Deal with It! (Part 1 of 2)

Conflict happens. You cannot always anticipate it, but you know it when you have stepped in it. The temptation is to avoid conflict, but that is a mistake! The key to handling most conflict most of the time is to deal with it head-on and right-away in love. Attempting to avoid conflict only invites more of it into a situation; unaddressed tension festers into the kind of conflict that is harmful to group-life. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5). When group leaders address tension in its brewing stage, it can enrich everyone’s sense of belonging and togetherness.

The most violated principle in handling conflict is probably Matthew 18:15, which says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” The first thing believers are instructed to do when they have a problem with another person is to directly and privately address the matter with that person. People tumble into trouble, and disagreements escalate into tragic relational fractures and fissures when they skip this first step and gossip or stew in their feelings.

We must examine our own hearts before we go to deal with conflict. For example, our motivation is off if what we really want deep down is for the other person to see that we are right and apologize to us for the trouble they have caused. Rather, we want to ‘win over’ our brother or sister for the sake of the relationship…not to ‘win’ an argument for our ego’s sake. We will be better prepared to deal with conflict in healthy and productive ways if we ask ourselves these questions before speaking into tense situations:

  • Why am I upset?
  • Is there anything I need to apologize for or let go of? What can I learn from this?
  • Why do I want to go to this person? What is my goal? What do I hope to see accomplished?
  • Do the outcomes I desire benefit me and the person I have a problem with? Would Jesus hope for the same outcome I desire?
  • How can both of us not just move on but grow together as a result of the conflict?

listening1Make it your goal to understand where the other person is coming from and what they are really saying. Begin by asking questions to clarify their perspective: “When you say _____, does that mean _____? Am I understanding you correctly?” If you are frustrated or offended, non-defensively share how you are feeling: “I feel _____ when you _____.”

Next, evaluate whether your disagreement is about something essential to your life and faith. In Romans 14, Paul reminds us that there few things that should create division between Christians (vv. 17-19). He also shares what believers should do after identifying differing opinions: Acknowledge the most important areas of agreement and shared goals. This allows people in a dispute to discuss possible solutions, which might entail compromising on negotiable items for the sake of fulfilling God’s purposes for the group (Acts 15:10-11, 19-21, 28-31).

When you feel like you have arrived at a solution, say so. Make sure the other person sees the solution the same way you do and feels that a resolution has been made. Finally, look for an opportunity to seal your conversation and decision through prayer.

READY ► SET ► GO

New group leaders are looking for direction so be sure to give them steps to help them get their group off to a strong start. Don’t overwhelm them with too much information, but offer just enough guidance so they know what they should do BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER their first meeting. This is an example of a single page resource I’ve used called “Ready–Set–Go”:

BEFORE

  1. Invite as many of your friends as you can think of…
    • Share your vision for the group – why you’re doing it and what you hope people will walk away with.
    • Try to describe the dynamic of the group and the people who will be a part of it.
    • Create an invitational ripple effect by having your friends and new group members invite their friends too.
  2. Invite more people than you have room for (this is b/c usually only half to ⅔ of those who confirm actually end up showing up!). Start with as many people as you can at the beginning because there’s always attrition.
  3. Tell people it’s a short-term experience that could change their lives forever and then they’ll be able to decide if and in what way they’d like to continue.
  4. Let them know there will be food…lots of good food! (If group members commit to bring food to the next meeting, this increases the likelihood they will return.)
  5. Phone or text your sign-ups a day or two before your first meeting.
  6. Pray for your new group and group members!
  7. If you’re using a video-based study, review the upcoming session and any leader/host material in advance.

DURING

  1. Welcome and introduce yourself (be relaxed, be real, and have FUN!).
  2. Share a little background as to why you chose the focus of the group you did and tell them basically what each meeting will look like.
  3. Allow time for people to introduce themselves, sharing who they are and why your group stood out to them.
  4. Acknowledge God’s Presence with you (Mt. 18:20) and share how you believe the Lord will use your new group experience to transform their lives. Depending on how many people are present who are not a part of your church, you can touch briefly on how your group will help everyone to fulfill your church’s mission by living out the biblical purposes of God together.
  5. Model authenticity and affirm each person’s input as you facilitate discussion.
  6. Encourage participants to invite their friends, people they work with, neighbors, parents of their kids’ friends, and other unconnected people at your church to future meetings.
  7. Close your group time in a brief prayer and get a picture.

