Of all the new year's resolutions you're probably mulling over, add this super-important one to the list: "Help my small group members and leaders learn to use their brain as much as they use their emotions in 2012"
Yesterday I was doing errands in the car and oddly enough, my radio was tuned into an NPR interview with a professor who made some excellent observations about Americans:
• We no longer take time to stop and invest time thinking about much of anything.
• We no longer rely on our memory banks for previously learned information, turning to Google for quick searches from our phones.
• We don't even ask people what they think about something any longer. It's mostly, "how do you feel about that?"
After his interview, the talk show host opened up the phone lines and people asked all sorts of excellent questions. Included in the questions were:
• Is thinking employed in meditation? ... to which he answered, "If it's meditation a la Buddhism where you are encouraged to clear your mind and allow yourself to focus on nothing in total nothingness to reduce stress and 'center' yourself, no, that's not thinking."
• Is reading a book (as opposed to watching TV) thinking? .... to which he answered, "reading requires far more thinking and processing than watching television, even if the program is educational in nature, Most programming watched though is entertainment-based and very little thinking is required. It's weighted heavily in feeling vs. thinking."
• Are our recent national elections based on feeling or thinking? ... to which he replied he didn't want to open that can of worms knowing there's a lot of deep thought about politics, but there's also a very strong emotional or feeling element to the elections. He did say, "emotions are very high in the country right now, and critical thinking, which always leaves room for error and correction, seems to be found far less than it should."
• Does prayer require thinking? .... to which he replied, "Yes, prayer is very different from meditation and clearing your mind. When one prays he or she is speaking to God and telling God things and asking him to do things or prevent things from happening and it requires a deep thought."
My takeaway from the interview was that I have employed far more feeling-based decision making than is healthy, and in 2012 I endeavor to make far more decisions based on thinking!
"Jesus wept" - John 11:35
Our church plant (which is currently the size of a small group or cell group) is currently applying a chapter of John each week when we meet. I've been reading NT Wright's wonderful series of commentaries on this book, and it's caused me to think very deeply about the fact that every single thing Jesus said and did was done to not only glorify the Father and show obedience to the Father's will, but that Jesus was squarely a thinker and actually set aside his emotions or feelings about something to do the will of the Father and fulfill Old Testament prophecy about the coming Messiah.
When Jesus heard that his close friend Lazarus was sick and dying and knew his other close friends, including Mary and Martha were probably besides themselves in Bethany (which was in fact a kind of hospice place outside the city for dying persons) he did not get up and run to his deathbed to heal him. He spent two days praying, asking the Father for guidance of what to do and when to do it, knowing the future was more important than living in the past, and that his own death was just weeks away.
So he wept not because his friend was dead but because of his compassion for his friends who thought Lazarus was dead and gone forever. But his feelings didn't override his obedient thoughts from the Father.
So here's the take-away: Do your small group members and leaders live mostly by feeling or by focused, reflective thought? Do they spend most of their time in feeling-based entertainment instead of thinking and learning more about themselves, others around them, God, and his call on their lives?
... and most importantly, what are you going to personally change in your day to day activities and how are you going to purposely move away from the often-found entertainment model of ministry (if it can even be called that) to making deep thinking disciples and disciple makers?