February 12, 2010
Your group may be more susceptible to it than you think
You have heard it said, "One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel." There was an interesting study recently published by the University of Washington in the journal "Research in Organizational Behavior." Here’s a quote from the study: "One 'bad apple' can spread negative behavior like a virus to bring down officemates or destroy a good team. Negative behavior outweighs positive behavior, so a bad apple can spoil the whole barrel, but one or two good workers can't 'unspoil' it. Companies need to move quickly to deal with such problems because the negativity of just one individual is pervasive and destructive and can spread quickly." That comes from co-author Terence Mitchell, a professor of management and organization.
The study defines negative workers as those who do not do their fair share of the work, are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or bully or attack others. The same "bad apple" effect can also have a significant impact a small group or church. Of course, the Lord knew about the dangers of the "bad apple" effect inside the church long before research confirmed it.
The New Testament gives strong guidelines on dealing with divisive believers. But before a divisive bad apple emerges, a trail of seemingly smaller sins and offenses typically precedes it.
Matthew 18:15-17 describes a process for dealing with sin and offense, first at the immediate relational level, and then involving an increasing scope of people and leadership as necessary. According to the progression of events, the first place bad apple behavior should be dealt with and resolved is in the personal relationships where the offense happened in the first place. This can stop the "bad apple effect" before it even gets started.
The importance of working hard to resolve the offense early is critical because the more people who need to become involved to resolve the issue, the more potential there is for side-taking divisive behavior.
A few years ago, SmallGroups.com surveyed group leaders and found that 22 percent of them had a situation with a relational offense in their group "right now." So, from this information, we might assume that at any given time, 1 in 5 groups may have a relational offense situation ongoing. That means the likelihood of your group facing just such a situation is pretty high. I pray these situations are being resolved with truth and grace so that group members do not develop bitter roots and become potentially divisive to the small group or the broader church.
Small-group relationships are the first place that potential bad apples can be kept healthy and free from relational decay. The question is: How well are our groups doing at working through these situations in a biblical manner, so as to avoid the “bad apple effect”? That’s a question I don’t have a good answer to, but I think it’s worth evaluating in your group. Otherwise, a bad apple can spoil your small group -- and even an entire congregation.
posted by Dan Lentz on February 12, 2010 12:54 PM