We have all heard the saying “lead by example”. Most of the time as children we would hear this when our parents wanted us to take the lead in situations and not make the same mistakes as those around us. If you have younger siblings you may have heard something similar such as “you are older and should know better”. How many events in our lives can we attribute back to following the example of someone else? There have probably been some great things and some not so great. I can remember the haircuts that I had in high school because this person or that person had it. Those were some terrible decisions. I promise it looked like I had a small striped animal sleeping on my head at times. However, following an example can lead to amazing things such as the ALS challenge. Remember that?

So what kind of example am I leading by?

This has been a question that I have pondered since I first started leading middle school small groups over 10 years ago. What am I doing to make sure a student will know what to do once his or her time with me is over? In my first year as an SGL I was just there for the students, but I didn’t get very involved. I took more of an “I’m here to watch you and make sure no one gets set on fire” type of mentality—kind of like a babysitter. I didn’t challenge my students, I didn’t invest in my students, and I didn’t fellowship with my students. As the years passed, I quickly realized I wasn’t helping them in any way so I started to let go of the bouncer role and started building relationships with students (I figured God would watch over them and keep them from bursting into flames).

Building Relationships

It doesn’t seem like much but being able to build a relationship is huge with middle school students, especially if the student didn’t graduate up to your class from a younger class like most probably did. The relationships I built with students was the foundation of any trust that they had in me. In the seasons when I was more dedicated and rarely missed a week, I had stronger, healthier relationships. The seasons when I had to miss weeks due to going to school out of town, I noticed that my relationships suffered. Relationships are made stronger with more time and this applies in all areas of life, from friends to time with God.

Encourage and Challenge

Once strong relationships have been established, students are more accepting of encouragement and challenges from us. This can be as simple as, “Hey I’m going to do (insert ministry opportunity) would you like to help me?” For me, this began with inviting students to help with working the parking lot during 8am Easter service or helping out with the kids program, and before I knew it the guys who were coming with me to help were inviting me to serve in different areas with them. One of my students invited me to be in a play with him during a fall festival at our church (I only played a chair but I was the best chair there ever was!)

It’s easy to set an example in our ministries but if we really take the time to lead by this example, great things can be accomplished. Let’s keep our students challenged and build amazing relationships that will guide our students into their next group as well as the rest of their lives.

I’d love to hear your stories of leading by example. Comment below and share!

By Jason Lester

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