It is increasingly clear to me that there is a potential conflict looming. I am going to do all I can to avoid it.
My group has some pretty opinionated folks who are prone to thinking that they are right and everybody else is wrong. I am guessing I have some that think we should re-open the economy yesterday. Some want to stay closed until we have a vaccine. I want to remind them that there is something more important than their opinion on such things.
The first thing I want to say to my group when we meet again will be something like this:
Some of you are, no doubt, quite cautious about meeting again. You want everyone to wear a mask and stay ten feet apart. No touching. No hugs. No handshakes. No singing. Disinfect everything. Disinfect everything again. You are not really sure if you can bring yourself to keep meeting during this season.
Others are less cautious. You are ready to get back to business as usual. After all, football season is coming.
Here is what I want to say too both of you: My Daddy used to say, “We don’t all see thing alike.” I want to ask that you be respectful and polite to those who disagree. Our love and unity is most important during this time.
The cross compels us to learn to get along. Paul said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18 (NIV) Now, more than ever, let’s double down on our efforts to get along and maintain the love and unity that makes this group special.
This issue brings up something that is always true in our group: we need to learn to disagree agreeably. I have been in groups that did not know how to do this and it either became argumentative and ugly, or people just didn’t express their opinion. They didn’t open up and get honest and real. They were places of pretending. Not a good place for a group.
We want small group to be a place where we can honestly express our true selves—even when we disagree. We need to learn to disagree agreeably.
The theology behind this
There is actually a theological reason behind this. Truth is often the midpoint between two extremes. We are told to obey the government. We are also told that we must obey God rather than man. When the government told Daniel not to pray he prayed all the more publicly.
In nearly every lesson I teach, I want the group to wrestle with conflicting viewpoints. I want Calvinists and Armenians in the same room battling it out—in love. I want both sides to be quick to listen and slow to speak.
The Bible has a lot to say about putting the needs of others before your own needs. But, Paul counseled the Ephesian elders to, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Acts 20:28 (NIV) A good question for small groups is, “When does self-care become selfishness?” The truth is a midpoint between two extremes.
As I see it, there is no hard and fast rule, and the best answer comes from humbly grappling and questioning and pushing back and debating and arguing just a bit—in love. This can only happen if we know how to disagree agreeably. Max Lucado wrote:
“Stop judging each other” (Rom. 14:13 NCV). We judge others when we stop addressing the controversy and start attacking the character. Example? “Of course she wants women to preach; she’s power hungry.” Or, “I’m not surprised he likes loud worship; he’s one of those rowdy sorts anyway.” One more: “You’d expect such an opinion out of a person who never studies the Bible.”
These are judgmental phrases. These are off-limits phrases. If we disagree, let’s disagree agreeably. Unity demands that we discuss the issue, not the person.[i]
So, the first thing I want to tell my small group when we get back together is to remind them we want to be a group that knows how to disagree agreeably. Our discipleship depends on it.
[i] Max Lucado, Max on Life: Answers and Insights to Your Most Important Questions (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).