Wait For It …

Why patience is a virtue in all areas of small-group leadership

The technology of our day amazes me at times. I can have things accomplished in an instant. When I'm hungry, I just cook something in the microwave. In a matter of seconds, my meal is hot and ready to eat. Or I can go through a drive-thru and have a complete meal in a few short minutes. If I purchase an item online, it can be shipped across the country in one or two days. Most grocery stores provide Express checkout lines to avoid a long wait. And if that line is too long, I can find a Self Checkout station and do it myself. We are so used to instant gratification, getting what we want in just a short period of time.

Spiritual Slowpokes

There have been times when I have carried this exact mentality into my small group. I expect people to hear God's Word and accept his truth, converting their lives to meet his expectations. My group members should connect with Christ's ways in a very quick and orderly fashion—right? Wrong! Although some people may convert and grow at a rapid pace, most people take more time.

Every small group contains at least one or two "spiritual slowpokes." These are the people who can read a passage of Scripture and agree that it is truth, yet walk away unchanged. Although we want them to convert to Christ's ways, they seem to hold onto their own agenda. These people have the ability to frustrate leaders and other group members. So how do we respond to their slow pace?

Here are some practical tips:

  1. Be patient. Some people take longer to convert to Christ's ways. The last thing you want to do is to push someone into making a decision they don't mean. If you can talk them into making a decision, someone else can talk them out of it.
  2. Pray continually that God will transform the people in your group. Ask him to use you and to give you wisdom.
  3. Love them unconditionally, with no strings attached. Most people will take notice of unconditional love.
  4. Keep your group's focus on the truth of God's Word and how to apply it to our lives.
  5. Never lose hope. Cling tightly to the truth that God can change everyone, even the slowpokes.

The Power of Silence

Patience is also needed at different times within an individual small-group gathering. And that is certainly true of those moments when silence seems to stretch.

Casey and Renee's small group had been together for a few months. They had developed some close friendships and enjoyed one another's company. Casey and Renee were excited for their next group discussion. They had read over the discussion questions and really felt that God would move to transform their group toward his ways even more.

The discussion began as usual. The first few questions were light, but thought-provoking. The conversation seemed to be flowing and people were opening up. Then came the challenging question. It required people to be transparent, revealing what their walk with Jesus looked like. When Casey asked the question, the room suddenly grew silent. People looked at their feet, and Casey and Renee could tell that everyone was thinking. Who would speak up first, opening the door for God to begin the converting process for that evening? The silence was suddenly broken by a funny comment, spoken by one of the participants. The room instantly filled with laughter—but the moment seemed lost.

At first glance, silence can seem like a bad thing in our group discussions. We are so accustomed to noise. We listen to music in our vehicles while driving to work. Some days our cell phones seem to be glued to our ears. As we interact with people, conversations seem more pleasant when we have something to say.

But as small-group leaders, we will experience moments of silence during our discussion times. And although our first instinct is to break the silence, we need to give it some time. Allow the silence to sink in for a few moments. Silence provides us the time to think. When we think about a question, we gain the opportunity to evaluate our lives. This opens the door for us to conform to Christ's ways.

Here are some tips in taking advantage of the silent moments:

  1. Establish expectations before the discussion. Let people know the purpose of your discussion—especially the application questions. Challenge them to avoid filling in the moments of silence with unneeded humor. Casting the vision beforehand may prevent future letdowns.
  2. Remind your group, if needed. As people, we forget things easily. So if you can see that your group could use a reminder about the value of silence, do not hesitate to do so.
  3. Give your group a clear forecast when you know that the upcoming discussion contains difficult questions. People tend to handle situations better when they are prepared.
  4. Be patient during the moments of silence. Many leaders make the mistake of providing a quick answer, thinking they are rescuing their group from an awkward moment. In reality, they may be robbing someone the opportunity of opening up with the group.
  5. When you run into a silent moment, count to 20 in your mind. This may seem like an eternity, but it will keep you from breaking the silence too quickly.

—Seth Widner is Family Pastor of The Journey Church in Fernandia Beach, Florida. Copyright 2010 by the author and Christianity Today International. Used with permission.

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