SGL: Tangents and Rabbit Trails

Home groups are likely the most fun of Christian interaction. The Word of God is discussed in a relational environment and it is the clearest place to see spiritual growth in discipleship and the visible process of multiplication. But how do you deal with Tangents and rabbit trails? How does a newer home group leader who is more focused on the content than he is on discipleship for his place of growth handle rabbit trails?

What is a tangent or rabbit trail? A tangent happens, for example, when the subject is on the character of Jesus in a discussion of 1 Timothy 1:15-17 and a person asks a question about the veracity of the Bible. The veracity of the Bible is an important subject, but it is a tangent from talking about the character of Jesus. The key for the leader is to remember how to answer the tangent and bring the discussion back to the main topic – in a light-hearted manner. Consider the following principles.

Tangents are good.

First of all, tangents are good. If the home group leader is bothered by tangents, it only reveals that he needs practice to build his confidence, not get upset with tangents.  Tangents or rabbit trails can take on a life of their own, especially if there is something dramatic in the news or the church. It could be a crisis in someone’s life or something that caught his attention in his devotions. Tangents reveal what is really on the person’s heart and that is what you want to reach (the heart) with far more urgency than trying to get through a set number of questions.

Tangents may be a test to the home group leader.

The tangents may be a test to the home group leader’s spiritual growth process. How else is God going to help a home group leader grow up if He doesn’t allow participants to throw in diversions? (sanctified sarcasm) Those diversions are designed to keep the home group leader dependent upon God. If everything was done completely in order, the home group leader might be able to lead without dependence on the Lord. That brings no glory to God.

Let the Holy Spirit take you off track to a person’s concern.

Trust the Holy Spirit to use the opportunity to reach the person’s heart.  It may be what some other person is struggling with, but he will not bring it up. It may be what the Lord wants for the entire group. It may be far more important than a planned discussion from the message questions. It may be what brings an unbeliever to the Lord or a believer to the point of commitment.  So pray silently requesting the Spirit’s guidance for discernment and understanding.

Relate the tangent to the topic.

If the tangent is short or there is a resolution, relate the tangent back to the topic.  Both are under God’s control and both are related to Scripture, so consider a good segue back to the main topic. For example, if the subject is the character of Christ and  the tangent was the veracity of Scripture, you could say, “It is so incredible that the veracity, the truth, of Scripture helps us understand the character of Christ.  Without the truth of Scripture, we could fall into one of one hundred heresies. Praise God for Scripture. Do you know that one of the characteristics of Christ Jesus is His veracity. Does anyone know what John 14:6 says?”  And yet, if it is obvious this is a tangent that the group needs to discuss, then trust the Holy Spirit to use the time for repentance, clarification, illumination, reconciliation and/or restoration to the Lord and/or to others.

Bring the topic back on track.

As you bring the topic back on track, affirm the person who initiated the tangent where it is possible. Help the person see it is okay to think outside of the box. Some people need that kind of affirmation in order to become more transparent and authentic.  The tangent or rabbit trail may have been a slight diversion, but use it as a brief rest and jump back into the topic with a renewed sense of purpose.

Show interest in the person’s rabbit trail.

Remember to show interest in the person’s rabbit trail. If you are oblivious or indifferent to the tangent, your non-verbal communication will be clear that you are more content-focused than other-focused as a shepherd.  Home group is much more about shepherding that producing brains on a stick.  The rabbit trail may be what this person has been thinking about all week and for the leader to be indifferent at best, reflects a God who doesn’t have time to listen or is uncaring for the person’s real issues.  Showing interest may be very minor, but it can make a world of difference for a young Christian growing spiritually in a world that is indifferent to him.

Never make fun of rabbit trails.

Finally, never make fun of rabbit trails.  That is the worst thing you can do. There is no room for cute-cuts (a cute-cut is a comment or expression in making fun of a person for what they said or did). If you make a person feel foolish, it may be the last time you see them. It may be their problem totally. It may reveal how spiritually immature they really are. It may be an indication they are in fact foolish. However, the home group leader is supposed to be the spiritual parent, who is intentionally discipling spiritual infants, spiritual children and spiritual young adults. Never make fun of rabbit trails.

Consider these principles and you will create a relational environment in which people want to join and stick with for multiplication. God is in control. God allows tangents and rabbit trails so that both leaders and participants can grow together in the Body of Christ.

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