Google search the word pastor (I know what you’re thinking: Why would anyone do that?), and the first thing you will find is this definition: “a minister in charge of a Christian church or congregation.” Merriam-Webster’s definition while similar, adds an important component: “a spiritual overseer; especially: a clergyman serving a local church or parish.”
Pastor? Who, me?
While the title pastor does usually characterize the person who leads a church, I think we often limit this role to the person who stands up in front of the congregation to preach each Sunday. If we look at the first part of Merriam-Webster’s definition, we see that a pastor is a spiritual overseer. This definition opens the door for us to see this word as more of a verb than a noun and to recognize that as leaders, we all have the opportunity to pastor or shepherd those we lead.
Yes, Small Group Leader. I’m talking about YOU!
This idea of assigning the term pastor to leaders outside of the person in charge of the church is probably best illustrated by the role of the small group leader in our children’s ministries.
If the kids in your church are being led by a small group leader each week, that person is the “pastor” to his or her few. Think about it. The small group leader is the one that is helping kids understand what it looks like to follow Jesus. He or she is investing in their few and is essentially the “spiritual overseer” in a child’s life on Sunday morning.
But what about Monday through Sunday? The lead pastor role in a church is never reserved for just Sundays. Why should it be for small group leaders? We have the opportunity to increase influence and help leaders invest in their few at a whole new level as we encourage them to be pastors to their few.
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Start with Lead Small
Of course, encouraging leaders to implement the five strategies of Lead Small is one of the best ways to help them pastor the kids they lead.
- Be present
- Create a safe place
- Partner with parents
- Make it personal
- Move them out
In addition to these strategies, there are a few things we can do to help small group leaders extend their influence as they become pastors to their few. Let’s look at five tips for helping small group leaders pastor their few:
Include Small Group Leaders in Spiritual Conversations.
Often, when a child makes a decision to take a step in their spiritual journey, someone from the church staff is assigned to follow up with him or her. Take baptism or a decision to follow Jesus for example. Usually, if a child expresses interest, a staff member is notified and that staff member handles the process and connects with the family. The child may or may not even know that staff member and an amazing opportunity for the small group leader to be a pastor in that moment is lost.
What if, instead, we included the small group leader in this process? What if they were a part of the conversation? That takes their influence to a whole other level and helps the child see that this person is more than someone who leads them through activities on Sunday morning.
Invite Small Group Leaders to Make Pastoral Visits.
The same rings true when a child is facing a challenge in their life. Again, if a child has something happening that is tragic, or if he/she is ill or hospitalized, a staff member is usually contacted to make a visit to the child’s home, the hospital, etc. What if we invited the small group leader to be a part of these visits? Someone familiar to the child is there, visiting, caring for them, and praying with them. We ramp up the leader’s potential for influence when we include them in these pastoral opportunities, and we give the child a better shot at connecting to their community of faith for the long haul.
Encourage Small Group Leaders to Think with Next Steps in Mind.
Children are not in the same place on their journey. While one may be ready to make a decision to follow Jesus, another might be opening the Bible for the very first time. Pastors think beyond what they have to do on Sunday morning and think about the spiritual health of the people they lead. They think about ways to provide the next best steps for people to take as they progress in their spiritual journey. Give small group leaders permission to think about their few individually and ask: What is the best next step for them? Then encourage the leader to pastor the child as they help them take that next step.
Encourage Small Group Leaders to Pray For Their Few.
We hope that lead pastors spend time in prayer for the church they lead and for the people that walk through the doors each week. Small group leaders should be encouraged to develop a rhythm of prayer for the kids they lead. Maybe they pray every day for one name, or pray on the same day of the week for the group as a whole. Whatever the rhythm, system, or process, small group leaders should be encouraged to pray for their few regularly.
Encourage Small Group Leaders to be Like Jesus.
While this sounds trite, it truly is the best thing we can encourage our small group leaders to do. Jesus, the Chief Shepherd gives us the best example of how to pastor the people we lead. Jesus knew His audience. He knew His few. And as a result, He knew when they needed to be cared for and when they needed to be pushed. Read the feeding of the five thousand in Mark 6 and you’ll see instances of both. Small group leaders, as they get to know their few, will be able to assess if a child needs to be challenged or if they need some extra TLC. They should be encouraged and given permission to make those judgment calls and lead accordingly.
Just like being a lead pastor is more than preaching a sermon one day a week, being a small group leader is so much more than leading activities on a Sunday morning. Let’s help our small group leaders think beyond the curriculum and equip them to pastor their few. As they invest in children at this level, their influence will sky rocket and we will all win, as the next generation finds the church to be all it was intended to be.
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