5 Encouragements from a Fellow Small Group Ministry Struggler
As someone who has been a small group and discipleship ministry leader—in small to mega churches, in churches just starting groups to those with a settled program—I’m familiar with some of the struggles you face:
Listless leaders: Someone accurately described the job of a small group point person as “shepherding cats.” We cast vision, discuss biblical values, message about mission, and provide resources, coaching, and more, and they do their own thing, even if that thing is far less than kingdom living. We schedule top-quality equipping, and a handful (the same 10% as usual) show up. We love them, serve them, invest into them, and they don’t even respond to our emails.
Apostate pastors: OK, maybe “apostate” is too strong, but the lead pastor doesn’t get your passion for discipling people in authentic community. You believe he’s never read the Book of Acts. Senior leadership expects growing numbers of leaders and groups but they support you from the pulpit only once a year. You hear yourself saying over and over, “If only senior leaders would ―, then this small group ministry would skyrocket!”
Misguided minsters: Your fellow staff ministry leaders have the gall to believe their “programs” are as important as yours. They think they deserve as much or more stage time as small groups. They believe the stuff they plan and execute will bring as much life change as the authentic, radically redeeming, thoroughly transformative community of your small groups.
Overachieving small group ministry leaders: It can feel disheartening to read about the leader whose church just achieved 900% of their weekly attendance in small groups. Or the church that launched 20,000 new groups in their latest campaign. You’ve even followed the step-by-step guidelines and all you can muster is 25% in groups and a measly 5 new groups. When will God work in your group ministry as he has in theirs?
Busyness that leads to burnout: Of course, I’m being a bit facetious in the first four points, but I’m serious that many small group ministry leaders are too busy and are even burning out—and perhaps it’s caused by some of the reasons I’ve mentioned. I’ve seen it in leaders I talk to and coach. I’ve been there myself. I nearly destroyed my marriage and family because of it. You will have busy times of the year when you need to “get ‘er done,” or do you?
What to Do About It
In my ministry these days, I work with many small group ministry leaders like you who want to see people grow in healthy groups that bear fruit and naturally reproduce. I care deeply for these leaders who work hard and smart to develop leaders and groups where life change is a way of life.
I want to encourage you in five ways that I hope will help you lead well in the midst of the challenging circumstances you face as a small group ministry leader:
- In the words of theologian Queen Elsa of Arendelle, “Let it go!” (If you don’t know who Elsa is, ask your daughter or granddaughter.) Or as real theologian Reinhold Niebuhr put it, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” One of the best lessons I’ve learned in life is to say, “Oh well” and let t go.
- Even when you don’t feel like it, do the next right thing. Mark Twain said, “Always do right; this will gratify some and astonish the rest.” You’ve undoubtedly read or heard the poem attributed to Mother Teresa called “Anyway.” The idea is that the good things you do may produce the opposite results than you expect. Do them anyway.
- Stop being a people pleaser/appeaser. “Anyway” concludes with this line: “In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” Even for a community person, everyone doesn’t have to like you, agree with you, or think you’re the best small group champion since Bill Donahue. You don’t need to compare, compete, or compromise!
- Be absolutely, uncompromisingly sure that (and clear about the fact that) the real leader and owner of the ministry is God. You lead as an act of stewardship. Be thankful for and wisely steward even the small numbers of people and groups God has already put under your care, and he will give you more responsibilities (see Luke 12:48). If you need to, go back and read how Jesus modelled this (John 4:34; 5:19-20, 30; 6:38, 44; 7:16; 8:28, etc.). Look again at John 15:5 and 1 Peter 5:2-4.
- This one flows from #4: Spend time every day with God. Your relationship with him is more vital than your relationships with your bosses, other church staff, coaches, leaders, and fellow small group ministry practitioners. You are accountable to him first. When you spend time with him and as your relationship grows, he will take all that he pours into you and overflow it into others. When you do this, and only when you do, he will do far more in and through the ministry than you can think or imagine. That’s not my promise; it’s his.