Food is the best ice-breaker. It seems to have the same effects that we like to get from ice-breakers like helping people engage in conversation, feel more at ease, and bonus…it fills tummies, which makes everyone feel more content! I think that’s why it’s been said that the quickest way to a person’s spirit is through their stomach!
Eating together is a vital part of your group life. There is something about gathering around a meal that knits the hearts of people together. In fact, sharing a meal is one of the most profound physical expressions of our life together in Jesus Christ. Some of the most significant events in the Bible center around food (1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Mark 14:22-25; John 13:1; Acts 2:42-47). Repeatedly, we see the early believers making food an integral part of their worship and community life together (Acts 2:42, 46, 20:7, 11). For example, the Lord’s Supper was meant to be just that…a supper!
The way that Communion (or Eucharist, meaning “Thanksgiving”) was celebrated in the Early Church was by sharing a meal together, usually in the evening (Luke 14:12; John 13:4, 21:20). The setting of the Lord’s Supper, even in the larger gatherings, was always the home (cf. Romans 16:23; Acts 20:7). Similarly, we ought to give thanks and remember our Lord Jesus Christ when we gather and share a meal with one another.
Make it a goal with your group to celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a season / semester. There are many creative ways to do this in your group and you can look to Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20, John 13-17, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 for guidance on what to say and do during this time together so choose the one below that resonates the most with you and run with it!
Now if you’re like me, steps on what to do and say might be just the help you need to get started so here’s a suggested order:
Don’t miss out on this transformational experience that God will use to build the bond between your group members, deepen your relationship with Him, and share His selfless love with others!
You can share the following tips with Group Hosts or new Group Leaders who can use them every week to generate conversation and build community:
Include fellowship time on the front and tail end of your meeting time and when possible have food. Start and end on time. All these elements encourage conversation and build relationships.
Open your time in a brief word of prayer and help make participants aware of Jesus’ Presence in your midst (Mt 18:20).
Share 1-2 brief insights of your own to jump-start the conversation.
Relate what you’re discussing to Jesus by asking two questions:
Be prepared to ask “open-ended” questions that will stimulate reflection and help move people toward action. These are questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” and often start with the words “what” or “how.” For example:
Questions you can use in EVERY bible study discussion:
Be real. Be yourself. Authenticity is the key to helping others open up. Develop a dynamic where people feel safe to share and free to be themselves. For example, be the first to respond to a question and do so humbly and honestly.
Try to involve every person – acknowledge and affirm each person who speaks.
Turn people’s attention beyond your immediate circle by praying for the lost and encouraging them to invite friends to join you.
There is wisdom woven throughout the Scriptures on how to deal with conflict in ways that are healthy for individuals and groups. In the table below, you will find a selection of passages on how group leaders can “leverage” conflict to create an environment where biblical community can continue to grow:
|Key Scriptures||Applied to Conflict|
|1 Cor 13:4||Go to God before going to another. If you are not being patient, kind, and thoughtful of the other then you are not responding in love. Be sure your heart reflects love’s attributes before dealing with conflict.|
|1 Cor 13:5||Prayerfully offer up the offense and your response to the Lord and ask Him if the source of conflict is something you should release or respond to with truth in love (Eph. 4:15).|
|Mt. 18:15-17||When you have a problem with somebody, first pray and then go immediately and directly to them to deal with it in private. Subsequently, only involve others if necessary for their sake and for complete healing.|
|Prov. 15:28||Take your time to think before you speak. It is an act of love to discipline your emotions to serve as the caboose and not the engine in conflict.|
|Jms. 4:1-2||Use the questions in Part 1 of this post to evaluate your motives for conflict and get your heart right before speaking into a tense situation.|
|Phil. 2:4||Try to understand where the other person is coming from and what you can do to work toward a solution that results in mutual understanding and encouragement.|
|Eph 4:15, 25||Continually hold on to truth and love as you speak to another person. We become off-balance the moment we let go of either one.|
|Eph. 4:26-27||Be real and say everything you feel you need to say in love. Do not leave behind any scraps for the enemy.|
|Prov. 20:3; 2 Tim. 2:24||Be self-controlled in conflict. You can prevent conflict from devolving into quarreling and strife when you are mindful of your emotions and thoughtful of the other.|
|Rom. 14:19||Aim for a “win-win’ situation where both you and the other person are better off after conflict than you were before it.|
|1 Pet. 3:8-9||The best “defense” is a strong offense of love. Resist the temptation to fire back at somebody who insults you. It is a credit to your strength when you find a way to stand your ground while responding in ways that show understanding and love. Humility and compassion help you to relate harmoniously with others.|
|2 Tim. 2:25-26||Be gentle in how you “instruct” others. By approaching and addressing people in gentleness and love, you will be more effective in leading them (and yourself!) into God’s truth and peace.|
|2 Tim. 2:23||Spend your time and energy on the essentials of the faith and help people to stay focused on the person of Jesus Christ; it tends to be the non-essential doctrines that produce unproductive debates (Titus 1:9; 3:9).|
|Jms. 5:16||Vulnerability and honesty are the greatest safeguards against unhealthy conflict. They strengthen the unity of the group and raise its level of compassion.|
|Jms. 1:19||Group participants will be better equipped to distinguish between constructive and unconstructive conflict as they take their time to listen and learn what others are communicating. It also enriches your group’s Bible study and discussion.|
|Mt. 12:25; Prov. 6:16-19||Disagreement and discord can grow into divisiveness. The enemy is constantly at work to divide God’s people and like sin, the longer it goes unaddressed, the more powerful it becomes. Love can conquer anything that causes dissension.|
|Prov. 18:8||Gossip breeds destructive conflict and breaks down trust within the group. If somebody says something unsubstantiated or speculative about another person (even if they are “passing along” what they have heard from another), explain the uncertainty of what was shared and then suggest to those who heard it that they should go directly to the person being talked about and find out the whole truth.|
Conflict is not something to rush into or to avoid. It can threaten to be a separator, but the Bible shows us how we can use it as a connector. It can be a “blessing in disguise” when we handle it with biblical wisdom. God, in His grace, gives us ways we can “use” conflict so that relationships grow in ways they would not have without it. In fact, conflict can be the very thing God uses to ‘draw-out’ authenticity and empower people to be more real with each other. It can be the key that allows us to experience the wholeness and life that comes with biblical community (Acts 2:42-47).
There are barriers we will invariably encounter as we grow in relationships with others. Sometimes conflict can be the “mountain pass” we are looking for to get on the other side of the ‘thing’ that seems to be blocking open and honest communication. Trying to go ‘around’ it only makes the journey more difficult even treacherous. Instead, we need to work through it. We need to use it as a pathway to something better for the whole group.
Conflict is not pleasant. Most people would rather do without it. But if it is life-changing Christian community that we want then we need to deal with conflict in love-filled and biblically-informed ways. Christian community is not a destination…it is a journey and conflict comes as we travel together. As a community-building leader, you can tell your group(s) that your goal is not to “keep the peace” but to travel with them through the occasional discord that comes with the transformational adventure of building biblical relationships.
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:
Make 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.
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”: