Can You Spare a Little Grace?

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Teaching your small groups to care for E.G.Rs. By Steve Gladen

In the life of any Small Group, there will come a time when the Small Group Leader will have concerns and struggles as to how to handle difficult people within their groups. With many different personalities attending a small group each week, the Small Group Leader must have a firm handle on how to identify and care for each of the personalities within their group. As the Small Group Point Person, it is your job to equip your Small Group Leaders to deal with group members who present special challenges – “E.G.R’s (Extra Grace Required). If not handled properly, an “E.G.R.” can destroy the health (and attendance!) of a small group.

In looking at the issue of how the Small Group Leader can better care for E.G.R.’s, we find the Apostle Paul giving us three distinct E.G.R. personalities, and the remedies for getting a better handle on ministering and caring for these individuals. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

E.G.R. Type #1 – The Unruly: “Admonish Them…”

The unruly group member seems to have a knack for drawing the life out of every group they attend.
Week after week, they use the small group as a therapy couch, lamenting about all of the problems in their lives (which never seem to improve). This type of “E.G.R.” is completely unaware of how much of the small group’s time they are actually consuming. Upon closer observation, the unruly E.G.R. might be most properly labeled as “in need of attention.”

“Unruly” E.G.R. Character Traits

  • Needy
  • Loud
  • Opinionated
  • Controlling
  • Non-repentant
  • Conflict-driven

What the unruly need most is to be challenged.

  1. Understand they are under attack from Satan.
  2. Pray for them for what they could be.
  3. Understand the art of confrontation (one “intensity step” above them).
  4. Attempt to make them an ally (“Help me get others to share as you do.”)
  5. Speak privately about their need to consume the group’s time.
  6. Caution them that continued behavior will result in their dismissal.
  7. Control the time given to each person to share (“All of us will have one minute to share on this issue”).

E.G.R. Type #2 – The Fainthearted: “Encourage Them…”

The fainthearted E.G.R. will most likely resemble the “church mouse” within the setting of their small group. This type of E.G.R. may have recently begun to take spiritual inventory, and are beginning to make life changes in how they think about and view God. They may spend months just attending, listening, and just “taking it all in.” The fainthearted E.G.R. may not be used to relating their faith or praying with other believers. They would feel threatened if the Small Group Leader were to put them “on the spot” to share anything.

“Fainthearted” E.G.R. Character Traits

  • Quiet
  • Timid
  • Wary
  • Guarded (non-transparent)
  • Lacking Self Esteem
  • Under Construction in their Faith
  • FearfulWhat the fainthearted need most is to be encouraged.
  1. Pray specifically that God would begin encouraging them to “open up” over time. Until then, be patient.
  2. Understand that God is using the small group to help them reevaluate and draw closer in their faith.
  3. Encourage tenderly that their attendance is “important” and “appreciated.”
  4. Be careful not to put them on the spot during sharing time.
  5. Affirm them tenderly that God is in control of their lives.
  6. Find the one positive thing in their personality and character and build on it.
  7. Affirm them sincerely anytime they share.

E.G.R. Type #3 – The Weak: “Help Them…”

The weak E.G.R. quite often is a person struggling to get “off the mat” in their lives. The storms of life have blown harshly. Many Christian E.G.R.’s in this category may have recently had a death in the family, lost a job, or may have lost it all due to a substance abuse problem. They come to the group bewildered, and wonder if God really cares for them. Many E.G.R.’s in this category are living day-to-day with economic and emotional pressures. If the truth could be known, these E.G.R.’s would tell you that they are just trying to survive. Another E.G.R. in this category would be the non-believer who is attempting to get closer to God, but is finding it increasingly difficult to draw closer because of an addictive, sinful lifestyle.

The “Weak” E.G.R. Character Traits (Christian & Non-Christian)

  • Coming out of tragedy
  • Highly sensitive
  • Barely surviving
  • Faithless
  • In bondage to sinful lifestyle
  • Non-committal
  • Destructive life patterns

Caring for the “Weak” E.G.R.
What they need most is to be carried.

