That’s not just speculation or theory. It’s a fact backed by research. This morning, I read and nodded my head through Jim Egli’s newest post, “4 Reasons Why Praying Leaders Have Faster Growing Groups.” If you lead a small group or are a coach, ministry leader, or any kind of Christian leader, this short post should be on your “required” reading list. Actually, the principles Jim discusses should be on the top of your required to-do list.
This topic is not new. Joel Comiskey has written about this quite a bit in his work. I wrote about it in my book, Leading from the Heart. It was also the topic of the second chapter, “A Healthy Group Has a Healthy, Overflowing Leader” in Small Group Vital Signs. And, much more importantly, this is a topic throughout God’s Word.
So I wonder, why are so many small groups not growing as they should? What’s keeping leaders from praying for their groups, something that seems so simple and easy to do? I’m going to try to tackle that question today. I’m sure I won’t hit every reason, so please throw in your thoughts in the comments.
- We’ve been distracted from what is most vital. Yesterday, a friend in Brazil posted a quote from me on Facebook: “Dealing with the tyranny of the urgent always leads to frustration and burnout. Leaders must spend less time on urgent … and more time on those things that are vital.” The most vital thing in our lives is our relationship with God. That sentence deserves both an “Amen” and a “Duh!”
Jesus was blunt: “Seek first the kingdom of God.” Praying for group members, our families, our friends, our neighbors comes naturally when we are putting God, his kingdom, and spending time with him first—above all else—in our lives. The tyranny of the urgent will always take over our lives if we let it. Take note of what I just said there: if we let it. Yes, this is under our control. I must make time to spend with God, no matter how pressing other things in my life may seem. Bill Hybel’s book title is apropos: Too Busy NOT to Pray.
- We’ve forgotten who God is. How in the world can this happen? The key to the answer to that question is right in the middle of it: in this world. Satan is at work in this secular world and trying to work in our minds to get us to forget that our God is all-powerful, always present, all-knowing. Over the last couple days of my Bible reading and time with God, he has reimpressed this fact on my own heart:
The Lord is on our side (Psalm 124:1).
“Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (v. 8).
“Those who trust in the Lord … will not be defeated but will endure forever” (Psalm 125:1).
“Just as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forever” (v. 2).
The One who created all that exists is on my and your side! Don’t let Satan or anything else in this world distract you from that.
- We’re out of tune. Because of the reasons above, we are not “singing” in tune with God. We’re out of step with the Spirit. This morning, God reminded me how vital this is: “O Lord, do good to those who are good, whose hearts are in tune with you” (Psalm 125:4, NLT). This prayer is for God to do good—not just for anyone but for those who are living life God’s way, those whose hearts are in tune with God. They are men and women after God’s own heart. Romans 8:28 comes to mind as I read this verse. God does indeed work for the good of those who love him and are called according to HIS purpose.
People in tune with God naturally care about those they are called to lead, and the first way they serve them is to pray for them regularly, perhaps daily … not because they should, or because some research shows how effective it is, or to get their group to grow in numbers. They pray for members because their hearts—hearts in tune with God—rouse them to pray.
- We think growth is about what we do. We’ve been taught or we’ve somehow come to believe that our leadership skills, our teaching ability, and the decisions we make are what will grow our groups. Perhaps our church leaders have taught us that, either directly or by what they’ve modeled. Or perhaps we’ve learned it from our culture. It’s what we’ve learned in school and in our jobs and we’ve carried out those faulty notions into our churches and groups.
The fact is, our prayers put matters in God’s hands, not ours. It says, in no uncertain terms, that we trust God to shepherd and lead these people through us. It’s a matter of humility. It’s what being a Christlike leader is all about. (Don’t believe me? Read Philippians 2:1-11.)