Getting group members to talk openly about the messiness of their lives is one of the most critical challenges recovery group leaders face. As the discussion moves beyond the superficial and approaches the consequential, the silence can often be deafening. The idea that “we don’t talk openly about our problems or struggles” is, unfortunately, commonly reinforced in churches as well as both Christian and non-Christian homes. Experience may have taught group members that they’ll either be rejected or preached at (or both) if they open up too much. However, until a climate of brutal honesty is built, sanctification will be stifled and irrelevance will reign.
So, as you lead your recovery group into the deeper waters of honesty and transparency — and deeper yet, vulnerability — keep the following principles in mind:
Embrace humility. The enemy of transparency — and sanctification — is pride. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Sharing our “hurts, habits and hang-ups” with others is humbling. Take pride head-on, by leading with humility. Be frank about your own hurts and weaknesses. Encourage group members to follow your lead by affirming and praising each courageous step towards authenticity and challenging those who put up walls to protect their pride.
The children’s ministry of our church teaches the following definition of humility, which we all would do well to remember: “God’s children are happy in the lowest place.” Lead your group to deeper levels of genuineness by killing pride and embracing the lowest place.
Listen actively. The best way to motivate a person to talk honestly to you is to demonstrate that you really care about what they’re saying. Give your undivided attention to whoever is speaking. Listen for the feelings behind the words, and reflect those feelings back (“That must have made you very angry.”). Clarify what was said if the meaning is unclear to you. Pay attention to tone of voice and body language — it often speaks louder than the words themselves — and reflect those nonverbal cues back as well. (“You’re saying it wasn’t hurtful, but it looks to me like it was more painful than you want to admit.”) Be aware of what your own nonverbal behaviors may be communicating, too. As group members perceive that you, and the rest of the group, actually care, they’re more likely to share openly and honestly.
Ask penetrating questions. Cultivate the skill of crafting questions that draw group members into deeper levels of authenticity with themselves and each other. Jesus was a master of piercing questions. The New Testament records almost 200 questions asked by Jesus — evocative questions such as: “Why are you so afraid?” “Who do you say that I am?” “Why do you call me good?” “What do you want me to do for you?” and “Who are you looking for?” Questions like these challenged his listeners to look more introspectively and sincerely into their own hearts and belief systems.
More than likely, these questions won’t simply “come to you.” To prepare for your group, ask yourself some penetrating questions. What do you need to confess? Who do you need to forgive? What do you need to trust God for? Doing so prepares you to ask similar questions about your group members — and for their possible responses. Let your answers to your own questions help you craft discussion questions tailored to the needs of your group.
Your members probably came to a recovery group because they knew, at some level, that they needed to get real with themselves and others in order to deal a sin or personal struggle that’s hindering their relationship with God. By embracing humility, demonstrating that you care by listening actively, and leading them into deeper levels of introspection and transparency by asking penetrating questions, you’ll help them to break the silence that’s been keeping them trapped.
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