  1. Extra personal touches required (letters, phone calls).
  2. Need to be loved and affirmed.
  3. Never ignore.
  4. Need to be taken by the hand.
  5. Counseled to take life one day at a time.
  6. May need specific guidance.
  7. Good candidate to be the recipient of grace and gifts from the small group.
  8. Extreme levels of patience and understanding.

As the holidays approach, your small group members might be under more stress than usual. Stress can bring out E.G.R. behavior even in the best of us. It is easy to get along with those we like and find a kinship with. It is harder to love those who don’t “fit”. You need to prepare your Small Group Leaders to deal with these situations ahead of time. Remind them that God has set these people in all of our paths. They are “heavenly sandpaper”. Most importantly, remind your leaders Christ died for them just as He died for us.

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Allen,

  I do not want to judge Mr. Gladen, But I do not agree with these kind of approaches to classify human behavior. They fall short because we are all profoundly unique. It also assumes a arbitrary standard of behavior.   For instance, when someone is at the survival level, who are we to judge what the correct reaction is or what the Spirit driven emotional response should be to what ever the hurdle in life. These types of behavioral assessment programs can lead to false judgements because everyone displays some of these traits at different times.

  Leaders should be aware of the proper response to a tough small group situation but not assume that is who the person is. Small groups are a unique social environment that bring out behaviors that are unique.

  The author no doubt has good intentions but the proper way is to treat each situation in the meeting at face value without the judgements.

Ken

Article seems fairly opinionated and controlling.

Perhaps attempting to go beyond diversity to homogeneity?

Community Builder

I clicked on the link to this article specifically because I lead a small group and thought it would be good for me to learn how to encourage and help any of the members who might be "E.G.R" types. I agree that we can't label and classify everyone, but I find it helpful to learn different strategies and methods of dealing with different types of behavior.

As I clicked the link, I was hoping that the article would go beyond naming types of people and actually contain practical advice. This article definitely has some good, practical advice that I will find helpful as I lead my group.

Participant

I can appreciate your comments.  I thought this had potential to stir the pot.  All I can say is that having coached leaders for a very long time, this is one of the key areas that crops up all the time, and I do mean all the time.  I've seen leaders quit because of the frustration such members can bring to the group.  There are many times the above described members can seriously hurt the group if proper assessment and action is not taken.

For those who are participants in a group they may not have the slightest idea how stressful a difficult personality type can be for a leader who really does care about them, but has no idea how to help them and the group.  I myself have led many groups and every so often someone with some serious personality issues comes in and throws the whole group out of whack.  While you may not agree with everything Steve wrote, the article is meant to be a helpful reference point for leaders who find themselves in such a frustrating situation.  It's a tool for the tool box.

While no one likes to button hole anyone, the purpose of this article is more to help recognize the potential issue and help stabilize the group dynamics so that everyone feels cared for and accepted.  A good leader can help such a person find balance within the group and the leader can help the other members more effectively respond to such a person.  It can be a helpful starting point for many leaders who may otherwise feel completely helpless. 

Precherkid, I think Steve's intention is not homogeneity but rather some balance in the group.  It doesn't hurt diversity, but rather allows people to be themselves within the bounds of healthy group dynamics. Let me give you an example; I know of numerous groups who had a person  with severe co-dependency issues.  No matter how gracious people were to them eventually their personal issues and needs began to take over the group at every meeting derailing it finally frustrating members to the point of almost quitting.  Every meeting became about this person's problems which may or may not have been created by them.  The group was a mess and the leader was ready to quit.  No one wanted to talk about the elephant in the room, but it needed to be dealt with.

Many leaders struggle with these issues. It has been my experience that this issue is a very difficult one to talk about, but it is more prevalent than people realize.

Allen:

I too have been a part of groups for many years, as well as a supervisor responsible for running group meetings.  

"Personality types" exist in all of us and there was a lack of recognition in the article of this.  

I have been in groups where the leader (find me a leader who doesn't) had an agenda, and that is fine but used their own limited agenda to be controlling, whenever the discussion went in productive paths they deemed beyond their control.

This article did a lot of labelling, lacked nuance and self-reflective humility.

 

 

 

 

Allen:

An example came to me after the last post:

I was invited by a chic, smart young lady from Planned Parenthood to be a part of a discussion for one of our state legislators, who happened to wield a lot of power.