 AFTER

  1. Let your Pastor or Coach know how everything went and how they can pray for you!
  2. Follow-up with those who didn’t show up by calling them and let them know you missed them, how great the first meeting was, and remind them of when the next meeting is going to be.
  3. Spread the word on social media with your photo and welcome people to join you.
  4. Remind your new group members of your next meeting (and the food they’re bringing) a day or two beforehand.
  5. Review the upcoming session and tailor the discussion questions based on who God has placed in your group.
  6. Start pondering and praying about who you believe could co-lead with you and eventually launch out with their own group.
  7. Over time, share bite-size roles and responsibilities with your group members, see what people gravitate toward, and let them run with it! Rotate the study facilitation as well.

Influencing the Spiritual Climate of Your Group

Have you ever been in a high-pressure situation where you needed to know the facts on how to do something…and fast? Imagine a friend needed YOU to jump in and lead their group last minute. What would you need to know? These principles can serve as your quick-start guide:

  1. Be a people engager – Use the social time with your group to find out how people are really doing and what you can pray for later in the group. If somebody is new, build connections. Also, don’t underestimate the power of “breaking bread together” and how much food helps people take their guard down and build relationships with others.
  2. Be an Immanuel acknowledger – Open your group in prayer and recognize how our God is Immanuel, “God with us.” Remind them that Jesus is in your midst, and where God’s Presence is, there is power to transform lives so every group meeting should be life-changing (Mt 18:20). Call out the things you believe God is going to do in people’s lives – believe for each group member and pray for them by name!
  3. Be a temperature-setter – Group leaders create environments where thclimate1e Acts 2:42-47 kind of community can grow. One of the keys to helping a group go deeper in relationship with one another is authenticity. The more real you are, the more vulnerable others will be – so set the pace and be courageous by being completely yourself! This will help people feel more ‘at home’, open up with others, and participate more in the group.
  4. Be a Scripture sower – The #1 catalyst for spiritual growth is reading and reflecting on God’s Word. It transforms us from the inside-out because it is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16-17). So use every opportunity to refer people back to the Bible, pray Scripture aloud, and weave biblical references into your conversations.
  5. Be Jesus-focused – Use the conversation around your study to point people back to who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Think of Paul, who said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Turning people’s attention to Jesus creates an atmosphere of praise and thanksgiving. Make your group Christ-centered, not curriculum-centered, and invite the Holy Spirit to have His way.
  6. Be generous in love – To follow Jesus’ example, is to love others. Leaders who are rich in love earn the privilege of influencing people spiritually. Take time to learn people’s unique stories, listen to their needs, and pray for their dreams. Generous love does not limit its reach only to those within the group’s circle, but it goes to those who have yet to be transformed by God’s love (Mt 25:40). A group will never grow to its full potential if it does not reach beyond the needs of its own members.

Biblical community will grow when you exercise these principles. Along the way, you’ll experience the thrill of being used by God to inspire real growth in His people and help those who have yet to know Him find their way home.

Leveraging Spiritual Gifts to Build Community

We tend to think about spiritual gifts on an individual level, but it can’t stop there. Groups offer the best environments for discovering how God has graced each one and they’re ideal outlets for believers to exercise their gifts together. The biblical community that grows in groups inspires Christ-followers to be faithful and bold in using what the Lord has deposited in them to advance His Kingdom.

A spiritual gift is a special enablement that God gives to each believer, according to His grace, to build up the Body of Christ (Rom 12:6–8). Spiritual gifts enable us to do things with greater spiritual effectiveness because we’re not operating by our strength alone. The Lord has already called us and empowered us by the Holy Spirit to share them by serving others.

spirgift1.jpgGod’s power flows to and through a group in life-changing ways when spiritual gifts are being used in concert together. As a group leader, you want to be sensitive to the supernatural composition of your group so as you think about how to grow and serve together, begin by asking WHO is in your group rather than WHAT you should be doing. You can facilitate the following three conversation to help in this discovery process.

