The philosopher Plato purportedly exhorted us, “Be kind to everyone, for we are all in a great battle.” Similarly, when my daughters were growing up, my wife and I often reminded them that behind every front door are tremendous stories, both inspiring and traumatic. On the Post-It note on my desk at home are many names and circumstances that represent prayer needs God has either placed on me or that have found their way to this scrap of paper through others. I look at this list sometimes and realize how much depth of life is represented by a single name. The point here is simple — there is pain. The pain found within our groups comes through trauma, loss, relationships, decisions, and just about anywhere there is human life. Because of this, our groups are comprised 100% of people carrying wounds.
I remember an arborist pointing to a mark in the middle of a cross-section cut from a tree. “Do you know what this is?” he asked. “It’s either from a fire or a lightning strike.” He went on to tell me that, over the years, the tree grew not only up, but out. The scar, he continued, while not detectable from any visual inspection, remained deep within—never completely healing, only covered by years of growth. Those in our groups likely have scars deep within as well and just as undetectable. These wounds are serious. So serious, in fact, that Jeremiah reveals God’s anger at His leaders for not treating our wounds more seriously (6:14).
Scripture is not silent or void of this reality. We are told to bear one another’s burdens, encourage one another, and hold our brothers and sisters in Christ accountable. Ecclesiastes 4 goes even further in instructing us to bind ourselves together. A cord of three strands is not easily broken. We are better able to confront both external challenges as well as our internal scars in true, biblical community.
Our groups, then, in addition to being a primary disciple-making environment, should also be places where we are able to safely work out our faith as we heal and invite God into our healing. This isn’t to say that our group time should become therapy. Rather, our group time should be an environment during which we may become more aware, as God works within us and around us, of where have been scarred and are, perhaps, living out of our scars instead of the new heart we have in Jesus.
To this end, here are 5 things to keep in mind:
1. Posture. Create and maintain a posture of listening. I’ve referenced this in other posts: the goal is for our prayer habits to emerge from relationships instead of requests. Clearly, prayer requests are a part of any effective group. That being true, I encourage you to avoid being dependent on this aspect of group life for developing prayer habits. Pay attention to clues both verbal and non-verbal, during group and outside of group.
2. Prayer. Commit to prayer. Keep a list. These days you can have your list of prayer needs with you all the time. In addition to a regular time commitment, voice prayer throughout the day as a way to maintain the posture described above. Begin your prayers with prayers from the Bible or specific passages that orient your heart, mind, and soul appropriately. (I like Philippians 4:4-9.)
3. Storytelling. As much as possible, allocate group time to storytelling. Leaders often take advantage of an ice-breaker or warm up time to get an element of storytelling into the group time. This practice gets group members talking and comfortable, which opens the door to more sharing of life, which leads to greater transparency. Questions about favorite vacations, childhood memories, challenges that have been overcome, Christmas traditions, and many others give everyone a chance to talk and open the heart.
4. Scripture. Scripture convicts. It exhorts. It empowers. It gives us rest. It also heals. Be sure the Word is given the appropriate measure of emphasis within the group. Truth that emerges from the gospel has the power to reach deeper into our woundedness with greater success than any other spiritual weapon at our disposal.
5. Discussion. This one is easy. Whether it’s because of giftedness, lack of preparation, or some aspect of group dynamics, sometimes we as leaders talk too much. Think about your questions, how you ask them, and how you set them up as a part of your preparation. Your questions need to generate meaningful dialogue as a reaction to biblical truth. Groups of adults need to talk. They need to work out their faith in community and under the leadership of a qualified shepherd. Discussion is very important.
Lastly, I would add the need to follow up with group members. I’m tempted to add “throughout the week” here, and that would be great, but really you just need to follow up. It’s encouraging to know that someone is thinking about you, so the regularity isn’t the most important piece. Group life remains a vital component as we guard our hearts. As group leaders we must be mindful not to put simple band-aids on what may be mortal emotional wounds. The war is real.
Brian Daniel leads the discipleship publishing team within Groups Ministry at Lifeway. He has written multiple small-group Bible studies and contributes to several blogs, including Walt Disney World News Today. He also co-hosts the Groups Matter Podcast Show with Rick Howerton and the SEC Spin Radio Show during football season. He and his wife Karen live in Hendersonville, TN, where he heads up discipleship at Grace Church. He has two daughters, Ashton and Schuyler. You can follow Brian on Twitter: @BCDaniel.