Maybe it’s just me, but I HATE conflict! One time, my best friend sent me an email with the single word “conflict” in the subject line. Not only did I not open the email because it made me sick to my stomach, but I didn’t talk to her for three days because I couldn’t bear the thought of having a difficult conversation.
When she finally called to ask what was up, I confessed that I couldn’t even bring myself to read the email because I didn’t want to face a conflict. As it turned out, she was simply trying to tell me that she had a conflict with a time we’d set to have lunch.
I was so afraid of the word that I was miserable and lonely for three days because I hate conflict.
I’m also the person who changes the channel when one of those reality singing shows comes on if I think the judges will say something less than glowing. But that’s blog for another day!
However, the reality is that small groups are made up of people and people tend to be difficult at times. That’s why we need a Savior! Instead of being overwhelmed by that reality and avoiding small groups like the plague, I’ve discovered a few tools for both avoiding conflict and dealing with it.
God’s Word must be the foundation. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we are only studying scripture when we meet, but it does mean that we are incorporating scripture any and every time we are together. Many of the Bible study groups or ministry teams I lead have committed to memorizing the same group of scriptures each week. We often text each other scripture throughout the week. I have a dear group of friends who were all raising kids at the same time years ago. Any one of us could text another “4:8” as an encouragement to guard our minds in the midst of struggles because we memorized Philippians 4:8 in our small group.
Praying for and with your group is a non-negotiable. My job as a small group leader is not just to prepare lessons or be hospitable or plan meetings. The primary job of the leader is to pray for each person in that group, especially those you perceive as “difficult personalities.” I often choose a particular scripture to pray for members of the group. It is also the leader’s job to foster prayer in the group, offering an extended time of prayer often while you all are together and reminding them to pray for each other when you are apart.
Grace-soaked conversations are key. No one really likes conflict, but having a grace-soaked conversation proactively can prevent a tragic misunderstanding in the end. Determine to pray together and attempt to see the situation from God’s perspective instead of either yours or theirs.
Lastly, praise God for that difficult person, even when you want to pull your hair out! My friend, Jessie Seneca, says in her book, The Secret is Out, “The antonym for criticize is praise. So when you feel like criticizing someone, break into praise over that person instead.” Imagine praying with that person and praising God for them! What an opportunity to change both your lives! So many times, those “difficult personalities” have become my very favorite people in the whole world! And so many times, I’ve learned that I am as difficult as I perceived them to be, yet God is always patient with me.
Gayla McKinney is as a simulcast specialist for LifeWay. She, her husband Blake, and their three children live in Missouri where Blake serves as the pastor of First Baptist Church Lee’s Summit. You can read more from Gayla at her Bible study blog and marriage blog!