There is a saying often used in leadership that I believe to be true, "You can only lead someone as far as you're willing to go yourself." Of course the Holy Spirit can take people in our groups farther than that, but for the most part our groups often live or die by their leadership. Okay, so no one wants to be a leader now. But wait, wait -- before you stop reading, know this: the Holy Spirit desires to take your group to a new level, a level that will change everything. As a leader, you are empowered to lead. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you.
Many groups falter after a time because they can't make the jump toward exposure of who they really are. Individuals within the group would rather stay in the safety of talking about God and the Bible than exposing their deepest struggles with it and within their lives. True biblical community doesn't take place if exposure doesn't happen, nor does spiritual formation (see article Back to Basics for more on this).
There is an art in leading people to exposure of their true selves. Now, understand I'm still in process with this, but here are some things I've learned that you might gain from.
First, the leader leads the way. This is done through being self-aware enough to admit you don't have it all together. From there you can share a little at first just to allow others to open up. Remember, that leading others to expose themselves is a process. You don't want to go too big right away and put your group in shock -- "My wife and I have been having intimacy problems and I think I may have ED." (Your wife is now burning a whole through you with her eyes.) Now, grant that something like that could possibly be okay to share down the road when exposure is easier and of course your spouse approves. Baby steps are important here and it starts with the leader.
Second, the leader needs to be a keen listener of the human condition. Listen for what's behind the statements of the members of your group. Listen for voice tone, hesitation and the like. And respond with empathy, "That must have been very difficult (place sensitive adjective here)…" Or perhaps someone is sharing a prayer request like, "Pray for us, we're not sure about my job…" What's an exposure response? How about, "Oh? Can you share the situation with us? How are you feeling about that (listen and insert empathetic adjective(s))"?
Finally, be a gatekeeper. Let everyone have the opportunity to speak and especially share and be careful to corral anyone who tries to cut in while someone is sharing. Always create time and space for empathetic response. A bit of silence is not a bad thing. And, challenge your group to avoid "fix it" responses. Recognize feelings first and, if necessary, set parameters as a group to avoid "fix it" responses altogether. People often mean well, but more often it is a response from their own uncomfortableness with what has been shared. You are trying to allow the person to share the heart of their matter. Should I say it again? AVOID "FIX IT" RESPONSES!!!
Leading toward exposure can be risky -- someone might eventually drop a bomb and stun the whole group. But that's okay. It means they are feeling safe. Responding in grace, care and empathy will be the key for the whole group to develop more in this area.
I hope you get the idea. Keen listening and empathetic responses along with a willingness to lead by stepping out will take your group deeper into the lives of each other and toward deeper biblical community.
I'd love to hear your responses. If you're a leader, how are you leading in this area? What have you found helpful while leading in this area? If you're in a group, is exposure happening or what do feel needs to happen?
'til next time.