Have you ever seen a group get sidetracked by a controversial debate? I imagine you have, and I’m sure it was awkward. We want to help you discover how to navigate controversial topics in your group setting. There is no better place for people to learn how to process controversial topics in a Christ-like way than in your group.
When it comes to controversial topics, you will face two types. The first type is the controversial topics found in the Bible. As group leaders, we may not think about how the Bible is sometimes difficult to process since many of us have spent years studying and learning about the Bible. Many in our group may be caught off guard when they learn about the hard sayings of Jesus or God’s directives in the Old Testament. Don’t be surprised when the Bible itself brings about heated discussion!
The second type of controversial topic is one we all have to deal with—cultural issues. These kinds of topics can range from parenting to politics to technology. These are the topics that people spend hours debating on social media, with strong opinions on both sides. We have watched these kinds of debates take flight in our group setting, and it has not always gone smoothly. Passions are unleashed, and often feelings are hurt.
In the community, we need the freedom to talk about controversial issues. Leaders also need to be ready to navigate these topics when they arise. Here are a few steps to take when navigating controversy in a group:
Prepare well for difficult topics.
When you know you are going to address an issue from Scripture that may be difficult, let the group know and make sure you spend more time preparing not only the content of the group but the flow of the group. Leverage your teaching guide to understand the passage, and do some extra research from other trusted leaders about the issue. When leading a group, the goal is a better understanding and not winning people to your stance on the issue.
Make room for different points of view.
Your group is the best place for people to learn to disagree and be Christ-like at the same time. As the leader, make sure and let the group know that it’s perfectly fine to disagree and even invite different perspectives. You are inviting people in your circle to be honest and share their thoughts with each other. When we make room for different points of view, we are helping people warm to the idea of allowing the Bible to shape their belief system. Most people need to be heard before they will be open to a teaching that may differ from their worldview.
Take control if it’s out of control.
This is the most important element of navigating a controversial topic. You must step in and bring order when people are out of order. It’s critical that people feel safe in your group. They need to know that you, as a leader, will stand with them and for them. Controversial topics can often lead to hurt feelings when people cross lines and make arguments personal. The leader is the one who must create a safe atmosphere for people to share honest debate.
Jesus was no stranger to addressing controversial topics in all kinds of settings. Many times, when we read the Sermon on the Mount we read it as a book and forget this moment was a time of teaching with a real crowd listening. People were gathered around Him and the entire message is laced with controversial topics. It’s impossible for you to lead people to study the ways of Jesus and not hit some tense moments. We want you to be prepared.
Remember this: the lips of the wise give good advice; the heart of a fool has none to give (Proverbs 15:7 – NLT).
Our advantage as group leaders is to tap into wisdom as we navigate controversy. Our mission is to create a place where people can feel safe to share with others. Your goal is not to win arguments or force your own perspective. Your goal is to give people good advice and help them be more like Jesus. Every moment we step into controversy we have to embrace wisdom and the love of Jesus as we guide people.
When you sense your group is headed toward a controversial topic or surprised by one, don’t forget these three tips:
- Don’t shut down. Make sure you make room for people to be themselves and be honest in your group setting.
- Ask questions. Make sure you help people move beyond surface opinions and share why they feel the way they feel.
- Keep it Christ-like. Any time people start speaking in a way that is not Christ-like confront it. Do not be afraid to call people to be loving and kind.
Thanks for leading your group to address controversial topics instead of ignoring them. Real community is risky. Praying for you as you lead!