One of the biggest barriers to sharing in a small group is, sadly, other people. We’ve all been burned, and we do our best to avoid pain.
Our constant theme should be love—we must do what is actually good for others. We should labor to help our friends love and obey God, pointing them to Jesus all along the way.
A Matter of the Heart
Sin originates in the heart. This biblical truth is foundational for real change.
This implies there is a root in the heart behind every sinful behavior, hesitation, and motivation. Our anxiety about a presentation at work may reveal an obsession with pleasing others. Impatience with our children may point to a stubborn resistance to God’s sovereign control.
Out of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 15:18). These are among Jesus’s most profound and devastating words.
As with all truth, we must take care in our application. We must not become obsessive hunters, eager to “get to the heart” at all costs, poking and prodding and, eventually, crushing our friends.
We should, however, keep the importance of the heart in the foreground, gently walking with our friends toward deeper waters when they’re reluctant to wade in. Remind them: We have a perfect Lifeguard.
Do’s and Don’t’s
Let’s make this practical. To encourage your friends to share in small group, consider these suggestions.
Don’t violate trust. Keep the confessions and struggles you hear within your group. Your friends won’t share if they fear they will be the subject of gossip.
Do listen carefully. Maintain eye contact; don’t turn away when someone shares something difficult. Use your facial expressions and body language to offer support.
Don’t be afraid of conversation. A well-timed question or comment might be just what your friend needs to continue his story. Try to gently draw one another out, prompting with heart-related inquiries.
Don’t try to fix people. Part of bearing a friend’s burdens is understanding his battles. We minimize a person’s struggles by suggesting a simple remedy.
Don’t make it about you. We all suffer from me-too disease, and we think we can help when we’ve been through something similar. Your suggestion may be helpful, but take care to listen and understand first.
Do speak the gospel. Remind your friend of God’s love, Jesus’s work, and the Spirit’s presence. Don’t offer flimsy, Hallmark hope—we have a better, brighter, sure hope. Don’t let a Christian despair over their sin.
Do offer practical help. The help and power we need to defeat sin comes from God. But sometimes he supplies help for the fight through his people. You might suggest a book, a Bible passage, a quotation, or a phone call. Specific options (while leaving room for the person to decline your offer) are often more helpful than a general offer of aid.
Do pray. Pray during the group meeting. Pray later. Pray frequently. I try to jot down notes during my small group meeting so I can pray through the week.
Do follow up. It means the world to know others are praying. The simple act of sending a text or making a phone call can be a burst of encouragement. Consider asking for an update at the next group meeting so others can be reminded to pray or be encouraged at the way God has worked.