At our church, we don't do small groups. The language and culture of those groups had grown too bulky and loaded for what we hoped to provide at Vintage, so we instituted a different approach, which we have dubbed "Experimental Collectives." In these gatherings, we choose a topic and attempt to DO things to learn instead of reading something and talking about it and forgetting it.
Much of our work is based on the ideas presented in our friend Mark Scandrette's book Practicing the Way of Jesus. Sometimes we fail in our attempts, but the process of trying has proven to be incredibly bonding and also much more transformative. Typically, we gather for 5 to 6 weeks and aim for a high level of commitment and involvement. We take a break for a few weeks or a month and then start new groups related to major themes that our community values: Authenticity, Simplicity, Freedom, Purpose and Community. We have done many interesting experiments over the years, and when Mark and his wife Lisa wrote a book about finances, it became an excellent series in both simplicity and freedom. The book is called Free: Spending your Time and Money on what Matters Most. This was our second time to utilize the book in ExCos since we have many new people who have not experienced it.
I don't know if you can imagine inviting a group of people into your life and allowing them to see your actual budget, records of how you actually spend your time, and piles of stuff you purchased, saved, moved, dust and ultimately realize you don't need, but it is humbling and amazing at the same time. This group had amazing chemistry and was so brave in their involvement. And as is always the case, we got out of the experiments what we put into them. There was a genuine sense of sadness as we finished last night, culminating the series with a focus on how we could continue to free ourselves up to be as generous as possible. This is always an energizing idea to me as I move past wanting to be in a good financial position simply for the sake of feeling security as other Christian financial plans seem to focus on.
As we have entered the Lenten season, our family was influenced by Free to attempt to give up meat for Lent. Some parts of this have been surprisingly easy: it seems that I can start dinner later and make dinner faster without defrosting any meat from the freezer. It is certainly cheaper as we bypass the deli section, frozen chicken breasts, seafood, tuna, etc. We are eating more vegetables than we did before. I'm admittedly already a bit tired of cheese, which I never thought I would say. Charleigh is really over having mushrooms show up in seemingly everything. As I think and plan for the coming weeks, I am daunted by how many menu slots I will need to fill, but I try to focus on a one week at a time and enjoy choosing seasonal, fresh food to build meals. We break our Lenten fasts on Sundays and celebrate at restaurants with our friends, which breaks up the monotony and makes us much more grateful for our food than we have been in the past.
This is our new favorite quiche recipe, which we have made several times now (including for our potluck last night) without the bacon. It is extremely tasty and easy to make and our whole family likes it.
If you are longing for a change but feel stuck, or would just like to test-drive a new idea or practice, consider gathering some friends to join you in an experiment. As Christians, we are motivated to try to love people better by becoming healthier people, but if you are not religious, it is still easier to make changes with the help and energy of friends. Our lives have so much more dimension when we try new things with people who are with us. Want to read more about ExCos? I wrote about them before here and here.