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The Balance of Real and Weird

As a small group leader, you’re probably encouraged to be open and honest with your students about your own life. After all, being open and honest paves the way to relational trust, which is crucial when you’re leading students.

But one question many new leaders ask is, “How real should I be with my students?” What they’re really asking is, “How much of my story and my circumstances can I share with my students before things get weird?”

Share too little and you might not build trust with your students. Share too much and your students might think that you have more problems than they do.

So how do you find the balance between sharing too little and sharing too much?

There’s one question that has really helped me filter what I share with my middle school guys. Here it is: To what extent was I dealing with this issue in high school?

If I was leading high school students, I would ask the question, To what extent was I dealing with this issue in college? This filter allows me to share stories relevant to my small group’s current and next season of life (allowing some maturity to the types of stories I share), without going too far.

In high school, college, and adulthood we all face issues surrounding faith, relationships, boyfriends, girlfriends, family, authority, purity, etc. So, we’re not eliminating any opportunities to share; there are still no “off limits” small group conversations. Instead, we’re filtering what we share in these conversations by asking, to what extent.

This is huge. Since the point of “being real” in small group is to cultivate healthy conversation, it makes sense to share only what is relevant. If we get off track by sharing too much from our adult lives, we run the risk of sharing something unrelatable, irrelevant, or distracting.

Now, I still share stories from my life as an adult with my students. For instance, if we’re talking about prayer, I’ll absolutely share about my current struggle to find the time to pray. After all, I was dealing this same issue in high school, so it will still be relatable.

On the flipside though, if my middle school group is talking about purity, sexuality, and relationships, I’m not going to share stories about my marriage. That would be unrelatable (and weird). Instead, I’ll ask myself, To what extent was I dealing with purity, sexuality, and relationships in high school? Based on that question, I would share stories about making wise dating decisions, setting up appropriate boundaries, and finding accountability. That’s being real in a healthy, relevant way.

Sometimes as small group leaders we’re tempted to overshare our stories. We think that by going into great detail about our lives—particularly our struggles—we’ll keep our students from making the same mistakes we did. But that’s not always the wise thing to do.

As small group leaders, our role is to lead our students in healthy conversation, not shock and scare them with our stories. So be real with your students to an extent. Stay relevant as you share your stories, past and present. Then give them an opportunity to share their stories.

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