Learning to Lead a Small Group - Lesson 8

Sources of Power in Relationships

In this lesson, you explore the concept of power in relationships, particularly within small groups. You learn about the different types of power—legitimate, referent, expert, reward, and coercive—and how they can be used or misused within a group setting. Additionally, you learn how to identify and address power imbalances and promote shared power among group members. The lesson emphasizes the importance of fostering healthy power dynamics in small group leadership through encouraging participation, inclusion, trust, and open communication, as well as constructively resolving conflicts.

Ron Pyle
Learning to Lead a Small Group
Lesson 8
Watching Now
Sources of Power in Relationships

I. Introduction to Power Dynamics in Small Groups

A. The Importance of Understanding Power

B. Defining Power in Relationships

II. Types of Power in Relationships

A. Legitimate Power

B. Referent Power

C. Expert Power

D. Reward Power

E. Coercive Power

III. Balancing Power in Small Groups

A. Recognizing Power Imbalances

B. Promoting Shared Power

IV. Healthy Power Dynamics in Small Group Leadership

A. Encouraging Participation and Inclusion

B. Establishing Trust and Open Communication

C. Resolving Conflicts Constructively

  • What are small groups? Why do we have them? What does a healthy small group look like? What does the Bible have to say about the importance of small groups and what participation should look like?

  • In this lesson, you will learn the importance of small group theology, and it starts with an understanding of God's role in community. Dr. Ron Pyle explains that all of history is essentially a history of God's communal activity with humankind, starting with creation. God is the author and perfector of community, and God establishes its boundaries, identity, and future establishment of a new Jerusalem where God's people will dwell in community with one another and with God.
  • In this lesson, you learn effective small group leadership, fostering spiritual growth and supportive relationships, handling challenges, and developing future leaders.
  • What are small groups? Why do we have them? What does a healthy small group look like? People support what they are part of creating. Plan your first meeting carefully. Different distances invite different types of communication. The behavior you want to sustain, make sure you enact the first time.

  • By studying this lesson, you learn how to effectively create and implement a small group contract to establish clear expectations, improve group dynamics, and foster a supportive and productive environment.
  • Gain insight into effectively leading small groups through the five stages of group life, while learning to adapt your leadership style and navigate changing group dynamics.
  • By promoting honest sharing in small groups, you foster trust, facilitate spiritual growth, and learn effective techniques to create a safe environment, ask open-ended questions, and practice active listening.
  • By leading effective small group discussions, you foster spiritual growth, encourage participation, and create a safe environment for open sharing and deeper connections.
  • You gain insight into power dynamics in relationships, specifically within small groups, and learn to foster healthy power dynamics, ensuring a balanced, inclusive, and constructive group environment.
  • By understanding conflict management in small group leadership, you develop the skills to foster a healthy group dynamic, resolve conflicts, and maintain a positive, collaborative environment.

What relationships are important to you? How do you develop trust? How can you share in a meaningful way with others? When you experience conflict in relationship, how can you manage it in a way that will grow your relationship? What does the Bible say about the importance and purpose of a small group?

Dr. Pyle leads you through the process from planning a small group, creating a contract, the beginning meetings, leading discussions, stages of group life and managing conflict. You will benefit from his training and experience as he gives you insights into the skills you will need and the commitments you can make to lead a group well. He will also give you insight into interpersonal communication dynamics in a group situation that will help you effectively guide and motivate the people in your group to share at a deep level.

Anytime there are people involved there are no guarantees, but there are few activities more rewarding than cultivating authentic relationships in a community of faith. This is class gives you the information and motivation you will need to get a good start and finish well. Don't miss this opportunity!

Dr. Ron Pyle
Learning to Lead a Small Group
Sources of Power in Relationships
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:01] The final segment that we'll be talking about in this instruction is about interpersonal conflict in ministry contexts. I want to begin with a definition authored by Joyce Hawker and William Wilmot. That is, I believe, the best definition of interpersonal conflict. It says interpersonal conflict is an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce rewards and interference from the other party. A few years ago, I was invited by a church to do a session for the adults about managing church conflict. And why is church conflict so hard and what can we do about it? One hour before I was speaking to that adult group, I sat in the two year old Sunday school room with my own daughter and a number of other children. Then I made a mistake you never want to make in a two year old Sunday school room? I asked. Who wants a story? At this point, I was inundated with two year olds, including one cute little girl who said, I want a story. I want a story. And she climbed up on my lap when my daughter saw this happen. She turned from her position in the corner and glared at the child who was on my lap, stomped over to the child, grabbed the child on my lap by her sweater, pulled her off of my lap and said to the little girl, My daddy's lap. An hour later, I went upstairs and sat in a room with 200 adults, and I told that story. And then I said, only the particulars change. What you've just experienced is the basic anatomy of conflict. Now, what I want you to do is think about a conflict episode that you have had with another person. Get a specific instance in mind.

