“That’s the silliest thing I ever heard,” I said to my friend when she told us she was thinking of becoming Catholic. At the time we were all non-Catholics meeting weekly in a small group Bible study. I had led our non-Catholic Sunday School class and small group community for several years.
My shocked knee-jerk response was rude, but joining together in our small group each week had drawn us close enough to feel like family. Although diverse in age, gender, marital status, vocation, and stage of faith formation, we had grown to love one another.
We shared our falls, our faith, our insights into the Scriptures, and our lives with each other. We encouraged one another; we challenged each other. Sometimes it was messy, but struggling together only enhanced our growth.
So I felt justified in my confrontation. When she said Catholicism was true, well, I didn’t hold back my near revulsion when she could not give me a satisfying, concise answer: If it’s “true,” then how?
If It’s True, Then How?
After being received myself into full communion with the Church, that confrontation with my friend and her inability to share her new faith in a compelling way came to mind often. Later, as my ministry and travel schedule became busier, I heard from others who had little idea how to respond to sentiments and questions about the Catholic Faith as well, such as mine with my friend.
Because I was also religious education director and taught RCIA in my parish, I knew the biblical model I used for faith-sharing worked spectacularly. Every parish and group I taught it in was blown away by how deliberately God laid out the Church’s worship and practice for us in the Bible, millennia ago in the Old Testament tabernacle, and they left equipped to share it concisely.
In less than five minutes, someone can present the Catholic Faith in a memorable way that includes the whys for most of the unnecessarily controversial teachings and practices of the Church; and they can share it most effectively, I believe, in a small group setting like the one in which I formed such strong friendships. Even if fallen-away and non-Catholics feel unable to agree on Catholic interpretation, they also cannot dispute the beauty and consistency of God’s biblical model.
I show you how to present the Catholic Faith in a memorable way in Fulfilled: Uncovering the Biblical Roots of Catholicism. But why small group study?
Why Small Group Study?
Lay ministry leaders and avid faith-sharers like me tend to be super-excited about our Catholic faith. As such, we often love the head-trip, the nuts and bolts, the trivia, and the fascinating factoids. That makes us concerned mostly with information download, without taking community and relationship-based discipleship seriously enough.
I can’t tell you how many times my mentors—all parish staff—have reminded me that they and those who listen to me do my studies less for my information and more for me: it’s not about the “what,” they say, but the “who.” Participants love me, so my offerings have weight with them.
I complained to the Lord about that, since it seemed to me their focus was askew. It’s all about the Bible, the truth of our Faith, Lord! But he pointed me to the way Jesus approached evangelization. Jesus always connected personally. He always sees us. Then he informs.
Relationship Is the Key
Isn’t there something powerfully unique about an intimate gathering around a living room, a small classroom, or a dining room table that forces us to connect and think differently than when we are in a big facility for worship or instruction?
Small groups, in fact, are where much of the theology we share is fleshed out in conversation and action. If we want those with whom we are sharing our faith—non-Christians, non-Catholics, fallen-away Catholics, other Catholics—to be fulfilled in the Church, we should keep in mind the value of wrestling with it together in small groups. It’s messy that way, but it’s fruitful.
Studies show that deep, lasting Christian discipleship occurs when the focus of what you need to know happens in the context of who you need to be with. For each of us, our own “what” began with the “who” of Christ. Similarly, programs do not build community, but we can use a program like Fulfilled to create a community that is ultimately fulfilled in Christ and his Church.
Unsplash photo by Annie Spratt