The people who have made the greatest impact on me and my spiritual formation were authentic. They were real about their lives and struggles. They weren’t insecure or territorial. They weren’t image-conscious or secretive. Rather, they were humble risk-takers for the Kingdom, selfless advocates, and potential-seers. They weren’t threatened by other leaders or competitive with them because of their own insecurities. Instead, they tended to be self-effacing, preferring to elevate and celebrate others instead of themselves.
Authenticity is a trait that almost every human-being admires and desires to emulate, but it can be scary for many of us to model because it makes us feel vulnerable. However, this vulnerability is well worth the risk because next to prayer, authenticity is the key to success as a small group leader. It’s an essential ingredient for creating the conditions for biblical community to grow.
“The irony of masks is that although we wear them to make other people think well of us, they are drawn to us only when we take them off.” – John Ortberg
The health of a group can be directly linked to how free people feel they can be with one another. People will gladly spend their time and energy to be someplace where they can be themselves and most people can only be themselves when they feel safe. This kind of safe environment is born out of authentic leadership that builds trust by telling the truth. Truth and trust feed into one another – as one grows stronger, so does the other.
There is no greater influence on the dynamic of a small group than how real the leader is with their group members. Authenticity builds community, earns credibility, breeds safety, and helps relationships grow deeper. There are practical steps you can take to grow as a small group leader who models authenticity.
- When you ask a question, be ready to be the first to answer it. The more prepared you are to answer…the more ready you will be to take risks. So as you review questions you’ve chosen to use for your group’s study, envision how you would answer each and consider how to be transparent.
- The earlier the better – plan to share more personally toward the beginning of your small group’s time together because this will encourage more open communication throughout.
- Communicate biblical truth and your personal response to it. People like to know what other people think and how they feel in response to something. When you as the leader can express both, it invites others to deeper levels of participation. For example, “I know how important it is to have a devotional time each day, but there are seasons when I struggle with this…lately, I’ve let other things take priority in my life and I want this to change. Please pray for me.” Though some might view this as vulnerability that shows weakness, it is the exact opposite. Here’s what it shows:
- A truth: Spending time with God each day is vital to our spiritual growth
- You’re human: Nobody has it all together and does what is right all the time
- You want what God wants: To develop your relationship with the Lord
- You need help to respond in faith: We need God and community for life transformation to really happen! So be the first to acknowledge that you’re only human, and despite your flaws and failures, you want to follow Jesus more closely. People are more likely to be open about their personal needs when they hear others express struggles they identify with – God uses authenticity to generate ministry moments in your group life.
- Grace unlocks authenticity. Grace has a way of drawing out authenticity. Conversations about God’s amazing grace and our dependency on Christ have a way of encouraging greater authenticity in your small group life. Leveling the playing field and equalizing your need for grace releases more realness in your group participants.
- Err on the side of risk. It is not unusual to have thoughts you question sharing. In your own mind, ask the Lord to help you discern if there is any reason why you should not share something that might be vulnerable or feel like a risk. Your authenticity is most effectively communicated when you put your personal interests aside and take risks for those listening.
- Don’t spin. When you get something wrong, acknowledge it openly and maintain a positive attitude versus trying to put a positive spin on your mistake. Be real without being hard on yourself. Beating yourself up for getting something wrong raises the stakes for others to share openly. With a smile on your face, simply share what you thought, that you learned differently, and you’re glad that you did! This makes your small group even more of a safe space for people to open up.
- Forgiveness nourishes authentic relationships – Unforgiveness disables authenticity. We don’t hold onto grudges…they hold onto us. Grudges and unforgiveness toward others (whether they’re a part of the group or not) create barriers in relationships and make it more difficult to be authentic. It’s imperative for us to be right with others if we want to be real with one another.
- Apply the “Socratic Virtues” in your small group discussions:
- Listening – When people feel like they’re being heard, they want to share.
- Patience – When shier people experience love expressed as patience, they will participate in time.
- Trusting one’s doubts – If it seems like something is missing in what another person is sharing, carefully weigh if you should call it out in the group by asking questions or if you should talk another time outside the group; either action can help to build authenticity.
- Talking frankly – Barriers to authenticity are removed when you share without hesitation or fear.
- Postponing one’s judgment – You may not always be in favor of each one’s point of view, but you can always show your advocacy for the person sharing, especially when they are being transparent. Give people time to share their heart and don’t be quick to draw conclusions. People will not feel safe enough to share their heart if they feel rushed or judged. You want to really hear them so you can understand their heart. When people feel understood, they are more likely to be authentic. Seek first to understand because people who feel understood are more likely to be authentic themselves.
- Willingness to revise one’s opinion and respect other points of view – Your communication style shows your value for community. If you become more intentional about inviting others to share their points of view and really listen to them when they do, you will become more effective in modeling authenticity. Willingness + Respect = Authentic attitude. An authentic attitude draws out authenticity in others.
Be intentional about developing and modeling authenticity in your small group leadership because it is oftentimes the tipping point to biblical community! As you model authenticity, people will be able to see Christ in you and it will inspire them to follow your example. The Holy Spirit can use this to break-through to real community, deepen relationships, fuel disciple-making, and compel your group members to impact their world with Jesus’ love and message.