Have you ever felt like a failure? I know, I know. That’s like asking, “Is the sky blue?” “Is grass green?” “Is it weird that New Kids on the Block is still touring?”

Yes. Yes. Yes. and YES!

At times, we each feel like a failure.

When I began leading student small groups, I had that feeling often. On the worst days I believed my students were secretly plotting a coup to remove me from leadership and replace me with a younger, cooler leader who could actually grow a goatee. We all know how important goatees are to successful student ministry.

A few years and a few small groups later, I found the lies a lot easier to ignore.

That is, until a few weeks ago, when a good friend asked me to cover his 6th grade group for him. The first week I spent with the guys was great. They were attentive, participated in the discussion and even thanked me. After a careful evaluation, I was able to deduce that the only factor that could have led to such a successful group time must be my astronomically outstanding leadership ability.

A few weeks later I had the opportunity to lead the same group. I’m still not exactly sure what happened. It is possible that each of the guys had a steady diet of energy drinks and candy throughout the day, or maybe one of the other leaders paid them to teach me some humility, but either way I got the message.

Three of the guys spent the entire time pretending to be rappers. They refused to remind me of their real names, and would only respond to their rap personas. They spent the majority of the group time ignoring me and talking about how many times they had been shot and escaped death that week. Did I mention that these guys live in a rural community, and are probably more familiar with farming equipment than they are rap culture.

It has been a long time since I have felt like that much of a failure. It was humbling. It was painful. But it was good. As I reflected on this experience, I compiled a list of things I need to remember when I feel like I’ve failed as a small group leader.

  • I am broken, and on my own I can do nothing good, meaningful, or life-changing.
  • Because of the life and forgiveness I have in Christ, He uses me to do beautiful things in the lives of my students.
  • God put me in relationship with these students on purpose. It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t random.
  • Relational ministry is not a sprint. One night (or two or seven) of mediocre/pitiful small group time is inconsequential. Living my faith out in front of students as I journey with them is what really matters.
  • My teammates need encouragement, too. If I feel like a failure, the other leaders in my ministry probably do, too.

As you read this post did you recall a time you felt like a failure as a leader? If so, what is missing from this list of reminders? What small group leaders around you need encouragement today?

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Jon Grunden

Jon is a video gamer wanna-be, lego aficionado, who also happens to love student ministry and deeply believes in the importance of student small groups. He has served as a Jr. HIgh and Sr. High SGL for the last 14 years in West Michigan. In his free time, he thoroughly enjoys spending time with his wife and three children.

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