As a small-group pastor or director, your role is incredibly vital. It's your job to help your church live out Jesus' last command to go make disciples. It's your job to get the people in our church out of the pews and into relationships that will grow and sustain not only their faith but their entire lives.
It's far too important of a responsibility for it to be done with mediocrity, so we go to the conferences, read the books, and call the experts to figure out how to effectively create community and make disciples.
But that's not enough.
We have to communicate the vision for community and discipleship to our leaders, congregation, and senior pastor—and we have to implement all of the systems and strategies that we've figured out. When we being implementing those systems, we create opportunities for conflict:
- There's a scheduling conflict between small groups and the prayer and worship night.
- You change how often groups meet, and you're met with opposition from long-time members.
- The big announcement about groups during weekend services gets relegated to an afterthought because of the building campaign.
- Everyone agrees small groups are important, just not important enough to give up either the Sunday night or the Wednesday night service to make space in the calendar.
- The volunteer leader you put into a senior leadership role doesn't seem to be doing much leading.
- A small group leader has great ideas, but they don't fit with the system you just implemented.
- Although your lead pastor keeps saying he'll talk more about small groups in his sermons, he hasn't mentioned them since 1995.
I'm sure you could create a list all your own unique to your own church culture. The reality is that any time you're doing something well, you're going to create tensions and create opportunities for conflict. Doing something well means focusing, and that requires saying no to some potentially good things so that you can do a few things with excellence.
If you're going to have an excellent small-group ministry, you might have to say no to men's ministry. And that's going to create tension.
If you're going to have an excellent small-group ministry, your lead pastor has to lead the way, and you might have to respectfully nudge him or her along.
If you're going to have an excellent small-group ministry, you have to have an excellent leadership team, and you might have to remove a wonderful, well-meaning volunteer from a role she's ill-suited for.
In short, if you truly want an excellent small-group ministry, you have to embrace the conflict.
Learning to Embrace Conflict
I don't particularly like conflict. I just want to put my head down and do my job, but when something comes up, I'm faced with a choice. Do I embrace the conflict? Or do I avoid it?
There are two concepts you have to embrace personally if you're going to be willing to embrace conflict.
1. You have to care more about your mission than about being liked.
When your primary concern is making sure people like you, you won't rock the boat. You won't have difficult conversations with people because you'll be too concerned that they won't like you.
The reality is, I wasn't hired to make friends. Okay, that's not entirely true. The mission statement of both small-group ministries I've led has specifically included the sentence "Make friends."
Let me put it another way, I wasn't hired to be best friends with everyone on staff or in leadership at the church. I was hired to help facilitate relationships, discipleship, and mission in our church community. Sometimes that means that putting the needs of the ministry ahead of being liked.