You find yourself really enjoying your small group. The snacks are the perfect blend of salty and sweet, the lessons encourage you to go beneath the surface, and your fellow group members feel just like family.
But what happens when one of those “family members” wrongs you?
What happens when harmony and “one accord” melt into bitterness and willfulness?
What happens when you’re too afraid to go to small group because you’ve been deeply hurt, and the tension is high?
The ability to manage conflict in your small group is a unique skillset that one must always keep in his or her back pocket. Even though we’re the body of Christ, we’re human—we mess up, we have our own motives, we want our own way, we offend people. And when two humans gather together in His name, conflict is just waiting to happen.
Here are a few guidelines to managing conflict within your small group:
1. Go to the person who has wronged you. We call this “The Matthew 18 Principle.”
“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matt. 18:15, CSB).
Notice that the first step Jesus calls you to is to directly tell the person—not to tell everyone else but the person, not to gossip behind their back, not to hold it in your heart so long that bitterness and rage grow. Go to the person, and go in private.
2. The second principle is a necessary addendum to the first: How you go to the person is just as important as your going to them. How you approach the person who has wronged you is critical, for this is the part of personal responsibility. Marshall Rosenberg developed a communication process in the ‘60s he coined “Nonviolent Communication” (NVC). This is a prevalent formula that is used in communication and psychology groups alike.
Nonviolent Communication combines Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests in a simple formula for you to express your needs to others. It goes something like this: “When you _____________, I feel _________________, because I need ___________.”
When using NVC, make sure you focus on your feelings and needs, and not on how wrong the other person was. By doing this, you’re taking personal responsibility for how you feel, communicating effectively your basic human needs, and also speaking to the person in a way that is not accusatory. You are not there to blame or criticize; you are there to make peace.
This isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula, but it’s a way to get the ball rolling.
3. If your fellow small group member doesn’t heed or respond to what you tell them, feel free to carry out verses 16-17 of The Matthew 18 principle:
16 “But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you.”
This is the part where other people get involved—and by other people, I don’t mean your best friends or your Twitter feed—I mean people who are directly involved in the situation, specific deacons or church leaders, or your pastor.
4. Whether you get an apology or not, you must forgive the person who has wronged you. If anyone has been wrong in this world, it’s been you. And it’s been me. Jesus’ Word is higher than my own, and Jesus’ Word tells me He’s forgiven me from so much, that I have no rights—no rights to my own desires, no rights to my will, no rights to hold a grudge.
“Accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” (Col. 3:13, CSB).
5. Last but not least, remember your calling.
Jesus states pretty clearly His intended outcome for conflict management. Notice Matthew 18:15b— “then you have won your brother over.” Jesus didn’t say, “then your brother will see that you are right,” or, “then you will be made the group leader,” or, “then you will bask in the glory of your rightness.” Jesus’ goal is reconciliation, not “rightness.”
Oswald Chambers put it this way, “We must keep ourselves in touch, not with theories, but with people, and never get out of touch with human beings, if we are going to use the word of God skillfully amongst them” (Workmen of God, 1341 L).
When you your speech is filled with truth and your attitude is full of grace, then you have won your brother over.
The goal of conflict management is exactly that—management. It is to win your brother over. It is to establish harmony for, as Jesus said, 19 “Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them” (Matt. 18:19-20, CSB)
Where two or more are gathered in a small group, let there be peace.
Caroline Case is a proud Nashville transplant from Naples, Florida, who serves as the Production Editor for LifeWay’s SmallGroup.com and Discipleship in Context teams. Caroline has a Bachelor of Communication from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL. She is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in English and Creative Writing at Belmont University in Nashville, where she will go on to pursue her doctorate and teach.