I was reminded again tonight why I often dislike going to things like small groups.
Since joining Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, I've been a part of some wonderful small groups. I was surrounded by people passionate about God, loving each other, discussing, agreeing, disagreeing, serving each other, serving others, and praying for each other. Other small group experiences have not gone so well.
A particular kind of problem plagues many small groups. The problem, like nearly all problems, comes attached to a person. This presents me the delicate task of attempting to neutralize the problem without attacking the person. Even though I am referring to an abstract, general person, concrete (though anonymous) examples will be necessary to explain my points.
I will begin by saying that I've been this person. I've probably driven people away from small groups by being this person. My intent here is not to condemn but to shine a light on this problem so that people can realize "Hey, I do that... Maybe it is harmful and I should work on it."
With the various though necessary disclaimers in place, I will pose a scenario familiar to almost anyone who has attended a small group. Awkwardness inevitably ensues during introductions, this is a necessary fact of human interaction. However, you might bump into someone who inserts their entire life testimony and a mini-sermon into their introduction. This introduces even more awkwardness because no one finds this particularly interesting, it's badly delivered, out of place, and distracting, but no one has the <insert pluralized necessary anatomical feature of choice> to say so.
The awkwardness of introductions over, Bible study commences. Depending on the competence of the leaders and the willingness of the group members to engage and politely discuss (and disagree), this can be a wonderful opportunity to learn something new. One thing will easily prevent all of this though. Someone will use the passage as a launching point for (once again) their sermon. (Not miniaturized this time). At this point, you're probably suppressing thoughts that you could interrupt them mid-word and then finish their sermon exactly for them, because you've heard it all before. Now you are guilty of suppressing the truth. (I kid, I kid.) It is fact though. It is a performance we are all familiar with and many of us are guilty of.
We go to small group to impress people with our knowledge. Guess what. The people in your small group aren't struck dumb by your brilliance. They're wondering how to shut you up without looking like jerks, because our society frowns upon insisting that fools be silent, and frowns even more upon contradicting a person or even appearing to, thus permitting the tyranny of any idea stated bluntly and early enough.
Small group is not a place for you to pontificate and insist that God gave you a word. God probably wants you to hear what his word already says, he doesn't need you to editorialize or extend it. Study the word, offer opinions on the passage presented, argue semantics, argue metaphors, provide cultural context. GO FOR IT! But don't tyrannize your group with a long-winded presentation about why alcohol is bad because it's the modern day apple of Eden. And if you do and someone that cares a bit less about societal opinion than average is in your group, you've got no right to be angry when they politely ask you to shut up, or contradict what you just said.