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Chapter 3-6: Covenanting Together in Mission

In his Handbook for Small Mission Groups,(The Potters House, 1658 Columbia Road, N.W. Washington, D. C., 20009), Gordon Cosby describes the nuts and bolts of groups that endeavor to be agents of change in the lives of their members and agents of social change in the world. They might be called compassion groups, which is a name that Michael Lerner uses when he envisions such groups undergirding a mass movement of compassion. I like that name better than mission groups. In our modern society mission might imply making others the objects of charity rather than describing the reciprocal relationships that exist within the groups and with the world.

One of the chief tasks of these groups would be to create safe space in which the members could tell their stories-what has happened to them in the past, what is happening in their hearts in their present life situations, and their dreams, fears and hopes for the future. My own experience as a leader of small therapy groups has utterly convinced me that the person that I come to know I will come to love. As Christians we have the duty to love the person before us with all his or her imperfections, frailties and distorted ways of seeing things. The assignment comes in Holy Scripture, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. ” * * *   

***I Jn. 4:20, NRSV.

Soren Kierkegaard in one of his many reflections on the Scripture wrote, “If this is our duty, then the task does not consist in finding-the lovable object; but the task consists in finding the object already given or chosen-lovable, and in continuing to find him lovable however changed he is.”*
Very little has been written, however, on how much easier that assignment becomes when we take the risk of letting each other into our hearts, find the courage to be authentic for each other, willing to reveal ourselves, to give up the defenses and facades behind which we hide. This is always a journey. It is not as though I can take my life and open it up for you to see as I choose. The fact is that as I drop my protective ways, I become known not only to you but known to myself. More than this, the mystical union with Christ is dependent upon this knowing.

For this reason our spiritual leaders are beginning to give emphasis to storytelling-so that we may come to know ourselves and each other and learn to love. In such a journey we will discover not only the light that is in us, but also the darkness, and the tremendous capacity that each of us has for self-deception. We will always find it easier to see in others the quest for power, success, and private gain than to recognize these strivings in ourselves. Those of us working in the outreach programs of the churches are especially in danger of becoming identified with the good that we do. This may be the reason Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone,” ( Lk. 18:19, Jer.) and why James told those folk in the New Testament church “…confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, and this will cure you.” Jm.. 5:16, Jer.

In small groups we can create the climate and nurture the trust in which a deep giving of ourselves can happen. Much more than the confession of our light or our darkness is involved. What is involved is the recovery of love, itself, the communion that is the deepest need of every life, the unlocking of that infinite capacity that each one has to be a friend and to have a friend. If the pilgrim journey is a journey toward freedom, then the liberating work is the freeing of love in me and the freeing of love in you. Unfortunately, this journey which is the foundation of the community in Christ is not well mapped for us, but it is abundantly clear that it is more easily made within a group of twelve or fewer.

The difficulty confronting the churches in the organization of a small group movement is the lack of leadership for such groups. The Scripture says, “Leaders, exert yourselves to lead,” but that is hard to do when most of us lack the confidence required to assume this kind of responsibility. We have discovered over the years that even the people who know how to administer churches, banks, corporations, and hospital units have no idea how to nurture a small group so that its members deepen their lives in Christ-learn self-knowledge, how to listen and to care-the deep nurture of the spiritual life so essential for the recovery of vision and passion.

The lack of servant leaders is being experienced in the whole of society. One looks in vain today for those who are using their strengths and gifts and riches on behalf of the common good. In all of our institutions is a yearning for the presence of the fearless ones in whose company we will be able to put aside our own fears and begin to hope and exercise imagination.

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