Something is transparent when you can see through it. Similarly, a person is transparent when he is not pretentious—when she discloses her setbacks as well as victories. Such a person is called "real" because he does not mask what is going on inside. With discretion, her prayer requests are specific and honest. He seeks support and counsel by telling others in the group when he is hurting or in need of help. She shares anecdotes from her pilgrimage as a Christian in order to assist newer believers. He explains how a Bible truth encourages or challenges him.
Put simply, you can see inside, or through, a transparent person.
This attribute of group life depends on the modeling of the leader. When you are honest in your prayer requests, others feel safer revealing their burdens. When you tell stories of a truth's impact on your life, that truth is more likely to penetrate their hearts, not just their heads. When your disclosures suggest that you are not self-sufficient and that you need to lean on Christ and other believers, people are less likely to live independently and more likely to seek the help that they need.
Should a leader publicize every secret she's ever shared with God? No. Should he divulge every private sin that has ever plagued him? Of course not! Be discreet in what you say. Do not feel you have to show all your failings to the group. In fact, before choosing what personal things to share, think about these six guidelines:
- Will my personal anecdote accelerate Bible learning by clarifying a truth we are covering?
- Will my personal illustration show the benefits of obeying a particular truth or the painful consequences of neglecting it?
- Will my self-revelation encourage others to share needs and prayer requests?
- Will self-disclosure meet a genuine need in my life for emotional support and prayer?
- Will my illustration portray family members or friends in a negative manner?
- Have I received permission to tell the story from people who could be embarrassed by it?
Even the highly-respected apostle Paul modeled transparency before the people he taught: "We do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life … we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raised the dead… . He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers" (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).
The Benefits of Transparency
A transparent leader will see the following fruits as a result of his openness:
- Your transparency will enhance your relationship with group members and facilitate more one-on-one ministry with them. Your group members will view you as approachable and feel safer talking to you about needs they might not want to reveal to the entire group.
- Your transparency will spawn a deeper level of sharing among group members. They will be less superficial because you have set the pace. They will not feel alone or like a second-class Christian because their leader has already demonstrated authenticity.
- Your self-disclosure will foster deeper fellowship within the group. Experiencing the relational (one-another) commands in the New Testament requires a level of openness that few groups attain. Without a willingness to be transparent, we cannot bear each other's burdens (Galatians 6:2); comfort one another (2 Corinthians 1:4-7); encourage each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11); forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32); care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25); nor weep or rejoice with each other (Romans 12:15).
- Your self-revelation will instill hope within others who may be discouraged due to their struggles. They will see that you are pressing on in your faith despite problems, and that the Lord is using you. They will discover that "victorious Christian living" is not pain-free, but involves trusting God in times of difficulty.
- Your own need for prayer and support will be met. Ministry within the group will be mutual, rather than flowing in only one direction—from you to the others. You won't suffer alone when facing a job loss, dealing with a rebellious teen, or wrestling with an important decision.
- Your openness will enhance God's glory among group members. God receives glory when he gets an opportunity to do what only he can do—God answers a prayer, sustains and stabilizes during adversity, and transforms irritating circumstances. The recipient of His grace praises Him and tells others what He did.
In Psalm 50:15 the Lord says, "Call on me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor me." Allow others to hear your heart-felt cries to God, to see how he meets your needs, and they will honor God along with you. Ironically, God gets more glory from us when we are needy and he acts on our behalf than when we are strong and have it all together. Group members may see our weakness, but they will also see his strength!
Strategies for Enhancing Transparency
In addition to your modeling of transparency, you can take a more direct approach to promote transparency among group members. One way you might promote transparency is to lead a Bible discussion on the role of transparency in group life. Here is an outline of a Bible discussion I led in my small group:
Transparent Christians (2 Corinthians 1: 1-11)
- What is a "transparent" Christian?
- Why is becoming transparent difficult in a group setting?
- What effect does another group member's honesty and openness have on you?
Explore questions (Read 2 Corinthians 1:1-11)
- What words from the text show that Paul was transparent with the Corinthians?
- What words from the text show that Paul received help during his affliction?
- According to this passage, what were the positive outcomes of Paul's suffering and his experience of divine comfort?
- How does this passage affirm the following maxim: "Your greatest area of usefulness may stem from your greatest area of pain."?
- Affirm someone within our group who has modeled transparency for us.
- Think of one problem or affliction you have experienced over the past couple years. Share with group members how God became more real and precious to you during that time. How did he help or sustain you? What did you learn from the experience, spiritually-speaking?
- In verse 11, Paul referred to the value of the Corinthians' prayers on his behalf. In what way do you currently need the prayer support of others in this group? (Give a request, then a volunteer from the group can pray for you before the next person shares.)
- Ask group members for personal reactions to any Bible study that you lead. In any given session, I may employ only one or two questions from the list that follows, and I reserve questions of this sort for the final minutes of a study:
- What personal application or carry-over idea has the Lord given you from this study?
- What personal need or issue has the Holy Spirit exposed during this study? How can we pray with you about it?
- Who can illustrate one of our lesson truths from your personal experience?
- What fresh, I-never-thought-of-that-before insight did you glean form today's Scripture?
- As we identified timeless truths in today's lesson, perhaps a positive role model came to mind. If so, tell us about this person. How did he or she apply or demonstrate some point we covered?
- What unresolved questions on this subject matter still goad you?
If you model openness, employ 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 to discuss the topic in your group and pose questions that solicit personal reactions to Bible studies. Your sessions will be increasingly marked by the trait of transparency.
—Terry Powell is author of Now That's a Good Question: How to Lead Quality Bible Discussions (Standard, 2007).