Contributions from Barb Condra (CG Leader)
Several years ago Pleasant Valley started encouraging people to share their life story to emphasize the application of a sermon. These stories always made a powerful impression on everyone present. At about the same time we had a new couple join our class and as I got to know them, I realized what a dynamic life story they had. Both of them had been in marriages where the spouse had been unfaithful. Her spouse was a Christian and his affair had been with a good friend of theirs who was also a member of the same church. However, these two people were extremely quiet and never spoke up in class. I was the only one who knew their story.
After a few months I asked them if they would consider sharing their story in class. She agreed to do that. Everyone was amazed as this quiet, gentle woman told us how God had helped her overcome the extreme anger, rage and humiliation she had experienced. How she now worked with Divorce Recovery to help others by sharing her story and how God had helped her build a new life with a Christian man who shared a similar life experience. That was a turning point in our group life. We were on the road to understanding what it meant to be a true “community group.”
Why share stories with the group?
The obvious response to this is so you can get to know the people in your group. But, that only touches the surface. What you really learn is how God has been at work in people’s lives. You learn through their real life experiences how God has brought people through the loss of children, financial crisis, devastating relationships, personal illnesses and other disappointments and challenges that are a part of life. You also hear how they learned to accept God’s will in these times and let God lead them. Another benefit of this type of sharing is the way it helps the people who have shared. They experience a sense of freedom and acceptance they have not felt before. It is now okay for them to talk about their lives with others in the group who look to them for insight into their own situations.
What are the hindrances to sharing and how to you overcome this?
First, it’s just plain hard for most people to tell others about personal struggles. They are afraid they will be rejected and feel as if “they are the only ones” who have experienced this problem or been through this struggle.
The truth is: it starts with the leader. It is extremely important for the group leader to set a tone of trust by being transparent, open and vulnerable in their teaching. Leaders have to model sharing of personal stories as a regular part of their teaching. These stories are brief, but provide a starting point that encourages other to share examples from their lives.
If your group members have never been given the opportunity to know each other and be known by others in the group, you’re missing one of the essential building blocks in the foundation for transformational group life. Shared stories build a bridge for others to help them in their transformational process. With that truth in mind, part 2 addresses several important “do’s and don’ts” to help guide you in the process of sharing stories in your group.