Saturday, September 06, 2008

Syndiakonia: Lay Cooperative Leadership and the Spiritual Formation Group

In my last post, I encouraged regular meetings between the priest and small group leaders. While these meetings are important (essential really) they are not sufficient. Effective lay leadership also requires regular that is to say, at least quarterly, communication with the parish council and at least an annual report to the whole parish. Not only does this help keep the group from focusing on itself, it also keeps the larger community aware of what is happening with the various small group ministries. It also, I should add, helps build these small group ministries--people won't participate in a ministry they don't know exists or, if they know it exists, understand. Remember, that a formation group is what sociologists call a "mediating structure" between the wider realities of parish, diocese, the Church or culture on the one hand, and the particular reality of one's daily life. The small group is then inherently a place of some tension and there is always the risk of the group become an occasion for isolation from either pole of the members' lives.

Small groups and especially spiritual formation groups that meet on a regular basis for common prayer and shared reflection can be a great source of strength and encouragement for not only the laity but also the clergy. Precisely because their focus is vocational and ascetical, or if one prefers, Christian discipleship. They provide a means to help people discover the joyful challenge of not simply being called Christian, but actually being Christian.

Great rewards however require great effort and risks. Effective small group ministry in generally, and spiritual formation groups particularly, don't simply happen. Nor are they without their own possibilities for failure. This is in the nature of the Christian life isn't it? The angel of the Lord instructed St John the Theologian to write these words to the Church Laodicea:

These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Rev 3.14-22)

No question, the words are harsh. But again, in what other area of life do we succeed without effort and at the risk of failure? To my knowledge none.

In my next post I want to offer what I think is an exciting ecumenical opportunity for the spiritual formation of the laity that my own parish will be undertaking later this fall.

Until then, and as always, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcomed, they are actively encouraged by me.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory