Many men & women who are currently serving in full-time time ministry often entertain the thought of ‘jumping into small group ministry’. Often this is coming from a place of frustration with their current role or the ‘warm-fuzzies’ they have experienced from being in small group. As Ben Reed so nicely wrote in a blog article “But being a groups pastor isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Or if that’s not your thing…it’s not all coffee and bagels. Turns out, this is hard work…” Small groups deal with people and their mess! As Heather Zempel has noted in her excellent book “Community is Messy” that many were ‘stirred’ into getting involved in small groups because of a talk, sermon, or lesson that focused on how great community is and how it fits neatly into the “New Testament” Pattern. But then something happened – people came to our groups! Whenever people are involved things always get messy! Why? Because people bring their hurts, hang-ups, and habits into our perfect communities. Without getting too far off track discussing the nature of Small Group Ministry and how to negotiate the challenges of ministering to people in their mess, the question of what makes a good Small Group Pastor is still on the table.
What makes a good Small Group Pastor? In my opinion, the role of the Small Group Pastor must be filled with someone who posses a make-up and gifting that is vastly different today than it was even just a few years ago. The challenge is finding candidates who posses the right qualifications and makeup to be successful in the role. Bill Donahue & Russ Robinson have correctly observed, “Small group point leaders aren’t churned out by the seminaries. The position is still under development across many churches and there’s not a vast pool of veteran small group champions looking for employment.” So what characteristics or qualities make a good Small Groups Pastor? We answer this question by looking at gifting and core competencies over the next several days.
Question: What qualities or characteristics make someone a good Small Group Pastor?
 Ben Reed, “10 things Nobody Told Me about Being a Small Group Pastor” November 26, 2012. www.benreed.net
 Zempel,Heather . “Community is Messy” . IVP. (2012) . 23-24.
 Donahue, Bill & Robinson, Russ. Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry. Zondervan.(2012), 50.
The ‘Megachurch’ as we know it is a phenomena that was only been around for about 20 plus years, but in that time it is growing both numerically and in influence. According to Robert Crosby in 1980 there were only 150 megachurches compared with 1,600 today. Also when you look at the total number of people who attend a church regularly, 50% of these people attend a megachurch, ‘though megachurches] only account for 10 percent of American congregations’. The numbers show that these ‘big churches are getting even bigger’ so it would stand to reason that if a church wants to make small group ministry a priority in their church, they must find a way to incorporate a small group system or ministry on a much larger scope than they may have had to in the past.
Question: What effect has the megachurch phenomenon had upon Small Group Ministry?
 Crosby, Robert. “MegaChange: 10 Trends ReShaping the American Megachurch” Outreach Magazine. (September, 2013).
In the early days of small groups ministry, much of its structure and organization was borrowed from the ‘Sunday-school’ model.’ The Sunday-school teacher became the small group leader and the Sunday-school Superintendent became the de-facto small group pastor. If the church was fortunate to have a Minister or Pastor of Education on their staff then they may step into this new role of the Small Group Pastor, otherwise the Sunday-School Superintendent, who was usually a volunteer, would left to assume the leadership of this new system. This approach was functional for a small group system of 1 – 125 people, as it does not fall outside of the person at the top’s ‘span of care’ which, at it’s limit, would be 10 leaders with 12 people in them. Using these parameters still factors in a highly organized person who can ‘coach’ ten leaders at one time but the more realistic number is one pastor coaching 3 -5 leaders.
Under this system, small group ministry largely flourished, as the organizational ability of the Small Group Pastor was never pushed to a point where they were forced to address the problem of ‘span of care’ on a large-scale. This all changed in 1991 when Carl George published his first book ‘Prepare Your Church for the Future’ which introduced the concept of the ‘Meta-Model’. Using this model, churches like Willow Creek, Saddleback, and The Cincinnati Vineyard have been able to establish an effective group’s system that can accommodate more than 16,000 in weekly attendance. This was a game changer for the small group ministry system because for the first time, the Small Group Pastor had to grapple with ‘span of care’ challenges that where beyond his individual ability to handle. For the relational gifted Small Group Pastor, this would provide a major challenge and would cause most of them to shrink away from wanting to grow beyond their ability to provide coaching to the leaders under their care. But for the systems thinking Small Groups Pastor, the prospect of a large ministry that exceeded their own abilities was obviously viewed as a challenge but was not a prospect that they would not throw themselves into taming. This was due to the fact that they would approach this challenge by relying on their ability to think and organize in systems whereas the relational small group pastor would feel utterly lost and unable to design such a system. Thus we see the shift in role of the Small Group Pastor as more churches are eclipsing the 1,000-member mark and becoming classified as a ‘mega-church.’
At what point do you think a Small Group system requires someone with an organizational and systems mindset needs to be hired to be a part of the leadership?
 George, Carl. The Coming Church Revolution. (1994). 9-10
I can rememberer it very clearly now; the plan! I was going to graduate from Bible College and become a youth pastor, but something happened along the way. I discovered that students are messy and do not fit into my type ‘A’ personality. I was then left to figure out what ‘career path’ I was left to follow. I considered preaching & teaching but soon discovered that I was not particularly gifted at it so I was left to consider children’s ministry, which like student ministry, I knew that I was not cut out for. Music ministry was out because I am in no way a musician! So what was left? About this same time, I became exposed to something new for me, which was the area of small group ministry, and I was immediately captivated by it! As I gained more and more exposure to small groups ministry, I soon discovered that my personality, gifting, and overall approach to ministry was a perfect fit for this type of ministry.
Fast forward a few years and I was now firmly settled into my role as a small group pastor at a large church, and I began to notice an interesting dynamic. Most of the guys that I knew personally where wired almost exactly the same way that I was and they were having tremendous success in their ministry. When I compare this to what many people view the role of the typical small group pastor to be, I began to see a bit of a disconnect. This is due in large part to both a misunderstanding on the part of people in churches with small groups and also on the part of many students in our seminaries who are training to become a small group pastor.
I contend that the role of small group pastor is changing! The days when the typical small group pastor could spend his days at his favorite coffee shop and fill his calendar with ‘face-to-face’ meeting with his leaders will have to be replaced with strategy sessions over organizational charts and refining small group systems. In short, the days of the relational small group pastor are coming to an end and the rise of systems thinking, operations based pastor is already taking place and the churches that are realizing this and hiring this skill set are winning at small groups and the remainder are being left behind.
What is your experience with the personality makeup of a successful small groups pastor? Are we seeing the end of the relational focused small groups pastor?
Spurred on by my having read Michael Hyatt’s book ‘Platform‘ I am re-launching a redesigned and updated blog today. To coincide with my blog re-launch, I will be publishing a series of posts that will be taken from an article that I recently completed called “The Changing Nature of the Small Group Pastor’s Role.” It is my hope that these posts will spurn further discussion about this topic and help contribute to this article’s further development. I invite you to follow my blog and contribute to the conversation.
Scripture: ‘Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart.’ Exodus 7:23
Observation: People such as Pharaoh, who have hardened their hearts toward God, will not even acknowledge the work of God in any way. We forget what it is like to have a heart that is hard toward God and what is required to break through to reach that person’s heart.
Application: We must demonstrate and speak often of the love of God and the effect that he can have on a persons’ life. All the while, praying that God would soften the hard of the person toward him.
Prayer: Father God I pray for those who have hard hearts toward you and that you would begin to soften them by showing people your love and your mercy. Amen
Scripture: ‘Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.’ Exodus 6:9
Observation: For the people of God held captive in Egypt is was difficult to believe that God was going to rescue them because they had witnessed no evidence or proof to convince them of what Moses & Aaron where telling them. Proof from many people is what often prevents them from making a decision to believe in God and in this instance it created a huge barrier in Moses & Aaron establishing credibility with the people.
Application: For people who are far from God having proof in their mind that God is real and that he cares for them is a true barrier for belief and we must do what we can to help eliminate that barrier so that they can begin to know and trust that God has a plan for their life.
Prayer: Father, I pray today for those who are far from God and are searching for answers and questioning whether to place their faith and trust in you but for whatever reason they are hesitant because life circumstances are preventing them from trusting you completely. I pray that you would revel yourself to be true in their life and that people would place their whole trust in you. Amen.
Scripture: ‘During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew’ Exodus 2:23-25
Observation: It is very interesting to read this words because we are left to ask, ‘does God really forget things and need to be reminded?’ The short answer is that God does not forget he simply sees that the time is right to fulfill his promise. Those that have cause to not believe in God could look at this and say of God, ‘he let them suffer in slavery until he was ready to let them up’ but the reality is that God did not want his people to suffer at all but needed to wait for the appointed time to arrive and for the appointed messenger to be born.
Application: We all want things to happen on our timetable as opposed to God’s. Being patient with God and allowing his plan to unfold according to his timetable can be extremely frustrating to experience but the blessing that we often experience as a result of being patient and waiting on God refines our character in the process which makes for a better result on the other side.
Prayer: Father, help us to be patient and wait on your time and your will to be revealed in our lives. I pray for those who are waiting on you and that you would not terry any longer than is needed and that you would grant an extra measure of grace and patient to those who are waiting for you to fulfill your promises in their lives as that time can be extremely long and hard to bear. Show them your love and mercy father! Amen.
Scripture: Exodus 1:17; 20
Observation: We read in this section of the book of Exodus that the people of Israel where increasing in population very rapidly while in Egypt and the Egyptians took steps to guard themselves by in-slaving the people and asking the midwives (who assisted in the delivery of babies) to kill the male children of the Hebrews. But, the story says that the ‘midwives feared God’ and did obey their master’s but instead let the male children live. The story goes on to say that God ‘dealt well’ with these women and allowed them to also have children.
Application: The decision to ‘honor God’ and ‘not follow’ the laws of men was a very brave choice that these women made as it involved great risk to themselves and their lives. We are faced with similar choices in many occasions in our lives. The easy answer is that we follow God no matter the cost to us but when the time comes to make that choice will be remain true to that decision? If we are faithful in following God then he (God) will be faithful in rewarding us.
Prayer: Father God, help me and others to make the difficult decision to follow you and make choices that are in line with your will and character even when they are in opposition to the will of man. And finally help us not to make these choices not because of what we will receive back from you but because of who you are! Amen.
Scripture: ‘I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.’ Romans 15:14
Observation: Such encouraging words where written by Paul of the Roman church that I can only hope to write such words of the people that I currently serve at Parkway. As a fellow Pastor I can relate to Paul as he reflects upon the time and energy that he has poured into these men and women and now looks upon them with a sense of pride and of doing his part to train and instruct them. This process of discipleship and leadership development of others is crucial for raising up the next generation of leaders.
Application: Leadership must be passed on to others and my role as a leader and pastor is to raise up and train other leaders and pastors. So that I too can look upon my brothers and sisters with satisfaction and a sense of pride.
Prayer: Father, help me and the rest of our pastors and leaders both here at Parkway Fellowship and at churches throughout this world to be spurned on to have a heart for leadership development and discipleship. We know that our time here is limited so we must pass on what we have learned by training others. And let us not do this because of any benefit to us but may it all be for your Glory and the advancement of your church. Amen.