How to Deal with the Person NO ONE Wants in their Group

In a small group discussion forum on, Tim asked the following question: 

The person who has attended your church since the flood, is a little “off” (possibly has a mental disability but nobody knows for sure), and effectively signs up for every group. Upon arriving at the “new” small group, with the unsuspecting rookie leader, they begin to take over the group by rabbit trailing, aggressively directing conversation, etc. Has anyone out there ever had to deal with this? What steps have you taken?

I’ve dealt with this issue and this person … more than my fair share, I think! Here’s what I’ve learned from both the mistakes I’ve made and the few times I got it right.

I can sum up my response with two words: “tough love.” But also, you have to do what’s good for the group. It’s our job as church leaders to protect the flock. Here’s what I’ve done in my role as a small groups minister in these cases:

1. If I know this person is heading to a particular group, I call the leader and provide them with ideas in advance. The leaders deserve some fair warning, but I try really hard not to scare them.

2. In many cases I personally call the group coach and fill them in and ask them to attend a meeting or two. Usually the coaches have been familiar with this type of situation and often knows about this person.

3. After this problem has happened a few times, I meet one-on-one with the difficult person and I’ve usually had a another person or 2 involved as well. Basically this is a “boundaries” discussion. I go over what a small group is all about, what the values are, and then I try to very clearly set out the boundaries for acceptable behavior in the group. If you haven’t read the book Boundaries, as well as some of the other books in the series such as Boundaries Face to Face, these are must-reads for you as a leader!

4. If I or others on my team have talked to this person before about similar issues, we build not only boundaries but also consequences. I try to frame these in a positive way, of course. Something like, “We want you to be involved in a small group. And there are some ground rules you must follow. If you want to keep attending this group, you must abide by these.” These must be very specific.

5. I have unfortunately had to ask several people not to attend a small group until “x” has happened. Usually this involved going to Christian counseling (I even built some funds for this into my budget where I would offer to pay half of the first three visits). When the counselor says you’re ready to be in a group, we’ll help you find one. We also offer other alternatives for fellowship and learning, such as a short-term teacher-led class and weekend services. This step is especially appropriate if the person does have emotional or psychological special needs.

6. Important! Don’t ignore this person or the issues involved. They won’t just go away on their own. I try to think about it this way: If this person’s issues will keep someone from coming to Christ and having their life transformed, what would I be willing to do in love? That motivation helps me to approach this with the right perspective and motivation. 

(For more help on this subject, see Pat Sikora’s book and web site, HELP! Guide: Why Didn’t You Warn Me? I have learned a lot about this topic from Pat and this book.)

What would you add to this list? What would you do differently? What have you learned from your own experiences?


Dilbert on Dealing with Challenging People in Your Group
Dethrone These Top 10 Idols in Your Small Group!
Special Needs in Small Groups
Why Didn’t You Warn Me? (book review)

Are You a Natural Small Group Leader? Advice from Dilbert

Yesterday’s post was pretty down and dark, so how about a little Fun Friday?

Image Credit: Scott Addams –

Communication is a vital skill for small group leaders, but it doesn’t usually come naturally.

Are you a great communicator?

Would the members of your small group ever respond, at least silently, as Dilbert does in the second panel?

What one thing can you do today to learn about becoming a better communicator?

What part will listening play?

Check out the Small Group Leadership Training/Equipping Page for more ideas.

“Muskrat” Small Group Leadership

Lord of the Darkness: Trusting Jehovah When Suffering Comes

Psalm 88 must be the darkest psalm of them all, and one of the bleakest passage in the Bible. As I read this today, I kept waiting for the yet or however or but that you find in other psalms, but there are none. The author, Heman, goes on and on about how bad his life is. Read my journal entry with more of the background and my commentary on this psalm here.

In all his dark despair, Heman did not give up on God; he did not stop coming to him in prayer. He addressed God as Lord, Jehovah four times in this psalm. Jehovah is the name for God that stresses his covenant relationship with his people. Heman recognized that God was still true to his promises. This gave Heman hope even in his hopelessness.

Every one of us as followers of Christ and as leaders in his kingdom will face suffering and pain and unanswered questions. At some point in your life you will, if you haven’t already, come to a place where you are wondering where God is. You’ll feel forsaken. You’ll ask God for help that only he can give and you’ll hear only quiet. This may feel very dark. 

In the midst of the dark, painful circumstances of our lives, we must hold on to God’s promises. We must be a covenant people. We must remember that God has made a covenant with us and we have made a covenant with him, so that when times get tough, we don’t give up … as the world does. We hold onto the covenant, we keep our promises, we trust in Jehovah Jireh, our Lord Provider. 
Simply put, we trust our God more than we trust our circumstances.

How to Build a Group of Real Friends: Throw Away the Signup Sheets!

The healthiest small groups can be described as groups of real friends…friends who accept one another where they are, friends who are there for one another no matter what, no matter what time of day or night, friends who speak the truth in love and help one another grow in their relationships with God. 

