How to Support Sharing in Your Small Group

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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.

Even if you’re convinced that sharing is a good thing and you have a sense of how to do it, hesitation is natural. How will your friends react? What will they say?

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.


Photo Credit: Thomas Szynkiewicz (2012), Creative Commons License

How to Share in Your Small Group

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As Christians share with each other in a small group, they obey the one another commands in the Bible. Though such sharing is difficult, God honors it by strengthening Christians to fight their sin.

But what does such sharing look like?

The Importance of Prayer

You cannot talk about your struggles against sin without knowing what they are.

Listen to King David.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)

Praying this way is one of the most important steps we can take to grow as Christians. God loves to answer this prayer.

But we need to pray as Christians. We don’t wallow in our sin; we seek it out to defeat it, knowing its power has been crushed by Jesus at the cross. Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s advice is wise: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”

If seeing our sin puts the enemy in our sights, then meditation on the gospel pulls the trigger. Remembering the love of the Father and the work of the Son—this is the way God changes our hearts, giving us proper affections and motivations for obedience.

Categories

When someone wants to pray for your growth as a Christian, categories can be helpful.

  • Works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit — Use passages like Gal 5:19–21 and Gal 5:22–24 to talk about the sin you hope to kill and the character you want to develop. There are many other such lists in the Bible—read them and learn the biblical vocabulary.
  • Longings in the Psalms — Read the Psalms and note the love the writers expressed for God. I’m humbled to compare my tepid affection with the hearts of these long-ago saints. (Psalm 63 is a great place to start.)
  • Idols — An idol is anything that takes the place of God for us. These can be vices or addictions, but more often idols are blessings to which we ascribe outsized significance. Family, job, money, success, friendship—these can all be idols. The solution is usually not to ditch the idol, but to return it to its proper place and worship God alone. To help you start thinking in these terms, check out this list of idol-revealing prompts by Tim Keller.
  • Spiritual disciplines — The habits we develop to aid Christian growth are called “spiritual disciplines.” In this category you’ll find Bible reading, prayer, fasting, memorizing Scripture, fellowship, weekly worship, etc. While no activity or discipline saves us, a lack of attention to the spiritual disciplines often reveals a heart that is cooling toward God. Take note both of ignoring these practices and adhering to them with a distracted or divided heart.

A Personal Example

How does one share in a small group setting? The basic elements are knowing your sin and asking others to pray and help you fight against it. Lest that sound vague, here is a personal example.

Please pray for me in my fight against gluttony. I eat when I’m not hungry, eat foods that aren’t good for me, and eat too much. Sometimes I eat because I’m bored. Other times I eat for comfort. Ultimately, I want to find my comfort in Christ, not in food. Pray that I would love God more than food and that I would care for the body God has given me.

Sharing doesn’t have to be lengthy and you need not have everything figured out. Don’t worry about sounding spiritual. You only need to know some of your sin and want to put it to death.

Remember, this is good for you. In addition to being a matter of obedience (James 5:16), your friends can help you. God is ready to give you tangible help as your friends pray.

How to Listen

There’s one last piece to this puzzle. How do you handle someone sharing personal prayer requests in your small group? We’ll tackle that next week.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain

You Should Share in Your Small Group

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Many Christian small group meetings include sharing and prayer, and most of the responses are predictable. Health, jobs, and family members—these concerns dominate our lists.

There’s nothing wrong with this. We should pray for the physical needs of our friends. These top-level requests consume our thinking throughout the day, and God wants us to “cast our anxieties on him” (1 Peter 5:7).

But a small group prayer list that contains only such requests is incomplete. To build close friendships, you must share the concerns closest to your heart. And that means opening up.

Why We Don’t Share

Sharing from the heart is just plain hard. It’s unnatural, and I suspect we avoid sharing for two main reasons.

Sometimes we are not in touch with our battles against sin. Peter tells us that our lusts “wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). When we don’t fight, the conflict is one-sided, and our enemies are relentless.

Other times, we know our sin but don’t want to talk about it. For assorted reasons, we’re unwilling to let our friends see our areas of greatest need.

As we walk the path toward greater honesty, we need to acknowledge the steep climb. Let’s be patient with each other—we all have room to grow.

Why We Should Share

Most small group ministries are built on the “one another” commands in the Bible. (Here’s a great list.) God’s demands border on impossible without an intimate, commited community.

Consider how refreshing it would be to belong to a small group devoted to obeying God in these ways.

  • Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)
  • Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Rom 12:10)
  • Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2)
  • Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thess 5:11)
  • Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Eph 4:25)
  • Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Pet 4:9)

Each of these commands requires vulnerability. How can I bear my friend’s burdens if he doesn’t tell me what they are? How can we confess our sins to each other if we keep our hearts locked up tight? How will I know how to encourage my friend if I don’t know any of his deep struggles?

We should share because God commands it. But God doesn’t issue commands on a whim. Sharing our struggles is good for us.

The Blessing of Sharing

As you open up to your friends, you might be surprised at the help you receive.

Because prayer is effective, God actually gives me strength in my fight against particular sins as my group prays for me. My friends can ask me questions and provide tangible support. They can preach the gospel to me on a regular basis.

As you share, you encourage others in your group to follow suit. And as others open up, you build a deeper sense of community within the group. Everyone is in a common fight. Your struggles aren’t exactly the same, but everyone has a battle and no one is strong enough to fight on their own.

Jesus Makes It Possible

Sharing like this is scary and counterintuitive. It might feel just the opposite of safe. But the gospel of Jesus changes everything.

Your sin is not a surprise to God. He knows it better than you. And, if you’re a Christian, his commitment to you is so deep and steadfast that no sin of yours can drive him away.

The sin you want to stuff down and hide is the same sin Jesus bore on the cross. He was made sin so that we might be made righteous (2 Cor 5:21).

We can share our sin because it no longer defines us. Our struggles against the flesh are real, but because of Jesus’s work we have real hope, real help, and real possibility of change. We don’t need to fear abandonment or exile—Jesus suffered that in our place and God is just.

What Does This Look Like?

If you’ve never been part of a small group that talked or prayed on this level, you might wonder how this looks in practice. How exactly do you share or confess your sins to your friends?

Check back next week. I’ll try to explain.


Photo Credit: Sydney Missionary Bible College (2005), Creative Commons License