By Allen White When it comes to measuring up, most small group leaders fall short. That’s the simple truth. You’re not the only leader who fought with your spouse right before the doorbell rang and your first group member arrived. You’re not the only group leader who’s lost your temper, then felt the need to paste on a smile. What do you do when you feel like you don’t measure up to God’s standard? Should you stop leading? If that’s the case, we’d all stop leading. In the Bible, David asks, “LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart”Psalm 15:1-2 While we should all strive to become more like Christ, if perfection is the qualification, then that sounds like a pretty empty tent to me. I hope Jesus enjoys His solo camping trip. Every person on the face of the earth has fallen short (Romans 3:23). No exceptions. There are no perfect people. Now, this isn’t an excuse for bad behavior. It’s just the simple truth that even at our best, we just don’t measure up. Fortunately, there is also good news.
If the requirements are to be blameless, righteous and truthful, we all fail to meet those requirements. But, Jesus is blameless (Hebrews 4:15), righteous (Romans 5:17), and the Truth (John 14:6). Some would say the solution is to act more like Jesus. WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) Only problem is, we can’t live up to that either. Jesus always did the right thing. Jesus always had the right thing to say. He always had the right response to the Pharisees’ tricky questions. No one tied Jesus up in knots intellectually. No one got His goat emotionally. Nothing broke His connection with God spiritually. Imitating Jesus is not the answer. We’re just not that good. What if we stopped trying to live for Christ and allowed Jesus to live His Life through us? Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus doesn’t desire for us to try to become like Him with our own efforts. Jesus just wants us to get out of His way, so He can do His work. Our job is not to work hard on being blameless and righteous. Our job is to remain connected to the Vine. Sometimes we’re so busy with the appearance of the fruit, we forget the connection to the Root. Decorating ourselves with artificial fruit might fool some of the people, but we’re really only fooling ourselves. Disconnection from Christ doesn’t produce fruit. It produces death and uselessness (John 15:6). How do we remain connected with Christ? First, we keep ourselves in constant conversation with Jesus. Not out loud in public places like some kind of a freak. But, to ourselves. Rather than mulling things over and over in our heads – replaying old tapes that keep us defeated – we need to talk to Jesus about it. “I don’t feel too good about this meeting coming up. What should I do? How should I handle this? Please guide me and help me.” And, guess what? He does. When we read the Bible, it’s not for the purpose of discovering more things that we’re required to live up to but can’t. The Bible reveals God’s vision for our lives. When we read things that might seem impossible to do, we take those to Jesus: “Jesus, if you want me to be kind and compassionate like you said in Ephesians 4:32, you’re going to have to do that in me, because I’m not going to get there on my own.” As we surrender ourselves and give our natural responses to situations over to Jesus, He will guide our words, our actions and our steps. Here’s the best part – the blamelessness, righteousness and truthfulness required to dwell with God is exactly what Jesus gives us. We aren’t blameless. We don’t become righteous on our own. We walk in the Truth by allowing the Truth, Jesus Christ, to live in us. What part of your life doesn’t look like Jesus? Before you start beating yourself up, ask Him to create Christlikeness in you. You just might be surprised at how Jesus can change you for good. Doing ministry without the power of Christ is like trying to fly without an airplane. You and I lack the ability. Doing God’s work in God’s way with God’s power will reap God’s result. You are not alone.
