You have no choice about being dysfunctional. We’re all broken in different ways. Even on our best days, imperfections show through like a stain under white paint. Our collective fallenness is why the local church is so fabulous. It’s the place where you can be your authentic self.
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You may want to read:
- Sanctification: A Crazy Idea For the Local Church
- The Danger Of Trying to Be Perfect
- When I Kept Silent About My Sin, This Happened
Rather than trotting your carefully edited representative out for public consumption, you can show people who you are while giving them the hope of the masterpiece God is shaping. The local church is where all these future masterpieces gather, which is why our shared commonality with dysfunction does not discourage us.
Here is a list of some of the things we share in common. These are the negative things that come with our Adamic natures; the things we have yet to rid from our lives completely. Because of the hope of Christ in you, this list also represents some of the things you should be talking about with your closest friends.
Though the discussions in your small group are more than these things, they must include these imperfections that have yet come under the obedience of Christ.
What’s in view here is not what you struggle with but whether or not you are sharing your temptations with your closest network of friends. If you are not, why not? What hinders you from making your local church a genuine sanctification hospital?
Carl, the Angry Guy
Carl has been a small group member for over two years. From an outside looking in perspective, he seems to have it together. Of course, that is his goal. He desires to maintain the perception of a stellar reputation.
What his small group does not know is that he is an angry man. His wife knows it. His kids know it. It has leaked out among a few friends, but his group does not know the real Carl, for the most part.
Carl is stuck on himself. He craves people’s approval, which is why he keeps a tightfisted control on his reputation. He must be on top of things; he must appear to have it all together.
Carl is an inch deep, mile wide Christian.
Jerry, the Addicted Guy
Jerry is a secret addict. He got hooked at seventeen. He’s thirty-one now. He’s been in a small group a little over a year. He and Carl are friends. They spend many weekends together because of their wives. Sherry and Janelle hit it off.
Jerry sensed Carl is not what he claims, but Jerry is thinking, “Shoot, who am I to judge. I’ve got this secret addiction.”
Jerry plans to get clean for six months to a year before he tells Janelle. His thinking is that if he can kick the habit, he can talk about his addiction as though it was something in his past, rather than a current struggle.
He wants to maintain his reputation, project humility before the group by confessing (a past conflict), and gain some accountability just in case his temptation comes knocking again.
His plan is similar to Carl’s. In a word, control the situation. Rather than partnering with the foolishness and weakness of the gospel, Carl and Jerry plan to correct their problems through self-reliant means (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
Brice, the Humble Guy
Then enters Brice to the group. He is a young Christian who has not learned the ropes yet: Carl and Jerry have not contaminated him yet.
Hypocrisy and the art of deception are not for the novice. Brice is still wet behind the ears. He believes the Bible and talks as though it is real. He’s a newbie to small group life.
Carl and Jerry have measured transparency. They “leak out” certain things about themselves during small group to show their humility. They give the perception they are in the group, but they are not.
Brice is amazed at their honesty and openness. From his perspective, it is radically different from the nonsense in his office. As the saying goes, “It’s easy to impress the fifth graders.” Brice is impressed, and he is grateful for his new group.
You can imagine what a surprise it was to Brice the night Carl’s wife, Sherry, blurted out, “I can’t take it anymore. I’m leaving Carl. He’s intolerable.”
From that point, she shared through tears his many unexposed secrets. She talked about the threats, his condemning ways, and even the physical abuse to her and the children. It was not a pretty picture. Sadly, it did not have to come out the way it did.
Behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out. – Numbers 32:23
All of us struggle with suppressed transparency. Just like Adam before us, our native tendency is to grab fig leaves and cover up the shame in our lives (Genesis 3:7).
Hiding sin is a mild form of insanity. Go back to the top of the chapter and reread the list. That is your list. It is my list. It represents only part of who we are.
- Why do you want to pretend those things do not belong to you?
- Why do you want to suppress your transparency?
Truthfully, there are more things to add to the list, as mind-boggling as that may appear to you. Depravity does not have boundaries. Complete insulation from sin’s encroachments is impossible.
Christians’ collective fallenness is why a reliable company of friends is essential. Carl and Jerry are not good companions, and it’s possible they will corrupt Brice.
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33
It is more insane to participate in a small group that talks about sanctification but yet refuses to let the group in on their dirty little secrets.
Three keys to great groups
All Christian small groups are the same; it’s a struggle to open up about the more in-depth struggles of life. If you are participating in a small group, here are three common hindrances to productive small group life.
Everyone Is Afraid – Rarely will someone be like Brice; most people yield to the temptation to hide their shame.
When Lucia and I began the complicated process of looking for a church, we did not put “finding a transparent, intentional, sanctification pursuing, small group” on our list of non-negotiables.
The reason is simple: we have never belonged to a local church that aggressively pursued each other this way. We have been part of groups that talked about doing this kind of dynamic life together, but there is a difference between talking about intentional sanctification and practically practicing it.
If you want the kind of vision I am describing here, you’re going to have to stop complaining about it and start developing it by your self-disclosing example.
When we landed in our new local church, we were not disappointed. The small group life was not that great, which is why we prayed for some like-minded people to cross our paths. Individuals who embrace a transparent pursuit of mutual sanctification for the glory of God.
Value the Community – Don’t settle for anything less than a group of friends who want to do intentional sanctification together.
Did you know you can be dissatisfied with superficiality and still be humble? You don’t have to be mad about it, but you can be righteously dissatisfied.
If you’re afraid of opening up, ask God to give you the favor to where your desire for this kind of community trumps your fear of being exposed.
Carl and Jerry’s relationships with God and family are deteriorating by the day. They are living in unexposed sin while participating in a small group designed to fight against what they are hiding.
It’s like becoming sicker while in the hospital. It is not supposed to be that way. Carl and Jerry do not understand or want to understand the value of community life.
Fortunately, Carl’s wife has enough gumption to spill the beans. Though it would be better for Carl to humble himself, mercifully his wife is willing to do for him what he is afraid to do. Any loving spouse would call the doctor if her spouse were sick.
If you try to grow your sanctification outside of the body of Christ, you need to adjust your view of the body of Christ. Growth outside the body is not possible.
Resist the Temptation – Some of you reading this have hidden sin in your lives. It’s hidden from your spouse. It’s hidden from your group. You do not want to be exposed.
Please pray right now. Ask God to give you enabling favor to talk to your small group leader or close friend immediately, so you can confess what is going on in your life.
All your struggles are not unique to you. We all struggle in similar ways. And the good news is that nothing you struggle with is outside God’s transforming grace.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13
If you suppress transparency, will you change that today? Trust God. Die to self. Be honest for His glory, your well-being, and the effectiveness of your church.
Also published on Medium.