By Chris McRae, BCI Discipleship Team Leader
Summer time is here. It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a well-deserved rest. That’s what everyone seems to say. And perhaps it is time to take a breather. In church life though, we need to take care that we don’t let the weeks and months slip away. Even though the warm days bring their own challenges with VBS, camps and mission trips, we also know that the start of another school year is right around the corner.
I’m not reminding you of that reality in order to freak you out. But I do want to make you aware that in the very near future you will have to start thinking about how your church is going to move forward this fall to engage your people and the community you serve in making disciples. A hard truth is that if you don’t put some things into play over the next couple of months, you will start out behind the ball and will likely fall into the trap of just doing the same things you did last year.
Those who have looked at churches that continue to make an ongoing difference have noted that new things being done add life and vitality. Let me suggest that you consider the possibility of starting a new group (or more) this fall. A new gathering of folks who will “live life together,” studying, encouraging one another, serving together, and growing in Christ-likeness will go a long way towards revitalizing church life. Let’s look at a couple of things that need to happen soon in order to see that happen later.
Identify: Authentic Leadership is not simply a skill set that can be canned, shelved, and pulled out when needed. The kind of leadership I’m talking about doesn’t start in front of a group. It begins in the background, unnoticed and underappreciated. As those responsible for equipping the church for the work of ministry, pastors need to be on the lookout for those willing (and satisfied) to be behind the scenes, quietly and humbly working to make things go well. Recruiting this kind of servant to lead a small group has some challenges.
It begins with identification. Open your eyes and ask the Holy Spirit to give wisdom and vision to see those who exhibit the qualities of character that you want evident in the lives of church members. The principle from Genesis holds true even in this realm that “like begets like.” A second aspect is to recruit them to the vision, being careful to differentiate that from the “task”. One of the most effective ways for doing this is to simply ask directly for the person to consider the possibility. Perhaps offering a training session that covers the issues that are involved in leading a group.
Equip: A Leader’s Toolbox is filled with resources to make the new group successful. It begins with an orientation guide to help the leader know what is expected. He needs to succeed and you need to help him. Provide him not simply with a set of tools – although those are really important – but plan on also giving him ongoing means for successful ministry. The big picture question that needs addressing at this time is that of purpose and direction. What’s expected and how will the leader know that they’ve been successful.
Some of the issues that should be considered in this phase of new group development are 1) how to prepare an agenda for group time; 2) tips for facilitating discussion; 3) answering tough questions; 4) finding meaningful applications; 5) going deeper in prayer together. There are many other issues but this gives an initial point of discussion.
Direct: Dealing With Difficulties is a part of the process. This is not a “fire and forget” scenario. You need to put into place a system for following up on this new group. Regardless of the quality of leadership, there needs to be pastoral oversight for the small group ministry. It is helpful to set in place a system for staying on top of what is going on. This can be as simple as a regular phone call, checking in to see how things are going. Or it can be more formal with a scheduled meeting that looks at and discusses whatever issues present themselves.
Regardless, the key to successful small group ministry is that there are mechanisms in place that help leaders, groups and the church at large to celebrate the wins and to correct the misses. Neither of these can happen if no one is paying attention and is deliberately tasked with making certain that things don’t fall through the cracks.
New groups will not start “accidentally.” And, if they do, it’s not usually the way you want things to go in church life. What I am suggesting is that the church needs to address spiritual growth and maturity with an intentionality. The question becomes, “What are you doing this summer for a healthy group ministry to take off in the fall?”
Chris is available to work with pastors, churches and interested others to put into practice the steps outlined here. Contact him at CMcRae@BCIowa.org.