It’s something that happens in every small group at some point in its journey, maybe in the first couple of weeks or in the first couple of years. But there is going to come a moment when, in a small group meeting, tension arises.
Usually, it happens when your group hits some controversial topic or a scripture that people understand in different ways. Or it happens when you’re discussing something that triggers an emotional response for some people inside the group. And before you know it, people are beginning to debate one another and the volume in the room starts to go up bit by bit until there is a noticeable amount of growing tension.
So what do you do when you’re the leader and this starts to happen? The first thing you want to do is prepare for it ahead of time. In the beginning, you might even want to just say to your group something like, “Hey, I know that at some point we’re going to hit something controversial in our discussions, so let’s just acknowledge that there’s going to come a time when we’re not going to all agree on a topic or what a particular scripture means.”
You can also help group members to see their diversity as something not to be feared but valued. Assure them that different people bring different perspectives and opinions, which enriches and enhances the whole group.
Remember, what we’re not after in small group is uniformity. What we do want is real biblical unity, and this doesn’t mean that we have to agree on everything and on every single verse. So as a leader you have to be willing to live with a little bit of that uncomfortable tension. Your first tendency might be to want to run away from it or just shut it down, but let it go. It’s okay to have tension if it’s healthy debate or a healthy discussion where there is mutual respect.
Yet, there will be those times when a discussion becomes unhealthy and people start attacking each other. This is when you, as the leader, have to step up and muster the courage and the strength of the Holy Spirit to actually intervene. You will have to make the call to shut down a discussion because it could become damaging or hurtful or even cause somebody to possibly leave the group.
One way to keep discussions appropriate and from veering off into a destructive place is to ask everyone to use “I” statements. This means using language like, “I think…” and “As I understand scripture, this is what I believe.” That softens it from being a “I’m right and you’re wrong.”
As the leader of your group, never underestimate the importance of you modeling healthy disagreements by and using appropriate language. Your example will help to create an environment where there’s good open discussion — even a debate at times — but one that always embraces mutual respect.
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