Saturday, April 01, 2006

What should this leader do?

The lovely Carol told me I should write up a conversation I had the other day, so if you like this or find it helpful, you have her to thank.

"Doug" (not his real name) told me about his cell group, wherein a particular sister (I'll call her "Ursula") takes control of the prayer time by going into a long monologue. She dominates other parts of the meeting, too, and the leader seemed powerless to stop her. Ursula apparently had some troubles in the past, and never used to say anything at all. Now the pendulum has swung -- right through the proverbial wall! People are even leaving this cell group because Ursula so dominates the meetings.

Doug asked what I thought the leader ought to do. Or, since Ursula seems willing to open up with Doug's wife, what she might say. Doug and I were looking at the chapter on "Pride" in The Man in the Mirror, and he wondered if someone ought to talk to Ursula about pride. He also wondered if there was a Bible verse about prayer, and Ecclesiastes 5.2 came to mind (Never... let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few).

I sympathized with the difficulty of the situation, but I didn't think either of these was a particularly good approach. Yes, there may be a pride issue. Yes, it is good to let others pray in a prayer meeting, especially when that's the clear teaching of their local church (which it is: they even had a demonstration in one of their services to show how prayer meetings should be done in their cell groups).

But rather than quoting Ecclesiastes 5 or Matthew 6 (about making long prayers), my suggestion was that the leader introduce the prayer time with a "prelude to prayer", something like this:
Brothers and sisters, before we go to our prayer groups, I would like to remind us about the principles that Pastor Scott (or whoever) shared with us about praying -- that in our cell group prayer meetings, each person should just say a short sentence and then leave space for another person to agree, or to share their own concerns. Some of you might remember the demonstration that Chris, Robin and Dana did in our service a few weeks ago? Since we all forget from time to time, I would like us to help each other with these, because we want all the brothers and sisters to be able to pray. So if someone next to you goes on for more than 15 seconds or so, please tap that brother or sister on the shoulder, or give a gentle poke with your elbow, or say "Pssst! Too much!" There is no shame here; we all forget from time to time. I'm counting on every one of you, in both the brothers' prayer groups and the sisters' prayer groups, to make your prayer circle a time when everyone can lift their heart's concerns to the Lord.
Doug said the leader was worried about hurting Ursula's feelings. Doug's wife was worried about the same thing. My view is that if the leader prays, seeks counsel, and speaks the truth in love, then Ursula's response is Ursula's responsibility. But if the group leader does nothing about this, then he is placing his own comfort or timidity at a higher priority than the health of the group. In effect he would be saying:
I would rather prefer to watch Ursula destroy this group, than to experience the discomfort that would come from confronting her behavior.
Note that the "confronting" could be as non-confrontational as the "prelude to prayer" above. I think the whole thing should be bathed in prayer: the leader should pray for Ursula to have a soft and open heart; Doug and his wife should pray for that too, and also for the leader; the leader should pray for wisdom to see the best course, and for the health of the group.

And things might go well. Ursula might remember with that reminder, or she might forget and get an elbow in the ribs or whatever and respond with contrition. Then all would praise the Lord, and pray that it would go well the next week -- when the "prelude to prayer" might be shorter.

Things might not go well, though. Ursula might be defiant. Maybe loudly defiant (ignoring the shoulder taps and raising her voice) or softly defiant (giving everyone the cold shoulder thereafter). That is when the leader would have to exercise some leadership. Prayer would be needed for this too!

But whether things go well or poorly, it is part of the leader's job to deal with the situation rather than close his eyes to it.

Now I also hope that the leader has people he can turn to, to get counsel for situations like this, and to be held accountable.

I don't know what Ursula's issue is, but I mentioned to Doug that there are people who feel hurt as a way to control others around them -- a way to protect themselves from growing. I don't think they do it with "malice aforethought" necessarily. I mean they might, but they might not. We don't have to know, but we do have to pray, because in either case it is a spiritual issue; it is not simply a management or group-dynamics issue we are dealing with here.

Finally, I shared with Doug that "It's easy for me to say all this" because I'm not the one having to do it!

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