Okay, I confess, I crafted that title to get your attention. But now that you are here, I wanted to ask you a question: “Have you ever felt like that? Have you felt like you hated small group ministry?”
Several weeks ago, I was ready to walk away from it all and said, deep down in my heart, “I hate small group ministry.”
Now, I don’t ACTUALLY hate small-group ministry. As Steve Gladen has said, I believe small groups are the best place for people to find love, purpose and life transformation. But, at the time, I sure felt like I did.
That is not easy to admit in a forum like this, but I want to peel back the curtain and get real with you: days or weeks will come where you feel this way.
“Wait, didn’t you recently write a post titled The Top Five Lessons for Building a Small Group Ministry?”
Yup. That was me. And I still believe in every single word, but after I wrote that, I had a really difficult week. A series of setbacks and challenges left me exhausted, hurt and discouraged. Leading people toward community is straight-up hard sometimes!
So why write this post?
Because I need you to know that you are not alone in how you may sometimes feel about small group ministry, and I wanted to share five lessons that God is teaching me through it all.
Five Lessons During Difficult Seasons
#1 – Leave room for grief.
Terry Wardle once said, “Ministry is a series of ungrieved losses.”
The more I consider this, and the longer I serve, the more I realize how true it is.
People we care about leave. Those we trust cause pain. Ones we invest in walk away. Too often, as leaders, when we face hurt, we “suck” it up” and move on, never pausing long enough to reflect on that pain.
I think we are afraid to face the hurt because facing it is difficult. It requires us to stop long enough to acknowledge the pain. Maybe we don’t stop because we’ve convinced ourselves, along the way, that we must know everything, do everything and be everything. Whatever the reason, not dealing with hurt will hurt.
That is why we must recognize these losses and grieve them appropriately so they do not hinder our future journey with God and others. Realizing this truth has empowered me to develop habits that lead me toward health.
Pay attention to these feelings. Pray about them. Process them with God and others. And then move on knowing that you have spent the time facing those things that have hurt you.
#2 – Keep your calling at the heart of your ministry.
You are called on purpose for a purpose; otherwise, you would be doing something else. So, in those moments of difficulty, when it all seems like it is not worth it, remember that calling.
The truth is we were never promised that the road forward would be easy but be reminded that it is immeasurably worth it.
Remember in the dark what you knew to be true in the light.Scott Landry
Someone once told me to make it a practice to “remember in the dark what you knew to be true in the light.” Just because I don’t see or feel as clearly as before doesn’t change the truth of my calling. I know I am called here to do what I am doing, and I cling to that with reckless abandon when things get hard.
#3 – Avoid isolation.
One of the most dangerous places we can be when we face difficult times is alone. Peter writes that we must always be on guard. Why? Because
“…[our] enemy, the devil, is prowling around outside like a roaring lion, just waiting and hoping for the chance to devour someone.”1 Peter 5:8
While I am not an expert on large cats’ predatory habits, I’ve seen enough documentaries to know that they are ambush predators. They target those that are weak and isolated from the rest of the herd.
The truth is Satan hates what you are doing and while our battles might seem to be with those around us, this is not the case. Our actual battles are against a spiritual enemy who wants to see us in ruin.
When we say we are “better together,” it’s not just a catchy “Join a Small Group” tagline. We are ACTUALLY better together. And so, in these difficult seasons, find a mentor, coach or community of people that can walk with you through the weeds.
#4 – Don’t quit during a challenging season.
I was ready to throw in the towel the week I had the idea for this blog post. Challenge after challenge confronted me, and I couldn’t scrape together a single win to celebrate. I felt that everything I was trying to build was impossible, which was so discouraging. And in that space, my emotions overwhelmed my thinking. They said it was time to walk away and I would never succeed. That it was too hard.
I didn’t, however, listen to them, and the following week some unexpected and encouraging wins came my way. Stories emerged that were a testament to God’s faithfulness in spite of those difficult seasons. I would have missed these blessings if I had walked away when things looked bleak.
When things are hard, stick it out, persevere, trust in God and lean into what he is doing. If he is calling you somewhere different he will let you know. Until then, don’t give up when things are tough.
Sometimes our most significant breakthroughs are just on the other side.
#5 – Find positive outlets to deal with stress.
In 20 years of full-time ministry, I have learned that if you don’t find positive ways to manage your stress, your stress will manage you.
Stress is an uncontrollable and inevitable part of this job. What we do with that stress is up to us. Far too often, we allow things that should never be part of our lives to creep in because of this stress. My advice?
Find something you love and do it. And don’t feel guilty! The healthier you are, the healthier your ministry will be. Whether through sports, a hobby, or spiritual practices, take the time to invest in yourself.
And if you find yourself coping with stress through negative habits, reach out and seek help. They will always, always lead to ruin.
The Bottom Line
Having days or weeks where you don’t like, or even hate, small group ministry is OK. It is a challenging calling, and sometimes it is just plain hard.
Remember these lessons and the many others you will learn along the way during those seasons. Ground yourself in the truth “...that all your labour is not for nothing when it is for God” (1 Cor. 15:58) and press on.