I am a part of a men’s group that meets every Tuesday morning. Our topic for the moment has been reading Epic by John Eldredge and discussing the themes, paradigm changes, and formational revelations we are experiencing. What has happened more often than not however, is rather than discussing the book, we are sharing what is currently commanding our attention. You know, those things that keep you up at night and really expose the messiness of life. For some it’s relationships, for others it’s a captivity they struggle to find freedom from, and yet others are just beginning to understand that how their story intersects with the Larger Story. The thing we all share though is that the formulas we’ve depended on our entire lives are no longer working for us. And when things don’t work like they use to, life can get, well … really messy. So we use this time to process our stories in community rather than worrying about finishing the book in 6 weeks. It’s been beautiful … and revealing. New layers of authenticity are being expressed and spiritual gifts are being exercised in response to the needs that bubble up.
One thing I’m seeing through all this is that group life, just like our own lives, can get difficult and messy at times. Here’s the deal, we have one group member lately who has completely dominated the conversations. Not only that but most of his monologue has been directed at providing solutions to others’ problems. He doesn’t really share what’s taking place in his own journey, but how other men can get their life in order if they just following these simple instructions. We meet early in the mornings and some of the group has to leave a little early in order to be at work on time. What’s happened of late is these individuals haven’t had much of an opportunity to share or comment because of the one dominant voice. Another concern is that those who share their messes aren’t necessarily looking for a nice, tidy fix to their problems. Often, they just need to share what’s been causing pain so they can better process what’s really going on. The group can encourage and draw out the strength of these hurting men without necessarily giving them three points to solve their dilemma. It’s gotten to the point where this talkative person has actually begun to hold our group “hostage” by taking over the conversation and others in the group are unsure how to respond. Does this sound familiar to you? Have you experienced this difficult group dynamic? What did you do?
Well here’s what I did. I had a private conversation with the group member who invited the person who was dominating our group discussion and who knew him best. We both agreed that it had become a problem and a conversation with this person was needed soon. I gave him the following talking points to use in his conversation:
- Because of the limited time we have and some who have to leave early, it’s really important to allow time for everyone to share.
- You have some really good thoughts and suggestions but the priority is for everyone to talk about their own journey.
- Not everyone is looking for a solution when they share a problem. Sometimes they just need to speak it in community to process what they are feeling.
- We value authenticity and often times that will mean leaving someone with a messy situation where there are no quick fixes…and that’s OK.
- Our group is more about listening to each other and hearing what’s being said than responding to every problem that is shared.
I also have found guidelines from the Samson Society meetings to be helpful, which calls for the following during group discussions:
- We address our statements to the group as a whole rather than directing them toward any one person.
- As a rule, we refrain from giving advice to others or instructing them during the meeting, believing that such conversations are best reserved for private moments between friends.
As it turns out, the conversation between these two went great and the dominating person displayed great humility and understanding. I’m excited for our group to meet again and share how God has used this messy situation as yet another expression of His redemptive nature. Our group will likely experience a new level of intimacy because of this and my hope is that everyone feels a more profound ownership of the group.
It would be great if you could join in on this conversation! What are some situations your group has experienced that are similar to this? What action was taken and what were the results? What happened if no actions were taken? What would you have done in the case of my group? Do you have any other suggestions or comments you could share for us?
Remember, group life is organic and you should always be ready to change and modify your group dynamics based on other’s experience. But you should always, always make sure you are living life in community. As I heard recently from a friend,
I’d rather drown in community than swim alone.