There will always be different opinions in small groups. The discussion exists for each person to talk about what they’re thinking or feeling and digest it as a group. What do you do, though, when there’s a particularly pointed disagreement or when someone violates your small-group covenant?
A small-group leader in our church recently had two group members escalate into a full out argument. It started as one member sharing an opinion about politics. Another member shared their opposing opinion. This evolved into an intense political conflict, which turned into an intense personal conflict. What would you do as the leader?
If you tend toward people-pleasing, you might be tempted to hurry past the incident. The path of least resistance would be to move on or change the subject. It would be scary to risk offending one or both of the small-group members by wading into their escalating conflict. You might worry about what the other members were thinking and what they might think of you as a leader if you got involved.
On the other hand, if we step back and try to see the group through God’s eyes, we might see something different. We would see that these small-group members were identifying more with their political parties than they were identifying by their faith. We would notice that a silent small-group leader on this subject would imply acceptance of conflict being handled in this way, and you’d likely see a repeat offense sometime in the near future.
We are called to action in situations like this. Second Timothy 1:7 reminds us that “the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” Conflict should be handled with God’s spirit and not our own desire for affirmation.
We are called to speak the truth (not just our opinions) within the context of God’s love and our mutual love. Paul said, “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). As a small-group leader, even if you tend toward people-pleasing, we are called first to speak the truth—but in love. We’re not mandated to be the cop in our small group. We are, however, invited to be Christ’s ambassadors to one another, and in this way we will “grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is head, that is, Christ.”
Empower Others to Lead
Some years ago our church decided to launch a new ministry aimed at young adults. We held an initial small group on a Sunday morning after service and it was heavily attended. We were very excited to help this underserved population at our church.
As the Sunday small group continued, we noticed an unexpected dynamic. Each week the same number of people showed up, but there was no consistency in who showed up. We continued on, trusting that things would stabilize. Our pastor warned me that continuing to lead by myself was unhealthy and could end up harming the group as a whole. I felt like I had no choice, though. I was one of the only people who actually attended every week!