Are you enjoying a transparent community?

This last week I was reflecting on the horrible punishment of solitary confinement. Nearly every state uses some form of solitary confinement to control prisoners. I read about a research study at McGill University that paid a group of male graduate students to stay in small chambers equipped with only a bed for an experiment on sensory deprivation in isolation. They could leave to use the bathroom, but that’s all. They wore goggles and earphones to limit their sense of sight and hearing, and gloves to limit their sense of touch. The plan was to observe students for six weeks, but not one student lasted more than seven days. Nearly every student lost the ability “to think clearly about anything for any length of time,” while several others began to suffer hallucinations.

The findings were not surprising. God created us as relational beings. He also knows the human heart and warns us what happens when we isolate.

“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Proverbs 18:1).

Like those graduate students in the controlled study, our isolation will cause unclear and distorted thinking about everything.

We were created for community

One of the most intrinsic qualities God put into us is a desire for community. God designed us to live the Christian life in community. It is one of the graces God gives us to fully experience Him—our most important relationship.

But we were not only created to desire community, we need a community where we can feel safe to self-disclose, to seek counsel and to give counsel.

In our church we intentionally seek to build and knit life in koinonia; in fellowship, in community. This community living looks different for everyone but we know it is essential for growth in Christlikeness. Our goal is an open, redemptive community. Sinners saved by His grace doing life together—imperfectly.

We need others to help us grow and mature (Galatians 6:1).

Authentic community takes time

How would you describe your community? Are your close relationships spurring you on towards Christlikeness? Are your companions compassionately helping you to work through sins and struggles biblically? Do they even know you struggle?

I was talking to a couple after church and they mentioned the pain they were going through with a rebellious adult child. They had recently formed new connections in the church and were looking forward to having an authentic community that would counsel and support them. The body of Christ should be that for them and I pray that happens.

But authenticity can take time. We don’t self-disclose easily. “Can I trust you,” “How will you respond when I reveal the real me,” and “Are you going to judge me,” are some questions we may wrestle with.

Maybe you’re afraid? Some of us have been hurt in the past when we were open and vulnerable. We may hide the truth because we don’t want sins exposed.

We need to remember that because of the fall, being open and authentic is not natural. What is natural is to hide and cover (fig leaves) because we don’t want to be naked and ashamed (Genesis 2:25). We fear being judged or gossiped about, and might wonder if we share our struggle will someone be competent enough to help us?

Whatever the hesitancy is, we promote transparency by being transparent.

When someone comes to me for help I want to make sure nothing hinders them from being transparent. If they think I don’t struggle or have it all together when we first meet they certainly know better when they leave. Like Paul, I remind them “…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of which I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). I’m a sinner who needs a Savior.

Who knows the real you?

In your church, in your small group, in your marriage, are you transparent? Do you let people know the areas in which you are weak? Do they know you have an anger problem? Struggle with lust? Does your small group know your marriage is on the rocks or that your child is rebelling and you are hurting?

We are deceived if we think we can do this Christian life alone. We cannot. God put us into the body of Christ and we need this grace as we pursue holiness. Intentionality is key.

I love the word intentional.

  1. Are you intentionally building and knitting your life in the community of authentic like-minded believers?
  2. Have you intentionally landed in a relationship that keeps you accountable and welcomes you to hold them accountable?

Being transparent in community is part of the Gospel-centered life. We are saved alone (individually) but we are not saved to be alone. We are to live our life in Christ with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means our closest relationships should be motivating us to love God more, love others more than self, and walk in a manner worthy of His calling (Ephesians 4:1–3; 5:1–2).

Questions to ponder?

  1. Do you see your need for connectedness?
  2. Are you experiencing true community where you are receiving biblical help for struggles?
  3. Are you growing in Christlikeness? Progressively changing day to day through the help of others?
  4. Do others know the areas you need their support in?
  5. What hinders authentic biblical fellowship for you?
  6. What is the risk of not having koinonia?

Maybe you are blessed to have a solid biblical like-minded community. Here are questions you can work through to help each other grow and change. God does the growing, but we have our part to play.

Questions to ask each other

  1. What are you reading and studying in addition to your quiet time that is deepening your relationship with God? Tell me about what that looks like in your life?
  2. In what ways have you sensed God’s activity in your life? What is he doing?
  3. Are you reaching out telling others about Christ?
  4. What has been your greatest disappointment since we last met? How have you handled this?
  5. Is there any hatred, bitterness, spite, resentment, or unforgiveness in your heart toward another person? Have you gossiped about any person or situation?
  6. How have you managed your tongue? Have you been sharp, unkind, or said things you should not have said to anyone? Have you used language that is inappropriate (swearing, laughing at inappropriate jokes)? Have you compromised your integrity in any way by your speech?
  7. How have you served others since we last met?
  8. Are you spending too much time at work or in other activities at the expense of family, others, and your spiritual life?
  9. Have you spent good quantity and quality time with your spouse, children, mother or father? What have you done since we last met to enhance relationships? Are you praying together?
  10. Are you giving to the Lord’s work financially? Have you misused your finances by buying things you don’t need at the expense of your tithe and other responsibilities?

It is impossible to enjoy complete koinonia if we are not willing to be transparent.

About the author

Karen McMahon is passionate about helping others apply biblical truth to every situation in life. She is the Director of Discipleship Counseling at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota and a certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). She has a MA in Theology from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and is completing her MA in Biblical Counseling from Faith Bible Seminary-Lafayette, Indiana. Karen loves Jesus Christ, her three children and their 12 year old yellow lab…and sushi too.

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