The Small Group Power Tool Every Small Group Leader Should Use

It pains my masculinity to say this, but I don’t own any power tools. I have no cordless drill for putting things together. No sawzall for taking them apart. No table saw or chop saw or skill saw. Just a well used hand drill, a craftsman hand saw, and lots of elbow grease.

(Photo by Toolstop at Creative Commons)(Photo by Toolstop at Creative Commons)

I used to have power tools. I had a cordless drill, a skill saw, and even a table saw someone had given me. But the electricity is different here in Europe, so my power tools don’t work. I’m back to the basics.

I hurt myself a lot less with hand tools. There are less close calls, less chances of cutting off a finger, and less mis-cuts and mistakes.

There is less risk.

I also get a lot less done.

And there are certain things only a power tool can do.

Disequilibration is a power tool for small group leaders. (Click here for a definition.) When used wrong it leaves students confused, doubting, and maybe even hurting. When used right they discover and own truth in transformational ways. A few thoughts on those differences:

Disequilibration is not:

  • Saying something weird to get attention. I once heard of a speaker who introduced his talk by saying a major cuss word. He then accused the audience of being more concerned about his swearing than about friends who don’t know Jesus. Shock value and disequilibration aren’t always the same thing.
  • Being ‘edgy’ by embracing confusion. Sometimes it is stylish to be confusing or ‘gray.’ Used rightly, disequilibration does recognize the world is often much more nuanced and complex then we tend to make it. However, this doesn’t mean all truth is confusing or complex.
  • Confusing people and leaving them confused. The goal isn’t to stir everything up and just leave it. The goal isn’t to stir everything up and then give them the answers. The goal is to stir things up, and then help them discover satisfying answers.

Disequilibration is an alternative to:

  • Clarity as king. Our world worships clarity. Four spiritual laws. Seven habits of highly effective people. Main idea preaching. (All of which are often helpful, by the way.) Jesus, however, was often quite confusing. Parables. Stories. Metaphors. Hanging questions. All of these value disequilibration over clarity.
  • Tell them what you’ll tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them. We’re often taught to find the main idea and figure out as many ways as possible to say it. Although this is sometimes a good strategy, it’s not what I see Jesus use in the gospels. He embraces the complexity and nuance of life, and invites the crowds to wrestle deeply. Simple answers simply won’t do.

It’s important to note how disequilibration comes in many forms and levels of intensity. Not all disequilibration will be rock-me-to-my-core level stuff. Disequilibration can take many forms:

  • A confusing statement. ex: “A famous Christian (Augustine) once said, ‘Love and do as you please.’ What do you think about that statement? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • A troubling question. ex: “Was it fair of God to let Sarah send Hagar and Ishmael away? Did they deserve that?”
  • A good metaphor. ex: Spend a lesson exploring how discipling others is like growing a garden (click here to see an example).
  • A parable. ex: The stories Jesus told forced people to walk away thinking—the story of the Good Samaritan, for example.

What’s the common element? These each require us to work and react before we can process our world. In the meantime, we grow.

So, how do I learn to use disequilibration?

  • Study Jesus using disequilibration. Read the gospels. Notice the tension statements, the questions, the metaphors/pictures, the parables. Watch how he cares for people while he challenges their souls. Notice when he is aggressive and when he is gentle. Pay attention to the responses of people.
  • Watch other great teachers use it. When I was learning to teach using disequilibration, I studied master teachers (I still do). I wrote down the questions they used (word-for-word). I watched their posture. I analyzed their strategies.
  • Try it out. This take practice! When I first started leading discussions, I wrote 50–60 possible questions before each session. Of course, I didn’t use most of those questions, but I was training myself to expose tension. I was preparing for disequilibration.

Disequilibration is a power tool. Use it wrongly, and it damages. Use it right, and it changes lives. Just look at Jesus.

Question: What questions do you have about using disequilibration? How have you used disequilibration effectively? How have you seen it used poorly? Click here to contribute to the conversation.

(PS—I’d really love to hear from you–and the rest of this reading community would benefit from your comments. Please don’t be shy to leave a thought or question!)

  • OK, I’ll comment. I’ve read all your small group post and they’re awesome – encouraging and insightful – keep posting! As I read your discussion about disequilibrium I was thinking about the organic/responsive nature of group communication. That is, once in an actual discussion I don’t know what I’m going to say next; at most, all I have is a general point I want to make. When I start speaking I don’t know what words will come out until right before I say them (and based on the responses of others, I’m pretty sure others don’t know what they’re going to say next either!) What we say to each other is contingent upon the responses of other group members, so once we start talking I have little to no control of where the conversation will go. This just highlights how difficult it is to ask the right questions at the right time to the right people.

    • Seth, this is super well said. I often use the analogy of good teaching being like conversation–you often have a direction you want to go, but for it to be real conversation, you must actually respond to the contributions of others. Often, in discussion, we pretend to respond to what others say, and then just continue with our agenda. But that isn’t real conversation. As you said, this highlights the essential skill of asking the right questions at the right time to the right people. Thanks.

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