Integrity is the third book in the Transforming Life Series. Integrity is the heart of our approach to spiritual transformation.
This leader’s guide will:
The first step in leading this study is to read “A Model of Spiritual Transformation” beginning on page 7. The section describes three broad approaches to growth and explains how the four studies in the series fit together.
There’s more involved in leading a small group, however, than just understanding the study and its objective. The main skill you’ll need is creating a group environment that facilitates authentic interaction among people. Every leader does this in his or her own style, but here are two principles necessary for all:
1. Avoid the temptation to speak whenever people don’t immediately respond to one of your questions. As the leader, you may feel pressure to break the silence. Often, though, leaders overestimate how much silence has gone by. Several seconds of silence may seem like a minute to the leader. However, usually people just need time to collect their thoughts before they respond. If you wait patiently for their responses, they will usually take that to mean you really do want them to say what they think. On the other hand, if you consistently break the silence yourself, they may not feel the need to speak up.
2. Avoid being a problem solver. If you immediately try to solve every problem that group members voice, they won’t feel comfortable sharing issues of personal struggle. Why? Because most people, when sharing their problems, initially want to receive acceptance and empathy rather than advice. They want others to understand and care about the troubled state of their soul. Giving immediate advice can often communicate that you feel they are not bright enough to figure out the solution.
You may be gathering a group of friends to do a study together or possibly you’ve volunteered to lead a group that your church is assembling. Regardless of the circumstances, God has identified you as the leader.
You are probably a peer of the other group members. Some may have read more theology than you, some may have more church ministry experience than you, and yet God has providentially chosen you as the leader. You’re not the “teacher” or the sole possessor of wisdom—you are simply responsible to create an atmosphere that facilitates genuine interaction.
One of the most effective ways you can serve your group is to make clear what is expected. You are the person who informs group members. They need to know, for example, where and when your first meeting will be held. If you’re meeting in a home and members need maps, make sure they receive them in a timely manner. If members don’t have study books, help them each obtain one. To create a hospitable setting for your meetings, you will need to plan for refreshments or delegate that responsibility to others. A group phone and e-mail list may also be helpful; ask the group if it’s okay to distribute their contact information to one another. Make sure there’s a sense of order. You may even want to chart out a tentative schedule of all the sessions, including any off weeks for holidays.
The first several sessions are particularly important because they are when you will communicate your vision for the group. You’ll want to explain your vision several times during your first several meetings. Many people need to hear it several times before it really sinks in, and some will probably miss the first meeting or two. Communicate your vision and expectations concisely so that plenty of time remains for group discussion. People will drop out if the first session feels like a monologue from the leader.
One valuable thing to do in this first meeting is to let group members tell a brief history of themselves. This could involve a handful of facts about where they come from and how they ended up in this group.
Also, in your first or second meeting, ask group members to share their expectations. The discussion may take the greater part of a meeting, but it’s worth the time invested because it will help you understand each person’s perspective. Here are some questions for initiating a discussion of group members’ expectations:
If you have an extended discussion of people’s expectations, you probably won’t actually begin session 1 of this study guide until the second time you meet. This is more likely if your group is just forming than if your group has been together for some time. By the time you start the first session in the study guide, group members ought to be accustomed to interacting with one another. This early investment will pay big dividends. If you plan to take a whole meeting (or even two) to lay this kind of groundwork, be sure to tell the group what you’re doing and why. Otherwise, some people may think you’re simply inefficient and unable to keep the group moving forward.
Remember that many people will feel nervous during the first meeting. This is natural; don’t feel threatened by it. Your attitude and demeanor will set the tone. If you are passive, the group will lack direction and vision. If you are all business and no play, they will expect that the group will have a formal atmosphere, and you will struggle to get people to lighten up. If you are all play and no business, they will expect the group to be all fluff and won’t take it seriously. Allow the group some time and freedom to form a “personality.” If many group members enjoy a certain activity, join in with them. Don’t try to conform the group to your interests. You may have to be willing to explore new activities.
What does the group need from you initially as the leader?
1. The degree of flexibility with which you operate (for example, your willingness to go on “rabbit trails” versus staying on topic)
2. Your level of commitment to having prayer or worship as a part of the group
3. Your attentiveness, or lack thereof, to logistics (making sure to discuss the details surrounding your group, such as when and where you are meeting, or how to maintain communication with one another if something comes up)
4. The degree to which you wear your emotions on your sleeve
5. Any aspects of your personality that have often been misunderstood (for instance, “People sometimes think that I’m not interested in what they are saying because I don’t immediately respond, when really I’m just pondering what they were saying.”)
