Dealing with Problem People in Home Bible Studies
Chatty Cathy and Silent Sal
Every group has them-the people who like to talk and the people who are happy to let them! Silent members can perplex and frustrate talkative group members and even leaders. Here are some thoughts on how to handle your subdued group members from two perspectives: a confessed quiet member and her more talkative counterpart.
Silent Sal Speaks
“When I’m silent, I’m usually thinking about the study, what others are saying, and what I think. Sometimes, I may feel uncomfortable speaking up for a variety of reasons. Never put me on the spot! Warn me, outside the group setting, before you ask me to speak. After you’ve investigated privately why I’m quiet, ask me to help you discover a way to involve me in the discussion.
“To begin with, you can slow down the pace. Often, just about the time I’m ready to speak, either a talkative person speaks again or you move on to the next question. When you feel the pressure of silence, stop and silently count to 10. When the silence hangs there just a few moments, that’s about the time I’m ready to speak up. If you force me to speak rather than using kindness to draw me in, I may disappear from the group altogether.”
Chatty Cathy Speaks
“I get uncomfortable with silence for several reasons. I usually assume you want my help with the discussion, so my urge is to jump in to get things going. Often, I go home feeling as if I dominated the entire discussion. Talk to me privately if you think I’m talking too much. Maybe my role is to be an encourager instead. If I tell the quiet ones privately how much I value their opinion, and if I count to 10 before I enter the discussion, our roles may reverse. I may learn to enjoy listening!”
Dianne E. Butts and Betty J. Johnson
When Someone Arrives in Pain
We had all settled in with our coffee, ready to begin our Bible study. But it soon became obvious that one group member was fighting back tears. So we stopped and said, “We’d like to listen if you want to talk.” The floodgates opened, and we spent the next half hour ministering to this woman.
Small-group ministry includes bearing one another’s burdens. Here are some considerations for the next time someone comes to your group in pain.
* If possible, acknowledge the person’s pain privately before your meeting and ask her if she wants to let the group know what’s going on. If not, keep it confidential.
* Remember that this situation is not a surprise to God. He is in control of the situation and the group.
* Ideally, your group will have discussed in advance how to respond to people in pain. Members will know not to jump in immediately with well-meant advice. Instead, they will gently ask questions and draw out the hurting person. They’ll be discerning in what they share about their own experiences-no horror stories, but only those personal accounts that communicate empathy.
* If certain verses come to mind, jot them on a piece of paper and give them to the person later. It is usually best not to quote Scripture while a person is pouring out his pain.
* Spend a few minutes in prayer. Incorporate the power of touch by holding hands or laying hands on the person in pain.
* When you sense the person is finished sharing, take a coffee break to decompress and then return to the lesson.
* Before you leave, ask how the group can help. Make a plan for ongoing, practical support. If the response is, “Just pray for me,” do it, and then check back in a day or two.
* Make sure the whole group knows and understands these principles.
The groan was almost audible as Sue (not her real name) verbally slammed her husband during our Bible study. The group was growing tired of her inappropriate and off-color comments, and the attitude toward her was worsening weekly.
We all encounter people similar to Sue: vocal people who make us cringe inwardly whenever they open their mouths, rough-around-the-edges people who offend us, opinionated people who make us roll our eyes in exasperation, unlovely people we’d rather avoid.
Some of these people end up in our small groups. How can we replace the groan in our hearts with Christ’s love? Here are some steps I’ve found helpful.
* Recognize Jesus’ love for them (see Matthew 9:12).
* View myself accurately-as equally needy before God (see Romans 3:23).
* Do a heart check. Perhaps the problem isn’t them, but my own attitude (see Matthew 7:1-5).
* Befriend them. We often judge or criticize people without knowing much about them. Finding out that Sue had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder helped me understand her impulsiveness as a medical issue as well as one of self-control. It increased my compassion for her.
* Stop commiserating with others about how inappropriate or problematic that person is. Gossip only compounds the problem (see Proverbs 26:20).
* Model grace. As I learned to respond graciously to Sue, others seemed to follow suit, and the atmosphere of our small group changed dramatically.
* Disciple them. Offer to meet with them for a set period of time to work on a specific area of needed growth or study. Developing a relationship with Sue convinced her of my love for her. When we looked together at Ephesians 4:29 and discussed the issue of unwholesome versus helpful talk, she received the correction in the spirit intended. As I met with Sue, she became a more positive and welcome contributor in our small group.
* Pray for them-not just during your quiet time but during your meeting as they speak. Also pray with them outside of meeting times.
* Expect the best. Look for evidence of growth, and affirm the positive. Trust God to grow them (see 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 3:20; Philippians 1:6).
As I’ve practiced these principles, Sue has become a blessing to my heart and to our entire small group. Hidden beneath her rough edges was a woman truly after God’s own heart. Imagine what we would have missed if I hadn’t listened to the voice of God prompting me to love her.
Banish the Blahs
Sooner or later, it happens to every group. You’re moving along just fine-and then the blahs strike. The people in your group bore you. Scripture is dry as dust. Your prayers all land in the ceiling corner with the cobwebs.
If the blahs linger, people start dropping out of the group. What can you do? In his book, Real Small Groups Don’t Just Happen, Neal McBride suggests these blah busters. Try one or two in your group.
* Suspend your usual format or agenda for two or three weeks, and do something entirely different. Brainstorm by asking group members, “What is something you’ve always wanted to do with this group?”
* Go on a weekend retreat. Escape as a group for fun and relaxation.
* Change your setting by switching to a new location. If you’ve been meeting at the church, meet in a home. If you’re tired of meeting in homes, meet at a restaurant. If weather permits, meet outdoors.
* Tackle a worthwhile project together. Commit to helping every Saturday for a month at a homeless shelter. Or volunteer as a group to staff the church nursery.
* In extreme cases, take a month off. Sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder.
* Meet with another group for several weeks. Study a particular topic together or watch and discuss a video series.
* Switch how you learn. If you’ve always done Bible studies, try a video series or a book. If you’ve always studied books of the Bible, try doing a topical study or character study.
What about the Children?
Include the children, or not? Provide activities for them in another room of the house, or not? Small groups consisting of young couples often face such questions. Some groups opt for a “no children except nursing babies” policy. This can work if everyone has access to a trusted babysitter and can afford the expense. Many young couples, however, are struggling financially.
If your small group is wondering, “What do we do with the kids?” here are some solutions to consider.
* Hire a babysitter for the entire group. She can keep the children in another room or at a nearby house. The entire group chips in to pay her. She could just baby sit or provide spiritually nurturing activities for the children.
* Ask group members to rotate as babysitters. This can only work if everyone commits to take a turn. The advantage is that all the adults build relationships with all the children. The disadvantage is that someone misses the meeting.
* Couples swap children with couples from another small group that meets on a different night. The Smiths watch the Johnson children when the Johnsons go to small group on Tuesday. On Thursday, the Johnsons watch the Smith children so the Smiths can attend their small group.
* Children participate for part of the meeting. They could join in for singing or icebreakers. For the rest of the time, they might watch a video in another room with an adult or teen supervising.
* Children stay for the entire meeting. Older children can fully participate, and the younger ones can color or read picture books. This requires that your meetings offer something for all age levels.
This article “Dealing with Problem People in Home Bible Studies” was excerpted from the book Best Small-Group Ideas by Susan Nikaido. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”