Wandering the savage garden…

Inreach

We actually did not do our regular Romans study last Friday night. We had initially planned to have a regular small group get-together, with music and a study on Romans 6, with a few minor changes as three of the teens in the group (some of our kids) are out on a missions trip, but my wife and I had been discussing doing something a little different…

One of the decisions made early in the life of the small group was to focus on studying the Bible, and to let bonds within the group form organically. People would gravitate to each other given time, and with a limited number of connections, people would naturally form ties to everyone, creating a strong (and natural) group.

However, that’s a very slow process – and without constant presence, it’s even slower. (It’s more time than it could be, when you meet for a few hours every week… but it’s nowhere near the time given to, say, kids in grade school. They have hours every day that they can use for this kind of thing.)

So we thought we’d skip the music this week, and use the time (normally twenty minutes or so) to do an inreach, a chance for us to really focus on getting to know someone in the group.

What we set off to do was pretty simple: we’d put all our names in a hat, and draw one at random; that person would then give a short testimony about themselves, and then the whole group would ask them questions. The idea was that everyone would get to ask a question, and the person could answer as they chose, hopefully with an open heart so we could get to see that person for who they really are, without all the armor we normally wear.

It didn’t quite work out that way; I’d originally envisioned people going around the room clockwise, because that way everyone knew they’d have a turn (and they would have to value their turn). Everyone was able to ask questions, but it was rather random and undisciplined.

That said, it went well. It’s interesting seeing the things someone things are the crucial events and factors in their own lives; sometimes you get to peek under the hood to see not who they think they are, but who they really are. That’s where you can actually find someone’s heart and connect with them.

That’s where you really get to know them and not the façade they put up for others.

For one example question, “What’s your favorite color?” It’s green, with blue being a close second. But this is a fairly revealing answer, even though it’s a trivial question!

It says I’m the kind of person who has a favorite color. Perhaps this indicates a certain immaturity on my part, or a childlike demeanor in some ways. (I’m pretty dour; “childlike demeanor” might apply to some stratae of my personality, but certainly wouldn’t be a generic description… unless you were used to really sarcastic, dour kids.)

But just like an infomercial, there’s more: why green? Why is blue a second-favorite? What about those colors attracts me to them? Considering that blue is the Jewish color representing divinity, why is blue my second-favorite? Why wouldn’t it be my favorite? (It’s because I prefer woods to sea and sky, although I definitely love open water.)

That’s just a simple throwaway question, of course. What do you think will happen if someone asks something like “What do you consider to be your greatest struggles in life?”

Of course, some people will dodge some questions, not being open or vulnerable enough to address them… and that’s all right. The whole point of this exercise is not to force someone to be open or vulnerable; it’s to create an opportunity for future transparency.

Sometimes the knowledge that someone is unable or unwilling to talk about something is just as relevant as what they would say about that subject if they were willing to speak.

One last suggestion I’d like to add: let the person speak on their own. If you know someone well, feel free to ask a question that answers something you are interested in – but don’t spend your time guiding the person down a line of thought. It’s their turn to speak as they wish, and modifying their time for them focuses the attention on you, rather than them, even if they’re doing all the answering… let them drive themselves, because otherwise people see them through a reflection of your interests, and that’s not the point.

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