by Amber Baker
Hi, my name is Amber and I’m a structured person. (“Hi, Amber!”)
I’m sure most people in my life would say I am a very structured person. And with that love of structure comes the desire to follow the rules. All my life, I have followed the rules. When I was eight, I asked to take our dog on a walk. My parents said, “Sure, but whatever you do, don’t let go of the leash.” No problem, I love to follow rules.
The problem came when the dog took off chasing after another dog and I wasn’t strong enough to hold him back. I went skidding across the ground head first, gravel pelting my face. I finally let go of the leash and ran home, crying to my parents, “I’m sorry I let go!” Like I said, I follow rules to a fault. This love of structure and rules plays out in many areas of my life, including my roles as a children’s pastor and small group coach.
Because I love structure, when coaching small group leaders I naturally expect them to love structure as much as I do. So of course, every leader is jumping up and down with joy to follow the small group experience exactly how it is written. I give them the morning’s structure and they follow the plan. It works just like that, right?
A couple of weeks ago I walked by the fifth-grade boys small group classroom, and saw that the leader was following the content of the small group guide, but not my structure! Wait, what? Was that leader letting go of the leash? Instantly, the Holy Spirit told me to stop and look closer. And I’m so glad I listened! I got to see God move in a group of fifth-grade boys. How, you ask? Their creative leader was using his talents as a character artist to connect with the boys and create authentic conversations by drawing the kids’ faces and inserting them into hand-drawn pictures from the Bible story. And connection is what we want, right? But guess what? He was following the content of the small group time, not my structure.
Then I walked by the sixth-grade boys classroom and saw some of the students chilling out on the second-story windowsill. (Don’t worry! It was safe.) They were having a conversation in a way that was connecting them with the “cool” factor of being a sixth-grade boy. Guess what? They were following the general small group guidelines, but not my structure.
As I continued walking around that morning I witnessed God moving differently in each room. The second-grade girls were using stickers and journals, giggling and having fun. The third-grade boys were running in circles as they recited that week’s verse. Each leader was leaning into their strengths, gifts, and abilities to connect with kids on their level.
Here’s the point: I want kids to connect with their small group leaders. I want them to have authentic faith. And I want leaders to be mentally and physically present. I want them to use their gifts to encourage kids in their faith journey. It’s my job as a coach to provide guidelines. But it is not my job to create rigid structures, where volunteers are so focused on getting it “right” that they forget to pursue relationships and use their unique talents.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Rigid structure isn’t always what’s best for helping kids grow in their faith. Sometimes we need to drop the leash and allow the Holy Spirit to have control. As you guide your small group leaders, my prayer is that you are able to set guidelines that allow the Holy Spirit to move; that each individual leader shines as they use their gifts; and in the balance between guidelines and rules, kids meet Jesus.
Amber Baker is a wife, mom of 4, children’s pastor and adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University. She loves all things organization but her must have office supply is the Post-it Note! She loves her family and her church family and is passionate about families knowing Jesus.
Looking for a few specific guidelines for your small group leaders to lead their few well? Weekly provides seasonal small group goals to give your SGLs practical ways to practice each principle of Lead Small. Because if you want your SGLs to grow, you’ve got to give them the tools to do so!