John Maxwell has said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership”. And while I’m not sure that everything rises and falls on leadership, I think it is true when it comes to youth ministry small groups. The adults you entrust to lead your small groups will make or break your efforts. We’ve had amazing small group leaders “make” a wonderful small group experience despite gaps in our organizational skills, curriculum choice, etc. And we’ve had poor small group leaders “break” a small group despite our best efforts.
Here are some characteristics to look for in your small group leaders:
* Shepherds Not Chaperones
You can make a pretty strong argument that nobody is pastoring your students more than their small group leader. Because of this, you need leaders who have a pastor/shepherd heart; men and women who truly have a desire to walk alongside a teenager on their messy journey. A chaperone mentality that simply desires to keep teenagers in line, straighten them out, etc. can do much more damage than good.
* Mature Not Milk-drinkers
Okay, maybe I wanted those two words to start with the same letter a little too much…but you get the point! Think about this: You are going to put a group of 10 fourteen year old girls under the care, leadership, teaching, life-modeling of somebody who is neither you nor their parents for a prolonged period of time each week. Do you want a mature, seasoned, follower of Jesus who understands the faith journey or do you want the 20-year old who is on break from touring with her punk rock band who is chomping at the bit to “pour into” a group of girls so she can help them avoid the numerous mistakes she made….just last month. Am I actually saying one of those is a better small group candidate than the other?! Yes, yes I am.
* Followers Not Leaders
Wait, isn’t this an article about small group LEADERS? It is. And while you want men and women (of all shapes, sizes and ages BTW…just mature instead of milk-drinkers) you also want (need) these men and women to know when to lead, and when to follow. Over the years I’ve seen lots and lots of small groups go off the rails, and it’s almost always because the small group leader isn’t a good follower. They decide not to follow our guidelines. They ignore our coaching. They don’t follow the cues of parents. They take the mantle of leadership we’ve given them too far; and it causes problems.
It’s hard work to find the right people to lead your small groups. But small group gurus know that doing the hard work on the front end saves a lot of much harder work later on.
– Kurt / @kurtjohnston