A few years ago I was listening to a sermon in which the pastor led his listeners in a reflection exercise. He instructed us to sit quietly and reflect on the fact that God was present with us. Then we were to ask God if he wanted to show us something or say anything to us. Over the next thirty seconds I saw a picture that tore me up. I saw myself as a very old man in a hospital room, and it was obvious I was nearing the end. My wife and four kids entered the room. We were happy to see one another and it was obvious that we shared good relationships. But something was lacking. I focused on my oldest son Deklan. While we did not have a bad relationship, I knew it was not what it could have been. I had not loved him in the ways he needed to be loved.
As this vision played in my imagination like a short film, I wept because I knew it was true. Deklan and I have very different personalities. He loves fun, long stories and is very extroverted. I am serious, intentional and very introverted. And I was hitting a wall about how to connect with him.
At the time I had this experience with God, I was very, very busy, mostly with ministry commitments. A lot was pressing on me and I was being pulled in far too many different directions. I was perpetually tired, both emotionally and physically. I felt unfulfilled, even though I was doing all the right ministry stuff for God. Clutter, clutter, clutter. Within seconds I realized I needed to change some life patterns to make room in my soul to be with my children, to hang out with others, and to lead my group in a way that honored the fullness of life.
As I work with pastors and leaders to help them develop small groups, we consistently have conversations about these themes, usually centered around the fact that people don’t have enough time to live in community and engage in God’s mission. Their questions go like this:
• How do people have enough time to lead a group?
• How much time can we expect people to volunteer when they’re so busy?
• What do we do when our most qualified leaders are already overcommitted?
The pressures of work, the kids’ activities, the pull of social media and packed calendars stretch us far and wide. And often those who are the most committed to God find themselves stretched the most. The faithful church leaders who show up for everything are called on to serve in more and more ways precisely because they are so faithful. Those who have the most to offer relationally are often stuck in committee meetings or sitting in two to three worship services per week.
Moving up the church leadership ladder often looks like the opposite of shalom, and small group leadership often follows this path. We have trained leaders to add group leadership to their overly busy lives, thus leaving little time for being human with one another. Church council meetings, discipleship programs, training sessions and other requirements are all treated as additional tasks that need to be accomplished. We just add small group stuff to this list.
M. Scott Boren, Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015).