Learning to Lead a Small Group - Lesson 9

Conflict Management

In this lesson, you will learn the importance of conflict management in small group leadership and the various strategies for resolving conflicts that may arise within the group. By understanding the reasons behind conflicts and the techniques to address them, you will be equipped to foster a healthy group dynamic, built on trust, respect, and open communication. You will also gain insights into common conflict scenarios and how to effectively navigate them, ensuring a positive and collaborative group environment.

Ron Pyle
Learning to Lead a Small Group
Lesson 9
Watching Now
Conflict Management

I. Introduction to Conflict Management

A. Why conflict occurs in small groups

B. The importance of addressing conflicts

II. Conflict Resolution Strategies

A. Active listening

B. Creating a safe environment

C. Encouraging open communication

III. Common Conflict Scenarios and Solutions

A. Personality clashes

B. Differences in opinions and beliefs

C. Misunderstandings and miscommunications

IV. Maintaining a Healthy Group Dynamic

A. Fostering trust and respect

B. Encouraging collaboration and teamwork

C. Evaluating and adjusting group processes

  • 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
Conflict Management
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:01] What I've tried to do so far is to describe the nature of interpersonal conflict, the nature of conflict in ministry situations, some types of conflict and the issue of power. We finished this session with what is in some respects the most important conversation, and that is how do we manage it? What can I do to more productively manage the conflict that we experience? This conversation begins with biblical mandates. If you have Bibles, I invite you to turn to Matthew chapter 18, and I'll start reading at verse 15. This is Matthew 18, starting at verse 15. The Scripture says, If your brother sins against you, go show him his fault. Just between the two of you, if he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. In this passage, we see some biblical mandates for managing conflict. The first mandate says if your brother sins against you, if you have a perceived offense done by another, you don't wait for them to come to you. Your job is to seek reconciliation first, regardless of what they do. The second principle that you see in this passage is that conflict management starts in private, not in public, where humiliation is likely, but in private, where people can restore relationships and save face. The circle of people involved in the conflict only grows as resistance to reconciliation is expressed. So it begins small. A second passage that we'll consider in managing conflict is in Matthew chapter five.

[00:02:39] This is Matthew chapter five. I'll read at verse 23 versus 23 and 24. Therefore. If you are offering your gift at the altar. And there. Remember that your brother has something against you. Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother. Then come and offer your gift. This passage is an interesting complement to the one in Matthew 18, because this passage says if you're at the altar and remember there that your brother has something against you. In Matthew 18, it was you have something against your brother. Now it's your brother has something against you. The point of these two passages put together says it doesn't matter if you're the one doing the perceived offense or if you're the one receiving the perceived offense. Your responsibility under God is the same. In both cases, your responsibility is to seek reconciliation, to take the first step, regardless of what the other does that you make the first step. A third passage that we'll consider as a biblical mandate for managing conflict is in First Corinthians chapter six. I will start reading at verse one and I'll read versus one through eight First Corinthians Chapter six, verses one through eight. If any of you has a dispute with another dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Saints? Do you not know that the Saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life. Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges, even men of little account in the church. I say this to shame you.

[00:04:57] Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead one brother goes to law against another. And this in front of nonbelievers. The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be treated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong. And you do this to your brothers. This convicting passage makes the point that in the church we should go to people in the church first rather than going to the civil courts. Some churches have taken this passage very seriously and set up in the church dispute management centers with people who are trained to help people manage their conflicts and to do so in church. Verse seven of chapter six says, The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Even if you win in court, you've already been defeated. The world is looking to the church to see whether we can manage relationships with one another, who we claim to be in our families, or whether we will be just like the world and live in the same kind of discord and rebelliousness as the world. Brothers and sisters take care for how you manage conflict. And my encouragement is that you obey the biblical mandates in addition to those helpful passages of Scripture. Here are some other practical guidelines for managing conflict. My encouragement is that you seek consensus on the basics. First, when you have conflict with another. Begin with where you agree. That gives you a base of trust from which to begin the rest of the process. Instead of focusing only on where you disagree, begin with where you agree. Please in your conflict, watch your attitude toward yourself, toward others, and toward conflict itself.

