Last Wednesday up in our third-floor apartment overlooking Main Street Northampton six of us reconvened the inward/OUTWARD Missional Formation Cohort. I wrote about it's launch in early 2012 if you didn't read it: http://oldmenplantingchurches.blogspot.com/2012/01/thoughts-on-imagines-first.html. We disbanded in the summer, and I was not sure if I'd reconvene it. However, over the last few months the Spirit seemed to bring it to mind repeatedly. Despite some of the problems we encountered with the first, for instance, it being too big and having folks come in and out who were not part of imagine, there was much of great value and formative spiritual and missional import going on. I never thought otherwise.
So in the late spring of this year, I was wanting to provide another opportunity for folks to really talk about and encounter each other's actual life with Jesus: the good, the not-so-good, and the "I'd rather not talk about just yet " stuff. I wanted it to be real, informal and engaging for everybody, similar to what Tricia and I have experienced in Listening in Christ retreat formats. While I or Tricia might set the stage - although not exclusively so - I would encourage everyone to engage all of us as equals, on the same formation journey, while in different places along the road, but connected and close as a cohort necessarily is. Because we were in on the ground floor and have been leaders since imagine's inception it is easy for people to fall in line with that. There are times and places in the journey where such "positioning" is essential, but I wanted to loosen it considerably to explore where it could lead. I wanted freedom and responsibility to unfold from everyone.
We'd had an initial meeting a month or so ago to test the waters with folks, and see if people wanted to do it at all. They did. So when we met this week, I did a quieting/settling opening activity, then set the stage for our evening which would be "weighted" toward open dialogue much in the way a spiritual director would invite a person to talk about how he or she is actually living with God. I guess you could term it group spiritual direction, but neither Tricia nor I would assume a formal director role; we'd participate as well. If things fell apart we could get it back in motion because of the years of experience we've had, but there was no need for that. I told everyone to feel free to ask questions to clarify something or seek more input. Again, I wanted interaction not top-down leading.
The bulk of our time together was talking about how we were experiencing relationship with God these days. Everyone had something to say; there was dialogue, even some offering of insights based what a person had experienced or learned. The conversation was real and people seemed quite free to offer what they were thinking or feeling. I sense there is a mutual hunger for this in everyone. Spiritual life can grow the deepest when people have a chance to talk about what they are actually going through with others who listen, offer support, even a word or two of insight without judgment or sermonizing - you all know what I'm talking about. I think trust was being built, although not because people were afraid of each other. It's just natural to test the temperature of the water before taking the first plunge.You know: what are the ground rules? How are people responding and communicating? What feels safe and appropriate, etc.?
I think it safe to say our first plunge seemed to agree with everyone in the room. Hopes are high for a substantial camaraderie to form including deep friendships, spiritual or otherwise. We want to go beyond the traditional "fellowship," "community-building" group into a life-giving interplay of love, filial support and inspiration which helps each of us follow Jesus with passion and realness. Following Jesus flows out of a vigorous and deepening love for Him, and a life-giving love in real-time for one another as we head down His path together.
By the way, so no one gets the wrong idea we're not pulling away and forming another church; we're still imagine/Northampton with other folks who are imagine/Northampton too, and have been since the beginning. We're just exploring life together in the way I explained above. It should enrich our overall corporate life. I hope similar groups form in our midst so people have a chance to be the church in this more intimate form as well. We do get together with everyone else at imagine for worship and such, but the cohort will be small, weekly, and intentional around growing in the spiritual/missional cohort way which such groups can promote through grace and love.