Healthy conflict-resolution starts long before an issue arises. Establishing expectations with your small group can not only avoid some conflicts, but also ensure healthy conflict resolution when conflict occurs. Whether written in a covenant or simply discussed from time to time as a group, there are several values you should make clear:
- A spirit of open prayer, both as a group and individually
- An affirming and encouraging atmosphere
- Availability of group participants and their resources to one another
- Realness and respect with other group participants, and speaking the truth in love
- A safe atmosphere for sharing, including confidentiality, respect, and an allowance for differences of opinion
- Sensitivity to the needs of others and to the circumstances and histories that produce those needs
In addition to holding values of safety, confidentiality, and sensitivity, group members should know what healthy conflict resolution looks like. Here are some biblical principles on conflict resolution that help resolution go smoothly and end with mutual growth. Consider sharing some or all of them with your small group.
- Do not divulge resolved or unresolved conflict to those outside the group. Confidentiality is an important piece in constructive confrontation. Issues with another person need to be settled privately before publicly (Matthew 18:15-17).
- Express your emotions honestly with self-control (Ephesians 4:26-27).
- Don't hold a grudge or hold a matter over someone's head (1 Corinthians 13:5).
- The goal of confrontation is peace and mutual edification (Romans 14:19). Therefore, do not quarrel (Proverbs 20:3; 2 Timothy 2:24) or return an insult for an insult (1 Peter 3:8-9).
- Do not be self-centered in your resolution of conflict (Philippians 2:4). Extend grace and encourage the other person (Ephesians 4:29-32).
- Discern what your underlying intentions and motivations are for your involvement in confrontation before taking any action (Proverbs 13:10; James 4:1-3). Be self-critical before being critical of the other person (Matthew 7:1-5) and speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15, 25).
- Think before speaking (Proverbs 15:23, 28).
- Be quick to empathize with the other person instead of attempting to correct or "fix" his or her feelings (Romans 12:15; 1 Corinthians 12:26).
- Be thoughtful and sensitive to really hear what the other person is saying (Proverbs 14:29; James 1:19).
- Don't say anything about a person that you wouldn't say if he or she were standing there with you (Proverbs 18:8; 2 Corinthians 12:20; cf. 1 Timothy 5:19).
When conflict does arise, use the group setting to your advantage. The group can work together to understand the issue and resolve it. Plus, they hold one another accountable to the values and principles discussed at the beginning of the group. Use the issue to unite the group, not divide it.
As the leader you might also look to outside people for additional help in handling the situation well.
- Obtain feedback and suggestions from other small-group leaders during leadership team meetings or training events.
- Ask your coach to advise you.
- Have your coach visit your small group to mediate a conflict or offer helpful feedback.
Conflict makes a lot of people nervous. So prepare ahead of time to help group members feel more at ease and prepared with how to handle conflict well. As your group tackles conflict in a healthy and mutually beneficial way, group members will begin to see conflict as a source of growth instead of worry and fear.
—Reid Smith is the Community Life Pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and the founder of the 2orMore small-group leadership training and resource ministry. Copyright by the author. Used with permission.