5 Ways to Navigate Polarizing Political Discussions in Your Small Group

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Jesus had a small group that included a government tax collector and a zealot wanting to over through the government.

Let that sink in for a moment. We romantically say how Jesus brought Matthew and Simon together. I have a hard time thinking that a lively debate about the Roman government did not come up.

One of the most remarkable messages of the New Testament is that Jesus brought together natural enemies to follow Him.

We find ourselves amid another polarized election season, not to mention during a pandemic and a racial reckoning. Social media has fueled the fires of debate. As a small group point person, you have the challenging task of making peace through a divisive season. Let us not miss the opportunity for small groups to go deeper into following Jesus.

Yes, you have a lot on your plate to resource small group leaders through a pandemic, yet we will need to take time to pray, plan, and prepare for the potential problems that could arise during this election season.

I want to share with you a few points to keep in mind during this election season:

1. Keep the gospel central.

Tim Keller says, “The gospel is good news, not good advice.” Our highest allegiance and commitment is to Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection have brought us new life. No matter who gets elected in November, Jesus is still the King. All church leaders – senior pastors, staff pastors, small group point people, small group leaders, and small group members – need to filter their perspectives through this lens.

2. Acknowledge the differences

We’re amid fall kickoffs, including small group leader trainings to new small groups meeting for the first time. Set the expectation early that people in small groups will vote differently and have strong sentiments on politics. Often, the heated dialogues begin because people make comments assuming everyone else thinks as they do. Help leaders set the tone in their groups of potential landmine discussions.

3. Repeat the ground rules.

Remind leaders of the small group covenant and the already established ground rules. We respect each other in small groups. We love each other as Jesus would. We speak the truth in love and receive the truth in love. Like with anything in small group leadership, our first meeting sets the tone for the rest of the year. And like any difficult topic, we prepare leaders and groups on what we value.

4. Embrace and model curiosity.

Political debates pit policies and platforms against each other. In our small groups, when disagreements arise, you can find a story below the surface. Curiosity seeks to understand why. It asks questions. Some of the most heated exchanges come from in-depth personal stories from individuals. Model the curiosity with the small group leaders and then celebrate it when it happens in small groups.

5. Don’t be afraid of messy.

Even if you follow the first four points, small group discussions can go sideways. Conflict will happen. Small groups are incubators for spiritual formation, especially forgiveness and reconciliation. As a society, we’re still learning how to agree to disagree with love. I can think of no better place to do that than in a loving environment motivated by Jesus. These difficult seasons provide growth in ways that we may never imagine.

Remember, Simon and Matthew were in the same small group as Jesus. All the challenges your facing as a small group point person can create deeper roots of life-change in Jesus. You can start now to prepare the small group leaders and members you serve to navigate this season with grace.

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