By Allen White Every believer sins. No one is perfect. Whether you’re struggling with temptation or just out rightly sinning, how much do you share with your group? After all, while confession is good for the soul, it is bad for the reputation. Here are some suggestions in navigating this tricky issue: Being Holy, Being Human Until you signed on as a small group leader, you were just Joe (or Jane) Christian, sitting in the congregation, dealing or not dealing with your stuff, but then you became a leader. All of a sudden the struggles you felt you could share with your friends, no longer seem appropriate in your group. After all, if as the leader, you continue to fail, won’t that only give the group license to fail? Where do we come up with these thoughts? As Christians we often specialize in ranking sins. While transgressions registered on a radar gun may be permissible, sins registered on a breathalyzer are certainly not. There are different ramifications for different transgressions. You cheated on a test in college. That was a long time ago, you were young and stupid. You cheated on your taxes. Okay, not good. The IRS would be interested. Is there a bounty for tax evaders? You cheated on your spouse. That’s a huge one. It’s all cheating, but very different levels. What you share and how you share it will determine whether your group creates a climate of openness or a façade of pretending. But, how do you know the right timing to open up to your group? Check In with Your Coach If you’re not sure what to share in your group or at what level of detail, check in with your coach. If you’re right in the middle of something, your coach can point you to the right resources. “But, what if my coach judges me or takes my group away?” First of all, no believer has any right to judge any other believer. If your coach is judging you, well, that’s on them. As far as leadership goes, it really depends on what’s currently going on in your life. If it’s a past sin, then it’s in the past. Let God use your experience to help another. If it’s a current struggle, then you might need to step out of leadership to focus on the issue for a time. How Much Victory Have You Achieved? Where are you in regard to your struggle? Is it behind you? Is it in front of you? Are you in the middle of it? It’s one thing to talk about a struggle you’ve overcome to inspire or challenge others. Everyone needs God’s grace to make it one day at a time. But, if you’re currently struggling with a life-controlling problem or a serious relationship issue, it’s time to step out of leadership and address the issue directly. While no leader is perfect, some situations are serious enough to fully deal with now before things get worse. When you’ve achieved a measure of victory, then it’s time to focus on serving others again. Why would a leader have to step down? When you’re in leadership, you’re on the enemy’s hit list. When the pressure’s on, he will use your struggle to destroy you, your family and your group. It’s important to resolve this foothold in order to avoid a multiplication of consequences in your life, your family’s and your group’s. When you’re leading others, you tend to focus on their needs rather than your own. Good ministry can actually help you avoid dealing with the situation in your life. Sometimes folks are even deceived into thinking that because God is using you, your habit must not matter. Oh, it matters. The enemy is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. You’re Only as Sick as Your Secrets The power of sin is secrecy. Once you share what’s going on with you, you expose your secret to the light of Truth. The hold on you is no longer as great. The help you need is now within arm’s reach. The Bible says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Often believers wish to declare, “This is between me and God.” Well, how’s that working? If you could have quit on your own, you would have quit by now. As Rick Warren says, “Revealing the feeling is the beginning of healing.” A conversation with your coach or your group is the place to start on your journey to healing and wholeness. Every believer struggles with something. Don’t beat yourself up over struggling. It just means that the Holy Spirit is working within you. If God’s Spirit wasn’t in your life, you probably wouldn’t be struggling at all. Allow God’s Spirit and God’s people to encourage and support your road to recovery.
By Allen White Most leaders realize group life extends beyond well prepared and executed group meetings. While Bible study is an important aspect of a group, if everyone leaves thinking, “Boy, that was good. See you next week” without sharing what’s going on in their lives, something is definitely missing. Here’s how to help your group open up: 1. Set the Right Expectations. When your group members joined the group, what were they expecting? Were they looking for a 60 minute inductive Bible study followed by brownies and coffee as thanks for surviving it? Were they looking for a free-flowing discussion of everything that popped into their heads? Did they know what to expect? Managing expectations is crucial for a successful group. Rather than dictate what the group will be or won’t be, it’s best to start by discussing what kind of group the members actually want. A simple exercise like having everyone write their top three group expectations on a card, then tabulating the results will go a long way in getting buy-in from the group. If the group skews toward Bible study, then gradually implement