[00:02:17] Then we're going to use my story and your instance. To see if we can't understand more completely this definition of interpersonal conflict. It starts with an expressed struggle. In conflict. There has to be some kind of expression. That expression can be verbally with words, or it might come non-verbally without words. Either way or most often both ways. There has to be expression for there to be conflict. Without expression, you don't have conflict. What you have is emotion. You can have the emotions of anger, rage, resentment and frustration. But all you have is emotion until it gets expressed somehow. In the story I told you. The expression of the struggle came both verbally and non-verbally, verbally. It was my daughter saying my daddy's lap to the other little girl non-verbally. It was her pulling the girl off my lap. Now you think about your situation and think about how struggle was expressed verbally and or non-verbally. Most often it's both. The second part of the definition says that the expressed struggle happens between at least two interdependent parties. The important word here is interdependent. Interdependence is a concept that means what I do affects you and what you do affects me. And we still make choices. But we affect one another. Interdependence is both the good news and the bad news of conflict management. It's the good news in the sense that we are able to affect one another. Therefore, we're able to manage conflict effectively. It's because my apology can have an effect on another that I can help to manage conflict. That's good news. Interdependence is also the bad news of conflict in the sense that if we weren't interdependent with one another, there would be nothing to have conflict about. It's the fact that the one little girl's behavior affected my daughter.

[00:04:41] That created conflict. So interdependence is both a root of all conflict, and it's also one of our primary means of managing it. The third part of the definition says that these interdependent parties perceive incompatible goals. Perceive is a key word. Our goals in the conflict episodes we have don't actually have to be incompatible. All it takes is the perception that they're incompatible. If I believe that they're incompatible, whether they are or not, I'm set up for conflict with another. Goals can be incompatible in one of two ways. Goals can be incompatible when you and I want different ends. You believe that money should be spent on buying Bibles for the home church? I believe that money should be spent buying food for the widows. If you and I have different ends, those goals could be incompatible. But a second way that goals can be incompatible is that you and I want the same thing, but believe we both can't have it. For example, you and I both want to be the primary leaders of the House group, but we believe we both can't be. We want the same thing. But if we believe we both can't have it, we are set up for conflict. In the story that I told you about my daughter. Though she perceived that the goals were incompatible, whether they were or not. She perceived that they were. And that's all it took. The next part of the definition says these people who perceive incompatible goals also perceive scarce rewards. When we believe that there is not enough of something positive to go around, we set ourselves up for conflict. In this case, the reward was attention from me and a story. My lap is big enough for two two year olds, so the reward wasn't as scarce as my daughter thought it was.

[00:07:08] But all it took was her perception that it was scarce. The final part of the definition says these people who perceive incompatible goals and scarce rewards also perceive interference from the other party. When we believe that the other person is getting in the way of us getting our goals met, we're set up for conflict. So here's the basic anatomy of interpersonal conflict an express struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, who perceive scarce rewards, and who believe that there's interference from the other party. That's the best definition that I know for interpersonal conflict. Now, I'd like to engage with you five Mistaken Ideas about Conflict. The first of the five is that conflict can always be avoided. The truth is that conflict cannot always be avoided. Rather, conflict is a part of all relationships and will be present in some form or another. And when I use the word conflict, I'm not only talking about escalating violence. It can be something as simple as moderate disagreement. But conflict is always part of the relational landscape and can't always be avoided. A second mistake. An idea is that conflict always damages relationships. The mistaken idea is that the mere presence of conflict is damaging to human relationships. The research suggests to us that it's not the presence or absence of conflict that damages relationships. It's what you do about the conflict. Conflict simply is a relational reality. A third mistake, an idea about conflict, is that it always occurs because of misunderstanding. People tend to believe that if we only understood one another, we wouldn't have conflict. The truth is, sometimes the conflict is because of misunderstanding that that is true. And sometimes the conflict is not because of misunderstanding, it's because we do understand one another.

[00:09:40] Sometimes we're quite clear with each other about how we differ, how our goals are different, for example, and that produces conflict. But it's not always because of misunderstanding. Sometimes it is, but not always. The fourth mistaken notion about conflict is that conflict is always the sign of a poor relationship. If we loved one another as brothers and sisters in Christ should, we wouldn't have conflict if we really cared about each other in the small group or the house group we're part of, we wouldn't have conflict. It is not true that conflict is a sign of a poor relationship necessarily. Again, what matters is what you do about the conflict. And the fifth mistaken notion about conflict is that conflict can always be resolved. When many people talk about conflict, they talk about conflict resolution as if resolving the conflict is the only acceptable outcome. The truth is that some conflict will not be resolved. My mother is a devout Christian woman. She lived as an adult across the street from a devout woman of another faith. For the first decade of their friendship, they tried to convert one another. They had subtle means like books and audiotapes showing up on their doorsteps, unexpected visitors and people like that. And they had more direct means. For the first decade, they tried to convert one another. And then they came to the conclusion that that was not likely to happen. And they could still love one another. They discovered that their differences when it came to faith were not going to be resolved, but could be managed. So when I get to teach about conflict management, I use that language management, not resolution, because some conflict will not be resolved but can be managed if people choose to cooperate.