Conversation #1: Introducing and Identifying Spiritual Gifts

(This first conversation can be done in one or two sittings.)

Part A: Introducing Spiritual Gifts

  1. Introduce spiritual gifts to your group and highlight how every believer has them. Refer to 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:1-8; Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Peter 4:10-11.
  2. Have everyone complete an assessment and bring their results back to share with the group. For examples see:

Part B: Identifying Spiritual Gifts

  1. Invite the group to affirm how they see the spiritual gifts evident in each person who shares.
  2. Draw a circle and segment it according to the number of your church’s values or purposes. Then brainstorm where each of your regular group practices fit under the values represented.
  3. Talk about how the spiritual gifts represented in the lives of your group members relate to your…
    • Church’s values
    • Group’s practices
    • Church’s activities
    • Group fulfilling your church’s mission

Spiritual gifts help believers discover their unique capacity to serve God and effectively advance His purposes in this world. The more we decipher our gifts the better we discern our calling.

The collective gifts of all the group members create a roadmap revealing how the group can best experience God’s power and be most effective on mission together. They also help group leaders empower each one to share the responsibilities for the group and turn its energy and focus outward, keeping it healthy.

Conversation #2: Building Well-rounded Group Life Together

These questions can be used to help engage the group in a conversation on how to leverage spiritual gifts to build community within the group and strengthen its impact:

  1. How can each member use their God-given gifts to strengthen and enrich the group (1 Cor 12:7)?
  2. Which group practices are frequent and active in our group (Bible study, sharing meals, prayer  etc.)?
  3. Which group practices are infrequent or inactive that we need to somehow incorporate in our group life (e.g. sharing the Gospel in word and deed, etc.)?
  4. What is needed to continue developing the frequent group practices and to elevate the infrequent or dormant ones?
  5. How can each one invest their spiritual gifts in our larger church family and further what the Lord is already doing?

The goal is to empower each group member to connect their gift-mix to a group practice that will express your church’s values. Consequently, biblical community will grow and your group members will be empowered to live out your church’s mission together. Empowerment is helping believers do what God has created and commissioned them to do. It is unveiling who they are in Christ and helping them to see themselves the way their Heavenly Father sees them: As His very own children.

Conversation #3: Connecting Spiritual Gifts to Group Practices

spirgift3Think of yourself as a synergist who is administrating gift deployment so that people are built up and God’s purposes are advanced. One way you can empower your group members is to ask each one to champion an area of your group life that’s in keeping with their gift-mix by, which you can approach by…

  1. Recalling your previous conversation around Q4 above and creating a list with two columns: One for what’s needed to continue developing the frequent group practices and the other for what is needed to develop the infrequent or dormant group practices.
  2. Brainstorming with your group what an easy (baby) step could look like for one season or semester of your group’s life together.
  3. Asking group members to pick 1-2 group practices they can picture themselves developing and to give the group a snapshot of what that looks like. Which opportunities tug at their heart the strongest?
  4. Observing what people naturally gravitate toward doing and asking questions to explore their interest level. Help people see connections between development opportunities and the deployment of their spiritual gifts in your group or your larger church family.
  5. Inviting group members to take responsibility to develop or strengthen a group practice for a season/semester of your group life or try deploying their spiritual gifts in a ministry of your church.

As someone is faithful to use their God-given spiritual gifts to build up your group and church, they can be entrusted with a greater sense of stewardship for an area of your group life. This will empower them in ministry, lift the load of responsibility you’re carrying, multiply leadership development, and grow biblical community, which is transformational for everyone.

Selecting and Developing Co-leaders

One of the greatest preventable mistakes made by group leaders is when they try to carry too much – the “I’ll just do it myself” syndrome. If we follow the examples of Jesus and the Apostle Paul, we will purposefully develop others as they serve alongside us (Luke 6:12–13; 2 Timothy 2:2).

