We must love our small-group members and encourage them to love one another in a variety of different ways. As they grow to love one another and show that love through tangible actions, we can celebrate and encourage more tangible expressions of love. This love will be inconvenient and costly. It will involve more than two hours on Thursday evening. But it will be transformational.
Encourage and Build One Another Up
The logical next step with people we love is to encourage and build them up. First Thessalonians 5:11 commands, "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." The word translated as "build up" is a construction term for building houses or temples. Just as a contractor builds from the bottom up, we must begin right where each person is and help him or her grow into the edifice God intends each of us to be. We do this by enthusiastically encouraging and calling out God's best in each person—day after day, week after week. Small groups are especially adept at this because we grow to know one another in authentic ways, and we are able to call out God's best in one another.
Confess Your Sins to One Another
Much of the evangelical Christian community is repelled by the idea of confession, but James 5:16 says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other." Confession isn't easy or comfortable. It flies in the face of our desire to hide and to appear in control of our lives. To confess means saying the same thing about our sin that God says about it.
While we don't need to confess our sin to a priest to receive forgiveness, it helps to confess to another person and be reminded of God's forgiveness. It makes it more real, and it allows others into our struggles so they can encourage us. Don't be afraid to be open and vulnerable. Share your sin with another group member and allow him or her to speak God's forgiveness over you. We grow when we come out of hiding. As you model this as a leader, others will feel safe being vulnerable, too.
Pray for One Another
James 5:16 continues, "pray for each other so that you may be healed.". We talk a lot about prayer in our groups, but how often do we seriously pray for the needs of others, either during the meeting or after? We must be willing to appeal to our loving Father on behalf of one another on a regular basis, presenting specific requests, and persistently praying until we see an answer. When we do, our groups will see incredible growth and healing. Don't rush through your group prayer time. Encourage real sharing and earnest prayer by modeling it yourself and thanking people who open up. Continue that prayerful mindset throughout the week, making a point to pray for each of your group members.
Forgive One Another
Ephesians 4:32 says, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." What a model of unity in the body of Christ! The reality is that if your group stays together for long, someone will hurt or offend someone else. How you handle the conflict will set the tone for openness and accountability for the rest of your time together. When you observe conflict in the group, encourage rapid forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn't excuse the harm, and you may still need to address the actions that caused the hurt. But rapid forgiveness is important to transfer the debt to God and take the first steps toward a restored relationship.