Clearly you have more to do than you could or should be doing on your own. Whether you lead a team or work solo, as your small groups ministry grows, there is more to do than is humanly possible. You have to multiply yourself for sure. You have to pass things on to other capable folks or else you will continue to feel like your failing your leaders or you will burn yourself out. (Give yourself a promotion!) But, as you delegate to capable people, could it be demoralizing?
What Are You Delegating?
You can delegate ministry tasks like calling to check in on group leaders, collecting reports, or visiting groups. This is how my church used to coach leaders. The coaches attended the huddles that I led. The coaches visited groups, then turned in a report to me. One coach, I’ll call her “Carol” since that was her name gave me some feedback. “I feel like I’m your spy.” I had sent her on a mission to observe groups and turn in a report on them. She was my spy. Later, she told me she was bored with coaching. I thought, “Why is Carol bored? I’m busy.” Then it dawned on me.
I had delegated tasks, but not responsibility or authority. I told them what to do for me, then to report back to me. (Are you catching on to the problem here?) The coaches couldn’t make decisions for the ministry. The coaches couldn’t call an audible to help a leader. They could gather data and report back to me. This brand of coaching was disempowering and demoralizing. It looked liked coaching. It was called coaching. But, it ended up being another mechanism to fulfill my need for control. It wasn’t good.
How to Empower Others
As you select capable people to coach others, give them broad flexibility in how they go about coaching. This requires two things. First, you have to recruit capable people of good character who you trust. That is quite a loaded sentence. This won’t happen overnight. Build your coaching structure slowly. Observe your leaders to see which groups are producing what you want them to produce. Then, give them a trial run at coaching others like walking alongside a couple of new leaders for a six-week alignment series. If they do well, give them more. If they don’t, then thank them for “fulfilling” their commitment.
Second, give the coaches the responsibility for some leaders and groups, but don’t get too deep in the specifics of how to do it. A good general goal would be something like “Help the leaders and groups fulfill their purpose.” Of course, you need to articulate the purpose for your groups. Then, meet with the coaches occasionally to hear what’s going on with the groups. In the beginning, you might meet with them frequently. After a while, you could pull back on the frequency of your meetings with them. But, of course, you’ll always be available “on call” in case something urgent occurs.
Don’t Recruit Hirelings
Jesus talked about hirelings, “The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:12-13, NIV). You want coaches to fulfill the role of a shepherd rather than a hireling.
In my experience, my dear friend, Carol, was treated as a hireling. She was working for me. She was reporting to me. She was taking direction from me. I was holding Carol back. She wanted to be a shepherd to her group leaders, but I treated her like a hired hand.
The best thing I ever did to support and coach small group leaders was to invite a group of capable leaders to lead the small group ministry WITH me. Our small group ministry was growing rapidly. In fact, in a six-month period, we went from 30% in groups to 60% in groups (on one day) [LINK] to 125% of our average adult attendance in groups. It was a whirlwind. I needed help. I had already failed with Carol, so I needed a different approach.
The invitation went like this: “I don’t have all of this figured out, but if you would be willing to learn with me, I would love to have you on my team.” Not only did they say, “Yes!” this was by far the best group that I’ve ever been a part of. We met every Wednesday night for dinner because the small group ministry was growing so rapidly. We even traded off who brought the meal.
But, here’s the biggest part, I committed to them that decisions for the small group ministry would only be made with them in our Wednesday meeting. I did not make any decisions apart from that meeting. We were a team because I shared the responsibility and authority of the small group ministry.
Now here’s the best part. When I left that church to coach pastors and churches, that team led the small group ministry for the next 12 months without a small group pastor. Not only did they know what to do, they owned the responsibility of the small group ministry. As John Maxwell says, “There is no success without a successor.”
Think About This
I hope this doesn’t come across as a boastful post. It’s not meant to be. The humbling part for me is that it took me 12 years to figure this out! 12 years!! Please don’t take 12 years to do this in your church.
Are you partnering with others to lead your small group ministry? Has your church struggled with coaching in the past? Did you give your coaches only tasks Or did you give them responsibility and authority? Were your coaches hirelings or shepherds?
Coaching Healthy Groups Course
Coaching Exponential Groups Online Course
Becoming Barnabas by Robert Logan
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.