Warning! Warning! Top 3 Pastor Failures with Small Groups

James 4:17 declares, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”  Wow – Happy New Year.

This verse may not feel good, but it gets our attention. It provides a good gut-check for pastor’s evaluating their own involvement with small groups. When it comes to small groups, sins of omission rather than commission lead to real failures. As you are reengaging small group ministry this month, consider the following failures to avoid:

  • Not Giving Permission to Fail The Holy Spirit may be urging you toward decisions about your small group ministry that require significant risk-taking. Starting new kinds of small groups such as covenant or affinity groups, setting high and public participation goals or choosing new, untried leaders are good examples of such risky decisions. Risk and faith development go hand in hand. Give yourself and others who are passionate about small groups the opportunity to take such risks. There is no sin in trying and failing. You lose opportunity by opting out of the growth experience of following the Spirit’s lead.

Permission to fail also applies to allowing small groups that have lost momentum to end. Celebrate the past energy within the group, prayerfully analyze and identify lessons learned for the future and move on to new groups. Do not continue groups the Spirit has left, instead, follow the Spirit to the next small group adventure!

  • Not Practicing What You Preach As Director of Small Groups for GNJ, I frequently get asked if I myself participate in a small group. The answer is YES! It is one of the highlights of my week. I am part of a weekly online group. I do not lead the group but rather enjoy being a participant who can open up my heart and mind unabashedly and is nudged to be accountable to God, myself and the other group members. This experience also keeps me sharp for leading small group ministry for GNJ. Small group participation for pastors is crucial. If you are a pastor in GNJ looking for such opportunity and would like assistance, consider joining a PaCE group by clicking here. Or contact me to discuss other ways you can participate in small groups. 

Likewise, it is important for lay small group leaders to have opportunity to be spiritually fed in small groups themselves. Offer regular gatherings for leaders only.

  • Not Empowering Laity  I too often hear from pastors that there are not laity interested in, available for or qualified to be small group leaders. While these situations are certainly possibilities, they do represent dysfunction that stifles church vitality. The result is either the church has no small groups or only offers groups led by the pastor(s) or other paid staff. Small group leadership is an important tool for discipleship growth. Empower laity to lead small groups. Start with prayer for God to show you who is being called. Have the courage to invite them to be a leader, and if necessary, ask them more than once. Be patient and offer support, training and permission to fail.

James 4:17 can initially feel like a shock to the system, like a bucket of ice cold water. It reminds us that we tend to limit our definitions of transgressions to doing wrong. Not doing what is right is also problematic. Let this blog entry be a gentle reminder to all pastors to include risk-taking, personal participation and laity leadership in our small group ministries.