You became a small group leader because you are a capable leader. If you weren’t a capable leader, then you never would have been able to gather your group let alone keep them. As a capable leader, you can successfully deliver on all of the tasks associated with group life. You can lead the discussion. You can follow up on group members. You can host the meeting. You can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. But, just because you can do it, should you?
While I have sworn publicly that I will never ask a group to “split,” there are many good reasons to develop a co-leader for your group:
1. A co-leader provides built-in emergency backup. Everyone has one of those days when you have to work late or you have to beat a deadline or your kid gets sick. With a co-leader, you already have backup. While there may be a number of people in your group who could lead the discussion (and I advise that you let them), your co-leader is ready, willing and able to help at the last minute. It would be a good idea to let them lead once in a while even when it’s not an emergency.
2. A co-leader benefits from the lessons you’ve learned. As a group leader, like most of us, you’ve learned some lessons the hard way. Don’t let those lessons go to waste. As your co-leader is learning the ropes of ministry, share your experiences and include them in the learning. When they make a mistake, help them process what happened and what they should do next time. You’ve learned more than you probably give yourself credit for. Share your knowledge.
3. A co-leader shares the ministry. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul had many ministry partners over the years. Timothy, Titus, Barnabas and Silas among others were there to encourage and help Paul. You and I are no better than the Apostle Paul. We all need someone in our corner to share the ministry.
After a meeting, you and your co-leader can debrief the meeting. As you evaluate how the meeting went and how the members of the group are doing, your co-leader will give much needed insight and perspective on the group. It might not be as bad as you think it is sometimes. After all, two heads are better than one.
4. A co-leader prepares for a future group. Eventually, your co-leader will leave your group. It’s up to you to make sure that your co-leader leaves for the right reason. Leaders who are not tapped for leadership will ultimately find a place of leadership somewhere else.
One of three things will eventually happen to your group. (Well, there might be a fourth, but we don’t want to go there). Your group will grow to an unmanageable size, your church will grow and need new small groups, or you as the group leader will be unable to continue at some point.
If your group becomes too large, you will just turn the group over and over until someone gives them another option. Your new members will cycle in and out of a revolving door. This isn’t a good experience for anyone. As your group continues to grow, you must consider everyone’s ability to share in the group and everyone’s comfort in the meeting space. If your group feels crowded, they will stop inviting their friends. If your members can’t get a word in, they will feel unloved. When numbers go up, care goes down. It’s crucial at this point to address these problems with the group. While it may be uncomfortable, if the group is also feeling the pain, then they will be ready to consider some options. Your co-leader could take part of the group and start a new group. Then, both the existing group and the new group can feel the love and invite their friends again.
As your church continues to grow, more people will need a small group. Sure, new people can attend an existing group, but that creates a little weirdness for everybody. [REF] New people do better in new groups. Your investment in your co-leader can certainly pay off with them starting a new group. I’ve seen groups start new groups and in a period of just a few months see the whole ministry grow to 60 plus people. You could never accomplish that in just one group. And, by the way, the best coach for your co-leader is you.
Sooner or later, life can get in the way of group life. Whether the leader is facing a difficult circumstance, a relocation, or something else, if there is no one prepared to lead the group, the group will cease. Since you have developed a co-leader, the group can easily continue with your co-leader taking over the group. As John Maxwell says, “There is no success without a successor.”
The unthinkable fourth scenario: You have no co-leader. Your group stops growing. As the leader, you burn out. One by one your group members stop attending for various reasons. And, eventually, your group is no more. There are a lot of factors that play into this, but, hey, let’s not go there.
How do you find a co-leader? I’ll answer that next week.
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.