Separation. Divorce. Cancer. Conflict. Job loss. Loss of loved ones … parents, a spouse, a child. If you stay with a small group for any length of time, you will experience these big issues among group members who may have differing opinions on the issues. These journeys can take two different paths as a couple or an individual wrestles directly with the crisis. They can walk through the crisis with God or without Him. And if they choose with God, it means the entire small group will deal with it as well.
One of the best things a leader and a small group can do is be prepared for the big issues. Just because this is a group of believers does not mean they are immune to the difficulties of this life. Any of these life-altering challenges trigger strong emotional responses. When a couple separates and is considering divorce, there may be anger, sadness, or disbelief. A cancer diagnosis or health crisis may bring intense feelings of fear and shock. And with the loss of a loved one, it is normal to grieve and feel a sense of isolation.
Whether to send the kids to public or private school or to homeschool can be a big issue within a small group. Choice of political party, theological views, or personal priorities for an individual or family can impact a small group. It is pretty much a guarantee that all the people in your small group will not agree on everything. And actually, that is pretty healthy as well.
The small group needs to be a safe place to share and work through feelings, challenges, and things the members may not understand. It also allows others in the group to learn from others when they face similar situations. Helping one another cope with the emotional aspects of these big issues is important. But the biggest difference for a small group is also to provide care for the person’s soul and to make sure he or she is spiritually nourished and healthy. Some of this will occur naturally as the group meets, but more often, it is ongoing outside of the group meeting.
However, sometimes the big issues hit right in the middle of your small group meeting time. People can have differing opinions and experiences that influence them to speak up with opposing views. How do you handle that, especially when it is a theological conflict or puts people at odds?
Acknowledge the Conflict, Differing Views, and/or Perspectives
Don’t try to ignore the issue. Be bold and tackle it head-on with the group. Remind the group that various life experiences and circumstances may cause us to see things from opposite viewpoints at times. It is OK to disagree. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and each one of us has a unique and personal relationship with Christ. If an issue needs to be confronted, pray about whether or not it should be addressed with the whole group or one-on-one. If a group member is in the middle of a separation or divorce, he or she needs to feel the support of the group, but he or she also needs wise biblical counsel. Sometimes, that needs to be a private conversation. On the other hand, if a group member takes an opposing biblical view on a theological issue, it may be good to wrestle through the issue as a group and to understand how someone might adhere to that view.
Remind the Group They are Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Christ is the common bond. With that in mind, we are to handle our disagreements or conflicts in a way that honors Christ and demonstrates respect to one another. This means continuing to honor Christ with our comments and conversation. It means not attacking the individual but facing the issue and looking at it humbly from all angles, even those he or she disagrees with. Regardless of differing viewpoints on issues, believers are bonded together in Christ. This means keeping the name of Jesus lifted high, walking through life together, and making sure His name is not tainted. John 13:35 says they will know we are Christians by our love. It is important that, even in the midst of disagreement, other believers and non-believers see Christians demonstrating respect, kindness, and love towards others.
Turn to Scripture
What does the Bible say about the issue? How is God’s character revealed through our decisions or stance? Can I defend my stance and back up my view with Scripture? Allow the group members to talk about their experiences. But as a group, it is also your responsibility to point out false information or teaching in a kind way. Remind the group members that being a part of a group means creating a sense of belonging, but it also means accepting the reality of accountability to truth and growth in the Scriptures and in faith. Help individuals feel they are understood and not alone even when they are being corrected or shown truth. Turning to the Bible is really important when theological disagreements arise in a small group. The group members need to know what they believe, and why, and they need to be able to back up their beliefs with the Bible.
Sometimes the conflicts or disagreements that come with a small group are resolved easily. And other times they do not reach an agreement at all. Discouraging, I know. But the reality is, there are differing theological perspectives that can be supported by Scripture and great theologians through the centuries. Even after biblical counseling and trying for reconciliation in a marriage, some couples divorce. Take time to follow up with all in the small group after a big-issue discussion to let people debrief the experience. Remind them that people who are doing life together see the good and the bad of humanity. It is OK to be friends with people who have differing views and opinions.
What are some examples of big issues that your small group has faced? How did the group handle the differing opinions and viewpoints? What is your go-to Scripture verse that helps you during times of conflict or disagreement with others? Tell us in the comments below!
Michelle Hicks is the managing editor for Journey devotional magazine with LifeWay Women. Michelle served as a freelance writer, campus minister, and corporate chaplain before coming to LifeWay. She is a graduate of the University of North Texas and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Michelle has a deep hunger for God’s Word and wants others to discover the abundant life they can have with Jesus as their Lord and Savior.