A common fear for almost every small group leader is not being “good enough” to be considered a leader in a church-based community. After all, how can I live up to the high standards of biblical leadership? If people only knew…
- The things I have done in my past
- My shortcomings as a spouse
- My failure as a parent
- My private thoughts
- Sin based in my insecurities
The beautiful and freeing truth of authenticity is that being open and vulnerable to a group of people doesn’t require walking in perfection, it requires walking in confession. Scripture lays it out this way in I John:
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light,and there is absolutely no darkness in him. 6 If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. 7 If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:5-9
Our natural reaction to sin is to run and hide in darkness, but the power of the gospel frees us to come out into the light. Because of the blood of Jesus, we don’t have to afraid of confessing our sin. Not because our sin is not present or that it doesn’t have consequences, but through the gospel we can truly own our sin without justification. Not only that, but we can confess to one another not so that we will receive forgiveness, but so that the forgiveness that Jesus has already given to us can be pronounced again and again in our communities.
James gives us this hope:
15 The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. – James 5:15-16
The work of Jesus makes confession and repentance more beautiful than burdensome. We can share “below the line of shame” because we already know that we are so broken Jesus had to die for us. But we also know that we are so loved that He was willing to die for us.
The only way for a small group to embrace this power of healing is for the leader to model and practice it from the beginning. Here are a few practices that will help your group begin to live in the freedom that comes from embracing authenticity.
- Be willing to go first. A good practice of facilitation is to ask questions and let the group answer before giving your opinion. But when you’re leading with a personal type question, it’s always good to model vulnerability by going first with your experience. This will help the group feel at ease about opening up, and set the culture of confession from the beginning.
- Be prepared before the group meeting. Go over the study for the group time and mentally prepare your answers for each question. This will help you feel more confident about sharing something vulnerable to the group. The group members will then quickly follow your approach to the openness of the discussion.
- Ease into the personal questions. Especially if this is a new group. It will take time to build the relationships and trust necessary for open conversation. A group that “goes there” too quickly will scare off members that need more time. My first men’s group experience was like this. I didn’t know any of the men that morning when we were asked by the leader to go around the table and confess our biggest struggle. That experience kept me from having anything to do with men’s groups for several years. Give your group the opportunity to form relationships before asking them to get too personal.
- Keep the focus on Jesus and grace. Continue to point the group back to the message of the cross. Authenticity will come when we think about the amazing love Christ had for us by laying down his life for our sin. When the conversation turns to judgement, gently remind the group that we are all sinners in need of a risen savior.
- Make prayer an integral part of the group experience. Oftentimes, prayer is a forgotten or hurried part of the group time. We have spent so much time in discussion that prayer becomes the final check off to completing the official meeting time. James said that confession leads to prayer, and prayer leads to healing. In order for group members to get to healing, there has to be concerted prayer. This sometimes means the group time may need to be interrupted to pray for a hurting member in the moment of confession. Be open to where the spirit is leading the group.