“To be, or not to be, that is the question” Hamlet asked, but our question, O Small Group Leader, is, “To wait, or not to wait?” From the time kids arrive until their parents reclaim them, we ask ourselves that question in a dozen ways: Do I wait for more kids to get here before starting the game? Do I delay jumping in to see if those two will work it out on their own? Do I postpone that uncomfortable conversation with a parent about Johnny’s behavior because it’s probably “just a phase”? Welllll, maybe, probably, and possibly.

The trouble with waiting is that you not only have to know when to wait, but for how long. And you may not know whether you got it right, not right away anyway. (“Aye,” said Hamlet, “there’s the rub.”)

For instance, waiting to start the game may mean your small group can actually play the game—or it might reinforce tardiness. (Why should a kid bug Mom and Dad to bring her on time if she knows she’s not going to miss out?) Delaying an intervention could result in a bloody nose, or it could help kids learn to work out their differences. Postponing a dreaded conversation might avert an awkward moment, or it could allow a bad behavior to fester. Who among us has never jumped too soon or too late and regretted it?

But, getting it right—that decision to wait or not—will either rev your small group’s engine or throw a monkey wrench in it.

One time our first-grade coach, Brooke, had a brilliant idea. (He had many good ideas; however, this one was inspired, I think.) My small group was already boy heavy, and I had just acquired some more. It became clear that one of the new additions, Marshall, was not going to work, not when teamed with three or four other boys in the group. Brooke asked for volunteers to help some other groups that needed more kids. Several hands went up around our circle; not surprising since most first graders want to be helpers. Brooke chose Marshall and one or two others we had already agreed should be separated. The boys gladly joined their new groups, and we avoided a guaranteed weekly train wreck. In this case, waiting to ask for help would have created an ongoing behavior problem.

Sometimes, though, we need a tenacious spirit; we need to wait. Kevin was a bright, insightful, and independent child. In kindergarten he was sweet, a real delight. In first grade he became a hellion. He started arguments, destroyed property, and did the opposite of what he was asked, almost every week. This wretchedness lasted a year. I wondered whether I was still the right leader for him. Would he be better off in another group, with a male leader perhaps?

Then one Sunday in his second-grade year, Kevin and his dad came in early to talk to me. That week Kevin had asked Jesus to be his Savior. Gone was the hard look in his eyes as well as the hostile manner. He was still all boy, but he was a new kid from then on. The conflict of the past 12 months had not been “just” a behavior issue; it had been a spiritual one. If I had given up and had Kevin reassigned to another group, at best I would’ve missed that transformation in his life. At worst, he would have left the group feeling rejected, that love hinges on behavior.

Every week we choose to wait—or not. Sometimes putting pedal to the metal is the wise choice; it can keep a situation from deteriorating. But other times, waiting is just right. Recognizing the better choice is a matter of experience, clear thinking, and divine guidance. Thankfully God is there to cover our mistakes. Max Lucado says, “It all works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out yet, then it’s not the end.”


Here are some tips about waiting and not waiting:

  1. If physical or emotional harm is looming, don’t wait. Jump in.
  2. If someone is creating a distraction in large group, don’t wait. Intervene.
  3. If a child misbehaves, and it’s not serious, hold up on telling her parents. It may not be necessary and could help build trust.

What tips do you have about when to wait?

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Melanie Williams

Melanie has taught kids at church for a looong time, has a master's degree in early childhood education, and designed and edited children's curriculum for 20+ years. She now edits books.

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