It made me think about the level of initial care and ongoing care we need to give to our small group leaders if we want them to flourish in their role year after year. (Unsplash/Marc Scaturro)

My husband and I recently traveled from Australia to New York. While we were there, we visited the 9/11 memorial site. It was a very moving experience for us, however amidst the sadness I heard this story:

A Callery pear tree became known as the "Survivor Tree" after enduring the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks at the World Trade Center. In October 2001, the tree was discovered at Ground Zero severely damaged, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010. New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible demarcation between the tree's past and present. Today, the tree stands as a living reminder of resilience, survival and rebirth" (911memorial.org).

It took nine years of tender loving care before the tree could be replanted. And now with ongoing care this tree flourishes year after year after year. It made me think about the level of initial care and ongoing care we need to give to our small group leaders if we want them to flourish in their role year after year.

As we all know in small group ministry, we can experience many positive moments, but we also face frustration, disappointment and discouragement, which can often be detrimental and damaging. So the question is, how can we care for our small group leaders? These three ideas may be of help to you and could even be a springboard for you to come up with some ideas of your own.

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Idea 1 – Develop Peer Care

In my experience I have found grouping leaders in small groups (three or four) to meet quarterly has had real merit in establishing a sense of care. When leaders meet this way, they share ideas, listen to each other's challenges, feel cared for, recognize they are not alone and pray for each other. Over time, relationships develop, and care and support happen naturally. This is an absolutely great addition to the care you give leaders in your role as small-group point person.

Idea 2 – Value Leadership Time Out

Creating an environment where it is seen to be OK to have time out from small group leadership is a great gift of care we can give our leaders. For small groups to thrive and flourish we need leaders:

  • Who are energized and passionate
  • Who know that is okay to take a break if they need one (obviously there needs to be a plan and clarity around how this will happen)
  • Who don't feel trapped in their role. If the current leader needs a break, but there is no one within the group who will take on the leadership role, then maybe the whole group needs a "rethink."

 Idea 3 – Prioritize Shared Leadership

I am a very enthusiastic believer that a healthy group shares the leadership.

I recognize that it is important to have a designated leader who has oversight and accountability for the group, but that does not mean that the leader does everything. In fact, I would say that is not very caring.

If we want to care for our small group leaders, we must develop a philosophy/structure in our small group ministry that encourages group members to share responsibilities. A great way for a group member to mature and grow as a leader is to lead a group session. This process can begin slowly by assigning them the discussion time, leading the prayer, or organizing social gatherings. There are many ways for a member to become a leader—they simply need to be given an opportunity.

I recognize that most small group leaders do not experience the harsh damage that the Callery pear tree underwent in the events of 9/11 and certainly do not need the level of care it needed. However, they do need to be cared for, and we have the privilege and honor of making sure this care happens.

Questions to reflect on:

  • How does the idea of "peer care" fit into your small group ministry system/structure?
  • How well does your philosophy/structure embrace a leader who may need "time out"?
  • What steps could you take to develop a culture of shared leadership in your groups?
  • Is there one idea in this article which you could share with your small group leadership team?

This article was originally published on the Small Group Network website.

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