My house was so tiny and so lacking air conditioning and so full of so many kinds of bugs. And my hair was so bright red. And my necklaces were so cheap they turned my neck green. I was 22. I had plenty to learn and needed much maturity, but I really wanted to love Jesus. So, while I lived life with the hair dye and the bugs, once a week, I crammed 15-20 high school girls into my stuffy little living room to talk about Jesus.
A lot of great moments happened in that little warm room. And a lot of foolish ones, too. A stand-out, “seriously—I can’t believe that just happened” memory for me was when this group I co-led got into a full-blown fight, complete with semi-shouting and soft-glaring and possibly the passive questioning of people’s salvation.
I’m not even kidding you right now. We were really riled, and I can still picture the faces of the younger, impressionable girls in the room as they whipped their heads back and forth while I, in a full Pharisaical moment, bellowed, “If speeding is against the law, doing it is wrong! And if you know you’re doing something wrong and you don’t change, you’re in sin!”
Yep. Thank you, ladies and gentleman! This small group meltdown peaked with me passionately preaching condemnation on all the speeders in my life.
It was a disaster.
I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes I made while leading that group, and hopefully, God’s grace overcame my foolishness and reached the hearts of those young girls. But, if you’re a first-time disciple-maker, or if you’re just a young group leader, here are three ways you can avoid setting yourself up for small group disaster.
1. Don’t Co-lead with Someone When You’re Lacking Unity
This is something I could have easily avoided. You’ll probably never find another human that you agree with about every little thing 100% of the time. But, if you’re co-leading a small group, which is always wise if you want to be ready to multiply, you need to be pretty unified. Since you will differ on some things, even biblical interpretations, it’s so important to pow-wow about issues privately BEFORE they arise publicly.
If you know that your group is supposed to talk about something divisive like speaking in tongues or how the Bible speaks about politics, or, you know, how many miles over the speed limit constitutes unpardonable sinning, make sure you and your co-leader are on the same page before your group meets.
If you don’t agree, hash it all out in private, or just agree to facilitate that question for the group members without weighing in in a divisive way.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” —Ephesians 4:3 (NIV)
2. Don’t Meet Without a Study Plan
Many groups these days don’t have a content plan with a curriculum designed to help disciples grow. Studying the Bible by itself is awesome, but if you get a group together without any plan to facilitate a discussion, you’re setting yourself up for unexpected detours that could lead to unhealthy conflict.
I’m pretty sure the high school group I led was going through a book together. Going through books is wonderful too, but if you’re reading Scripture, or reading an author, and then setting up a discussion with the can-of-worms phrase, “Tell me what you think about…,” your conversation is very likely to take turns into places you are unprepared to handle or places that lead to little spiritual growth.
Have nothing to do with pointless and silly myths. Rather, train yourself in godliness.” —1 Timothy 4:7 (CSB)
Be ready to train. If you don’t have a plan, you could have a problem.
3. Establish a Culture of Grace
Any group of believers should go into their small group ready to talk in a gracious way. Groups that don’t lay the groundwork of grace are bound to go sour.
If Co-Leader and I had started from the beginning of the group saying things such as, “We share the same spirit…we speak the truth in love…we fill in the gaps with trust…,” the tone of conflict could have been vastly different. We could have disagreed in a more respectful way. We could have sought to understand instead of overstate.
If those girls and I were in a room together today, having that same discussion, we might have the same differing opinions we had then, but I hope I would communicate my thoughts in a way that displayed the grace of Jesus.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” —Ephesians 4:32 (CSB)
Scarlet Hiltibidal is a writer living in Nashville, Tennessee. Scarlet has a degree in biblical counseling and worked as a Christian schoolteacher before she started writing. She has written for and managed several online publications. Currently, she does freelance writing for various Christian publishers and produces small group curriculum for children. Scarlet is wife to Brandon, who is part of the Groups Ministry Team at Lifeway, and Mommy to her daughters, Ever Grace, Brooklyn Hope, and Sawyer Joy. Visit her blog at scarlethiltibidal.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @ScarletEH.