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5 Ingredients for Healthy Community

 

 

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Carl Thomas

Pastor | Live Free Founder | Lover of Jesus, Philly sports, fitness, tattoos, sarcasm, and craft beers.

A core belief we have as a ministry is the need for community in one’s life.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that without community, any healing or recovery effort will be stifled at best, and completely useless at worst.

I’ve seen it over and over again. Guys (and women) buy the books, download the filters, take the courses, and even see a coach or counselor and yet continue to feel stuck in their journey to freedom.

Why is that?

Because at the end of the day community is key to feeling connected and defeating the shame we feel about ourselves and our decisions, and we need to defeat that shame if we are to experience real freedom.

But here’s the thing you can’t miss… Not any community will do.

There are healthy, life-giving, and supportive communities that you can find and join. And then there are communities that are shallow, superficial, disingenuous, and even toxic.

So with that in mind, here are 5 key ingredients to look out for when seeking for a supportive community to join and engage with.

1. The dialogue is open.

What I mean here is that the conversations you see happening among your community members are not guarded or evasive when it comes to certain topics. A healthy supportive community allows for organic sharing and doesn’t avoid the uncomfortable or challenging. Rather, it invites those conversations in the interest of authenticity and emotional growth.

In our communities like Live FreeLive Free Wives, and Small Groups Online we encourage this type of sharing.

Yes, for the most part our members are focusing their talks around recovery-minded interests, but if someone is struggling in any area of life we want them to feel free to share that with their peers.

2. Filters are checked at the door.

This kinda goes hand in hand with the prior point, but even when someone is open with their sharing, they still may feel the need to filter their real feelings and thoughts. And unfortunately, when we feel that we need to filter what we say, that just reinforces the fear that if we express our true selves we’d be rejected and shunned.

A healthy and supportive community is one where people feel comfortable enough to share without the need to sanitize everything they say. That’s not to say that authentic sharing is only “authentic” if it includes a plethora of “F bombs,” but how we express our feelings should be secondary to the need for honesty when expressing our feelings.

In other words, a healthy community prioritizes the substance of one’s sharing over the presentation.

REAL PEOPLE. REAL COMMUNITY. REAL FREEDOM.

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3. You feel challenged, yet respected and loved.

Admittedly this one can get tricky, but even very empathetic communities can fall into the trap of becoming toxic sounding boards or confessional dumping grounds if there is no spirit of healthy challenging present. 

I’ve told our own small group leaders (and members this). 

  • Yes, show up to group every week.
  • Yes, confess your struggles and failures.
  • Yes, express your regret and disappointment.

But don’t stop there!

  • Make the commitment to dig, engage, and ask yourself the hard questions.
  • Invite healthy accountability when you resolve to change things up.
  • Listen to your peers and allow them to speak into your life.
  • Don’t just be content to get things off your chest without the intention of moving forward.

Of course, if your community is there to challenge and encourage you, they need to do so with love and respect. 

Being challenged is one thing.
Being condemned and beat up  for your failures is quite another.

4. There is a purpose for engaging.

I realize that some groups or communities exist just for the purposes of friendships and common interests. But when seeking out a recovery-focused community, ensure that the community you join is there for a specific purpose. 

If you struggle with porn, masturbation, or any other area of sexual integrity, then joining your local rotary club is not going to be of much help. But if you join a recovery-focused small group or online community then there is a much better chance that the relationships you build in those circles will not just be life-giving, but also life-changing.

Yes, we need more open conversations about sex and sexuality in all areas of life (especially in the church). And this is not to say that porn and masturbation talk should be “off-limits” outside a recovery group, but there is a benefit to structured and focused conversations that speak to your unique context and needs. 

5. Grace is freely given, but not “cheap.”

This last one is critical. In fact, if this ingredient is not present in the communities you are a part of, my suggestion is to run for the hills!

Any healthy recovery-focused community or support group should be full of grace and absent of judgment. There’s simply no place for looking down on someone’s else’s situation or struggle in a community of people who are supposed to be there for each other’s betterment.

Thankfully this rarely happens, but even in our communities I’ve had to remove certain members who were unwilling to offer their other peers grace, resorting to scolding and abusive condemnation as their way of “helping” someone out.

That being said, while the grace you receive is freely given, it should never be cheap.

In other words, expect love and affirmation when you screw up, but not enablement. It’s just like Jesus.. He loves us where we are despite our broken state, but he doesn’t want us to stay there and neither should your community.

Unfortunately, finding these types of  groups and communities is not easy. We recognize this, so that’s why we offer Live Free, Live Free Wives, and one of the largest online small group programs out there for men and women impacted by sex addiction.

When we birthed Small Groups Online 10 years ago, we did so with just 1 group and 6 guys.

Today we have 50+ groups with 500+ men and women who meet weekly, loving on each other, challenging each other, and encouraging each other along the way. Our small groups program just plain works and that’s because we strive to make sure it reflects all the ingredients I laid out above.

If you want to make a change, find that community you need to move forward in your life, consider joining one of our online small groups. We offer groups for men, women, pastors, and spouses.

Start your recovery and road to freedom today.

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