Here We Go Again: Handling Tricky Topics with Empathy and Grace - Life.Church Leaders

Here We Go Again: Handling Tricky Topics with Empathy and Grace

By: Melanie Walenciak

It’s bound to happen. Sooner or later, in even the closest of LifeGroups, one member may lob a bomb—making a statement that is controversial, uncomfortable, and perhaps disagreeable. Whether it be a comment ripped from the latest headlines, a frustration with politics, or simply an unpopular opinion, these bombs can explode and create havoc, or they can be successfully diffused, creating a safe place for all the members of your LifeGroup.

As a leader, your reaction matters. Or perhaps I should say your lack of reaction. Proverbs 15:18 MSG says: Hot tempers start fights; a calm, cool spirit keeps the peace.

So how does one keep a calm, cool spirit?

If you prepare in advance for how to deal with awkward situations, you’ll be able to act instead of react.

Preparation is key. If you prepare in advance how you will deal with these awkward situations, you won’t be thrown for a loop, and you can act instead of react.

Here are some strategies to deal with those occasional bombs.

  1. Stay on the safe path and away from the minefields. This is helpful when your LifeGroup is discussing a particular book or message, and the comment comes from out of the blue with no relevance to the discussion at hand. You can simply acknowledge the comment by saying it might be a discussion for another time, and then you can drive the conversation back to the current topic by asking the next discussion question. You can follow up privately, after the meeting, as suggested in Matthew 18:15, letting your member know that while you appreciate their input, their comment could be controversial or make others uncomfortable. You can help them understand that perhaps LifeGroup isn’t the best place to discuss that particular topic, and redirect them by explaining that you want to hear their thoughts however on the book or message that you are currently discussing.
  2. Disarm the bomb thrower. If your LifeGroup has been meeting for a while and is close, perhaps there is a foundation established where you can allow a member to say what is on their mind. Sometimes, people just need to be heard. When they are permitted to say what’s on their mind, then it is possible to move on to the next topic quickly, with no defensiveness and no divisiveness. Colossians 3:13 instructs us to bear graciously with one another, and verse 14 reminds us to wrap ourselves in unselfish love, which will create the perfect bond of unity.
  3. Detonate the Bomb. Proverbs 27:17 says that as iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens another friend. Sometimes our LifeGroups are exactly the right places to have these conversations. What better place to vent, or discuss, or learn than in the safety of a group of friends. If your LifeGroup is close and is comfortable talking about difficult topics, just be sure to set some guidelines as LifeGroup, or conversations could turn into quarrels.

If you decide to talk about a tricky topic, it’s wise to get your LifeGroup on the same page. First, everyone must agree that the first and final authority is Scripture. That being said, even Scripture can leave room for discussion.

Romans 14 is a great guide to navigate through these discussions. The first verse sets the tone for us to welcome other believers without quarreling over disputable matters. From there, the passage continues to reinforce that for those things not set in stone, there may be a spectrum of opinions. Verses three and four remind us not to look down on others who hold different opinions than our own, and verses six through nine remind us to think the very best of our friends and what they do to honor God, even if it may be different from what we do to honor God.

In the end, God is the final Judge, and one of the main benefits of community is to have opportunities to discuss hard things and grow and mature. When you realize that, diversity of opinion can only point us closer to Christ. There’s some more guidance on handling tricky topics like that at www.life.church/beliefs.

As a leader, pay close attention to your LifeGroup and perhaps even follow up with your more passionate members privately after your discussion, thanking them for their input and making sure no one is holding on to bitterness or anger but rather are tender-hearted toward one another. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Whichever strategy you choose will depend on the strength and age of your LifeGroup. Obviously a brand new LifeGroup where members are just getting to know each other may not be ready to detonate the bomb just yet, but as your group grows and matures, you may find the tricky topics not so tricky anymore.

And while this may seem daunting, rest assured God sees you and is with you. You are His child.

God blesses those who work for peace for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9 NLT