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Bring a candle to small group

22 Jan Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on Bring a candle to small group
Bring a candle to small group
 

Is this your small group?

smallgroup

I’ll never forget the day we brought a candle to small group. Our group had been growing to the point of overflowing a cramped breakout room in the church. Every Sunday night, about 25 freshmen and sophomores spent a half hour running around, joking with friends, reconnecting with each other, and drinking way too much Mountain Dew. At the appointed time, small group leaders were given the unenviable task of corralling them into a breakout room filled with wall-to-wall, donated couches for the Bible Study and small group interaction.

You’ve probably been there before. In that moment with two dozen borderline hyperactive, energized, enthusiastic teens ready to bounce off the walls… and now you’re going to ask them to bow their heads, close their eyes, and focus their attention for 40 minutes. It may be easier to move mountains.

Don’t get me wrong. We had an amazing group. I loved these students. They were fantastic, sold-out, passionate Christ followers, but they’re still teens. And what we were asking them to do in that transition would be tough for anyone, let alone a high-schooler.

Enter the candle.

We admittedly had a focus problem, and we wanted a way to engage students that didn’t resort to scolding them, “sssh!”-ing them, or create a circus to keep them entertained. We decided to try a simple thing like a candle. We weren’t trying to be mystical, ancient, or trendy. We were just trying to be intentional and attentive. The candle was a physical thing that drew everyone’s attention to the middle of the room. On a coffee table in the middle of the room sat a plain white candle on a paper plate.

It helped us remember why we were here.

The candle became a symbol, a reminder of God’s presence with us. It wasn’t that God wasn’t with us when the candle wasn’t lit, but here in this moment, it helped us focus and remember that God was here, present with us and we wanted to be present to Him. In the same way that light came into darkness, light came into our chaotic little room and helped us prepare our hearts to be open to God.

Each week I’d say a few brief words to remind everyone of what lighting the candle represented and then a student would volunteer to light the candle. Their job would be to come to the center of the circle, light the candle, and then pray for our group and the time we would spend together in Bible study and prayer. It was fascinating to watch students begin to anticipate the lighting of the candle. After this opening, we’d then continue on with our regular small group time – Bible study, discussion questions, prayer requests, etc.

Enter the students.

candlehand

After a few weeks, students started coming into the room differently. While some were still be crazy and rambunctious, many started to enter more quiet and aware, as if they were crossing a threshold into something they were excited to take seriously. When the candle was lit, almost everyone quieted down immediately – preparing their hearts. Those who might still be distracted were often encouraged by their peers. It was amazing to simply sit back and watch God at work in the group. He was here and He was willing to move if we (youth workers included) were willing to be attentive.

At the end of each night, as we closed our small group time in prayer, another student would come to the middle and blow out the candle. It represented the end of this time we had set apart. God was still with us and we still wanted to pay attention to Him, but our group’s gathering for the night was finished and we could make a natural transition to whatever was next… usually, snacks.

(FYI, make sure you don’t blow the candle out right underneath a smoke detector.)

Becoming Attentive 24/7

Something interesting happened in the weeks that followed. I’d hear stories from students who started using a candle at home in the same way. They’d light a candle in their room when they did a devotional, read their bible, or prayed for their friends. When I asked more about it, they’d say something like, “I know I don’t need it, but it’s helpful. It reminds me of the group during the week.”

Let me invite you to consider bringing a candle to small group, not to be trendy or mystic but rather to help everyone be intentional and aware. Maybe in your student ministry, a candle wouldn’t work, but the idea is still the same. Find a meaningful exercise or ritual that for your group can symbolize God’s presence; that can remind us all of why we’re here, and that can focus us in on what God is doing in our midst.

Aaron Brown
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Aaron Brown is an Assistant Professor of Student Ministry at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. He attended Biola University and Talbot School of Theology. Before coming to LBC, he was the Sr. High Director at Living Word Community Church in Red Lion, PA. Aaron serves as the Project's editor and web guy.