Your health and balance as a leader – not to mention the overall health of the group – is dependent on others who will serve alongside you. Having someone to co-lead your group will enhance how you connect with the diversity of people circled up with you. Your co-leader will strengthen how people are cared for in your group and can provide feedback that you would not have otherwise received (Proverbs 27:17). The impact of your leadership will be increased exponentially with the support of one or more co-leaders.

We can find guidance on how to select co-leaders in Luke 6:12-13: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” In this passage, Jesus gives us a four-step process for choosing a co-leader:

  1. He prayed – Earnestly seek the Lord for clear direction and wait until you get it.
  2. He called – Initiate a time to personally connect with who He places on your heart.
  3. He chose – Tell prospective co-leaders what you see in them and why you’re choosing them to partner with you (cf. Mt 16:16-19).
  4. He designated – Empower them to champion specific aspects of group life in keeping with how God has graced them. For practical ways on how you can go about this, see my post entitled: “Leveraging Spiritual Gifts.

devldrs1.jpgIn the process of selecting your co-leader, let them know how you’ll work with them, what it looks like and what they can expect. Start with the end in mind and share a vision for how their leadership will help grow biblical community. Ultimately, experienced co-leaders multiply options for handling numerical growth so new groups can branch out and more people can connect to Christ and the community of His Church.

Groups that have more members taking on more responsibilities are better at making disciples who grow deep and impact wide. Now let’s turn our attention to some tips and tactics for developing your co-leader:

  • Give your co-leader smaller tasks at first and look for opportunities to celebrate their accomplishments. After a period of time, let the group know how this person is helping the group in this role of service (Matthew 23:11-12; Mark 10:42-45). In other words, don’t announce that somebody is your co-leader before they’ve started as if it’s a position, but rather affirm the difference their support is already making for the group.
  • In the beginning, be sure to shower your co-leader with encouragement. As the relationship grows, you can address areas where they need further development. Be sure to end your coaching times on a positive note, and pray together.
  • As co-leaders progress, increase their level of responsibility by preparing for meetings and taking the lead with special events and outreaches. Don’t just delegate tasks to them, but empower them to succeed with greater assignmentsdevldrs3 by applying the following developmental model:
    • I do, you watch
    • I do, you help
    • You do, I help
    • You do, I watch
  • Find ways to share your life with your co-leader outside of regular meeting times. Meet them on their home turf. Discover what’s in their heart and what outcomes they want to achieve in the next season of your group.
  • Know their birthday, anniversary, and what makes them smile, e.g. a specialty coffee, dessert, handwritten note, etc. Then deliver on it!
  • Pray for them by name each day. Keep notes on needs and answers to prayer that you can revisit with them.
  • Take time with your co-leader to informally debrief group meetings while the experience is still fresh. Ask them to share their observations: What did they feel good about? What observations or questions do they have?
  • Make your relationship a priority by listening to their questions, empathizing with their anxiety, and sharing helpful resources that will build their leadership competency.
  • Share the frequency with which you’d like to communicate, but do it using methods they prefer, e.g. text, phone, FaceTime/Zoom, email, social media, etc. (See my post entitled “Leadership Investment Rhythms” for more on how you can organize for this.)
  • Make an encouraging deposit into their leadership at least once a month with Scripture, quotes, an excerpt or executive summary of a book, video or podcast.
  • Loop them into the larger network of leaders you know so they glean from their wisdom and grow in confidence.
  • Don’t limit yourself to just one co-leader: Invite group members to take on more responsibility when you sense they are ready for it! People can serve in a variety of ways that will create full-bodied group life and develop their leadership through outreach, communications, coordinating meals or childcare, social outings, etc.

It is never too early to appoint co-leaders! The Apostle Paul knew this. He usually had dozens of people around him who were friends and “fellow-workers” (Philemon 1:24). Several from his missionary band led house churches that were instrumental with the initial spread of the Gospel! Then and now, the multiplication of healthy leaders and groups depend on the kind of missional partnership that is forged with co-leaders (Philippians 1:3-6).