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The Healing Impact of Small Group Leaders

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For anyone that’s been a part of a small group, we can all relate to the anxious feelings of the first few nights. Right from the start of the very first group meeting, we begin assessing the environment of our small group as we gauge whether or not it’s a safe environment to be vulnerable within. And within the traditional forming, storming, norming, and transforming stages of group formation, it may take a few meetings for the group to navigate through the “forming” stage of group formation process. If this is the case, it’s possible that group members may keep their hearts under lock and key until after the “storming” stage passes. Yet this does not always need to be the case. As a follow up to our previous article, let us explore a few ways on how the small group leader can play a key role in speeding up the group’s ability to be comfortable with one another and to be more open to the stages of inner healing.

Self-Care and Personal Development
For the small group leaders who work full-time jobs, who are raising families, who enjoy various hobbies, and who also decide to serve elsewhere within the church, life can suddenly become very busy. Indeed, the more we fill our calendars, the more likely we may find ourselves sacrificing our personal time with Jesus for the next event or activity on the never-ending list of things to do. It is here where Dr. Terry Wardle in his book Healing Care, Healing Prayer draws our attention, reminding us caregivers to not only ensure that we remain tethered to the word of God, but to also stay connected to other Christians who are committed to the ministry of the Holy Spirit (I would add that in this context, this would be a group of Christians outside of the small group that the individual leads). While these two activities may be shrugged off as collateral damage under the busyness of the daily grind, they are actually critical for the small group leader. After all, if we do not spend time in the Scriptures, the world will distract us from keeping the Lord’s teachings and commandments at the forefront of our minds. And if we do not engage in community with the body of Christ, we may find ourselves experiencing burnout as we neglect the relationships that can pour life back into us and sharpen our hearts (Proverbs 27:17).

The Wounded Healer
In her book Leaders Who Last, Margaret Marcuson says “we cannot lead others further than we are willing to go ourselves. If we want people to go deeper in the spiritual life, if we want them to grow up emotionally, if we want them to be more authentic, we have to show the way. Leadership starts with us.” Author and leadership expert John Maxwell defines this principle as the “Law of the Lid,” where an organization’s reach and influence can’t go beyond where the leader wants to go (or more likely, where the leader decides to stop). This concept can be applied to small groups as well, where individuals may find it difficult to be led to a place of inner healing if the leader has not first been there themselves. Just as we see in 2 Corinthians 12:10, Wardle refers to this as the role of the “wounded healer.” He elaborates, “Only in weakness can the strength of Christ flow through a caregiver to the people who turn to him for help. The wounded caregiver must be touched by the Wounded [Christ] to offer healing to the wounded.” Wardle’s words here are encouraging, for it is when a small group leader experiences inner healing first that they can then be a powerful conduit for the comfort of God that then flows to the others who are placed in their care. By offering one’s testimony of their own journey of inner healing, the small group leader can effectively establish themselves as a “wounded healer.” By sharing their heart, the degree of the leader’s own display of vulnerability can help encourage the other group members to be vulnerable and courageous as well within future gatherings.

Discernment in Sharing
But how much of our story do we leaders offer? If we air out too much of our dirty laundry, does that cause us to lose credibility? Since every situation is different, it is here where the utilization of a mentorship program at the church can help. One popular method of organizing a mentorship program within the church’s small group ministry is referred to as the Jethro model (Exodus 18), where a coach (who isn’t a small group leader) is assigned to serve and be a guide for a collection of small group leaders. If unsure as to if a certain testimony or story is safe to share, running it upline to one’s coach or church staff member can help provide the clarity or guidance that is needed on the matter. If it is an experience that highlights victory in Christ, than it will likely be a positive story to share. Indeed, it is through a celebration of finding new life in Christ where we can establish close connections with one another and support each other through the seasons of life where community and Jesus can impact us the most.

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