By Chris Surratt
The gospel both enables us to be truly transparent and compels us toward a greater end that lies beyond transparency. We confess to one another not merely so we can be real with one another; we confess to one another because we have a desire to be made holy. To be healed. To stop sinning. And we are responsible and even blessed for aiding one another on that journey.
James continues on in verses 19 and 20: “My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.”
The work of Jesus makes confession and repentance more beautiful than burdensome. We can share “below the line of shame” because we already know we are so broken that Jesus had to die for us. But we also know 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 live in the freedom that comes from embracing authenticity.
Be willing to lead the way.
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.
As you model authenticity, be careful to keep a respectful and honoring attitude toward others in the group. We can sometimes unintentionally hurt people by downplaying their opinions or beliefs during a frank conversation.
An example of this is when politics are brought up during the discussion. Most political conversations should be discussed outside of the group time, because nothing divides a group quicker than taking sides on a political issue.
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 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 who need more time. 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 showed us by laying down His life for our sin. When the conversation turns to judgment, gently remind the group that we are all sinners in need of a risen Savior.
There may be times when a group member will use the guise of “being authentic” to share grievances with another person, or use offensive language during the discussion. Your ultimate response to this may differ slightly according to the spiritual level of the offending person but should be addressed quickly with concern for the group as a whole.
Be prepared to redirect back to the main topic with something like, “Thank you for sharing, but let’s not lose focus on our main discussion.”
That should be enough to get the group back on track, but if the issue is ongoing, you will need to address it directly with the group member outside of group time—especially if the member is a more seasoned believer and has influence within the group. He or she needs to be reminded what the group is about and asked to partner with you in helping keep the discussions positive and focused on helping people take their spiritual next steps.
A few extreme situations may need a pastor or church leader to step in for mediation and correction, but that level of problem in a group is very rare in my experience.
Make prayer an integral part of the group experience.
It’s easy to spend too much time on the discussion segment and not have room for prayer at the end. It’s also easy to have the prayer time hijacked by too much time spent on the prayer requests. If we’re not careful, that time can be used for thinly disguised gossip. Prayer as a group is important. Communal prayer is demonstrated throughout Scripture, but the key is having actual, focused prayer.
Focus the prayer time first on what God has shown you through the study. Ask God to help the group members live out the principles He has shown them in the Scriptures. Then, take a few minutes to lift to God individual needs of the group, also applying the principles from Scripture to those needs.
You can be creative for how you handle requests. If you see the prayer request time going long, ask members to write them down, and then divide up the requests with the group. You can share both requests and answered prayers through email or on a private Facebook page.
You can also put the requests in a “requests” jar and then transfer them to an “answered” jar as those needs are met. This will give the group a great visual that God does still answer prayer.
James said 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.
CHRIS SURRATT (@ChrisSurratt) is a ministry consultant and coach with more than twenty years of experience. He served on church staffs prior to becoming the discipleship and small groups specialist for Lifeway Christian Resources. He is the author of Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group, from which this is excerpted and adapted with permission from B&H Publishing Group. You can follow his blog at ChrisSurratt.com.