If you were around in the mid-1980s, you may recall a television commercial for a hair replacement product with the iconic tag line, “I’m not only the Hair Club President, I’m also a client.” This president delivered this punch line looking serious and holding dramatic “before and after” pictures of his head. Though it was a bit cheesy—and often spoofed by popular culture at the time—his sincere and vulnerable claim gave credibility to his company’s product.
Similarly, we all need to be able to say, “I’m not only the small-group ministry leader, I’m also a small-group member.” Why? First, it lends legitimacy and credibility to your ministry. Second, it’s healthy for your soul. Third, it gives you real-life experiences in real-time—a valuable resource for relating to and training your group leaders.
Credibility for Your Ministry
It’s a critical part of our role as a small-group ministry leader to champion these groups as an important catalyst for spiritual growth. To stand up front and invite people to join a group—while we ourselves are not part of a group—lacks authenticity and credibility. For the sake of integrity, you can’t sell what you don’t want to buy. If you believe what you are professing about the value of biblical community, you will naturally want to engage in a group as a vital part of your relationship with God. As you tell stories of life change from your small group, it will bear witness to others in the congregation—and hopefully prompt them to engage in group life as well.
Some of the reasons you’re not in a group may be valid and may apply for a specific season of life. But overall, the norm for a small-group ministry leader needs to be a personal, meaningful engagement within a group. So let’s work through some reasons why you might be reluctant to join a group, and some options for how you could make it work:
“I don’t feel safe in a small group because they might end up judging me, or gossiping about staff or the church.”
This is a challenging issue because people tend to have explicit or implicit expectations of church leaders. You can, however, prayerfully hand-pick the people in your group and choose those who are more mature and trustworthy. Give yourself permission not to just take random people from the connection process. Instead, specifically invite people whom you would like to grow in relationship with. You could also mix it up at different times of the year. For example, during a fall campaign season of six-to-eight weeks, you can have a more random group, or one populated with potential leaders for future group planting. Then, for the rest of the year, you can meet with a group of people who have the potential to become trusted peer friends.
“My spouse doesn’t want to be in a group.”
We want to be sensitive to our spouses who often make sacrifices for our ministry responsibilities. It would be good to ask what specifically your spouse does not like about being part of a small group. Is it because you typically lead and focus on others, so he or she feels left out or uncomfortable? Is it because he or she will need to clean and host? One pastor’s wife told me how much she does not like hosting and how annoyed she was when her husband volunteered their home without giving thought to the preparations needed. Maybe you could talk together about people you would like to invite into a group, or a mission you’d like to pursue as a group. Honor your spouse by choosing at least a few people whom your spouse would enjoy getting to know better. You could even consider joining a single gender group at a time that doesn’t conflict with family obligations.