Pastors offer crucial leadership for successful development of small group ministries. Yet they should not be small group leaders themselves, because:
- Pastors are understood to be and often function as teachers.
Successful small groups are led by facilitators, not teachers. Facilitators draw out experiences and bolster confidence about sharing. Teachers shape understanding by leading through their own expertise. The expertise of the pastor can overshadow the experience of the members.
- Pastors are authority figures.
Even when pastors prioritize functioning as facilitators, their very presence stifles conversation as people often feel self-conscious that their own expertise and opinions may be inadequate. Some feel embarrassed to share their own perceived short-comings and failures in front of the pastor. Others don’t join small groups led by pastors at all because of these fears. On the other side, some people over-work to impress the pastor during small group discussions and derail the bonding within the group.
- Laity need to discover and hone their own spiritual gifts.
Small group leadership is an excellent place to do so. Many small group leaders grow into larger roles within the congregation and beyond. I myself am an example of this, as my first experience in spiritual leadership was as a small group leader. I was approached and encouraged by church leaders who saw gifts that needed to be developed. Through that experience I learned my own calling and passion. Pastors who lead themselves can shut down such opportunities.
- Healthy churches need healthy pastor/laity leadership balances.
When pastors are spread too thin, they are less effective. Lay-led small groups bring healthier balance to church leadership. Pastors can squelch healthy church development when depended upon to lead small groups. When pastors become overly involved by leading or even joining a small group, usually group participation goes down as does the growth of the ministry in general. Other times unhealthy groups form around pastors who lead small groups. When the pastor is reappointed, the small group program flounders.
- Small groups won’t happen.
Churches that expect pastors to be the small group leader often never develop small group ministries as pastors have other appropriate priorities in their role.
Sometimes pastors may decide to lead a small group to introduce the concept to the church. But when doing so, their goal should be to find their replacement as soon as possible so that the ministry can best blossom.