Resolving Small-Group Conflict

Resolving Small-Group Conflict

What I've learned from my mistakes

Note: This article has been excerpted from our Training Tool Effectively Confront Leaders.

The staff of my church used to call me the Pastor of Confrontation. Both my senior pastor and our student pastor were laid back Type B guys. Being the lone Type A on the team, I typically reached my breaking point about a decade before the other guys would get there.

While I was never shy about intervening, sometimes I rushed in unwisely. One situation with a small-group leader definitely got out of hand. The leader came to me complaining of a group member who was undermining her. Between the group meetings, the group troublemaker would call the other group members to ask things like, "How do you think the group is going? Do you feel the leader is doing a good job? Don't you think she talks a lot about herself?" While she appeared to be merely collecting feedback to encourage and support her group leader, she was really trying to undermine the leader. After this had gone on for a while, the group leader came to me.

Making Mistakes

My first question was whether the group leader had spoken to the group member about these calls to other members. She hadn't. In fact, the leader seemed a bit afraid of the woman. I do admit the offender was rather intimidating and imposing. I felt like I needed to stand up for my leader. I felt like I needed to defend her. I put on my super hero cape and intervened. This was my first mistake.

I called a meeting with the group leader, the troublemaker, and a wise, mature small-group coach. The coach was completely impartial and had no knowledge of the situation. Because I was already well triangulated into the thing, I at least had the presence of mind to invite someone more knowledgeable than me to hear them out.

The four of us sat down together. I gave both the group leader and the troublemaker 10 minutes to plead their cases. After each had a turn, we adjourned so I could hear from the small-group coach outside of the room. I asked, "What do you think?"

The coach pointed in the direction of the troublemaker and said, "This one wants to win." I knew we were at an impasse. No one was going to bend. The troublemaker, having been confronted with her offense, wasn't going to repent, apologize, or surrender. There was only one solution. I asked the troublemaker to leave the group. This was my second mistake.

While the group leader appreciated my support of her leadership, it didn't take long for the now excommunicated troublemaker to call every member of the group and stir things up even further. The group eventually dissolved. The leader was deflated. The rest of the group members were stressed by the situation. The troublemaker left the church. Mean ol' Pastor Allen was the problem. And they were partially right.

Good Intentions Gone Wrong

What I attempted to do in this situation was my own version of Jesus' teaching from Matthew 18:15-20:

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that "every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

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