After a campaign of social events and logistical changes to try to appease people into more frequent attendance, circumstances were much the same—but I wasn’t. I was frustrated with the group, and I found myself resenting people’s halfhearted commitment rather than leading them by the example of Christian love. I walked into our meetings with a bad attitude, and even though I tried to mask it and keep at it, my pastor was right: It was not healthy for the group. Rather than empower other people to lead and take responsibility of the group, bringing their own wisdom and gifts to the table, I was trying to appeal to everyone with only my strengths. Yes, our ministry had a problem with consistency, but more importantly, we had an early leadership problem that was never addressed.
A similar dynamic was at play in Exodus 18. After escaping Egypt, Moses got into a rhythm of settling disputes between the people. He quickly found, however, that given the opportunity, the people “waited before him from morning till evening” (Exodus 18:13). Jethro wisely stepped in to give a priceless piece of wisdom: “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?” (Exodus 18:14, emphasis added).
There is no better question to answer when we’re taking on all the responsibilities and tasks of a small group. What are you really accomplishing? Because of our insecurity, we often want to prove that we can do it all. Sure, sometimes doing everything on our own means we can ensure that everything will get done. On top of that, you know exactly when and how it will get done. But is anyone else getting to be part of God’s work in the group? Are any other group members using their spiritual gifts? Are you missing the opportunity of benefiting from different perspectives and creative visions for the group?
Passages like 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 remind us that as the church, we are all different parts of one body. Consider the coordination and joint effort required to do the simple task of throwing a football to a friend. Your ears need to hear his call to you, your eyes need to see where he is, your brain needs to calculate where he’s going to be, your legs and trunk need to plant and pivot, and your arm and shoulder need to throw the ball. A healthy small group will operate the same way. We should all take on very different, yet equally important tasks. When we do, we’ll all benefit.
If you’re a people-pleasing leader, you need not fear. You’re not alone, and your desire comes from positive intentions. With a little bit of intentionality and support, you can channel your desire to serve into a healthy and powerful tool for God’s kingdom.
—Jon Noto is a Community Life Pastor and licensed clinical counselor at Willow Creek Community Church's North Shore campus.