Sometimes Christians think they have to agree with everyone in their small group. Part of the growth that people experience in a small group is enjoying fellowship with people that believe and act differently than they do. Learning to love those people and get along with them is a sign of spiritual maturity. From time to time, remind your group that it is okay to disagree.
REMIND THE GROUP THAT IT IS OKAY TO DISAGREE
What You Can Disagree On
There are many items that your small group members can and probably will disagree on. They probably will disagree on politics (nothing says that being a “Christian” means you must belong to a particular political party), favorites (places to vacation, foods, books of the Bible), dietary things (don’t criticize others who have specific diets they believe in), specific interpretations of some passages (secondary issues I will talk about below), and situational circumstances and decisions (what to do when faced with certain life situations).
The list of what your group can disagree on is long, and that’s okay. There are differences of opinions among humans because humans are different.
What You Can’t Disagree On
There are certain things your small group members can’t disagree on. In other words, the group needs to be in harmony and on the same page on certain issues. Lack of agreement will result in broken fellowship and conflict will be difficult to resolve.
One area you need agreement on is primary doctrinal elements. How do I define “primary” doctrinal elements? Look at your church’s statement of faith. Another area that your group needs to agree on are some specific moral matters that are closely related to the Christian faith and in which the Bible speaks directly about.
These are moral matters such as being pro-life in the abortion debates, believing that a man should have one-wife (not many wives), that extra-marital affairs are a sin and not tolerable among a Christian spouse, that God made man “man” and woman “woman” (sensitivity to the LBGTQ debates), and that marriage should be between a man and woman and was not meant for women to marry women nor men to marry men.
How to Navigate Disagreement in Your Small Group
Conflict is going to arise in your small group. When it happens, T.R.A.P. that conflict.
Tell Everyone That It’s Okay to Disagree
Different opinions and preferences are what defines humans and makes us unique. In the book of Acts there was a disagreement among two very godly men: Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39). It’s okay to disagree and to have different opinions. How boring the church would be if everyone agreed on everything!
Read Our Church’s Statement of Faith
Reading this statement of faith to your group puts the disagreement into its proper perspective. Additionally, it does not just leave the disagreement on “he said” and “she said” type of disagreement. It brings in an independent third party that can weigh in on the matter and provide clarity. David shared in one of his psalms, “LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp” (Pss 133:1). There are some things we won’t know until we get to heaven, so it’s best to not fight over them while here on earth.
Articulate the Desire for our Church Members to Agree on “Primary” Issues and That it’s Okay to Disagree on “Secondary” Issues
The group needs to agree on what is covered in the statement of faith, but they can disagree on what is not on the statement of faith. Paul writes to the Romans, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18). Conflict is a great teaching time for the group. It is a chance for the people in the group to learn about “primary” and “secondary” issues in the church. Those primary issues are discussed on the statement of faith, secondary issues are absent from the statement of faith. Let’s do what Paul said and “aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up” (Rom 12:19).
Provide a Way for The Discussion to Continue Outside the Group
Don’t let disagreement derail and discourage your group. Tell the people disagreeing to talk about the issues more after the group or at another time during the week. Remind them as Christians that we need to “Make every effort to keep yourself united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace” (Eph 4:3). Don’t allow two people’s conflict to negatively affect the entire group. And, if needed, involve the Small Groups Pastor or Small Group Coach if needed.
Conflict Helps Christians Grow
Learning to disagree with people that don’t act and think like us while still loving them is one of the signs of a mature Christian. When disagreement comes up in your small group, remember that it is an opportunity for your group to grow in their faith.
In his book, Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus, M. Scott Boren shares, “Conflict creates opportunities for us to grow up. We don’t like conflict, but we need it. The goal is to provide safe places for people to press through the tension so that they can overcome the fight-or-flight impulse, achieve resolution and enter a new comfort zone” (p. 176).
Next time a conflict comes up in your group use the T.R.A.P. method to help your group grow through the process of having a disagreement.