Your group member doesn't have to be alone in their struggle, and neither do you.
If Jesus told us to expect grief and loss, why is it so difficult when we find ourselves grieving? Why do we have such a hard time comforting others when they are grieving?
Moving toward the holidays while carrying the weight of loss can prompt feelings of depression, despair, or numb emotions — the opposite of what our society and culture expects of us.
It's important that you foster a collaborative relationship with a church staff member now—even if it's currently smooth sailing in your group. You'll want that relationship in place in the event that one of your group members enters a difficult season.
One of your unique roles as a leader is to keep an eye on whether the group is helping each of its members grow in their relationships with Jesus. But how do you do that? A great practical way to gauge the health of your group is to regularly ask: How are we growing in the Three Vital Relationships?
Intimacy with God
- Where is God currently stretching me?
- Are my daily actions becoming more aligned with the priorities of Scripture?
- Are my times with God consistent?
Community with Insiders
- Am I openly sharing with others what is really going on in my life?
- As difficult circumstances arise, how are group members responding to one another?
- Are we willing to challenge one another in order to pursue God's best for our lives?
Influence with Outsiders
- Who am I regularly praying for who doesn't know Christ?
- What am I doing to connect with someone in my circle of influence who doesn't know Christ?
- Does my group challenge and encourage me to invest in someone who doesn't know Christ?
Leading people means you're going to have to have tough conversations from time to time. It's just part of the deal. Knowing that doesn't make it any easier, but it is what it is . . . and what it is is one of the most difficult aspects of leading.
A little over a year ago, Sue Bates provided some great practical advice on navigating uncomfortable conversations, but I thought it was probably time to revisit the topic. So, I poked around the web and found a trio of great articles:
- How to Give Constructive Criticism: 10 Tips for Successful Coaching from the Modern Servant Leader blog
- Tips on Having Difficult Conversations from Harvard Business Review
- 5 Strategies for Tackling Tough Conversations by Scott McDowell at 99u
What additional advice would you give a leader faced with having to initiate a tough conversation with a group member?
Earlier this week, I wrote about what constitutes a "safe environment." It's all about people finding the freedom to be vulnerable with one another because you can't really grow until you start getting real. But what do you do if you're group is already "unsafe"? How do you turn things around when group members are already wary of being transparent?
Here are four approaches you can take:
- Take personal responsibility and ownership. As you take a look at your group environment to assess why it's unsafe, don't assume it's someone else's fault. Look at yourself first. Is there anything you are doing to hamper connection and growth in your group? Self-examination isn't easy, but it is what leaders are called to do.
- Determine whether it's a general group issue or only involves one or two members. Once you've assessed your role in the lack of safety in your group, consider whether and how many group members are also contributing to the problem. If it's just one or two group members, have a conversation with that person or those people. Pray . . . a lot, so you are able to enter into these conversations with your heart in the right place.
- Talk about it openly with the group. Don't throw particular group members under the bus, but have a conversation about where the group is and where it needs to be. You can't ignore an unsafe environment and hope it will fix itself. It won't. Acknowledging that there's a problem may give your group members the permission and the patience to begin to resolve the problem . . . together. You probably won't be able to fix things on your own without the help and cooperation of your group members.
- Revisit the vision. Take some time during a meeting to review the Group Agreement. This is a great way to reset everyone's expectations and initiate a discussion about the ways that what you're currently experiencing differ from what you agreed to at the outset of the group experience.
If your group has drifted into "unsafe" territory, all is not lost. It'll take some effort and probably require some uncomfortable conversations, but you can get things back on track. The key is to be honest with yourself and honest with your group members about what is happening.
What approaches have you taken to ensure that you're creating a safe environment for your group members?
I've written before about how your responsibilities as a leader are to think about the spiritual growth of every member of the group and make sure the group environment supports that growth. One of the best ways you can help yourself carry out those responsibilities is to perform regular group check-ups.
