One of the most remarkable descriptors of Jesus Christ is that He came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). What is so remarkable about the very nature of Christ is that it is so unlike our human nature. Everyone, including us Christians, tend to lean in either the “grace” camp or the “truth” camp. Rarely do we see a balance! But, as Christ’s body charged with presenting an incarnational representation of Jesus to the world, we must balance both grace and truth when confronting sin within our group. The environment in which we then confront a group member must also be balanced between acknowledgment in the group setting itself (public), and meeting one-on-one with that individual group member (personal). So, how can each of these environments be useful for confronting sin and restoring fellowship to that group member? Let’s examine potential scenarios in a familiar FAQ format.
1. How do you respond when a sin has occurred by a group member toward another group member or toward a spouse, but the rest of the group isn’t aware of the situation?
In this circumstance, it is always best to confront first in a 1-1 setting or with only the parties involved. This follows Jesus’ instructions of confronting someone in Matt. 18:15-20. This personal setting allows truth to be said in the strongest way, without the fear of embarrassment from other onlookers in the group. And if there is repentance, grace can also be displayed by the parties involved without watching a group meeting time table. As a leader you are protecting the other group members from gossip, slander, being judgmental, or possibly too dismissive and too willing to overlook something serious. If the initial meetings of confronting the conflict go well, it is wise as the leader to do a regular check-up of the relationship – possibly after 2 weeks, then after 1 month, then after 2 months. If the relationship seems to be healing well, praise God. If the relationship is not healing or there is repeated sin, it will require another meeting, and in the following of Matt. 18, an increased number of group members involved in that meeting.
2. How do you respond when someone has crossed a line of inappropriate behavior against or with someone outside of the group/church, but only you as the leader knows about it?
If you, as the leader, is the only person aware of this occurrence, than confronting in a personal, 1 -1 setting would protect their image toward all the other group members, but you are still able to address the circumstance of their failing. Depending on the circumstance, you will want to seek out wise counsel from pastoral staff, or maybe another trusted confidant in the Community Group. Even as you would confront this circumstance personally, it would be wise to encourage the group member to share his/her failing with their spouse first, then to a small number of trusted individuals (same-gender) in the group for future accountability, but also for present expression of further grace.
3. How do you respond if someone has offended another group member, possibly even their own spouse, during a group meeting in view of the entire group?
Most group leaders will fight very hard to not bring up the proverbial “elephant in the room”, and yet this only contributes to the awkwardness that everyone might feel toward someone, whether their sin just occurred, or happened at another time and place. However, one way to be redemptive in this situation is to get the attention of the person, letting them know that their words or behavior was out of line, but then follow with the question, “what’s going on in your soul right now, because there’s got to be something more going on for you to lash out against him/her like you just did?” This question allows the awkwardness of the moment to be turned into a good opportunity to minister to the group member. Allow him/her to share, and then follow the Holy Spirit to ask additional follow-up questions that might show more grace and reveal more truth. Resist the urge to lecture or instruct here. Instruct the individual and the group through your questions. Allow other group members to ask questions, but don’t allow them to lecture or get overly verbal in their empathy. Be comfortable with the group member wrestling in their spirit. This ‘wrestling’ might even be contagious as other group members begin to share the same struggles or difficulties. When you sense that it is done, pray as a group, granting much grace to the individual, but also speaking the truth of God’s Word.
In part 2 we’ll look at some other scenarios where we have to “say the hard word” to another group member. However, no matter what the circumstance, we must remember to keep Galatians 6:1-2 close to our heart, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.”
For additional help…
Read Bill Donahue’s article, A Time to Fight: Advice on Handling Conflict in Your Group