6. Any weaknesses you are aware of as a leader (for example,“Because I can tend to dominate the group by talking too much, I will appreciate anybody letting me know if I am doing so.” Or, “I get very engaged in discussion and can consequently lose track of time, so I may need you to help me keep on task so we finish on time.”)
7. How you plan to address any concerns you have with group members (for instance, “If I have concerns about the way anyone is interacting in the group, perhaps by consistently offending another group member, I will set up time to get together and address it with that person face-to-face.”)
Before you jump into session 1, make sure that group members have had a chance to read “A Model of Spiritual Transformation” beginning on page 7 and “A Method for the Biblical Exercises” beginning on page 15. Also, ask if they have done what is listed in the “Preparation” section of session 1. Emphasize that the assignments for each session are as important as the group meetings and that inadequate preparation for a session diminishes the whole group’s experience.
The average Christian has learned how to be nice, polite, and pleasant to others and has discovered (perhaps unconsciously) that these qualities often pass for Christlike character. Some Christians also have learned some skills, such as Bible study and quiet time methods, that can contribute to spiritual growth. However, the challenge of the Christian life is not merely to change behavior but to experience true, deep life change at the heart level. How does that happen in practical terms, especially in those areas of our lives where specific sin issues hold us back?
This study focuses on two objectives. In the first half of the study, group members will focus upon the effects of sin in a believer’s life.The study helps group members not only identify which particular sin issues they struggle with but also share those sin issues with others. The process of identification and confession is critical for the believer’s resistance to sin. The Spirit of God guides this process, helping a believer identify sin issues that He desires to address. Those issues are identified both privately (through prayer, study of the Word, or spiritual promptings) and publicly (by His ministry through others’ feedback). The first focal point, then, is helping group members identify sin issues and employ the support of God and the community of believers.
The second objective is to help group members focus on positive growth toward holiness. This objective moves beyond the defensive posture of resisting sin to the offensive posture of learning to live with deeper love and more conscientious conduct. Group members will identify areas for growth and seek the support of God and other believers.
To help your group attain the study’s objectives, you will use a tool called “Life Change.” This tool provides exercises for group members to complete in preparation for the sessions. “Life Change” is located on pages 73-121. The “Life Change” exercises are critical in helping members identify areas of struggle and areas for growth.
Life change happens best in community. We need each other’s help. We must learn to approach each other without a defensive superficiality. We need courage to move beyond our comfort zones, open our lives, and be involved in each other’s life-change process. Then we are on the road to fulfilling Christ’s new command: to love each other as He has loved us (see John 13:34-35). No one can guarantee that courageous love will occur in your group. We can only trust God to create it, and we invite you, as the leader, to risk being authentic within your group.
The first few sessions will introduce the topic of integrity, helping group members see that integrity is not merely the result of having biblical knowledge or exercising private disciplines. Christian integrity requires public application of biblical truth together with other believers.
Sessions 3–6 provide a context for group members to identify and share with the group the personal dynamics of sin in one area of their lives. Session 7, “The Fear of the Lord,” acts as a transition into the discussion of positive growth toward holiness. Sessions 8–10 address that growth process. Session 11 offers a conclusion to the study by having group members consider how they will pursue growth in integrity for their entire lives, not just for one season of life.
This “Leader’s Guide” contains questions that we think will help you attain the goal of each session and build community in your group. Use our discussion questions in addition to the ones you come up with on your own, but don’t feel pressured to use all of them. However, we think it’s wise to use some of them. If one question is not a good vehicle for discussion, then use another. It can be helpful to rephrase the questions in your own words.
We hope you have had a chance to get the group together before you meet to discuss session 1. If so, group members should have had the chance to read the session and do the biblical exercise beginning on page 19. You may want to begin the session by addressing people’s expectations for the study. This topic can be intimidating for many people and downright frightening for others. To share one’s struggles with sin will not be an easy process for most group members. You may choose to begin with the following two questions or ones similar to these:
1. What are your expectations for this study?
2. What are your fears about addressing issues of personal sin and areas for growth in the context of a group?
To discuss the content of the session, select several of the following questions or come up with your own. The point of this session is to get people to see the importance of others in their own growth.
