When my life hit the fan and I finally decided to get into a group, the last thing I wanted was more chaos and unpredictability.
Making change is hard. Sharing my deepest pain and hurts with others.
I am not going to dig in, pour out my heart and soul, if the other people in my group aren’t taking this seriously. I’ve spent my life trying to find my voice, be heard, be understood; and at least feel loved regardless of what I do or say. I don’t want to fight to feel heard and understood in group.
Group should be a place that is safe, steady, and predictable. When I am going through the FIRE of recovery, group should be the most refreshing two hours of my week.
I have led betrayal groups, teen groups, women’s addiction groups, and I speak with Pure Desire leaders all over the world. I can tell you with NO hesitation: when group leaders take an inventory of these five issues, and clean them up, their groups thrive. I’ve seen it time and again.
When group members are consistently showing up late (pause…) Are you now thinking about the person who shows up 15 minutes late every week? Do you want to scream, “LEAVE your house 15 minutes earlier and you would be here on time!” (Unpause...), it makes the other group members feel like they aren’t taking it seriously. When this happens, I think: I’ve sat and listened to all of your weekly check-in but you completely missed all of mine. Now I feel bitter and I really don’t want to share my stuff with you anymore. You clearly only care about yourself. It’s very annoying.
Make sure to respect others’ time. Start and end group on time.
If group members don’t complete their homework or they fill in one word answers, and you know they did it in the car on the way to group, THEY will not get what they need out of group. They are setting themselves up for failure. They will “finish” group and say, “Group really didn’t work for me.”
YOU WILL ONLY GET OUT OF GROUP WHAT YOU PUT INTO IT.
There is no easy way to change rigid thinking, the ruts in your brain, or the pain in your soul without doing some major work. If it were that simple, it would be done already and you wouldn't it be in group. You HAVE to do the work. As a group leader, you want to set the bar high. Addicts will do the bare minimum—I know: I am one, I’m married to one, and I’m trying my hardest not to raise them!
Men and women who have experienced trauma need to be inspired that they CAN change! Make sure you are setting the tone for healing. It may seem sweet and nice to allow group members to gimp by, but it will only hurt them and cause more shame in the long run: “I must be more broken than all the rest because group didn’t even worked for me.”
Let me tell you, it WON’T if you don’t work it.
Don’t we all love a know-it-all? When I am struggling, what I really want is someone to tell me what to do (even though they are literally in the same position I am in) and I want them to make me feel like an idiot for not having thought of a solution. Yep, that’s what I want from group. NO!
We want to be able to go to group and process all of our feelings and junk without a bunch of people chiming in about what we should do. I will tell you, if your sentence ever starts with, “You should…” or “You should try…” don’t. Just don’t. This has been a very hard habit for me to break. As the group leader, as a natural-born know-it-all, and as a Pure Desire staff member, it is very tempting for me to want to tell everyone what they should be doing. Especially, when I already know what the workbook is going to suggest in two more chapters. The thing is, our Pure Desire resources were designed to unpack things in a way that is manageable. Jesus doesn’t just turn us upside down and dump everything out, and group isn’t that way either.
Some of the most painful things will be shared. Secrets that have lived behind closed lips will finally be set free. With everything we have, we need to make sure to set an environment where secrets can be shared in confidence. An environment where people can be the ugliest versions of themselves and we simply say, “We love you. That must have been hard to share. We feel like we are walking on sacred ground because you trusted us with that secret.” We need to stop trying to fix each other and let the Holy Spirit work. Let people finally have a place where they can just be. This way, shame will be broken.
Breaking confidentiality. This is a big one and I am guilty, guilty, guilty! The obvious reason we don’t break confidentiality is because we don’t want to break trust. Group members need to know that their group is their safe place. They can share ANYTHING in this space. Group members learn to be real and trust this way. If we go blabbing everything we hear, this won’t work. And, more than likely, we will be asked to leave group.
Now, sometimes accidents happen. This is the gossip category I fall into. When you are running groups in your church this can be a tricky one to navigate. For example, how do I explain to my husband that I am now friends with a person and why we are hanging out so much? This became a problem for me. I was becoming good friends with people in my groups. We do life together, so I would end up slipping about who was in my group. I now ask my group members if it’s okay that people know they are in my group. If they say “no,” then I don’t ever mention they are in my group. If I happen to accidentally mention it, then I make sure to tell that group member and apologize.
With any kind of confidentiality breach, you should always let the person (who’s trust has been broken) know that you overshared. It’s hard but it needs to happen. Most of the time, group members have grace and offer forgiveness if it wasn’t malicious gossiping. We always need to give that group member the dignity of knowing that something personal about them left the group. Nobody needs another betrayal by someone in their own group!
And of course, there is the Memo of Understanding (MOU) that all group members will sign at the start of group. The MOU covers all of the things that have to be reported and confidentiality will be broken.
Keeping confidentiality will be good practice for those of us who want to feel better about ourselves, or more importantly, because we know something juicy about so-and-so. Let’s not forget, Romans 1:29-31 lumps gossiping in with all kinds of gnarly sins.
They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. THEY ARE GOSSIPS, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.Romans 1:29-31
Yikes! Gossiping is not the holier sin. If you mask it with, “I’m going to tell you this so you can be praying,” it still isn’t holy. Jesus knows.
Most of us who lead groups can remember how desperate we were for help and how happy we were to find it. For this reason, we want to always be an open group, incorporating new people into the group all throughout the course. This is detrimental to the stability of the group. Like I said earlier, the curriculum is really laid out in a way that unfolds a person’s story and helps them make connections, little by little. If someone starts in the middle of the workbook, they can miss the crucial building blocks that are needed in order to process the lesson.
Each time a new person is introduced to the group, stories need to be retold. This causes a disruption in the process—we are asking group members to share their stories with a stranger, just as they are starting to build bonds and trust people with their story.
The new person can feel disconnected, not bonded, and like an outsider.
I’ve had group members tell me that their group was the one place in their life that was predictable and safe. When leaders started allowing new members to join, it caused anxiety and created the weekly thoughts of, “I wonder who will be in group this time? Will there be someone new? Will I have to share my story again?”
There are other ways to be an immediate help without having to disrupt your group. Stories For Men, Stories For Women, watching the Conquer Series, and listening to the PD Podcasts are great things to do while waiting for a new group to open.
Group needs to be a safe, predictable, confidential, hard-working environment. If we can work on keeping our groups safe, and being safe group members ourselves, we can create an environment for men and women to let their guard down, allowing the Holy Spirit to do a powerful work through community!
Ashley is the International Women's Groups Coordinator for Pure Desire. She oversees all Women Regional Groups Leaders (RGL'S) and is a member of the Pure Desire Speaking Team.