Note: This article has been excerpted from Healthy Boundaries for Small Groups.
Although there are multiple ways to lead a small group, healthy groups always have relational warmth. That warmth is what helps group members connect and motivates them to continue attending. If a small group lacks relational warmth, members will experience awkward interactions, forced conversations, and surface-level relationships.
Leaders can foster relational warmth within their group by focusing on transparency. Members should be encouraged to share questions, struggles, and weaknesses, knowing they won't be rejected. When we share transparently with one another, we're reminded that we're all human and desperately need Christ and one another.
In order for transparency to be sustained, both leaders and group members must participate. Transparency is a two-way street. We expect our group members to be transparent. We genuinely care for them and wish to help them in any way that we can. But what about our transparency?
As a leader, you must model transparency in your group. But there are three things that you should never openly share with members—otherwise you might be modeling the wrong kind of sharing.
Unresolved Marital Issues
Genesis 2:24 says, "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh." God's design for marriage is for husbands and wives to walk together as one flesh. From time to time, we will struggle to walk in oneness with our spouse. We will have disagreements that may require time to work through.
Jason and Kelly, co-leaders in our church, both wanted children. They had been trying to have children for several years. Nothing seemed to be happening for them. So they began to search for answers. After seeing a fertility specialist, they were assured that in vitro fertilization was the best biological route to take.
Kelly wanted to begin the process of in vitro immediately. She was surprised to find out that Jason was uneasy about it. Through their conversations, Kelly realized that Jason was more interested in adoption. This disagreement led to several heated arguments.
When Jason and Kelly shared their frustration with me, I helped them work through their disagreement. During this process, I advised them not to share their disagreement with their small-group members. Kelly responded with a common false expectation: "But I thought we were supposed to be transparent before our group. Wouldn't we be hypocrites if we didn't openly share our struggles with them?"
Leaders, especially married co-leaders, should never be transparent with an unresolved marital disagreement. If group members learn about the disagreement, they often take sides. This will create undue stress or division for the group. It can also add more complications to the marital disagreement. We must avoid any possibility of pulling husbands and wives apart (Matthew 19:6). So it's best for leaders to seek marital assistance outside of their small group.
After the disagreement is resolved, leaders can share about the situation in their group. It can serve as a wonderful example of how to work through conflict.
Expressing a Frustration that May Be Divisive
Let's be honest here. As small-group leaders, we will not always agree with everything that happens in our church. Although we agree upon doctrine and the overall vision for making disciples, we may disagree on the process of how to best accomplish the church's mission. These matters of disagreement can cause frustration, and we must handle it biblically. Instead of sharing our frustration with group members, we must approach our church leaders.
When we express frustration with another person to our group members, we are guilty of gossip. Gossip is never appropriate (Proverbs 16:28). Instead of gossiping, we must work through our differences. We must approach the person whom we are frustrated with and make an effort to resolve things.
God wants his people to walk in unity. When Christians walk in unity, it adds to our testimony (Romans 15:5). So we must avoid any possibility of causing division in the church.
Confidential Information of Individual Group Members
As leaders, we will be trusted with personal information of individual members. For example, sometimes group members are not ready to share a prayer request with the entire group, so they approach you for individual prayer. Or members may seek advice from you in confidence.
For example, a couple in my small group was experiencing some marriage struggles a few years ago. They shared this information with me for two reasons. First, they wanted to gain some resources to strengthen their marriage. Second, they wanted prayer. Because the couple came to me in confidence, I did not openly discuss their struggle with our small group. I assured them of my prayers and helped with some marriage resources.
The couple eventually opened up one evening during our group's prayer time. Their transparency came when they were ready to share. And their marriage was strengthened both outside and inside the group.
By sharing transparently, leaders set the tone for group members. However, you must be aware of things that are inappropriate to share with your group. Decide on your boundaries ahead of time so you avoid awkward situations.
—Seth Widner is Family Pastor of The Journey Church in Fernandia Beach, Florida; copyright 2012 by Christianity Today.
- The principle behind not sharing unresolved marital issues can also transfer to some unresolved relational issues with others. How will you decide what is appropriate to share with your group about relational issues you're experiencing?
- How can you avoid sharing frustrations that may be divisive? What current frustrations should you not share with your group?
- How well do you keep what's shared with you confidential? Do you need someone to help hold you accountable in this area?