Because of a chronic illness I have been experiencing over the past several years, I've been thinking a lot about what small-group leaders need as they go through crisis situations in their own life. I used to be of the mindset that continuing to lead your small group, even during a personal crisis, was the best way to get through the crisis. "Bring your struggle to the community" and then press on! I learned the hard way that I was only half right.
During my illness, I definitely could not survive without my community. But as for leadership, I have hit times when I simply could not press on as normal. I did not have energy to do the hard relational work. I struggled to be adequately prepared. I simply did not have the energy to take the initiative.
This experience is teaching me that we need to take the rehabilitation of wounded small group leaders seriously.
I have appreciated the insight of Stephen Ministries, who provide training and resources for small groups to help care for their members and leaders. Here's a quote from one of their staff:
"You do not send wounded soldiers back into battle without providing appropriate care and sufficient time to recuperate.
Life is tough. The members of your congregation experience emotional and spiritual bumps and bruises from time to time–and sometimes more drastic injuries–as they serve their King and engage in his mission. Sometimes the wounds are inflicted by an enemy; at other times they are self-inflicted. Either way, wounded soldiers need time and proper care to recuperate and heal before again being pressed into service. Christian care is essential for helping God's people return to wholeness so they can once again engage in God's mission.
What happens if people do not receive the care they need when they are suffering? What if their needs are ignored or unnoticed or–worse yet–trivialized by others wielding hollow platitudes? Hurting Christians who do not receive appropriate, compassionate care from your congregation quickly lose sight of any potential value they may have had for your congregation's mission. Some will become disillusioned and seek healing elsewhere; others will lose faith in the church as a whole and disassociate from your congregation. Another major research finding is that a person is much more likely to become inactive or drop out of church if his or her needs for care during a crisis go unmet. Even if hurting people stay in your congregation, their loyalty and devotion are likely to wane.
On the other hand, hurting Christians who receive appropriate and compassionate care from their congregation are much more likely to return to health and re-engage in the mission of the church. Quite often, after receiving care during a time of crisis, they rebound with a newfound passion for serving God and the church."
I have seen the reality of this in my own life. So, as summer draws to a close, make sure you and your small-group leaders have had the needed care and refreshment they need to get back into the battle.