Group dynamics is a fascinating, fairly predictable study of group behavior where two or more people are connected through social relationships. Groups are formed as people influence, interact, and explore one another for specific reasons. Once a group is formed processes go into effect quite naturally as people take on roles, form relationships, and have their needs met. Natural leaders emerge or are chosen depending on the group’s purpose and followers find their role as the group meets and grows together. The goal in any group is to form a productive cohesive group of people willing to work together for the good of all.
The flocking behavior of sheep is similar to small group dynamics among Christians, the strongest tendency being to lead-follow. Jesus tells us in John 10 in regard to His disciples that sheep hear the voice of their shepherd and follow. Sheep willingly follow a shepherd; however, they also establish a peck order, a hierarchical system of social organization among themselves based on size and physical displays of dominance. The basic concept behind the establishment of peck order is that it is necessary to determine where each animal fits in from top to bottom. This dominance hierarchy happens naturally and reduces intense conflict that may balloon out of control requiring more time, effort, and energy without more dominant animals keeping order.
Christians also have strong flocking behavior. They have a shepherd (pastor) and leaders amongst the congregants are chosen to help the body work together effectively. Even in the Church we can witness a form of peck order theory in effect through seniority or perceived authority/standing in the church. Peck order is actually biblical in a sense though we might not call it peck order since that might seem a bit crude, but through small group dynamics a social hierarchy is formed. In Numbers 1:16 we see Moses, the appointed leader, and then leaders among the tribes being chosen as well. “These were chosen from the congregation, leaders of their fathers’ tribes, heads of the divisions in Israel.” This peck order can be healthy if the “top dogs” are humble, looking out for the welfare of others while they submit to the pastor. Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works…” In the Church, leaders are generally chosen by the pastor or elected by the people. All is well in the church if everyone understands, accepts, and functions in their role, honoring those above and leading with humility those below in the peck order. When we understand peck order is not meant to place greater importance on some people than others but rather it is natural for people to lead and follow, conflict will be reduced in the Church.
We see a perfect example of group dynamics/peck order with the Israelites in Exodus 18:14-24 as Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, gives Godly advice when Moses was wearing himself out ministering to the people from morning to night. “So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.” So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.” In the Church, the pastor is meant to stand before God for the people, bringing the difficulties to Him. He is to teach the things of God to the people, demonstrate the way they should walk the Christian life and how they should work for the Lord. God fearing people are then selected to rule over smaller groups (peck order). In this fashion, the body of Christ operates smoothly, efficiently, and peacefully.
If sheep do not “fall” into peck order confusion enters the flock and conflict will continue until one sheep is recognized as leader under the shepherd. Sometimes we see this in the church if people “think” they are leaders attempting to assume that position out of an entitlement mentality, but have not been chosen to lead, nor have “earned” the position through humility and servant hood. Knowingly or unknowingly, these dominant people who are unwilling to fall into their peck order cause much confusion and division in the church because people’s allegiances are divided, not knowing who to follow, the pastor and chosen leaders or a dominant person.
Dominant sheep are inclined to be more aggressive with other sheep. They will rarely come against their shepherds and if they do, they are quickly brought under control by other means such as sheep dogs which they view as predators. In the Church dominant people are inclined to be more aggressive with less dominant people through control and manipulation. There will always be people who compete for the affections of others attempting to get people to take their side. Even if they do not blatantly come against leadership, if they subtlety put forth their own agenda, conflict is imminent. The goal through small group dynamics would be to confront the dominant person as a group, addressing the situation in an attempt to bring order, cohesiveness, and unity back to the group.
Small group dynamics can be further explored in both sheep and Christians when we look at how sheep gather in same-breed subgroups or ewes keeping their direct descendants in close proximity. In other words, though sheep may flock together in a large herd, within that herd sheep separate themselves into smaller groups. In the Christian Church at large we have many subgroups; Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Independent, Methodist, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, to name a few. It is a beautiful thing to “belong” to the large body called “Christian” and then find our own particular subgroup of people who love the Lord and with whom we grow. We often speak about the division caused by so many separate church bodies, but if each group sees itself as part of the greater body of Christ, appreciating the other subgroups without judging and slandering, we would see unity without uniformity.
Unity is to be established in the Spirit – thus it is unrealistic for the Church to try and be ALL one big happy group when it comes to worship and “doing” church because we are not uniform people though we celebrate unity in the Spirit. Just as breeds of sheep look and act different which is why same breeds flock together, Christians have different worship styles, backgrounds, and traditions which cause them to belong to a particular church body. Denominations and other non-denominational groups make for a healthy body of Christ when we approach it with sheep mentality. Sheep mentality accepts there are many groups of Christians and not one has the corner on truth. Each has revelation in part thus we are to accept and work with other sheep in Jesus’ fold though we do not necessarily flock together at all times. Sheep mentality causes us to naturally flock with those of similar age, faith level, life experiences, worship styles, or needs. True Christians like other true Christians and will not compete in order to convince each other which of them is right.
Even within congregations people form healthy sub groups based on age, marital status, life happenings or status, and special callings such as prayer, worship, or teachers. Though we are all in unity with one another, and we obviously want to gather with the large group for praise, worship, and other social gatherings, our small group flocking tendency is normal and natural, and we should nurture these relationships.
Father God, we love being Your sheep. We are so grateful You have made us sheep who choose to flock together. We celebrate our differences and we rejoice in our common faith! We thank You Father that you have given us a spiritual family with whom we function, play, pray, celebrate, mourn, and bring Your will from heaven to earth. Thank You for Your Church! Your Bride! Your Body! Thank You for relationship and teaching us about small group dynamics. We choose to cooperate with who, where, and how You have placed us in the Body! In Jesus’ Name – Amen!