I am privileged to serve as the Assistant Pastor of Small Groups at Rocky Hill Community Church. Last month I spent some time with some of our small group leaders talking about how people “learn” in small groups. Here’s some tips you can use to help people learn in the small groups you lead.
I. ACCORD: THE “UNIFYING QUESTION” FROM THE PAST WEEKEND MESSAGE 1
A. Reinforce the Message
1. Why the Message Needs Reinforcement
While my wife Jen and I were living in Texas we attended the Dave Ramsey course at church that was located just across the freeway from our apartment. In this format for the class there was about 150 people there and you were placed at a specific table each week with the same people. So, over the course of time you get to know those people. Jen and I were one of the few people who were attending the class that were not members of the church that it was being held at.
The church was a very charismatic and pentecostal type of church. So, while sitting there with the church members at our table I would sometimes make small talk. One week I was asking them about their church and how they liked it there. They responded saying that they loved hearing the Word taught there and that their pastor really brings the Word hard and delivers it well. And, when you leave that church you can’t help but be pumped up and rejuvenated for the work. I responded saying that that was great and that I was glad they had found a church where the pastor preached in a way that fed them. I then proceeded to ask them what the pastor had taught on that last weekend end.
As soon as I asked them the three people began looking at each other with a confused look. Not one of them could remember what the pastor had taught on that last weekend. And, this was “Wednesday” so they had just heard the message three days earlier. I really felt bad about that situation and told my wife that evening that I wished I would not have asked that question because you could tell that they were embarrassed that they loved what they were taught but that they could not remember what they were taught. So, I’m using that as an example that the “Unifying Question” (which I will define a little later) is a way to help people wrestle with what was said in the message and to help them find ways to apply it to their lives.
2. Good Questions to Ask
What stood out to you from this past weekend’s message?
What did you hear that you hadn’t heard before?
What have you done as a result of what the pastor taught?
How are you going to change how you do things based on what was said?
B. Encourage People to Attend
1. Small Groups Are a Part of our Church
LIFEGroups are the discipleship element of Rocky Hill Community Church. With that said, we want to make sure that everyone in a small group worships God in the context of the church as well. Most of the people who are in our groups are going to be from our church, but if you have some people that are in your group that do not attend our church, that’s okay too. But, they should be plugged into a Christian church somewhere because a small group is not a substitute for church.
2. What Is Church?
Additionally, someone might say, “But hey, the Bible says ‘where two are gathered in Jesus’ name, I am with you.’ The context of that passage has nothing to do with what a church is or what a church does. In Matt 18:19-20 the context is correcting another believer and prayer, not at all about church. With that said, let’s look at what the church actually is.
First, the church is commanded to go into all nations and make disciples (Matt 28:18-20).
Second, baptism is another thing that the church does for believer who want to provided external evidence of an internal change (Acts 2:38; 9:18-19; Rom 6:1-11).
Third, the church should regularly practice the Lord Supper as a tangible reminder of what the Lord Jesus Christ did for us through his bodily death and resurrection (1 Cor 11:17-34).
Fourth, the church should be hearing the Word of God, wrestling with it, and seeking to obey what it teaches (1 Tim 4:13; 2 Peter 3:15-16).
Fifth, there needs to be some uniformity about what constitutes the Bible and the core teachings of it. For example, believers in the New Testament affirmed the Old Testament (Matt 22:29-32, 43-45; John 10:35) and now we accept the New Testament as part of the God’s Word too (Heb 1:1-3; 2 Peter 3:15-16; Rev 22:16-19). Furthermore, we accept Jesus as the Son of God—fully God and fully human—as our Savior, we believe Jesus is coming back, and we believe in a Triune God. These are all part of the “basic agreements” that constitutes a church.
Sixth, songs and hymns seem to be included in what believers should participate in (Eph 5:19; cf. Phil 2:5-11; Col 1:15-20).