[00:07:24] Remember, this conflict is a normal part of relationship. You aren't unnatural or ungodly. If you experience conflict, it's part of relational life. And when it comes to thinking about yourself, listen to this word from James. Chapter one, Verse 19. Here's what James suggests you do. Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Be quick to listen. If your first response is to listen well, other people won't have the same need to escalate their behavior. If they feel understood. Received. If you've listened well, their need to escalate behavior goes down. Be slow to speak before you give verbal response. Listen well and watch your emotions be slow to become angry. Another practical move that you can make in managing conflict, especially those of you who end up as leaders in home groups and small groups. Educate your groups. And model healthy conflict management in the context of our life together in Christ. We should be receiving instruction in how to manage relationship with one another. God's design from the beginning is that we live in shalom, peace with God and with one another. And the created order. That's part of God's design for life. Here's an opportunity. Those of you who have a place of leadership, this is an opportunity to educate people in what it means to live. Shalom. My encouragement is that you intervene early. If you're unsure about whether something you've done has created discord or pain or hard feelings for another, intervene early. Don't wait for them to come to you. You lose nothing by initiating that conversation. If you go to another and say, I don't know if my words offended you, if they did, I'm so sorry if they have offended the other. You cut it off at the very beginning of the process.

[00:09:54] You didn't let it grow. If they haven't offended the other, you haven't lost anything. Intervene early as you communicate with people in conflict. My encouragement is that you establish supportive environments. Here, I'm drawing on the work of a communication scholar whose name is Jack Gib, who contrasts supportive and defensive environments. There are attitudes and behaviors that invite people to be defensive and attitudes and behavior that invite people to be supportive. Here are some of the defensive and supportive environments. When people feel evaluated, judged, measured and condemned, they tend to become defensive. If you can frame your communication not in terms of evaluation, but in terms of description, you invite supportive ness. Here's an example. If the Treasurer of your House group has not given an account of where the money went, an evaluation sounds like this. Why have you been so irresponsible? Irresponsible is a judgment on their behavior. A description sounds like this. It's been three months and we haven't received a Treasurer's report. That isn't an evaluation. It's simply a description of what has happened. If you can keep your communication descriptive, you tend to invite support rather than evaluation, which invites defensiveness. A second environment is the difference between your agenda. And what you need. When people believe that you are pursuing your own agenda, you have an outcome that you want to achieve. When that agenda becomes primary, people tend to get defensive. If instead of agenda you consider what you need, expressing needs tends to be met with supportive ness. Here's an example. When our children were in high school, we had one car that they shared. One child would wake up in the morning and say, I'll be taking the car today because I have to get to practice.

[00:12:33] The other one says, You can't have the car because I have to get to the mall. They get locked into their agendas and can't see options. Instead of focusing on agendas, we tried to train them to focus on needs. The first child said, I'll be taking the car. And I would say, Well, what do you actually need? What they needed was to get to practice. They didn't need a car. What they needed was to get to practice. What the other child needed was to get to the mall. They didn't have to have a car. What they had to do was get to the mall. If you think about the situation through needs, all kinds of options present themselves, that would not be apparent otherwise. One option is one of the children drops the other off at where they need to get, or they could get a ride from somebody else, or they could ride with mom and dad somewhere else. All kinds of options emerge if you start to think about what you need, not what your agenda is. Here's my encouragement. When you meet a conflict situation. First, ask yourself, What is it that I really need? Put your finger on the need. And all kinds of options were open up for a supportive environment. A third distinction that Gibbs draws is between the defensive environment of strategy. When people believe that you have ulterior motives and you're being strategic and a way to manipulate those ends, they will tend to become defensive. The supportive environment is one of spontaneity. That is creativity and openness that lets things emerge. Here's an example of strategy. Congratulations on the money you just inherited from your grandfather. Would you like to be part of the Deacon's board to give money to the church? That communication is strategic.

[00:14:34] It says, My interest in you has a motive beyond you. We are, after, in conflict situations, a spirit of spontaneity and openness. A fourth distinction is between neutrality, which is perhaps better thought of as indifference and empathy. When people believe that you are so neutral that you are indifferent, you don't care one way or the other, they will tend to get defensive if people believe that you are trying to be empathic. That is to think about how the world looks and feels from their point of view. They will tend to be supportive. Here's an example of a neutral response. Somebody has been attending your house church and is discontent with the amount of prayer that goes on. They come to you and say, I'm so sick and tired of having prayer dominate our small group. If we spend 20 minutes praying one more time, I'm not going to be part of this group anymore. Neutrality is a response by which you would say, Well, that's up to you. You can come or you can go. Empathy is a response that would say, Tell me a little bit about what's problematic for you with the prayer. At least I try to understand the other rather than dismiss them and be indifferent to them. The fifth contrast is between a spirit of superiority, which tends to invite defensiveness and a spirit of equality that tends to invite supportive ness. When people believe that your intent is to demonstrate yourself to be superior to them, they tend to become defensive. Superiority in a house church looks like this. You're studying a passage of Scripture that you, the leader, have spent much time preparing and processing. Superiority is a response that says, Oh, your belief about this passage is naive.

