According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), by the time you finish reading this article, two people will have been sexually assaulted in America. We live in a broken world, full of pain and sorrow. As the #MeToo movement has unveiled, there are likely people in our own congregations looking for healing from sexual abuse and a place to be heard. As pastors, we are called to provide safe havens for those who need restoration. Faithfully preaching God’s Word is a major part of that ministry, but it also requires us to create environments where people can be known on a more personal level.
Small groups are a great venue for these life-transforming relationships. It doesn’t matter what you call them—community groups, missional communities, tribes—they are often where people feel they can be most vulnerable and honest. That means we must ensure these spaces are safe environments in which God’s people can come alongside survivors of sexual misconduct. Here are three ways pastors can encourage healthy sharing and listening in small groups.
1. Raise up compassionate, not just competent, leaders.
When I look for new small group leaders, I am tempted to elevate competence over all other qualifications. But Romans 12:15–16 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” If our groups are going to be safe environments for people to share and listen to each other, I must also prioritize leaders with compassionate hearts.
One time we asked a brother who was young in the faith to lead one of our groups. Initially we were concerned because he lacked the biblical understanding of some of our other leaders, but he had an amazing heart, and he excelled when it came to serving and loving people. Since then he has become one of our top leaders.
We also train leaders in compassion. I am learning the importance of teaching leaders to look those they serve in the eye, to be prepared to weep with them, and to ask questions and then be silent. As we have taught our leaders to ask the right questions and to listen with compassion, we have witnessed relationships deepening and people learning to hear the Holy Spirit.
2. Model vulnerability so others can be vulnerable.
If social media has taught us anything, it is that people celebrate those who bear their souls and scars. When people see their pastors striving toward sanctification, they realize that we too are sheep who need the Shepherd.
One of the greatest ways we can model this is by faithfully attending a small group in our local church and sharing our personal struggles. By letting sisters and brothers in Christ see that we wrestle with hurts and still choose to trust Jesus, others will be compelled to do the same. One of the most resonant small group experiences I have had was a meeting in which I shared a personal failure. The group prayed for me, ministering to their minister. This encouraged me more than they could have imagined, and it helped soften the hearts of group members so others could share their vulnerabilities without fear of rejection.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Milton Campbell