I was talking with one of our small group leaders the other day. He told me that he was really concerned that there was an elitist attitude in his group coming from the parents who had chosen to home school or private school their children. His kids were in public school. It was clearly beginning to create a rift in the group. Upon further discussion, I discovered that each family was handling childcare on their own and that the children in the host home were frequently distracting the group, and that these were some of the home / private schooled kids.
Conflict happens in small groups. There is no getting around it, but there are different ways of getting through it. Here are a few of the ways I have observed and what each way might look like if applied to my friend's situation:
- The "Lord is leading us to a new group" approach. This approach grew out of an educational approach to discipleship. Relationships are primarily built in a classroom setting, so when conflict occurs, the people who are offended seem to "sense the Lord's leadership" to find a new class or help out in some other area of ministry. It may sound good, and God often does use conflict to launch ministry (Paul and Barnabus, Acts 15), however, it is not really dealing authentically with the issue at hand. This approach is common not just for Sunday morning groups, but also for groups that meet in homes. The excuses to switch groups are often based on the time the group meets or other priorities, but the underlying reason is conflict. For my friend, this approach might have him feeling the need to launch a new group or to begin moving away from leadership of this group and toward investing himself in another group in some way.
- The "time heals all" approach. This approach refuses to acknowledge there is a conflict. The idea here is that if you just ignore the problem, it will eventually go away. Everyone will send out nonverbal signals that we are not going down that road of conflict ever again. Pretty soon everyone clues in and, voila, the conflict is gone! However, opportunities for genuine sharing and growth are gone as well. A pattern for conflict avoidance is established. It ends up being a nice group of people doing their thing within well-understood boundaries that have taken the life out of the small group. For my friend, this approach means that the next time school comes up he immediately changes the topic making it clear that we are not going there. After doing this a couple of times, everyone else will get the idea and follow his lead.