Small Groups online leaders' training: session 5

Please email Pastor Jim Doyle to let him know you are beginning this session…Thank you!

I. Handling Conflict

Thinking things through will lead you to a more constructive confrontation.

Instead, speaking the truth [of Scripture, bathed] in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

It’s okay to experience conflict. In fact, when we, as quirky people are serving quirky people, conflict is bound to occur. It when and how we handle it is what’s important. We want to be able to approach others with grace and humility, without being angry or judgmental.

The following guidelines have been helpful for me in dealing with conflict and may help you as well in your small group leadership role.

1. Explain why you are getting together outside of group time. You want the group member, with whom you are dealing with a conflict, to know that you are there for work through the issue(s) together. You want to exhibit an adult-to-adult relationship. We want to come to the table with the mindset of growth, not fixing someone.

2. Try putting yourself in the group member’s shoes. This will help you understand their perspective better and confront the group member, again, with grace, rather than rage.

3. Ask yourself, “Is the conflict something that’s bothering me/not the way I would do it, or is it truthfully in conflict with Scripture and/or with the group, socially, emotionally, or spiritually?

4. In a word, phrase or one sentence, be sure the group member clearly understands the issue and why it’s disruptive to the group. These allows you to stay on task and not drift.

5. A pastor once told me to always find at least 1% that you can take responsibility for with the issue at hand. This is diffuse any negative emotions and keep your group member from going on the defensive. It also lets the group member know that you want to work on the issue together, and not just there to judge.

6. Envision what could happen if the problem persists. It’s important for everyone involved to understand and acknowledge the potential consequences.

7. Lean not on your own understanding. We need to rely on the Lord’s wisdom, strength, and grace, for only through Him to we experience real change of one’s heart.

Now take these ingredients and think about how you would apply them to the personality traits and difficult situations (below):

Personality Traits

Here’s a super valuable piece of information: You and I, as leaders, are quirky people serving quirky people. We all have our triggers that cause us to react to any person or situation with a bit of instability. We all require a touch of grace from one another. So we don’t want to get in the habit of labeling people as extra needy, for example. However, you will have people in your group who actually do have personality disorders or mental illness. For these people, it’s important to know what additional resource are available in and through our church, such as our licensed counselors (760.929.0029 ext.100).

But more often than not, you will typically face group members who can unintentionally control the group by their moods, behavior, and/or attitudes. For example, they talk too much, they don’t talk enough, they want too much control, they offer too much advice, they complain or gossip, and so on. Now, grace is sufficient for the first time offense, but if there’s a pattern of behavior, it should not be ignored, with the goal of helping the group member become fully integrated into the life of your group.

“The effort you exert to improve a difficult relationship is almost always rewarded with new vitality for you and your group.” (Les Parrott)

Enjoy this video:

Tough to have a small group of one…huh! So, let’s take a look at a number of personalities and how to work with them:

Michael, the Talker

He actually interrupts others and often dominates the dialog during the Bible study time, and even during fellowship time.

Thoughts on what to do:
a.  Be sure that allowing everyone opportunity to share is a part of your ground rules.
b.  Remind the group that everyone benefits when more people are able to participate.
c.  If you’re seated next to Michael, you’ll have less eye contact on him, which means he won’t have as much of an urge to talk.
d.  Privately encourage Michael to allow a number of others to speak before he does, even if there is a silence while people are thinking.
e.  If none of these ideas work, again, humbly talk to Michael privately. Be honest with him, giving examples to him, and asking him to give input for the solution(s).

Alicia, the Advice Giver

She has a tendency to provide a “remedy” on the heels of what any group member shares at any time during her group’s gathering, be it during fellowship, prayer, or Bible study.

Thoughts on what to do:
a.  Remind the whole group periodically of the ground rules, which should include information about not giving advice unless it’s asked for.
b.  If this doesn’t help, talk to Alicia private as soon as possible after her most recent offense.
c.  Involved Alicia in the process of how she can overcome this divisive habit.

Jordan, The disconnected Guy

Jordan lives in the shadows as a group member.  He seems to be a good listener and will respond to questions if asked. But he hasn’t really become known to the other group members.

