Should you lead a small group?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 November

Basically, get over yourself.

If your church doesn’t have a small group to join—or does, but not the sort of small group you’d really like to join—you do realize you can start one, right?

They’re not at all hard to start. I’ve started many. Pick some people whom you’d like to involved in your group, pick a time and place, and start meeting. Since you’re doing this above board (right?) let your church leadership know you’re meeting, but otherwise that’s all it really takes.

There are only three things that’d prevent you from starting such a group:

  • YOU. You don’t wanna run one, don’t have the time, or don’t feel you’re qualified.
  • YOUR PEOPLE. They don’t wanna come. Or they’re awful.
  • YOUR CHURCH LEADERS. They don’t want one.

I’ll deal with each of these issues in turn. First, let’s talk about you.

A lot of Christians would love certain ministries to exist in their churches… but they don’t. ’Cause reasons. They might cost money, or the church lacks proper facilities, or Jesus hasn’t specifically appeared to them in a vision and ordered, “Go thou and start a ministry.” Whatever lame excuse works for them. The reality is just about any Christian could step up and start one, but nobody wants the job. We’re all looking at one another, waiting for somebody else to do something, and in so doing get us off the hook.

“I don’t have the time” is a pretty common excuse. Some ministries do require a time commitment. A bible study requires prep time, ’cause the study leader actually has to study! A book study requires that somebody reads the book, right? So that’s a chunk of time you’ve gotta carve out from the rest of your week… which you were planning to use to watch football, play a video game, binge-watch a TV series, read a novel, sleep in on Saturday, or some other recreational activity which doesn’t build relationships with your family members. Much less the people of your church.

“I don’t feel qualified” is likewise a common excuse: Christians feel they need some training or education before they can lead others. And yeah, it wouldn’t hurt to read a book, take a class, or listen to podcasts about leadership. But God’s only qualification for Christian leaders is maturity: We gotta be fruitful Christians who can encourage others to likewise produce the Spirit’s fruit. Most of us have no problem organizing parties, or coordinating friends to meet up at some event, and really that is the extent of the actual “leadership” necessary for small groups. Seriously. Just get ’em to show up!

Our personal excuses for not starting a small group are, bluntly, crap. Don’t kid yourself. If you wanna start a small group, ain’t nothing but your own immaturity stopping you.

“But I’m not called.”

One of the more common crap excuses is the would-be leader doesn’t feel called to lead a small group. Called is Christianese for “being personally commissioned by Jesus”: Supposedly our Lord has to directly order us to start a group.

Not indirectly, through the bible—

Matthew 28.18-20 KWL
18 “All power in heaven and on earth was given to me, 19 so you who are going:
Disciple all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
20 Teaching them to observe everything I commanded you.
Look: I’m with you every day, till the completion of this age.”

—in which Jesus ordered every Christian to disciple and teach one another. Apparently a group in which we do exactly that, requires a special commission from Jesus. Maybe a personal appearance, where he shows up transfiguration-style and strikes us blind for a few days. Is that what it’s gonna take?

Yes, Jesus picks apostles to start or run certain ministries. If you listen to their testimonies, you’ll notice most of the time—even if they weren’t Christian before!—they were already ministering somewhere else. Even Paul of Tarsus was fighting for orthodoxy. Ac 22.4-6 Doing it entirely wrong, but still. Then Jesus showed up to redirect them to something bigger… or something harder, under-funded, understaffed, but still vital. Hey, when people are willing to go wherever he sends ’em, he’ll send ’em.

You do not need a special commission, special anointing, special anything to run a ministry. You already have an anointing: You got the Holy Spirit when you believed. You already have a commission: Jesus told his students to teach and disciple everyone. You have everything you need but obedience. So start obeying.

“But what if God has another leader in mind?” Oh, he does. There are a lot of slacker Christians who aren’t stepping up when God wants us to. And maybe what’ll finally get them to lead groups is by attending your group, realizing, “I could do a way better job,” and that’s what finally gets ’em off their keisters. Now you can go to their small groups instead of running your own. Problem solved!

But till that happens, do your duty. Start something.

But isn’t a small group leader a sort of pastor?

I’ve been to maybe a dozen classes on how to lead a small group. (’Cause my churches required their small group leaders to take ’em. Some of us really need them.) Just about all of them like to emphasize, “When you run a small group, you’re not just the leader of the group; you’re the pastor of this group. To these people, you’re functioning as a pastor.”

Which makes certain Christians really hesitant to lead small groups. Because that word pastor has a lot of cultural baggage attached to it. They don’t wanna be pastors! Now they’ll have to counsel couples, visit nursing homes, wear pomade in their hair… and all the other images they have in their heads when they think “pastor.”

The word pastor is related to pasture, because it literally refers to a sheep-herder. A pastor tends sheep. Makes sure they’re healthy, keeps predators away, gets ’em access to food, tags and shears and milks them… Yeah, the care and tending of sheep has a lot of applicable metaphors for how a Christian leader sorts out their fellow Christians, but don’t go overboard.

As a small group leader, you will be a Christian leader. And the term “pastor” frequently gets tacked onto Christian leaders. But there are leaders and there are leaders. A church leader and a small group leader are wholly different jobs. True, some churches do expect their small group leaders to take on some of their head pastor’s duties on a small-group level. But most churches would never think to do this—and if you presume to take on that role, they’ll worry you’re planning to start a cult.

Really, the small group leader only facilitates the group. You encourage people to come, and keep coming. You keep people from monopolizing the group (and try not to monopolize it yourself!), and deal with any disagreements or conflicts. You answer questions. Offer encouragement. Give support. Pray. You concentrate on being like Christ Jesus for this group: He’s physically absent, so as much as you can, be the next best thing.

Remember, it’s about fellowship. Focus on that, love one another, and you oughta do just fine.