You may have heard the term “vulnerability” thrown around a lot in regards to small groups, but what does this mean exactly? The idea of vulnerability isn’t about looking for ways to get yourself hurt. It’s not about sitting in a circle and singing Kumbaya while everyone shares their feelings. It’s about building trust with other people in your group through mutual disclosure—in other words, being real with each other. This isn’t always easy, and it’s tempting to feel like you’re opening yourself up to criticism and moral judgment.
But it’s worth it, and here’s why.
The value of vulnerability is found in its ability to fuel your small group to go vertical. As jet fuel is to a Boeing 747, so vulnerability is to your small group. You could try to get a jet engine to start with the same gas you put in your Prius, but in the end it will fail. Superficial disclosure kills true vulnerability in a small group, and with it your group will be just as stuck as the jet on a runway.
So why is it worth pursuing? First, we are commanded to be vulnerable before the Lord, before ourselves, and before other believers. This conviction is found in God’s Word. Consider King David, as he writes in Psalm 32:5, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity…” Vulnerability in your group starts with you, and the reward is freedom, forgiveness, mercy, and fuel for your group to continue down the same path.
Second, this vulnerability before the Lord is a gift He gives to us. Without His Holy Spirit revealing to us our sin, we would fail to realize our failures. This revelation frees us to be honest with trusted believers. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another…”
Those who reject vulnerability are either not being honest with you, or not being honest with themselves. So what keeps vulnerability from taking root in your small group? Consider the four main heart attitudes and why they might push back against being vulnerable:
— Anger says, “Yeah but, it’s not my fault anyway! I’m the one who’s been sinned against. I’ll share about how bad my kids have been instead.” Draw out this heart and help them find their responsibility as in Galatians 6:5.
— Foolishness says, “I’m better than everyone here, no need to share what’s going on in my life. Everyone else needs the time to get it right.” This is hypocritical. Remind them of David, the man after God’s own heart, who cried out to the Lord, asking for help to see his sin in Psalm 139:23.
— Fear says, “If they ever really knew my secret life I would be kicked out and never welcomed back ever again. I’ll just tell them about my back pain again.” The love which God has given us in His Son covers this too. Lead them to the hope we have in passages like 1 John 1:9.
— Despair says, “I’m too embarrassed to share, no one would ever want my friendship after I say what I have to say. There’s no way anyone sins like I do. I’ll talk about what my mom needs instead.” Help this person find confidence in forgiveness that comes from Christ in Hebrews 4:16.
Each heart resistant to vulnerability is remedied with personal discipleship founded in God’s Word. If you want your group to grow out of the mundane and easy confession, take the uncommon, vertical approach. Set an example, lead in humility, and teach vulnerability by being vulnerable. Fuel your small group through your vulnerability and watch it go vertical.
(To learn more about the four heart attitudes, check out the “Uncommon Discernment: Knowing Your People Well” chapter in Uncommon Leadership 101.)