However, I’m not sure I’d use the word “stern,” even with people who are acting out of line. These are the challenging people, and one remedy won’t fit all of them. Some may need a bit of sternness after loving discussion has failed, but this will be the exception. Most people will respond favorably to gentle encouragement and direction. Many simply need someone to reflect back to them how their words or behaviors are affecting others.
Point taken. That's the sort of feedback I was looking for when I wrote the series. I (a) work with students most, so I have the privilege of having a stronger authoritative position than most adult small group leaders would have and (b) work with students, who often respond better to sternness (especially male students). But Pat's point that most people respond to gentle encouragement is spot-on: as I will hopefully say later when I address issues of discipline in discussion groups, students have to trust that the leader is acting in their best interest if sternness is going to have any effect at all. But there is no silver bullet: each case is different, and each person is going to respond differently to different tactics. That's what makes discipline and discussion so difficult, so stretching, and so fun. Pat also writes:
With adults, I’m not sure that you need to remind them “constantly.” That could get a little old. But from time to time it doesn’t hurt to refresh the expectations and also to seek their opinions. How are they enjoying the group? What are they getting out of it? What would make it better?
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.