The Starting Place of People
Are the people where you live struggling with relational trust, loneliness, brokenness, insecurity or shame? What about these struggles: addictions, abortions, adultery, sexual attractions, anger … the list could go on. No one is perfect. Certainly not me. Certainly not you.
When I was in high school, my favorite community to hang out with was the Brew Crew. The Brew Crew got together on the weekends getting hammered drunk and doing drugs. For us, a 4.0 in school was not our grade point average … it was our blood alcohol level.
But eventually, I recognized the pain I was causing myself—and others around me—was far outweighing the pleasure I was receiving from partying. Eventually, three of my best friends were in rehab for chemical and alcohol addictions. We were all totally out of control.
Interestingly, at the same time I was in the Brew Crew, I was also in a Small Group. It might seem odd to you that I would go to a Small Group, but I did. Some friends of mine invited me to attend a large weekly gathering of Christ followers that met during the week. It was a big group of about 100 or so kids. The ministry leaders of this big group would do skits, songs, talk about the Bible, etc. In this crowd of kids, I heard about a Small Group led by a young professional named Scott, so I decided to join one with some buddies .
I was reluctant about the group at first because I didn’t grow up in a Christian family. I didn’t have a biblical frame of reference for life. I didn’t know anything about spiritual practices, how to find a Bible verse or what to say in a prayer. I was insecure about the expectations of needing to know about these things.
Scott was new at leading, but he was a great Small Group leader. He created a safe place for everyone to be real about his or her life. I felt like I could be authentic about who I was. I was open about the parties I went to and the craziness of my lifestyle. I never felt judged or confronted by anyone there. Scott helped me feel like my presence in the group was really important. It was through the relationships in this Small Group, and with Scott, that after three years I put my faith in Jesus and started actively following him.
What I want all of you to hear is the power of a Small Group community and what God can do when you create the right culture. Jesus was the master at creating the right culture for messy people. Jesus went to the party at Matthew’s house in Matthew 9 where the sinners were partying: the Brew Crew. Jesus is comfortable with chaos of people’s lives.
Let me try and summarize some of the things Scott did well that made his Small Group so effective and life-changing. Here are five principles that you can use as a new Small Group leader in creating a culture where “No Perfect People are Allowed” and life change can happen.
1. Authenticity Starts With You
Don’t be fake. Fake people are like wax fruit. Wax leaves a bad taste in people’s mouth. So do wax people. Don’t try to manage your image as a person who has it all together as the leader because you think that is what the leader is supposed to do. Be authentic.
2. Be Vulnerable First
Set the pace for the group by exposing your weaknesses first … The reason people hide and pretend in front of others is usually because of shame or pride. These are both extremely dark and powerful emotions. They keep people stuck from experiencing the freedom Christ came to give us. You can lead them to overcoming this by being vulnerable as the leader.
Share your stories of struggle. I know you think you will lose respect by sharing your struggles, but trust me, you will gain greater respect and admiration through vulnerability. Let the promise of James 5 be true in your group: “Confess your sins to one another so that you may be healed.” Let this verse be an accessible practice in your group. Here are some examples of what you might share vulnerably: Share your addictions—alcohol, sexual, food related addictions. If you come from a broken home, you could share about feeling unlovable and the insecurity that comes with it. The key to this principle is exposing some of the mess of your life to the rest of the group first.
3. Expect Messy People
We live in a relational broken world. Divorce shatters relational dreams. Abuse of all kinds and abandonment have all taken a huge toll on people’s ability to relate in healthy ways. Here are some of the realities from eight couples in my Small Group right now.
- 10 divorces (4 from one guy).
- 4 sexually abused: one by football coach when he was 8 years old. The same man molested three other boys. Later in life, all three of those boys committed suicide.
- 4 are in recovery for addictions.
- 3 have had abortions.
- 1 guy was previously involved in four different cults.
Don’t be surprised by pain in people’s lives. We live in a messy, pain-filled world. Embrace a culture where people can share the story of their life and still be fully known, accepted and loved.
Here is what you need to look out for: If people in your group are answering the question of how they are doing with: “Doing great!” or “Couldn’t be better!” then repeat principle one and two. They’re lying to you on some level.
4. Have a Process View of Growth
Spiritual growth takes time. Transformation of the heart that results in new behavior is the goal, and you can’t rush or microwave this process. As a Small Group Leader, you can never cause spiritual growth in a person. Only God can do this. Look at 1 Corinthians 3:5-7: “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
It took me being in a Small Group for three years before I even said “yes” to following Jesus. Is three years too long? Should someone have given up on me sooner? Take the pressure off yourself that you are responsible for people’s growth. It’s not up to you. You are just creating a culture for God to work.
As you are waiting and looking for growth in people be sure and celebrate when you see growth in someone. Point it out to them. Give credit to God for it. Affirm where you see God at work.
5. It’s Not Always What You “Know” But How You “Love”
One of the greatest fears of a new small group leader is the fear of not knowing an answer to a question or how to handle a situation that might come up in your group. Love is going to trump right answers. A leader of love who seeks to serve others will be more important than any of the content you share with them, especially early on in the life of a group. If you don’t know an answer to a question about the Bible, just say “I don’t know the answer to that.” If someone is asking for advice and you don’t know what to do, say, “I don’t know … but I am committed to trying to help you.”
I believe content is very important, but as a new group leader you will often feel inadequate. Love will lead a group to good places. I couldn’t tell you a single thing that I learned in my first small group … but I remember the love I was given. As a group gets to know one another deeply, it will be easier to speak truth into each others’ lives from a place of love.
Creating Life-Changing Culture in Your Small Group
I hope you were able to see and understand the value of some of these principles for leading a Small Group. Being intentional with these principles will create a culture where God grows people and you can see success at leading a Small Group where “No Perfect People Are Allowed.”