By Paul Wilkinson
That title may seem strange if you think I intend for you to elicit sin confessions from the visitors to your group! Please, do not. What I mean is that the vulnerability and openness of a group will always be a function of how vulnerable and open you are as the leader. I AM NOT asking you to air all of your dirty laundry in front of the group. I AM asking you to be open with your failures and shortcomings.
James writes to us: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) How are we creating environments that are conducive to some amount of sin confession? It begins with your willingness to admit that your life isn’t perfect and you have garbage just like everyone else.
How does this translate to hospitality? Imagine that a guest comes to your group. This guest has serious struggles in his or her life and is looking for a community of faith to encourage and support them. They’ve heard Mike preach repeatedly that the point of the Gospel is not to have you go away feeling bad or beat up, rather it is to liberate you from your burden of guilt for the sake of kingdom work and personal relationship with Jesus.
Now, imagine that you teach a superb lesson about how we all have sin but that Jesus gives His righteousness to us to cover our sin. You contrast Romans 3 with Romans 8 to show how we go from falling so short to being in a state such that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Your exegesis is spot on, your theology is spot on, your delivery and illustrations are spot on, and your guest goes away more burdened than ever.
The guest’s mindset is: I don’t feel that way even after asking for forgiveness because this Group Leader just doesn’t know what I’ve done. If they knew my sins, then they wouldn’t be saying that I could be in a state of connection to Christ. To overcome that mindset you need to share how Christ has actually moved you from sin to non-sin. It doesn’t have to be from murder to non-murder; perhaps it is a story of neglect, or of lethargy, or of gluttony. I promise you that when the guest hears that God has done it for you, they will change their attitudes.
Whenever I start a group, I always take the opportunity in the very first meeting to be extremely open with the blunders of my life: whether it’s leading my wife poorly, whether it’s my doubting my calling and actually pursuing other careers, or whether it’s a time that I told the Holy Spirit “NO!” when conviction came upon me to share my faith with someone I didn’t like. By doing so, I am creating a hospitable atmosphere that says you are welcome in all of your brokenness, filth, and misery. This group is about uplifting you through elevating the name of Christ and submitting to the Spirit. Hospitality isn’t just making people feel welcome, it’s also offering them hope.