Sarah was facing her biggest nightmare. She had resisted leading a small group for years because she lacked confidence in her ability to give wise counsel to the problems of others. Her pastor had finally convinced her that she did not need to worry. "It rarely happens", he told her. She has been an excellent leader, and her group has grown closer. Lately, however, group members have become more open and are turning to her to solve their problems. She has spent hours on the phone with several members of the group. After one late night "crisis" conversation, she slept through her alarm, missed an important meeting, and was reprimanded at work.
Feeling inadequate and overwhelmed? Many Small Group leaders feel exactly the same way when faced the reality of being the person that others in the group are turning to for help and support. Here some tips to help leaders be prepared to meet the basic care needs of their group members.
- Your role is to bear burdens…not to carry loads.
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you may also be tempted. Carry each other's burdens (baros) and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself without comparing himself to somebody else. For each one should carry his own load (phortion)." Galatians 6:1-5
If we understand the "law of Christ" referring to our call to
"love one another as I (Christ) have loved you", then we need to see the distinction between the Greek word for "burden" (baros) and "load" (phortion) used in the New International Version.
This passage tells us that we are to bear one another's burdens (sufferings). That is, we should come alongside and support a person emotionally. We can do this by listening to, encouraging, and praying with people who are experiencing pain or testing.
However, this same passage indicates that each person is responsible for carrying his or her own load of problems. When we take responsibility for another's problems, we do it at the expense of their self-respect, their self-esteem, and their sense of self-responsibility.
- Understand the limitations of the Small Group care system.
A Small Group is designed to:
- Love one another (John 13:34)
- Be devoted to and honor each other (Romans 12:10)
- Live in harmony with each other (Romans 12:16)
- Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
- Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
- Bear with and forgive each other (Colossians 3:13)
A Small Group is not designed for:
- Making people happy
- Fixing people's problems
- The way a person responds or behaves
When care becomes more than what the system was intended to do, it places a strain on the leader and ultimately the group. Know the limitation of the system and when it is breaking down.
- Know when to ask for help
Some issues go beyond what is expected of a leader and their abilities to provide care in a small group. People dealing with these issues should be referred to the care of a specialist or to one of our pastors. Contacting Tennyson Smith, our Pastor of Prayer & Care is a great place to start if you are feeling like you have a situation that is bigger than what you can handle.
Meeting basic care needs and bearing the burdens of others are what Small Groups are designed and best suited to do. When leaders understand and are able to set limits and supply care at a level in which they and the group feel comfortable and capable of providing, our group will be the centers of care that they were designed to be.
- adapted from an article on small groups.com on July 12, 2006 entitled "Biblical Principles for Pastoral Care in Small Groups" by Brian Pierce