The Power of a Small Group

Chihuly Glass – The Garden

J.R.Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings,  tells the story of a hobbit, Frodo Baggins, who embarks on a dangerous journey to the Dark Mountain. Frodo quickly learns that he cannot do this alone. Along the way he acquires some interesting and very good friends. They include other hobbits, an elf, some humans, even a wizard. These odd companions are there for Frodo when he faces his most difficult challenges. Strange though they may be, the friendships formed will encourage Frodo to fulfill his life’s purpose. Through their combined strength they are able to defeat evil, overcome obstacles and find a path when there appeared no way to move forward.

In many aspects our lives in the community of faith fulfill those same needs. Each of us yearns for people who genuinely care about us. We ache for safe places where we can share our deepest selves. Sometimes, like Frodo, the friends who give us support and encouragement are a strange, but likeable assortment of personalities. They breathe life into our hopes, offer wise counsel and stand with us in our discouragement. In other moments we are the listeners, the encouragers and givers of support.

The power of a small group comes as friendships are formed, prayers are prayed, concern and compassion grows and our faith in nurtured. Trying to live our Christian life without other Christians is both painful and isolating. I continue to cherish the friendships formed in such small group settings where the questions of life were asked. For in those times and places I found fellowship and kindred spirits to share my life with. May you be blessed with these same gifts.

It Really Does Take a Village

It was the custom in one of the churches I served for the parents of a child who was graduating from high school to make a few comments at a baccalaureate breakfast. I recall one parent who started by saying: “I once went to a church school teacher training event where the comment was made, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ and I said to myself…that’s not true. I’m the one who does the laundry, cooks the meals, cleans up after the messes, disciplines and corrects. I’m the one who chases around to lessons and school activities.”

But then she went on to say how her mind had changed over the years. She mentioned her son’s involvement in the church and the way the church had supported his fledgling efforts with a violin until he had become an accomplished violinist. She talked about the encouragement he received in the church fellowship that had impacted his life. As she thanked the people gathered that morning, she continued by saying, “Now I know, it really does take a village to raise a child.”

Most parents I meet are deeply concerned with their children. Today’s parents want to raise their children with a healthy sense of self-esteem, and the inner strength to resist negative behavior. A few years ago, the Search Institute began to ask a new question. In a time when everyone was wondering what families were doing wrong, the Search Institute asked,”What are families doing right?” and “What gives our children the resiliency to resist destructive outside pressures or to bounce back when they make a mistake?” Their discoveries included a list of Forty assets, which consistently were part of the life of a healthy child.

Among the assets named was regular involvement in a church or synagogue. The size of the church didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was the fact of a child’s regular involvement in it. I suspect that the impact of a church on a child’s life spills over into some of the other assets which were named. Children involved in churches are often involved in music ministries of the church. Youth groups provide structure, while religious classes reinforce values that are important for families. Those values are also included as assets, such as: “helping people,” a “concern about world hunger,” “caring about people’s feelings,” “valuing sexual restraint.” Both youth groups and religious classes provide other caring adults whom a child is able to relate to in a positive way. Even the smallest of churches offer many of those assets in one way or another.

One of the easiest, and the best things that you can do for your children, is to take your children to church with you. This is part of God’s plan for healthy families. You may be surprised. You may even find the experience meaningful and significant for yourself.