My own comGroup will tell you I’m still a novice at this, but nevertheless it remains one of the most helpful pieces of advice that I have ever received for leading a discussion on a passage of Scripture or teaching in any format: “Own the awkward silence.”
I actually don’t remember where I first heard it put this way, but I remember it being modeled when I was growing up by one of my pastors, Scott Berglin. He would ask me some question about God or Scripture or myself that couldn’t be answered with one word. Then he would just patiently wait in silence as my soul squirmed and my mental gears churned. He wouldn’t do anything to make me feel more comfortable. Nothing. He wouldn’t rephrase the question or change the subject. He would just ask and wait. And that is what makes him one of the most effective teachers I’ve ever known.
When we ask a good question and let the silence hang, people actually think and so people actually learn. I wonder if churches like ours, with our emphasis on good preaching and right doctrine, tend to be the very worst at this. We can go to church every Sunday and attend multiple Bible studies a week and hardly learn at all because nobody ever actually challenges us to think for ourselves. Maybe we are even warned about thinking for ourselves.
But I get the sense when I read the gospels that Jesus owned the awkward silence. Can’t you see him asking good questions, looking people dead in the eye, and just waiting? To weather an awkward silence takes vulnerability and patience, of which Jesus had eternal storehouses. Peter seems to be like so many of us, the blurter in the group. He just has to say something. But it is insecurity that needs to fill the silence, which is a road straight to self-importance. I know this from experience.
So is your comGroup learning to follow Jesus? If you aren’t wrestling with honest and challenging questions in your group that get everyone involved, then the answer is no. And the only way to stimulate such discussion is to ask tough questions and let those silences hang. Don’t be afraid of them. Don’t just give the “A” to the “Q.” Other people will blurt, and you can truly lead by gently guiding or pulling back when things go off the rails.
“Love is patient.” To love your comGroup well, you must be willing to vulnerably and patiently let them think for themselves. It’s not exactly safe, but discipleship never is. God forbid our comGroups become pointless echo chambers of mutual affirmation. So love and lead your comGroup well this week: own the awkward silence.