With the holiday season firmly upon us, many of us will be doing our fair share of holiday baking. Holiday parties with our small group. Holiday parties with our leaders. Holiday parties at church. You get the idea.
In the midst of this cooking frenzy, I began to think of ways cooking is like leading a small group. Full disclosure: I am a former professional chef, who loves to cook and think about the ways food informs us. So here are my top five ways cooking is like leading a small group.
- Recipes provide a safety net for those starting. When I first started cooking, following a recipe was a great way to try new things. It provided an easy and logical way to sort through creating new and exciting dishes. The same is true with small groups. First-time leaders need a “recipe” to help: easy and logical steps that can relieve some of the fear and anxiety that they might have. But a word of caution: we need to guard against formulaic conceptions of leading. Just because one follows the “recipe” just as we created it for them does not ensure success.
- Cooking requires a personal knowledge and care of each individual ingredient. Every ingredient is unique, from fish to steak to tomatoes to carrots, and a good cook knows how to coax the best flavor from each, whether it be a gentle, slow heat to a hard, fierce heat. And isn’t this the case with the people in our small groups?
- Cooking is moving from the formulaic to the experimental. Once you master the foundational techniques in cooking, you are able to begin to experiment with creating your own dishes. You are no longer confined to recipes, but take what you have and create something new. You learn to improvise. Just like with cooking, small group rules are made to be broken and tweaked, but the foundation remains the same.
- Cooking is about the discovery of new flavor combinations. What on the surface might sound slightly repulsive turns out to be one of the best things we ever ate. The best small groups are not comprised of people who are all exactly the same, but are often comprised of people who hold radically opposing views, but for the sake of the gospel are willing to enter into dialogue together to create something God-inspired that alone, neither could do.
- Cooking requires us to learn from our failures. Part of cooking is failing. Sometimes things just don’t work. No matter how much we try that dish is just a failure. And there is no rescuing it. But the next day, we cook again because we need food to live. As small group point people, we will fail at times, but the next day or the next week we try again because we need community to live.
As you cook and bake this Christmas season, stop and reflect on how the cooking process might help you become a better small group leader, and vice versa.