Wading Through the Mess
For a few weeks, I've been writing about dealing with mess when it happens in group. There's no formula for navigating it, solving it, or fixing it. But here are some best practices that can guide us.
1. Acknowledge the mess
It's best to acknowledge mess when it happens and not be afraid to call it what it is. Paul told the Philippian church, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Synteche to agree with one another in the Lord.” Imagine being one of them when that letter was read to the congregation. When mess happens, admit it. Some of us have a tendency to want to ignore it and hope it goes away on its own. That won't happen. Don’t let an elephant linger in the room.
2. Identify the kind of mess
Second, it might be helpful to identify the kind of mess you are encountering. Is it a sin mess? Relational mess? Life mess? Often, it’s some combination of two or maybe even all three. Identifying the kind of mess will keep you from feeling immediately overwhelmed.
3. Have the right perspective.
Three, have the right perspective. Mess is not the end of your group, it’s the catalyst for something great in your group. Sometimes you have to take a big step back to see the bigger picture. Let me pause on this one because I believe our perspective makes all the difference.
I talk about metaphors from the engineering world quite a bit so let me shift gears and give you illustration from the world of art that I blogged about here, Perspective: Mess or Masterpiece?
Sometimes you have to take a big step back in order to see God’s perspective on what is happening in your group. Perspective can transform the mess of our lives into a masterpiece of God’s transforming power. To say “pray and read your Bible” seems like a very trite and predictable thing to say, but it’s true because that’s how we get God’s perspective. I am convinced that God wants to give us wisdom and discernment about the people he has entrusted to us and on the situations we find ourselves in.
If you are like me, there is a tendency for you to see everything that happens in your group—both good and bad—as a reflection on your leadership. So when sin happens or conflict happens or bad things happen to my group members, my immediate instinct is to assume something is wrong with my leadership. When the sin mess that eventually turned into relational mess happened in my group, I immediately thought, “What did I do wrong?” Now, I think looking at your own leadership is always a good thing. But sometimes, it’s not a matter of “what did you do wrong?” but of “what did you do right?” Sin happens. Conflict happens. Life happens. Mess happens. People don’t necessarily sin or get into petty arguments because you are a bad leader. It could be that you are a great leader and you have created an environment in which God can bring those things to the surface in a safe environment in order to deal with them. When mess happens, you might be exactly where God wants you to be as a group. The question is what he wants to do and how he wants to work.
4. Ask good questions.
In every mess you face, there is what you know and there is reality. And there is often a vast chasm between the two. Suspend judgment and fill the void of what’s known and what’s reality with good questions. Asking good questions also allows you to go beneath the surface mess and discover the roots of the mess. In every mess, there is often a deeper mess that God might want to expose and use to bring growth.
5. Talk to the right people.
Next, talk to the right people. Know where you can go for support, guidance, and assistance. There is a big difference between getting help and spreading gossip, so make sure you are going to people who can actually come alongside you to help your clean, navigate, or tend the mess. Who is a coach, a pastor, a trusted friend who can help you know how to engage the mess?
And know that some messes require professional counseling. When your group begins to revolve around the mess of one person, the mess has become toxic and requires professional attention. You don’t just stand around and watch a hazardous waste spill and hope it will clean itself. You call in professionals.
6. Communicate a Biblical goal.
Every mess is an opportunity for growth and every mess is an opportunity to bring glory to God. That’s how we try to approach the messes we encounter in our community.
Here’s the difficult truth—not every mess will have a happy ending. In fact, as my husband Ryan and I were thinking about a lot of the messes we had encountered, I realized that I had been less than stellar in how I handled many of them. And even fewer had nice, clean resolutions.
But even if the mess doesn’t completely resolve, we can always learn something and we can always grow.
7. Commit to the Process
Finally, commit to the process. It’s going to require transparency, commitment to people, leadership, care, time, prayer, digging into the Word, and discernment. The question is, are you willing to fight? Not fight the mess…but fight in the midst of messy environments to become the answer to Jesus’ prayer in the Garden that his followers be one? To fight for community? To fight to fulfill the commandment of Jesus to make disciples?