Essential Practices for the Small Group Leader #5: Be Flexible

In my college years, I had the privilege of serving as a summer missionary. One bit of advice from that summer has stuck with me:

“Be flexible.”

I realize that these “Essential Practices for Small Group Leaders” entries have focused on preparation, planning, taking charge, etc. etc. But we have to be careful not to be so prepared, so pre-planned, so in-charge that we become rigid when God wants to do some flexing. Our plans are not always God’s plans.

If you want to bang your head on the wall in frustration now, I’ll wait. (Cue music from Jeopardy.)

Let’s step back a moment and consider the life of Jesus. When He began His public ministry, He knew what He was doing, where He was going and His ultimate purpose – an appointment with a Roman cross. Yet, Jesus still allowed for some detours along the way. Jesus stopped to bring sight to the blind. He stuck around to eat supper with Zaccheus. He welcomed little children that flocked to Him. In short, while He never lost sight of His purpose and appointment with Calvary, He always made time for people. Jesus loved people – enough to die for them.

A number of years ago, I was leading a Sunday School conference and got into an unexpected argument with a pastor over programs v. people. From his perspective, programs drive the church and the people should “get with the program.” To be fair, I know this pastor pretty well and can say that he genuinely loves people; but it shows how we can become inflexible in our thinking and our actions. In other words, we can become very efficient at “church work” while completely missing out on the real work of the church – making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Getting back to our small groups, I still stand by my original points. Bible study leaders should be well-prepared before presenting a lesson to a group. At the same time, we need to be sensitive for those times when God wants to move beyond the lesson we’ve prepared to a unique encounter with Him. The catalyst might be a question from a group member, a prayer request, or an event that occurs in the life of the community or nation. In short, we need to be prepared to step back when we sense the Holy Spirit leading the group time in a different direction.

Sure, that may mean setting aside a few hours of study and planning, but God will still honor that time you spend in preparation – even if it is only for your personal edification.

Being flexible does not mean we follow every whim or chase every rabbit that pops up in our group time. Sometimes we exhibit flexibility with a minor shift in our presentation or by editing content. The main point is we don’t want to be so rigid in what we do that we miss out on those divine appointments that can arrive unexpectedly.

A good biblical illustration is the contrast between the sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha was organized and prepared as she planned her work and worked her plan. It is evident that  her plans included Mary helping with the meal preparation. Mary, however, got caught up with Jesus . . .

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Matthew 10:38-42 (NIV)

I have a confession to make. I really sympathize with Martha. She was working hard to prepare a meal for Jesus and His disciples. She exemplified hospitality and hard work (good traits in a small-group leader, by the way!). I can identify with her frustration – Mary was supposed to help Martha, yet she wasn’t with the program – leaving Martha to fend for herself. Martha became frustrated, fearing her work for the Lord (in her mind, serving a meal) was not getting done properly. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever been frustrated when others in your group seem to go off on a tangent, leaving your careful preparation and presentation in the dust?

The interesting thing here is that Jesus wasn’t the least bit concerned with the meal. Nor was he upset by Martha’s frustration. He simply wanted to spend time with Mary and Martha, to share words of encouragement and hope. Mary set aside her plans and chose what was better – sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha (bless her heart!) was so preoccupied with her own plans and preparation that she actually scolded Jesus! Jesus exhibited patience with Martha by gently chiding her – “Martha, Martha . . . You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed . . .”

When our own preparation and plans unravel, when we feel that our finely crafted lessons are being left by the wayside, remember this . . . only one thing is needed. What is that one thing?

The one most important thing that can happen to anyone in our group is that they encounter Jesus. Everything else is secondary.

Explore posts in the same categories: Jesus, Teaching - Presentation

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