One of the healthy marks of a Connection Group is when the people of the group are being open and transparent. The more I have studied transparency and experienced it in my own life, the more I’m convinced that transparency is a spiritual discipline that we need to cultivate in our lives. The ability to be transparent is a strong indicator that the Gospel is taking root in our lives. The more we experience the love and acceptance of Jesus, the less fearful we will be of revealing our true selves to those around us.
I believe one of the keys to really experiencing Connection Groups the way they are meant to be is developing the spiritual discipline of transparency. James give us this challenge…
James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
One of the signs of a healthy connection group is that the people in that group are actively practicing what James 5:16 is talking about. Now, there are a lot of reasons why people don’t want to be transparent. Here are a few…
People are scared. Allowing other people to get to know the “real you” can be a scary thing! “What if they don’t like me?” “What if no one will or can relate?” These are just a few of the questions that people internally wrestle with. Other people may have had a legitimately bad experience with being transparent and were hurt. All of these are valid reasons to be scared of opening up.
But here is how the Gospel answers our fear.
Ephesians 1:6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
Proverbs 29:25 The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.
Because God has already forgiven and justified us and has perfectly accepted us, we can put our trust in the Lord and do not have to fear what other people will think of us.
People don’t trust their group. Another reason people might hesitate to be transparent is they do not trust their group.
This in part goes back to what we just said. Because God is trustworthy we can place our trust in Him and ultimately not worry about what other people think. On the flip side though, we need to work at making our groups a safe place. Because we are all accepted in Christ, we can accept each other regardless of our differences or background. As a leader, it is good to say one or more times a semester, that your group is a safe place to be real. Emphasize that gossip and backbiting are not tolerated. Also, help your group understand that becuase of the acceptance we have in Christ, we as a group accept each other.
Romans 14:1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
Paul is encouraging us to accept each other, especially those who struggle! Make sure you let those in your group know they can be transparent and authentic. And be sure to do this on a regular basis.
People don’t think being transparent is appropriate. Granted, there are some things that would not be appropriate to share in a group of mixed company. If there is a specific person you need to confess a sin to, the Bible admonishes us to do that in a one-on-one setting. However, this doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be any kind of authenticity at all.
As we saw in the book of James earlier, we are to confess our sins to each other.
Some people legitimately think that they have everything in their life all-together. This would hopefully not be the norm. However, hearts are prone to self-rightousness. Now this doesn’t mean that we should make up a bunch of drama to puke on our groups each week. That will kill a group faster than just about anything. However, nobody has their life perfectly put together. That is ok. People will often fall into the trap of thinking they have it all together for a number of reasons. Subconsciously they may not want to face an uncomfortable truth, so it gets subconsciously ignored. Perhaps the Gospel still has yet to hit an area of their heart and they are experiencing some shame, leading them to lie to themselves. But for whatever reason, there will be some people who genuinely think they have it all together.
I Corinthians 10:12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
As leaders, it is important that we know how to spot this first in our own lives, but also in the lives of those in our groups so we can help them grow in the Gospel and experience the grace and freedom that can be found there.
So what are some indicators that people are not being transparent?
The Humble Brag. This one takes some serious skill. A question will be asked that requires authenticity. For example (Obvioulsy this is a very simple example) The question may be….”What do you struggle with?” Their response will be “I struggle with being so nice and kind, I get taken advantage of!”
Instead of being authentic and transparent, they make themselves look good. As a leader graciously encourage them not to make themselves the hero of the story. (How to do this is a whole different post!) In our example, this person really struggles with being a people pleaser, because they need the approval of man. They idolize being liked.
Another way to avoid being transparent is not answering the question.
Silence. Sometimes people don’t want to answer a hard question, so they don’t. They avoid the truth all together. As a leader, you can help with this by leading the way with hard questions. Give your authentic answer first so others can see it is ok to be real. You can also help with this by encouraging people to do their lesson ahead of time. It is really easy to dodge hard questions when you haven’t even put any thought into it at all.
Over-Complicating Answers. The inner lawyer in all of us tends to over-complicate something so we don’t have to address the issue. Sometimes, a question won’t make any sense and needs to be re-written. Often though, we just don’t want to face the answer that question brings out. So we over-complicate it. We question what it REALLY means.
Getting Side-Tracked. Another way to avoid getting real is to flat out avoid it. Sometimes people will give the most random, out of nowhere answer. To help with this, always repeat the question before each person answers to help keep the conversation on point. If you do get a random answer, try to find a way to connect it with the point on hand, or ask them how their answer relates.
So why even bother with being transparent if it can be so difficult and uncomfortable? Well, let’s look at what the Bible says about transparency.
In 2 Corinthians 1:12, Paul says that godly sincerity is a mark of God’s grace working in their lives. Then later in the same book in chapter six, Paul encourages them to be open with him as he was with them. The reason for this was so they could experience the grace of Christ like he had.
In Luke 18:9-14 humility and transparency before God and men are true marks of saving faith. Those who humble themselves will be exalted.
In Ephesians 4:1-2, 25 we see that humility is necessary for authentic unity.
Also, throughout His ministry, Jesus constantly warned His disciples against being hypocritical. Being transparent in Connection Groups gives us the opportunity to grow in humility and allows other people the opportunity to speak into our lives.
Lastly, how do we develop a culture of transparency in our Connection Group Bible Studies?
Model transparency as a leader. This will never happen if we as the leaders don’t step out and model it for our groups. But once they see us doing it over a period of time, they will follow suite. People are drawn to authenticity.
Ask for your assistant’s help. Share your heart with your assistant to see your group grow in this. Ask them to help you model it.
Graciously ask follow-up questions that help probe deeper into people’s answers. Ask people what God taught them in situations. Ask them how a difficulty drew them closer to God. Ask them if trials caused them to have any doubts. Listen to their answer and be genuinely curious. Be gentle and gracious, but ask follow-up questions to help probe deeper into their answer.
Encourage and thank people for being transparent. When someone is authentic, praise them in front of the entire group for it. Acknowledge that being real can be hard and thank them for being brave enough to do it.
PRAY. Ultimately, it’s the Holy Spirit that has to grow people to the point where they can be transparent. Pray, pray, pray that He will do this work in the hearts of those in your group.
Having a Connection Group that is authentic and transparent can be an amazing thing! Once people open up, they begin to grow so much more than they would if they hadn’t. It doesn’t happen overnight. It does take intentionality, but it is totally worth it!