[00:11:48] In the realm of conflict with one another. There are three different types of conflict. The first type of conflict is called substantive conflict. Substantive conflict happens when we have disagreement about ideas or issues in our group life. An example of substantive conflict is when we have a disagreement about interpretation of a Bible passage. You and I may disagree about that idea. And if we did, we would call that substantive conflict. A second kind of conflict that happens in group life is called procedural conflict. Procedural conflict is when we disagree about the methods or the process that groups should follow. In attempting to reach group goals, an example of procedural conflict would be Shall we use a rotating leadership or a single consistent leader? If you and I differ about which form of leadership we should have, we've got procedural conflict because it involves the process that a group should follow in reaching its goals. Here's a hint. There are three primary kinds of conflict in group life. The first two I've just described. Both of the first two are far easier to manage than the third. Whenever possible, to keep the conflict centered on a substantive issue or on procedure, you are far better off and far more likely to have a productive outcome than if the conflict becomes the third type, which is called affective conflict. Affective conflict is conflict around personalities, communication styles and emotions of group members. Affective conflict is what happens when certain group members feel devalued or ignored or attacked. Once you get to affective conflict and personalities and emotions get involved, it's typically much harder to manage that kind of conflict than either of the first two. So what I'd like for you to do now is to think back to the conflict that I asked you to generate, the concrete example that I asked you to generate earlier, and to ask yourself what type of conflict was I dealing with? Perhaps it was substantive.

[00:14:42] Perhaps it was procedural. Or perhaps it was affective. The next topic that we take up in managing conflict is the unique nature of conflict in ministry groups or how churches. Turns out that conflict in ministry groups takes on a distinctive nature because of several factors. The first is that the group of individuals have diverse needs and expectations. People walk into a ministry group or a house church with certain expectations. Whenever somebody tells you, I'm going off to a house group meeting, but I don't have any expectations about what will happen. They are not telling you the truth. Everybody's got expectations. One of the expectations is they will be positively greeted by somebody. If somebody tells me I'm going off to a house group meeting, but I don't have any expectations of what will happen, I typically say something like, I'll bet if you show up and they slap you instead of shaking your hand, you would be surprised. You do have an expectation. Everybody's got expectations now. The essence of frustration is unmet expectation. That is its nature. Frustration is unmet expectation. What happens in church conflict or conflict in ministry groups or home groups is that people come with a variety of needs and expectations, usually ones that they haven't announced. What happens, sadly, is these unannounced expectations produce frustration and resentment and anger only after the expectations haven't been met. Do people articulate what the expectations were in the first place. This is why covenant is so important. In the covenant, we get to establish what will be the expectations. But people come to home groups and churches with all kinds of expectations. A second reason that ministry conflict is so unique is that the concerns are personal and passionate. Faith evokes passion.

[00:17:20] Faith involves issues about which people are passionate. Because of that, what isn't a passionate issue in many places outside the church becomes a passionate issue inside it. Here's an example. If a grocery store decides to move from one location to another, people tend not to get so passionately upset about that move. If a church decides to move from one place to another, all of a sudden passions get involved. My children were baptized in that church, and now you're going to tear it down and move it somewhere else. So people have personal and passionate concerns that create a unique situation for church and house group conflict. A third dimension of uniqueness in ministry conflict is how conflict gets spiritualized. Instead of having expressed disagreement, occur around issues outside of us. In spiritualized conflict, we present God as being on our side and now the other side is evil. They don't care about the kingdom of God, and the conflict ends up getting a spiritual overtone to it. Some of the typical sources of conflict in ministry contexts are the following. One of the realities that we all live with in group conflict is that the fall. The entrance of human sin has produced imperfect people. If we have a sane estimation of ourselves. We know that we are not perfect. We are broken, sinful people in the process of redemption. We should not be surprised that we come in contact with other broken, sinful people who are also in the process of redemption. Another common source of ministry conflict is fear. People are afraid of change. People are afraid of losing their influence. They're afraid of the result that might occur if the church takes on this other ministry. The Scripture says that perfect love casts out fear.

