We were in a quiet monastery in Ohio. I held a book in my hands that became one I’d revisit every year, required reading turned manifesto. It was a small spiritual formation class during my senior year of college. We were few, but the lessons we learned were many.
The book we read was called, In The Name of Jesus, by Henri Nouwen.
If I were asked to pick one book to offer volunteers in ministry, it’d be this one—a nurturing guide to continue to develop them as servant leaders.
When small group leaders sign up for another year, our minds shift to thinking about what we need to support them. What I bring into youth ministry is that weekend in the monastery, when I felt nurtured in my hopes to become a servant leader. Since then, I’ve been doing my best to replicate what made the time so supporting and transformational.
It takes courage, commitment, and consistency to be a small group leader. All three things are big chunks of energy. I never want a leader to burn out or feel like they are unsupported when they share their lives with students on a weekly basis.
I think back to our retreat, to the things that helped us, and make a list of things I want to provide small group leaders this year in our youth ministry. I want to give them:
A place to be still.
Serving out of emptiness is a danger we face when we neglect time listening and being loved by our Creator. During our retreat, we were asked to be silent for an entire day. It was the loudest day of my life—thoughts and imagination and even my own breath reverberated off trees and paths and the walls in my solitary and simple room. But those hours filled me up immensely. Small group leaders need time to tend to the inside.
Carve out extra time and set up a few environments where they aren’t required to be with their few. Give them permission to turn off their leader role and turn on their learner role. It could be as simple as going on a nature walk together, or as elaborate as setting up some prayer spaces in a small chapel or garden.
A plan to consider.
Before we left to participate in the retreat, we were given our reading materials. It was a way for us to prepare for what was about to happen. We’ll never be able to predict what’s going to happen in a circle of 12-year-old boys or a circle energized by 16-year-old girls, but we do know where we are heading with content and Scripture each month. It’s one sure thing we can offer our leaders.
I was reminded of the importance of this when I sat across the table from Eva last week. She’s one of our finest SGLs. Before leaving the coffee shop she wanted to ask for a favor:
“Would you mind sharing your lessons plans with me for the next few months so I can use them in my Bible study?”
Best request ever.
It’s a great reason to plan ahead, to choose a curriculum that will support your efforts to support small group leaders.
Having a series overview, Scripture, and small group questions in advance is a big deal for Eva. It gives her space to think about her few, pray for them, and it gives her time to respond to any creative ideas she has during her study.
This is extra-mile stuff. But most who commit to being small group leaders are the extra-mile type.
A personal touch.
Before our retreat started, communion had been set up in a small chapel. We were led in a very personal way. Our leader said our names and mentioned a few things to us personally before we participated.
Small group leaders thrive when the connection you offer is personal.
Keep notes on your leaders. Do they have a big day coming up at work? Do you know their favorite coffee order? Set a calendar reminder once a month to connect for a few minutes. It could be a text or a phone call. Maybe it’s writing a note and mailing it to them. Plan a time for small group leaders to get to know each other once a quarter. Go bowling, play kick-ball, do something that allows them to be known and know the others that they are serving with.
A one-on-one conversation.
Small group leaders take in a lot of information. They know the heartbeat of their students and are with them through the highs and the lows. Meeting times can be hurried and time to get feedback during the school year may be more limited. Make sure to find time to sit face to face with your leaders listening to their stories and finding ways to help them when they get stuck or have concerns.
They are going to need you but they may not want to bother you. Check in often to give them a chance to let you know about things that are on their minds.
A vision to live by.
For me, Nouwen’s book became a vision for my future youth ministry.
Maybe you already have a philosophy of ministry or a strategy that is important to you. It could be a quote or a mission statement you’ve created. Whatever it is, give it to your small group leaders. Give them a tool, a book, a rallying cry. Ours at Somos Church is to support the value in every kid as much as possible. If there are kids being undervalued in our city, then we have work to do! We never are without purpose when our vision is strong and compelling.
Small group leaders are servant leaders and there may be times when you’ll need to serve them. Give them a place to be filled while they are pouring out their lives to others this year.