Small groups: The wisdom of diversity

Friends who tolerate our flaws actually do us a disservice by hindering our maturity

Diversity gets a bad rap these days because it is so often correlated to tolerance, and tolerance has its roots in the “nothing is ever wrong” movement.

As Christians we are told we must be tolerant of others who don’t think like we do. After all, we are told, what is true for us may not be true for other people. Therefore, we should just keep our opinions to ourselves, love others and accept them as they are.

There is some truth to that because:

  • People won’t change until they have to.
  • People won’t change until they want to.
  • Unless those two conditions are met, all the nagging and arguments in the world won’t change someone else.

So, we should be accepting of others because we are all broken to some degree. But, the Bible calls us to hold each other accountable in a loving way.

We all have blind spots that are blatantly obvious to others, even if we are oblivious to them ourselves. Our friends who tolerate our flaws are actually doing us a disservice because it does not push us to mature and become more Christlike.

That’s where small groups are the No. 1 stage for solid Christian growth.

We all approach life based on the foundation established in our youth, and built upon by a myriad of experiences. Add into the mix the fact we are each born with unique skills, talents, abilities, likes and dislikes, and diversity is powerful.

Unless we opt to keep to ourselves, we will never be with people who think or act exactly as we do. But it is because of our uniqueness that we bring so much to a group setting.

Arrogant thinking

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that when I was younger I wondered what older people could possibly know about life today? Times change, I judged, and they seemed to be living in the past.

They had their chance, I rationalized. Now, the world belonged to my generation and we were going to make our mark. Yes, we did — and society is suffering for our arrogance.

Born in 1960, I am technically on the trailing edge of the Baby Boom generation. But, growing up, I had much more in common with Generation X’s “latch key” kids.

Throughout much of my life, I surrounded myself with people who thought like me, acted like me, talked like me and believed what I believed. It was safe and reassuring. It also explains why I wound up mired in a pit so many times.

If people only hang around others who look like them, talk like them and think like them, how is anything other than “group think” likely to happen? Look what happens to teenagers who hatch a plan among themselves without diverse opinions. Later, they often express regret for their stupidity. Adults are just as capable of doing the same thing.

In Luke 6:39, Jesus asked, “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?”

Living life as part of small, diverse groups was clearly the way Jesus envisioned his church. Consider the early church described in Acts 2:42-47:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Why wouldn’t a church grow where everyone cared for each other like that?

Small groups, not clubs

Today, we see a lot of church groups form around very narrow parameters, like clubs. Men hang out with men, but boys and teens aren’t included. Mothers of young children hang out with other young moms, but don’t necessarily include older women.

There are specific groups for high schoolers, college-age students, young professionals, parents of elementary children, parents of high school children, empty nesters and, of course, seasoned citizens.

I have been at countless churches that feel the need to segregate people into small groups based on nothing more than age and sex. Seasoned citizens belong with other seniors, women belong with women, and newly married couples need to congregate with others their age so they can “work through” common problems together.

Why are we so eager to dismiss the great diversity of experiences individuals can bring to a group?

Would a group of newlyweds benefit from interacting with couples who had been married a long time, as well as those who had learned from a painful divorce?

Would it benefit exacerbated parents of small children to rub shoulders with parents of teens, who could benefit from the wisdom gained by parents of adults? And what grandparent couldn’t use a little helpful insight from people currently caring for youngsters?

Specialty groups are important because they can deal with certain life issues that are likely short-term in nature for which people need extra love and care.

For example, a group to help people who have recently been divorced can offer healing and support through others who truly understand their pain. The same is true for children caring for parents with dementia, or parents who have lost a child.

However, to navigate the daily obstacles of life, a very diverse group is needed.

This summer, I have enjoyed meeting weekly with a group of 14 adults. Most are younger, yet their biblical insight often impresses me. They are eager and hungry for knowledge. If they continue along that pursuit, they will avoid many landmines that have ensnared their peers.

We don’t talk politics and sports. We talk Jesus. We share our struggles and celebrate our successes. We come alongside one another to offer help when needed. We ask questions and get advice. We are “the church.”

It is often said there is strength in numbers, and that is true. But, there is wisdom in diverse groups. Working together, we sharpen each other to see how centuries-old biblical truth remains relevant today.

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Greg Gerber

Splitting his time between Texas and Wisconsin, Greg Gerber is a DODO - Dad of Daughters Only - who has traveled to every state except Hawaii. An experienced journalist who covered the recreation vehicle industry for years, he released his latest book in October 2018 titled Pornocide: Why Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life. I don't allow comments to my stories because I don't want to mediate flame wars. But, you can email your comments to greg@greggerber.com.
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