1. Do you typically think of growing in holiness and righteousness as a private endeavor or a communal one? Why do you think that you have such a view of growth?
2. What does Ephesians 4 say about the corporate nature of Christian growth and life change?
3. In what sense is growth an issue of personal responsibility? In what sense is it an issue of allowing the power of God to change us? In what sense is it an issue of receiving the support of a group of other believers?
4. Can you give an example from personal experience in which all three components of growth (personal responsibility, the power of God, and help from others) played a part?
As you close the first session, make sure the group is clear about how to complete the “Belief and Practice” exercise in “Life Change.” Remind them to be prepared at your next meeting to share some of their observations from the experience.
The goal of this session is to help group members see that life change is not accomplished merely by knowing the right things. Knowledge is not a substitute for a long-term, committed pursuit of holiness. While our beliefs may be biblically accurate, they are not consistently exhibited in our daily lives. In order to make this point clear, much of the discussion revolves around having the group share examples of how they have experienced change in the past—how they came to believe and practice a biblical principle.
To introduce the session, select one or two questions from below. However, devote the majority of the session to letting group members share the results of their “Life Change” exercise.
1. Have you ever felt oppressed after hearing a sermon or reading a book about principles of Christian living?
2. Did that have an effect on your willingness to be honest about your failure to live up to the ideal Christian life as you understood it? In other words, were you tempted to create a facade of godliness even if your heart was not in it?
3. Name something that you believe but is not evident in your life. (For instance, someone might believe a Christian should be “anxious for nothing” but then panic whenever bill-paying time comes.)
4. In what ways can we individually bridge the gap between belief and practice? How can we privately depend on God’s power? (Possible responses: time in the Word, in prayer, in exercising other spiritual disciplines.)
5. How can a commitment with others help bridge the gap? How can we depend on God’s power for growth as a result of community? (Possible responses: relationships of accountability and encouragement, reminding one another of commitments to growth.)
Shift into a time of sharing from the “Life Change” exercise. Begin the sharing time by stating something like this:
Now let’s take some time to share what we recorded in the “Life Change” exercise. Share with the group one of the biblical principles you noted, and talk about what factors had a role in your coming to believe and practice it in your daily life—for example, time in the Word, encouragement from others, personal will and choices, dependence on God through prayer.
After the sharing time, point out the diverse manner in which group members experienced change. Ask the group the following question:
1. What were the various factors involved in the stories of growth we just shared with one another? Are there any commonalities?
Leave time for members in your group to pray for each other. Life change will happen only as the Spirit works, and we should ask Him to move in our midst.
In this session, you want group members to face their own propensity to choose sinful actions and attitudes. While there are certainly factors that influence each of us to sin, we are individually responsible for choosing to act or think sinfully. Discuss some of the following questions:
1. What does Romans 1 say about our individual responsibility for sin?
2. How does Paul address any excuses we make for our sin?
3. Can you give examples from the present that are similar or related to the sin issues Paul cited in Romans? How do these present issues affect you?
4. In Galatians 5:19-21 (NET), Paul identifies the “works of the flesh” as “sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things.” How do these reflect an outlook oriented toward the self? (For instance, what are the self-serving motivations that underlie immorality, impurity, sensuality, and so on?)
5. These overt manifestations of the flesh can be summed up by two broad categories of motivation: the desire for control and power (“What can I do?”) and the desire for selfish gratification (“What can I get?”). How do these motives work out in more subtle ways in your life contexts (such as your workplace, family, and church)?
6. If the flesh is “the outlook oriented toward the self,” what resources do we Christians have (Scripture, for example) to help us overcome this orientation? How can we take advantage of those resources?
Make sure the group is aware of the “Seven Deadly Sins” exercise to be completed for the next session.
This session and the next two could be critical points for your group’s progression through this study. In this session, you will begin to prepare for the exercise called “A Letter from Your Tempter,” in which group members will write what their experience with sin is like. In sessions 5 and 6, group members will share their letters with one another.
Use the following questions to help members open up. Do not pry into every area, and be sensitive to members’ fear of sharing. The exercise next week will cover many of these issues at a more personal level. Pray for your group as you open the sharing. Your honesty and vulnerability as the leader will set the tone for the group.
