Creating Safe Spaces
Pastor Josh Anderson shares his experiences with small groups. And he invites us all into a life dedicated to growing in faith and pursuing God with others through theHeart's Digital Spiritual Formation Groups. Are you ready to commit yourself to creating safe spaces where heaven and earth meet?
By Josh Anderson, Pastor at theHeart
If you had told me 15 years ago that I would be an active participant in church small groups, I would have laughed. Maybe not to your face, but definitely behind your back.
That's because I was not interested in stepping foot in any church, much less hanging out with a bunch of churchy people. Pursuing God was the last thing on my mind at the time. I had better things to do.
But in 2005, my wife Emily and I were planning to start a family, so we hesitantly decided to give God another a go. If for no other reason than to provide our children with an opportunity to build a faith foundation that we believed had served us well growing up.
Deep down I still loved God. Fact be told, the Big Guy in the Sky and I had been pretty tight up until I left home to attend college. But soon after moving into a dorm room on the plains of Lincoln, Nebraska, I found myself wandering in a desert place where I was challenged to determine who I was and what I truly believed. Oh, and somehow earn a degree in the midst of it all.
I struggled. Mightily.
Even after graduating, I tried to find identity in my career. The money I made. Where I lived. The vehicle I drove. I spent a decade creating a carefully coiffed image without much substance—kind of like my hair after age 40.
On the outside, I looked the part of success and achievement, but on the inside, I was a conflicted mess of insecurity and doubt. I found it impossible to keep up with the Jones' and felt like Jesus might be a better bet.
Back to Basics
Any trepidation I had about returning to church was tempered by a deep desire to find something more. And while the pews and robes were more than familiar, participating in a small group was something new.
I wasn't sure what to expect. Sure, we had just connected with a bunch of other young married couples who seemed nice enough. But the whole idea of hanging out with "churchy people" seemed a bit manufactured. What were we going to do, sit around a campfire singing "Koombaya, my Lord?" I was not sold. And yet I participated.
That's when God did something unexpected. He met me in my fear. He embraced me in my posture of defense. Where did I find Him? In the faces and hearts of those young couples we had committed to meet with on a weekly basis.
That group would change everything for me. And it was the first of several for us as we moved churches and eventually moved half-way across the country to live in Boone. No matter where we went, joining a small group was a top priority for us.
A New Priority
More than likely if you've grown up in church, small groups are not new to you. These pocket-size groups of people serve as the lifeblood of any vibrant community of faith.
Small groups are meant to be a safe space where a group of people makes spending quality time with God and one another a priority. Even as they experience the ups and downs of life, this is where we lean into our relationship of trust rather than pull back to protect ourselves.
And yet in my many years of being part of small groups, I've seen a steadying decline in people's dedication to living in committed community with one another.
I get it, we all have busy schedules. Perhaps more than ever, our calendars are packed to overflowing with things to do. And people are just a text or direct message away.
"In an age when we're more connected than ever, are we missing out on a uniquely Christian discipline that actually binds us together?"—Josh Anderson
Like anything, we make time for the things that are important to us. Our priorities take priority. What has risen to the top for you and me? Is it life-giving or time-sucking?
Digital SFGs—Spiritual formation in the digital world
With social distancing and large group gathering limits in place, the Body of Christ seems to be struggling with how to find or maintain a meaningful connection with one another. That is why now more than ever, small groups must serve as the lifeblood of relationship-building in this new reality we find ourselves living.
theHeart has always embraced the important role small groups—or Spiritual Formation Groups in our case—play in our church family. They’re a practical way to make friends and an important discipline for establishing meaningful and lasting relationships of mutual trust. Most importantly, they’re an integral part of our spiritual formation as we learn more about our saving faith in Christ and what it means to love God and love one another on a daily basis.
There's nothing magical about the structure of small groups. It's simply a way to get people face-to-face with one another. What happens in this dedicated time spent pursuing God Himself is truly supernatural. Learning more about our Heanvenly Father, being part of the lives of others, praying together, living out our faith together. This is where heaven and earth meet.
As we continue to navigate a world ravaged by a pandemic that physically separates us from one another, Digital Spiritual Formation Groups—Digital SFGs—will be a practical way for people at theHeart to grow in their faith while committing to genuine connections of acceptance, accountability, care, and action.
It's Up to You
It will take time. And commitment. And vulnerability. Are you willing to take that small step of faith and participate in a small group? Or perhaps you're ready to serve as a Digital SFG Host who is simply responsible for facilitating honest discussion with and caring for the people in your group?
Whatever step you take into the life of a Digital Spiritual Formation Group, I invite you to take it. A group that you can sing around the campfire with might be just what you've been looking for all along. And God will meet you in that safe space of friends.
Are you interested in joining or hosting a Digital SFG at theHeart? Fill out this online registration form to provide us with your ideal day and time. New groups will be formed according to preference so we can accommodate your schedule as much as possible. You will then be notified by your Digital SFG Host about when and how your Spiritual Formation Group will meet.