It’s difficult—nearly impossible—to live life alone. We need people in our lives to help us in times of suffering, to love us when we’re unlovable, and to speak truth to us when we have unresolved sin in our lives. Life is meant to be lived in community—open, honest community.
Your role as a group leader is to foster an environment where this can easily happen—where people can enthusiastically and humbly love one another and gently speak truth to one another. But if we’re not careful, this environment can quickly turn from an authentic community of believers striving to push one another toward Christ to an hour dedicated each week to gaining more Bible knowledge. Your group should aspire for much more.
Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” —Romans 12:9-16
There are many ways a leader can prevent a shifting away from authentic discussion, but maybe one of the easiest ways hinges on the vulnerability of the group leader.
Pause and reflect for a moment. Are you vulnerable in front of your group? Do they know of past sin and how God has rescued you from it? Do they know of your current weaknesses or temptations?
Leaders tend to be seen as the stable, experienced voice of the group. For this reason leaders often have a difficult time showing vulnerability in front of group members. But any apprehension or pride you may be experiencing about your vulnerability in your group can dampen authentic discussion.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time.” —1 Peter 5:6
You may have those friends, as I do, who have immaculate homes. Not only is every square inch so clean you could eat off the floor, but every piece of art, every vase, and every light fixture seems as if it took a team of 50 interior decorators to decide what goes where and at what angle.
I don’t know about you, but what was intended to be open and inviting can sometimes make me feel very much the opposite. In homes like these, I feel afraid to move for fear of making a mess, much less bring my Tasmanian-devil 2½-year-old into an environment like that. They ask me to take off my shoes, but am I really confident that my socks are clean enough for this perfect, spotless home? And so my uncomfortable spirit and mind wanders.
Sometimes being a little messy is a good thing—it makes you feel at home.
The same can be said of our role as a group leader. Allowing the group to see the messiness of our lives can be the very thing that encourages someone to open up his or her life to us. As the leader, you need to set the tone by establishing authentic conversations about the messiness of life.
Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus.” —Romans 8:1
Growing up, I thought my Sunday School class was the place to show off the best side of me. I call it my résumé mentality. You let people see only your strengths, creating the impression that your only weakness is that you have no weaknesses.
But Scripture acknowledges that we’re all sinful people in need of a Savior. And those weaknesses we pretend we don’t have can be something God uses for His good.
But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” —2 Corinthians 12:9
This vulnerability establishes trust. It sets a precedent. It immediately knocks down the misguided assumption that this time of Bible study is only about studying the Bible. It’s so much more than that. It’s a time to look at our lives and apply the truths we find in Scripture.
And that’s what your group is there for. It’s in those times with both believers and nonbelievers where the gospel and real life intersect. We can stop pretending that we have no sin. We can stop trying to hide the fact that we aren’t perfect, because when God looks at us, He sees the perfection of His Son.
He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” —2 Corinthians 5:21
Joel Polk is a writer and editor for the discipleship publishing team in the Groups Ministry Division at Lifeway. He lives in Murfreesboro, TN with his wife Jenna and two-year-old daughter Lynley. They attend City Church, where Joel serves as an elder and a community group leader. Find him on Twitter: @joelpolk.