some aspects of care. Start with something simple like asking for prayer requests and closing the meeting with prayer. As the group continues to meet, begin to focus more on application questions rather than Bible exploration questions. Don’t get me wrong. The discussion should be based on God’s Word. But, you want to aim for where the rubber meets the road, not where the rubber meets the air. 2. Set the Example. “Speed of the leader, speed of the team” is a common axiom from Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. The leader sets the pace. If you are open with your life, then others will be open with theirs. If you hold back, so will they. A couple of years ago someone gave me an older car. It’s not perfect, but it’s transportation and a gift at that. One night I became frustrated with the dashboard lights. About a third of the lights wouldn’t work. Out of my arsenal of mechanical expertise, I pounded my fist of the dash. The change was both immediate and dramatic – I now had no dashboard lights. Driving in the summer or during the day wasn’t a problem. But, anytime I had to drive early in the morning or at night, I had absolutely no idea how fast I was driving. I was embarrassed by my “repair.” While I confessed the problem to my wife, I never mentioned it to anyone else. But, one day a circle of folks in the office were discussing their cars’ various ailments. I chose that moment in the safe circle of used car owners to confess my dashboard issue. A woman turned to me and said, “My husband has the same problem with his car. He uses his GPS to check his speed.” What a brilliant idea. I had a GPS. I no longer needed to fly blind at night. I had dreaded the conversation with the first officer who ever pulled me over. “Sir, do you know how fast you were going?” “No, officer. My dashboard lights aren’t working.” Somehow I imagined only a scenario with multiple traffic tickets involved. Now, I had the knowledge to detect my own speed and avoid a traffic violation. I never would have learned that workaround if I had never admitted my problem. As Rick Warren says, “Revealing the feeling is the beginning of healing.” And, it has to start with the leader. I shared this story when I spoke at a church a few months back. The next week, the Executive Pastor called to say that my message already was making an impact. A man confessed to his men’s group that his marriage was on the brink of divorce. He and his wife were separated, and he didn’t know what to do. Rather than judge this guy for his situation, his group members rallied around him to support him and his wife through their struggle. My illustration of automotive failure helped him open up about his marital failure. Group leaders are no better than the group members they lead. You must be careful the leader title doesn’t block the way for your own vulnerability. If you’re group isn’t opening up, you need to check your own transparency in the group. Your honesty will encourage theirs. 3. Set the Meeting Agenda. To balance the need for open sharing in the group and the need to meet group expectations, the group agreement is the ideal place to start. If you’ve never created a group agreement, you should soon (Readmore here). The ground rules for your group could include an option where the group can help a member process a life situation. Some issues involve more than a casual mention during prayer request time at the end. If a group member has faced a devastating turn of events like a job loss, marital blow up, issues with children or other bad news, the group should allow space to even put the Bible study aside and support their friend in need. But, you don’t want your group to turn into the “crisis of the week.” While every group should offer support, there is a difference between a small group built on relationships formed around a Bible study and a true support group. If a group member needs dedicated support for marital problems, grief or a life controlling issue, then a specific support group may offer better help (Read more here). There is no perfect way to organize every small group meeting. Your group can’t offer only Bible study at the expense of care. But, your group also can’t avoid Bible study and only focus on care. As Andy Stanley says, “This is a tension to be managed rather than a problem to be solved.” If during the discussion, you notice a group member getting teary or tender, stop and ask if they want to talk about it. They might or might not. The last impression you want to leave is that the meeting agenda is more important than the group members in the meeting.
By Allen White If the plan works right, group members form close-knit bonds. They become a true band of brothers. It’s a cord that’s not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). The group has become exactly what everyone wanted. People you can count on. People who know you and you know them. A safe place to deal with the struggles and mess of life. But, sometimes groups become too tight. Groups over time develop a history. There are stories of victory and defeat. Inside jokes abound. Group is like family. This is all great until someone tries to join the family. Adding new members to your existing group is often more like getting new in-laws rather than having a new baby. No one resents a new baby, except for the next youngest sibling. But, in-laws are another story. Who is this person? How will they fit in? But, the new in-law is asking questions too.
“Will this group accept me?” “What are they joking about?”