But how do you as a small group leader make that happen? 

In response to an article I wrote for (“8 Vital Heart Characteristics of a Small Group Leader”), Dean asked: “Healthy Small Group Leaders are friends. This one is the most important attributes to me and my experience is that it is easier stated than lived out. Did it take you guys five years to experience the level of friendship your talking about?” Here’s how I responded: 

Launch Right
I’ve found that when a group is put together by the church via a signup sheet or some other method, it may, of course, take a while for real friendships to happen. I led a group years ago that started from a signup sheet and it was terrible. There were no bonds at all. We had little in common. In my opinion, God did not put this group together (see 1 Cor. 12:18), people did, and in a very imperfect manner! On the other hand, I’ve been a part of groups in which the members already had some connections or were already friends beforehand, and these groups took off.
When I look at how Jesus formed his group (see Luke 6:12-13), he already knew them. They were already following him (Luke 5); he already had a relationship with each of them. Most importantly, he spent the night talking to the Father before calling these 12 guys to be in his discipleship group.
If you want to have a group of real friends, then you must allow God to arrange the parts of the group just as HE (not you) wants them to be, and that means spending time with Him in prayer. Then, INVITE (yes, invite) people to your group. Look around you. Who has God put into your life? You don’t need no stinkin’ signup sheet! 
Build on the Right Foundation
To grow these relationships, you must spend time with group members … and not just at meetings. Leaders need to invest into each person. Here’s the rub: There’s NO WAY one leader can do all that, so this is why sharing leadership with a Core team of leaders is so critical. I spend most of my time with these 3-4 team leaders who in turn invest into 3-4 others. Jesus had his inner circle of Peter, James, and John, and you can see in the Gospels how close Jesus was with these three men. I believe he was also friends with James Son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and the others, but he really invested into the three guys in his inner circle. You don’t have to be best friends with every member of the group! Who are the two or three that you sense God has given you to invest into? How can you share leadership with them, allowing them, in turn, to invest into two or three others? 
Building relationships definitely shouldn’t take 5 years! But it also takes more than 5 days! It takes as long as it takes, but it happens faster and better by hanging out together between meetings.

More on Developing Real Friendships in Groups

10 Stupid Things That Are Keeping Your Small Group from Growing

Are You Building Walls or People?

Follow the Instructions

Your Vital Roles as a Shepherd-Leader – #4 in Series

The role of shepherding a small group is not complex, but it does take continuous intentional effort. Of course, that starts with an understanding that these “sheep” have been entrusted to you by the Chief Shepherd. You are a shepherd, but he is the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Real Shepherd of the sheep. Your role is to allow him to shepherd through you.

Here are just a few ways you can do that.

  • Pray regularly for and with the members of your group. 
  • Keep in touch between meetings. Call, e-mail, visit. Invest into these friends!
  • Accept everyone, regardless of personality differences.
  • Deal with conflicts up front. Don’t try to wish them away or pretend they aren’t there. For more help on this subject, see Pat Sikora’s HELP! Guide: Why Didn’t You Warn Me? 
  • Stay positive. Group members sometimes tend to become negative—about other people, the church, you name it. Turn the tide as soon as you can. It seems like a lot of people complain and gossip, but very few people want to be in a negative group. 
  • Focus on people, not the program. As Ralph Neighbor says, “The people in your group are the agenda!”

So, how are you doing in these six roles as a shepherd? Which is easiest for you? Which is going to take more diligence? 
This post is is the fourth in a series about your role as a Shepherd-Leader. Here are the previous posts: 

What does your small group(s) do over the summer?

I’m writing my monthly Christian Standard small groups column for May, and I have this question. I’d liove to hear your response!

What does your small group (or the groups at your church) do over the summer? Any great ideas I could share? Any values in play with this? Any philosophies of ministry/community involved?

Please respond by clicking on the “comments” link below. 
See my post on summer group ideas here: Summer Small Groups: Some’re Here, Some Aren’t

When Cupid’s Arrows Bring Pain

Today I am blessed to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my beautiful bride and love of my life, Heidi. Valentine’s Day 2012 was not so happy. I won’t go into details in this public place–not yet anyway–but many of our close friends and family know the past several years have been a struggle for us.

I know we’re not alone. Marriage is a gift from God and, like many gifts, it comes with human heartaches and yes, even suffering. Cupid’s arrows actually do pierce our hearts, bringing both romance and pain. There’s one very good reason for this, of course. Marriage, as good and holy and fulfilling and intimate as it can be, is a partnership between two imperfect people. Wait … imperfect does not feel strong enough here. Let’s try broken, severely messed up, fatally flawed. 

I agree with John and Stasi Eldredge, who say that marriage is a divine conspiracy. God lures two very different people together–both with different backgrounds and ways of relating and approaches to life. “Our mutual brokenness is drawn together like a match and gunpowder.”* God does this so that he can transform us … and, as the Eldredges say, to get us to face our styles of relating and repent of them. Others have said the same thing: marriage is not meant so much to make us happy as it is to make us holy.

