From my social work training, I know groups have life cycles. I’ve seen it, many times, in many types of groups. People come to a group (support group, education group, discussion group, book group) out of their own perceived need, out of curiosity, out of the desire for something new, out of interest for the subject matter, because of relationship with the one who invited them. Interest is high, commitment is high, openness is high.
As time goes on, curiosity is sated. The initial need which drove a person passes, the crisis resolves, the children grow out of that stage and into a new one, other interests emerge and beckon. Group participants begin to miss meetings.
I also know that our lives have multiple commitments, multiple responsibilities, schedules which we do not always have full control over. Band concerts are scheduled on meeting nights. Kids or spouses get sick. Relatives and friends come to visit. Schools have days off, or weeks off, or summers off; children get ready to go to school and those precious days with them suddenly seem so few. Spouses travel and take our childcare plans with them. Both leaders and participants experience this.
How much easier it would be, perhaps, to leave mother and brothers and follow Jesus alone! How simple, to disentangle our lives from such conflicts, regain pure control over our schedules, and walk away from all the distractions.
And how simple it would be to look at missed meetings and sparse attendance as a reflection of the life cycle of a group: the curiosity is sated, the relationships and conversations were helpful, yes, meaningful, how good it was back when we used to meet together! And now, how is the new job? How’s high school treating your kids, how’s the college search? What have you been up to since we stopped meeting? Ahh, those were some good times. Yes, I felt close to God then.
In the garden, it is time to prune the roses when the forsythia blooms. One plant tells you the season for another. Use sharp shears, so that the skin of the bark does not strip and peel and allow disease to enter the plant. Make the cut just above a swelling bud. Choose a bud which faces outward – this will determine the direction of future growth. Pruning above an inward-facing bud will cause the strongest new branch to grow back across the center of the bush, cutting off light and air circulation and causing branches to rub against each other, leading to raw spots and festering.
Failing to prune the rosebush will result in one single long stem, growing ever farther from the roots and other branches, becoming unwieldy and top-heavy. One long stem will bear a few blooms, but only at the very tip. Pruning at the right time, in the early spring when the forsythia bloom and before the buds burst into leaflets, will force the energy of the plant to extend side branches instead of that one continual stem leaning ever over. Branches which will make the bush fuller, more stable, and which can each bear their own cluster of blooms.
The rose grows best, fullest, healthiest when properly fed, watered – and pruned.
What sort of feeding and watering does a discipleship group need? Are the forsythia blooming for us?