Have you seen the new commercial for the iPhone? The commercial was made to showcase the new feature, Shazam, that allows users to find the name of the artist and/or song that’s been escaping them. So now, for those of you who have the iPhone, you no longer have to wait until you get to a computer, or find a friend that can help, or get lucky enough to hear the song introduced on the radio. If you have the iPhone, Shazam can release you from such anxiety. The commercial ends, proudly, by boasting of the iPhone, “… Solving life’s dilemmas one app at a time.”

I’m not bashing the iPhone. Far from it. I wish I had one. But I saw this commercial a couple of times before it hit me that, although certainly tongue and cheek, the guys at Apple have captured a piece of Americana-psyche. (And admittedly, what bothers me most is that it’s true. How many times have I become totally distracted while trying to remember the name of a movie, or an actor, or a song.) They have also identified one of THE problems that plague us. That plague you as a small-group leader, pastor, or other leader. That is, we are not a serious people.

I guess it’s true that we’ve always been disposed to absent-minded pursuits. It would seem naive to think that we’ve only recently become distraction-obsessive. What apps like Shazam have done is open the flood gates to the trivial and mundane. So now it’s almost constantly—and if iPhone has any say in it, completely—available. So now, disciplines like evangelism, meditation, Scripture memory, relationship, and prayer can be put on permanent hold by the un-disciplined. Dilemmas like the lost, the brokenhearted, the addicted, and the poor are put on a list, with equal footing, that includes “Who sings this?” and “Wasn’t that the guy in Dawson Creek?” and “What else has Daniel Craig been in?”

Jesus said that He has come to give us not only life, but life in abundance. I think the iPhone may make that same claim, don’t you think. It reminds me of a funny moment in a Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. novel—“So who right, professor?” Of course we know. We don’t even have to ask that question. But for so many, these subtle messages are so potent. For these “life’s dilemmas” has become the stuff of trivial substance that invites passivity and abdication. The small-group space absolutely must be a place for the serious. In no way does that mean that it should be void of mirth and moments of levity. But it must be communicated that the stakes of life are indeed very high. The ammo is live. The bullets are real. Knowing who sings “Unwritten” doesn’t help in these matters of weight.

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Deep.” “Depth.” These are words I have used a lot —A LOT—to describe ideas at varying levels over the course of my life. They are terms that, for the most part, require no additional explanation … right? We all know what we’re talking about and we agreed about what we mean when we use words like “deep” a long time ago.

But I wonder.

I wonder if what people really mean by “depth” is information; facts. Maybe even words on a page or even the size of the words. Maybe we refer to knowledge that can be wielded like a sharp instrument in times of need. I wonder if knowledge—even good knowledge—is not so much about growth as it is about one’s default–my defaults, your defaults. That is, to prove I am a person of substance, of some relevance to the world around me, I have been conditioned to believe that I need to be armed with certain facts and special knowledge. I find comfort in fact; find comfort in things that are absolute and can be quantified with certainty. With facts I am not open to examination and, a nice by-product, I can keep people at a safe distance. Fact is commensurate with formula.

But what is knowledge without the intrinsic mediation of the heart?

I almost always try to talk movies during a haircut. Call it my “safe place.” I can’t explain it, but something about the scissors whirring around my ears drives me to a place of would-be and hopeful safety. (Or maybe I want to avoid a meaningful conversation while captive in the stylist’s chair.) Magnolia. No. There Will Be Blood. No. Hotel Rwanda. No. The stylist and I recently found common ground in that we had both seen The Dark Knight. Upon mention of the recent Batman movie, she issued a cease-cutting order that went out to her extremities. Pausing momentarily, she looked at me now instead of my reflection in order to capture the gravity of the moment, and said in a way any Southerner would recognize, “Now that’ll make you think.”

During group time we need more “That’ll make you think” moments and less “Wow I didn’t know that” moments. Facts are comfortable and safe. They are predictable. Not wrong or unimportant, mind you, but not the pinnacle of group time either. Proposition is neither transformational nor redemptive. Allowing group time to become a dazzling array of facts robs us of story, heart, and meaning. As group leaders and small-group pastors, encourage members to go beyond rote and pat answers and look for the story behind the text. Challenge them to know their own stories and the ways God wants to redeem them. We need to look deep inside who we are and who we are becoming. To find true redemptive community a group should relegate facts and special knowledge to a percentage—a small percentage—of the group experience.

