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.