Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:26–28 NRSV)
Sylvia was a well-educated and successful lawyer who had agreed to be part of a small group experiment. She was looking for a place to build deeper relationships with other people. A competitive trial lawyer, she had come to realize that the marketplace was a desert for building close friendships, particularly among her often combative peers and colleagues. She had been studying New Age patterns of living and had met in a few salon groups for meditation and getting in balance with the cycles of nature. This new group was made up of several men and women who were Christians. At the first meeting the group discussed setting aside some time for verbal prayer.
Sylvia reacted immediately. “Definitely not! If I have to pray out loud in this group, there’s no way I’m staying. Let’s get this straight from the beginning. I don’t pray. I don’t even think there’s a personal God out there anyway. I’m more comfortable with the idea of quiet meditation to get in touch with my own presence in the universe.”
Another member of the group responded carefully, “Would you mind if we prayed? We would not expect you to pray out loud. You can meditate silently while we pray.”
Sylvia relaxed and said, “OK, I guess I can handle that.”
For several weeks the group met, shared life together and prayed. While Sylvia entered into the dialogue, personal sharing and study, she would not enter into the prayer. Then, about the sixth week, Sylvia interrupted the meeting with an unusual request. “Would you all mind if I prayed for this group? During the past several weeks, I’ve come to trust that you all are sincere and honest about your belief that there is a God out there who listens. I’d like to see if God will listen to me.”
From that meeting on, Sylvia entered into the dialogue of prayer with the group. She soon affirmed her faith in Jesus Christ with the comment, “I didn’t think prayer had a purpose. I didn’t think there was a God who would listen. But this group showed me a new and personal way to get in touch with God. When I saw and heard this group pray, I could feel something special. I began to understand this was God speaking to me. I was beginning to feel the love of Christ. This small group community convinced me to have faith in a God who is alive and interested in me personally.”
Sylvia discovered God in community. Sylvia also discovered God as community.
Gareth Weldon Icenogle, Biblical Foundations for Small Group Ministry: An Integrative Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).