In 1956, Johnny Cash wrote what would become his first number one hit on the Billboard charts. The song was called "I Walk the Line" and it described how Cash attempted to balance all of the conflicting responsibilities in his life against a backdrop of temptation. The phrase 'walk the line' predates Cash and his song by many years, but it a perfect way to describe what we often do as Small Group leaders.
We often say that the 'heart' of the Small Group meeting is the discussion time. This is for good reason--for it is here that people are able to share and debate what they have learned from their experience and study. The challenge for the leader or group facilitator is that sometimes the discussion crossed over into areas of the Bible that are a bit murky or opinions on it can become very personal. The question becomes how do you allow for healthy, god-honoring discussion time in your Small Group, while at that same protecting people's feelings and being true to scriptural teaching? Here are a couple of guidelines to help you:
- Know What We Believe and Teach at Parkway
Every week at Parkway, people attend our church from a wide range of faith traditions and belief systems. We as a church have adapted a policy of unity around what we believe are the essential beliefs of our faith about God, Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, the Bible, human beings, salvation, eternal security, and eternity. These beliefs are available on our website by clicking here. While this list of beliefs is not exhaustive, we believe it represents the things on which we can agree and have unity.
- Protect Unity by Maintaining a Neutral Position
We want to promote unity at our church above anything else. In order to do this we have to make sure that we always look to take the high road of any discussion by extending grace and maintaining a moderate position. Some discussions will inevitably wonder into a place where it is very easy to take a hard and fast position on a doctrine. Among Biblical scholars there are a wide range of opinions on many doctrines and all of them have good arguments why they are right. Rather than pass judgement on them all, it is best to be respectful and take a neutral position to protect unity. In the end we want to protect relationships and the unity of our church, over 'winning the argument'. This can be difficult to do in our age of 'calling people out' and 'making your point'. But Christ's dying wish in John 17 was that his church would be 'one' and we must do everything in our power to protect unity.
- Chose Relationships over Arguments
We join a Small Group to grow deeper in our faith through study, but we also join them to be around and learn from other Christ-Followers. Small Groups are first and foremost about people! We can't sacrifice the people and relationships that God has entrusted to us, for the sake of getting the last word in the discussion or converting people to our side. The discussion time of the group is designed to help people grow in their faith by giving them a safe place to talk about their beliefs and experiences. It is not the place to debate or argue with them about how their beliefs are wrong. At the end of the day, no one will remember the topic of discussion but they will remember if you loved them and are their friend.
- Avoid Certain Topics and Doctrines
If your group is finding itself continually pulled into a sidebar discussion each week, then as a group make an agreement that you are not going to 'go there'. Many Small Groups utilize a Small Group Covenant to help them put some guardrails in place for how the group is going to operate. Making a covenant with your group about what topics you might need to avoid or table for 'offline' discussion is a great way to help take the pressure of the leader in this area. You can download a sample covenant by clicking here to help get you started.
Walking this line as a leader is hard! Pray and ask for wisdom if you are struggling to balance this in your group. Reach out and ask for help from our Small Groups team. Remember that the end goal is growth, but not at the expense of unity and the fracturing of relationships.