Seventh, one of the elements of a church—the body of Christ—is that it is made of up believers that exercise their gifts. The passages that describe the body of Christ as having different elements are different members as being part of a church are in Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4; 1 Peter 4. I think we can all agree that these spiritual gifts are something that the body of Christ—the church—has and should employ. However, if we have small groups that have six people in them, there is no way for everyone to exercise their spiritual gifts. If you have the gift of hospitality then the person who hosts the group at their home is going to exercise their gift, or if your gift is teaching then the person that facilitates the discussion somewhat gets to use his or her gifts.
II. ACCURACY: CAREFUL INTERPRETATION AND A GUIDED OPEN DISCUSSION
A. Careful Interpretation
1. Leader Box
I always include several things in the leaders’ supply boxes every time they start a new study. One of the things that I always put in there is our church’s doctrinal statement. I often include a commentary or notes on some of the passages that might be more difficult to interpret or have the people apply to their lives. I try to give you tools to do that, which is why I really like Warren Wiersbe’s books because he has study guides small groups use, but he also has commentaries.
2. Pastoral Help
One of our Men’s LIFEGroups decided they wanted to study the book of Hebrews just before I began working here last summer. Hebrews has some difficult parts so I was glad to know that they were tackling a long and difficult New Testament letter. So, I would check in with them every couple weeks say, “How’s it going, where are you guys?” And they’d replied, “Oh we are great. We are in chapter two.” Then a few weeks later I’d check in and say, “How far along are you in Hebrews? How is it going?” And they would reply, “We love Hebrews! We are in chapter four!” Then, about a month later I get a frantic email message saying, “Hey, we were in chapter 6 and thoroughly are confused! We need help!” And to that I said, “There it is. I was waiting for it.” I share that story because part of my role as the Assistant Pastor of Small Groups is to help you and your group when you get stuck. Sometimes there are parts of Scripture that are a little more fuzzy and you might need some assistance, and that is what my job is for.
3. Facilitator Preparation
And, you don’t have to wait till the group meets and gets stuck. As the facilitator you should always be spending a little bit of time in preparation. If you have a DVD for your group take some time and watch the DVD lessons and fill in the blanks so you know what is going to be taught and how you might need to guide that discussion. If you are using curriculum that is going verse-by-verse through the Bible make sure you read the passage a few times, take time to complete the questions, and think about you might like to facilitate the discussion.
B. A Guided Open Discussion
You, as leaders of LIFEGroups are facilitators, not teachers. You should be doing 25 percent of the talking. They are about the spiritual growth of people. And, that’s one of the reasons that people join a group: to get to interact with others.
III. APPLICATION: PERSONAL RELEVANCE FOR MEANINGFUL LIFE CHANGE
A. An Example
If it’s okay for me to share transparently here, this is something I struggle with. One of the great things about attending Seminary is that you become well educated and learn a lot of great in-depth material about the Bible, theology, and Greek/Hebrew. However, the byproduct is that you learn about a lot of stuff that isn’t really relevant to the everyday Christian and that does not have a lot of personal application for the believer. For example, when I preached on Phil 1:12-18 recently there was a section I wanted to share about the “chiasm” that is in vv. 15-17 where Paul mentions the good guys, the bad guys, the bad guys again, and then the good guys. I wanted to show how this was a literary device that Paul used that many other New Testament authors used. I also wanted to talk about the background to that text and how they are a couple of different manuscripts of that letter that have the ordered changed and that’s not a big deal. So I practiced my sermon with Jen and she said, “what’s the point of this? it doesn’t add to your message.”
B. Personal Relevance
So, with that said we want to make sure that each time your LIFEGroup meets that there is personal relevance for meaningful life change. This means that you draw the topic in and get the people to apply it. Now, if you’re using a set curriculum there are going to be set questions to get the people to apply it.
For example, in the LifeGuide Bible Study in John (written by Douglas Connelly) that Bob Ally ends one section by saying, “Thank Jesus for coming to explain God fully to us. Use some of the titles and descriptions from this chapter to express your work and praise to him” (p. 11). This gives an application for the person on her own to apply the chapter by praising God using the titles of the chapter questions. In the group you can have people do it there or you can encourage them to do it on their own. The most important element of this is that you have to follow up.
