How to Handle Emotions in Your Small Group

How to Handle Emotions in Your Small Group

When groups value authenticity, it’s only a matter of time before we face a highly emotional moment.
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Minister Through Touch

Some leaders don't feel comfortable reaching out and touching members of their group. Some leaders give everyone they meet the disclaimer that they're a "hugger." Neither is right or wrong, but appropriate physical touch is a very healthy way to respond to high emotion in a group.

I was at a ministry fair several months ago when a woman new to our church came in. She began telling me how she and her husband were in the process of divorce and that she was feeling lost and hopeless. The look in her eyes told me that the situation was still raw and new.

My friend Julie, who used to lead our divorce recovery ministry, happened to walk in. I flagged her down, and she joined us in the conversation. The woman began to tell her story to Julie and was only two sentences in when Julie simply said, "I am so, so sorry" and embraced her.

I was a little taken aback by the abruptness of the action as the woman started to cry hard into Julie's shoulder. I later realized that Julie, having been in this woman's shoes before, knew exactly what was needed. She knew in a way I might never know.

Intelligent words were not what the woman needed in that particular moment. She was not seeking counsel. She might not have used these specific words, but she had come to church seeking comfort and safety. Julie created that for her in a profound way.

Could someone be coming to your group in the same condition or with the same spiritual need? Could this be what is behind a display of emotion during one of your sessions? A hug may be appropriate, or you may simply put your hand on a person's shoulder. Consider, though, how touch might minister to your group members in the midst of high emotion.

Turn to God in Prayer

It should be no surprise that an intense moment in a group would lead to prayer. It especially makes sense in a time of high emotion. Emotion is the unedited expression of a person, and it makes sense to communicate these emotions to God through prayer.

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus tells his disciples, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Matthew 26:37). In this time of deep pain and sorrow, Jesus expresses his emotions to God the Father and humbly accepts God's response. What a great model to follow in our small groups.

And while we Jesus prays for himself, there is also value in praying for one another, what we call intercessory prayer. When someone is in a time of great need or pain they can benefit from being prayed with or prayed over. Sometimes a group member will not be capable of speaking the prayer that's most needed for their situation in the moment. Their mind might be wandering or they might be feeling overwhelmed. Interceding for another person in such a time is a chance to be "Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us" (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Follow Up

In Luke 15, Jesus shares three parables about lost items of increasing importance. These are rich stories that bring us closer to God's love for us. They demonstrate that God's love is not passive or waiting on us. Rather, he seeks us out and celebrates communion with us.

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