Note: This article is excerpted from our resource Small-Group Coach Orientation Guide .
It's easy for small-group leaders to feel overwhelmed. And if we stop to consider all of their responsibilities, it's even easier to see why: prepare the lesson, teach the lesson, lead the prayer time, coordinate the location, make sure there are plenty of snacks, and follow up with individuals outside of the normal group meeting. Top all of this off with work, family, and other duties and it's clear why many small-group leaders are excellent candidates for spiritual burnout.
To make matters worse, small-group members often expect their group leader to have everything together. Group leaders can feel pressured to demonstrate a model marriage, a model devotional life, a model work ethic—the list goes on. It often gets to the point that small-group leaders feel unable to share their struggles and issues in the very groups they lead. How can they when the one causing many of their spiritual struggles may be sitting on the couch on the other side of the living room?
As leaders of small-group leaders, it is essential that coaches actively connect with those we lead, giving them ample opportunity to be refreshed and renewed. Here are some ways to do just that.
Create a Culture of Proactive Care
Tom had led a small group for years. So when he showed up in my office one day and told me that he couldn't handle leading his group any longer, I was astonished. He told me that the office he worked for had been keeping him on the road far longer than he was used to, and his family life was struggling because of it. He just did not have the time to lead his group. We worked it out so that one of the other couples in the group would lead the small group for the next few months while Tom and his wife could take a break.
Sometime our leaders are so busy with life and ministry that they don't even think to bring up the fact that they are running on empty. As coaches, we have to engage them through a variety of vehicles in order to give them ample opportunity to stay healthy. Of course, meeting over coffee or lunch is a great way to stay connected. Our church has multiple services on Sunday morning, and since my small-group leaders are already at the church, I will often meet them during a service or between a Christian education class and the worship service they attend. I also utilize a web-based survey that my leaders routinely fill out.
There is no right or wrong way to connect with your leaders, just make sure you are proactive. Don't wait until they breakdown in your office before stepping in to offer help.
Commit to Priority Follow Up
Dennis had been struggling for some time with a difficult member in his small group. He wanted this individual to stay with the group, but the person just seemed to command all the attention at every meeting. Dennis and I connected for coffee and discussed how he might go about handling the situation. Several weeks went by before I remembered to follow up with Dennis to see how things went. When I finally got a hold of him, I found out that the situation had taken a turn for the worse. His group was really struggling and did not seem to be having any success in dealing with the individual in question. Dennis asked if I could help, and I was glad to—but I apologized for not checking in sooner.
After you create a culture of proactive care, you need to place a high priority on your leaders' needs. Some people ask me at times why I don't lead a small group myself. The truth is, I do—sort of. My small group consists of the small-group leaders under my care. While we may not get together weekly, we are certainly a community. They get my first and my best when it comes to ministry time.
When a group leader raises a flag, we coaches need to respond quickly and appropriately. This has a twofold benefit. First, it allows you to help them overcome the challenge, and it helps them stay spiritually healthy. Second, it encourages them for the next time they face a challenge. Consistent priority follow up creates a consistently healthy ministry.
Consistently Strive for Confidentiality
I have always told my group leaders that I have an open door for them, so I was glad when Susan and Anthony came to talk with me. They were small-group leaders and their group had just finished going through a six-week study on godly marriages. The problem was that they were struggling with their own marriage. They picked that particular curriculum because they felt they needed it as much as their group did. We talked for a while about their marriage and decided that they should see a counselor, but that the situation was not bad enough to take a break from leading their group. We committed the issue to prayer and promised to keep the matter between ourselves. I was glad they trusted me.
Without confidentiality, you will not get to the heart of the matter when group leaders do interact with you. Your small-group leaders need to know, without a doubt, that you will hold their confidence. This doesn't mean we gloss over sin when it's present, but it does mean we help them overcome the challenges they face in a God-honoring way. If your leaders cannot trust you, they will not come to you. Let them know in no uncertain terms that connecting with you is safe and healthy. This will help you meet their needs and keep them going strong in ministry.
It's sad to think that many small-group leaders feel overwhelmed and under-fed, especially when they consistently care for their group members week after week. It's time they had someone to lead them well, so let's make sure we coaches are there when they need us.
Stephen is a pastor and blogger who lives in Wisconsin. His blog, www.martyrpriest.com uses a mix of spiritual contemplations and social commentary to help readers lose their life and find their purpose.
—Stephen Grusendorf; copyright 2009 by the author and Christianity Today International.
- What other unique pressures do small-group leaders face?
- What systems can our coaches use to help make follow-up a consistent priority?
- What situations usually cause a breach in confidentiality, and how can they be avoided?