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February 4, 2011

Can We Give Up on a Group Member?

Two viewpoints on a fascinating question.


Last week my friend Rick Howerton opened up his new blog with a post entitled: "When to Abandon a Small-Group Member." Here was the full text of his post:

Never! There is…
  • No sin to too decadent
  • No opinion too controversial
  • No revelation too disturbing
  • No sickness too time consuming
  • No need too costly
  • No conflict too intense
  • No addiction too immoral.
Luke 15:11 - 24

I thought that was a pretty cool sentiment, and so I re-tweeted the link to the post. A few of you re-tweeted it as well.

But then I got the following email from another reader:

Nice sentiment in Howerton’s blog post, but I have to disagree with him. I had to ask a group member to leave once because she would go into rages during the group. I tried meeting with her personally, but she would fly into rages against me. I finally blocked her phone calls because they were giving me panic attacks.

So, before I give my opinion on this matter, I thought I would open things up to all of you. Is there ever a time when a group leader should "abandon" a group member?

posted by Sam O'Neal on February 4, 2011 10:04 AM

Related Tags: Conflict, Difficult people


As the author of the blog post, I must confess, I think I may have fallen short of complete wisdom. My point was that I don't believe a person should be dismissed due to a sin (we should help in the restoration process), an opinion or attitude, or because they are costing the small group leader too much time. There is a point when a small group member must be dealt with and maybe asked not to come back... when they are so disruptive to group life that it is keeping the group from accomplishing her disciplemaking goals. The leadership principle is this... No one persons actions or choices should be allowed to inhibit the growth of an entire group. But before asking that person to leave the group, they should be given multiple opportunities to change and grow.

Thanks for pushing back, reader. And know this... even though you pushed back, you could still be in my group.

Great points, Mike. When we can't help those struggling emotionally, we are responsible to help them find someone who can.

Every once in a while though someone comes along who 1) is disrupting group life beyond the norm, 2) is unwilling to acknowledge their dysfunction, 3) is unwilling to seek help, 4) but are unwilling to do group life with others in healthy ways.

But I am so on board with you, MIke and thrilled that you reminded all of us that everyone deserves the opportunity and the assistance to be transformed.

I believe the key is whether or not the person is disrupting the group. In my opinion the group is together to learn through fellowship. If there is a person that disrupts the group enough where the group isn't functional at all, then they should be asked to leave.

Wow, this is right on time for me. Here's what I am trying to figure out now - we have a church member who has been asked to leave more than one small group. This person is indeed emotionally needy, and is very open that she had a drug problem in the past. She is living in "recovery" now, and in fact is the leader of a breakout group at the 12-step program she attends. One of the church related small groups she was booted out of, she left 3 years ago because they said she could only attend if she'd take regular drug tests and submit the results to the group. The second group that asked her to leave, asked her to leave because their group time each week seemed to often turn into 2 hours of counseling this one member.

I feel this way: We have other members of small groups who may be dealing with an area of sin, a life problem that's too big for them to handle on their own, or for a season becomes more emotionally needy than usual. In fact, each of these scenarios has been experienced and all handled with more love than the person who has been asked to leave twice. I have been a person in great need - in all three of these areas in the past and was greatly supported by my small group(s). So it is hard for me to see this person who is a member of our church family and who it seems so hard to find a small group willing to work with her. She can prove she is regularly and actively pursuing her recovery by providing documetation of attending a 12-step program (in fact, the program meets at our church). It may take more than one, one-on-one conversation, but with direction and care, I do believe she could learn not to dominate the small group time with her own issues - especially since she has the 12-step meeting to air some of these out.

Ok, after all that, I don't really know what my question is. I am determined to find a small group "family" for her. Maybe I just want to make a statement - No, we can't allow someone to go into fits of rage at gatherings, we can't allow someone who is in the middle of being drunk/drugged be so at a gathering. But do we become their parole officers - requiring drug tests? No, we can't allow someone to use every gathering as a personal counseling session. But, do we kick them out rather than work with them to realize that every gathering cannot be spent solely on their emotional needs? And can we ourselves accept that sometimes, someone in our body NEEDS us to spend that time precisely that way? Are we willing to sacrifice a gathering here or there (not always, and not often) to love on the one who's needy? Are we ready to love someone enough to help them through an addiction? Not enable, but to say "Hey, we want you here. But we want you here sober. Can you do that for us next time? Do you need a friend to go with you to an AA meeting?" Are we willing to do that instead of give them the smack down?

This is clearly a difficult area - not sure there are any easy answers, and certainly not a one-size-fits-all soltion to any scenario/person/group.

I was kicked out of my church because my ex wife was having an affair...I found emails to validate it. It was all happening while I was in Iraq. I tried to talk to the pastor...and apparently I made some people upset with my accusations. I even tried to have another pastor mediate the conversation. Eventually I was arrested at work and charged with a felony count of stalking. All charges were dropped and the police apologized when they actually investigated. She is a gifted liar. I just don't understand the church I guess. As far as I know she's still on the staff at this church serving in the praise band. Amazing.

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