by Tyler Quillet
It’s that time of year when kids (and some sugar-craved adults) are running around your neighborhood in crazy costumes to collect candy. Each Halloween, we all think to ourselves at some point, “I wonder who is under that mask?” If you are a small group leader, you’ve probably asked that question about folks in your group as well. They may not be wearing a Spiderman mask to small group, but they certainly aren’t revealing their hearts either. So, how do we as small group leaders create an environment where the masks come off? It’s an important question, because masks hide important issues and struggles.
Nine years ago, my wife and I experienced our first of many miscarriages. We were broken. As much as we wanted to cancel small group that week, we knew that as leaders we had an opportunity to be vulnerable with our group. This could go a long way toward us all doing life in Jesus together in the years ahead. We were done with our study and it was time to share prayer requests, so we shared our news from that week. We wept as we opened ourselves up and shared our hurt, our anger and our confusion. The group’s response was something we could have never imagined. Crickets. Nobody said a word. They just sat there and stared at us. It took awkward to new levels. They didn’t know what to do or say, so they did and said…nothing. I finally broke the prolonged silence by praying a general prayer and as people left that evening, a few of the ladies gave my wife a hug to say they were sorry. That was it.
It would be really easy for me to get angry with our group for this. Clearly, we were hurt. We were a newer group of young couples and people weren’t totally comfortable with each other quite yet. However, do you know where the blame lies for that awkward evening? Right at my feet. As the leader, I hadn’t created an environment of transparency. I hadn’t yet modeled vulnerability. To that point, our new group was a bunch of people wearing masks who got together to eat good food and read the Bible together. We didn’t yet trust one another, and so everything shared up to that point as a group was fluffy and superficial. I had failed them, and so when we opened our hearts up, it was something they hadn’t experienced before and they didn’t know what to do.
A good friend of mine who I co-led a group with years ago often jokingly used the phrase, “It’s time to get naked.” Now, please don’t take this literally at your next small group meeting. It won’t go over well and you’ll end up in jail! But I love what that entails when it comes to our hearts. It’s time to strip away the pride, the embarrassment, and whatever else you are trying to cover your heart up with. It’s time to take the mask off of your heart and allow those you are in community with to see your struggles, your hurts, your emotions, your flaws, and your desperation for Jesus.
Doing this once isn’t going to make you a transparent group (see story above). However, modeling a transparent heart, asking transparency of your group each week, and loving and encouraging each other through the transparency is, over time, going to bring you all closer to one another. More importantly, it’s going to bring you all the closer to Jesus.
It’s up to you to ask the Lord for discernment in what to share with your group and when. As group leaders, we have to lead the way in bringing our people to a place of transparency. It may be difficult at first, but true discipleship begins to happen when we are doing life together, sharing our hearts and pointing one another towards Jesus each step of the way.
May your group continue to grow in heart-level sharing with one another, may you be faithful to care for one another as you share from the depths, and may you pray fervently for those who take off their masks and share what they desperately need from Jesus.