Just because they hear about something that they should do does not mean that they are going to follow through. Your job as the leader is to follow up with people on this. The next week when you meet, ask the people how they’ve applied what they learned. Never single out a person directly and embarrass them, but instead simply say, “Last week we talked about this. How is it going?” Real life change happens when we follow up on the applications that people say they want to make. Use basic questions such as, “What did we talk about last week that changed what you did or how you thought this week?” “What did you do differently this week based on our study last week?” “What personal application did you decide to make last week in our study and how did it go?”
Under the “Now or Later” section of the LifeGuide Study it says, “Consider some ways that you (as an individual or as a group) can be a witness for Jesus in your community. Plan to take one specific action this week to demonstrate Jesus’ love to others who don’t yet know him.” This is a great way to end your meeting and suggest to people that do they this. Then, when you meet the next week, start here! Follow up with them and ask, “Based on the application from last week, what specific action did you take to show people Jesus’s love?”
Question:Do you have any other ideas for how people can “learn” in small groups?
The three elements of “accord,” “accuracy” and “application” are copyrighted material of my senior pastor, Dr. David Ward Miller ↩
A couple years ago I wrote a series of blog posts about the Apostle Paul and how he displayed specific leadership characteristics in the book of Philemon. However, looking back on those posts now, I do not believe that I provided adequate background information on the Apostle Paul. Because of that, some of the leadership principles might have been missed.
At the bottom of this post I’ve provided links to my four posts about Philemon and Paul’s leadership. However I’ve shared in today’s post some significant background information on the Apostle Paul to help you see how his leadership was displayed in the book of Philemon. Continue Reading…
Manipulation is almost a dirty word in America. No one wants to feel manipulated to do anything, which is why when you lead people you cannot use manipulation as a way to get them to do work. In this post I will share why it is important to motivate people to do work instead of manipulating them.
Learning to live with my neighbor is something I have been praying about and working on lately.
Thomas Merton’s comments in Bridges to Contemplative Living are very beneficial when he writes, “How does man attain to a real union of love with his neighbor? . . . . by a realistic collaboration in the work of daily living in the world of hard facts in which man must work in order to eat” (p. 40). Having a “union of love” with my neighbor is something I honestly do not have with most people.
Even though I a respectful of others thoughts and opinions and I get along with others well, I often have trouble connecting deeply with people or I feel that I am different. This has led me to withdraw and feel hurt when I do open myself up for others in an attempt to build friendships only to have the other person not follow through on what they say or promise.
However, I find Kempis’ words encouraging when he tells us in The Imitation of Christ, “The man who is neither eager to please men nor afraid to displease them is the one who will enjoy great peace” (p. 119).
Perhaps part of my lack of feeling close to others (or the feeling of being very different) is because I am trying to please them or not please them?
This is something I will dedicate more time and attention to in my prayers going forward.
Question:How do you learn to live with your neighbor?
Today is the final post in my series about engaging in conflict with upper management. You can read yesterday’s post here, Talk it Out.
APPLYING THESE PRINCIPLES TO ORGANIZATIONAL LIFE
These new understandings of how to effectively engage in conflict with upper management give us a new framework when conflict arises at work. Now while at work, we know that when conflict comes up, we should not stand for any type of behavior by our boss that is hostile or that belittles us. We also know that it is important that we talk out the conflict with leadership of our organization in a productive way that does not vent our negative feelings and shows support for our leader.
Much of this research is greatly beneficial to me in my work because I have a direct supervisor whom I work for and report to on a regular basis. She also reports to our President/CEO who also reports to our 25 member Board of Directors. So, as I am mostly at the bottom of our organization, I have to deal with how to have constructive conflict with the woman I report to because there are times when I disagree on an issue that we need to talk about and work through together.