If you have a mixed-gender group, it might be wise to separate into same-sex discussion groups for sessions 4 through 6. Choose someone of the opposite sex to lead the second group. Use the following questions or come up with your own:
1. How do you feel about revealing areas of sin and struggle in your life? How do you want others to respond to you when you do so? What is your greatest fear about how others might respond?
2. Do you think revealing areas of struggle with sin can be a positive experience? If so, how? If not, why not?
3. What was your reaction to the descriptions of the seven deadly sins?
4. How difficult was it for you to determine your one or two most prevalent issues of sin?
5. Would other people who know you fairly well identify those same sin issues for you? Why, or why not? Is anyone besides you aware of those current areas of struggle?
6. Are the one or two most prevalent sins in your life recent struggles, or have you struggled with them for a long time?
7. Can the main sin in your life change depending on your life circumstances? What life circumstances cause you to struggle more with one area than with another?
Take some time at the end of the session to explain the “Life Change” exercise called “A Letter from Your Tempter.” As the leader, you should be quite familiar with the exercise and able to answer questions about how to write the letter. Before the end of the session, make sure to indicate who will be sharing their tempter letters in the next session so those persons can be prepared.
Each person will read his or her tempter letter over the course of two sessions. You should decide whether you will read your letter first or ask for a volunteer to go first.
The advantage of reading yours first is that you give the group an example of how to vulnerably share sin issues. The disadvantage is that you have no control or influence over how the group responds to your letter. It’s ideal to have a trusted group member share his or her letter first so that you can lead the group’s response to that first letter.
The response to these letters is of critical importance. Because this is a form of confession, group members need to listen carefully and compassionately. Lead the response by asking if there is any way that the group members can support the person who shared. Allow group members to respond by asking follow-up questions or offering appreciation to the reader for sharing. Most important, take time after each letter to pray for the reader.
Provide a good model for asking helpful follow-up questions. For example, “You said that the sin seems to provide you with an escape from reality. What in your life are you seeking to escape from?” If the reader is too ambiguous about his or her struggle with sin, the following questions can help. However, use them with caution. If the group member is uncomfortable revealing specific details about sin issues, don’t try to force vulnerability. Such attempts will destroy any trust you have established.
1. How has your sin manifested itself recently?
2. When are you most susceptible to temptation in these areas?
3. What kind of consequences can you associate with your sin?
Finish each session with two emphases: First, encourage group members to support and pray for each other regarding their struggles with sin; second, remind the group that confession is only one part of growth and that the rest of the study will focus on positive growth in holiness.
This session provides a transition into the latter half of the study with its emphasis on growing in holiness. Growing in integrity is more than simply avoiding sin.We are called to actively pursue holiness. Having an appropriate fear of the Lord not only helps us resist sin but it also motivates us to pursue growth. You want group members to consider how they maintain a healthy fear of the Lord. See Acts 9:31 for an example of the fear of the Lord in the New Testament church.
In your meeting, review the two stories from Genesis chapters 20 and 22, and then facilitate the conversation with the following questions:
1. How is Abraham’s fear of men connected with his fear of God in Genesis 20?
2. In what ways do you not identify with Abraham’s fear of God in Genesis 22? In what ways do you identify with it?
3. How might we tend to act as if God is malicious?
4. How might we tend to act as if He is permissive?
5. Does our culture hinder us from cultivating appropriate reverence for God’s authority? If so, how?
6. How do we live as children under grace while maintaining fear of the Lord?
7. How does your reverence for God affect your attempt to guard against the areas of struggle you discussed in previous sessions?
8. How do you deal with the inevitable tension of fearing God and also having an intimate love relationship with Him?
9. Are you growing in the fear of the Lord? What contributes to your growth in this area? What keeps you from experiencing more growth?
10. How can we as a community contribute to your growth in the fear of the Lord?
The issue for group members to wrestle with is what walking in the Spirit looks like in daily life. How does someone depend on the Spirit of God as he or she pursues holiness? Consider asking the following:
1. What did you learn about the Spirit’s role in the Christian life from John 15 and 16? What struck you in your study of those passages?
2. What role does the Spirit play in your growth in contrast to the role you play?
3. Have you experienced times in your life when you depersonalized God? If so, what led you to that point, and what made you aware of it?
