An information super-highway
Several religious organizations have researched the reasons people drop out of church. It's a significant topic in studies about the religious landscape of our nation. There are many reasons. Among those surveyed a significant percentage of former church attenders have ceased attending because of some difficulty they have experienced in the congregation. Here there are a number of contributing factors as well. One reason that seemed consistent across the board was broken trust in the small group in which they had participated. Narrowing down further many respondents identified sharing personal information as a trouble spot. It's true. Many small groups are an information super-highway. Troubles, hardships, and personal crises, shared in the intimate circle of friends often seep beyond the boundaries of the small group. The broken trust poisons the sweet confidence valued and expected is such a setting. The result is often the acidic distaste of violated relationships. In many respects the group has become toxic.
So, let's tiptoe across the delicately thin ice of intent. Often this kind of leakage is sanctified by prayerful concern and more noble design. Someone shares a genuine and more intimate concern in the supposed safe zone of a small group. Prayer lists and requests are common factors in small group dynamics. Even when such requests are conditioned by confidentiality, sometimes of an extreme nature, our commitment to pray often obscures the other elements that should condition such a promise. When we speak of that prayer need outside the small group, even with precious intent, we've violated the sanctity of those relationships and introduced noxious elements into the admixture of group dynamics. The toxins often injure people, and relationships.
Pause here. There are also toxic people, even in church, who will cross the lines of group
propriety by sharing confidences outside the intimate circle. Face it, some intent is just
plain sinful and reckless. Paul's letters to the churches address the sins of gossip because
church people will spread the wildfires of the tongue in a New York minute. That is why
sharing intimate life details is such a delicate process. Until participants have developed
close interpersonal and trusting relationships, opening private doors to dark life secrets
should be handled with great caution.
Whether intentional or not, the breaking of confidence places question marks around one of the primary purposes of small group ministry: the sanctity of trust between participants. When the group is known as an information super-highway it's purpose as a healing sanctuary of spiritual growth is compromised. Small groups must receive instruction and guidance to insure that the biblical standards of trust are maintained as the group ministers. This training may include---
1. Written Scriptural guidelines for small group leadership.
2. Detailed assignments for small group leaders and participants to understand group
dynamics and expectations.
3. Adequate time to permit trust and accountability to grow among participants.
4. Step-by-step Bible preparation for restoration and group recovery when someone
violates established group process.
5. Repeated emphasis of the "whatever rule..." whatever is said in group stays in group.
Google "small group guidelines" and you'll hit 4,620,000 possibilities in .51 seconds. Even more, consult with congregation or denominational leaders for assistance in establishing at least rudimentary principles for conducting a small group ministry. May I suggest the wonderful and practical work of Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, third edition, 2004) and the staff at peacemaker.net for outstanding material in establishing an environment of peace in local churches. This data provides so many great tools to insure biblical standards in the personal interactions within a local church.
Which is all well and good. Underneath all of this information is biblical truth. Making disciples and personal spiritual growth happen in community. This community is guided by Scripture. Keeping confidence in a small group is a strong Scriptural expectation.
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps
a thing covered.
Proverbs 11:13, ESV
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple
Proverbs 20:19, ESV
Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another's secret,
Proverbs 25:9, ESV
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they
speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned
Matthew 12:36-37, ESV
And, of course, there are many more Scripture references. The point is, when a small group becomes an information super-highway, it has become toxic. It has violated God's Word, and the trust of those seeking the blessed joys of trusted Christian brothers and sisters.
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