As leaders of small groups, we often feel like we need to have our lives together—that we shouldn't have any problems or ongoing issues. That's why some of us put on our best faces each week and hide behind the study or other people's trouble without letting down our guard. People come to our group, but they leave wondering where we were.
As a small-group coordinator—a leader of group leaders—I built a wonderful world for myself. I created a grand place where only happiness resided. I conquered my problems. Lonely? No way. I just "refocused" my desires for someone toward Jesus. Angry? Not possible. I forgave because Jesus did. Feelings of abandonment, rejection, and betrayal? Not me. I had only experienced those things so that Jesus could use me more.
Or so I thought.
I really did think I had it altogether. I masked all my pain, loneliness, anger, and hurt behind my happiness. I was not your typical happy person, either. I was involved in giving my time, my talents, and whatever else I could find to give. I focused on other people constantly. How could this small-group leader and coordinator have issues? Somehow I confused myself with a super hero!
But I wasn't fooling everyone. People started asking me if I was okay. Some were brutally honest and said that I never seemed all there, all real. It wasn't until I found myself in a counselor's office crying out all my pain that I realized how "missing in action" I had been in my own communities. I was a Leader: MIA.
With further help, I have now re-engaged life. I am no longer afraid of my emotions, my pain. I am free to show others that vulnerable part of me—and in doing so they know I am right in the trenches with them. They feel safe to be real, open, and honest.
Why Authenticity Is Vital
Vulnerability demands vulnerability. If we don't open up to the people in our group, we will seem distant and aloof—and they will not be keen about opening up to us.
Many group members are afraid of their imperfect lives and hesitate to reveal themselves to anyone. It's even more frightening to reveal themselves to a person who projects an image of perfection; it may cause them to never really reveal their own pain. But when we as leaders open up our own scarred hearts, we allow the people in our group to realize we have been through battle.
We show them that grace awaits them, just as it did us.
Why Grace Is Great
The grace and comfort of Jesus applies to the lost and sick just as much as those who consider themselves "well." It covers us all!
And the prerequisite for leading a small group has never been perfection; that's our own doing. Jesus said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). In order to show the love of Christ to those in our small groups, we need to reveal the love Christ so willingly displayed to us.
For those reasons, it is important that small-group leaders engage our groups emotionally, spiritually, and personally. Those coming into our groups are looking for someone with compassion—someone who knows the reality of the battle, of the pain in this world.
You cannot be that someone if you shut down your own hurt. You can't help if you are a Leader: MIA.
—Peri Sandifer is the Small-Group Coordinator at The Simple Church in Bossier City, LA. Copyright 2011 by the author and Christianity Today International.