I remember walking through a house for the last time. Having spent the prior few nights scrubbing and cleaning, getting it ready to be sold, I hadn’t taken the first moment to savor the significance of the event. It was the house to which my youngest daughter came home from the hospital. The nursery we had made, now empty. The curtains graceful in the open window. I leaned against the wall and realized a lifeless house as one of the most profoundly stirring of places. There was a silence that spoke through the years, the experiences, the pain, the joy. It was not necessarily a moment of celebration or loss, simply a time to be human.

We’ve all been in small-group moments of silence. Perhaps it was just after a prayer request or maybe immediately following a provocative or demanding question. Maybe there were questions hanging in the air to which no one in particular really wanted to attach a voice. Sometimes these moments result from simple laziness or a lack of authenticity while at other times the silence embodies a great deal of pain, disorientation, or confusion.

For a community of people to realize redemptive community, however, we must be willing to embrace the silence. To let it speak. As a group leader I have in the past hastened to fill any void that needed to be filled. For everyone’s sake I felt like the uncomfortable moment required relief—and any relief was my responsibility—instead of pausing, allowing the group to feel deeply if only for a moment. Over time, however, I have discovered that the spiritual journey is littered with these moments and each falls within God’s permissive will. God allows us to walk in these valleys for a reason. It is in these valleys that God forms us as much as—probably more than—any other time. To jump in and relieve these moments is to thwart what God wishes us to “feel” in the deep of the silence.

Jesus chose to embrace the pain and reject the shame. Consider how many times we do just the opposite … rejecting the pain while embracing the shame. Be sensitive to those moments of uncomfortable silence. Be prayerful during those moments. The objective is not to let them hang in the air indefinitely, just long enough.

“There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is silence after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness, the silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate from a lifeless object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with old dust upon its keys, or from anything that has answered to the need of a man, for pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak. Its voice may be melancholy, but it is not always so; for the chair may have been left by a laughing child or the last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood or the circumstance, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows. It is a soundless echo.” —from West with the Night, Beryl Markham

I’m reading Erwin McManus’ latest book Wide Awake. The book itself is about finding the passionate life that we’ve been made for—a message with a great deal of appeal to me. But during my most recent reading I came across this passage in the book:

If you don’t know what your non-negotiables are, you won’t negotiate anything. You’re afraid to let go of anything because later you might discover that was a non-negotiable. When you don’t know what’s really important, you treat everything the same. Adaptability is not the result of a hollow core, but of clarity and conviction about what is at your core. Don’t confuse being rigid and unchanging with having convictions.

McManus makes this point in tandem with a believer’s tendency to abdicate. That is, often we choose between the extremes of absolute control—fed by fear—and utter abdication—fed by despair.

A friend of mine says, above all things, we must remain engaged. I would add that we should be willing to remain in the tension, what another author refers to as the agony of will—the willingness to confront discomfort, fear, and stress. A reality of our post-Fall world is that we live, breathe, and work in an environment that is less than ideal–or at least not what God intended. Given this reality we must still make choices between two less-than-ideal options.

You can see the margin for error here and this margin only increases when we live unaware of our non-negotiables, our core. As small-group leaders and pastors have you asked your groups to be intentional in knowing who they are? Clarity and conviction, according to Wide Awake, allows us to be adaptable. Consider for a moment Daniel, Hanaiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Daniel 1:9-16). They were willing to embrace the changes that came in their new climate in Babylon, but they would not allow themselves to change their core.

If we’re truly looking to influence our communities and beyond; to represent justice and join Jesus’ redemptive mission, we’ve got to know who we are. Knowing the non-negotiables and having clarity contributes not only to spiritual formation but also opens the door for adaptability … and being able to adapt puts the “mobile” in small groups. Being able to adapt allows us to work through the culture we’ve been given without compromising our core.