Thoughts on what to do:
a.  Get together with Jordan one-on-one outside of group.
b.  Then, bring another group member with you to meet with Jordan outside of group time.
c.  Help Jordan find ways to serve the group.
d.  Sit across from Jordan during group time to make eye contact, which often invites a group member the freedom to share more.
e.  Publicly praise Jordan when he participates in the group time in one way or another.

Christine, not quite biblically accurate

Christine appears to have a private line to God. She often uses the words, “The Lord told me..,” but, unfortunately, she tends to be Biblically inaccurate most of the time.

Thoughts on what to do:
a.  Be aware of the fact that she may indeed have a deeper connection with the Lord. Appreciate her for that. She just needs to learn a different approach so as to not intimidate others.
b.  If she is actually speaking out of pride, then you can work through that issue with her privately.
c.  Encourage her privately to write down her thoughts/responses, check them against the Bible, and then, if necessary, share her thoughts the next week with her group.
d.  If she continues, please seek advice from your ministry leader, pastor, or director.

George, the Debater

Only, his participation almost always leads to aggression and arguments, even being critical toward others at times.

Thoughts on what to do:
a.  As with any of these personalities, pray for him.
b.  Find ways to appreciate him and his desire to lively discussion.
c.  Clarify the ground rules with him.
d.  Talk to him privately about how his approach intimidates, affects, and hurts others, and help him to learn to rephrase his comments/responses.

James, with some disabilities

James appears to be on the outside looking in. You’ve come to find out that he has been diagnosed as bipolar and is on the autism spectrum. His attitude and actions are becoming increasingly difficult for the other group members.

Thoughts on what to do:
a.  Pray for wisdom and insight.
b.  Seek professional advice from at least one of our staff counselors.
c.  Ultimately if James is going to remain in the group, you will have to set specific guidelines/rules of engagement for him, such as he has to be on his meds, he has to be seeing a counselor, you have to give him specific direction on when he can talk and for how long, and at any time, he gets off track, you have his permission to interrupt him and get the group re-engaged.
d.  Encourage James to come early to help you set up, and use that time to find out how he is doing, holding him accountable to the guidelines you’ve set up.
e.  If he doesn’t comply on a consistent basis, you may have to lovingly ask him to not be a part of the group. Perhaps you can offer an alternative, or at least send him back to your pastor, director, or ministry leader.

Danielle, the legalist

Danielle comes across very legalistic to her group members.  She is low on the scale of grace and intimidates others to the point that often the other group members are afraid to enter into any discussion because of her attitude and actions toward their thoughts and perspectives.

Thoughts on what to do:
a.  Pray for godly wisdom and discernment.
b.  Be aware that Danielle’s legalistic approach may be the tip of the iceberg where deeper issues are below the surface.
c.  At first, try to turn Danielle’s responses over to a trusted group member whom you could call on to respond. Hopefully Danielle would begin to see the value in other group members’ responses.
d.  If the problem continues, you will have to meet with Danielle privately. First appreciate her commitment to remaining firm in the Lord, particularly on the clear truths of Scripture. Then remind her that on anything else there is room for a variety of perspectives and it’s to hers and any group member’s benefit to hear what God has to say through others.
e.  Finally, if she still won’t become a healthy member of the group, you cannot sacrifice the group for one person and you may have to ask her to step out of the group, encouraging her to seek council from your pastor or director.


Handling tough situations

a.  Your group is entrenched in discussion over a theological issue in Scripture, when suddenly a group member cries.
Thoughts on what to do:
Always remember that people come before tasks, which means politely drop what you are discussing and remind the group that’s it’s OK to express deep emotions and even share any troubles. In this moment you’ll have to exercise godly discernment. The group member, we’ll call Jackie, may be open to sharing or having the group pray for her. Or, she may need to step out. Let her tell you. If she does need to step out, please send a trusted women (in this case) with her to be there for her. Be sure to follow-up with her after the meeting.