Every six months or so, take a timeout to assess how your group members are doing. Review the Group Agreement. Does the environment reflect what you all agreed to at the outset of the group? If not, you may need to bring group meetings into alignment with the agreement or adjust the agreement based on the rhythms you've established. Either way, it's a great opportunity to talk about what is and isn't working.
Is the group achieving its purpose? Are you making steady, incremental progress toward your goals of healthy relationships and spiritual growth? If so, take some time to recognize and celebrate that. If not, knowing you're off target is the only way you can get back on target.
Another great tool to use is the Group Member Assessment. Have your group members fill out this brief survey before you meet. It helps them to assess how they're growing in the Three Vital Relationships. Not only does the assessment help group members understand where they need to grow, it helps them understand how they've already grown. It's a great tool for mapping out the future, but also for celebrating the life change that has already occurred.
The assessment will give you a sense of how you can better lead your group members toward growth. Do you need to lean into a study about how to develop a deeper relationship with God? Do you need to focus on cultivating relationships within the group? Or maybe you need to cast some vision around serving others, and then get out into your community to do so on a regular basis.
The point is, you won't know exactly what your group needs if you're not intentional about finding out.
One more thing: Doing a group check-up may put you on the hot seat a little bit. It may reveal some areas where you can lead better. Don't take it personally. All leaders have opportunity for growth. The best leaders seek out those opportunities; they don't hide from them.
What have you done in the past to monitor the health of your groups?
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.
Most of us have been in a group or two with one group member who dominates the group experience. Maybe there's been someone who tried to dominate every group you've been in. It's important for the health of our groups and for our growth as leaders that we learn how to set boundaries for dominant group members. If one member of the group dominates the group experience, the real issues of growth and care for other members may never be addressed. Individuals who don't grow and aren't cared for will carry that experience into their future groups. They may even decide that community isn't worth the effort. And if leaders don't set boundaries, dominant group members will carry that pattern of behavior into their future groups as well.
We can't “kick the can down the road” or “run out the clock.” The opportunity to create and sustain a healthy group is now. But first we have to set boundaries.
This is never easy. But the more you do it, the better you get at it. In the long run, it's easier to set boundaries at the outset of the group than to have to rein someone in six months into the life of the group. How do you do this?
First, clearly establish from the beginning that small group is not a support group. While care is part of the experience, the small group isn't equipped or designed to be a recovery group or a place for counseling sessions.
Second, address the distinction between caregiving and caretaking. God calls us to provide care in times of need, but we're not caretakers for individuals in our groups.
Third, establish at the outset that spiritual growth is a goal for the group. That means group members are willing to listen and apply insights and actions suggested by the group.
Finally, group is a place for accountability. Community allows God to restore and reconcile us to him through our relationships with others. Isaiah 61 says, "He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners." What greater charge can leaders have? When we proclaim biblical truths, those truths become the key to breaking through the barriers that hold a needy person hostage. Those truths shine a light where darkness has thrived for years. As leaders, we have the opportunity, challenge, privilege, and responsibility to deliver truth.
Setting boundaries is essential in helping lead groups well. But there are times when group members refuse to live within the established group boundaries. Part Two of this post explores what to do in that kind of situation.
You’re listening to your friend describe the person he or she is dating and the thought bubble in your head is screaming, “You shouldn't be dating this person!” But you leave your friend’s company, having said nothing . . . and then spend the next few weeks having imaginary conversations about what you should have said. Or worse, you have conversations with other people instead of with your friend. How do you approach uncomfortable conversations? There isn’t a step-by-step guide, is there? But there are some things you can keep in mind before, during, and after.
Before the conversation . . .
Pray. Pray. Pray. Smother this situation in prayer—for wisdom, for humility, for timing, for the fullness of grace and truth. When you think you've prayed enough, pray a little more.
