Guest Post: On Being a Small Group Leader

I asked permission from Andrea Eiken to re-post an amazing blog she originally wrote over at http://blog.eaglebrookchurch.com/hand-picked-by-god/. Here are her words…

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I didn’t plan it.
I didn’t necessarily want it.
But God wanted it for me.
And I’m so thankful.

In 2008, I volunteered to serve as a 9th grade small group leader in Revolution, EBC’s high school ministry. Ninth grade was my toughest year growing up, and I hoped my experiences could be helpful to students going through similar things.

I was terrified. I was afraid of the commitment. I feared getting texts from kids late at night asking to come over because they got into a fight with their parents. I feared them confessing things to me that I wouldn’t know how to respond to. I feared them putting me on a pedestal I didn’t think I deserved. I feared loss of my free time and personal space.

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But I put one foot in front of the other and stepped into the fear and let God show me what he had planned for me. I was paired with a co-leader named Juli Thompson. We were like-minded on how to relate to the girls, how to facilitate discussions, where lines needed to be drawn―God couldn’t have hand-picked a better team.

Speaking of hand-picking, He couldn’t have put together a greater group of girls. Every week, I felt like the most uncool, old, lame, out-of-touch person as I walked through the doors at Revolution. But the minute we sat down with our girls, I felt like a wise older sister they actually liked. I didn’t think I had anything these girls wanted or needed. But God began to show me that I had plenty to offer them, and he had chosen me for this time and this place in their lives.

I didn’t have to try. In fact, leading this group of girls took very little effort. It wasn’t a commitment that stole all of my free time away. It was a joy. As the first year went on, Juli and I would email each other throughout the workday talking about the things our girls were going through. Parents divorcing, sick relatives, tough teachers, boyfriends. We’d pray for them and worry over them like doting parents, afflicted with an overwhelming love we couldn’t ignore.

At the end of our first year, Juli and I had had an incredible experience. But we were tired. We’d given up three hours of our Wednesday nights for a solid school year, plus time hanging out with the girls at service projects, coffee shops, restaurants, and malls. We loved them, but we thought we wanted a break. We both worked full-time and felt exhausted each week. At the Winter Retreat, as we discussed a particularly deep message from large group that night in our cabin, there was a silence. One of our girls, Angie, spoke up and asked, “Are you guys going to be our leaders until we graduate?” A few other girls chimed in and said, “Yeah! Are you?!” Juli and I gave each other a knowing glance. We’d discussed quitting Revolution at the end of the school year, already. We smiled at each other and replied to the girls, “Of course! We’ll be here!” And they cheered.

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The four-year commitment we’d made didn’t frighten us. It was something we knew we could do, despite our exhaustion and personal lives. Sure, we were still tired at times. But as soon as we were with our girls, God gave us the energy, the enthusiasm, the spirit, and love we needed to impart knowledge, wisdom, laughter, and joy. God called Juli and I to this. And He held our hands through it.

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Before they could drive, we picked them up when their parents couldn’t or wouldn’t drive them to church. When I had to work during the weekend of our first Winter Retreat, I drove up late the second day and surprised them. Juli and I took turns inviting the girls into our homes. We had a sleepover every January. And never slept. We went shopping and tried on ridiculous items like strapless rompers. We laughed until we cried. We ate burritos and Domino’s pizza and Cheezits and Chips Ahoy. Nothing that was good for us. And we loved every minute.

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We walked through joys like baptisms and recommitments to following Jesus. We also waded through heartbreaks like the deaths, divorces, addictions, recoveries, mean girls, abuse, and betrayal. Each time Juli and I were faced with these girls looking at us with eyes full of questions and hurt, God gave us the words. He gave us full hearts. He made us who these girls needed us to be. We clung to Him.

When the girls graduated in the Spring of 2012, Juli and I were full of pride and sadness. We were so sad to see this time with our girls come to an end. We brought them roses on the last night of Revolution and told them how proud we were of them. And we watched them drive away. In their own cars. With their own licenses. And plans for the future. And their own relationships with God.

