If you’re like me, small group ministry with students has been a bit of a challenge.

In at least one of the ministries I’ve lead, my entire youth group would have been considered a small group. (ha!). More than that, small groups challenge us because they require a unique subset of skills. Leading a small group requires the ability to ask the right questions, allow teens to talk when we want to speak, requires a lot of reliance on the Holy Spirit to lead group dynamics and conversations. It also requires a keen ability to organize, plan and pull off a specific ministry to just a few teens, something that’s often harder than we’d like to admit.

Along the way, as I’ve lead small groups, I’ve realized a few things:

We don’t have to compartmentalize small groups.

For the longest time I thought small groups were the result of successful ministry. They were close to the top of the ministry pyramid. But in my current position the most successful ministry we’ve accomplished has been small group ministry. Kids will show up for an event, sure. But they’re scarce when we try and have a Bible study. However, when we offer an opportunity for kids to chat about life and scripture in same-sex groups, they’ve been consistent. Observing that has taught me that small group ministry in youth ministry doesn’t have to be thought of as a ministry component that follows a series of successes. It may be the only successful ministry we actually assemble.

Small groups don’t have to be about Bible study.

Well, at least about deep, right biblical study. I once led a small group of guys where we met for dinner and talked about life. I tried at first to teach on biblical topics. When that didn’t work, I tried introducing a curriculum book that we could all study. When neither of those approaches worked, we simply met and talked about what it meant to be a guy. At first, I kicked myself repeatedly for failing to steer those guys toward the Bible. Soon though I realized that the group had formed into exactly the kind of group that it needed to be. I watched God work through those conversations and I often marveled at the opportunities I had in that group to bring up spiritual topics.

Small groups are my opportunity to grow.

Ok, so I’m aware that we aren’t investing in youth so that we’ll be spiritually fed. It’s dysfunctional to get involved in youth ministry so that we’ll have a weekly group of guys to meet with for the purpose of airing our adult struggles. However, as I’ve lead groups of teens together on spiritual journeys, I have been affected. As teens have shared their struggles, I’ve become aware of my own struggles. As they’ve discovered deep, rich truth about the nature of Christ, I’ve grown deeply hearing their reflections. My own spiritual journey has been enhanced as I’ve walked with teens toward the cross.

 

About The Author

Tim Baker has been working with students for twenty-five years. He's the author of over twenty books, a professor of Biblical Studies and Youth Ministry at LeTourneau University, Director of Student Ministries at Trinity Episcopal Church in Longview Texas. Tim is the Executive Editor of YouthWorker Journal. @timbaker1

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