Have you ever been in a small group discussion that you wish you weren’t? One of the members monopolizes the time by answering and responding to every person. Another person thinks he is Mr. Fix-It as he gives the whole group unsolicited advice on how to fix everybody’s issues but his. Another member has a special ability to casually bring up every hot button issue and leave everyone cringing. And then, of course, you have the person who derails every conversation by throwing into the discussion a “theological grenade” like, “What’s everybody’s thoughts on predestination and free will?”
If you have been a part of a small group for more than a couple of weeks, you most likely have experienced an awkward group discussion. Though we cannot prevent every awkward moment from happening (see why here!), we do want to have a healthy discussion that benefits all its members. We want to provide a safe and authentic place where people can be real and honest and truly encounter Jesus Christ. Here are guidelines that you can give to help foster an environment where this can happen.
We will listen more than we speak (James 1:19)
Of all the guidelines, this is the one that I struggle with the most. Whether I am just excited about the topic or if I foolishly think I am the expert on the subject, I have a tendency to be quick to speak and slow to listen, opposed to the other way around. No matter how great I think my excessive comments are, it almost always hurts the group more than it helps.
To help reign in my talking, I have used this guideline as a good rule of thumb. When I am listening more than I am speaking, I have a more humble posture as I learn from others. I am also helping create an environment where other people can better process what they are learning by allowing them to engage in the conversation, as opposed to just listening to me talk.
We will speak for ourselves, not others (Matthew 7:3-5)
We have all thought something like this before… we see the topic of the discussion and we say something like, “That’s a good topic. I don’t struggle with that, but I know some of the people in our group do.” We then stop listening for what we need to hear and start telling people what we think is best for them. As Jesus describes, our self-righteousness causes us to miss the “log” in our life because we are too busy pointing out the “specks” in other people’s life.
This is why in group discussions, we ask people to speak primarily in “I” and “Me” statements rather than “them” and “they” statements. We don’t want to talk about what’s wrong with other people or certain political parties and social constructs, but instead, we want Christ to inspect our own hearts and see where we are not in-line with his will. Whenever you hear a question and immediately think of an individual who needs to hear the message, stop and ask yourself, “Where in my life do I struggle with this issue?”
We will support one another, not fix one another (Galatians 6:2, Romans 12:15)
This can be a tricky guideline for people to hold to, especially men. Whenever someone is transparent and shares a struggle, a common tendency is to respond with how the person can fix the issue. By providing our five-step fix-it plan or saying things like, “That’s not a big deal. Just get over it,” we invalidate the person’s struggle and leave them feeling worse than before they shared.
We must remember that Jesus is the one who saves, not us. Instead of trying to fix it, we need to support one another by bearing one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), rejoicing with those who rejoice, and mourning with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). By connecting with the person in the struggle and validating the difficulty of their emotions and feelings, we foster an environment of vulnerability, which creates space for Christ to work in our lives.
We will consider how our comments help foster a safe and authentic group environment (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds us that though all things are permissible, not all things are beneficial. This framework is helpful when considering which topics to discuss in the group. Due to the number of people in the group and its uncontrolled nature, a small group isn’t always the best time to discuss certain topics. For example, certain controversial topics discussed in a group environment may cause division, instead of unity. Similarly, certain theological conversations may cause confusion, more than clarity. A helpful question to ask before speaking is, “Is this group environment the best place to share this comment?”
We will keep what is shared within the group confidential (Proverbs 11:13)
One of the quickest ways to break trust is to break confidentiality. In trying to foster a safe and authentic environment, we want people to have confidence that whatever is said in the group, stays in the group. If there is something you want to share outside the group (celebration, encouragement, etc.), ask the person, “Can I share this with someone outside the group?”