Is your conflict a deadly threat or a doorway to breakthrough?
Our small group was off to an amazing start. Few of the members had ever experienced the level of heart sharing we were enjoying. And our excitement wasn’t just for ourselves. God had given our pastor a vision for our church to become a cell-based church. Small groups were to become the heartbeat of our church, more important even than Sunday worship. Our pilot group’s mission was to hammer out the group dynamics that would work in our low-income, multi-ethnic neighborhood, and then multiply.
But five or six weeks in, conflicts started surfacing—among group members, between group members and others in the church. Over the next couple of months, I counted a dozen conflicts. Group meetings weren’t all that fun anymore.
Would conflict sabotage our schedule for launching our new small groups? Could it even blow up the whole process?
But then an amazing thing happened. People started working through their conflicts. And then I realized, the group wasn’t creating conflict; it was uncovering old hurts. So long as people just went to church on Sunday and listened to sermons, they could mostly ignore even long-standing conflicts. But once we started getting real with each other, those old issues surfaced and people had to choose: Am I going to work through this, or am I going to bail?
During that season, no one chose to leave. Over the next couple of months, all twelve of those conflicts, some that had festered for decades, were resolved.
I recalled then something from my small group training: groups go through a normal life cycle of forming, storming, norming, and performing. After the honeymoon stage (forming), many groups go through a conflict stage (storming). Working through the conflict stage builds the trust and intimacy necessary for a high-performance group.
The conflict I had feared was interrupting, or even blowing up, our group was actually key to the breakthrough to healing and intimacy that would enable our pilot group—and future groups—to fulfill their purpose.
I’ve heard pastors complain that conflict is interrupting ministry. Programs or projects are slowed down or put on hold because people aren’t getting along. As frustrating as this can be, at those times we need to let God remind us that the heart of church isn’t programs, but relationships. Jesus didn’t say people would know we were his followers by our music, or our sermons, or our programs, but by our love for one another (John 13:35).
When we take focused time to work on reconciliation, learning to love one another well, we’re not taking a break from ministry; we’re focusing on the very heart of being church.
Is there a conflict in your area of responsibility that feels like a distraction? How would your perspective change if you saw it as an invitation to focus on something more important than programs, on the very heart of the church’s work?
 Tuckman’s stages of group development.