Genuine community is a rare delicacy in the broad vista of human experience. Even when "birds of a feather flock together", as the old adage claims, diversity grows deep in us to establish boundaries of interpersonal behavior. Christian community is governed by truth. Vivid biblical images portray the spiritual distinctives of Christian community. Even more, Scripture defines the personal interactions of believers drawn into that world. More than fifty "one another" passages address the dynamic interplay of relationships in community. Still, there's a fragile finery in the fabric of small groups. This exquisite threading is easily stretched, even broken at times. It's often because the praying group has morphed into a prying group. It's tragic. And, toxic.
Go, simple with me here. Scripture gives the Christian community, whether large or small, instruction about our lives together. The previously mentioned "one another" passages place these interactions into a memorable format. If you'd like to view an info-graphic about them, click here. Thanks to Jeffrey Kranz and the people at Overview Bible for such a great resource. All of them are significant. Every day I pray and wonder at the potential of God's church today if the "one another" passages were the actual guide-stones for our group life. Nevertheless, let me just mention two that are often trouble spots for human interaction.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be
healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
James 5:16, ESV
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:2, ESV
Several others pose similar inter-relational dynamics. At the core is a simple demand that those in the community care for one another. This level of concern and ministry presupposes a transparency that isn't always natural to the human species. Confessing our sins to one another so that we can bear one another's burdens is a stretch for many people, even those in a restorative, healing circle. That's when praying time often becomes prying time. Our willingness and even eagerness to bring comfort and restoration to those in the close confines of small group community often propels us to dig deeper for the dark secrets lurking in the edges of someone's dreaded past. At times we push a little to hard for this kind of openness. It introduces toxic emotions to the group process. Rather than drawing others close this kind of probing shoves them to the corners of open relationships.
Scripture also demands our respect for the privacy of others. Make note of several Biblical commands about minding our own business---
Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the
Proverbs 26:17, ESV
Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we
instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, ESV
But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.
1 Peter 4:15, ESV
And, that is the delicate part of relationships in a spiritual community. Our commands to confess to one another, bear one another's burdens, encourage and care for one another often collides with our human tendency to guard the darkest and most unsavory elements of our lives. This is one of the reasons building trust is so important in a Christian community. Us humans are more apt to open the portals of our dark inner lives to people we really trust. And, that usually takes some time.
How do we build this kind of trust in a small group. There are several components---
1. We must always be people of our word (Matthew 5:37 and James 5:12).
2. We must always be discreet and refrain from idle talk (Proverbs 16:28;
1 Timothy 5:13 and 2 Timothy 2:16).
3. We must always be willing to speak and bring restoration (Matthew 18:15-17
and Galatians 6:1).
4. We must always speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15 and 1 Peter 3:15).
5. We are to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
6. We are to care for the practical needs of others (James 2:14-17).
7. We must not pry (1 Timothy 5:12-14).
It's another hairball in group dynamics, but there are people who thrive on digging up dirt about others. The desire for juicy details and dark secrets can quickly overlay the redemptive elements that make small group ministry such a blessing. In this regard, small group leaders and participants must remember an additional "one another" instruction---
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all
Colossians 3:16, ESV
To admonish one who is prying may cultivate and preserve small group trust and the joys promised in genuine Christian relationships.
Christian community, whether in a small group or a congregational setting, can become toxic when people are compelled or forced to adhere to human traditions. Not everyone is an open book, willing to display the ugly margins of life. That is why the grace of praying must never become the grunge of prying in any Christian relationship.
Praying is joyful. Prying is toxic.
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