Most pastors would agree that small group ministry is important to the growth and discipleship of believers. They herald the importance and urge others to participate, but many pastors aren’t actually a part of one themselves.
Why is this the case? Why aren’t more pastors involved in small groups at their churches? From my own experiences and hearing from other pastor friends, there are two reasons: 1) the lack of a perceived need and 2) the potential conflict of being in a pastoral role verses small group member. As a pastor, you may be constantly reading scripture, going to prayer meetings, talking about spiritual things that consciously or unconsciously lead you to conclude that in the grand scheme of things, being a member of a small group is not necessary. You are, after all, devoting a lot of time to study scripture and learning on your anyway, right? Also, the idea of being vulnerable about personal struggles with other church members can be a scary or concerning thing. As a leader, how much can you share without being a stumbling block to someone else? Or perhaps my leadership as a pastor is compromised due to showing “weakness” and “struggles” in a small group?
While every circumstance is different and pastors need to assess their specific church situation with discernment, , I’ve come to the conclusion that pastors being in a small group at their local church is not only beneficial but vital to personal and collective growth. Here are my five reasons why:
1. Model what you want
“As the leader goes, the ministry goes.” Pastors need to model the type of spiritual disciplines that they want for their church. You can tell people to join a small group all day long but if they don’t see you practicing it yourself, then it’s just words. People will follow your actions more than your words.
2. Breaks myth that pastors are better than or different from
When pastors don’t join a small group, it can communicate to the church that they are somehow above or not in need of this form of discipleship. The unintended consequence is it may create a sense of holier than thou barrier with church members. It also plays into the myth that pastors need to be put on a pedestal or be superman, which is actually the opposite of the leadership Jesus portrayed and the heart of Christianity itself. When pastors do join a small group, it shows the humanity of the pastor as well as creates a bridge with the members.
3. Pastors need church family, not isolation.
Some of the loneliest people in the church are the pastors. It’s easy for the pastor or leader to be doing the ministry and feel so isolated and alone. If anyone in the church needs accountability, support and prayers, it’s the pastor. The best place for the pastor to receive this weekly is through a small group. It doesn’t matter who you are and what your role is – we were all designed to be in community and fellowship, and this is where the best growth can take place – hand and hand with each other through the good and difficult times. They can take their pastor cap off and learn to receive rather than give, which can be uncomfortable for some. It should be a place for the pastor to be able to find support with other believers who can love and encourage their fellow brother or sister.
4. Come out of the bubble
It’s easy for the pastor to live in his own world or bubble and be disengaged with their member’s lives especially in a large church context. Doing life together with a small group of people breaks you out of that bubble. It helps you to see what your members are going through outside of Sundays and participate in the messiness of life. It allows you to hear stories, struggles and pains from your small group that you may miss because you are in your office sending emails or preparing for a message. Small group gives you a better pulse of what people are struggling with and what they need.
5. To grow closer to God
Pastors are expected to grow in their walk with God more than the average believer. Pastors have their quiet time, study, read the Bible, pray and do other disciplines. However, one of the best ways for pastors to grow in their walk is through small groups. Jesus was in a small group with the disciples. This helped the disciples grow tremendously in their faith. Many of the ways to grow spiritually are linked with learning how to interact with others in more honest and vulnerable ways. I believe that pastors will also experience this same type of spiritual growth when they activity participate in a small group.