Becoming a small group leader has absolutely changed my life.
I have no idea who or where my life would be without these girls!!!! They bring me joy, encourage me, and inspire me to become the best woman I can be!! I simply can not express how honored I am to be apart of their lives. And I am SO excited because IT'S A NEW SCHOOL YEAR which means new small groups!! My biggest hope is that you can find a close connection with your small group!! And to my girls--I love you more than you'll ever know. Here's to our squad!!!!
1)Be the Person YOU wish you had
Going into the role of being a small group leader, I was honestly reminded of my experiences in small groups growing up. In all honesty, if there was ever a time where I was bullied, it was in small groups. I knew being offered to be a small group leader was my chance to create a better experience for these girls. I felt so frustrated and disappointed with the idea that small group time included a tired leader sharing their problems, and quizzing students like the message was another class lecture. I wanted small group to be a time where they could go to escape stress, feel included. The person we all need is someone who never gives up and who is consistent. So be consistent for them. In the past 3 years(apart from vacations) I have missed 4 Sunday's. That's not to brag! Just to show that being there already changes the game from someone having to see a different leader each week. Some weeks they need you, but some weeks-you may just need them.
Tip! Take inspiration from the mentors in your life! How do they make you feel? And if you are still finding a mentor, then perfect! Be the person you hope to find! And don't worry, we can always take notes from each other!
2)Half the Magic-is outside
Half of their battles are outside of the space and time that you have reserved with them. If that is the case, then half of your connection time should be outside as well. There's a difference with saying "I am always there for you!" and making yourself actually available. Do they have your phone number? an email? Social Media? Every time you provide a way to contact you outside of your original space sends a message that you are investing in their actual lives, not just 15 minutes on a Sunday. It shows you are willing to stay up at night on the phone, open your home for a movie marathon, and be present in their school recitals and performances. Show up for them. Be on their team. When you are available outside, you will earn their respect.
Tip! Host a get together!! It doesn't have to be anything huge! But no one was ever upset with a pizza and a good game of apples to apples! When in doubt, ask your group what they would like to do. They'll let ya know!
Haha haaaaaa...Rome was not built in a day honey. Not.in.a day. Not in a week for that matter! lol. Don't worry about a thing-they are learning, they do respect you, it will pay off. I have been with my girls for 3 years and I will tell you, the unbelievable life changes were not 100% visible(by "traditional mentor standards" of opening up about Christ and faith and trauma and yada dada...) until 3 months into the second year. Our whole first year together was spent getting to know each other and having fun. We were asking silly questions, playing games, and eating donuts haha! We laughed soooooo hard and just kept everything fun and lighthearted. And at that time, this is all we needed. We needed somewhere to be young, to be free, to be silly before we had to figure out who we wanted/were going to be. I will say, I'll never forget the day where I saw our connection as a group.
Our amazing youth pastor, Pastor Colby(Hey Colby!!!), has this amazing way of outlining services for middle school. At the end of each message, he lists life-hacks that the students can take away from the message(sparknotes if you will.) Each Sunday, I would take my phone out at this time and take a picture so that later when I browse through my photos(and numerous selfies that were locked away) I would see a bit of God's truth in the middle of the day. I normally sat in front of the girls as well. One day, I happened to sit in the back. Well, when it came time for Colby to give his life hacks, I reached for my phone. But before I could, I saw all of the girls in our small group pull out their phones and take a photo. I could have cried, I really tried not to. They are watching us, and they are so proud of us. So don't worry!! Everything will come together!
Tip!: Create Traditions!!!
This is a BIG one for our squad. Simple little traditions keep a sense of community AND you can bond over inside jokes! For example, when a brand new girl joins us for the day we always ask the same question. The dialogue goes like so-"Hi! We're weird. Nice to meet ya. Btw! If you were a Superhero, what super power would you have??" lol we love it!!! We love seeing who matches with who and why. And your traditions can be your own!! Anything special to you.
4)Don't Question Yourself
(be you, and they'll be them)
This gives a whole new meaning to leading by example haha. There is a big difference with saying "Just be yourself! You are fearfully and wonderfully made! and blah...yada dada.." and actually walking in your truth that you are perfect just the way you are right now in this moment. If you are hiding who you are, or hiding that you are ashamed of your past, your present, your appearance, or even your relationship with God, who can that help? How can we expect them to trust us? I have definitely come to terms that I am an "Extra", enthusiastic, opinionated, and animated young lady (lol). So I own it! They call me "CPUP" (which stands for a caffinated puppy dancing through a field of glitter...yep. Hello, nice to meet ya.) If you are shy-be shy. If you are loud, be loud! Own who you are, and they will own who they are. Show them how you are proud of how God made you-and they will be proud of how God made them.
There's a message I learned a few years ago from a beautiful poem I tend to reflect my life on. The line goes like so, "And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
5)"It's Not About Me"
If you want to know my biggest secret, this is it. I have to remind myself every.single.time. before I walk into our small group of this prayer. It takes two seconds, but for years I have prayed, "Lord, let this not be about me. Remind me that this is not. about. me."
I love my girls, I love them so so much. But if small group just becomes time for me to vent to them, or for them to just see me, then I haven't done my job. My job is to introduce them to Jesus. My job is to show them that He is a caring, consistent man who loved and loves us more than anyone could bare. That he loves each individual trait that we carry, and that he is impossibly and unbelievably obsessed with loving us. My hope is to demonstrate how a woman of God can carry herself when she knows how much God loves her, is inspired by her future, and is unafraid of her present because of this love. If I've created a time where small group is about Imani, then I've failed. Because it's not about me, it's about Him. And all He wants is to be with them and love them in the same way that He loves me.
So please, if you find that your day has become stressful, or your life is overwhelming, please find friends or our community to help. Please don't take things out on your small group. We're meant to pour into them, not pour onto them. It's not about if they answered all the questions, or answered them right. It's not about how they sang, dressed up, or even opened up. It's about being available and asking to share someone else's story. If you're a small group leader, congratulations, you've been gifted with sharing someone's life. It's nothing less than an honor. Let's encourage our community.
I hope my experiences have helped you in jumpstarting a relationship with your small group this year!!! This is probably the longest post I have ever written, and it's because it is my most passionate subject. Living with others is more rewarding than we could ever dream. And my hope is that you could experience it as well.