There are 7.7 billion people in the world. According to the Myers-Briggs personality test, there are sixteen different personality types. The Enneagram defines 9 personality types, and the StrengthsQuest test defines 34 dominant personality traits (strengths) that people have. And Murphy’s Law says that if you are leading a small group, you will have some crazy configuration of all of these in your group. 😉
With all of these personality types, it is inevitable that conflict will eventually arise. Sometimes the conflict is as small as just getting on each other’s nerves, but sometimes the conflict is much more complex. As leaders, we have the unique opportunity to steward our group members to into godly, healthy relationships (Luke 12:42). A steward is defined as one who administers anything as the agent of another or others. We have the opportunity to administer godly peace and reconciliation within our groups.
In his book The Peacemaker, Ken Sande put it like this: “The concept of stewardship is especially relevant to peacemaking. Whenever you are involved in a conflict, God has given you a management opportunity. He has empowered you through the Gospel and entrusted you with the abilities and spiritual resources. The more faithfully you draw on his grace and follow his instructions, the more likely you are to see a constructive solution and genuine reconciliation.“
So how do we steward our small groups effectively when conflict arises? Here are some guidelines:
This is a no brainer but seems to be the step we so easily leave out. How can you step in and speak on the Lord’s behalf when you haven’t even asked Him what He wants you to say? We as humans are complex; the Lord is even more so. How many times in our lives have we thought that we knew what someone was thinking only to find out later that we were completely wrong? We all have the tendency to assume things that aren’t true. Don’t assume you know how God wants you handle a situation or what He wants you to say on His behalf without asking Him. If you want to glorify God in the midst of conflict, ask Him how (2 Chron. 16:9).
Model Biblical Confrontation
Don’t avoid conflict. Ignoring conflict won’t make it go away, and resentments that aren’t addressed will simmer and sometimes lead to the breakup of your group. Whether the conflict is direct (for example, an argument) or indirect (people ignoring each other or talking about each other behind the other’s back), your group most likely knows it is happening. As a leader, you have the opportunity to step in and model reconciliation. And since most conflict is the result of miscommunication, you have the opportunity to model good communication skills as well (Hebrews 12:14).
Romans 12:18 says “If possible, as far it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” For a leader, this means don’t take sides. Love the easy to love and those who are a bit harder to get along with equally. If we are being honest, there are usually a few of each in any small group, and our natural tendency is to gravitate toward people who are easier to get along with. As the group leader, no matter the situation, you are Switzerland.
Sometimes our desire is to determine who is right and who is wrong in order to move past the conflict quickly. And while that is one way to handle conflict, it isn’t always the best way. Again, it is best if we don’t just assume that we know what others are thinking. Ask people to help you understand their thought process. Why did they say the things they said or do the things they did? Sometimes your role isn’t to tell people that they are wrong; sometimes it is to help people come to the realization of their own sin by asking some well thought out questions.
Trust the Holy Spirit
You have bathed this conversation in prayer. You have prayed over what to say and how to say it. You have prayed for the people involved in the conflict, and you have prayed for your small group. You have prayed that the Lord would be glorified in the situation. You have mustered up the courage to have the hard conversation, and once it is over, you need to trust that you said exactly what the Lord wanted you to say—no more and no less. There is no need to circle back and address a point you forgot to touch on in the initial conversation. If you truly bathed the conversation in prayer and forgot to say something, then trust that it needed to be forgotten. In the words of the great theologian Elsa from Frozen, “Let. It. Go.”
Don’t forget that the ultimate goal of addressing conflict within your group is peace within the body of Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Even though leading or being a part of a small group can, at times, be hard, these groups play a vital role in fulfilling God’s mandates to us to bear one another’s burdens and live in community. The people and relationships that God has placed in our lives and in our small groups are worth fighting and doing the hard things for.
And lastly, don’t underestimate what the Lord wants to do in you when He places you in the position of peacemaker. Ephesians 4:15 encourages us, “speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ.” In this verse, it is the speaker and not the listener that the Lord says will grow more like Him. When we practice biblical confrontation, it not only models Christlikeness to our group but it develops Christlikeness in us. When we are brave enough to address conflict and speak truth, everyone looks just a little more like Jesus.
Angie Shepherd is a small town girl from Louisiana who lives in Nashville and works for LifeWay coordinating Women’s Ministry events across the U.S. She found her passion for developing and discipling women while in college at Louisiana Tech University. This passion led her to service with the IMB, seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and service at various churches, ministries, and universities. In her spare time she loves reading crime novels, laughing, planning outings with friends, and Sunday afternoon naps with her dog Oliver.