Even though there are times when I express my disagreements with her and she makes a decision that does not agree with mine, it is ok because she has the authority to make decisions. It is also important that I navigate our conflict in an effective way in order to foster a positive work environment. This means I stay away from the avoid/criticize loop and not talk negatively about her to people inside or outside of our work department. This is important because she knows that no matter what happens in a conflict she has my support.
Another area that this research applies to my life is with my assertiveness to stand up for myself against unjust treatment. This means that when someone treats me poorly, either at work or at home, that I can stand up for myself. Being treated unjustly does not happen on a regular basis to me, but it is something I need to be sensitive to in the future because I know my natural tendency as an Analyzer/Preserver is to not defend myself against unjust treatment.
The odds are that you are like me: someone who works as part of a team who has one (or more) bosses you have to report to on a regular basis. Now that you know it is okay to engage in conflict with upper management on a regular basis by standing up against unjust treatment and talking out the conflict, I hope you will have productive conflict.
Question:How do you effectively engage in conflict with upper management?
 Susan Gilmore and Patrick Fraleigh, the Friendly Style Profile: a guide through calm and storm (Eugene, OR: Friendly Press, 2004).
BIBLIOGRAPHY (for entire blog series)
Baldoni, John. Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up. New York: American Management Association, 2010.
Barunek, Jean M., and Barbara E. Bowe. “Transformational Management of Conflict: A Perspective from the Early Christian Church.” Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal 1, no. 2 (1998): 151-162.
Gilmore, Susank and Patrick Fraleigh. the Friendly Style Profile: a guide through calm and storm. Eugene, OR: Friendly Press, 2004.
Lipsky, David and Ariel Augar. “The Conflict over Conflict Management.” Dispute Resolution Journal 65 (May/October 2010): 11, 38-43.
Schrock-Shenk, Carolyn., and Lawrence Ressler, eds. Making Peace with Conflict: Practical Skills for Conflict Transformation. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1999.
Roloff, Michael E. “Links between Conflict Management Research and Practice.” Journal of Applied Communication Research 37, no. 4 (November 2009): 339-348.
Swindoll, Chuck. David: A Man of Passion and Destiny. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997.
Wilmot, William and Joyce Hocker. Interpersonal Conflict. 8th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.
Today is part three of a four part blog series about engaging in conflict with upper management. You can read yesterday’s post here, Stand Up Against Unjust Treatment.
TALK IT OUT
I hesitate to say that management and workers need to talk about the issues in conflict because it seems obvious, but I am sure that you know it is not always practiced.
It is important to talk out conflict because “if a disagreement emerges, what you do not do matters as much as what you do.” Often it is easier to talk about and criticize the leader we work under instead of confronting the leader. In our course text, Wilmot and Hocker describe this as the “avoid/criticize” loop. They write, “The avoid/criticize loop is quite common in professional circles and the business world. One talks about others, but doesn’t join with them face to face and solve the problem.” That avoid/criticize loop can be seen in the diagram above.
Avoiding and criticizing the other person does little to create a resolution to conflict, especially if someone in task focused work has a conflict with someone in upper management because communication is already limited. Because of this reality between upper management and employees it only fosters an environment where more of the avoid/criticize loop happens.
If we have a conflict with someone in upper management we are most likely to share our disgust with the person(s) we communicate with the most. This means it is vitally important that we not participate in the avoid/criticize loop and when we do have a conflict with someone in upper management that we go to that person and talk about it directly. We saw this modeled for us in the passage of David confronting Saul.
Remember when David walked out of the cave, shouted to Saul to get his attention, and then confronted Saul on the wrongs that David believed were happening. Bible teacher Chuck Swindoll provides great commentary on this situation when Swindoll points out that “David told Saul the whole unvarnished truth; he told it to the person to whom it mattered most. Not to his comrades or to Saul’s friends or to the people of Israel, but to Saul himself. He came to terms with the individual with whom there was the battle.” This is good because if there is a conflict that takes place between you and upper management, you need to meet together, talk, and work through it.
