Help! My Home Group Leader is Wrong…

Tim Thornborough | July 5th 2019

It’s home group as usual — the coffee is poured, Janice has made a cake that is going down a treat, and there is an excited buzz around the room as we share how our week is going.

Ben calls the group to order, we pray, we read the passage, so far, so normal. And then the bombshell drops.

“As I have been thinking about this passage,” says Ben, “it’s become more and more clear to me that the way the church has thought about this subject over the centuries is just plain wrong.”

We shift uneasily in our seats. Ben has been known to play Devil’s advocate before to stir us to healthy debate and discussion, but this time it feels a little different. As he talks over the next 10 minutes, it becomes clear that what he is suggesting is a major departure from “the faith, once delivered to the saints”.

Looking around the room, I notice that Emily and Graham are both locked onto his words and giving him affirming looks; nodding enthusiastically at times, as he outlines his bold and radical vision. Janice the cakemaker, however, has a furrowed brow, and is glancing nervously at her Bible and then at the other faces around the group.

“So”, says Ben, coming to the end of his monologue, “what do people think?”

I draw breath, and open my mouth to speak and say… what?

A wolf in our midst

It’s easy to decry and deal with false teachers and teaching that goes on in “that church down he road”. But when it is up close and personal, it’s another matter entirely—especially when they have started to attract a following. The implications of challenging or rebuking someone can be serious: relationships broken; churches split. So how do you deal with wrong thoughts and false teaching when it involves people you are closely connected with. Here are some pointers:

1. Is it fundamental?

Before accusing and challenging someone, we need to be clear what is being said. In the scenario above, my first question would probably be one of clarification, rather than challenge. There are many areas of Christian life and doctrine where it is permissible to hold to different views. A particular church may have one particular view, say on alcohol, infant baptism, church membership or tithing, but it is legitimate for Christians to hold other views. If someone in what might be called “second tier” leadership — like a home group leader — holds a view divergent from the church as a whole, then that may be problematic within the context of your church, but it is certainly not heresy or false teaching. More often the problem with these disputable matters — the technical term is adiaphora (See Romans 14:1) is when someone insists that their view on these things is the only correct one, and demonises those who think otherwise.

But if the idea expressed is of a more fundamental nature—the trinity, the divinity of Christ, the gospel of grace—then there is something more serious going on…

2. Are they convinced?

It’s important to have an open mind, to think radically, and sometimes to think “outside the box” as we dwell on God’s words in scripture. The church has traditions of thought and practice which need to be subjected to God’s word. Sometimes it is good to ponder and think out loud, in order to test ideas we may have with others. But, arguably, a responsible home-group leader whose job is to help others towards the truth should be responsible enough to do that kind of thinking in other arenas than a mixed group of ordinary Christians.

But still — they may just be thinking out loud, and so, in any ensuing discussion, would be prepared to withdraw or retract. But if it is clear that they are convinced, and campaigning to win others to their viewpoint, then this is a category shift. For the sake of the other members the group—who may be less acute or able theologically—this needs to be challenged clearly and carefully.

3. Addressing the ideas

One helpful way of exposing false teaching is to ask questions about the implications of a viewpoint. All truth is one, and so if someone is tinkering with one part of the gospel, it will have inevitable results in other areas. The late Mike Ovey had a wonderful way of doing this. You would propose a line of thinking, and Mike would carefully and logically trace the implications all the way back to the cross. A seemingly innocuous idea always seemed to end up with Mike pointing out that, if we believe that is true, then there was no need for Jesus to die on the cross. Game over.

The other lines of approach you might take would be to ask for examples from the teaching of Jesus or the rest of scripture where the idea is supported, and by asking how their view squares with other passages of the Bible where the idea appears to be refuted. It will often be hard, however, to address the issue at first. It may require some research and thought. It may just be that something “smells funny”—the Holy Spirit can give us these intuitions when something is being said wrong. For the sake of the rest of the group it needs to be addressed with them present.

4. The bigger picture

By its very nature, false teaching is cruel and enslaving. It is only the perfect gospel which brings freedom and joy. So the stakes are much higher than a mere difference of opinion. Your home group leader has a position of responsibility in the church, and so it must be referred up the chain to be dealt with before it starts to run out of control. To delay here can cause untold harm to those who are less mature. That will take courage, and you may easily be misunderstood for it. But if you love your church, and if you love the gospel, it is vital it is done in a spirit of love, concern and compassion.

Truth is apprehended only by the Holy Spirit, and any departure from the truth ultimately comes from another place. The world leading to a compromise on core Christian belief; the flesh leading to a desire for gain; or the devil, seeking to enslave people to forms of religion that lead to death, not life. So, fundamentally, dealing with false teaching is a spiritual battle, not an intellectual one. However you approach this problem, it needs to be soaked through with fervent prayer that God would protect his people, and that those who hold to or promote false teaching would be led by his Spirit to repentance  and a knowledge of the truth that sets us free.

Good Book Guides are perfect for small group studies. Each session not only seeks to uncover the meaning of the passage, and see how it fits into the big picture of the Bible, but also leads people to apply what they have learned to their lives. Find out more here.

Tim Thornborough

Tim Thornborough is the founder and Publishing Director of The Good Book Company. He is series editor of Explore Bible-reading notes, and has contributed to many books published by the Good Book Company and others. He is married to Kathy and has three adult daughters.