Small Group Directors Need Community, Too

Small Group Directors Need Community, Too

Not only is it personally beneficial, but it is critical for the integrity of your leadership

Carolyn Taketa, is the small groups pastor at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, CA. Passionate about Christian community, she is an advocate for ministers connecting with other ministers.

I’ve always been impressed with your ability to forge relationships with other leaders of small groups ministries. It obviously flows from a personal passion to connect. Why are you so passionate about having a community as a ministry leader and seeing other ministry leaders experience community?

Bill, our 10+ year friendship is one of the examples of why having meaningful friendships with other ministers outside of our own churches is so valuable! You are one of my “go tos” for resolving thorny small group issues, for affirming me as a female ministry leader, and of course, for making me laugh at the absurdities of life.

We all agree that everyone needs community, right? I believe those of us in ministry need it even more. Small group ministry leaders often feel alone in their ministry environments. This may be especially true in smaller churches where they are the only staff or key volunteer. Regardless of the size or context of our churches, all small group point leaders share the common goal of building community and discipling people through relationships. That is a terrific foundation to build a ministry friendship.

To have a place where you can honestly share with other small group ministers and hear, “I get it. Me too.” is so encouraging. To be in spaces where you don’t have to explain the biblical basis for small groups and why it needs to be a priority in churches is so liberating. To be with people who understand the unique challenges of this ministry, especially in the tough seasons, is a wonderful blessing.

For many years, I’ve been so thankful to have pastor friends who listen, empathize, share, discern, and pray with me. I also try to do that for other ministers because it is a joy to serve the “big C” church and give back to the greater Kingdom by encouraging and resourcing its ministers. I was blessed to have wise small group pastors invest in me and I want to do likewise for others.

When I came on staff at my church 15 years ago as a part-time groups director, I was an experienced small group lay leader but knew nothing about leading a church-wide system for groups. Plus, I had no idea how to navigate the peculiar challenges of vocational ministry, which is widely different than my previous work as an attorney. Thankfully, God had already given me a good friend in the groups ministry world, Steve Gladen, at Saddleback Church. Steve generously allowed me to ask lots of questions and shared his wisdom and experience. He also introduced me to other groups ministers from around the country which opened the door to more relationships and learnings.

What would you say to the minister of small groups who thinks they don’t need a community of other group directors?

If you minister at a church with a healthy team supporting groups ministry, you may feel like you don’t need the input and support from ministers outside of your environment. However, I would argue that you will still benefit from outside voices.

First, with these outside friends, you can share more openly about the challenges in the ministry without wondering if it’ll impact you, others in your ministry, or the church in a negative way. Also, outside ministry leaders will likely have a different perspective than the insider perspectives within your church. They may help you discern the best course of action because they can be more objective in their perspectives.

Those who are more experienced will be able to offer guidance and resources while less experienced leaders can offer fresh ideas and perspectives. I love having a diverse community of people from different backgrounds, locations, and ages in my ministry friendship circles. They make me a better minister and a better follower of Jesus.

In some churches, senior or executive pastors are critical of pastors who spend time networking with other pastors. They see that as diluting the effort the pastor puts in the home church ministry. How has your church benefitted through the relationships you have forged with other small group ministers?

I understand how some senior leaders feel skeptical of the time and effort a small group ministry leader spends fostering relationships with other ministers. But those relationships offer practical value in the long term for their churches. It can build the minister’s competence by exposing them to learnings, ideas, models, strategies, and tactics they might not have considered. And it gives them helpful people to process their thoughts with and a confidential space in which to do it.

It’s one thing to read about an idea in a book or listen to a podcast about it, but the best way to learn is processing it with other practitioners who have already tried it. Then you can unpack the learnings in a safe environment and figure out the best way to contextualize it for your church.