Even though there are many strategies, techniques, and ideas about how to successfully talk through conflict, the simple attempt to work through the conflict can be constructive. What is important is to talk about the conflict because “collaboration actively affirms the importance of relationship and content goals and thus builds a team or partnership approach to conflict management.” According to Wilmot and Hocker the simple act of wanting to talk through the issue of conflict helps each person to know there is a problem which allows them to work to fix it. However, when conflict does arise most people shy away from it, so there must be a conscious decision to talk about it.
When I express the necessity of simply talking about the issue with upper management some people might perceive that as an excuse to “vent” their anger and feelings to the upper management, which is actually destructive. I want to make sure that as you attempt to talk out issues with upper management it does not mean you vent your emotions. Because communication sometimes does not happen on a regular basis on key issues in the workplace, it might allow for situations to happen over and over again which gives room for feelings of anger and hostility to build up. When those feelings of anger and hostility build up, it might be easy to vent your feelings.
Some people even mistakenly say that venting is healthy for the person who feels the anger. That is a fallacy.
Venting is more destructive than constructive to the person who is angry and the person who has to listen to the angry person. One textbook teaches, “Venting does nothing to help the conflict process.” This is especially true when you need to confront your leader. If you do think you need to vent, “do it with a safe friend, a counselor, a designated third party—not the conflict partner with whom you are attempting to work. Venting can feel wonderful for a while—but the price is usually too high to warrant the ‘Yes!’ feeling of telling the other person off.” When you decided to talk to upper management about conflict make sure you are focused on specific issues that you know need to be remedied.
Even if you do work hard to talk out the issue and not vent, it is important to remember that the leader has the authority to make the final decision. Sometimes the leader is open to the follower’s thoughts and opinions, sometimes she is not which is ok because that is the decision of the leader. In his book, Lead Your Boss, John Baldoni teaches us how to “Push Back the Right Way” to our boss when we disagree or have an idea that might be different than hers. Baldoni reminds us that if our leader does disagree with us we need to:
. . . act professionally. Most of the time, if you and your boss disagree, she will win the argument because she holds power over you and your peers. Accepting that fact does not mean you are a pushover. It is a sign of organizational savvy. It also opens the door for further dialogue. Make it clear that while you disagree behind closed doors, you will not embarrass you boss in a meeting with higher-ups. You will demonstrate your support. That gives the boss the security to know that you have her back. There will be times to voice your opposition, but you don’t want to do so in ways that will make your boss look foolish.
Baldoni gives us some great insight about talking out the conflict. It is good to remind the leader that you have her back in front of the rest of the group. As we already learned, expressing your anger and disgust about upper management to your coworkers only criticizes your leader and causes more conflict. It is important to voice your opinion and talk it out with your boss, but in the end your boss is still your boss, and she makes the final decision.
Question:How do you talk out conflict?
 Michael E. Roloff, “Links between Conflict Management Research and Practice,” Journal of Applied Communication Research 37, no. 4 (November 2009): 341.
An example of conflict from scripture is in 1 Samuel 28:7-22.
The context of this section of scripture is the mentally ill Saul (who we know was tormented by an evil spirit) is searching for David to kill him. For years Saul has attempted to hunt down and kill David. As a result, David and his men are hiding in a cave in the wilderness of En-gedi. While in the cave David is tempted to kill Saul but instead just cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe. Then Saul walks out of the cave, and David decides to confront Saul. It could be argued that until this point of David’s confrontation, he has been wrongly treated by Saul. Scripture tells us that David has been an outstanding commander and man of war in the Israelite army.
