Leading Small & Imperfection

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When I first started at IOH, I had this vision for what I wanted small groups to be. I wanted there to be two groups for every grade and every group to have two leaders. I wanted them to meet in homes and do life together. I wanted them to serve and go to each others games and confess their struggles of school and friends and life. I wanted them to be consistent and to grow in depth. I wanted them to create friendships that would last all through college and into their adult lives. I wanted them to eat meals together and send out encouraging group texts. Every week. But I wanted something else that didn’t line up with these things. I wanted them to be perfect.

I wanted every group to run like a well-oiled machine. I wanted there to be perfect relationships existing within imperfect people.

I think I first realized that this may not happen when it occurred to me that we actually had to recruit leaders. We were two weeks away from the start of a new school year and the leaders I had recruited for my (then) 8th grade girls had exciting life changes and were not able to lead. I had high hopes for this group, and while it was no ones fault, I found that I would have to fill in. I found myself in a position where I would be picking up another small group, putting me at a “four nights a week” work schedule. But even that wouldn’t be enough. I couldn’t lead these girls alone.

After a lot of prayer and anxiety (because anxiety solves everything, right?), one of my already faithful small group leaders casually dropped the name of someone who may be interested. Somehow this lady said yes and now every (other) week, 10 girls flood my house. They wipe their nutella hands all over my furniture and light candles and pour the wax out on my carpet. They are not perfect, but I would not trade them for any kind of perfect if it existed. Some weeks we have three show up and some weeks I think that God stretches the walls of my living room to make space for all of us. Sometimes it feels like we couldn’t be closer to God and other weeks I wonder if we’re even growing at all.

I had to get over the imperfections of small group ministry. Well, of youth ministry in general. If we couldn’t meet one week because our schedules just wouldn’t allow it. Or if another group had a leader call out sick at the last minute. Or if my lesson didn’t spark the discussion that I thought it might. Or when we decided that we needed to switch from every week to every other (that took a long time to get over). Those things had to matter less because it didn’t define my group or any other group that met.

The important thing needs to be that these groups are meeting and students are showing up. And relationships are being built and friendships are formed in the most unlikely places. In all of that, in every group, God is being glorified.

We have a group of boys that started meeting last year. My hope was that this group of boys that already hung out together could meet once every other week with a purpose. We carefully prayed over the leaders that would meet with them and they have consistently gathered together for the past year to talk about their lives and the bible.

While we organize these groups, we don’t always get to hear everything that goes on within them. A story was shared recently that reminded me just how faithful God is in our small group ministry.

These boys decided to meet for dinner recently. Their plan was to discuss putting others first as they met over dinner. But what is great about this group on this specific night is the action they took. Before they went in and ordered their pizza, a leader had an idea for them to help take groceries out to the cars of strangers leaving BI-LO. With no expectation for anything in return. Our boys did something small to live out the Gospel by putting others first. And they did it with their small group.

They did it because they have two adults pouring into their lives every other week. Two adults who want to see these boys grow in their faith and want to challenge them to live differently. While our groups may have their imperfections, we are doing a good work and we will not come down.

I’m so thankful that God is faithful in our ministry. For calling on these adults to lead and for the great growth that is happening.

[Don’t] Make Me Brave

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I was standing on the ledge, preparing to step backwards off of a mountain. My heels hanging just slightly off the edge, attached to some ropes that were tied around the waist of our repelling instructor, who apparently was not even required to wear a shirt to work. We counted off “1….2….3…”

No movement. I froze. Maybe you’ve seen the video. I went into panic mode. I jumped straight from bravery to terror in just one short minute. We laugh about it now, but in that moment, I wanted to be anything but brave. I had taken a chance and now I was stuck standing in a place I never wanted to be. I want to tell you that in that moment, I took a leap of faith and everything was fine. That’s not what happened though. I entered into a 20 minute panic attack that involved a group effort to step away for me to cool off. Guys, it was the most embarrassing moment of my life. I think the ONLY positive thing that came out of that moment was that I get to tell this story.

Here’s what your favorite inspirational quote or song forgets to capture about being brave. It feels impossible. Taking risks can feel the opposite of what dreams are made of. Your stomach knots up and the “what ifs” chant their theme song behind each step you take (or don’t take). But risks involve emotion and action and sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind.

I have to tell you though, I’m not that person. I’m more of a fear girl than a brave one. Fear is “great” because you’re always prepared for the expected, even when the expected doesn’t happen. Fear is “great” because it’s paralyzing instead of freeing. Fear is “great” because it holds your hand and says “you can’t”, especially when you can. Fear was my best friend that day on the ledge and each time I looked down, fear would whisper “What good will that rope do?” and “You’ll probably hit the ground and break all of your bones”.

I didn’t though. I took a step (which actually ended kind of comically because my foot got caught and I flipped upside down), but I survived. And after that [failed] first step, I continued on and landed with both feet on the ground.

I’m entering into my 6th month of playing “You Make Me Brave” on repeat. Have you heard it? Go look it up. I recently read an article on how we sing one thing on Sunday and live another way on Monday and unfortunately that just hasn’t been the case with this song.

I wish. I wish I could tell you that I’ve sang the words “You Make Me Brave” and it has not affected my heart in any way shape or form. I wish I could tell you that I have not been challenged to take risks that I didn’t think were possible for me to take. But instead, this theme has begun to consume my life. I’m starting to have to face my fears and anxieties on some things that have chained me for so long now. I feel like I’ve spent so much time and effort running from God when I know I have to face my fears, and He is slowly teaching me that I don’t have to live this way anymore.

It’s easier said than done, though. Because sometimes risks hurt. Sometimes the first step is the hardest because it doesn’t go the way you planned and it can flip you upside down. Sometimes the risks you take don’t make you feel like your heart is dancing. But the risks you take by stepping out will help shape and form you, especially in your faith.

I’m not brave today. But I’m trying to be. God is teaching me to be anxious for nothing and that He is for me, not against me. And each risk I take is an effort to be released by the fear that consumes me. I know I am not being challenged to be brave because it will make me happier, but because it will make me stronger. So, here’s to stepping back off the platform in honor of being brave.