June is perhaps the best time of the year to assess the small group(s) under your care and review your own leadership. How are you doing as a steward of the people God has entrusted to you? Over the years, I’ve seen many leaders either call it quits or decide to recommit when June rolled around.
Let’s face it. Leading a small group is a big commitment. It’s a calling by God to invest your life into the lives of other people, to allow God to use you to bring about transformation as only he can. But leading a group can often be frustrating. You want to see people grow, but they seem reluctant, resistant, or even rancorous toward making a commitment to do so. You plan and prepare for a meeting and no one shows. You ask them to step out of their comfort zones to serve others, and they complain like whiny five-year-olds. You love and serve group members and they don’t return your calls.
Congratulations. You and your heavenly Father have some things in common!
Don’t Lose Heart!
You also have a kinship with many of the great leaders in the early church. We tend to think of the New Testament church as a perfect community that changed the world. But just read some of the letters written to those churches. While God did change the world, he did it through some very imperfect people.
The early leaders in the church struggled with church fights, false doctrine, lack of authenticity, inconsistency, and all kinds of other issues. The writer of Hebrews had to remind the people not to neglect meeting together, which some were already in the habit of doing. In the midst of all this, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, trying to convince himself, his fellow workers, or both, not to lose heart or give up in their ministry (2 Corinthians 4:1, 16).
At times Christian leaders feel like quitting because of their own failures. After denying Christ, Peter went back to fishing for fish, quitting on his call to fish for men. Jesus called him back to the original mission, and aren’t you glad Peter decided to recommit?
You too may feel some tension: Shall I quit or commit? You may be sensing some burnout. If so, don’t quit, but do get some help. Share leadership with a few others (see “Don’t Lead Alone” in the July 15, 2012, issue or my book, The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership, available from www.touchusa.org).
I’ve talked with leaders who wanted to give up because their group was small. Don’t quit; instead focus on these few people God has entrusted to your care and remember the principle, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Luke 16:10). Invest in the people God has given you now, and he will entrust you with more when you are ready.
Perhaps your life is getting busier because of your job, your kids and their activities, or a variety of other commitments. If God has called you to it, don’t quit leading your group! Prayerfully weigh your priorities and your schedule as you seek God’s kingdom.
Trump the Culture
It’s unfortunate we live in a culture of quitters. I sometimes relax by playing a game or two of online spades. Participants in this game are anonymous, so when a hand or the game doesn’t go their way, players just quit and then look for a new game.
But this problem is not unique to online card games. In far too many cases, married people throw in the cards. Ministers who are dealt a crummy hand quit the ministry. Group members say, in effect, “You’re not meeting my needs, so I’ll find a group that will.” New Christians face adversity and quit on God. And the adversary, the dealer of these bad hands, wins again.
Lack of commitment is one of the primary things keeping the church from carrying out Christ’s mission. We’re too busy with other lesser priorities. We’re afraid people may walk away from our groups or churches if we ask for too much. We’re afraid of being too pushy. In the midst of this, Jesus beckons us to a high call and high commitment. His first disciples left everything to follow him (Matthew 4:19, 20; 19:27). And when other potential disciples did not desire to make that kind of commitment, Jesus loved them but let them walk away (Mark 10:17-22; John 6:66).
We can trump this consumer-driven culture by keeping our commitments and counting the costs through a trusting faith in God—the same God who changed the world through followers who were known for the person and calling they were devoted to (Acts 2:42).
When the writer of Hebrews encouraged his fellow believers not to give up meeting together (10:25), he obviously was writing to a people who were already giving up. You might have expected him to say something like, “Hang in there; things will get better,” but instead he hinted to the Hebrews that living out their faith would probably get even more difficult. He prodded them to encourage “one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
And all the more. Yes, the day when Jesus returns will arrive sometime. But in the meantime, as that day approaches, living out our faith in this culture will be hard. There is a cost involved in being a follower of Jesus and carrying out the mission he has given us. So, all the more, as you deal with challenges from within your group and from without, as you face insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties, don’t give up, for when you are weak, then you are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Fight the good fight, leader. As Tyler McKenzie, teaching minister at Northeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky, recently reminded the church, “You are a part of a faith system founded on a cross. How could you not expect self-sacrifice to be a part of this?”
Don’t quit, leader. Commit to Christ in a new way and allow him to overflow through you. Abide in him and allow him to bear fruit through you.
Michael Mack is the author of 16 small group books and discussion guides, including I’m a Leader . . . Now What? (Standard Publishing). He also leads church training events and consults with churches through his ministry, Small Group Leadership (www.smallgroupleadership.com).