Posts Tagged moses

How to Beat Small Group Burnout

By Allen White

Elijah called down fire from Heaven (1 Kings 18), and then Elijah wanted to die. Moses worked very long, hard days mediating the disputes of God’s people (Exodus 18), and then Moses got some feedback from his father-in-law, Jethro: “What you are doing is not good” (Exodus 18:17).

Moses insisted that he was the only one who could serve the people and that the people liked coming to him (Exodus 18:15). Basically, Moses was co-dependent on the people of God. It made him feel good. But, one detail from this account shows why it wasn’t good: Moses’ wife, Zipporah and his sons were living with Jethro. Moses’ busyness for God had separated him from his family. This was not good.

Elijah did exactly what God had directed him to do. With God’s power and direction, Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal. The result was not a big celebration. The outcome was a manhunt, and Elijah was that man. Jezebel wanted his head (1 Kings 19:2). You would think that doing God’s work would be rewarded in better ways. Elijah survived for another day, but he was exhausted, depressed and ready to cash it in. You can avoid burnout in ministry, but you need to start before the fuse has burned to the end.

1. Pass around the Leadership. As the small group leader, you can give away the leadership on practically every aspect of your group: leading discussions, opening your home, bringing refreshments, taking prayer requests, following up on new members and absentees, planning social events, pursuing outreach opportunities, recruiting new members – and almost everything else can be given to a member of your group. The only thing that a leader can’t give away is the responsibility for the group. It’s up to you to make sure that things get done, but not to do everything yourself. It might be easier to do it yourself. You might like doing it yourself. But, okay, Moses, don’t go there.

2. Balance the other parts of your life. What else are you doing right now? Most of us need to work at a job and/or at home. We raise our kids. Some of us homeschool our kids. Then, there are kids’ sports – boy, that can quickly take over your life.

Beyond activity, you need to consider what changes have taken place? What is new this year: a job, a home, a baby, reduced income, Cub Scouts, a major health issue? We can only tolerate so much change at a time. Fortunately, God made time so that everything wouldn’t have to happen all at once. Many things you have absolutely no control over. But, if you are feeling the stress of change, then opt out of optional changes for now. That doesn’t mean putting off taking that class or losing weight or buying a new car forever, but put it off for now. Maybe wait a year.

3. A co-leader is a cure. Who really cares about your group? Who’s there every week and calls when they can’t make it? Who has shown the ability to lead? A co-leader can bring some welcomed relief when life gets to be too much. Everyone needs to take a break once in a while. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you quit attending your group, but maybe you go through a season when you let your co-leader take the lead. The big key here is communication. Make sure that you are on the same page with the direction and focus of the group. That’s not to say that your way is the only way, but people joined your group for a certain reason. If your group’s purpose radically changes, then your group might not tolerate it. Shared leadership requires shared vision.

4. Take a Break. If you find yourself at your wit’s end, you need to take a break. If you are burned out, tired, frustrated or experiencing health problems, start by focusing on your physical well-being. Get enough sleep. Eat right. Get a little exercise. Stepping out of your group will allow you two more hours in the week to do these things. If you don’t feel well physically, you won’t feel well emotionally or spiritually either.

Once you feel a little more rested, focus on your emotional health. How’s your attitude? Do you find yourself scowling or laughing? Are you hopeful or hopeless? On a scale of 1 to 10, where is your cynicism these days? Find a way to do some things for yourself. Take a walk. Watch a movie. Invest in your relationships. Hours of television will only slow your recovery. Honest conversations will revive your soul.

Now, this might seem completely backward, but your spiritual health comes last. I used to think: “Lord, I’m doing your work. I’m tired. I’m burned out. I’m frustrated. Give me supernatural strength to rise above the situation that I’ve created for myself by too many late nights, poor nutrition, and taking on too much. It’s all for you God. Help me, so that I can help you.” God’s response was usually something like: “Oh, give me a break.” God won’t bail you (or me) out and reinforce our bad behavior. Constantly violating God’s design is a sure path to burnout.

