It was my first day of high school when I spotted him: Prince Charming. He totally distracted me as I was going up the steps. Like the classic scene in every romantic comedy and sitcom, I fell, papers flying everywhere. As I gathered my books and pride, I learned several lessons that have served me well over the years. And I hope that you'll benefit from them too.
1. Watch Where You're Going
Don't lose focus as you lead your group. Small groups are for personal and spiritual growth. They are designed to help people not only build relationships with each other, but also build or enhance their relationship with Christ. Your focus, then, is to spur that growth.
Matthew 28:19 tells us that we are to "go and make disciples." God gives us the most amazing opportunity as small-group leaders to do this through our groups. It's a natural environment in which we can love and encourage people.
As a team, you work toward the common goals of personal and spiritual growth. Teams do not survive without a goal or working together. If one person decides to act on his or her own, he or she takes the chance of tripping up the stairs. Therefore, working together as the body of Christ, encourage and support one another so that the whole group is healthy and growing and full of love (Ephesians 4:16). As long as you remain focused and encourage your small group to stay focused, you will win the prize: amazing relationships and growth in Christ.
2. Get Rid of the Stairs
What unnecessary obstacles are in your way? As a new small-group leader, I clamped onto every "what if" available. What if my house is messy? What if I say the wrong thing? What if the members don't like me? What if I don't have an answer? I nearly "what iffed" myself and my group to death. Don't fall into that temptation.
One of the Enemy's most subtle tools is keeping you from moving forward by paralyzing you with fear and self-doubt. He has no desire for you to influence others for Christ. As you take the step to lead, doubts and fears very well may enter your mind and distract you from your purpose. However, there are ways to deflect these doubts and fears.
One way to rid yourself of negative thoughts is to fill yourself with God's Word. As Christians, we are in for a lifelong fight against the Devil's tricks. In order to fight, we have to be ready for the attacks (Ephesians 6:10-17).
So prepare yourself with God's Word. One thing I've done is placed Scripture on my bathroom mirror. I chose this location because it's one place I stand every day. While I'm doing my hair and makeup, I'm reading these truths: "Perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18); "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1); "You were bought at a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20); "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession." (1 Peter 2:9); "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it" (1 Corinthians 12:27). You could also put Scripture on your dashboard or on your fridge. Put them where you will see them every day. God's Word is full of affirmations to dispute the fear and doubt we experience. The more you take in God's truths, the more these truths transform your mind (Romans 12:1-2), making you the leader God has called you to be.
Another way to get rid of unnecessary obstacles is to surround yourself with safe people with whom you can share your doubts and questions. My small-group coordinator was one of my greatest encouragements during my "what if" stage. He did not mind me asking all the stupid questions or expressing my fears. He gave me practical solutions for my worries and encouraged me to be a team leader. He invested in me.
If you do not have people around you encouraging you and building you up, you may need to evaluate who you're surrounding yourself with. Don't forget that we have been called to live abundantly and to help others do the same.
3. Help and Be Helped
It was great to have someone help me pick up my books that day I stumbled on those steps, but too often we're scared to ask for help. Even if you've been through a plethora of training and part of many small groups, you still may not have a clue how to handle situations that arise in your new group. Don't be embarrassed that you don't know. Now is the time to step up as a leader and ask for help.
A great leader is not the one who knows all the answers—those leaders feel they have nothing to learn. Instead, a great leader realizes he or she doesn't know it all and, for the sake of the team, asks for help. See what your coach or pastor has to say. When you're vulnerable with the group and let them know you don't have all the answers, you show them that it's okay not to know everything.
At the same time, don't forget to serve and help others (Romans 12:3-12). It's easy for a new leader's mind to translate leading into duty. You never want your small group to be a duty. The members in your group are children of God, and he has called you to serve them. Being a leader is a sacrificial position that changes lives. As you serve the members of your small group, you show them Christ. Remember his example: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matthew 20:28).
Not only do you have the opportunity to serve, but your small group does as well. Binding together as the body of Christ, you have the chance to serve, encourage, and love others together. As you change the 8 to 10 lives in your small group, those 8 to 10 lives, in turn, impact another 8 to 10 lives. What an amazing privilege!
As a new small-group leader, you will change lives. And as you apply this advice, as well as the advice from your small-group coach and pastor, you'll minimize the distractions and avoid future falls. Be confident in your call as a small-group leader and lead your heart out.
—Peri Gilbert is the Small-Group Coordinator at The Simple Church in Bossier City, Louisiana; copyright 2013 by Christianity Today.