[00:16:59] And if you knew more about the Bible like I do, you would know that you are wrong at this point. Equality is a spirit of humility that says, I might have something to learn from you. Even if we disagree about this issue, I might have something to learn. The sixth contrast is between being closed and being open. Closed ness tends to promote defensiveness. Some people are so sure they're right that they won't entertain any other ideas when they present themselves as so confident that they're right, that they're close to any other ideas. People tend to respond defensively. Openness does not mean that you're being relativistic. Openness means in humility. I'm open to hear the views of another. I may have something to learn. So what we strive for in conflict management is environments that encourage supportive behaviors. Another move that you can make in conflict management that may prove productive is to distinguish what we call triggers of the conflict from the actual causes. A trigger in a conflict situation is the immediately preceding event right before the conflict erupts. The trigger. The last thing that happens before the conflict erupts is not always the same thing as the cause. Here's an example. Someone has been attending your house church. You sing a hymn that they dislike. They storm out saying, I will never come back to this group again. Probably you're dealing with a trigger, not the actual cause of the conflict. One of the ways you know the difference is when their response is out of proportion to the offense. Probably you're dealing with a trigger, not the actual cause of the conflict. So when a conflict emerges, you want to ask yourself, am I observing the trigger or is this the actual cause of the conflict? Another move that you can make in managing conflict is to defuze yourself.

[00:19:40] To Defuze means to take the explosive potential out of a conflict situation. You can defuze yourself by asking some questions like these. Have I listened well before? I've responded. Have I understood the other? You can diffuse yourself also by asking a question like how important is it to me to win in this conflict? You can ask a question like, am I really part of this conflict or did I just happen to be the object at which they vented? You can also defuze others pull the explosive potential out of others. The best way to defuze others is to listen well in private. You can help to manage conflict productively if you deal with conflicts as they arise rather than letting them grow. Ephesians 426 says in your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. And do not give the devil a foothold. Do not let the sun go down while you're still angry. Deal with conflict as it comes up. Don't let it develop over time. Finally, in managing conflict, you can agree to disagree. We don't have to be in complete agreement with all our brothers and sisters in Christ about everything. It is to our shame that the fellowship in Christ is severed by issues that sometimes are not very significant, but issues that we allow to separate us. I sometimes take students to South Africa on a study program that Whitworth University does. The last time I was in South Africa, we met with a South African theologian whose name is John de Groot. De Groot. He said when the apartheid system got overthrown, people were free to resume normal relationships. The trouble is, those normal relationships produced as much segregation as apartheid did.

[00:22:16] And then he said, The body of Christ is not called to normal relationships. We're called to supernatural relationships. Brothers and sisters in Christ. We should be living in such a way that the world is stunned that this collection of people could be together, that people of different political preferences, of different music preferences, of different family structures. The world should be stunned that people in Christ can come together. What holds us together is the person of Christ. And to our shame, we allow all kinds of minor issues to divide us. May that not be. Jesus. The Christ is the source of our supernatural fellowship with one another. Of our community that defies explanation by the world. Today, it's been our privilege to consider community the way that God intended from the beginning. What it means to participate in the image of God. Who exists in eternal Trinity community. We've tried to talk about some of the foundational issues of group life. What are the qualities of effective group life? How do you start a group or a home church? What should you do in the first meetings? How do you engage the process of covenant ing? We've talked about the concept of leadership, some of the realities and obstacles of leadership, how leadership emerges and some of the tasks of leadership and how one leads a discussion. And we've talked about the nature and types of conflict. Why conflict in the body of Christ ends up being so problematic. So often we've talked about the role of power in conflict and some of the conflict management skills that might be used. All of this. It's not for the purpose of our groups alone. All of this, like all of life, is for the purpose of building up, pointing to Jesus Christ, building up the Kingdom of God, participating in God's already existent process.

[00:24:45] My hope, my prayer. Is that the result of this will produce edification for you and glory for God. Please pray with me. Lord God. Thank you. For the privilege of being involved with you. Forgive us for the times that we step ahead. We are your followers. Do with us as you will make of us what you will. And in all things, in all ways, may you be glorified. Thank you for the miracle of relationship, for how it reflects your glory. You're created. Order yourself and God when you give us grace to live with integrity in those relationships. Always returning glory to you because you deserve it. In Jesus name, Amen.