By Reid Smith
Spiritual leaders must take decisive action to be healthy in order to be prepared to confront the inevitable temptations, personal attacks, potential burnout and other hazards of ministry. These ten recommendations are relevant for all small group leaders and coaches who want to be healthy and effective in ministry for the long-haul.
- Read & Reflect on God’s Word Daily
Contend for a daily devotional life. Not only will this secure your healthy growth, but it will ensure the healthy development of biblical community in your group (Psalm 119:105). A small group’s life together will likely only go as deep as the life of its leader. If you do not already have an ongoing devotional life, start small and develop it incrementally. Here’s an interesting fact: Sheep feed on dew that collects on grass very early in the morning and the water these creatures slurp up at dawn satisfies them through the whole sun-scorching day (Psalm 5:3). Give God the first fruit of your time, and find your strength in Him (Psalm 119:114, 147).
- Pray Daily
Talk with God and listen for His guidance each day. The more you cultivate a closeness with your Creator, the healthier you will be for your own well-being, your family, and everyone you influence in life. Be mindful of how He is always with you and will never leave you (Deuteronomy 31:8). This will help you to be more conscientious and inclined to communicate with God repeatedly throughout the day rather than it being a ritual that happens just once a day (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer is key to having a growing relationship with the Lord, which is what God wants from us more than anything else.
- Invite a Few Trusted Friends to Pray for You
You and your group are a target of the enemy and prayer coverage is an absolute must. Ask a few trusted friends to pray for you and your family regularly, especially those you know are faithful to intercede in prayer for others. Make a point to give them an update and share specific things to pray about at the beginning, middle, and end of each season of your group’s life together. There’s no season in ministry where we don’t need someone to stand in the gap for us.
- Replenish Yourself Regularly
Take refuge in Jesus. When you feel like your energy level is beginning to wane, let your co-leader or a friend in your group know. If you’ve already met as a small group for a few seasons, you might let your whole group know. Invite them to pray for you and carry responsibilities that have begun to be taxing on you. Don’t make the small group “your ministry.” Ministry should be mutual and happening among all group members. If it isn’t, instigate change! Get away at times, find rest, and be sure you’re regularly participating in the worship and teaching offered in your weekend service. Honoring the Sabbath each week is just the beginning.
- Recognize God’s Work
Remembering what the Lord has done and is doing builds your faith and the faith of those around you. Continually remind yourself of who God is and His promises to stay strong. For example, you can plant and water, but God is the one who makes things grow (1 Cor 3:5-7). You can use my gifts and abilities to build up the Church, but God is the one who is actually building it in such a way that hell itself won’t triumph over it (1 Cor 12:7; Mt 16:18). It is also helpful to recall that God’s Word is fully inspired, living and active and does its work in people as they engage with it (2 Tim 3:16; Heb 4:12). Recognizing how God is already at work within your group is worshipful and helps to develop a more spiritually mature perspective in those around you.
- Resist Premature Involvement in Conflict
If someone comes to you with a complaint about another, find out right away if they’ve spoken with the other person first (Matthew 18:15). If they haven’t, redirect them to talk with the person they’re having tension with. If the first condition has been met, do not entertain an accusation made about another individual unless it is brought to you by at least one other, independent source (Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1b).
- Draw Appropriate Boundaries
Be available to your group members, but lovingly draw boundaries when necessary. God wants you to be whole just as much as He does others and ultimately self-care is obedience to Him. It’s also okay to set time limits on phone conversations or one-on-one meetings you have with group members; let them know at the outset of your conversation that you have up until a certain time that you’re able to connect with them.
- Don’t Meet Alone with the Opposite Sex
Spiritual leaders must avoid every appearance of evil for their sake and for the sake of others (Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 10:24, 32-33; 1 Thessalonians 5:22). Wisdom is not putting yourself in a situation where you could stumble (1 Cor. 6:18; 2 Tim 2:22) so if someone of the opposite sex wants to meet outside your group time, let them know your spouse, co-leader or a trusted group member will join you too. This is not about being religious or legalistic—it’s being prudent (Proverbs 27:12).
- Don’t Try to Do Everything Yourself
Empower others in your group to help carry the responsibilities that come with leading a small group. Identify a co-leader who can team up with you sooner than later. Begin by giving small tasks that align with their areas of gifting or interest.
- Don’t Try to Please Everyone
You’ve undoubtedly heard it said before, and it’s absolutely true: You can’t please everyone! You will become depleted and discouraged if you try. If somebody is not happy with your leadership or the group, talk directly with them about it, pray together, and trust the Holy Spirit with the outcome. Release the person, letting them know it’s okay to agree to disagree and for them to go a different direction. Keep your coach informed of any challenges like this so they can support you and help mediate next steps. Your concern needs to be for the whole group; don’t let one person derail the vision God has given you.
Remember: You’re serving God on behalf of the small group (not the other way around). The Lord wants to grow you through your experience as a leader…not use you up and leave you on empty. Be sure to take care of yourself! Your life and small group leadership will be stronger as a result.
Reid Smith has been equipping leaders in churches of all sizes and stages of growth for effective disciple-making since 1996. He lives in Wellington, Florida where he serves as a Groups Pastor at Christ Fellowship. You can find more of his helpful resources at www.reidsmith.org.