Wednesday, August 28, 2019

When Small Groups Grumble

As group members become comfortable with one another, it is only a matter of time until the spigot of personal opinions is opened. But what happens when the shared opinions take on the form of grumbling? From church politics, to the recent Sunday service sermon, to the food served at last week’s church barbecue, to anything else that the group has on their heart, how can a small group leader intervene before the negative conversation derails the entire meeting?

In Exodus 16, we see the Israelites navigating through the desert, shortly after they are rescued from the Egyptians in Chapter 14. It isn’t long before they begin to grumble and complain to Moses, saying “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt…for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (16:3). Shortly after this complaint, the Lord hears the Israelites and blesses them with bread from heaven and meat (16:12), giving them the strength and sustenance to continue onward.

Although this story is a powerful way to illustrate how God provides for our needs, we also mustn't take the scripture out of context by submitting to every grumble and complaint that arises within the group. In other words, the group leader is called to have the ability to prayerfully discern the reasons as to why the grumbling and complaining is occurring in the first place. Here in Exodus, we see that the Israelites had a legitimate need. In order for the group to successfully make it to the Promised Land, they needed assistance from the Lord for resources that they couldn't provide for themselves. Likewise, in order for the small group to successfully accomplish the goals that had been established at the outset of the group, perhaps the group leader may need to shift course and modify the group’s activities or curriculum to stay on target. 

But what if the grumbling and complaining doesn’t appear to be stemming from a legitimate need? Allow us to visit Philippians 2:12-16 to help us explore:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” (NIV)

In other words, when Paul says that we will be able to boast about not laboring in vain, he is reminding us to keep the larger picture in mind. After the Israelites arrived in Canaan, the hunger and the forty years of eating manna was suddenly justified. If only the Israelites could have seen the bigger picture, perhaps they would have arrived in the Promised Land sooner.

Similarly, if only the small group members could see the amount of prayer and study that the church staff placed on the current sermon series, perhaps they would be more open-minded to what the Lord is sharing with them on Sundays. Or if only the small group members could see that the church barbecue connected five new believers and their families to the church, perhaps the menu choice for that day would not prevent them from coming to the next event. As a result, we are able to more quickly engage ourselves with what the Lord is doing when we intentionally choose to view ministry through a heavenly lens.

Within the context of a small group ministry, we are able to bring together individuals of varying degrees of spiritual maturity. Through their small group, engaging with the community of believers is one of the best ways for a new believer to sharpen their understanding of how the Kingdom operates. Small group leaders have the spiritual gifting and special skill set that allows them to step in and help their group members gain this perspective. And as a result, those involved with the church's small group ministry will be able to have a better understanding of when God speaks and where He is guiding His church.

Follow on Twitter @SeanBuono

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