It takes hard work to welcome a new group member into the family (read more here). I’ve seen great groups become very close-knit over time. They’ve developed a tight bond. But, when prospective members visit the group, they don’t come back. Soon they discover their group is a revolving door. Visitor after visitor comes and goes. It might be time for your group members to move out. It’s Time for the Kids to Move Out. No one would ask their infant to move out of the house. They’re so little and vulnerable. You need to nurture and protect them. There may be a case, however, for asking a two-year-old or a teenager to move on. But, parenting responsibility and child neglect laws dictate otherwise. But, there comes a time when your children should move on. When children become adults, they should be encouraged to fulfill their God-given purpose in life. That purpose is not living in your basement until they’re 35. (Yes, go tell him right now). Group life bears a resemblance. New and growing believers need some care and guidance. As they learn and grow, they also need additional responsibility over time. They don’t need a co-dependent leader who wants to do everything for them, who never thinks they’re ready to move on, and who needs to be needed. After a season of no more than two years, group members should be encouraged to lead on their own. Leaders often find a million reasons why this shouldn’t happen.
“Who’s that living in your basement, leader?”
Jesus gathered His disciples with the invitation to “Follow me.” After a short season of training, Jesus sent them out to experience ministry for themselves. He gathered them back together and debriefed their experience. Eventually, Jesus died on the cross and ascended into Heaven, leaving His disciples fully in charge of the church on earth. While group leaders won’t necessarily follow the path to capital punishment, Jesus provided an effective model for developing leaders. The Son of God, who knew everything about His disciples, chose to empower and release them for ministry. The pinnacle of this empowerment was Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. While He promises to be with us always (Matthew 28:20), the disciples reached a place where they needed to serve on their own. Your group members will get there too. Jesus knew Peter was impulsive. He knew Thomas needed More Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Jesus knew the tension between Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector. Libertarians and Liberals don’t mix well. Jesus knew Judas Iscariot wouldn’t make it. He knew the good, bad and ugly of His small group members, yet He chose to empower them to serve. If your group has been together for 18-24 months, someone is ready to step out and start a new group. If your group is younger than 18 months, it’s time to pass around the group responsibilities and see who rises to the top. Don’t get stuck with old group members living in your basement.
By Allen White Small groups aren’t meant for eternity. But, how do you end it? Do you gather your group members together for an uncomfortable conversation?
“It’s not you. It’s us. Can we just be friends?”
While some groups can last 20 years or more, most groups simply can’t run that distance. That’s okay. After all, we have friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime. But, how do you know when you’re small group has run its course? Look for these key indicators: 1. Your Group has Lost Its Edge. Group life demonstrates a tension between speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). The balance lies in correcting each other and understanding each other. When a group starts, a member’s weaknesses and failures seem more obvious.
“Why does he do that?”
“Why does she treat them that way?”
But, over time, the group begins to understand why. Rather than saying, “You might have more success with a gentler approach,” we find ourselves saying things like,
“He’s a little rough around the edges.
His childhood was a nightmare. We understand.”
Deep seated problems aren’t resolved over night. They take a great deal of work and are often beyond the scope of the group’s ministry (read more here). The problem comes when our understanding becomes enabling. The goal of every group should be to help each other reflect Christ. When a group has been together for a while and loses its edge of truth, it no longer helps anyone fulfill the goal. Iron isn’t sharpening iron. It’s more like marshmallow sharpening nerf (read more here). If your group started as a Gensu knife, but has dulled and become a butter knife, then it’s time to regroup. If your group can regain its edge, great. If not, then it’s time to disperse and form new groups. 2. Your Group has Lost Its Members. Over time every group loses members. It’s not a bad group. Life just gets in the way. A group member moves out of town. A new job or family activity conflicts with the group’s meeting day. Sooner or later, good group members will leave for good reasons. My group is now in its fourth year. We have two original members. One of them is me. While there are only two in the senior class, we have a couple of juniors, a few sophomores, and a couple of freshmen. If Jamie and I were the only two left in the group, we might get together now and then, but we probably wouldn’t meet every week. When your group gets down to just a couple, it’s time to reconsider and rebuild – either by invitation or forming a new group. But, sometimes new members won’t stick. No one likes to see their good group members go. If you’ve become close friends, you certainly don’t want things to come to an end. If your group is beginning to see the beginning of the end, act now to turn things around. Become a more welcoming and including group. Invite prospects to attend. Develop your freshman classes. Otherwise, “us four” will eventually become “no more.” More Tomorrow…