3 is Enough Groups are not a substitute for church or for traditional small groups. The church has always met on Sundays to memorialize the resurrection and comprehensive victory of Jesus over sin and death. As much as some people are struggling with church these days, I doubt there is going to be a wholesale abandonment of 2000 years of worship. Small groups face a similar challenge—it is harder and harder to get adults to attend a midweek small group on a consistent basis. But there are great approaches to small groups out there. For instance, check out Renovare small groups.
Thus rather than having a quarrel with church or small groups, through 3 is Enough Groups I am trying to give Christians a way to grow in Christ and be his ambassador within the already existing rhythms and routines of their lives. But, because there is a meeting component within the 3iE structure, I want to recount a couple things I heard Chris Webb, President of Renovare, say during a conference at which we were both speakers. When meeting with your 3iE Group—or any group for that matter, use the following guideline:
- Encourage: as often as possible
- Give advice: only once in great while
- Reprove: only when absolutely necessary
- Be judgmental: never
What we are looking for in a 3iE Group is loving accountability that expresses itself mostly in mutual learning. This growth in grace and in spiritual transformation happens best as we examen our own conscious, not to judge others. Ignatius developed examen as a way of life for Jesuits. Examen is most simply a weighing out. Picture in your mind a scale—for instance the kind used in the gold rush to weigh gold. When the balance was true, when the needle or pointer at the top of the scale between the two dangling plates was right on the middle mark, the examen was over and it had done its useful job.
This is what we are doing in 3iE Groups: we are simply helping each other find that sweet spot in our conscious wherein we are growing in Jesus such that those around us experience us and our growth in Jesus in a way that is good for them—what I simply call serve. Here’s the key thought: we can help each other examen ourselves with the kind of joy children have learning the guitar together: showing each other how to finger new bar-chords or play new riffs, etc.
Accountability, in my long experience, can never be forced—it is a matter of the heart. A person intent on doing wrong or determined not to grow in Jesus will find a way to frustrate even the best methods of spiritual formation. On the contrary the person whose will is set to do good will make almost any system of discipleship work. For Ignatius, examen was not judgmental—it was a way of practicing the presence of God. It is very similar to what I call “The Golden Triangle of Presence” in my book Christianity Beyond Belief
In 3 is Enough Groups we banish judgmental practices and pick up encouragement through examen instead.