In fact, David was more successful than any of the other commanders in Saul’s army, yet Saul unjustly attempts to kill David on several occasions. And those attempts to kill David have caused Davod great emotional harm because he had to flee to the wilderness to hide, he had to move his family to keep them safe. The relationship with his best friend, Jonathan (who is also Saul’s son and next in line to become king), is in high tension, and he has lost his wife because of the conflict with Saul. As David follows Saul out of this cave, he decides to take a stand and confront Saul for the unjust treatment he has received by saying,
My lord the king! . . . . Why do you listen to the people who say I am trying to harm you? 10This very day you can see with your own eyes it isn’t true. For the Lord placed you at my mercy back there in the cave. Some of my men told me to kill you, but I spared you. For I said, ‘I will never harm the king—he is the Lord’s anointed one.’11Look, my father, at what I have in my hand. It is a piece of the hem of your robe! I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. This proves that I am not trying to harm you and that I have not sinned against you, even though you have been hunting for me to kill me. . . . 15May the Lord therefore judge which of us is right and punish the guilty one. He is my advocate, and he will rescue me from your power!
I think David does a great job of confronting Saul about the wrong things that he feels Saul has done to him. He does not just vent his emotions to Saul, (even though I am sure David was emotional), but he states his opinion that is based on fact. David declares that he will not stand for Saul attempting to kill him.
There comes a point when even if your boss secures your job and/or signs your paycheck, that extreme poor treatment should not be allowed to happen. You are a whole person and “when another’s expression of anger, rage, or contempt burns out of control, you have a responsibility to protect yourself. Listening to belittling; hostile blame; ridicule; demeaning or untrue accusations; sarcastic name-calling; contempt; or actual physical threats is not good conflict management.” One should not attack the unjust person but should not allow unjust behavior to happen, which is what we see here with David. David does not want to “win.” He just wants Saul to know that Saul is in the wrong, that David is going to allow God to judge each of them, that they should find a way to work together to seek the common good for both parties.
The next few verse tell us that David and Saul actually talk out the issue and come to a resolution where Saul confesses he has been wrong and David goes the opposite way.
Question:How do you stand up against unjust treatment?
Today is part one of a four part series sharing some research I did on how to engage in conflict with upper management.
WHY ENGAGING UPPER MANAGEMENT IN CONFLICT IS IMPORTANT
Engaging in conflict with upper management is a tough topic to discuss and an even more difficult thing to practice effectively.
That “boss” you have conflict with secures your job via your annual performance review, and he might also be the person who personally signs your paycheck. As someone working towards the bottom of the organizational hierarchy, I have felt the consequences of good and poor conflict management when interacting with my boss. Some of the experiences I have been through have led me to want to do research to discover the answers to questions such as: How do I as a follower with two levels of management above me express my dissatisfaction about an issue or topic while still staying in line with my leader? How do I do a good job of being a team member who is loyal to his boss while also expressing my thoughts and views that are different than what my boss has? How do I express my views and ideas that conflict with the leader above me and have those ideas and views implemented?
The idea of a young leader at the bottom of an organization creating conflict is new to traditional management philosophies which believe that power belongs at the top and should stay there. David Lipsky and Ariel Augar write, “Dealing with conflicts in organizations has traditionally been the responsibility of managers and administrators who took an authoritarian view of conflict and how to deal with it.” In the past, it was uncommon to have an organized method to deal with conflict created by a subordinate. And, some business leaders have legitimate grounds to believe conflict management systems promote workplace conflict and inevitably lead to higher levels of employee participation in decision making than is desirable.
I believe it is good that we take time to think through what conflict looks like because conflict is going to happen. Former pastor and leadership expert John Maxwell tells us that, “Conflict will arise in any organization. Humans disagree because they are wired differently and have different agendas.” Regardless of who you are or where you work in the organizational hierarchy you will have to engage in conflict. Reading through our text in class put it well this way: “Dealing with conflict is a little like being pregnant. It becomes clear at some point that the delivery needs to take place.” Since conflict is something that will happen sooner or later, I would like to share two successful ways to engage upper management in conflict.
Question: Why do you believe engaging in conflict with upper management is important?
 David Lipsky and Ariel Augar, “The Conflict over Conflict Management,” Dispute Resolution Journal 65, (May/October 2010): 11.