As group leaders, building relationships and can be a meaningful, fun and energizing experience – until crises happen. Or we find ourselves spending evenings on the phone with group members who are turning to us to solve their problems or validate a compromising situation.
The Loads We Carry
In our groups we might encounter heavy issues like death, divorce, addiction, depression, job loss, financial crisis. On some level the group gets to be the positive presence people can lean on. But sometimes seasons of life arise that are too heavy or intense for a group to handle on its own. Some weightier issues that take a longer time to heal or are deeply rooted in the past require more support than weekly group study and discussion time. That’s one reason why each group and each person at Central has access to an area pastor.
Who Can Help?
Whether you’re a new leader with lots of questions or a seasoned leader with a smooth sailing group, you’ll want to develop a collaborative relationship with your area pastor from the start. This makes a big difference when you have questions about how to handle a surprising dynamic or if a group member enters a difficult season.
Let’s say Cathy is leading a women’s group and someone without healthy boundaries starts cornering people after group to share all her negative situations. Or, let’s say Andy and Christa lead a group of couples and one couple separates or decides to divorce. Unless the leaders are counsellors, they’re probably not equipped with the skills to offer that woman or couple the level of care they’ll need, nor would the group be the appropriate place to focus that depth of personal conversation.
Partnering with church leadership, the next level of care for your group members might include pastoral counselling, referrals to community resources or recommendations for attending a support group such as Freedom, DivorceCare or Realign Your Finances. The team approach releases the leader and the group to do what it does best, preserving the groups’ main focus without undermining its purpose. It also equips the individuals with a stronger support system.
Connection and Relationships Matter
Because it’s a partnership united around the heart of seeing the group members heal and grow spiritually, this isn’t about handing someone off. It’s still important for the group to maintain a relational connection.
In the case of the couple going through separation or divorce, it’s common for one of the spouses to check out and not respond to your attempts to make contact. It’s also common for these kinds of seasons to be so emotionally draining and time demanding that they don’t have the energy or time to attend meetings like they used to. Those group relationships can be an essential support system as people navigate difficult a new reality.
In the examples we explored earlier, it’s important that the couple’s situation or the woman’s lack of boundaries doesn’t become the ongoing main focus of the group’s time together. A small group’s purpose isn’t to address major life crises on an ongoing basis. Partnering with the church enables the pastors and professional counsellors to step in and do a lot of the heavy lifting, while the group offers emotional, relational and spiritual support.
You Don’t Have to Have the Answers
When group leaders and ministry staff team up, we don’t have to have answers. We don’t have to fix it. We just need to be willing to be there for the people we lead. Through our presence, listening and sensitive encouragement, we get to help them see Jesus as the main source of their comfort, provision and strength while other support systems are put in place.