b.  A group member often is critical of other group members’ responses.
Thoughts on what to do:
Gracious and tactfully step into the dialog and remind the group of your ground rules, which should include:  “It’s okay to disagree, but not to belittle, judge or be argumentative.” If the problem persists, then it will require individual attention outside of group time.


c. A group member often brings his own agenda to network for his business or drum of support for his ministry.
Thoughts on what to do:
Remind the group of its purpose and mission in order to keep it on track. Again, if the problem persists then you’ll have to talk with this person privately, outside of your group time. It’s OK if you give this person an opportunity to share, particularly about his/her ministry once in a while. But otherwise, he/she needs to understand why the group gathers and be committed to that and not talk about his/her business/ministry unless someone inquires about it, say, during the group’s fellowship/social time.


d.  A couple of your group members tend to form their own clique, even during the Bible study discussion.
Thoughts on what to do:
Without embarrassing them, tactfully draw them back into the group discussion, and perhaps at the next gathering time, create a sitting arrangement or break up your group into smaller sub groups so that every group member sits next to someone they don’t know too well. Then you could have some kind of icebreaker that allows them to get-to-know one another better. Be sure to talk with these group members privately outside of group time if they continue to act in isolation and are distracting the group.


e.  A question or comment from a group member is passed over by the rest of the group.
Thoughts on what to do:
Be sure you are in tune with everyone’s responses, particularly during any group discussion. Listening, acknowledging and appreciating group member’s input and involvement is key to the groups health. If this should happen, simply break into the discussion and say something like this: “I love this discussion, and I heard (name) saying something that I’d like for us to hear again and respond to it.”


f.  You find that one or two of your group members have been indirectly designated as the Bible answer people. But they also give unwarranted advice.
Thoughts on what to do:
As with any offense, you hopefully can overlook the first one. However, if and when you need to handle this situation, you can start with jumping in quickly and asking for other group members’ thoughts and responses. If the pattern continues, you need to step in and talk with this person privately. As far as the advice issue is concerned, it’s important to remind the group of the ground rules, which should include something like, “Listen to hear, not to fix or change.” In other words, do not give advice, unless someone asks for it, and even then, be slow to tread in the area of giving advice.


g.  Some group members are always late or don’t show up at all with no phone calls to let you know they won’t be there.
Thoughts on what to do:
Make the effort to contact these people by phone. Try to tactfully find out the reason for their absence, because it may be very legitimate. It may also be helpful for the further growth and development of your group. If the problem is something they are dealing with personally, express care and concern and ask if you or your group can be of any assistance. Be sure to pray for this person or people. If their reasons are due to flakiness or something like that, there’s not much you can do except to graciously encourage them to renew their consistency in attendance.


h.  There’s a big debate on what the next study should be in your group, or the next social event/service project.
Thoughts on what to do:
Take down all the ideas and brainstorm over possible solutions. One simple solution is to do short studies so that you can move from one topic to another in a reasonable amount of time. The same would be for activities and outreaches. You can also ask a group member or more to be the coordinator(s) for the activities, etc., and whatever they come up with, the group has to comply, assuming they continue to welcome input from the other group members before they make final decisions.


i.  A Group member interjects a question or statement on politics that stirs everyone up.
Thoughts on what to do:
Remind the group that you may have to table the question or response to a comment until the next group gathering. But let them know that it’s OK to talk politics at an appropriate time and in an appropriate manner. It is Biblical (Romans 13:1-7), as long as we understand that God is neither Republican or Democrat, or from any other party. We must keep our political talk in check with God’s grace and love, with the church’s teaching, and not allow it to consume the group’s time. If your group experiences any over zealous group members, it’s best to talk to that group member privately, reminding him/her of the group’s mission and practices. Again, it wouldn’t hurt to have a specific study and discussion on politics, helping your group members understand current issues in comparison or contrast to truth of God’s Word. Perhaps you could consider a group study using a non-biased book on the subject.

To finish this session and before moving on to Session Six, please click on this Reading Response link, followed by clicking the submit button, which will provide Pastor Jim with your responses.

Session SIX
Sessions One, Two, Three, Four
Online Training Intro
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