Here in America the recent election has caused disruption between and within communities. It reminded us that differences in opinions can grow into disruptions of community. Small Group Network’s international membership is likely not experiencing this in the same way. But we are all familiar with the lurking questions that create dissonance.
The dynamic of divisiveness is universal. New Testament writers frequently address disagreeing groups and coach them to right relationship. Rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, groups that disagree on specific teachings. They are all encouraged and equipped to handle these situations.
Differences of opinion, especially heated or hostile differences, cause divide. It might be temporary, but there is always a risk that it intensifies. Sometimes it grows deep and wide enough that it cuts off relationship and communication. Divides can break up friendships and marriages. They can also lead to a Christian community’s splintering.
What causes a difference of opinion to grow into a disruption of community?
There are several factors that lead opposing points of view to disrupt relationship. Help your leaders monitor these influences whenever possible.
It’s personal: Disagreeing about a theoretical idea is easier than a personal concern. Imagine a small group of singles navigating the Bible’s stance on divorce. Now imagine a divorce recovery group reading these same passages. For the first group it is theoretical. The odds of it disrupting their community are low. For the second group it is deeply personal. Differing opinions can translate into accidental attacks if the group is not careful. Caution, sensitivity, and grace must abound.
There’s a story behind the story: Sometimes the group is unaware when an issue is personal. A theoretical conversation takes a turn and someone gets defensive. Words are exchanged and the group leader sits back and wonders, “How did we get here?” In this case, it is helpful to ask, “What is the story behind the story?” What happened outside of this room that so affected these group members that a conversation erupted into a conflict? When we have enough trust and strong relationships we can ask these important questions.
Rank ordered beliefs: Sometimes a belief is too high on a priority list. Suddenly, a difference of opinion turns into a divide of community. Seldom will group members divide over a difference in favorite sports teams. But when we start discussing politics and current events things can take a turn. Paul had important words for a divided church needing to re-prioritize beliefs.
In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul writes, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV).
We must not allow our inevitable differences to overshadow the unity we have in Christ. Even and especially when they are personal and pressing. How we handle them will define our community.
Small groups that are “completely humble and gentle” will find their common call together. What they share will be far more meaningful than their differences.
This post was originally written for smallgroupnetwork.com on December 1, 2016