I’ve made it a regular, ongoing practice in my ministry to ask the leaders under my care, “What do you need? How can we help you most in your ministry?” If I were to sum up their typical response in one line, it would sound something like an old Carpenter’s song:
“What a leader needs now … is love, sweet love.”
No matter how much I do, how many classes I teach, how many awards I give, what structure I have in place, they need love more than anything else from me. “It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of!”
Small group ministry is by nature a relational ministry. So I believe the support system / structure / leadership community – whatever you want to call it – ought to be intensely relational in nature as well.
I have the privilege of consulting with church leaders and coaching small group champions in churches. I also often lead training seminars in churches all over the U.S. and other countries as well. It’s fascinating for me to be the outsider looking in at how a ministry and leadership development and support are organized.
Back when I was just starting to get involved in small group ministry 25 years ago, many church-growth gurus who had studied the phenomenal growth of churches in America and other countries were writing books and conducting seminars to help churches build organizational systems and strategies to bring about that kind of growth through groups here in the United States. Churches, searching for some way to jumpstart growth and get their hands around the concept of small groups, bought the books and seminars and bought into the principles whole hog.
Here’s what I believe happened over time: small groups became another program in many local churches. We’ve taken a very simple, natural, relational concept, and we’ve institutionalized it. Perhaps we need to deinstitutionalize small groups and, at the same time, esteem and value natural, relational, creative ministry that can happen when we give people the freedom and support to do it.
So let’s get back to my original question: What do leaders really need?
First, they need freedom to do the ministry that God puts on their hearts. One of the jobs of a small group pastor is to create an environment where people sense that they have that kind of freedom. Freedom to be creative. Freedom to experiment. Freedom to fail. For this to happen in the church, you have to release control. Surrender the need to manage everything that happens. Ephesians 4 tells us that Christ is the Head of the Body, not you or me (v. 15). Your responsibility is to “equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (v. 12, NLT).
Second, people need equipping to carry out their ministries successfully (as we see in Ephesians 4). God provides them with the passion and the calling to do his work. He has called leaders of leaders to train them to carry it out.
Third, they need relationships in which to serve. They need a community that encourages them, validates them, keeps them accountable, keeps them going when things are tough. I played with the coaching structure at our church until I developed one that worked to provide those things for our leaders. The typical 5×5 structure wasn’t working, so I found some things that did. It was as simple as as thinking about different levels and types of leaders and then asking what type of support they needed from us. Rather than trying to fit your leaders into your coaching and support system, fit your system to your leaders.
What do leaders really need? I developed a simple acrostic to help us remember what is really important: SERVE . . . which I’ll share in my next post.
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