There are several factors that influence the interpersonal dynamics within a small group. One of the most important factors is how real the group leader can be with his or her group members. In fact, the health of a group is almost always linked to how free people feel they can be with one another. And this starts with the leader.
Authenticity is key to success as a small-group leader. It nourishes true community and builds healthy relationships. Here are some practices that will help you model the kind of transparency that will create the best conditions for biblical community to grow.
1. When you ask a personal question, be ready to answer first. It helps to prepare for this by knowing the actual questions in the order you plan to present them during your group's Bible study and discussion time. Here are two rules of thumb to follow:
- The earlier the better. Plan to share more personally toward the beginning of your group's discussion time. This will encourage more open communication throughout your time together.
- Think through your personal responses. The more prepared you are to answer, the more ready you will be to take risks. So as you review discussion questions before your group's gathering, imagine how you would answer each one honestly.
2. Take things slow and steady. Believe it or not, "planned authenticity" is not an oxymoron. Generally speaking, the more you know people, the more open you can be. It's better to be gradual in a group setting when people don't know each other. For example, baring your soul in the first gathering of a new group might scare some people off. Note the natural progression of Jesus' openness in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). You can be strategic in self-revelation while being led by revelation from the Holy Spirit.
3. Communicate truth and your personal response to it. People like to know what other people think and how they feel in response to something. When you, as the leader, can express both, it invites others to new levels of participation. It's good leadership to tell your group if and why you agree with a biblical principle that's being taught, but you should also share the challenges you face in living out your faith. For example, "It's so important to have a devotional time each day, but there are seasons when I struggle with this. Lately, I've let other things take priority in my life and I want this to change. Please pray for me." Though some might view this as vulnerability that reveals weakness, the opposite is true. Here's what it really shows:
- A truth. Spending time with God each day is important to our spiritual growth.
- You're human. Nobody is perfect and does what is right all the time.
- You want what God wants. Developing your relationship with the Lord is of utmost importance.
- You need help like everyone else to respond in faith. We need God and community for life transformation.
4. Grace unlocks authenticity. Grace has a way of drawing out authenticity. More specifically, conversations about God's amazing grace and our dependency on Christ have a way of encouraging authenticity. The more your group's discussion is focused on the person of Jesus Christ, the more willing people will be to tell the truth about who they are and where they're at in their relationship with God and others. Point people to Christ and express how we are all equally in need of grace. Leveling the playing field and equalizing our need for grace releases realness in your group members.