[00:19:46] Fear is the root of one of the sources of conflict. Conflict happens in ministry groups. When we have an unclear mission and vision. If we don't know what our group's mission is or what the ministry vision is, conflict tends to occur because people develop expectations. Sometimes we have conflict in ministry groups because we have unclear roles and responsibilities. If we don't know who's responsible to do what. We tend to set ourselves up for conflict because people will take charge. People will take responsibility. And if we're not clear about what those responsibilities are, it's very easy to end up with a procedural or affective conflict. Sometimes we have conflict because communication lines get blocked. People stop talking to one another. And in the absence of talking and listening to one another, they form judgments instead. They form perceptions about the motives of others. Another common source of conflict in ministry groups is what happens when leadership style clashes with a group. If a home group, for example, has been led for the last three years by somebody who has an authoritative style of leadership, they're used to telling people. That group gets used to receiving instruction very directly. The next leader who comes in has a consulting style of leadership. They don't want to tell people to impose their direction and their will. They want it to be a product of collaboration and mutual cooperation. That group and that leader will tend to struggle, especially initially at getting used to the style of the other because the history has produced some expectations. A final common source of conflict in ministry is that a lack of ownership produces withdrawal. Because people are not invested, because they don't believe they're part of creating ministry. They tend to withdraw from it.

[00:22:17] That withdrawal comes in terms of their presence at home group activities, their emotional investment in what's happening, their financial investment and what's happening in all aspects. They tend to withdraw. One of the most helpful concepts for me in the last several years has been to understand the role of power in conflict and relationships. Power is not the only thing happening in relationship, but it is part of all relationships. When it comes to power, there are three types of power that tend to emerge in relationship with one another. The first kind of power is called positional power. Positional power is power granted to people simply because of the position that they occupy in some of the cultures that those of you belong to. Your culture grants power to somebody because they're older or because they have a particular position in society. That would be an example of positional power. A second kind of power is called allocate of allocate of power. Is what happens when I have the potential to distribute material things that matter. Allocate of power happens when I have control over a certain amount of money and can give it to one place or to another. Or I control the flow of food from one place to another. Those are allocate of resources. A third kind of power is called interpersonal power. It's power that people grant one another, and it's interpersonal power that I want to talk with you more about. Interpersonal power is possessing something that someone else values and or needs to achieve their goals. It's possessing something that someone else needs or values in order to achieve their goal. In that category of interpersonal power. There are two types of power. You have resource control, which is your control over material resources.

[00:24:42] If people value the resources you control, they may grant you power. Another kind of powers, interpersonal linkages. These are the connections that you have with other people. When one of my students asked me to write a letter of recommendation because I know somebody at the school to which they're applying, I have an interpersonal linkage power with them. They grant me that power because of the connections I have with other people. A third kind of interpersonal power is communication skill. If you value someone who can listen well to you, that person who listens well has a kind of power with you. If you value clarity of instruction. The person who is a clear instructor has a kind of power with you. A fourth kind of interpersonal power is expertise. You possess some kind of special skill or knowledge that the other values. If, for example, in your culture somebody understands agriculture and how to grow a crop, well, they have a kind of power granted because of their expertise. So those are types of interpersonal power that emerge in relationships and will be a factor in conflict situations. There are also some misunderstandings about power. It is a misconception that power is a fixed trait that some people possess and other people don't. The truth, rather, is that power is with people not over them. I have power with people as they grant me power because they recognize that I possess something that they value. The example I often use in class is about whether as a professor, I have power over my students. The answer is no, I don't have power over them. I have power with them. If they value what I possess, if they value grades and I have some control over grades, then I have a power resource that they value.

[00:27:12] If they value the knowledge of the content that we're doing in our class, I possess a kind of power with them because of that knowledge. But both those instances are power with not power over. I have power with them granted by them because I possess something that they value. If I don't possess something they value or they don't value the things that I do possess, I don't have power with them. The best example of power with not power over is the life of Jesus. Jesus came in to a social structure which valued place and prestige and social power. Jesus did not give this same kind of value to those issues. So people like scribes and Pharisees didn't have the kind of power with Jesus that they had with other people. He didn't value what they possessed, so they didn't have power with him. A second misconception about power is that all power is limited and finite. Some kinds of power are finite money. In some parts of the world, water. Are two examples of some resources that are finite. But not all power is finite. Some kinds of power like respect. Love. Are not finite. If we perceive that those kinds of power are finite, we set ourselves up for conflict. The third misconception about power is that all power is inherently good or inherently bad. Some people believe that all power is inherently good. Therefore they grab for and control as much power as they can. Some people believe that power is inherently bad, therefore they won't assume any kind of power, even if it's appropriate for them to do so. The truth is that power is neither inherently good nor inherently bad. Power simply is a relational force in all conflict situations.