A couple days ago on my blog, I introduced “Little Jerry,” a pet name for my little parasite friend I had living in my body several years ago. Read the post here. I talked about how parasites can also come into your church or group and the unhealthy effects they can have on the Body.
To get healthy again, you must take this parasite seriously! Don’t fool around, thinking the issue will get better over time. Parasites can and do suck the life out of a body, leaving it malnourished and dysfunctional (that is, unable to function properly), and, if left untreated, the results can be fatal.
To alleviate my illness, the doctor prescribed strong antibiotics that killed and eliminated Little Jerry. That’s where, fortunately, the metaphor breaks down. As a spiritual leader, your job is not necessarily to eliminate (although there may need to come a time for that) and definitely not to kill the “parasite.” Even those who are selfishly feeding off the Body of Christ can be transformed. That happens in community, by being united with Christ and fellow believers. As people grow spiritually, the goal is to become more like Christ,

who, being in very nature God,
     did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
     taking the very nature of a servant,
     being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
     he humbled himself
     and became obedient to death–
     even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8).
Yes, that’s the awesome power of the gospel. People can be transformed. Even “parasites” can develop into humble servants!
Here are a 7 steps for dealing with group members who act as parasites (consumers):

  1. Pray for them, surrendering your thoughts and feelings over to God and asking Him to begin the healing process.
  2. Love him or her unconditionally, but with boundaries. Listen well to her. Where does he hurt? What obstacles are in her way to growth?
  3. Ask him to serve together with you in some capacity. Be prepared for teachable moments to mentor and disciple her. Help him to see the grander purpose in his life that God has given him. Often, knowing and getting involved in his God-given purpose will turn a person from being inward- to outward-focused.
  4. As mentioned in #2, be sure to set boundaries. It’s critical to put the good of the body – the group – over the selfish needs of one parasitic member. That may require some tough love as you meet with this person after meetings. Be very specific with what and where these boundaries are. 
  5. Carefully and lovingly apply Matthew 18:15-17. Allow God’s Word and His Spirit to lead you. 
  6. Refer the person to someone who can help. This may include pastoral counseling or a Christian counseling center. From my experience, a person who tends toward always taking and never giving also does not see this in themselves. They may even feel they are a very giving person, but even that feeling is all about them! This step may involve a difficult conversation, but remember that you are looking out for this person’s interest, not your own. Lovingly help him or her get to the place where he or she can grow and be transformed.
  7. If this person cannot or will not become a productive, contributing member of the group – and after you’ve tried all the steps above and exhausted all your resources – you may finally need to ask this person to leave the group. Again, don’t leave them stranded, but refer them to a counselor that can help. Be firm, however, that until they take the steps they need to take, they cannot attend group meetings. This may be the most loving thing you can do for them and for the health and vitality of your group.

As a spiritual leader, you have an incredible opportunity to bring health and vitality to the Body. As the Head over His Body, this is Jesus’ intent – to bring unity. “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).
By the way, my favorite book for dealing with challenging group members is Pat Sikora‘s Why Didn’t You Warn Me? (Standard Publishing, 2007). 

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Michael Mack has led Small Group Leadership full-time since 2012, but has been involved in small group ministry for more than 25 years.

He lives in Pewee Valley, Kentucky (just outside Louisville), with his wife Heidi. Their family small group, which includes their four young adult children, has much potential (and much anticipation) for future growth and multiplication. Michael enjoys mountain and road biking with a group of great friends who participate together in various charity rides.

See the “About Michael Mack” page under About Us for more about him.

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