Over the last few years, I have noticed a shallowness in many Sunday School classes and small group Bible studies. I have noticed a lack of transparency by teachers and by attenders. (By the way, attenders will seldom volunteer transparency until it is modeled by class leaders.) When I say transparency, I mean sharing the real person behind the facade–with weakness, struggles, faults, sins, problems, questions, and needs.
Now, I know it takes trust to share the real you, but which comes first: transparency or trust? Where does taking a risk to be honest and open enter the picture? If I had to place these three words in order of expression for the good of the class, this would be the order: taking the (1) risk to be (2) transparent which led to (3) trust when there were no painful consequences.
Every Sunday School lesson has the possibility for self-revelation and transparency. Opportunities abound to share about struggles in living out the truth, needs for growth, and life encounters. In my experience, life-change seldom takes place when teachers and attenders are not honest with one another and are afraid to trust one another. I believe this lack of honesty and trust results in the shallowness I have experienced.
How can a Sunday School class/small group that desires to be revolutionary take steps to be more transparent? As mentioned above, the leader must model it. It will not happen overnight. Small gentle steps need to be taken and reinforced. For instance, divide the class time into pairs and share prayer requests or how you were impatient in your love toward someone (in a lesson about 1 Corinthians 13). Get to know each other. Talk to the class about trust, confidentiality, and transparency. As class leader, share about personal struggles.
One ultimate evaluation of the progress of a class on transparency is whether the class is a safe environment for confession to take place. In an article entitled, Five Outrageous Necessities for Ridiculously Radical Groups, Rick Howerton writes the following:
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16). Confessing sin to one another is the ultimate act of vulnerability. But when a small group can, in a healthy fashion reveal their moral struggles, and the rest of the group pray for and hold one another accountable, a deep connection exists. This won’t happen early on in group life but should be a goal group leaders shoot for. A quick caution … Don’t rush this kind of activity. Jumping the gun on this one may cause you to shoot your own group in the foot. This will happen in time, on time.
What experiences with transparency in Sunday School/small groups have you had? How important do you believe transparency is in order for a class to be revolutionary? Is it a requirement? What recommendations or cautions would you offer to a leader desiring to transition his or her class toward transparency?