When I started as a small-group director, I didn't foresee how many tough conversations I'd have to have. And frankly, it threw me for a loop.
I wasn't prepared for what seemed like constant conflict, and I wasn't trained for handling these tricky situations with grace. Add to that the fact that I was young, a recent college graduate, and a former member of the church's youth group, and it was tough to be taken seriously.
When a Difficult Conversation Becomes Dire
One conversation, though, stands out in my mind. As the director of our church's brand-new small-group ministry, I coached the handful of group leaders. I occasionally visited the groups to encourage the leaders and observe the health of the groups. All of my experiences had been really positive. And then I visited the final group.
I let the leader know weeks in advance about my visit, and she expressed excitement. That excitement carried over to the actual visit where she served special treats and thanked me for joining them for the night. I felt special and welcomed.
But then the discussion started, and I observed a very unhealthy group meeting. The leader started gossiping about another leader in the church, sharing very personal information. The group members eagerly discussed the information, and it became clear to me that this was the normal pattern for group meetings. In fact, the group members knew a lot of sensitive information that only the group leader should have known. I was shocked.
I stayed quiet for a while, just observing the interaction, and wondering how the leader might regain control of the meeting. As it became clear that she was the instigator, I started subtly trying to change the topic to no avail. I couldn't believe what I was witnessing, and I didn't know how to stop it.
After the meeting, I spent a lot of time in prayer. I didn't know how to bring up the problem with this leader, but I knew I needed to do it—and soon. As I looked through my coaching notes from the past few months, I noticed a trend of people leaving her group. I contacted some of the people who had left to get their story. I heard several times that the group had started to gossip and they hadn't felt comfortable.
I felt like a failure. This had been happening right under my nose, and I had no idea. I was determined to fix the problem right away, and I was worked up about how bad I had let it get. My ego was bruised, and I was embarrassed that this leader that I had trained was sharing so much sensitive information with her group members. And that drove me to want to put an end to the issue—at any cost.
I set up a meeting with the leader at a local restaurant. Over lunch I expressed what I had experienced at her group meeting and why I felt it was unacceptable. I did a lot of talking, actually. When I finally let her speak, she was furious, and she explained that she didn't respect me and wasn't going to listen to me—even if I was her coach.
It was an ugly conversation that dug a canyon between us, and, unfortunately, it was never bridged.
Learning the Hard Way
I still look back at that situation and consider how I might have handled it differently. I realize now that my bruised ego blinded me from approaching the situation with humility. Rather than ask for her perspective first, I jumped in with my accusations. Rather than open up the leader to have a conversation about expectations about sharing sensitive information, I prompted this leader to put up a wall of protection and shut me out.