I was talking to a friend today (over Starbucks of course) about small groups and about how my ideas about them and expectations of them have changed over the years...and then a little bit later, I thought - what a perfect topic for my 30 pieces series! I mean, I've been a member of some sort of small group or another for almost 12 years now. If you figure an average of 2-3 small group meetings a month, that's something like 360 small group meetings in the past 12 years (yes, I did need to use my calculator for that one).
As you can see from some of the pictures above, I've been in all girls groups, co-ed singles groups, a faculty group, and young married couples groups (sorry, no pictures of those - maybe that's because everyone's too busy running around after their kids!). I've been in groups that intensively studied a particular book of the Bible, groups that discussed the sermon from church, groups with a particular focus like missions, and yes, a group or two, that wondered somewhat aimlessly from time to time (after all, what group doesn't wonder aimlessly from time to time?). I've been in small groups connected to churches, campus ministry groups, and other Christian organizations. All this to say, I've experienced many different kinds of small groups.
Until recently though, I kind of had this small group ideal I was always looking for and never finding - the group like my freshman Bible study where everyone is best friends and hangs out all the time and does everything together. I was convinced that this is what every worthwhile small group was supposed to be like, a happy little bubble of relational connectedness. The problem was that no small group I joined was ever like that; jobs and commutes and marriages and babies (not to mention sin and brokenness!) all seemed to get in the way.
But in the past few years, I've grown (thanks in part to my much more realistic husband) to finally stop expecting small groups to be these idyllic commune-like experiences (minus the actual commune of course, but with all the warm fuzzies and group love) and to appreciate small groups for what they are - crazy, always transitioning bunches of imperfect, generally messed-up people who sometimes hurt, offend, and disappoint one another but grow together and are used in one another's lives, especially as they work through the hurt, offenses, and disappointments. NOTE: If you are currently or ever have been in a small group with me, this is not a oh-so-subtle hint that I think you are personally messed up; it's just a growing realization that all of us are not so shiny when we get beneath the surface (and that starts with Captain Imperfection a.k.a. me!).
So at 30, I am grateful for the many small groups of people who have walked with me through the ups and downs of the past twelve years, who have encouraged me, prayed for me, challenged me, and provided many laughs and lots of wonderful memories. I look forward too to the many different small group experiences I hope I'll have in the next 30 years, knowing that they too will shape my life and help me grow. I think I'll enjoy them even more now that I've released them from being perfect - and simply expect them to be used by the Lord for good.