By Geoff Gorsuch

Most groups take three steps forward, then two steps back. Problems are an inherent part of the job of leading a group. You can expect plenty of setbacks on your way around the bases. A good player-coach not only needs a game plan but also needs to make mid-game coaching adjustments. The following are some common problems and suggested changes that can be made while the group moves along.

We’re stagnating.

First base is a great place to be, unless some members want to progress further. Then the group will have a problem with differing expectations. After six to twelve weeks, this provides a natural time of evaluation and re-commitment. Ask the group what they really want to do. Though it is possible that they want to stay at the acquaintance level, they can move on with a little prodding by the coach.

Our group wants to move more quickly.

Speed in rounding the bases is possible. It is a product of group desire, honesty, transparency, common commitment, and trust in one another. Often, a crisis will be catalytic in the progress of the group. Don’t try to avoid crises. Expect them.

How can I tell if we are making progress?

Howard Hendricks says that “the atmosphere you create is more important than the content that you cover.” If you, as the group leader, can answer the following questions positively, you are probably right where you need to be.

– Is caring encouraged? (Have we felt cared for?)

– Is everyone comfortable with his level of participation?

– Are we comfortable with the level of communication?

– Are we moving at a pace agreeable to all?

– Is there a good balance between the social and the spiritual aspects of the group?

– Is healthy conflict permitted?

– Are the rules of conflict resolution clear in everyone’s mind?

My group is too diverse.

The following is an overview of the different types of people that may tend to keep a group from progressing, along with some helpful suggestions.

– Some men are very social creatures and have little time for anything else. They’re there for the fellowship and will probably not do the work required for the study or the task. A good coach will need to challenge them to go deeper in their walk with God and be willing to pay the price to do so.

– Others feel that they are right. Often they have a holier-than-thou manner that stifles the group. They probably need to remember that Jesus was also very human and communicated in such away that people were invited into His life.

– Some are very intelligent and they know it. However, Jesus related well to others where they were. A smart person needs to remember that his call to Christ includes his brothers and that he will not experience the love of God without them.

– There are many amateur psychiatrists these days who give counsel that is not asked for. These people need to remember that Jesus always asked those who came to Him what He could do for them. If they do the same, they’ll stop assuming too much with people.

– Finally, there are those who are just reluctant participants. They’d rather be home watching the game. A gentle challenge in the area of their personal growth should suffice to help them recognize their need for their brothers.

One person dominates the discussion.

All group members have a vital contribution to make. It’s just a question of clarifying how they should make it and when. This goes back to our listening skills. Members have to be patiently reminded that their agenda is not the only one that’s worthy. As obvious as that sounds, people forget it. The leader shouldn’t.

We seem to disagree about important issues.

There are divisive issues in our Christian culture such as abortion, the use of alcohol, and the role of government. The Scriptures address some of these issues but are silent on others. As a result, throughout its history the Church has tried to adhere to the following motto: “In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, diversity. In all things, charity.” Where we can, we must let the Bible speak for itself. Otherwise we may be in the area of a nonessential to faith and practice. In that light, here are good reminders when conflict arises:

– Don’t let the talkative people win. Those who need a little more time to formulate their ideas will be uncomfortable with the outcome.

– Avoid arguing about who’s right or who’s wrong.

– Let the Bible speak. Put the focus back on the texts that speak to the issue.

– Make more observations on those texts.

– Pray and give the Spirit time to work.

The group is too quiet.

If the members are too quiet: Let them think! The Spirit could be surfacing some issues. After a pause, however, you may want to put the emphasis back upon what they’ve observed: “What does the text say about this?” If a member is habitually quiet, ask him specifically to share his observations. Remember, good observations must precede interpretations in the discussion of a text or an issue.

No one seems to want to pray, or our prayers seem superficial.

If prayer seems stifled, there may be a lack of trust in the group. If that is the case, return to first base and plan some activities that will encourage the men to interact in a more informal way. That should rekindle the trust-building and, in time, more prayer should follow. If that doesn’t do it, however, plan a study on prayer and begin to keep a journal of prayer requests and answers. Normally, as the men see the answers to their prayers, they will be encouraged to pray. Finally, you might try spending part of a day or weekend praying and fasting

Our sharing time never seems to go very deep.