A year ago, in the midst of so much uncertainty and pain and heartache, I began meditating every day on Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I had to ask God to help me understand what it meant to delight in him. At first I prayed this in reverse. I asked God to give me the desires of my heart: restoration of my relationship with my wife … and then, when I got what I wanted, I would delight in God’s provision. God in his patience showed me something far better. When I learned to delight in him regardless of the circumstances, he would give me my heart’s desire, because my desires would finally match up with his desires.

Last Valentine’s Day, I wrote these words in my journal:

I know, Lord, that you are in control. I once again surrender all this to you. I thank you with all my heart and I will be filled with joy because of you. Even in extremely difficult life circumstances, I can have joy in you and because of you. I delight in you! And that does not depend on my circumstances or situation. Today I will sing praises to your name, O Most High!

Today, you may be celebrating Valentine’s Day alone, or perhaps you have a sense of uncertainty or you are in a state of pain and heartache. I don’t want to minimize or moralize your pain today with some sugary sweet Valentine’s Day platitudes. Yes, I am indeed blessed that my marriage has been resurrected. We are working on our relationship every day, reconciling with God’s grace, and being restored. We struggle but we do not struggle alone. Yet I realize that not all situations work out as ours has. I have many good friends who are still feeling the pain of loneliness, the lament of “Why is this happening?” the yearning for renewed hope.

My prayer for anyone who is hurting this Valentine’s Day is that you will find your hope … not primarily in a mate or a job or anything else that is perishable and undependable and broken. My desire for you, and me, and Heidi is to find our joy in a God who never leaves or forsakes us–to delight in him and allow his desires to overwhelm our own desires.

* from Love & War, by John and Stasi Eldredge (Doubleday Religion, 2009).

File This: The Value of Belonging

As you probably already know, Rick Warren is a big champion of the vitality of community through small groups. In today’s “Daily Hope,” his daily email newsletter that goes to people all over the world, Warren speaks specifically about this value of belonging. I’m quoting it here because this is something you may want to stick in your files  for a time when you will be speaking about the value of group life. 

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35 NLT)

The Bible says a Christian without a church home is like an organ without a body, a sheep without a flock, or a child without a family. It is an unnatural state. The Bible says, “You belong in God’s household with every other Christian” (Ephesians 2:19b LB).

Today’s culture of independent individualism has created many spiritual orphans—“bunny believers” who hop around from one church to another without any identity, accountability, or commitment. Many believe it is possible to be a “good Christian” without joining (or even attending) a local church, but God would strongly disagree.

The church is so significant that Jesus died on the cross for it: “Christ loved the church and gave his life for it” (Ephesians 5:25 GW).

Except for a few important exceptions referring to all believers throughout history, almost every time the word “church” is used in the Bible it refers to a local, visible congregation.

The New Testament assumes membership in a local congregation. The only Christians not members of a local fellowship were those under church discipline who had been removed from the fellowship because of gross public sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Galatians 6:1-5).

The Bible offers many compelling reasons why you need to be committed and active in a local fellowship.

A church family identifies you as a genuine believer. I can’t claim to follow Christ if I’m not committed to any specific group of disciples. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT).

When we come together in love as a church family from different backgrounds, race, and social status, it is a witness to the world (Galatians 3:28 MSG; see also John 17:21).

Good words, huh?

What a Healthy Small Group is NOT
Mannequin Small Groups
What Counts as a Church?
Do small groups divide the church?

What’s Your Definition of a Small Group Leader?

Your responsibility as a small group leader is primarily to shepherd the sheep that God puts into your care and to go out and bring more sheep into the fold. So . . .
·         Do not view yourself merely as a Bible study teacher or the equivalent of a Sunday school teacher who presents lessons to the group.
·         Do not limit your role to that of a meeting facilitator who plans and conducts discussions.
·         Do not think of yourself only as a disc-jockey, whose job is to put the DVD in the player and push play.
Ralph Neighbour put it this way:

The Shepherd never says, “I will tend the flock on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m.” No! The Shepherd lives with the flock, sleeps in the fields with the flock, goes into treacherous situations to find a lost sheep, and carries the lambs in his arms. The Shepherd is the first one to go into the “valley of the shadow of death” to lead sheep to “green pastures.”

 I love that description–actually I think it’s a definition–of a small group leader.

Be a shepherd!

How do you see yourself as a small group leader? 

Portions of this post adapted from my book, I’m a Leader … Now What? How to Guide an Effective Small Group (Standard Publishing, 2007), chapter 4. 

Dilbert on Dealing with Challenging People in Your Group

When I put together my book, Dilbert on Small Group Leadership, this one goes in the chapter titled, “How to Deal with Challenging People in Your Group”: 

Image Credit: Scott Addams,

Lesson: Stay on your toes, leader!

“Muskrat” Small Group Leadership
7 Steps for Dealing with the Little Jerry Parasites that Are Making Your Group Unhealthy
Why Didn’t You Warn Me? (Resource Review)