Something in the final chapter of my book (chapter 9, Gospel-Immersed Community) has resonated with multiple readers. It has been referenced in book reviews, a podcast interview, and in-person. What? I told the experience of sharing a personal sin struggle in a Christian small group setting, and the reaction ranged from dumbfounded to marked uneasiness. Readers have experienced similar, or related to my frustration about superficial Christian settings.
In chapter 9, I emphasize the importance of authentic Christian community, where believers can honestly share sin and struggles. However, I do briefly mention that caution and discretion is needed. To further clarify, this is not about inappropriately spilling our guts about everything to everyone. (Unfortunately, I think certain women can be guilty of that.)
I also warn against a fake or forced type of authenticity. Pounding away on the importance of authentic community will not work. I share a quote which begins: “I tend to notice that when people use the words authenticity and community a lot, both tend to leave the premises.” Authenticity should flow naturally from our identity in Christ and his great salvation, and it can’t be dictated.
Yet, as believers, we desperately need groups that emanate authenticity, humility, and genuine honesty with God and with each other.
From time to time I observe concern for the opposite situation – believers are reveling in sin and brokenness, in essence taking sin lightly rather than seriously, by over-emphasizing their sin and brokenness.
Huh? I’ll be honest that I’ve not observed or experienced this myself. Yes, I know this can happen, but it is not the typical problem from my observations.
It is true that pride gets us all in some way. As this post from The Blazing Center about the pharisee and the tax collector states: “By becoming the tax collector we have become the Pharisee. In pursuing the position of authenticity we have puffed ourselves up.”
This is a good warning, but I still see the pendulum swung in the opposite direction and we are not close to this problem. First we have to become authentic!
I suggest in chapter 9 that to move a group in an authentic direction will require both a leader and a participant or two who have a humble heart’s desire to do so. In other words, several people on the same page. I also mention that behind the scenes prayer, a conducive environment, and leading by example are necessary.
But that leading by example.
I related to a recent post by a pastor: The Problem With Transparent Pastors. When individuals truly share their honest struggles, people often respond in dysfunctional ways. Read the post for examples of inappropriate responses. Sigh. But it is the sad truth. Which makes you not want to lead by example!
Maybe churches need to offer classes in therapeutic communication.
As a former nurse, part of nurses training was lessons in how to listen, and how to respond to individuals who share tough or painful things with you. You learn different techniques to facilitate sharing and discussion – such as active listening, using silence, focusing, and restatement. It is not necessarily about giving advice, but getting to the heart of the matter.
Out of curiosity, I googled therapeutic communication, and every result on the first page was related to nurses training. I think most people in society would benefit from these lessons. Perhaps the basics of these lessons, blended with biblical principles, would be an ideal class at a church. A mini-lesson would be an ideal prerequisite for participating in a church small group setting.
Chapter 9 in my book ends this way, and I’ll close the post this way as well:
“I know Christians who are desperate to experience true fellowship with other believers and are discouraged at their inability to find it. Others may have no idea what they are missing, having never experienced true Christian fellowship. It may need to begin with you and just one other person. Begin to meet together, drop the masks, and pray for each other spiritually. Pray that another person might eventually join you, and who knows where God might lead it. Humility and honest confession must become a characteristic of our individual lives and our churches. This would tremendously help our evangelistic witness in this world. When we, the messengers, better reflect our humble Savior and emanate his grace, our tarnished reputations will begin to be repaired.”