A Major Reason Small Groups Die Before Reaching Authentic Community

Summary:  We’re in the midst of a cover-up.  True community only develops as our true selves are exposed to each other over time.  If this process isn’t accompanied by humility and acceptance in the groups’ members, it will destroy itself from the inside out.

In the last post, we discovered the highest achievement a Christian can attain is connecting with other believers in close-knit community.  But in order to do so, we have to allow our abnormalities to connect us instead of divide us.  If we approach each other with this mindset, we’ll have a chance of experiencing authentic Kingdom community.

When it gets ugly

You see, most experiences people would label “community” are quite shallow.  Some may get to be waist deep.  But typically anything past that and it gets too ugly, too sensitive, and too uncomfortable to deal with (you’ll see why below).  Many people have really never gotten to the deep end to even know what authentic community is like.  When people get close enough to touch other’s abnormalities regularly, they tend to hit the road.

But here’s the rub – the greatest of human longings is to be fully known and fully accepted.

Quite the dilemma we face.

We’re in the midst of a cover-up

There’s a lot of talk about love.  People say it’s all we need.  But what they fail to include in their talk is the fact that you can only be loved to the extent that you are known.  That’s an important concept, so let’s reiterate it.  You can only be loved to the extent that you are known.  But again, it’s such a dilemma because at the Fall, being fully known became the greatest of human fears.  The first humans knew nothing of it, because there was nothing to hide.  But after the Fall, we started pretending and deceiving to cover up our abnormalities.

Disclosure is a process

So how do we make our way from hiding to being fully known?

First, we must remember this is a very delicate process.  When you bring a group of people together, you’re dealing with a wide spectrum of experiences.  Some people have gone waist deep too quickly, and feel they were drowned by those they chose to swim with.  Some have never gone past dipping their feet in because they’re afraid of drowning.  Some want to dive right in to the deep end and pull you in with them (eeeeeek!).  All of these are unhealthy and are barriers to authentic Kingdom community developing.

Instead, we’ve got to learn that disclosure of who we are with all of our abnormalities only works well if it happens naturally – in stages.  It’s a cautious progression.

Psychologists tell us there a 3 stages to this process…

Guarded Communication

At first, we live with each other on the surface.  We wade in the shallow end.  This is natural because we don’t know who we’re dealing with yet.  We don’t know how people will react.  Even more, we shouldn’t put each other in a position to react to our abnormalities before our relationships are ready.  When the relational bond is weak, throwing a heavy abnormality in the midst of it is bound to make it snap.  We’ve all been around the person that doesn’t have a sense for what’s appropriate to share given the level of relationship they’re in with people.  It just feels awkward.

One of my favorite examples of what can go wrong when we don’t use guarded communication is the movie Liar Liar.  In the movie, the main character is a lawyer that has a major problem with – you guessed it – lying.  Let’s take a look at a clip of what it looks like when your communication is totally unguarded (only watch the first minute)…

 

 

Of course, having to answer every question and comment with the absolute truth of what’s going through your brain at the time isn’t going to work for anyone.  The movie is extreme of course, but illustrates the point.

Everyday Authenticity

This is when you’ve been around each other enough that you naturally start to live with “unveiled faces.”  You start to give up on pretending to be something you’re not.  This is where you start to experience the cross that community brings as you encounter what people really are.  It’s the main reason why most church groups don’t get past stage 1.  But again, the irony is that it’s only in our authenticity that we can receive forgiveness, healing and grace.  This is why counseling is therapy, but not healing.  You disclose your sin to someone else, but you don’t experience the complete and utter freedom-producing grace of God through others.

This is why the book of James encourages us to…

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may feel better.

Wait no, it doesn’t say that, it says…

Confess your faults to a counselor, and let the counselor pray for you, that you may be healed.

Wait, it doesn’t say that either!  It says…

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed.

Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with counseling.  I’ve done counseling myself and it was extremely helpful to me.  But there’s no substitute for the healing power of authentic Christian community.

Deep Disclosure

This is the last stage where we unveil not just our faces, but our intimate areas as well.  Only proven friends who earn the right should get to go here.

It’s an issue of acceptance

But this process of disclosure in community only works if it’s accompanied by one guiding Kingdom principle – acceptance.

The reason people hide is because they’re sure the stone-throwing would begin if they didn’t.  If you progress down the stages of disclosure with people and it’s not accompanied by acceptance, your church community is not going to be what you hope for.  In fact, your group will likely break up before it even really gets started.  People will get hurt, relationships will be broken and you’ll feel like you have to start all over again just dipping your toes in.  You can see why many just simply give up after a few go-arounds and relegate themselves to sitting in a chair on the shoreline for the rest of their lives.

We are well aware that “there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus.”  But treating each other like this is true is one of the biggest challenges any Kingdom community faces.

No, acceptance isn’t the same as approving or being tolerant of behavior.  We must still call things as they are and hold people responsible for growing.  But we must do this without attacking anyone’s worth.

Jesus showed us a beautiful picture of this in how he dealt with the adulterous woman.  He showed her that she was not condemned and that the stone-throwers were in the same boat as her.  But then he told her to “go and sin no more.”  To enter into the waist-deep waters of everyday authenticity with each other, we must be humbled to the point of dropping our stones and accepting each other for what we are with all of our abnormalities (while pushing each other to grow).

If we don’t, Paul’s warning in Galatians 5:15 will come to pass…

If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

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