When I first took on leading a small group I was scared. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t think I had what it took. I was sure they wouldn’t like me. I wasn’t sure I would even like them, to be completely honest.
My first night leading my girls I was overwhelmed. I had gotten my feet wet for one semester with a group of 8th graders the prior school year, but now I was starting with a group of fresh faced, new to middle school, gulp… 6th graders. I didn’t have a co-leader with me that first night. It was just me. And let me tell you, it was intense. They were bouncing off the walls… literally. Not even able to focus long enough to really learn my name. I must have kept my composure well enough on the outside however, because they awarded me the nickname, “Miss Chill.”
On the inside though? On the inside I wanted to quit. I went home that night thought, “I’m failing you, God. I’m not cut out for this. This can’t be where you want me. I must have misread a sign somewhere and taken a wrong turn.”
But I went back for a second week and a third week and a fourth week… and it quickly became apparent why I wasn’t going to quit on these girls. Ever. Because they deserve a leader who loves them on their best days and their worst days. And on that leader’s best days and worst days too.
That’s why now, almost 250 weeks later, no thought of quitting enters my brain. I know, on my own, I am going to fall short and fail these girls from time to time. More than I want to acknowledge. But I also know I’m going to keep showing up for them. And, with God, that’s going to be enough to prove to them that they matter and they are worth showing up for.
Showing up for them can look like a lot of different things. Each one means something different, but is equally important to a student. It can look like…
- Praying for them. Lots of praying for them.
- Showing up to small group consistently. Even if you’re dead tired and no one seems to care that you’re there.
- Continuing to call and text them, even when they reply only with “yes”, “no” and “OK”, trusting that one day the dam will break and other vocabulary will come rushing through. (Especially when dealing with middle schoolers, people!)
- Keeping up with a 12-messages-per-second group text when it does happen.
- Having a hard conversation about what you’re seeing them post on Instagram.
- Sitting with them long after group time has ended, when words fail both of you, and there are only tears.
- Answering your phone at midnight.
- Answering your phone at work.
- Pulling over while driving, to answer your phone.
- Sending a card just because.
- Calling their parents when you need to, even if they don’t want you to.
- Driving over an hour in traffic, to run full speed through a parking lot, to throw $10 at the ticket man, to wave your homemade sign during a 2-minute cheer routine.
- Sliding into a side hallway to pray with them during a morning service.
- Being willing to disagree with them and challenge them to look at things from a less comfortable angle, even if it means they get frustrated with you.
- Spending your own money to celebrate them.
- Using your vacation days to hang out with them.
- Reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and attending events in your free time to invest in your own development as a small group leader.
- Being willing to make a fool of yourself to entertain them or get a point across.
- Loving them when they tell you something that they think is embarrassing and unlovable.
- Sticking up for them.
- Digging deeper with them into the Bible to find answers to questions you had to honestly answer with, “I don’t know.”
- Apologizing to them when you used a tone you shouldn’t have used or said something you shouldn’t have said.
- Loving on their parents and families.
- Being crazy outwardly excited about their decision to be baptized.
- Knowing what their “outside of church” world looks like and asking specific questions about it often.
- Staying up until 3am on retreat weekends listening intently to heart after heart pour out. Then crawling into a sleeping bag on the floor for four hours of sleep. (Or two hours of silent prayer and processing, and two hours of sleep.)
- Modeling your own relationship with Jesus as a priority.
- Practicing what you preach.
- Letting go of the Monday morning blues until after small group ends at 7:30pm on Sunday night.
- Making an Instagram account and liking their posts.
- Sitting in the cold rain, watching an entire game in which they only play for the last 30 seconds. (And cheering as loud as you can for all 30 seconds.)
- Hugging or high fiving them every Sunday morning.
- Following up about things they told you they’re struggling with.
- Sharing your personal stories of struggles.
- Putting your phone away.
- Encouraging them to serve others and doing it alongside them.
- Delivering care packages after wisdom teeth or other removals… like boyfriends.
- Having fun with them.
- Helping them find their unique gifts and encouraging them to use them.
- Believing they can change the world around them by doing so.
- Crying after a tough small group and still going back the next week. And every week after that.
- Telling them you’ll never give up on them. And following through on that promise.
I could keep going all night. There are a million ways students need us to show up for them. Not all of them are easy. And we can’t do all of them for every student every day. But we can do for a few what we wish we could do for everyone. We can do enough of them, often enough, that they can come to know and trust we’re going to keep showing up for them without giving up. Whatever that looks like.
What could you add to this list? What are some ways you’ve found yourself showing up for your few lately? Is it ever hard? What are ways you want to start showing up more?
By Shannon Pijanowski