Conflict is a necessary part of community, and yet we hate it and avoid it as much as possible. But without conflict, life never develops—we never develop. Consider any movie. There is always conflict. Without it, the characters would never change, and we wouldn't care about them.
More than being afraid of conflict, we're afraid of ugly conflict. But conflict doesn't have to be mean or ugly. Conflict is merely any anxious situation that begs to be resolved. Without it, we never move or progress, and nothing ever gets better. Problems are never identified as problems. Grace, growth, development, ministry, and forgiveness never occur.
There will be conflict in our small groups. People will disagree. People will get on each other's nerves. People will be immature and selfish and sinful. But don't let it stop there. You need to work through the conflict in order to come out better on the other end. Things need to be called out and identified. Truth needs to be spoken. Love needs to be extended.
The role of a good small-group leader is to recognize conflict and help group members face it well. And that requires that we don't avoid it or believe that because we're all Christians it shouldn't happen. Facing conflict well means doing it with respect and commitment to each other. Without respect and commitment, conflict can turn ugly, and we hit the road as soon as conflict arises—something we often see in our culture.
We need to identify and name conflict for what it is. And we need to challenge our group members to stay committed to each other as it's worked through. We need to challenge people to "grow up," show grace, and stick it out. We need to teach people to compromise for the sake of continuing relationships. We also need to teach people the correct time to call it quits. Determine to see conflict as a way of growing into maturity in Christ.
Here are some principles to successfully navigate conflict in your small group:
- Remember that conflict is good. It's what leads to being closer. Shallow relationships never have conflict; growing relationships do.
- You don't have to agree, only reach an understanding you can live with.
- Your relationship is more important than this single issue. Determine that you're going to stay committed to each other while you work through this issue.
- Keep talking to each other. Relationships dissolve when we isolate. Compromise and commitment come when we stay at it.
- Talk to each other, not everybody else. We want to validate our feelings by finding people who'll back our position, but this leads to gossip. Talk out conflict with the people involved, not people who aren't.
- Keep to the facts. Very often conflicts escalate to places that end up being all about hurt feelings and egos, not the actual issues. Recognize your feelings, even voicing them, but remember that the other person has been emotionally affected as well. Keep a cool head, or take a break until you are able to have one.
- It's okay to fight, but fight fair. Stay away from low blows or cheap shots. Respect the other person and speak in a way that expresses your concern without placing blame. It really goes a long way toward reaching a resolution.
—Jay Firebaugh is the Director of Small Groups at New Life Church in Gahanna, Ohio; used with permission.