Identify your friend’s spiritual location. Where is he or she spiritually? Would your friend say that he or she is a follower of Christ? It’s absurd to expect someone who isn't living in the Kingdom to live by Kingdom values. They didn’t sign up for that (yet).
Understand the scripture “unequally yoked.” Read 2 Corinthians 6:14. This is the biblical go-to in challenging a believer who is dating a non-believer. Is this the situation with your friend or are you just not a fan of the person he or she is dating?
Examine your own heart. Ask yourself, “Do I want to be right more than I want God’s best for my friend? Have I put in the time to build relational equity so my friend knows I'm on his or her side? Is my heart broken for my friend or am I just angry?
During the conversation . . .
Think timing. Relationships aren't efficient. Adjust your expectation that you can waltz in, say a few lines, drop the mic, and walk out. You might have the right stance, but is this the right time? Also, big issues usually require more than one conversation.
Present God’s best. What does God want for us in terms of our dating relationships? Focus on what Scripture says about dating wisely. Avoid your own commentary or Christian cultural “deal-breakers” about how dating should look.
Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions. Asking questions allows you to lead your friend to the answers, rather than telling him or her the answer. It helps identify the tension in being unequally yoked. Telling someone what to do or think is condescending and patronizing. Questions to ask your friend to help identify the tension:
- As you’ve talked about your faith with your significant other, what have you heard that’s encouraged you?
- Have you identified your "non-negotiables"? These are values you won't compromise in a dating relationship.
- Are there areas you’d like to see him or her grow in relationship with Christ? Could you marry your significant other if nothing changed?
- What would you tell someone in your position?
- If the most important thing in your life is something you can't share with your significant other, how will you build intimacy?
After the conversation . . .
Encourage courage. Most single people don't date non-believers because they “don’t know better.” It’s not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of courage. Pray and encourage your friend to have the courage to be obedient to God’s best for his or her life.
Walk with her or him. Regardless of what your friend decides, walk alongside her or him. You can represent God’s truth even when you don’t approve of your friend's behavior. God did the same for you, didn’t he?
Did I mention this won’t be easy? I'll be back next week to delve into this topic a little more deeply. In the meantime, how have you navigated uncomfortable conversations?
As a Community Group leader, you help to shepherd the members of your group during a season of life. But there's a common tension: some members of the group require more care than others. There's a tipping point at which certain members need too much care. I'm not talking about a group member with a need that the group is equipped to meet, but a group member whose needs consistently dominate the group dynamic. Your goal is to provide a healthy group experience for all members while providing appropriate support for those who have real issues of care.
So what are the warning signs that a group member needs more care than you can provide?
Does the member constantly talk about being alone or lonely? This is the best question you can ask if you're a leader trying to identify whether a member needs a level of care you can't provide. Constant talk of loneliness is a major warning sign of needs too substantial to be addressed in Community Group.
Is the member making a lot of requests of the group? Needy members tend to behave as though everything is about them. Conversations are driven by them or led back to them. Their issues dominate the group experience. To draw attention to themselves, they request a lot of the group—socially, financially, or otherwise. Though a person's needs may be legitimate, this kind of behavior is a sign that he or she is using the group experience for purposes other than creating the kind of intentional community that fosters spiritual growth. That's a problem.
Does the member celebrate other group members' wins? Needy group members don't celebrate other members in the group. They draw attention to the fact they have little to celebrate.
Do the same issues keep occurring? Needy members are often unwilling to act on the wise counsel given by the other group members. As a result, the same problems arise again and again.
Is the member participating and growing? This is a more subtle sign, but needy group member frequently arrive late and show up unprepared. These may be signs that the member is not committed to growing or changing, but is using the group as a crutch or an outlet for venting.
Group members who exhibit these behaviors are typically dealing with significant issues and without a lot self-awareness. Community Group isn't the ideal place for them to work through those issues. But as a group leader, there's something you can do to help: talk to your Groups Director about the Care Network options that might best serve your group member.