My primary role at New Community is to lead the small groups ministry. I do other things like preach and provide pastoral care and leadership when people need to meet with a pastor. But the biggest chunk on my job description, the thing I’m supposed to spend myself doing, is groups. I serve with a dozen leaders and a half dozen coaches in order to provide these smaller environments where people meet, talk about “things that matter,” and are challenged to serve.
I led a group this summer. I’ll lead a couple this fall. Every now and then I get to visit a group. I went to one last week, joking that the only times I actually visit church small groups is when something’s wrong. The comment got a chuckle, broke the ice in the room, and we kept going to talk about some significant things.
Their leader had decided to the leave the church. The group had been having extreme conflict in the last couple weeks. There was an overarching question about next steps for the group. It was a full conversation. And we did three things that I think any group should do, especially a church group. Whether a “small group” or a ministry group, here are the three necessary actions we did that I want to offer people in group life or group ministry with others:
- We thanked the leader. Leaders need to be thanked. They need other things too, but gratitude is essential. Whenever you think to express love and support for the people leading, do it. It won’t go to their heads. In fact, they’ll probably underrate and need to be challenged to actually hear it. But we thanked the group leader, and I invited them to be as specific as possible. It was a meaningful moment that should be as natural as anything else. I need to work on this more in my life. I thank every person I meet with–trying to name one or two things I really took in during the meeting–but I still need to devise a strategy for getting our church’s group members to regularly and normally say thanks to those who lead.
- We talked about the recent conflicts. This group had been through a hellish set of conversations over the last two weeks, which was my original reason for being invited. They needed me to help them do what they couldn’t alone. I loved that the leader asked me to come because it honored the fact that we work together in ministry; that we all have roles to play. My role was to instigate, facilitate, and contain real, raw words. I was there to help them be fearless in the face of conflict, which is an inherent part of reconciliation. We spoke honestly and even though they were afraid they only spoke up because I was there, I was able to underline how doing it once meant the ability to do the same again, whether or not a pastor was present.
- We discussed the future. Groups end. I thought that group would, and I told them so. But I was open and surprised that our pastoral staff was able to envision a different future. I brought both possibilities to the group so they would prayerfully consider them. We should be freed to assume no particular ends in church life. It’s not a failure to end things; it may be a clear mark of growth. It may exhibit courage to close down. But we have to talk ourselves to our futures. We have to pursue the unknown just as faithfully as we pursue what’s common. Being open to whatever comes is the meaning of life by faith. I’m a strategist, but I’m a Christian. The former grates at the latter. So I have to choose to be as Christian as possible, which means walking into mystery as much as possible. That’s our future. We may as well discuss it.