This one is for anyone who is leading a small group! Shout out to all your hard work and the effort into people and basically being a mini-pastor. It's no easy task, and I'm forever grateful for your generosity.
I wanted to write this because I'm a Pastor of small groups and, over the years, I've experienced the runoff of something pretty dangerous that has crept into church culture. It lurks unnoticed in the back pew and then parades itself as a virtue. It takes amazing Christians who have a great heart for the gospel and turns them into unruly church members who want it their way or else. It grieves the heart of pastors and causes dozens of churches to die out every year.
So I wanted to write to you because I'm worried and I wanted to warn you.
Inside your heart is selfishness. And not just any kind of selfishness. The selfishness that pretends it is holiness. This is the most dangerous kind of selfishness because it can trick you into thinking you're doing the right thing--the God-honoring thing. It can lead you astray without you ever realizing you've left the path.
C.S. Lewis excellent wrote a wonderful book called The Screwtape Letters. In it, a demonic tempter is being mentored by his uncle through a series of letters. In one of the letters the uncle writes, he gives this piece of advice,
The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
The things that you should be afraid of aren't insane heresies or how to deal with transgenderism within a group that doesn't have that issue. You should be afraid of the thing you don't notice, and for many group leaders, it's holy selfishness.
When people start leading a small group, they have a desire to create community, do life with other believers, and disciple people so they can take the next step. Those are all wonderful goals and should be central to your small group.
The hang-up is on the last bit.
More often than not, I see groups start, create a wonderful community, do life well together through many seasons, and even take some next steps, but they lack the replication process. They never fully mature into the place where the group members go out and recreate that community for others.
So it inevitably turns into a holy huddle!
The group becomes all the Christians who already know everything and built intimacy, and the small group then loses its ability to challenge the members or pushes them to take their next step into leadership.
During Jesus' time with the disciples, at one point, he sent them out to do the work of the gospel. He sent them out in pairs, and they preached, healed, and did all the things that Jesus had shown them. Then when Jesus left the earth, he gave out the Great Commission. He said go and make disciples of all nations, teaching and baptizing them.
Repeatedly, Jesus modeled a replication process. He did, then he sent the disciples to do for others. They did and then sent Paul to do it for others. Paul did, then he sent Timothy to do it for others. So on and so forth until you come to whatever church you're part of.
It was all because these wonderful, spirit-filled men avoided the 3 C's that lead to selfishness.
It would have been easy for the disciples to just stay in their small group of 11. They could have dug in relationally with each other, talked over what Jesus had said more, and gone infinitely deeper theologically. But instead, they did what was uncomfortable and went out to all nations. Some stayed where they were but largely, they split up.
Once you have an established small group, it is wicked easy to get comfortable. Everyone knows everyone, secrets are already shared, and intimacy is already created. The issue is that by not discipling those people to lead, we tell others, "these people are the only ones who get a community like this." Everyone else is left standing out in the cold because we won't give up our comfort.
Matthew went to Ethiopia, Thomas likely went to India, and Paul went dang near everywhere. Not only did they give up their community, they gave up the ease in which that community came. As Jesus modeled going out of his way by becoming flesh incarnate, they followed suit by leaving their community to reach others who desperately needed Jesus.
Training a new leader is hard. It requires more time and energy than just leading the group yourself. Splitting the group is hard because you have to convince people to give up their comfort. But if we only do what is convenient, then we neglect our spiritual growth and the responsibility placed on us by church leaders.
Almost every single one of those disciples was martyred for their faith. The Apostle Paul was stoned, beaten, imprisoned, and shipwrecked twice because he was desperate to plant more churches. He gave up safety, knowing that the reward was greater than the cost.
Many group leaders have forgotten the reward and only see the cost. The tendency in Christians is to cover our most precious things because we don't want to get hurt. Stepping into a new group after leading the same one will hurt. You will make relational errors, and things may not pan out that well. But what of the reward? What of reaching people for the gospel? What of creating a community for people who have never experienced it in a Christian context?
The disciples avoided the 3 C's, knowing that the only C that really mattered was Christ and his name glorified. So as you lead your group, have some honest conversations about whether those are things lurking in your heart. Are you discipling the next leader? Is your group a holy huddle? Are you hiding because you don't want to get hurt?