Obviously, the discussion was to follow a certain path.  The leader was about as waspish (without the "p" perhaps) as you could get.  The group was diverse including a local African-American female with an iconic status.  She took over the discussion into paths absolutely contrary to the agenda of the Planned Parenthood leader.

The "diversity" opinion was very opiniated, domineering (likely, according to the article's definitions).

I cheered the entire time, silently saying "go, girl."

Participant

Not sure what you mean by "waspish", but nonetheless one would expect certain expectations at such a public meeting of collective representation to be agenda driven for sure. Of course I don't know the nature or content of the African-American lady's diverted path either (not that ethnicity should matter), and I'm not sure if that forum was the best place to air her laundry. But in a setting like that -- which is not the same as a weekly small group that has a completely different focus -- the opinion on that question can vary extensively as to what is appropriate or not.

I think that Steve did nuance his feelings and intentions in the beginning of the article. There is a sense of caring for the individual (the reason for the article among others) as well as the group for each area he describes. Certainly we all have "personality types", but some can be more harmful to group life than others.  But you may feel different.

I would be curious as to how you might write this article differently if it were a tool for a leader. How may you have nuanced it and brought more humility into the picture?  Knowing Steve, I think he would appreciate the feedback which I would be happy to send him.

Allen:

You have a point (nuancing?) on the difference between a small group that meets regularly in a church basement and someone trying to exert political influence by assembling what they thought would be a power group fitting their agenda.

However, after re-reading the article I did not see anything that would preclude my example from fitting the implied definition of "small group." 

By "waspish" I meant the commonly used shorthand for white, anglo-saxon, protestant.  I thought that would be understood and it is partly why I included the ethnicity of the lady who literally took over the discussion.  She exhibited most of the traits of  E.G.R. Type #1, except "needy."  She definitely was not needy.  (If I mentioned her by name many in West Michigan would know who I am talking about, she is that iconic).

 

In my opinion, part of  what was missing in the article is something that I think Ken was also hinting at and which my example, I thought served to demonstrate.  Leaders have agendas and when someone does not fit their stereotype of audience, yes, e.g.r. applies, but I would hope they would be self-reflective enough to wonder if it did not extend to themselves.  Otherwise there is the danger of pigeonholing people.

I have been in many other small group sessions, in church basements, where the leader(s) also had agendas and one quite quickly got the idea that it could be the leader who fit E.G.R. Type 1.  (I have a concrete example in mind)

I would have appreciated if the author had stated the possibility that perhaps E.G.R. was required for the leader, as I felt was needed just a teeny bit for the article.  

Again, I think Ken had a point.

Participant

Oh yes, I would hope that a leader would be self-reflective as well to make sure that they are not the person derailing and are sensitive enough to allow the group to go off course when necessary in order to meet a need within the group.  I would also hope that the church has the necessary coaching and oversite in place to minimize having people with their own significant  E.G.R. (for lack of a better term) issues to be leading.

 

Having said that, I would also hope that my leaders help keep the group focused on the overall intention, mission and purpose of the group so that "allowing the group to go off course when necesssary" in order to meet a need or someone's need does not become the central focus of the group in the sense that it becomes only a support group-- know what I mean? There are different kinds of groups for that sort of thing.   For example, as a pastor I can counsel someone only to a certain point then I can say, "I can support you spiritually and pray for you, but this issue needs to be dealt with in a deeper way than I can handle," referring them to a therapist.  There may be a season when a group gathers around someone in the group to focus on a severe or significant issue (ie, a failing marriage, job loss, a tragedy), but when a person or people begin to regularly reroute the group by their own personality issues or social inadequacies the leader needs some frame of reference, some tools in their tool box to make sure they can keep the group in focus while acknowledging the individuality and diversity within the group. 

Do you agree?

Participant

Just re-reading some of the these comments and I find it ironic that while denouncing about "classifying people" you use a ethnically loaded classification and somewhat derogatory monicer ("waspish") for the person you mention.  Something to think about.

Depending on the circumstances, I could agree.

Participant

Oh most certainly depending on the circumstances.  Each situation is unique unto itself and must be responded to as such.