Bill Donahue at the Building Biblical Community video shoot

Former small-group pastor and small-group pioneer Bill Donahue recently addressed the notion of “story” at churchleaders.com. Bill has been involved—one way or another, as group member and leader, at smaller churches and Willow Creek alike—in small groups for a long time. The only conclusion we’re left to draw is that he’s managed to pick up a thing or two during his association with the more-than-20,000 groups with whom he has been in touch.

The post, Learn How People Are Shaped By Their Stories, describes the path to be taken from isolation to community that begins with a close examination of one’s story. This notion of my own “story” and how it continues to play itself out in my life was introduced to me early on in my tenure here. Admittedly, initially I was somewhat skeptical about what appeared to be a very self-centered approach to discipleship. In fact, in some ways it seemed to run counter to everything I thought I had been taught. But over the years I’ve come to understand the role my story plays in my life, the impact it has, and how God continues to reveal not only truth about who I am through a careful examination of my own story, but also the truth about who He is, through such as examination. Bill’s post calls attention to both of these by products.

As small-group leaders we should always been mindful of the many stories represented in the room. The cumulative effect of these stories contributes to our understanding of God, ourselves, the ways we relate to one another, the way we process external events and circumstances, and our own conclusions about the world around us. One of the reasons “The Question” is so significant in group life is because only through a great question can we begin to re-construct the story—the role the enemy has played, plot twists and turns, disorientation, the heroes and villains. Sure, discussion is great and keeps us engaged, but the ultimate goal of any group must be transformation. What Bill is describing in this post, most importantly, is a means to transformation through the story God is revealing through each of us.

For additional work in this regard check out Robert Mulholland’s Invitation to a Journey and The Deeper Journey. We also have several resources specifically created for drawing our stories out into the group space—certainly not for the timid, but perhaps the most redemptive exercise in small-group ministry—in the Canvas series we created with Pete Wilson and the MORE series inspired by Ron Keck. We also took great lengths to integrate this model for transformation in the God + the Arts series (Finding Jesus in the Movies, Finding Redemption in the Movies, Finding the Larger Story in Music).

I’ve heard it said that we are “always being spiritually formed.” It’s true, either we’re being spiritually “re-formed” or “de-formed” throughout our days and weeks and months. One of the seminal points in Syd Field’s book Screenplay is this: “know your story.” God as the ultimate and final teller of our stories knows this … and He is inviting us to join Him.

 

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Working on the videos that we’re offering as part of the new Small Group Life series that will available next month. I thought it would be fun to post the raw the video associated with our small-group experience that invites the group into a conversation about redemption and its affect on our formation. The final video will of course have additional bells and whistles.

The current conversation associated with theodicy suggests that God interacts in our world in three ways: prevention, intervention, and redemption. He prevents some things from happening and we really have no way of knowing when, just that it’s less than 100% of the time. We may be able to discern His intervention, but it’s still less than 100% of the time. Redemption, however, is 100%. All is redeemed. And that is God’s promise to us.

Ron Keck has written several small-group Bible studies in the God + the Arts line (Finding Jesus in the Movies, Finding Redemption in the Movies) and created the MORE series released by Serendipity House. “Redemption” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. It wasn’t until a few years back that I really got it—that God redeems it all. The impact this can have on our formation and our understanding of freedom is fascinating.

I’ve experienced a wonderful time of healing old wounds over the past two years, largely the result of deeply redemptive community. One of the paradigm changes for me was moving away from times of isolation and into moments of solitude. You see I wrongly believed those two concepts were essentially the same—that both expressed the idea of being utterly alone. What I came to see was that I had lived most of my life diving in and out of isolation, purposefully shutting myself (and my heart) off from others…most often out of shame.

When I began my journey into real community with the guys at Serendipity, Ron Keck introduced me to the idea that Jesus rejected the shame and embraced the pain of the cross but too often we do just the opposite, we reject the pain and embrace the shame. Because I had no real connection to my heart and had no concept of redemptive community, the idea of others seeing sin in my life was too painful to bear, so I ran to isolation in an effort to hide (not the first man to do that) and avoid the discomfort of disclosure.

There is nothing redemptive about isolation. It’s merely an attempt to go unseen while making the necessary penance, or allowing enough time for the shame to subside. When I choose to embrace shame and reject pain, I am held captive by the lies that I will not be accepted, I will receive condemnation, or I will disappoint those I care about. However, when I choose to embrace the pain and reject shame instead (as Jesus did), I find freedom and healing. Though there may be some pain in expressing mistakes made and seeking forgiveness and restitution, the enemy has no hold on me when secrets are revealed. And rather than the condemnation I so feared, I am greeted with understanding and encouragement from those closest to me who choose to love me through the challenges and continually remind me who I truly am—a restored son of the sovereign Lord!

This freedom allows me to leave the false security of isolation and move into moments of solitude, where I can seek deeper intimacy with God rather than hiding from him. These moments are so rewarding as God, a loving and engaged Father, speaks into my innermost being with Truth and Beauty and Love.

This has been my experience and I would love to hear some ways you have learned the difference between isolation and solitude. What experiences from your journey can you share? How has the Father been inviting you to move from isolation to solitude? How did this come to you? Was it like me when you were brought into true community or did you experience this in a more individual setting?