I don’t remember the curriculum at all. But our small group built such solid relationships that three of us continued to call each other and pray for each other as our lives carried us across four continents over more than 20 years. Did our small group leader do something other leaders could imitate?
It wasn’t the usual first meeting ice breaker opener. The leader of the women’s Bible study divvied us up into groups of three and gave us 30 minutes to meet each other and pray for each other. Ten minutes per person, per her timing.
I was thrown into a group of three who didn’t have much in common beyond Jesus:
- Teresa was quiet and proper, an office administrator married for nearly two decades to a PhD corporate researcher, who was a nonbeliever. She spoke with a British accent and considered the UK — where she’d lived since age 8 — to be “home,” even though she was born in the US.
- Ann was small and intense. Single, in her 30s, she worked in organizational leadership and typically uncovered a major structural or staffing challenge nearly the moment she started a new job. Her employers didn’t always enjoy her insights and initiative. She was, at the moment, job hunting.
- I was an almost-newlywed at age 42, in a business leadership role myself with a husband who focused his life on the church. I had recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was embarked on what would become a dizzying circuit of treatments over the next seven years.
We went to our group of three, the first started talking, we prayed with her and then the leader called “Time!” Each member of each group of three was allowed exactly 10 minutes to introduce herself, ask for and receive prayer. The Bible study leader reconvened the large group, let us know we’d be praying together in these groups of three throughout the duration of the study, then turned to the Scripture lesson.
For the next 12 weeks, Teresa, Ann and I would share our time-limited snippets of life. Each of us got 10 minutes to describe recent events and receive prayer for current needs. No one got to be the “needy” person who sucked up all the listening and prayer time. No one was allowed to be the “generous” person who sacrificed her own sense of need on behalf of the other. All shared, all prayed, and all received, in equal proportion.
Sounds a little legalistic, doesn’t it? And yet, how many times has the sharing time in your small group been overtaken by the same person week after week. In women’s groups, it’s often the unmarried women — those of us who don’t have a listening adult ear at home. We go on and on, while the married member who just lost her father sits and stews about not being able to get a word in.
By creating a system for sharing, this women’s leader created the certainty that all would have the opportunity to share, and all would have the opportunity for prayer. All would also have the responsibility to listen and to pray.
The outcome, more than 20 years later? Teresa, Ann and I are still in contact. Teresa and I have talked or Skyped at least twice a month for two decades. We were weekly prayer partners for most of 10 years. In recent years, we also text several times most weeks. Ann and I are only Christmas card friends, but Teresa and Ann are in frequent contact.
During those two decades, Teresa has lived on three continents (Asia, Europe and America) and Ann has lived in both the US and Africa. All have had multiple jobs; two of us have changed careers; all have experienced the losses that tend to go with aging; the two who were married are no longer. Through all of these changes, we still know each other.
I wish I could introduce you to the remarkable women’s leader who facilitated the beginnings of our friendship. It’s been more than 20 years, and I don’t remember her name. The study I attended was her last at that church. So far, I’ve not been able to find her.
I can only commend her strategy to all who want to lead groups of women into lifetime, spiritually supportive friendships. Do this and the relationships in your small group will blossom. For everyone who is past those easy school years of deep friendship formation: this really works.
PS: The stock image isn’t us! But now that we’re all on the same continent, maybe someday we’ll find ourselves in the same city again. If we do, I’ll get a group photo.