For example, many years ago, I was catching up with a ministry friend at a conference and asked him what he was excited about lately. He told me about their church’s experiment with “group in a box” (where you put in everything a new leader would need for a particular six-week series). I was intrigued. He kindly sent me their box and shared their process, as well as what they wished they had known before they started it. I used that sample box and his church’s story to pitch the idea to our leadership. We then contextualized it for our church environment, adapted it for our smaller budget, and it was a success! Had I not developed a friendship with that minister, our church might’ve missed out on a great idea that worked well for us.

I think you’d agree that group directors need at least two types of community. The first is a small group. The second type of community a group director needs is with other directors of small group ministries. Why are both of these community experiences important?

I’ve been surprised and dismayed by the number of small group ministry leaders that are not personally involved in a small group. I wrote about this a few years ago and made the case for why it’s essential for groups ministers to be in a small group too.

You don’t need to lead a group, but you need to be in one. Not only is it personally beneficial for you, but it is also critical for the integrity of your leadership as you champion groups in your church. Also, practically speaking, it’ll help you understand how your group system actually works. For example, the best way to figure out if your sermon discussion guides are working is to use it in your group and see how it lands. Being in a group also reveals the common issues and challenges your group leaders are likely experiencing. My small group is often the laboratory for evaluating how our connection process works, testing out new curriculum, and keeping me accountable to live out what I profess from the platform. And my group members are not shy about sharing their opinions!

With respect to having a community with other ministry leaders, over the years, I’ve been so blessed to develop friendships with many wonderful godly men and women. We rarely see each other in person and primarily connect through texting, email, or social media, but I deeply value these ministry friendships that have consistently put wind in my sails.

For example, I have two texting groups with ministry leaders from across the country. Bill, you are in one of the texting groups. That group discusses issues related to our Small Group Network podcast, but we inevitably end up with lots of laughing emojis, which lightens my heart.

My other texting group is comprised of four small group pastors who are vastly different from me in their life experiences, church culture, location, age, gender, ethnicity, personality, etc. We initially met through the Small Group Network and over time, each of these friendships developed. We share a deep love for Jesus, a steadfast commitment to ministry, a curious analytical mind, and an irreverent sense of humor. We’ve supported and prayed for each other through tough job transitions, family illnesses, church politics, and sticky leadership issues. God has used these outside ministry friends to minister to me and help me thrive.

For the rest of the questions, I want to focus on forming community with other small group directors. When we use terms like “community” it carries both an organic idea and a structured idea. Some communities just happen (organic) while others require planning and commitment (structured).
Let’s focus on the organic community for group directors first. If a small group director is more of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of leader, where would they look to form an organic community?

I’d recommend they reach out to one or more outside ministry leaders they’ve met casually or are located in their area. Ask them for a coffee or Zoom meetup and see if there’s a connection. If not, move on and try it with a different leader. Just like a regular small group, it may take time to find ministers you click with and enjoy being around. Hopefully, you’ll find a couple ministers who are humble, likeable, and helpful to you and your ministry.

Alright, for the more organized leader, how would you coach them to form a structured community with other group directors? You have been an active leader in the Small Group Network encouraging pastors to participate in “Huddles” with other ministry leaders. Describe what that looks like. What kind of commitment makes this work?

The Small Group Network Huddle is a great way to form a structured community. We have huddles all over the country and in many areas of the world. You can find one close to you here: Typically, huddles meet every 2-3 months either in person or online. It’s an informal gathering to build relationships, share ideas, and encourage one another. Some huddles stay connected by email and text between meetings as well.

You can also find kindred spirits through the Small Group Network Facebook group. It’s an active encouraging community and many strike up friendships through interactions in that space.

What other questions should I have asked?

The only thing I would add is that if you do not have a community of ministers, you might want to ask yourself “Why not?”. Aside from the usual excuses of busyness and lack of time and energy, I wonder if there are some other issues like insecurity, pride, mistrust of other churches, an overly independent spirit, or lack of concern for the greater body of Christ beyond your local church.

Also, please keep in mind that maybe you might not currently feel the need for this type of community, but other ministers and churches might be missing out on what you can offer them. Remember we really are better together!

Thanks, Carolyn, for sharing with us!

My pleasure! Thanks, Bill!

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