Every believer sins. No one is perfect—not even leaders. On the other hand, when you're struggling with temptation or are caught up in a sin pattern, how much should you share with your group? After all, while confession is good for the soul—and for strengthening a group—it can be bad for the reputation or make a messy situation even messier. Here are some suggestions for navigating this tricky issue.
Being Holy, Being Human
Until you signed on as a small-group leader, you were just an average Christian sitting in the congregation. You possibly had a few friends you could confide in. But then you became a leader. All of a sudden the struggles you felt you could share with your close friends no longer seem appropriate to share with your entire small group. After all, if you continue to fail, won't that give the group license to fail with you? Or, will group members have trouble respecting your leadership if you show just how much you struggle?
Where do we come up with these thoughts? As Christians we often fall into the trap of ranking sins. While transgressions registered on a radar gun may be permissible, sins registered on a breathalyzer are certainly not. We may also judge transgressions on the degree of ramifications. You cheated on a test in college. That was a long time ago, you were young and stupid, and no one was hurt. You cheated on your taxes. Okay, not good. The IRS would be interested to know about it. You cheated on your spouse. That's a huge one. In reality, though, it's all cheating, just in different ways.
What you share and how you share it will determine whether you develop a climate of openness or a façade of pretending in your group. But how do you know what to share and when to open up?
If you're unsure about what to share, a good first step is to determine if it's a past struggle or a current struggle. If it's a past sin, then it's in the past. Let God use your experience to help another. Everyone needs God's grace to make it one day at a time. When you talk about a struggle you've overcome, you can inspire and challenge others.
Go to Your Coach
If you're dealing with an unresolved issue, you'll need to use discernment and perhaps run it by your coach first.
While sharing some current struggles can be healthy both for you to share and for your group to hear, some struggles may be a bit too much for the group setting. If you're right in the middle of a struggle, your coach can point you to the right resources. Some leaders might ask, "But what if my coach judges me or takes my group away?" First of all, no believer has any right to judge any other believer. If your coach is judging you, it's an issue he or she will have to work through with God.
Keep in mind, though, that depending on the current struggle, your coach may ask you to step out of leadership for a time so you can focus on the issue. If you're currently struggling with a life-controlling problem or a serious relationship issue, time away from leadership to address your struggle directly can be extremely helpful. While no leader is perfect, some situations are serious enough that they need to be dealt with before they get worse. Removing you from leadership isn't a punishment. Rather, it is allowing you time to focus on your own healing and growth. When you've achieved a measure of victory, then you can focus on leading others again.
What's So Bad About a Struggling Leader?
When you're in leadership, you're on the enemy's hit list. When the pressure's on, he will try to use your struggle to destroy you, your family, and your group. It's important to resolve your issues in order to avoid a multiplication of consequences in your life and the life of the group.
When you're leading others, you tend to focus on their needs rather than your own. Good ministry can actually keep you from dealing with your own sins and shortcomings. Sometimes leaders are even deceived into thinking that because God is using them, their bad habits or sin patterns must not matter. They do matter. The enemy is always waiting for an opportunity to expose and exploit a secret sin to cause God's people to stumble.
You're Only as Sick as Your Secrets
The power of sin is secrecy. Once you share what's going on with you, you expose your secret to the light of Truth. The hold on you is no longer as great as you share the load with others. The Bible says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:16). Often believers wish to declare, "This is between me and God." Well, how's that working? It's not how the Bible instructs us. If you could handle this on your own, you would be free by your own efforts by now.
Every believer struggles with something. So don't beat yourself up when you notice a sin or shortcoming in your life. It just means that the Holy Spirit is working within you. If God's Spirit wasn't in your life, you probably wouldn't be struggling at all. Allow God's Spirit and God's people to encourage and support you when you struggle.
—Allen White; adapted from his blog AllenWhite.org. Copyright 2011 by the author. Used with Allen White's permission.