Traditionally, Christian small-group activities are more positive, edifying, less contentious, and less confrontational than their secular or non-Christian counterparts. Both Christ and the Scriptures teach civility, peace, selflessness, and concern for the feelings and welfare of others in the Christian group context.
However, it is important for the small group leader to be able to identify and deal with certain potentially disruptive personality types. One such personality is the know-it-all.
Someone who is a know-it-all may desire to take the group away from the designated leadership and turn it in a direction completely opposite from the organizational purposes. The know-it-all can show up in military small-group settings because the military prizes such characteristics as capability, command presence, and determination, which could run at cross-purposes with the organizational goals of the group.
This type of person may appear at your small-group meeting under any number of guises and may blatantly attempt to wrest the leadership of the group away from the leader. Perhaps because of prior theological training or simply because they think they know more than anyone in the group, the know-it-all may pontificate on the passages being studied, quoting experts, stifling discussion, and limiting others’ personal discovery. Or they may disagree with the topic or section of Scripture that has been chosen to be studied, so they may turn every discussion in the direction they want it to go.
Harming the group even more, know-it-alls may show up in a more subtle, passive-aggressive approach— excessively cracking jokes or using humor as a defense mechanism to shield themselves from the Word itself. A know-it-all may also use misguided wit as a weapon against others in the group, gigging them with pointed jabs, and then reacting in horror that they would be accused of emotionally harming someone. “After all,” they will say, “it’s you who can’t take a joke.”
Such an attitude can easily prevent the group from ever reaching the critical application phase of the study.
Steps to take as the leader
Whatever black hat the know-it-all may wear at any particular time, it must eventually be dealt with. But how is one to go about it, other than to pray for a back-door revival (that they are transferred or shipped out to sea) or to request that the know-it-all no longer be a part of the group?
The answer is simple but not easy. Enlist them! Recruit them! Invite them to assist you in reaching the group’s goals. Acknowledge their strengths and the real contributions they have made and can make in the future. Encourage them to continue those. See if they have any additional ideas that can aid the group’s advance. But be confrontative enough to point out where they are disrupting the group’s progress.
Help the know-it-all to become aware of the harm they are doing. Work to turn their natural proclivity to move the group in an opposite direction around far enough so as to keep from battling them. True, the natural tendency is to fight, but fighting the know-it-all only plays into their struggle (often with authority; perhaps with you personally). By attempting to enlist them, you may gain in several ways.
First, you can gain the benefit of their most positive contributions, be they knowledge, wit, or others. Allowing those contributions to be aired, but keeping them reasonably reined in, can enhance the quality and atmosphere of the group.
Second, you may gain a friend. At the same time we must be aware of the needs of the larger group, we cannot ignore the reality that a know-it-all’s attitude (especially in a Christian context) is signaling some real personal problems. Without a doubt the attitude shown at the Bible study is characteristic of their professional and social approach to life. Even without professional counseling training, someone who can acknowledge their strengths and guide them in their weaknesses may very well be able to assist their personal growth despite this know-it-all attitude.
And finally, working with such an individual and observing growth and change in them can make a vital impact upon the other members of the group. Each one is then able to realize that the power of the Spirit of God can work in his or her own areas of weakness just as He does with the know-it-all. That is a powerful message.