What a joy it is to know that God chose us for these girls. And He chose them for us. What an honor it is to still receive a text message, a full year after Revolution ended, asking, “I don’t get it. Why does God let things like this happen?” My heart is still warmed by each opportunity to make Jesus clearer to these precious girls. Juli and I still pray for them, we talk about them, and we hope for the best things for them. They were God’s gift and our joy.

Andrea

Andrea Eiken is the Communications + Marketing specialist at Eagle Brook Church. She hosts EBC’s On The Fly, and lives in the Northeast Metro with her Yorkie, Louis Armstrong.

The Third Most Important Words in a Leader’s Arsenal

Continuing the series on the most important words in a leader’s arsenal (the first post found here and second one here), guest blogger and fellow student ministries pastor Andrew Hermann writes about another set of words vital to leadership and youth ministry.

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Before becoming a Pastor of Students at our church, I had the opportunity to work for Apple in a retail setting. In my two years with the company, there were a ton of incredible leadership and interpersonal lessons I had the chance to learn. One of the biggest lessons I learned was the use of three words.

I DON’T KNOW.

You read that correctly. I was taught to say I don’t know. There are a lot of things I love about technology, but to be honest, I am not well-versed in techo-babble/jargon. I never desired to be. Ever. There were many times working at Apple it was clear that the customer knew WAY more than I did. A question would be posed and I had no idea. The only answer I had was I don’t know.

A job within the church and a job with technology are actually pretty similar. A user/customer/attender/student could range from extremely knowledgeable and someone promoting the values of each or on the other end of the spectrum with little to no background. I find myself using these words with both ends of the spectrum.

Some answers I probably should know. I mean they are coming to the proclaimed or assumed expert based on my job title, but the response is/was always the same.

I don’t know is a key phrase not only for me, but this is also something we share as a part of our 5 Essentials to becoming a great small group leader in our ministry. As a leader I share it because I believe there are two outcomes that happen when we use the phrase, “I don’t know.”

The first outcome is that it builds trust and credibility.

Most would say that using these words would do the exact opposite. I don’t buy that. You’ll find us telling our small group leaders: Saying, “I don’t know” is not a sign of failure, but of honesty and vulnerability.

Instead of coming up with some terrible bull crap answer, I have to be humble enough to admit that I have no idea. As a pastor, I feel like I am put in this position far more often than I ever was at the Apple Store. I am constantly intersecting with lives of students that are just beginning or continuing a dynamic conversation with God. I don’t always have tech specs on hand about our faith in Jesus.

While I may not have the answers, I believe it builds trust and credibility when we say these words because students and volunteers are put at ease. I can share my own story and journey of processing such questions, but it is nice for others to see that we as pastors are at the same place. We are all on a journey and process of discovery.

The second is outcome is that it gives the opportunity to invite others into the process of discovery.

I do know that we serve an incredible God that, no matter our questions and doubts, never changes. God’s character remains the same, which means we have some time to figure things out.

There are some words I add to the end of I don’t know, that I didn’t mention. Let’s find out. When combined with I don’t know, these words are a force. No longer am I viewed as the anointed one with all the answers. (I hope to never be that.) I am now shoulder to shoulder with a student in this discovery process.

I have the opportunity to ask: What do you think? Where do you think we should start looking? How does that view line up with the other things we know about God?

I love this process so much, that even if I am 90% sure of an answer, I will say I don’t know, but let’s find out. It creates ownership as they begin and continue this process. It allows them to see honesty and vulnerability in action, and it gives me the opportunity to teach the process of discovery. Give it shot next time you are faced with a question you don’t know the answer to, say it.

I don’t know, but let’s find out.

Are you humble enough to take a step back and be willing to say I don’t know

Andrew Hermann

Andrew Hermann is a regular writer over at andrewhermann.wordpress.com, where he writes about a little bit of everything of the story he keeps creating. He’s currently exploring a series on what it takes to be awesome, which he knows something about. Trust me.

He’s the Pastor of Students Ministries at the Eagle Brook Church Woodbury campus, and he’s the resident expert on art, bikes, and coffee.