Small Group Leaders: What to Do When You Mess Up

It wasn’t that long ago a small group leader in our ministry called me to talk about a big mistake he had made. It involved a group of guys, Buffalo wings and a little restaurant called … Hooters. The next few hours after that phone call were critical—we were fortunate it was an experienced volunteer who followed these three steps to re-establish trust with the parents of the kids involved. Here’s what we did:

Own it without excuses
There is nothing like just owning a mistake you made; honesty and openness are essential for rebuilding trust. The last thing you would want to do is to minimize what happened and pretend it isn’t a big deal. It is a big deal, and it needs an owner. You committed the foul, so take your lumps.

Apologize for what you’ve done and start over
So you’ve been honest about what happened; now it is time to apologize for it and admit you were wrong. This isn’t going to be easy, but it is a sign of humility, repentance and your humanity. I always tell my leaders, don’t try to appear perfect because it doesn’t set a realistic example for your students to follow.

Earn the trust back one good decision at a time
It might take some time, but work hard not to repeat the same bad decision and play it safe. You are a leader, and it is time to get back to leading again. A great way to communicate your good-faith effort is to invite a co-leader into your group or on events with you. Another great trust-building exercise is to give detailed plans of your intentions at least a week in advance. This will give parents an opportunity to address concerns and peace of mind your plans are sound.

Keep in mind: The longer you’ve served and the more deposits you’ve made into the longevity bank, the more you will be trusted despite a few setbacks. 

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Josh Griffin
Josh Griffin is high school pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. He’s the co-counder of DownloadYouthMinistry.com and host of the Youth Ministry Garage Podcast. He's authored more than 20 youth ministry resources and is the author of "99 Thoughts for Small Group Leaders" with Doug Fields. Josh is a father of 4 who speaks a little, podcasts a little, Twitters a bit, and blogs a lot. You can find him at DownloadYouthMinistry.com!