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Of all the things I do in ministry, let me just say the hardest thing to do is to lead a small group. It’s challenging because the goal is to connect with people, and for that to happen they need to share and open up. The hardest thing to do is to get people to talk, and the next hardest thing is to get them to stop talking! Groups are never easy or perfect. Look at Jesus with the disciples. When the disciples opened their mouths things got awkward, and yet Jesus loved them, was patient with them, and he took each heretical statement as a teachable moment! 

People are never where you think they may be. It’s always messier and more complicated than you think. They may say off the wall things or share information that you didn’t need to know and didn’t want to know. There will be times you don’t know what to do or say. For people who are not good at relationships, stuck in the superficial, and tend toward anxiety, the kettle may start smoking when some start sharing honestly. 

If or when the group gets real, keep calm. You don’t need to fix them and make every problem right. There may be times you pray for them on the spot, there may be times you ask the group if they have any advice to share on a situation, there may be times you speak to the situation directly, there may be times you leave a meeting shaking your head. Many times, all you can do is love them, be patient with them, encourage them to keep pressing into the Lord, and trust the discipleship process. We are called to love people by being be patient with them (Romans 12:12, 1 Corinthians 13:1-4).

Most messy situations won’t change immediately. Ingrained ways of thinking don’t go away immediately. The Christian life is a marathon and not a sprint. When I started working out again after a decade off, I didn’t go in expecting to bench 400 lbs on the first day. I put an easily manageable weight on and started doing some reps. The weight built up over time and the same is true with your group. Trust the process. As people engage in discipleship there will be growth and development. It’s ok if things start off or get messy. Walking through that with love is what it means to be a real community, and you will learn more about God’s patience and kindness in the process. 

Part of your time in group is to get to know people, but another key element is reading the word of God. This introduces them to the Savior, the master physician, the one who can heal all their problems. You are not the Savior. Your role is to help them know him, and that is why we open the Bible and read it. We want to be good friends, and that means helping people know their creator and redeemer. 

If nothing else happens in the group other than you get to know each other, people will at least know they are seen and cared about and that is a win! That will enrich time outside of the group and may even provide opportunities for others to know and help them. And when you get into reading the word, you will find your time there enriched because you know one another more.