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Rather than trotting our carefully edited representatives out for public consumption, we can show people who we are while giving them the hope of the masterpiece that 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.
Below 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 us, this list also represents some of the things we should be talking about with our closest friends.
Failure, disunity, hypocrisy, lust, fear, guilt, arrogance, dysfunction, gossip, disagreement, laziness, unforgiving, friction, jealousy, prejudice, anger, worry, arguments, shame, and competition
Though the discussions with your church friends include more than these things, they must consist of these imperfections that have yet come under the obedience of Christ. What’s in view here is not what we struggle with but sharing our temptations with our closest network of friends. If you are not, why not? What hinders you from making your local church a genuine sanctification hospital?
Carl has been a small group member for over two years. From an outsider 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, and it has leaked out among a few friends.
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 tight-fisted 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 is a secret addict. He got hooked at seventeen. He’s thirty-one now. He’s been in a small group for a little over a year. He and Carl are friends, and they spend many weekends together because of their wives. Sherry and Janelle hit it off. Jerry sensed Carl was not what he claimed, but Jerry thought, “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. He thinks 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, he wants to 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).
Then Brice enters 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 “drip 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 of her and the children.
Behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23).
It was not a pretty picture. Sadly, it did not have to come out the way it did. All of us struggle with suppressed transparency. 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 and reread the above list. It is our list; it represents only part of who we are.
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Truthfully, there are more things to add to the list, as mind-boggling as that may appear. Depravity does not have boundaries, and 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 they may corrupt Brice. It is more insane to participate in a small group that talks about sanctification but refuses to let the group in on their dirty little secrets.
All Christian groups are the same; it’s a struggle to open up about the more in-depth struggles of life. If you participate in a small group, here are three common hindrances to productive small group life.
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 in groups discussing this kind of vibrant life together, but there is a difference between talking about intentional sanctification and practically practicing it.
If you want what I am describing, 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.
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 live 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 grit to spill the beans. Though it would be better for Carl to humble himself, his wife mercifully is willing to do what he is afraid to do for himself. 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.
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).
Some of you reading this have hidden sin in your lives. It’s hidden from your spouse, and it’s hidden from your group. You do not want to be exposed. Would you please pray right now? Ask God to give you enabling favor to talk to your small group leader or close friend immediately so that 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. 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.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).