Book Review: Why Didn't You Warn Me?
"Have you noticed that Christians are often afraid or unwilling to live in the mess for very long? We expect things to be neat and tidy, for people to fall into alignment quickly, for them to repent and turn around and get it right-- hopefully by tomorrow afternoon. In my experience, that's a fairy tale. People and situations can get real messy before they get better." (Why Didn't You Warn Me?, page 64)
That one paragraph sums up the major challenge of discipleship and the primary reason we need this book. Huge thanks to Pat Sikora for sending me a copy of Why Didn't You Warn Me? How to Deal with Challenging Group Members. Gossip, rabbit trails, discussion domination, control freaks, mental and emotional problems, people who don't want to pray...who wants to lead a small group?
Small group leadership is extremely messy, but there is absolutely no way to adequately prepare a person for the surprises of leadership; we can only coach them through it. At several of our leadership retreats, we've offered a session called "What No One Ever Warned Me About Leading a Small Group." Recently, NCC small group leader wrote "What They Didn't Tell Me About Small Group Leadership." So I was excited to see a book by this title!
Why Didn't You Warn Me? is a short but information-packed, practical book. In fewer than 90 pages, Pat introduces us to 18 challenging personalities that are sometimes encountered in small group ministry, and she gives step-by-step ideas and advice on how to pray for, approach, and tackle each one. From the ubiquitous discussion challenges like Mona Monopoly and Rhonda Rabbitrail to more difficult character challenges like Griselda Gossip and Travis Troubled, Pat succinctly outlines both the proper approach and-- perhaps more importantly-- the Biblically appropriate attitude for dealing with each.
Here are some of the strengths I found in the book:
Starts with Self-Examination. I really liked the fact that the book started out with self-examination. All good leadership begins by being a leader worth following, and you can't surgically remove sawdust from the eyes of others until you deal with the log in your own. Pat devotes the first two chapters of the book to helping leaders "deal with their own stuff" and become leaders worth following.
Prioritizes Prayer. Pat also does a fantastic job of establishing the priority of prayer in the process of working through difficult people and situations. Sometimes, we can get so caught up with trying to clean up, work around, hide, or ignore the mess that we forget about the power of prayer.
Emerges from Experience. The book obviously emerges from a place of experience. Pat has been involved in small group ministry for more than 30 years, and it is evident from her writing. This is not just theory, it's coming from the place of a practitioner. As you read about each challenging personality, you know that Pat actually knows these people by name and face. She has walked through these messes and emerged on the other side with hope and Biblical principles for leading through them.
The only criticism I would offer is related to the layout. I loved the pull quotes and statistic boxes, but the book looked extremely busy to me. It was distracting. Some of the pictures of people tossed randomly throughout the pages were just odd or goofy looking. It felt like it was trying too hard to be cool, hip, and relevant. But that is a publishing problem and not a content problem.
For future editions of the book, I would offer a new personality: Robbie Relativist or Polly Pluralist. One of the new challenges in groups, especially among younger Christians, is the postmodern approach to Scripture: "this is what it means to me; what does it mean to you?," "this is what is true for me," "I don't think that's what God would want for us," etc. Rhetoric that exposes our pluralistic, relative, or non-absolute truth tendencies. I think it would be helpful to have a chapter on how to keep groups and discussion rooted Biblically and under the authority of Scripture when people are more likely to drift into "this is what it means for me" kinda discussion.
This book could be a great supplement to a small group training program or for use in a coaching environment. It is extremely practical. To check out other Small Group help books by Standard Publishing, click here. Also, be sure to check out Pat's blog to continue the discussion or to find ongoing training and discussion about the adventures of small group leadership.