the right conditions for growth to occur.

kids little

 kids big

To talk about how we can help our small group members to grow, I asked leaders to grapple with four questions:

1. What motivates people to be transformed?

I believe it is when they fully embrace and own the fact that they are deeply loved. Being deeply loved changes everything.

The Holy Spirit is ultimately the one who changes us. So in many ways, the pressure’s off. But we need to create the right environment for growth and change.

Ironically, when people know they are loved just as they are, they are more motivated to change.

2. Do we expect transformation?

 Are we clear that change is the goal? How do we communicate that? Is transformation “normal” in your group? How often do you cast a vision that reminds people God loves them as they are, but loves them too much to leave them there?

 3. Do we model transformation?

How are you, as a leader, changing and growing? Do you share your victories and your setbacks with small group members, reminding them that your goal is to be formed into the image of Christ?

If you find yourself stalled out, look at the pace of your life. The biggest barrier to spiritual growth is hurry. Slowing down will allow you to model spiritual transformation.

4. Do we celebrate transformation?

One of our most important jobs as small group leaders is naming what we see in people’s lives: noticing and affirming both steps of growth and obvious struggles, and walking with them through both. Celebrate transformation by telling people what you see, where you notice God working in their lives.

One way we can celebrate transformation is to make a regular practice of Gratitude in our groups. And that gratitude not only celebrates transformation, it facilitates it. Grateful people experience God and they grow closer to Him.

If you lead a small group, your mission is to help people to be attuned to the work of God in their own lives. What better way than to celebrate this regularly?

Our lives and souls are going to be formed, whether we are deliberate about it or not. Why not help your small group to be formed into the image of Christ, to find the freedom that the Spirit wants to give them?

PLEASE COMMENT: Are you a small group leader? Or in a small group? How has the group helped you to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”? What questions does this post raise for you? 

 

6 Comments

  1. That passage from Willard’s book about being transformed for either goodness or into something despicable reminds me of the Weston character in Perelandra. He is telling the hero all about how he is following the spirits and the hero warns him, “There are spirits and then there are spirits, you know.” Likewise, there’s a big difference between being spiritual and being transformed by the Spirit.

    I’ve led and been in small groups many times over the years, Keri. One constant I’ve found is that a focus on Jesus and the word of God are key to transformation. Other activities might also be part of it, but those other activities on their own have never led to transformation to the same extent from my experience. Hebrews 12:1-2 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 show the centrality of focusing on Christ and studying the Bible.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    • Tim, I love C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy. Not nearly as widely read as Narnia but definitely contains some amazing nuggets of truth wrapped in story.
      And I would agree–God’s word has to be a part of small group experience. Without it, groups miss out–and become places to find support of others, but not so much the support of God and his truth.

  2. I think that being engaged in small groups has kept me in the process of spiritual transformation, regardless of whether I’m leading or participating in one. It’s a relevant and tangible way to put myself (ourselves) in the path toward Christ.

    • Thanks for joining the conversation, Randi. I agree. In our interactions with others, we get an opportunity to put Jesus command to love one another into practice.

  3. I read your recent blog post after I returned from a Search retreat. There was large and small group time. For myself, I got a lot more out of the small group time. This particular retreat was a very intense emotional release and for myself personally, it was instrumental in “letting go and letting God” remove the past twelve years of an overwhelmingly difficult period in my life. Working together as a small group and listening to everyone else’s lives and helping each other out it one of the things that our Lord wills us to do. Keri, as always, I enjoy reading your writings!

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