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In middle school, there was a small group I attended nearly every Monday night with a myriad of other girls, some my age, and some older. It was led by a mom from my church, and her heart was for church girls. That’s what we were, in one form or another, on every place of the map of what that means, some near, and some far. She was dedicated and diligent to us, to our knowledge of the Bible, and to our deepened understanding of what it meant to be Daughters of God.
Looking back, I can’t remember all the things that we studied and discussed, or all of the passages of Scripture I highlighted and re-highlighted and for what reason.
But what do I remember?
I can vividly recall the way she diligently opened up her living room to us each week, how she created space for each of us in our own ways, for the multitude of our questions, and the naivety of our faith. My fourteen-year-old heart took note of the relationships she was intent on forming, and how she facilitated connection between all of us. In more ways than one, those friendships ultimately pointed me to Jesus, and have impacted the way I interact with Jesus as well as think about small group ministry, even today.
When we examine the Scriptures, Jesus’ ministry was largely relational; from His brief interaction with the woman at the well, to the deep, intimate connection with twelve that constantly surrounded Him during His ministry. Jesus prioritized His relationships, and asks us to do the same. The following are five relational hacks for leading a small group, but they serve merely as a foundation for what God desires to do through you as you lead.
As Christians, we belong to Jesus, and we get to choose to belong to one another, to honor the space we hold in one another’s lives, and to be aware of the beauty of the intersection of our stories. It’s imperative that you establish a culture of commitment in your group, both for yourself, and the ladies you are leading. Entrust them with the small community that you’ve established, ask them to be willing to risk their hearts and their vulnerability for the beautiful adventure that is community, fellowship, and sisterhood. Set expectations for yourself, and ask them to do the same. Ask them to take the commitment of community with seriousness, with prayer, and with discernment.
We all have a seat at the table, and we don’t come perfectly. It’s easy to want to curate your small group into just the right number, with just the right people. While there is room to be selective and discerning about who you want to pursue community with, be open hearted about who the Lord may entrust you with. Acknowledge the value of sitting next to someone who has drastically different theological viewpoints than your own. Choose love and being an active listener over side glances when someone begins to overshare. Approach the opportunities to be in these spaces as a gift, and consider it a deep privilege to sit with them, to get a glimpse (or however much they offer you) of their heart.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25
If there’s anything I know to be true about friendship and connection that’s meaningful, it’s that it takes time.
We can sit in coffee shops and on living room sofas and take the time to each share our stories, and those moments are beautiful and holy and important.
Recognize this, and prepare your heart for the long run, because it’s so very worth it.
If there’s one thing I know about observing the ministry of Jesus, it’s that He repeatedly created sacred space over the dinner table to connect with people, and to build relationships with them. His meals, often shared with those living on the fringes of society were audacious in the eyes of many, but they served as the entry point to the Kingdom for many more. He used the simple element of a meal to live out His simple mission: to seek out people and make them known.
I can think of several meals (mostly bruuuuuunch!!) that have drawn me closer into connection with people, and deeper into my love for Jesus. There’s an Urth Cafe in SoCal where I cried into my waffles one morning over the goodness of God, and there’s been countless late night conversations eaten over takeout boxes of pad thai with my friends. Take advantage of the times you can incorporate food into your small group time, and never underestimate the power of connection over a charcuterie board, or greasy Domino’s pizza for that matter.
Lastly, the work that you put in before you set out the mugs on your kitchen counter, or before the shoes pile up on your front porch, is the most important. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God, and so it is with the deep things of the hearts of those in your small group. Dedicate intentional prayer, thought and reflection while you prepare each week, and seek out relationship with people outside of the times you meet. Taking the time and space to respond to a long text message or a phone call goes a long way, and will deepen your understanding and connection with those you are leading. Even making a note on your phone of everyone’s love language and enneagram numbers isn’t strange or “too much,” it’s the mark of an intentional leader.
There is grace for the days and weeks when life happens and your prep time isn’t as fruitful as you’d like.
Most importantly, seek out the heart of the Father in everything, and inquire what He would like to do, share and speak into your small group. Allow Him full jurisdiction of every part of your conversation, teaching and connection, and lead on, sister.
Emma is a 22-year-old college student that cares deeply about breakfast food, her agricultural roots, and kitchen dance parties. She’s passionate about creating space for people to be seen and heard, and strives to weave words together that draw people deeper into the company of Jesus. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in Pastoral Ministries with an emphasis in Church Leadership at Northwest University in Kirkland, WA. Her free time is best spent with the people who know her best, especially when that time is spent on the Oregon Coast, particularly when it’s storming. You can read more of her words at: emmaselene.com
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