It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of small groups. When done well, they’re one of the most effective tools that your church has for making disciples. If they aren’t done well, they can also be a huge hindrance. A leader’s personal spiritual health is the number 1 reason a group succeeds or fails. True discipleship always starts with personal development.
One of the things that I always touch on when teaching new small group leaders is a maxim that I’ve heard oft-repeated: “you can’t take others where you’ve never been.” In other words, if your personal walk with the Lord is out of alignment, so will the lives of those that you lead. Discipling others starts with discipling yourself. The quickest way for a small group to fail is for the leader to put their personal growth on the backburner.
As ministry leaders, our hearts must always be aware of our own walk. We’re entrusted to make disciples of others, but that starts with continually growing ourselves. I’ve found that unless I’m purposeful in reflecting on my own walk, it’s easy to gradually see a decline in my spiritual health.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I spending time in prayer daily?
- Am I reading God’s word daily?
- Is the fruit of the Spirit observable in my life?
If you responded no or hesitated to answer any of those questions, it’s time to make a plan to grow yourself. We’ve all been there before. I know in my personal life there have been many seasons where I’ve had to take a step back and honestly evaluate my walk with the Lord. Those times have greatly impacted me and God has used those times to be a testimony to others. I believe wholeheartedly that He will do the same for you!
Where Do I Start?
I know it seems obvious, but your first step towards growth is to humble yourself in prayer. It’s far too easy to look for a practical solution before turning to God in prayer. You can’t do this alone. Your relationship with God must be a two-way street and that begins in prayer.
Like the father of the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9, sometimes we simply need to cry out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” I believe that many times it is much harder for us as pastors to grow spiritually because we already have the answers. We believe, yet at the same time we’re holding out.
By humbling ourselves through prayer and asking Jesus to help us in our weakness, we’re relying on Him instead of ourselves. That’s a huge step.
Make A Plan
One of my favorite scriptures is found in Matthew 9:37-10:8. At the end of chapter 9, Jesus is instructing the disciples to pray for workers to be sent out into the harvest field. But, immediately afterward in chapter 10, Jesus anoints the disciples to go out into the harvest field and be the answer to their own prayers. I believe this is highly relevant for us as we work through our own personal development.
As pastors and ministry leaders, we’ve helped others get through their struggles countless times. We know the steps that we need to take, but too often we don’t actually take them for ourselves. We pray to God and ask Him to move in our lives and leave it at that.
God has given you everything you need to take your next step. One of the things that helps me is asking myself this question: “What advice would I give to someone else who told me they were struggling with this?” This simple question makes it easy to develop a plan that you can implement.
One important thing to remember is that growth never happens by accident. Without a plan, you won’t grow. It cannot be left to chance.
Ask For Accountability
Last year, I went through a season where I found it difficult to spend time in prayer. I had prayed for God to help me in my weakness and made a plan of action, but I still felt stuck. I knew what I needed to do and knew that God was there, I just couldn’t get past myself.
Finally, I got to a point where I was tired of being stagnant. I knew that couldn’t stay in that place any longer. I reached out to my best friend, who is also a pastor, and shared the struggle I was having. He asked me questions and I answered truthfully. I knew that at the core my issue stemmed from past disappointments in ministry. After spending some time talking with Chris, he encouraged me and told me that he’d love to help.
Just that conversation alone helped me tremendously. The next few times that Chris asked me how my prayer times were going, I answered honestly until I was consistently responding that they were going great. Having someone to keep me accountable was exactly what I needed to get past my stagnation.
We weren’t meant to live life outside of a relationship. God has put friends into your life to help you grow. As pastors and ministry leaders, we must have others in our lives that understand the struggle and are willing to help. If you want to grow, you need relationships in your life.
Be Honest With Those You Lead
It sounds simple, but I know that I’ve benefited greatly from knowing that my leaders aren’t perfect. The people that have helped me grow the most in my life have always been the ones that have been honest about their past and current shortcomings.
The people that you lead need to know what you struggle with. They need to hear the stories of how you overcame past struggles and now live victoriously. Not only does this foster healthy relationships with those whom you lead, but it lets them know that it’s okay to not be okay.
When you’re honest about your struggles it will naturally lead your team to become more open with you about struggles in their lives. The culture that you create through transparency is worth every moment of awkwardness and discomfort.