God designed us to work hard. God designed us to rest. God designed us for relationship with Him and with others. God designed us for a purpose. God designed us to be fragile (clay pots). Lives are best lived with an ebb and flow. We apply effort and energy, and then we take a break and rest.

The reason that you feel physically tired and emotionally negative after a group meeting is that your body, your system, is telling you that it’s time to get out of group leader/Mr. or Ms. Hospitality mode and relax. It’s not a time to evaluate your performance as a group leader. It’s not a time to consider quitting the group or slitting your wrists. It’s time to rest. Leave behind the mess that you can tolerate (more on OCD another day). If another member is hosting, then you can just go home and not worry about it.

I’ve heard ministry leaders say, “I’d rather burnout than rust out.” I don’t think either is a very good option. It’s better for us to wear out gradually.

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Why Do I Need a Coach?

Small group leaders may be the only people who might ask that question. Professional athletes acknowledge their need for a coach. Many high powered business executives have a coach. But, why do small group leaders need a coach?

 

Well, let’s take a look at this the other way: what happens if small group leaders don’t have a coach? The first time we set out to form small groups at our church out West, we selected the best and brightest from our congregation. With these mature believers, we started ten new small groups. All of the groups were going strong, or so we thought, until they reached the end of the year. They all quit. When we asked why, the response was unanimous: “We loved our small groups, but felt like lone rangers out there.” I don’t blame them for quitting.

 

Leading a small group can be lonely at times. Every leader needs not only a coach but also a team of other small group leaders for encouragement and support. Sometimes in small group ministry we assume that the small group is the team. The truth is that the small group is our ministry. The team is made up of the coach and his/her circle of leaders. Together we can be encouraged. Together we can learn from others’ experiences. Together we can grow as leaders.

 

Your coach is available to help you. As leaders sometimes we feel that we should be able to handle every problem that crops up in our groups. That’s not true. While we would never want to exclude anyone from our groups, we certainly can’t care for every need in the group. When you feel overwhelmed by issues surrounding a group member, your coach is a great resource.

 

Let’s say that you have a group member who always talks about himself. And, that’s all they talk about. Most groups cannot tolerate a narcissistic person. For many groups, this is the beginning of the end. Your coach can help guide you in setting the proper boundaries for this group member. They can even help you refer the member to other help and resources at church.

 

You may be asking at this point: why can’t I just call the pastor of small groups? The answer is that you could. But, if hundreds of group leaders are calling the pastor, how long will that pastor last? In Exodus 18, Moses is confronted by his father-in-law, Jethro. Moses’ family had left him to live with Jethro. Moses didn’t have time for them. Moses’ days were consumed with solving the problems of all of the Israelites. Moses had very good reasons, he thought, for handling all of the matters himself. First, he was the only one who could do it. Secondly, the people liked coming to Moses. (I think maybe Moses liked it too).

 

Jethro pointed out to Moses that this system was no good. Moses was worn out. New leaders weren’t being developed. The people were frustrated. And, Moses’ family was living with Jethro.

 

So, Jethro offered a solution. Put the people into groups of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands. If the leader of ten didn’t have the answer, then he would turn to the leader over him. The issue would travel up the chain until a solution was reached. Only the most crucial issues should get all of the way to Moses. The people would be happy. Moses would be less stressed. Moses’ family could return home. And, Jethro could live in peace. It worked.

 

This system was not only good for the Israelites, it’s also good for small groups and even business. Now, once upon a time, I thought that I could handle it all. What I discovered was that I could handle it all as long as “all” remained under 30 percent of our congregation. Anything above that created a debilitating, life-squelching bottleneck. That’s no way to treat a growing church body. Once a solid coaching structure was embraced, we reached 125 percent of our average adult attendance in small groups. Leaders were better cared for. I was less stressed. My family moved back home (okay, they never left, but you get the point).

 

Everyone needs encouragement. Everyone needs a person in their corner that they can count on for support. No leader should stand alone. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Who is your coach? What questions do you have for him or her? Take a little time to connect. Soon.

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