If the sharing level remains shallow; the leader is probably not setting the example. It’s hard to share where we are struggling if the leader is constantly speaking of his victories or those of someone else. It’s always easier to talk of “them,” “they,” or even “we,” instead of “I.” It’s not until we discuss what “I” am going through that the discussion will become more authentic. If that doesn’t seem to work, return to first base by planning some informal activities that will allow the group to build more trust.

Our time seems to be centered on one person’s problems.

If the group is too distracted by a single member’s problems, meet with that person individually to determine whether or not he needs to get some help outside the group. Continue the prayer and loving support because anyone of us may be dysfunctional for a period of time. Life has away of happening to us all. However, if the difficulties appear to be prolonged, they are probably beyond the competence of the group and additional outside counseling should be sought.

What are the expectations that we should communicate at the first meeting?

– Attend all meetings whenever possible.

– Read/study any material agreed upon by the group prior to the meeting.

– Be willing to pray at times during the week for group members.

– What goes on in the group will remain appropriately confidential.

– We will value the contribution and opinions of each group member and accept him for who he is and where he is.

– Everyone is encouraged to participate and share freely, but members are equally free not to participate

What will “bench” the players?

Here are the five basic patterns that men use to delay the progress of the group.

a. They pacify each other. By that we mean that they are trying to avoid conflict by “not making anyone angry.” Honesty is avoided, causing others who are prone to express themselves to be strongly frustrated. These are the “yes men” of life. They always agree. Because of that, some would say that they can’t be trusted. They must be challenged to see conflict in a better light and to take some risks with their opinions and ideas.

b. Some men lack maturity and are always complaining. If the message is constantly negative, even though it may be helpful, it will not be heard. Most people instinctively protect themselves from negative messages. Gripers may be trying to control the situation or improve their status by criticizing others. That hardly leads to acceptance. Remind them of that.

c. Some men block the process by distracting others. They draw attention to themselves by saying or doing something that has nothing to do with the subject at hand. Their agenda is “me!” They act as if they are not aware that another topic is being discussed. However, like the gripers, until the others learn to ignore them, they can be quite disruptive. Remind them of their obligations to the group’s agenda.

d. Some men are just too calculating. They do not take into account the emotions of the team and the need for morale. They are more logical than even men need to be, and they do not allow themselves to become involved. The messages they send are not clear because they are too self-protective. This inhibits the sharing and bonding process. Encourage them to take a risk!

e. Finally, some men are just plain prejudiced. They do not know how to suspend judgment and they let their biased feelings speak before the bonding process has really begun. Review the listening skills with them and encourage them to work at accepting others!

How do we recognize the players who are so quick to disqualify the others?

Here’s just a sample of the moves they use:

a. The put-down is normally a sarcastic remark that affects only the person it is aimed at. Often the rest of the group will mistakenly go along with it and chuckle. But the damage is done, and if forgiveness is not sought or given, mutual acceptance will be missed.

b. They interrupt, but they don’t do it to clarify what the other person is saying. They do it to confront. They jump into the middle of the discussion to refute, not to understand.

c. They bring up the past instead of sticking to the topic at hand. This shifts the discussion away from mutual understanding and back to them: their pain, disappointment, and reasons why “it just won’t work.”

d. They mind read! Only they come to the wrong conclusions! Then they state them in such a way that damage is done. It’s jumping to conclusions about what people say and why they say it without having the maturity to seek clarification.

e. Finally, they do not watch their body language. Their body language is inconsistent with their words. They appear bored. Distracted. Indifferent. They give double messages by saying things in such a way that people can’t believe that they mean them. Their tone of voice and gestures just don’t match up, and after a while trust is lost.

There are other moves such as changing the subject, but these all boil down to one thing: Their agenda is more important than the group’s, and they will continue to bench the others until they get their way. Eventually they will have to be called on it and reminded that God has an agenda for the group much more important than their own.

Excerpted from, “Brothers!” by Geoff Gorsuch.
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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.”