It’s that thing in your small group that nobody wants to talk about but everyone knows is there. The odd behavior. The unique personality. Or, more than likely, the touchy subject. According to social media, the earth is flat or round, vaccines help or harm, and the media is lying or telling the truth. This is a difficult time to be alive if you like definitive answers. And it can make for some tense exchanges and hurt feelings, even in churches and small groups, where you’d think everyone would be on the same page.
But even in biblical times, there was conflict. The apostles argued about which of them was the greatest? Mary and Martha disagreed about how to serve guests. And Pilate asked the ultimate question (although rhetorically), What is truth?
Today’s small groups continue the tradition. When we can’t see eye-to-eye, it may be time to have a heart-to-heart. Here are four ways to overcome the dreaded elephant in the room:
Is your elephant the small porcelain type that rests on a corner shelf or a large smelly one that sits in the circle? If it’s the former, you may be able to divert attention away from it by emphasizing the other positive aspects of group life: discussions about the Bible, fellowship, laughter, and food.
2. Confront It
Often, the elephant comes in with one particular person. You don’t want to appear to take a side against someone in front of everyone, so a private discussion will be best. Keep in mind that it’s difficult to convince anyone that their thinking is incorrect or goes against all factual evidence. So don’t bother trying to persuade someone they’re wrong, rather remind them about the purpose of the group: to focus on Christ and biblical learning. In other words, leave your elephant at home (or take it to a different circus).
3. Embrace It
If your group has an elephant that can’t be ignored, maybe it’s time to bring it out into the middle of the group and take a good look. This would require permission beforehand if it’s one particular person’s elephant. But if it’s a group issue like politics (elephants and donkeys), perhaps you can all come to an agreement that both of them need to stay outside. Or maybe, if you’re brave, you can devote an entire group session to discussing each side of the various issues from a biblical perspective. (I can think of very few scenarios where that would end well, but maybe your group is spiritually mature enough to take that on.) But for many other issues—someone’s obnoxious laugh, the woman who cries about everything, the overly expressive worshipper—acknowledging the elephant in front of everyone can greatly reduce its size and impact.
4. Pray About It
This really should be the first thing you do. Every elephant is different. And only God knows the best way to deal with them. In reality, the elephant in the room is less of a challenge than the humans in the circle. The whole point of small groups is discipleship. And sometimes God will use an elephant to train a person. After all, Jesus helped the apostles understand the unexpected requirements for anyone wanting to be the greatest, He helped Martha get a better perspective on priorities, and He proved that He, in fact, was the Truth, even if Pilate never understood.
And maybe that’s the ultimate solution to the elephant in your room. Continually encourage your group to fix their gaze on the gigantic love of Jesus. Everything else is small by comparison.