We live in a violent world. I wonder at times if we are addicted to violence. It seems that we like having enemies and we like winning. This is what happens when our fallen state becomes the accepted norm. We no longer call into question our fighting nature.
Fighting happens at all kinds of levels, globally as nations go to war, nationally as politicians tear each other apart, and locally as neighbors let petty differences cloud their judgement.
It also happens in the church. Duh! And IT HAPPENS IN SMALL GROUPS!
Of course every small group leader training manual or book says as much. Some call it conflict. Others "storming." M. Scott Peck calls it chaos. When people get to know one another, someone is bound to cause offense. Sometimes it's as minor as an innocent comment taken the wrong way. Sometimes it's as big as a yelling match. A few years ago, a small group leader asks to meet with me. He told me that while I had been out of town over the weekend, his co-leader and another group member had come to blows and almost got in a fight after church on Sunday.
Fighting will happen in small groups. Normal small groups deal with it in normal ways. Some get out their boxes gloves and duke it out. Some fly, running way emotionally so that they don't have to deal with the real issues. Some run away literally as they seek out another group or quit groups all together. A lot pretend that it's not there and simply co-exist in what Peck calls pseudocommunity.
If you want your group to move beyond normal and enter into missional community, you have to "prepare to fight." Most don't. Yes the leader gets some training about the stages of group life and they are told that it will happen. But it's not enough for the leader to know this information. I've never seen a group in the middle of all the emotions that come with group conflict who are ready to be taught about how to handle conflict. It's too late at that point.
Groups that want to experience missional community are much more likely to do so if someone leads the group to talk about how they will deal with conflict BEFORE it happens. One way to do this is to have everyone take a simple personality profile. Find a free online profile that provide simple personality summary which group members can bring to a meeting. Then share those with each other. Then you can ask people to talk about the kind of people that most often bother them. Ask how people tend to respond in times of conflict. This can lead into a conversation about some healthy ways to respond when the fights—whether big or small—arrive. (You can download a free study guide that leads a group through this discussion. It's Week 4 of The Journey Together.)
We prepare to fight in a way that leads to reconciliation and peace. No one says it will be easy, but it's a lot better than living in the normalcy (the boredom) of pseudocommunity. We must train ourselves to respond to violence without vengeance. This is the way of Jesus. This is the way of God's Kingdom.
For the next post in this series, Practice #9, click here.