I often marvel at the readiness of many to volunteer as a leader, teacher, or even sponsor of a class, team, or group as long as it’s a “small” group. The assumption: “As long as it’s a small group, I can handle it.”
But think about it: What’s “small” about personal engagement, directive counsel, immediate advice, personal interaction, or meaningful dialogue? Nothing! And yet many approach small groups as if what happens within them are small matters. Recent involvement in a small group reminded me of how evasive facilitators had unintentionally become: Avoiding intentional interaction, deliberate dialogue, and directive counsel, they needed only to “run out the clock,” and all would be well.
Regardless of how it happened, strategic questions and intentional interaction opened the door for one participant who was clearly standing at her own threshold. It couldn’t have been more self-evident — when she began to speak, it was well beyond the preface page in her book of life. She responded from where she had been traveling, well beyond introduction and context for her audience. She spoke abruptly. Painfully direct. Immediate.
She had actually taken our small group seriously. But as a result, her vantage point seemed somewhat surreal to the group. What had they thought? That small group was small, something manageable…perhaps, doable? Of course, and isn’t it…usually? Not this time.
Group members can truly be convinced of the group’s intentions, believing that by the group’s design, purpose, and curriculum — its “safe-ness” — that reality, deep dialogue, and transparency are more than just points in last week’s sermon outline. They’re actual points of engagement, and therapy: help. This is a good thing. But it’s certainly not a small thing.
If the ideas of engaging others, directly or indirectly — of openly discussing “un”-contextualized realities — aren’t facilitated in a small group, where else can we hope for others to find such relevant, meaningful, and abundant experiences?
Pause, and project — empathically project — onto your screen of reality what other group members are experiencing. From their vantage point, small group facilitators are rarely perceived as inadequate, insufficient, or ill informed (at least initially). Grow into their perception. Become who they think you are — and who they need you to be. Become well informed, sufficient, and more than adequate for the opportunity at hand.
Whether you’re initiating or continuing small group ministry, don’t let this announcement — “Nothing is small in small groups” — alarm or surprise you. Rather, let it encourage you to look no further, aspire no higher, prepare for nothing more challenging or rewarding than to participate in small group ministry. Avail yourself of the resources. Prepare for the big things that happen in small groups. Grow into your environment, improving the condition of everyone involved — you and your group.
Tim Carter is teaching pastor at Landmark Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Arkansas. He’s married to Pam Carter, who’s also a regular contributor to smallgroupministry.com. He and Pam have two sons, Bo and Blake, and a newly arrived and beautiful granddaughter, Jade Allison. Learn more from Tim and other small group leaders at www.smallgroupministry.com.