We all agree that setting boundaries for group members is necessary for maintaining group health. But how do we approach a group member that refuses to live within those boundaries? How do we manage the tension between extending needy members grace and delivering truth? Here are some ideas to help you manage this tension:
Be compassionate. Start with compassion. At first, it may be difficult to discern real need from "real needy." If you enter into the fray with compassion, your heart will be ready to respond appropriately.
Be aware. Watch how the other members of the group respond to a potentially needy member. Look for signs that your other group members are growing tired or detached from the group. Look for rolling eyes, sidebar conversations, or even reduced attendance.
Be prepared. Needy group members tend to dominate group discussion. Look for an opening to draw the conversation from the needy member and back to the group. You can do this by simply saying to another group member, "What do you think about that?" Always keep your ears open for a pause where you have the opportunity to bring the group back on task.
Be assertive. You'll probably have to address the needy member. Because of low self-awareness, needy members rarely resolves issues on their own. Be willing and prepared to address the issue when the time is right.
Be quick. Address the issue as quickly as possible. The longer it continues, the harder it is to rein in and the more potential for damaging relationships inside the group increases. Waiting also increases the likelihood that someone else in the group will address the needy member in a less than ideal way.
Be discreet. Addressing needy people in a public forum isn't best. It drives them away and potentially causes more damage. It's best to address the issue outside of the regular group meeting. If it's helpful, you can bring your apprentice along for the confrontation. This lets the needy member know that it's not just one person's opinion.
Be humble. You want to balance speaking truth with a humble spirit. People tend to discount what they hear from someone they consider self-righteous or arrogant.
Be accepting. Communicate acceptance. It's easier to accept a difficult truth when you're confident that they accept you as a person. If you're not, then what they say comes across as rejection.
Be sound. Focus on adding truth rather than pointing out errors. People don't abandon what they think or believe just because someone presents a good argument.
Be thorough. One conversation probably won't resolve all issues. Be ready to have follow-up conversations. Encourage needy members to go down a road of self-discovery. Let them know you're on their side and want to help them grow.
Be a leader. Lead needy members to self-discovery. Preaching to them puts them in a position to defend their beliefs or behaviors. Asking good questions positions them to discover truth on their own.
Not every situation will be resolved in a desirable way. But if you use some of these ideas, they'll give your group a greater chance of success. In the end, God is responsible for the outcome. We're responsible for our attitude and actions when helping lead our groups.