Basic Tools 18: Small Groups that Support Member Missions

Biblically based reflection on daily life works best.

With worship, support for the missionary is best provided through biblical reflection in small groups. Numbering from two to six, the groups meet at least biweekly in the members’ homes.  Do not make where people live the primary guide for choosing members of a group.  Assemble groups based on the members’ readiness and desire to work together.  Affinity is a better guide than geography.  A group just finishing preparation for baptism or reaffirmation is a natural group.

The general content of reflection is always what does this biblical passage say and what does it say to me for the week or two ahead.  Put biblical insight together with daily living.  Keep in mind that no one participant is the expert.  The Holy Spirit is the real leader. Unusual readings by one are usually balanced by the wisdom of the rest.

This linking of the Bible and daily life was part of the catechumenal process of the early church according to Louis Weil, Hodges Professor of Liturgy at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.  It has ebbed and flowed in use throughout church history.  In our time, its practice has grown steadily since the 1950s.  For an overview of various methods, see In Dialogue With Scripture, The Episcopal Church Center, 1992.  Each has a unique way to connect the passage and daily life.  Ideally, some form of biblical reflection on daily life is part of every church meeting.

A widely used form for biblical reflection

A form of biblical reflection widely used follows (sometimes called the “Oral Method” or “African Bible Study”).  Built around three readings of the passage with a specific reflection after each reading, it currently goes by such names as the “oral” – sometimes “aural” — method.  It makes all the participants peers and it connects with their daily lives easily.  When using it, follow the directions in the notes.  Some congregations have built their whole catechumenate around this method.  Youth can work easily in groups using it, also.  The simple format makes it easy to rotate leadership.

Step 1. Each person shares his or her experience in the area of prayer from the previous session.  (If this is the first session, begin with Step 2.)
Step 2. Read the passage slowly (one person reads out loud).
Step 3. In a period of silence, select the word or phrase that catches your attention (one minute).
Step 4. Each person shares the word or phrase with the group.
Step 5. Read the passage again (opposite gender of first reader, if possible).
Step 6. In a period of silence, think out/write:  “Where does this passage touch my life, my community, our nation, or our world?  Think about all the people you encounter, not just your own “circle of friends.” Think also of all whose lives you influence even though you never see them.”  (3-5 minutes).
Step 7. Each person shares the above: “I . . . .”
Step 8. Read the passage out loud again.
Step 9. Think out/write:  “From what I have heard and shared, what does God want me to do or be this week?  How does God invite me to change?”  (3-5 minutes).
Step 10. Each person shares the above: “I . . ..”
Step 11. Each person prays for the person on the right naming what was shared in #10 and then prays that prayer daily until the group meets again.

Some things to note when using this method

What is said is offered to the “center” of the group — the Holy Spirit.  Others do not respond to or build on what is said as if they were in a discussion group.

In steps numbers 3, 7, and 10, be brief.  Do not elaborate, explain, or teach.  That which is said is offered to the “center” of the group, the Holy Spirit.

Be sure to cite all the references in Step number 6 — your life, your community, our nation, and our world; and to all people, even those whose lives you affect but whom you never see.

Assure everyone that they can pass any time they do not want to share or are not ready to share.  Assure everyone that, at the prayer time, they can pray silently for the person on their right and say only “Amen” aloud.

(Adapted from In Dialogue With Scripture, the Episcopal Church Center, 1992)

Some workings of the Spirit

In whatever method is used, conclude the session with each person making a specific prayer request arising from the reflection just completed.  When the oral method is used, responses to the third question (see Steps number 10 and 11) become the basis for these prayers.  Each then prays for the person on their right and prays that prayer daily until the next meeting. As the next session begins, each names the specific prayer offered since the last session.  The person prayed for responds with a report of what has happened since the last session in the concern prayed for.  Very often, this person is surprised to discern answers to the prayer they had missed until asked.  This surprise brings a unique sense of God’s presence and work in one’s life.

Another place the Spirit speaks is the prayer request time itself.  Sometimes another person sees something the requester has not seen.  Once Tom, a personnel director, asked prayer for guidance in a career change.  Another person in the group recalled that Tom had told the group earlier that many were coming to his office for help in solving conflicts.  The member suggested Tom explore conflict resolution as a career option.  Tom welcomed the suggestion and reported later it had led to wholly new areas of work for him.

Biblical reflection of this kind bears rich fruit.  Invariably, it increases the confidence of the laity to talk freely of God and God’s work in their lives.  One woman remarked that it was the first time in her life that she had been treated on a par with men.  Several men commented that her reflections opened them to new awareness.  A man commented, “We have developed a closeness I never expected.  It is so good to hear us pray for each other.  We discover we can be deep, spiritual, friendly, and human all at once.” Another person said, “We are learning to respect each other’s opinions.  We don’t have to agree on everything and we don’t have to persuade each other of our own views.”  Another person observed, “It is an easy way to learn how to lead small groups.”  Another said, “My sense of being on mission has deepened session by session.”