29 June, 2022

How You Can Grow in Authentic Community

by | 20 February, 2022

(This article is a sidebar to Michael Mack’s Letter from the Editor, “The Power of Authenticity,” in the March/April 2022 issue of Christian Standard.)

By Michael C. Mack

How do you make your church, group, or class more authentic? Over the years I’ve discovered the following principles. Note that many of these work best in smaller groups. Usually, authenticity increases as group size decreases.

1. It Starts with the Leader. Leaders set the tone for appropriate transparency. This starts with your relationship with God. When you have an intimate relationship with God and are sharing honestly and openly with him, you are more able to open your life to others.

2. Develop Bonds of Trust. Note that I used the words “appropriate transparency” above. You do not want to share your deepest, darkest sin the first time you meet. That would erode trust. Discuss the vitality of confidentiality. People must be able to trust others for authenticity to take hold.

3. Teach a New Way of Living. Recognize that this may be a new way of life for many people, even (or especially) longtime church folks. Help them relearn how to do this, be patient with them, love them anyway when they don’t get it quite “right,” and dialogue about what authentic community looks like and how it is God’s design.

4. Share Your Stories. Especially in newer groups, I always ask everyone to draw and then share a timeline of their life, zeroing in on the highs and lows and most significant events. Explore ways for people to talk about their histories and what made them who they are today. Self-disclosure is not just a one-time event, however. Use ice-breaker questions to help participants tell their stories.

5. Don’t Force It! Don’t push anyone who is not yet ready to share. Just build the trusting environment in which they can share and give them the time they need to jump in. If you push too hard, you may tear down trust. Some people require an extended amount of time to establish trust, which isn’t a bad thing. Continue to affirm and love them, asking God to give them the ability to be more open.

6. Receive and Affirm. When people open up and share genuinely about themselves, be sure to let them know they’ve been heard. Affirm and encourage them for their boldness and vulnerability. This will go a long way in not only making that person feel valued and loved by the group but will pave the way for others to muster up the boldness to share.

7. Confess Your Sins to One Another. Note that this is purposely and strategically placed in the number seven spot for developing authenticity. Once you have built an environment of trust and affirmation, people will more naturally take off their masks and confess their sins to one another. In a mixed-gender group, try subgrouping by gender to build even more opportunity for confession and accountability.

8. Pray for One Another. James linked confession with praying for one another (James 5:16). Praying with and for one another brings us into fellowship and welcomes Christ’s presence and power into our community. As your group learns a new way of living that involves trust, self-disclosure, affirmation, and confession, prayer becomes richer and more powerful. Perhaps that’s one reason why when people in the early church worshipped and prayed together, things started shaking!

9. Speak the Truth in Love. The apostle Paul included “speaking the truth in love” as a vital part of building up the body of Christ and growing to become more like Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). Note again that the order of these principles is essential. We win the right to speak the truth in love by building an environment of trust, self-disclosure, affirmation, confession, and prayer.

Work at learning to speak the truth in love to one another. This does not come naturally and is not politically correct today. But if you want to grow in your relationships with Christ and one another, you can’t look the other way when a brother or sister is making lousy choices. Learn how to care enough to confront sinful behavior in an environment of unconditional love and with God’s grace. As you begin truth telling in your group, you may want to first talk with a minister from your church. Most importantly, bathe this with much prayer, and possibly fasting. And remember, if you can’t speak the truth in love (and with the person’s best interest at heart) then you’re not ready to speak. Keep praying.

10. Have Fun Together! Healthy, genuine community should be exciting and fun! Laughing together builds friendships and can even build trust and set the stage for deeper discussions.

A note about confession: In the beginning of John’s first Epistle, God shows us the importance of authenticity. First, God invites you and me into fellowship, recognizing that this fellowship is only possible through the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3). Then he invites us to step out of the darkness of concealed sin. “If we claim to have fellowship with [God] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth” (v. 6).

Next, God invites us to bring our sin into the light, which brings us into community with one another and God: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (v. 7). Next, he reminds us of the consequences of keeping our lives hidden from God and others: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (v. 8).

Finally, God invites us to bring our sin into the light through confession: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and will purify us from all unrighteousness” (v. 9). Confession allows us to have healthy community with one another. If we are hiding parts of ourselves in the darkness, we can’t have real community with one another or real fellowship with God. None of us is without sin. If we claim something other than that, we are a group of liars and God’s Word has no place in our lives (v. 10).

As Christ followers we are new creations in Christ and he has redeemed us by his blood, yet we are still in a daily spiritual battle. Later in his letter, John told his readers that “the one [Spirit] who is in you is greater than the one [spirit] who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The word you in this verse is plural. He is addressing this to the community. We do not enter this spiritual battle alone. As we face the daily fray, the Lord encourages us to do this together, in authentic community. We do this best when we have developed trust, learned to share our stories, affirmed one another, confessed our weaknesses and failures, and when we are praying regularly with and for one another.

Christian Standard

Contact us at cs@christianstandardmedia.com

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