One of the many things we’re trying to sort out in the Clergy Seminar Series on Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction is the difference between small group ministry and small group spiritual direction. There are a couple of big ones I can think of right away: the size of the groups and the amount of silence.
Small group ministry usually has groups of 8 to 12. Small group spiritual direction has groups of four or five. Small group ministry may have a moment of quiet reflection as part of the process, but most of the time is spent in conversation. Small group spiritual direction is build on this process: silence, sharing, silence, response, silence. The emphasis is on silence.
So, if were to walk down a church hallway where several groups were meeting, I could probably tell with one peek into each room whether a group was doing small group ministry or spiritual direction. The larger, more conversational groups would obviously be engaged in small group ministry. The smaller, quieter groups are probably doing spiritual direction.
Another big difference is the subject matter. The format I’m acquainted with for small group ministry usually has a short reading as the subject for the meeting. (I’ve actually prepared a bunch of small group ministry sessions based on this format at my old blog, which you can check out here: https://philontheprairie.wordpress.com/category/small-group-ministry/).
In small group spiritual direction, the subject matter is the spiritual lives of the participants. That’s the “sharing” part of the “silence, sharing, silence, response, silence” format. And depending on the model you’re using, two to four participants share something about their spiritual lives at each session.
Given these differences, it’s not surprising that one of the questions participants in the Clergy Seminar Series on Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction have asked is this: Is it possible to make small group ministry groups more like small group spiritual direction groups? I think it is. Sort of.
Since the structure of the groups is different, they won’t end up being exactly the same thing. But I do think it’s possible for small group ministry groups to go a little deeper spiritually (that is, if they’re not already—some are, I’m sure). It’s all about the subject matter.
For example, here’s a great group of questions posed by Frederick Buechner (http://www.frederickbuechner.com/content/lent) that can help small group ministry participants share more of their spiritual lives:
- If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?
- When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?
- If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?
- Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?
- Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?
- If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?
Pretty provocative questions, I think. Can you imaging asking them in a small group ministry setting?