Participation in Christian community can be challenging; after all, we are broken people despite the presence of God within us.
From my experience participating in groups, leading groups, listening to women in mentoring situations, and coaching other leaders, I have identified three particularly deadly poisons to strong relationships, either one-on-one or within groups. All of these poisons indicate some element of a lack of care, an essential for influencing others.
Poison #1: Unsafe places
A terrible sense of betrayal arises when you spill your guts and later hear about it from someone who was not there. Lack of confidentiality is deadly to deep, real relationships. What if you disagree, have doubts or questions about faith, or need to confess a sin? That doesn’t happen unless your confidante—person or group—provides a safe place.
For conversations and spiritual growth to thrive in a group, every member must trust everyone else. Anything that may threaten the feeling of safety for any member must be curtailed by the leader, who must speak up for those who need the love and confidence of the other members.
Antidotes: Love, personal humility, acceptance, and support for doubts, confessions, and questions; prayer and sensitivity; listening carefully; keeping confidences.
Poison #2: Fixing problems instead of entrusting the person to God
Whether it involves raising children, work issues, marriage, or a family feud, we often think that we have the answer for someone else’s problem and must share it.
How many times have I been in a small group when someone voices what is happening in her life and the whole group begins to tell her what to do? Of course, it’s done with the best intentions and great love, but what does it reveal about our hearts when we think we know what will work for her?
I have been as guilty as anyone with a quick response suggesting that I actually know what someone should do. If I listen to God well later, however, he reveals that I was simply proud of my own wisdom and just had to share it. And that doesn’t feel good at all!
That’s why I pray to keep my mouth shut and listen carefully before speaking, waiting for God’s prompting before I say anything. When I feel God’s Spirit pressing me, then yes, there are times when I should share what has worked for me, humbly recognizing that what worked for me may not work in another situation. Usually, however, what my friend needs most is a reminder that her Wonderful Counselor is there to guide as she seeks his wisdom and guidance.
Antidotes: Questions rather than answers; praying for God’s wisdom rather than my own; speaking only when prompted by the Spirit and then only in humility.
Poison #3: One-sided conversations/ discussions
I love to be around vivacious people who keep the conversation lively. I am happy to respond, but I don’t have to think of where to take the conversation next. (Obviously I am not an extreme extravert.)
But it goes too far when one person dominates a conversation with little regard for others.
You likely know someone who talks your ear off and you enjoy what she has to say, but when you really think about it, the conversation was all about her. She showed little interest in you, your views, or your time. In fact, she learned nothing about you at all.
Sometimes it happens in a small group. Maybe the leader inserts her answer into every question. Or it could be a group member who always finds a way to bring the discussion around to her life, no matter the topic.
What if it’s you? How can you recognize it in yourself? If you suspect it, begin to assess yourself after conversations with others. What questions did I ask about her? Did I learn how to pray for her? Do I know more about her because of that conversation? If not, come up with a few questions to routinely ask others, and then pray for them. God will grow your love and your sensitivity if you ask him to help.
Antidotes: Love and care for others; a leader who moves the discussion beyond an individual; seeing Christian community is about ministering to another person and her life, not simply about your needs; praying for the other person knowledgeably.
This list isn’t exhaustive. What poisons have hurt your sense of community?