4. When we find ourselves having depersonalized God and struggling to relate to Him, how can our situation improve?
5. Have you ever had a “formula” for how to walk by the Spirit? How have such formulas been helpful, and how have they been deficient?
6. As you understand it, what does it mean to “walk by the Spirit”?
7. In defining life in the Spirit, we have used such words as dependence and surrender. What do these concepts look like in our day-to-day lives?
8. In seeking to live a life of complete surrender to the Spirit, what criteria should we use to evaluate what He wants us to do?
9. How have you been doing at living out the life of the Spirit? What has helped you? What has held you back?
Remind group members of the “Spiritual Disciplines” exercise for next week. Let them know that you will want them to share what they learn from the exercise.
Begin the session by having group members share about the “SpiritualDisciplines” exercise from “Life Change.” You can use the following questions to initiate discussion after the sharing:
1. Describe your experience with the “Spiritual Disciplines” exercise. How did it affect your daily endeavor to walk by the Spirit? How were you made more aware of others? How did it affect your ability to serve and love others?
2. How do your current life circumstances affect your exercising of spiritual disciplines? What about your lifestyle hinders it? What helps it?
3. Would you consider yourself a disciplined person by nature?
4. Which is or would be the most difficult spiritual discipline for you? Why?
5. If you were to exercise that discipline, how do you think it would benefit your relationship with Christ?
6. Which of the disciplines listed on page 99 do you practice or have you practiced regularly? Describe the impact of each discipline on your moment-by-moment dependence on God.
7. Which of the disciplines listed on page 99 have you never practiced at all? How might one of those disciplines affect your pursuit of holiness?
8. Which pitfall—legalism or passivity—are you more likely to fall into? What helps you avoid that pitfall?
9. How do personality type and temperament affect one’s approach to spiritual disciplines?
10. How do you think your personality contributes to a proper or improper exercise of spiritual disciplines?
Make sure the group understands the “Fruit of the Spirit” exercise and comes ready to share next week.
Facilitate a conversation in which group members relay what aspects of the fruit of the Spirit they see in one another’s lives. Simply open up discussion by saying something like, “After going through the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ exercise, how do you see those characteristics in the lives of other group members?” Let members be silent for a while if they’re reluctant to be the first to share. If no one starts after a lengthy silence, you should be prepared to share some of your own observations about fruit in group members’ lives. Also, have group members respond to the following questions after the sharing time:
1. In what areas of your life are you struggling to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit? In what areas of your life are you seeing growth of the Spirit’s fruit most prominently?
2. What characteristics of the Spirit’s fruit do you try to develop in your own life?
3. How can the presence of Christian community in your life help you cultivate the fruit?
4. How can exercising a spiritual discipline help you bear fruit?
In this session, you want to emphasize that the purpose of this study is not just growing in integrity for a few months but for the rest of your lives. Use the following questions to help group members think through their perspective on growth as a lifelong endeavor:
1. How would you describe the season of life you are in right now?
2. What are some unique challenges in this season of your life?
3. Have any of those challenges caused you to struggle in an area in which you previously considered yourself to be strong? If so, how?
4. What unique opportunities for growth does this season provide?
5. Describe an experience in your life in which you faced the temptation to sin in an area you had previously experienced growth.
6. How has God used a failure in a particular season of life to cause you to grow?
7. What lessons from previous seasons do you find most useful in your current season?
8. What lessons are you learning in this season that you think will be particularly important in future seasons?
9. How would having a view of yourself and your Christian maturity that is too high affect your ability to grow in integrity over a lifetime?
10. How would a view of yourself that is too low affect your ability to grow in integrity over a lifetime?
11. In what ways might you experience new challenges to your integrity as a result of taking on new roles or entering new life stages? (For example, getting married, having children, facing an empty nest.)
12. How does having to relate with certain types of personalities uniquely challenge you in certain areas of integrity? (For instance, you might be tempted to gossip when you have to work with someone who tends to gossip.)
As you wrap up this session, leave about fifteen minutes for group members to express what they have learned from this study. Doing so will help solidify the lessons they have learned. You might ask something like, “How has this study had an impact on your spiritual life? What have you learned or relearned as a result of it? What do you want to take with you from this study?”
We hope this study has been helpful for you and your group members. We desire to provide materials that help believers grow in Christ through small-group communities. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions!
Phone: (214) 841-3515