If you’ve been a small group leader for any stretch of time, you know that not every aspect of it is glamorous. You get involved with a group of kids or students. You’re around during lock-ins, movie nights, birthday parties, Superbowl halftime shows, and Christmas productions where one of your kiddos is playing a shepherd. You’re there for your few during all of those highlight reel moments. But not all of your moments together are highlight reel worthy.

Some of them are incredibly difficult because kids and students are human, and humans make mistakes.

They employ the kind of bad judgment that makes you cringe. If you haven’t experienced the cringe, I urge you to prepare for it, and not because I’m fatalistic, but because it’s inevitable. It’s part of the process of leading your few towards authentic faith. In creating a safe place within your small group, you have to be ready to contend with those less than sparkly moments because it’s part of the job description. And if a student or kid knows that you are someone that he can trust, that you are someone she can consider safe, then he or she will go to you in those moments.

Young people need small group leaders that are fit to the task of listening to all kinds of crazy and maintain that bad decisions don’t have to define a person. And that’s especially true even when the situation calls for outside reinforcements (i.e. mom, dad, or professionals).

Several years ago, a high school aged girl in my small group found me to be a safe place and confided in me about a situation. I listened while she talked about her struggles, thanked her for trusting me with the deep parts of her heart, prayed with her, gave her my two cents, and then told her that we needed to involve her parents. I was going to trust her to tell her parents or I would need to. It wasn’t because I was itching to rat her out. It wasn’t because I wasn’t equipped to handle it alone. I was a safe place for her, and the safest thing I could do for her, in that moment, was encourage her to include her parents. The safest thing I could do was soothe her anxieties with the truth that God loved her, not in spite of her poor choices, but because of her poor choices, and her parents were similarly unmoved in their love for her.

In the end, she talked to her parents. It was a bumpy road, but it’s been several years since that whole experience, and she still considers me a safe place. She still confides in me, and she still trusts me with the deep parts of her heart. Creating and maintaining a safe place takes effort and commitment from you as the small group leader, but the rewards are well worth it—for you and for your few.

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Adriana is the Lead Editor for Weekly at Orange. She has a degree in English education and has taught literature, drama and creative writing. She also spent nearly ten years working with her husband as youth pastors. She loves books, traveling, the ocean, old typewriters, and she’s passionate about Jesus.

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