Note: This article has been excerpted from the SmallGroups.com training tool called Ministering to Struggling Small-Group Leaders.
In a perfect world, every small group would be healthy. Small-group leaders would always be effective and life-change would be a weekly occurrence. The role of a small-group pastor would be a stress-free position because we would never lack effective leaders. Yes, this would be a great place to live!
In reality, James 3:2 reminds us, "We all stumble in many ways." This means small-group pastors will oversee a ministry containing people who stumble in many ways. Small-group pastors and church leaders are not immune to the truth in this verse either. It's important to have biblical expectations for people and be prepared to handle those seasons of stumbling.
At some point in ministry, every small-group pastor (or ministry point person) will have to deal with ineffective leadership. I'm not talking about leaders who commit major sins or mistakes. I'm referring to the leaders who simply are not getting the job done. These leaders tend to fly under the radar, sometimes for several months, before a church leader is aware of the issue. Once ineffective leadership is brought to the surface, however, it must be addressed quickly—a difficult task even for veteran pastors.
Five Common Causes for Ineffective Leadership
Below are several factors that often contribute to a leader's ineffectiveness. Understanding why leaders struggle will give you a great foundation for ministering to them.
- Lack of training. Training is a major key to successful leadership. Every group leader must be equipped to lead a small group, and if a ministry lacks quality training, the leaders will struggle. Small-group leaders need two types of training: startup and ongoing. The startup training should provide practical skills for beginning a small group, and the ongoing training helps leaders overcome obstacles as group life progresses.
Does your church offer both? It's common for small-group pastors to leave out some needed ingredients, especially when the ministry is new. So evaluate your training process. Have the leaders been properly equipped with start-up training? Are they facing obstacles that were not addressed during training?
- Lack of understanding. In order for your training to be properly applied, it must first be understood. If leaders aren't performing well, perhaps they haven't processed the training they experienced. Don't assume that people understand something just because they hear it.
You can also prevent this by allowing for time to process during training. Have leaders meet together in pairs to talk through possible scenarios, or engage leaders in a game that tests their knowledge of the topics covered that day. Very few people learn simply by listening. Engage your leaders by training them in multiple ways.
- Lack of communication. The lines of communication must be open between small-group leaders and church leadership. Sometimes group leaders will not report a problem, perhaps assuming it isn't big enough to bother with. But withholding information is never a good thing. Ignoring a problem will not make it go away. In fact, problems tend to grow with time. Have you been in regular communication with the leader who is struggling? If not, you may have pinpointed the cause of their trouble.
- Lack of preparation. Leading a small-group meeting is not easy, and some leaders struggle simply because they don't prepare enough. They neglect to put enough time into the process of preparing. They procrastinate and try to cram some ideas at the last minute. All of this leads to mistakes and missed opportunities. How often do you ask your leaders how they're preparing? Hearing about their process can help you understand a lot about how meetings are run.