The 4 Best Small Group Ministry Lessons I’ve Learned This Year

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lesson mistakeEvery once in a while I like to jot down the most recent lessons I’ve learned. Sometimes they amount to relearning the same lessons. I love the line that “Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.” Maybe you can learn something from mine!

  1. Not everything can be learned. Many things can be learned, but not everything. For example, I believe you can learn to be a better recruiter, but some of what comes naturally to some people can never really be learned by those who have a different wiring. I have found that one of the most important skills a small group pastor needs is the ability to identify, recruit and develop high capacity volunteers for key roles. Expecting someone who doesn’t have those skills to do the job that needs to be done is almost always a waste of time. Better to find the right person and help the wrong person find a new role. See also, 7 Skills Every Small Group Pastor Needs.
  2. No matter the church size, paying staff to do ministry is a bad idea. Ephesians 4 makes it fairly clear that the role of a pastor is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. While this doesn’t mean a pastor will never directly pray with someone or visit someone in the hospital, it does mean that their primary role is to recruit and train (equip) a team of people who will do the work of the ministry. It is not always the case, but if the natural inclination of a pastor is to do the work of the ministry, they may be more fruitful in another vocation (while they may be quite fulfilled in ministry). See also, Rethinking the Role of the Small Group Pastor.
  3. Never confuse delegation or empowerment with a blind eye. ‘Trust, but verify,” was one of Ronald Reagan’s famous maxims. A product of the Cold War era, it is no less valid today. I am a determined believer in the priesthood of the believer and I am convinced that involving high capacity leaders is one key to building a thriving small group ministry. At the same time, I retain a set of capabilities (and so do you) that may only be delegated away with great care. When it comes to vision and mission, short of my senior pastor, I cannot assume that just anyone can deliver. It will always be an “I do, you watch. You do, I watch” maneuver. See also, Are You Playing to Play? Or Playing to Win?
  4. It is always easier to allow the wrong thing than eliminate it. Have a menu item that you wish you could eliminate? Maybe a program that’s not bad but it gets in the way of making a next step obvious (by cluttering the menu)? The truth is, at some point in the past that menu item (Precepts, BSF, Discipleship Pathway, etc.) seemed like a good addition to someone and it was added. Or maybe someone volunteered to serve as a small group coach and despite misgivings, no one said “No.” It is always easier to allow the wrong thing than eliminate it. The best practice is to become an expert at saying “No” in the very beginning. It won’t be fun and it won’t be easy. But it will pay off in the long run. See also, A Smörgåsbord of Destinations vs. Sequential and Tailored Next Steps.

Honestly, I hope this is helpful. I’ve learned much more in the last year, but these are the most important lessons. I’ve relearned all of them. They are not new. At the same time, every one of them ought to be on a post-it stuck to my laptop screen.

And they ought to be on yours too.

Image by Herman Yung

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